Bonsai master claims world title

Bonsai master claims world title
Brendan Rees

Ryan Staggard can truly claim to being a master in the art of bonsai cultivation.

The North Melbourne resident recently took out first prize in a world bonsai tree competition – an accomplishment he never thought possible.

Mr Staggard’s winning tree was a Japanese black pine bonsai, which stands at 15cm and 18cm wide.

The competition, which attracted participants from around the globe, was launched through an online American-based forum called the “Bonsai Nut”.

Mr Staggard, 49, submitted photos online showing the progress of his miniature tree (as part of the rules) over the six-year competition time frame, after planting seeds in 2018.

He was announced as the winner by renowned international bonsai artist Walter Pall in December last year. 

Mr Staggard said he had only been experimenting with growing bonsai for about two years before he came across the forum saying, “I decided that I’ve never actually grown a pine tree as a bonsai before”.

“I know that the Japanese black pine is the tree to grow; it’s called the King of bonsai.”

He said trying to source the pine seeds in Australia was “super hard” but after three months he found sources that were able to supply 200 seeds “which was amazing”.

All seeds were planted in pots on the rooftop of his home – but he had to select one bonsai as the “winning” tree for his final submission.


So, I tried to grow them all. I would have had over 150 little trees and then as things progress, I picked out ones that I thought had potential to be good.


Asked what the secret was to grow his bonsai, including maintaining its perfect proportions and balanced foliage, Mr Staggard said, “I think in some respects I’m quite lucky”.

“Where the trees come from naturally in Japan has a very similar climate to Melbourne, so I was kind of lucky in that respect … they were happy to be growing in Melbourne,” he explained. “People in lots of other parts of the world were having serious issues getting their trees to develop, whereas I just went with lots of fertiliser, lots of water, and lots of sun.”

“I probably spent almost every day in that six-year period tending them, just to make sure everything was going well.”

While the prize wasn’t anything substantial – a few bonsai tools, he admitted it “was just the satisfaction of being able to do it”. •


Caption: Ryan Staggard with his global winning bonsai tree. Photo: Hanna Komissarova.

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