Courtesy of Rebecca Lewis

The Kelsey Museum of Archeology hosted the June installment of their Flash Talk event series featuring Carmen Leskoviansky, bonsai collection specialist at Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum. Kelsey hosts Flash Talks on the first Friday of every month to highlight ongoing projects and areas of research across disciplines at the University of Michigan.  Each Flash talk is 30 minutes long — the first 15 minutes is used for a lecture, followed by a Q&A session during the remaining time. 

Stephanie Wottreng Haley, community and youth educator for Kelsey, opened the event by explaining that the talk was planned in honor of the garden’s 10th birthday.  

“The Kelsey Museum is partnering with the staff at Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum to conduct this virtual flash talk,” Haley said. “The bonsai and penjing garden at Mumbai Botanical Gardens turns 10 this year and welcomes additional specimens to its ranks of nationally and internationally renowned trees. So this flash talk will explore how this collection has grown and changed over time and the relevance of bonsai in an academic institution now and moving forward.”

Leskoviansky began her talk by giving a brief history of bonsai. She said bonsai care is unique because the practice combines art and science.

“Bonsai is a mixture of art and science, so art in the way that the trees are shaped and designed, science in the way of horticulture: how you grow the tree, how you fertilize the tree, how you water the tree, how you get the tree to respond to stresses that you put on it,” Leskoviansky said. “When you prune a tree, the plant will have a physiological response to that, so knowing the science behind the plant, and having the art skills to create a pleasing design.” 

The University is one of few research institutions that has its own bonsai collection. The collection has about 120 trees and typically displays about one third of the trees to the public at a time. Leskoviansky said the University should take advantage of their collection because bonsai can be incorporated into almost every field of study.

“We are one of the only research institutions in the country that have a bonsai collection … of this quality and scale, so we have this very unique opportunity to connect our students with these trees in ways that haven’t been done before,” Leskoviansky said. “You can consider bonsai in almost any discipline, whether it’s plant sciences, horticulture, art and design, engineering, history … there’s all these different ways that we can study bonsai, and I think that having this collection here is a really great chance for us to start looking at bonsai in different ways.”

Law professor Howard Bromberg, who attended the event, said he found the talk very informative and convenient due to its brevity.

“(The talk) was really good, very informative,” Bromberg said. “It’s a short talk. It was only 12 minutes, but (I got) a lot of information about bonsai in particular, which I didn’t know: its history, and then how (bonsai) is being implemented at Matthaei … I had a chance to ask about two or three questions and got really good answers.” 

In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Leskoviansky said she hopes to see students in all areas of study get more involved with the University’s bonsai collection.

“I would really love to get some students working on projects within the garden,” Leskoviansky said. “I’d love to get art students working with creating new kinds of pots or display accessories. I’d love to see students from architecture or engineering working on what they think tree design could look like through their lens … There’s just all different kinds of applications.”

Summer News Editor Rebecca Lewis can be reached at