They say it’s a small world and that’s certainly the case for Harry Harrington, who specialises in masterpieces in miniature.
The former landscape gardener is a self-taught bonsai tree artist, and professes to know all there is to know about the ancient craft.
He first began his love affair with the bonsai – which first originated in China in the 6th century – when he was just 25.
After breaking his back aged 30 – ironically, just by moving a small plant while working – he spent three years laid up in bed and set up his own website writing about bonsai, initially as a hobby to kill time during his recovery.
Now aged 44, he carefully nurtures his extensive collection in his idyllic back garden in Aylesbury, has three self-published bonsai ‘bibles’ under his belt and a website which clocked up three million hits last year.
The father-of-two said: “I’ve always been a plantsman, and a bonsai is a suitable size to work with when recovering from a back injury.
“Obviously there’s the horticultural side, which involves keeping the tree alive and pruning it etc, and then there’s the design. Each branch is placed in a certain way to create the illusion of age.
“It’s sort of similar to an oil painting in the way that you build up the certain layers of colour – you just build up the branches.”
Harry’s beloved backyard collection has an estimated worth of around £30,000 to £40,000.
Harry said: “We can insure the pots, but not the plants. The pots themselves are quite expensive, and are made specifically for each plant by a man down in Bristol.”
Some of the trees in the collection are worth more than £5,000 each, and have been alive for hundreds of years.
The former Aylesbury Grammar School pupil’s work is labour-intensive, as he spends around 50 to 60 hours on each tree, perfecting the colour and branch composition and bleaching the inside and outside of the trunk to create a masterpiece.
He said: “I absolutely love my work, but I’d have to because I’m often up at 6am and I don’t sometimes finish until 7pm, especially if I’ve got to do a bit of writing.”
Harry recently re-released his first book, Bonsai Inspirations 1, which was first published in 2011 and has since been sponsored by the Chiltern Bonsai Society.
It’s packed with diagrams and photos showing the trees transformed before and after Harry has worked his magic on them. The all-you-need-to-know guides also dispel the myths when it comes to caring for bonsai – including how to water them properly.
Harry said: “Years ago, people didn’t really know what they were doing and a lot of it was hocus pocus.
“Some people would even keep them in sinks, but if they get too much water they’ll die. You only need to water them once a day during the winter, and three to four times a day in the summer. You should check them every day.”
Despite bonsai artists being few and far between in the local area, Harry is a well-known face the world over for his stunning designs and people travel hundreds of miles to watch his demonstrations.
He often travels abroad to explain how best to care for and trim the exotic plants. He’s due to fly to Croatia in a few weeks to share his artistic skills and techniques with fellow bonsai fans.
Harry, who has a 19-year-old son and a four-year-old daughter, said there’s a certain demographic when it comes to being bonkers about bonsai.
He said: “Often you find it’s people in their 30s and 40s who have just got their own house. The lady’s got the whole garden but the guy has his bonsai. But it’s universal, anyone can enjoy it.”
For more, visit Harry’s website at www.bonsai4me.com. All three of his books are available to buy online at www.amazon.co.uk.