Wilmington man has North Carolina’s largest bonsai collection

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WILMINGTON — The fence bordering the lot on Market and 23rd streets conceals North Carolina’s largest collection of bonsai trees – and it’s eccentric but dedicated owner.

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Ronald Sellers in a photo from his personal collection. (Courtesy of Ronald Sellers)

Ronald (“Ronnie”) Sellers, owner and bon-sai master at Painted Lady Bonsai, says he got into the practice many years ago (he did not say, specifically, how many).

“I grew up around here,” Sellers said, “and I was a bit of a firebug, a little streak of pyromania. By the time I was 14,” he joked, “there wasn’t much left of the block I grew up on.”

Sellers, turning slightly more serious, said that he needed to find an “outlet for my energies.” That outlet was the Japanese art of cultivating miniature trees – in Sellers’ case, juniper and bald cypress.

For 35 years he has practiced the art, building a greenhouse to accommodate younger trees and spreading his collection out across the yard of his house.

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Sellers – who can be summoned by ringing a wrought-iron bell in his back yard – is expansive on the topic of bon-sai. Previous customers can bring questions, and their bonsai, to Pink Lady for instructions on pruning, watering and other aspects of care. Sellers lectures on the topic with a mixture of authority and irascible humor, as evidenced by the informative pamphlet he hands out to visitors:

“WATER YOUR BONSAI EVERY OTHER DAY, if you leave for a week or so put an outdoor tree in a tray of water and an indoor tree in the sink or bathtub with a couple of inches of water and they will survive much better than leaving them with a friend. I know your friends and they are not to be trusted with this task…”

In addition to bonsai trees, Sellers also has a vast collection of ‘mudmen,’ traditional Chinese figurines meant to accompany bonsai. Sellers said his favorite was “the one making gunpowder” but that there was “probably one for everyone, they all have their own personalities.”

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A mudman making gunpowder, Sellers’ favorite.
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Part of Sellers’ mudmen collection .

Sellers also has a truly massive collection of clay pots of all sizes. “It’s important to have the right size and the right kind of pot,” Sellers said, “or the roots can get exposed or flood and die of root rot. I have a lot of pots. I like to tell Yankees I have an ‘ass’ of pots. They don’t know what that means, so I bring them around back and show them. That, I tell them, that’s an ‘ass’ of pots.”

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A fraction of Sellers’ collection of pots.

Sellers holds classes on the art of bon-sai on Saturdays at 10 a.m., although he recommends contacting him beforehand to make sure he will be around. He has an older – but still functional – website and can also be reached at 910-762-8974 or bonsai@paintedladybonsai.com (Sellers suggests “Bonsai Tree” in the subject line to get past his spam filters).