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With Bill

by Sam Regi

Bill, an 88-year-old bonsai enthusiast, shares his passion and knowledge about the art of cultivating these miniature trees. With years of experience, he reveals the intricate process of shaping and nurturing bonsai, from starting with a tree in a pot to pruning and wiring it to achieve the desired form. Bill's dedication to bonsai stems from his desire to keep his mind and body active during his retirement years. Now, with over 140 bonsai trees under his care, Bill cherishes the joy and challenges that come with tending to these living works of art.

00:00 / 06:44

Press play to listen to an extract from the conversation with Bill.

6/50 Minutes

00:00:00:08 - 00:00:04:12
It's a tree in a pot. You have them first in a pot.

00:00:04:12 - 00:00:42:04
To just start. When you have them more in a healthy grout, then you form them, you cut some branches off, some leaves off, and then you wire them to the form you want. Like the box tree or any other tree you want the form of. Then you have to put them in a small pot.

00:00:42:06 - 00:01:03:19
You cut the roots around and put them in the pot. After one year, you take them out of the pot and have a look at the grout, of the roots around. And you cut all the roots off and put them in the same pot. If they grow too much - you put them in a bigger pot and put soil in again

00:01:04:23 - 00:01:13:08
And that’s how you keep the tree small.

00:01:13:10 - 00:01:16:04
God, my brain. I still can’t remember (the name) of this tree.

00:01:16:10 - 00:01:16:21
This one?

00:01:17:14 - 00:01:22:02
Yeah. Not a fern.

00:01:29:24 - 00:01:30:21
How old are you, Bill?

00:01:31:06 - 00:01:36:21
88. Born in 1932.


A portrait of Bill for Talking Stories

Bill on film.

Bill_Contact sheet for Talking Stories

Contact Sheet of Bill and his Bonsai


Why did you start doing Bonsai?


00:01:42:20 - 00:02:07:17


Because when I was about 50, my wife was a public servant, and I saw her friends, they were retiring, and they come home. This was me talking about 45 or more years ago. And they’re retiring, They’re on a pension.


00:02:07:19 - 00:02:35:06


They come home. All they did is take their little dog to the shop. Buy a newspaper because you buy the newspaper, then go home to sit in the chair, read the newspaper. And then eventually they died because they didn't use their brain or their body to keep it going. That's why I'm this bloody old. And so I said, No, I have a hobby.


00:02:35:08 - 00:03:11:06


And I saw Burk’s Backyard. I don't know if you remember, it was a gardening show. Burk was his name. He had the television show, Garden Show. And one day he had a bonsai show. I said, That's a nice thing to do to, you know, start it off and go to nurseries and put some little trees and manipulated them and experimented then.


00:03:11:08 - 00:03:18:01


And from then on was a bonsai gardner. Except I didn't know that they’ll get this big.


00:03:18:03 - 00:03:21:22


How many do you have?


00:03:21:24 - 00:03:37:12


140 - 150. So only I don't know. The trouble is, who will look after them when I'm going?


00:03:37:14 - 00:03:49:05


I’m still working out what this thing is (name of a tree)? What is the most common tree?


00:03:56:04 - 00:04:21:09


The mind sometimes goes goes very haywire. You don't know really what's going on with your brain. I had it for 35 years (the tree that Bill is trying to recall the name of) and all of a sudden I couldn't remember thing. I looked on it and I couldn't name the tree. It's the same as now.


00:04:21:14 - 00:04:49:09


I look on it. I got it for so many years and I can't name the most common thing now. It's just all of a sudden, probably 10 minutes or an hour afterwards of it comes back. It's funny, your mind, they I had them as a little tiny thing. They were this small. It's like my finger, little thing in the pot.


00:04:49:11 - 00:04:56:01


And after 35 years, that's how they look like. Thing is that climate change makes this all.


00:04:57:12 - 00:05:00:01


So climate change has an effect on these guys?


00:05:00:03 - 00:05:19:11


Yeah, it did change the whole character of their grout. Years ago. They lost in autumn, they lost the leaves thing, and in spring they got their leaves back. Only some of them, they don't know about it.


00:05:19:14 - 00:06:08:20


Wow. Yeah. It's funny. When you, so many years you have these trees. Then they are. What are they? I see them all the time.


00:06:08:22 - 00:06:09:13




00:06:09:18 - 00:06:33:22


Look at this. That's the juniper. That's the juniper. Well, the thing (tree) out there. They’re growing a bit up - so I put them in the garden.


00:06:33:24 - 00:06:37:13


That's good. Now you finally know.

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