A STAMFORD NURSERY DEDICATED TO THE JAPANESE ART OF TREE CULTIVATION
"What does the name mean?" It's the first question visitors ask when they visit Shanti Bithi, the bonsai garden nursery in Stamford, Conn. When Jerome and Carole Rocherolle started their business in the mid-1970s, selling flowers and shrubs from the parking lot of a country store in Stamford, it was called Friendship Farm.
But that was before Jerome became intrigued with bonsai, the Japanese technique of growing a dwarf tree or plant in a pot and shaping it into an aesthetically pleasing shape by employing a constant regime of pruning and trimming. As Carole explains, "We had a traditional nursery and were actively employed as landscapers, but then suddenly bonsai and all things Japanese began to take over."
Today, the traditional Western plants have gone, and in their place are more than 1,000 bonsai cultivars. The name of the nursery was changed to Shanti Bithi (suggested by their Indian meditation teacher, the late Sri Chinmoy) which means "path of peace," not in Japanese but in Bengali. Jerome doesn't remember where he first saw bonsai in the late '70s, only that it was a revelation and that he "totally fell in love with the art form."
Not one to procrastinate, he contacted the Japanese consulate in New York for the name of a nursery in Japan, from whom he ordered his first shipment. "It was a total disaster," he admits, "I had no idea what type of culture these plants needed and probably lost 40 percent of the order." The following year, he went to Japan, where he spent a week meeting with many small growers, drinking an inordinate amount of green tea and pleading with them to sell him some of their treasured specimens.