Written by Andrew Woods
Photographed by Dillon Stewart
Not many of us can claim that our work spaces are beautiful; whether it’s retail, service industry or an office space, the views can often be less than transcendent. Brussel Martin, on the other hand, works his 9 to 5 in a botanic paradise. Martin owns Brussel’s Bonsai and spends his working hours in the largest Bonsai nursery in North America. He has been working with these plants since he was a teenager and built this giant empire of tiny trees through decades of growth.
Brussel first fell in love with Bonsai trees when his father returned with a few trees from a business trip in California. It was love at first sight for Brussel who quickly began to grow his collection of Bonsai in his parent’s backyard.
During his teenage years his hobby morphed into a small business as he began to sell the specially imported trees out of his parents’ backyard. In 1979 Brussel moved his fledgling nursery from East Memphis to Olive Branch, and the business continued to grow.
Brussel, who originally only dealt with high-end larger trees, shifted from his original business practice and began to diversify into smaller less-expensive trees that he could move quickly through a blossoming internet that was eager to connect him with scores of bonsai lovers all around the country. His business model began to change.
“For every old tree I get from Japan, we sell a thousand of the little trees,” Brussel says.
The nursery itself is sprawling, with around a hundred thousand trees on hand at any one time. Brussel’s day-to-day work has changed significantly from those early days of doing everything himself. His operation now employs several gardeners who tend the smaller trees under his supervision, but Brussel still takes care of the top 5-10% himself.
The nursery ships out over a quarter of a million trees every year, and with that kind of turnover there is always a lively shipping and packaging aspect to the business.
“With these drop-shippers we work with we have to be able to pack up and send out a tree the same day we get the order.” explains Brussel. “So if you want a $300 tree, we’ll have it packed and sent to you that day.”
Since the nursery’s growth came naturally they’ve been able to retain both the hands-on expertise and skill of the small bonsai nursery that Brussel originally started but also can now do an amazing amount of bulk orders as well.
“We’re the biggest and the best, but you get the most bang for $12 here than you do anywhere else. It’s a combination of good product and getting it out the door. We were just kind of pulled along by the market. We are still the quality stand by in the market,” Brussel explains. “If you want a good $300 tree you come here, if you want a good $30 tree you come here.”
To Brussel this has always been a passion project fueled by his love for trees.
“I haven’t burned out on it. It’s a job I enjoy. It is a connection between art and nature. You are taking a material that has potential, but it won’t grow into an interesting tree unless you use bonsai techniques over a period of time. It’s the attraction of having a living piece of sculpture that over time is changing, improving, getting more character.”
Brussel’s Bonsai Nursery is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.. The nursery welcomes all visitors so make sure to see the it for yourself
“You’re trying to create something natural. Aesthetic Nature."
“You’re trying to create something natural. The Japanese have all of these rules that are interpretations of what nature does, aesthetic nature,” says Brussel. “You’re trying to make something that looks natural. Like man hasn’t touched it even though you created it. That’s the goal of a real bonsai. Make it look like it just happened.”