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Becky Lucas

So interested was she that she went back to Japan in 1957 where she spent a year or two taking classes with Japanese masters.  When she returned to South Africa, she practiced the art of bonsai and started to teach other people.  She was extremely enthusiastic and passed this enthusiasm onto potential bonsai growers.  The South African Bonsai Society was founded in Cape Town in 1960, with Becky as the main driving force.  Meetings were held at her home in Boyes Drive in St James.  True to the Japanese culture she was very disciplined in her approach to bonsai and expected the same from all the members.  Members were expected to attend all meetings (there was trouble if you missed one) and never be late (one member says it was like being in the army).  The meetings were quite something.  Tea would always be served during or after these gatherings.  Over the years, Becky built up an impressive collection of miniature trees, and she was remembered for having over 300 potted specimens on her tiny patio.  Boyes Drive is just to the east and south of the Muizenberg Mountains, the southern end of the wide crecent of mountains south of Cape Town.  This is at the base of the Cape Peninsula, which holds Table Mountain National Park on the southwest corner of the Cape.  The road rises up to about 30m above sea level, and the land beyond it rises quickly to 200m and then to 400m+.  St. James, Western Cape, is a small village on the coast about halfway down Boyes Drive, overlooking False Bay to the east and south.  St. James, between Muizenberg and Kalk Bay, is about a 25 minute (not rush hour) drive down from Cape Town.  Becky's lovely home overlooking the seahouse was right at the top of Boyes Drive, across from the unspoiled mountainside.  There were some expeditions into the mountain to scout for indigenous species that were suitable for bonsai.  Members observed these trees, but they did not dig.

Stellenbosch Botanical Gardens-Acacia-Galpinii-

Acacia Galpini at Stellenbosch Botanical Gardens


The summer of 1967 would see a three-month visit to Japan by Becky.  This would include the nurseries of Kyuzo Murata, Nobukichi Koide, and Eiji [sic] Yoshimura, as well as instruction under Toshio Kawamoto.  Her article about this, derived from her letters and reports, would be published in BCI's Bonsai Magazine the following March ("A Summer in Japan," Vol. VII, No. 3, pp. 8-9).  In 1970 Becky would have differences of opinion and make accusations which were possibly libellous against some growers.  She had very clear ideas of what she wanted and had no time for those with different views or opinions.  That year four members of the South African Bonsai Society, who were not satisfied with its "politics," would break away to form the Cape Bonsai Kai.  Bob Richards would be the first chairman (president) and Bernard Coetzee the vice chairman.  Becky would then travel to other cities in South Africa such as Durban, Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth, and East London, creating interest and starting branches of the Bonsai Society (all named "Bonsai Society of South Africa -- [the city's name] Branch.")  In the late nineteen-seventies or early nineteen-eighties Becky would suffer a severe stroke and be left handicapped.  She would move to Johannesburg and her collection of trees would be presented to Stellenbosch University, where they can still be seen in the Arboretum (officially known as Hortus botanicus), in a bonsai-en specially constructed for them.  Wim Tijmans, curator at the time and member of the Cape Town club, would have some trouble explaining the significance of this gift to the powers-that-be at the university, which would include the head of the Department of Botany.  The en would be built in the 1.8 hectare botanical garden.  The Japanese consul in Cape Town would perform the official handing over and the opening of the en.  The Japanese women who attended would be in traditional dress.

Becky would die sometime in the nineteen-eighties/nineties.  She had been a very generous and hospitable person, and she apparently never sold a tree; she would rather give it to you.  Her house was always open to people wanting advice and assistance with trees.  People who knew Becky say she was a dignified and gracious lady.  Becky was not one for half measures.  She traveled through the country, teaching bonsai and establishing clubs as far as she went.  Many clubs have this strong-minded person to thank for their existence.The Boland Bonsai Kai would be situated in Stellenbosch (about 30 miles E of Cape Town and about as far NE of St. James) and its monthly meetings would be held in the Botanical Garden of the university.  The club members would maintain the collection as there was no-one on the garden staff who had the knowledge.  While there had been some bonsai in the garden since at least 1968, it wouldn't be until the bonsai collection of Mrs. Becky Lucas was donated in the 1970s that a significant number of trees would be there.  The collection would consist of some of the classic Japanese bonsai species, among them Japanese black pine and Acer palmatum, as well as some less traditional species.  The oldest trees in the collection are from her and date back to the 1940s.  The bonsai-en, which includes the collection, would be moved in 2010 from a very shady place under the oaks to a more appropriate sunny area.  The trees would then be in much better shape and the members would slowly get them back from the tall and lanky look they would have acquired during the years of neglect in the shade.  This move would be been financed by donations from companies and foundations.With about 300 bonsai trees by September 2012, the Botanical Gardens of Stellenbosch University would for the first time have an official name: The Western Cape Bonsai Heritage Collection.  The name would be registered with the South African Botanical Society.  Besides having trees designed by the late Becky Lucas and the Rev. Gerjo van der Merwe (one of the first enthusiasts to grow indigenous bonsai from seeds in South Africa, including wild olive trees, Kei apple trees and Chinese elms, among others), since March 2012 the trees belonging to the late Louis Nel of Pretoria would become the new focus point of the collection.  His daughter Zonia, who would live in Stellenbosch, would then donate the extensive collection begun in 1974 to the Botanical Gardens on permanent loan.  The first African tree in the collection to have been adapted for bonsai was a Natal fig (Ficus natalensis) designed by Ian Ross in 1948.  In addition to South African visitors, the collection would also be popular among people from Britain, Germany, the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands.]

(Personal e-mail to RJB from Coenie Brand, 7 Dec 2010; personal e-mail to RJB from Lionel Theron, 17 Feb 2011; Davis, Doreen  "The Cape Bonsai Kai," Bonsai Journal, ABS, Vol. 12, No. 3, Fall 1978, pg. 59; Cape Bonsai Kai was welcomed in Bonsai Magazine, Vol. IX, No. 7, September 1970, BCI, pg. 7, with mention of its upcoming show October 3 and 4 on pg. 15; The 1970 Index at the end of the March 1971 issue (pg. C) notes that in Vol. IX, No. 2, pg. 13 Sustaining Members and Donors included "Becky Lucas, Cape Town, South Africa - Wim. Tijmens, Cape Town, South Africa."; "Bonsai collection in SU Botanical Gardens gets official name," Sept. 6, 2012,; Sax, Miles S. and Willem Pretorius "The Bonsai Collection of Stellenbosch University Botanical Garden," Arnoldia 73/2, October 2015, pp. 28-29, 31; Theron, Lionel "A brief history of Bonsai in South Africa")   SEE ALSO: Apr 20, Nov 21, Nov 23

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