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March 03, 1994|CHRISTINA V. GODBEY

George Yamaguchi is an artist who molds trees into elegant statues. Owner of the Yamaguchi Bonsai Nursery in West Los Angeles, he is a master of bonsai, the art of growing miniature trees.

So much so that, last October, the George Yamaguchi North American Garden, a collection of bonsai, was dedicated at the U.S. Arboretum in Washington.

The nursery is nestled amid the apartment buildings, restaurants and stores along Sawtelle Boulevard and served by a nondescript entrance.

But inside, there is a veritable forest of more than 2,000 bonsai plants, ranging in height from two inches to three feet. The smaller, younger plants start at $25. Larger, more mature plants can cost as much as $20,000.

Yamaguchi said there are several ways to grow bonsai. He prefers to coax juniper trees--California and Japanese--from seed, a process that requires a great deal of time, skill and patience.

Once a tree branches out, its miniature form is maintained by pruning the roots and branches. Growers use copper wires to bend trunks and branches to maintain molded shapes. If cared for properly, some trees can live for hundreds of years.

Yamaguchi, 81, takes great pride in his work, which he views as a way to create scenes from nature.

"It just happened," said Yamaguchi, reflecting on his success. "Some people still can't do it after 30 years (of trying) because they don't have the patience."

A native of Japan, Yamaguchi graduated from the Cultural High School in Hiroshima. He moved to Los Angeles in the late 1930s and worked as a landscape gardener before opening his nursery.

For more than three decades, he has grown and sold bonsai to customers, many of whom travel from throughout the country to make purchases for their outdoor gardens.

"I haven't seen anywhere else (in the city) that has the (same) quality of bonsai," said Glenn Austin, who drove from Glendale to visit the nursery. "This is a unique spot in California."

Yamaguchi Bonsai Nursery, 1905 Sawtelle Blvd., West Los Angeles. (310) 479-9531. Hours are 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

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