While taking a horticulture class at Merritt in 1986, Dennis Makishima pruned a Japanese maple tree in the courtyard while 10 curious students watched and asked questions. Interest grew throughout the year and by December, Makishima had begun teaching an informal, no-cost Bonsai basics class. The group practiced on maples and evergreen pear trees on the horticulture grounds and also expressed an interest in the pruning of small landscape trees.
Word of their work got around, and just one year later, their services were requested by a top Oakland official.
“Dennis got a call from Frank Ogawa, the Oakland Vice Mayor,” says Molly Sealund, Landscape Horticulture’s Science Technician. “He wanted the class to help restore the Japanese Garden at Lakeside Park. That put the official Merritt College Bonsai and Japanese Garden Pruning Club on the map and more requests starting coming in. The club members have volunteered at many specialized gardens throughout the greater Bay Area, from the Berkeley Rose Garden to the San Francisco Japanese Tea Garden, to enhance and contribute to the beauty of the gardens.
In December, what has come to be called the Aesthetic Pruning Club celebrated its 30 years with a celebration in the Horticulture Department attended by founder Dennis Makishima and dozens of long-time aesthetic pruners who came from a variety of backgrounds and share a common love for pruning. They were honored by members of the department, the community, and Chancellor Laguerre who presented them with a Resolution from the Peralta Community College District for “improving gardens and building and maintaining strong vibrant communities.” City Council member Abel Guillen presented them with a proclamation from the City Council.
Molly says the classes are in demand with students coming from all over the Bay Area and other states. “There’s nothing else like it around,” she says. “Landscape crews bring their workers and even master gardeners are asking our instructors to lecture for their classes. Over the 30 years, Merritt has become the place to come and learn specialized pruning skills.”
The Aesthetic Pruning Club welcomes new members, and the Horticulture Department offers low-cost, fee-based (no credit) classes on Saturdays throughout the spring (just $39 for the three-hour classes). The fees help with ongoing maintenance of the garden as well as supporting student learning opportunities. For the Spring schedule and more info, go to www.aestheticpruning.org.
(Pictured: Tom Branca, Landscape Horticulture Chair Emeritus; Chancellor Jowel Laguerre, Dennis Makashima, Club Founder; and Judy Thomas, Retired Chair.