Thursday, December 30, 2010

Bonsai tree: Bonsai Critique: Simple & Profound


One of Robert Steven’s two simulations of a tree in a rock-like container that was submitted by Kian (no second name given). In spite of the somewhat fuzzy images, the general ideas come through loud and clear.

Simple changes with profound results

Sometimes an adjustment to the position of a container (above), or a new container (below), can radically transform a planting. Neither of Robert’s simulations involve any changes to the tree, yet both transform a somewhat stagnant planting to something full of natural movement and interest.


Robert’s second simulation.


Kian’s original submission.

Robert Steven’s Critique

The main purpose of using these types of containers** for bonsai is to create a theme that suggests a captured moment of a natural scene.

Kian, the bonsai artist is trying to show a tree growing on a rocky hill, but he fails to do so because the container too symmetrical. It looks unnatural, bulky and monotonous. The result is that the tree and the container are in competition to catch our eye; they look separate, without integrated unity. This is because the wide green moss is too much in contrast with the straight line of the container’s edge without any “third element” to bridge the two elements.


The first solution: Correct the container shape and overall effect by changing the position of the container and replanting the tree. Now the container’s edge has a natural irregular form and the image created is of a tree growing on a rocky hill. By placing some small rocks as a the third element, unity between the container and tree is enhanced.


The second solution: By using a shallow and wide container, a more panoramic view is created. The container’s edge is irregular which gives a natural look, and the small rocks help tie the container and tree together into a unified whole.

Same tree. It’s the containers and the repositioning of the three that create more natural themes and nuance. You make your choice….

**These stone carved pots are by Prayogi of Tulung Agung Indonesia. They are his first generation shapes. I offered him some advice on natural looking containers for bonsai purposes.

General comments

There is more than one way to design any bonsai and my critiques and recommended solutions might not always fit your taste because of personal preferences. But I always try to give my opinion based on artistic and horticultural principles.

To understand my concepts better, please read my books Vision of My Soul and Mission of Transformation which are available at Stone Lantern.

You can also visit my bonsai blog.


Robert’s Mission of Transformation. $49.95 marked down from $55.00

Source: Bonsai Bark Read more!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Bonsai tree: Japanese Winterberry – fall work

Source: Bonsai Tonight
Japanese Winterberry – fall work

Most deciduous trees share the same story this time of year – remove old leaves, cutback, and wire. Doing this work gets trees ready for spring.

I’ve been working on the Japanese Winterberry (ilex serrata) below for several years now. Most of the young branches are new to the tree, and will require a number of years more before they’re ready for show.

Fall, 2010

Japanese winterberry in fall

I begin by removing the old leaves. Although there’s plenty of new growth, most will be cut away to encourage ramification and taper.

After stripping the leaves

After cutback

I left a few of the branches long – these will be cut when the tree is wired.

After wiring

The tree doesn’t look like much at this point. There is a nice trunk, but little branching and tree is sorely need of an apex. In the coming years I’ll let a few branches near the apex grow to ease the transition between trunk and apex. Once the apex is large enough, I can cut the stub of the current apex away, creating a much more refined-looking tree. Read more!

Bonsai tree: Repotting The Imperial Pine


The Imperial Japanese Red Pine (Pinus densiflora) at The National Bonsai and Penjing Museum. In training since 1795. Photo by Jonas Dupuich of Bonsai Tonight.

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Friday, December 24, 2010

Bonsai tree: Ume – cutback and grafting

Source: Bonsai Tonight
Ume – cutback and grafting

Sisyphus comes to mind when I think about my ume. I’ve been working on the tree for roughly 10 years, grafting, each winter, branches with white flowers onto branches that naturally sport double-pink flowers. Because the variety doesn’t bud back like other deciduous varieties, I find myself re-grafting branches year after year. This year was no different.

I started by removing the old leaves. This is fun with ume – I strip the leaves away by lightly pinching the base of each branch and dragging my fingers toward the end of the shoot.

Ume in fall

Before stripping the leaves

Leaves stripped

Last year I repotted the tree thinking that slowing the tree down would help the grafts take. Not so – only a few of last year’s scions took hold. This year I simply cut back the long shoots and grafted the scions into place. You can see the grafting process in greater detail in last year’s post about repotting and grafting the tree.

Apparently grafting is fun

A scion in a bag – moss maintains humidity

Grafting complete

I’m planning on repotting the tree at a different angle next year – from the current front, the trunk looks like a gnarled sling-shot. The goal is to show the tree with plenty of blossoms. I had good luck with this in 2004. The flowers all opened up at the same time and we set it by the door at our 5th Bay Island Bonsai exhibit. You can find a picture of the tree – the first one in the group – at BIB’s 2004 gallery page. Read more!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Bonsai tree: This Time From Robert


He’s not really that small! Bonsai wishes from Robert Steven; famous bonsai artist, author and teacher. Not too bad with photoshop either.

New Year 2011

Can you imagine Santa leaving you this tree?

Celebrate the New Year with Robert

Well, actually with his great bonsai books: Mission of Transformation and Vision of My Soul.

Source: Bonsai Bark Read more!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bonsai tree: Happy Holidays! (It’s Funny How Things Work)


No sooner had we put up our last post about Min Hsuan Lo’s (Lo Hsuan Min’s) magnificent ficus, and Viola! this shows up in our email.

Source: Bonsai Bark Read more!

Bonsai tree: Min Hsuan Lo’s Bonsai Teaser


Most bonsai shots show the whole tree, though you sometimes see partial tree photos (teasers). In this case, the photo has no trouble communicating the power and character of this magnificent bonsai, even if it only shows a little more than half of the tree and completely excludes the pot.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bonsai tree: Some of the Very Best Bonsai in the World


The trees are exquisite and so is the book.192 pages of some of the best bonsai in the world. This book, along with the first one and all the others to come, will surely become collector’s items.
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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Bonsai tree: Finding the front – Japanese black pine

Source: Bonsai Tonight
Finding the front – Japanese black pine

The Japanese black pine pictured below hasn’t been re-styled in a long time. It’s healthy now, and ready for a change.

Currently, the foliage is heavy on both the left and right sides. The owner is hoping to emphasize one side over the other. The two outstanding questions: which front is the most effective? and in which direction should the tree flow – left or right?

Front #1

Front #1

Front #2

Front #3

The tree’s biggest obstacle is found at the base of the trunk. The tree has three main roots that emerge from the trunk before they spread out into finer roots. This potting position makes it look like the tree is balancing on two legs and a tail. The new potting angle will very likely minimize this effect.

Base of the trunk from the front

Detail – base of the trunk

The tree’s greatest asset is its age. This is best appreciated in the flakey bark along the trunk. The small aluminum wires are keeping the plates in place – they will be removed when the tree is next shown.

Trunk detail – great bark

Trunk detail – bark

Any suggestions? Read more!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Bonsai tree: Holiday Sale: The Party Is Almost Over

Stone Lantern’s Holiday Sale

Ends Thursday December 16th


Professional gardeners in Japan know that Okatsune Shears are simply the best production shears in the world. I use mine for bonsai and in the garden and have friends who use them for Ikebana (flower arranging) as well.

370 items stonelantern copy

Source: Bonsai Bark Read more!

Bonsai tree: What Would You Do?


Perfect, powerful, beautifully nicely photographed and apparently growing on a rock. The shape of the tree and the deadwood have a juniper look, but the foliage looks more pine than juniper, though it’s too far away to get a good read (see below). The dramatic backdrop could only be the Grand Canyon. The photo is courtesy of Bonsai Mania.

What would you do?

Imagine that this tree is in a training pot and, best of all, it’s yours. What would you do (if anything) to improve it?


This blurry blow up pretty much confirms my notion the the tree is a pine, perhaps even a Bristlecone. To be sure, I got my trusty National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Trees of North America out, and sure enough, the Intermountain Bristlecone (Pines longaeva) has a spot on the map that falls right on the Grand Canyon.


This one looks like a Juniper with the foliage in full winter color. Both Rocky Mountain junipers (J. scopularum) and Utah junipers (J. osteosperma) are found around the Grand Canyon and your guess is as good as mine. The shot was borrowed from Flickr.

Source: Bonsai Bark Read more!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Bonsai tree: Robert Steven Critiques a Black Pine and Offers Some Insights into the Five Schools of Penjing


Robert Steven’s simulation of a Japanese black pine that was submitted by Mike Liu (Mike’s original is immediately below).


Mike’s original photo that was submitted to Robert.

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Bonsai tree: Peter Tea styles Japanese black pine

Source: Bonsai Tonight
Peter Tea styles Japanese black pine

Bay Island Bonsai workshops are always a lot of fun. Good atmosphere, good people, and plenty of good trees. Really good trees. At a recent workshop I sat next to Peter Tea who spent the day wiring a Japanese black pine. He finished just in time for some glamor shots with the tree.

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Peter Tea with freshly wired Japanese black pine

Peter did an excellent job. It’s tricky to wire pines with such dense foliage without breaking needles left and right. And getting each bud to line up and create an attractive silhouette is no easy task. Peter, however, simply started at the bottom and worked his way to the top while making the work look effortless.

Japanese black pine bonsai

The tree has a softer silhouette today than it did when last displayed at Bay Island Bonsai’s 10-year anniversary exhibit in 2009. The apex is rounder and the breaks between pads are less distinct. Over time I expect the pads will continue to shift around a bit as the tree gains maturity. The branches are still young. As they age and gain character, they will contribute a lot to the overall look and feel of the tree and better complement the unusual trunk.

Trunk detail

The subtle changes between wirings are one of the things that makes bonsai so fun for me. The same tree can look very different from year to year. And whenever the artist working on it has the skill of a Peter Tea or our teacher Boon, it will be a pleasure to look at. Read more!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Bonsai tree: Bonsai Gallery: Five Magnificent Trees

23-1Forest on a slab from Bonsai Today issue 23. Though the photo is uncaptioned it looks like it could be an Ezo spruce forest by Saburo Kato.


Slant style Japanese maple in fall color. From Bonsai Today issue 14. Artist unknown.


This is one of a handful of outstanding Japanese winterberries (Ilex serrata) that pop up here and there in Bonsai Today. It’s from issue 14 (it appears on both the cover and inside, though with different backgrounds). Artist unknown.


Trident maple forest from Bonsai Today issue 14. I counted 29 trees, though it’s difficult (if not impossible) to tell the exact number. The pot is almost exactly the same length as the planting’s height (23″).


Full cascade Shimpaku juniper from Bonsai Today issue 23. Artist unknown, though it looks like it could be a Kimura. Height: 35″

Source: Bonsai Bark Read more!

Bonsai tree: Rare Out-of-Print Bonsai Todays


We just put this one, along with thirteen other rare out-of-print issues of Bonsai Today, up on our site. That makes twenty eight total. Most have been out of print for years and are quite rare. We only have a few copies of each (anywhere from one to five), so don’t wait. BTW: the wisteria on the cover is a good example of what we discussed in our last post.

Where do they come from?

We buy back old out-of-print copies of Bonsai Today whenever we get a chance. Then they sit around on our shelves for a few months and every now and then we get around to putting them up.

How rare are they?

Some of the oldest issues are very rare (we seldom see single digits issues), but there are later issues that are almost equally rate. For example issues 103 and 104: we were shorted by the printer on these, so we barely had enough to fill subscriptions before we ran out.

Our supply of in-print issues

We still have new copies of around fifty issues. Most are from this century. Some are getting scarce and some will be around for a long time. You can usually tell how scarce they are by the price.

Don’t forget our sale

All of our issues of Bonsai Today (new and out-of-print) are currently discounted. This won’t last much longer, so don’t sit around on your thumbs for too long.

Source: Bonsai Bark
Read more!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Bonsai tree: It’s About the Flowers


Bonsai Mike’s shohin pyracantha (firethorn).

Ordinary bonsai conventions don’t necessarily apply

The Japanese (and others) tend to design flowering bonsai to show off the flowers. Other considerations, like taper and branch placement, often take a back seat. So much so that many flowering trees are displayed only when flowering (and fruiting). They pass the rest of their time tucked away in some corner of the nursery.

A lot to like

Even though it breaks one of the primary conventions of bonsai (the first two branches are next to each other) the bonsai above is so sweet that you could show it anytime, with or without flowers and berries. However, because of the way it has been designed to produce and show off a profusion of flowers, it will always be at its very best when flowering or fruiting (clusters of red or orange berries will replace the flowers).

Speaking of bonsai conventions (rules or guidelines)

Over 500 items are discounted plus double discounts on orders over $50

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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Bonsai tree: Some of the World’s Best Bonsai Are Right Here

Winter display, from the Chinese collection at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum in Washington DC. Trident maple by Quinquan Zhao.

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Bonsai tree: Tropical bonsai at the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum

Source: Bonsai Tonight
Tropical bonsai at the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum

The National Bonsai and Penjing Museum in Washington D.C. contains a number of bonsai that need far more warmth and humidity than D.C. winters can provide. They are housed in a greenhouse at the museum where they are currently thriving despite the impending cold weather. I’ve included photos of several below along with a few trees from the North American and Chinese Collections.

As before, the photos are presented in order of number of years in training, beginning with the longest in training. The banyan below has been in training since 1906.

Ficus microcarpa - Chinese Banyan. In training since 1906. Donated by Shu-ying Lui. Chinese Collection.

Ficus microcarpa – Chinese Banyan. In training since 1906. Donated by Shu-ying Lui. Chinese Collection.

Crataegus laevigata – English Hawthorn. In training since 1953. Donated by Bertram F. Bruenner. North American Collection.

Bougainvillea glabra – Bougainvillea. In training since 1969. Donated by James J. Smith. North American Collection.

Ficus microcarpa ‘Retusa’ – Chinese Banyan. In training since 1971. Donated by Mike Uyeno. North American Collection.

Schinus terebinthifolius – Christmas Berry. In training since 1973. Donated by Edward Nakanishi. North American Collection.

Conocarpus erectus – Buttonwood. In training since 1975. Donated by Mary Madison. North American Collection.

Acer buergerianum – Trident Maple. Donated by Stanley Chinn. Chinese Collection.

Acer buergerianum – Trident Maple. Donated by Michael Levin.

There were a number of signs that fall was upon us around the garden. Banana foliage in the Chinese Pavilion had recently been hit by frost. Elsewhere, fall colors filled the museum.

Garden at the Chinese Pavilion.

Japanese Laceleaf Maple – beautiful fall color.

Japanese Laceleaf Maple.

I’d like to thank Jack, Aarin, and the many volunteers that maintain these trees for our benefit. It’s an outstanding collection and I appreciate all of the effort that goes into its maintenance. Thanks!
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