ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Mike Porcaro and Ken Ellis have hands that are as gnarled as the bonsai trees they carefully shape. Both are retired - Mike from 3M, and Ken, was an art teacher at John Glenn Middle School.
Both are master gardeners and take great pride in poking, prodding, and cutting to create their living works of art.
"Obviously, this is a love, it's not a hobby, it's a passion," explained Mike.
Mike's passion started when the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory's Bonsai collection contained about 20 pieces. Seventeen years ago, Ken joined him and the two, working side by side, have grown the collection to about 110 trees. Now it's ranked among the top ten bonsai collections in all of North America.
"I know bonsai trees give me an intense pleasure. I don't know anybody who looks at a Bonsai tree and doesn't say, 'gee, isn't that great. I wish I had one,'" said Mike. "And, I guess volunteering kind of does the same thing. You're kind of proud that you're doing it."
In creating a bonsai, these two follow a 2000-year-old Japanese horticultural tradition in connecting man, nature and heaven.
"These are living things. You kill a lot of them before you learn what to do with them. But then the reward is fantastic," said Mike with a smile.
Mike and Ken were nominated for the Eleven Who Care award as a team because each has made such an important contribution to the Conservatory over the years
"And so I'm volunteering I guess to get other people excited and educated and bring some others on because it's terribly, terribly, enjoyable for myself and the rest of us who work here," described Ken.
Volunteers have always been at the heart of the Como Park experience. But Mike and Ken are considered the backbone of the Bonsai collection, which will finally have a wing in this year's new Japanese Gardens Experience.
"The bonsai are trees that we give the illusion of age. They may be 10, 20, 30 years old, which isn't old for a tree but if we can make it look much, much older by doing things to it, bending the branches down, wiring where we want them to go, then we're on the right track," said Ken.
"But Ken, no matter how good we get, we're never as good as Mother Nature," Mike added.
It is said that three virtues are necessary to create a bonsai: truth, goodness and beauty.
"It's like a painting, except a painting you finish. A bonsai you never finish. It's always growing and changing," explained Mike.
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