Clynt Levin was a high-flying businessman until a health scare changed his perspective on life and sparked the start of a bonsai revolution
story hayley dennyson
pictures adi weerheim and grant thomson
I thought I was living a brilliant life – flying helicopters, deep-sea diving – but, as much as I loved my work, it didn’t love me,” says Hillcrest ideas man Clynt Levin. “I had built up a successful business with ten factories, hundreds of staff, big investors and all the stress that entails. It also meant being away from my family, five days a week, but it was what I felt I needed to do.”
On November 15, 2015, Clynt was rushed to ICU with swelling on the brain. “I was one of the lucky ones who recovered and, once I was up, I was desperate to get back to work. I was afraid to be labelled ‘unfit’, but my neurologist Dr Hugh Staub refused to give me the bill of good health I needed to get back to my old life. Initially, I was furious, but I came to realise that I needed a new focus; to create a legacy that I would be proud to leave behind. Dr Staub is my hero.”
In the days following Clynt’s time in hospital, he explored some of his old passions, including gardening, in search of something to invest his time and energy in. He visited Alan Grant at the Castle Bonsai Nursery, who helped an exciting new idea take root.
“Alan introduced me to some important players on the local bonsai scene, including artist and bonsai master Martin Minny, who has cultivated dozens of trees over the years. The beauty and scope of his collection left me speechless, but determined to create a space where the public could appreciate these trees and explore the art of bonsai for themselves.
“As I spoke to bonsai collectors, I came to realise that these trees are often neglected when their owners pass on. I wanted to give growers an opportunity to show off their trees to the public and create a living for themselves, while also being able to make decisions about their trees while they are still alive … and so the Legacy Bonsai Trust was formed.”
Less than one month after their initial meeting, Clynt and Alan launched the Legacy Bonsai Nursery (with Alan as part-owner and manager), the second part of this multi-prong project. “Bonsai have brought such amazing people into my life – it’s divinity,” Clynt says.
The nursery is a magical place – part art gallery, part park – with plenty of inspiration for bonsai lovers, new and old. “I love watching people walk through the red arch at our entrance, take a deep breath and relax. That’s what it’s all about.”
“Recent experience has shown me how many of us are living 30 seconds from disaster,” Clynt continues. “I was lucky enough to survive and have been given a chance to make a difference. People are looking for a way to escape the spiral and I want Legacy Bonsai to be a place where they can come to relax and be inspired.”
After 30 years in business, Clynt is trying to keep things simple, but there are more plans in the making. “I used to sit around a boardroom table, working out ways to cut costs, now I sit under the trees and come up with creative ideas.”
What is Legacy Bonsai?
Born from a desire to leave behind something with real meaning, Legacy Bonsai consists of five projects.
Legacy Bonsai Nursery is a peaceful space where visitors can experience the beauty of bonsai and buy anything they need to care for and create their own collection.
Legacy Bonsai Academy gives novices and collectors alike a chance to learn from the masters. The short courses cover a wide range of topics, from basic care to advanced skills.
Legacy Bonsai Garden Products harness special innovations to enhance care and growth.
Legacy Bonsai Trust perpetuates collections that would otherwise be hidden in private gardens and possibly be neglected when their owners pass on.
The Small Tree Big Heart Foundation introduces children to bonsai, an art that requires patience, dedication and a connection with nature.
Clynt Levin and the team have plans for a Legacy Bonsai Park, which will include a collection of Legacy trees and a restaurant to advance the growth and love of bonsai.
To experience the Legacy Bonsai effect for yourself, visit the team at:
Legacy Bonsai Nursery, The Mushroom Farm, 450 Kassier Road, Assagay
www.legacybonsai.co.za Alan 083 533 8822