Julian Adams fondly remembers the first time he saw a bonsai. He was walking in a flower garden when he was a teenager when, among orchids, cacti, and acres of leaves, he stumbled across a room full of small and old trees. Adams always respected the past, he says. Something about bonsai had a profound effect on her. “It changed my attitude,” she says. Shortly after embarking on this exciting journey, she received her first bonsai as a Christmas gift. It was the beginning of a lifelong passion that led him to retire from radar training and sell cars to run Adams Bonsai, a nursery he called “the fun is over.”
Adams grew up in Virginia before he left to study engineering at MIT. His childhood was very different from what he found in Cambridge, where he tried pizza and Chinese food for the first time. Although many of his college colleagues studied different subjects in high school, he never did. He describes his first year as a “probably the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life.”
What saved his education, Adams says, were the brothers who helped him learn learning skills, as well as his time leading a team of workers like coxswain. He says: “I found that I enjoyed working with people to achieve my goals. Although his classes continued to be difficult, Adams found them to be fun. He focused on electronics, communications, and radio technology, and after graduating he used this technology to work on radar protection. But he soon found out that he was missing in Virginia and eventually moved to Lynchburg to work at his father’s car dealership. “It was not a technical solution but a human solution,” he says.
After his Christmas bonsai gift, Adams spent 18 months experimenting and experimenting before entering a foreign country in the bonsai market. A skill that has been studied and refined for centuries, bonsai originated in Japan in the sixth century and involves the production and maintenance of a small tree that takes the entire plant into its natural environment.
“It all started with something very unpleasant,” he says, “but like seeds when you plant them, they grow and develop.” He began by reading as much as he could on the subject, and then sought out instructors to teach him more about the arts and sciences behind the art. Its bonsai field looks like its biology lab, a test site with errors, testing ideas, and seeing what made its prices so interesting. Soon, he started attending meetings and hobbyist meetings; has become a source of advice for other beginners, based on bonsai trees. “At one point I realized that I had too many plants to take care of,” she says. When he sold them for sale, he wondered how he found the buyers, and Adams Bonsai was born.
Nowadays, Adams prefers to grow its trees from seeds or more expensive in order to pay close attention to the taper of the trunk and branch areas, all the keys to complementing the “old” ornaments of bonsai. Its purpose, he said, is a living plant that thrives despite having limitations in its pot, growing “to represent, in a small way, the old tree that man thinks can exist somewhere in nature.” But achieving that goal requires time, patience, and careful effort. Each tree should be watered daily and fed weekly, with careful monitoring of pathogens or pathogens.
“I like to say that bonsai is 50% art, 50% horticulture, 50% philosophy,” he says. The practice may be based on the science of floral culture, but it focuses on applying the science in a safe environment through experimentation and research — just as engineering works in mathematics, chemistry, or physics. “There is a need among us engineers to do useful things,” he says. “The way I think about bonsai is probably the way most engineers think about their role. There are important skills, yes, but how can you use those skills in the world?”