Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bonsai tree: There’s Something About Shohin

Itoigawa juniper by Michael Hagedorn. Michael is one of our favorite American bonsai artists. If you haven’t visited his site (Crataegus Bonsai) this is as good a time as any. BTW: Michael is the author of Post-Dated – The Schooling of an Irreverent Bonsai Monk a fascinating read, bonsai or otherwise.

The advantages of Shohin (small) Bonsai

On the back of our Stone Lantern book Majesty in Miniature; Shohin Bonsai (by Morten Albek) it says “When compared to large bonsai, Shohin cost less, take less time to develop, take less space, are easier to move, and are less apt to be over-watered. Perhaps best of all, Shohin-bonsai are a delight to behold.” I’ll second those observations (I wrote the original, so why not?).

This small Viginia creeper by Harry Harrington ( is designed to show off the spectacular foliage.

This is the second time we’ve shown this Spiraea japonica (also by Harry Harrington). There are a couple reasons we returned to it: first, it’s a very sweet tree, and second, how many Spiraea bonsai have you seen?

Morten Albek’s Shohin Bonsai. Published by Stone Lantern. Retail 24.95, our low price 14.97.

Source: Bonsai Bark Read more!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Bonsai tree: Order Now: Our Warehouse Will Be Closed July 1 – 11

Japanese black pine from our Masters’ Series Pine book. The second printing should arrive about the time our warehouse reopens on July 12th (it will be closed from July 1 thru July 11).

Warehouse vacation

I’m taking my summer vacation now (I know…), so early July will be Corey’s turn. This means the warehouse will be closed from July 1st – 11th. So, if you need something soon, be sure to order it now.

You can still order while the warehouse is closed

Orders received while the warehouse is closed will be shipped soon after the warehouse reopens on July 12th.

Don’t forget to feed your bonsai!

If you need more fertilizer, order now before our warehouse closes from July 1-11. Summer feeding promotes growth and helps prepare you bonsai for the fall and winter. Most people underfeed their bonsai. Don’t fall into this group. Healthy bonsai are well fed bonsai.

Don’t forget to feed your bonsai! Order your Green Dream and other excellent bonsai fertilizers (at discounted prices) before our warehouse vacation begins next week.

Source: Bonsai Bark Read more!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Bonsai tree: Draw! (Your Bonsai)

This excellent bonsai drawing looks like a Japanese black pine, but that’s just a guess. As you can see, it and the others in this post are by Eduardo Guedes. Another worthy facebook find. (Note: the copy below is from an earlier Bonsai Bark post, but the drawings in this post are all first timers).

You can do it!

It’s vacation time here, so I’ll borrow a little copy from last year: We’ve featured bonsai drawings way back in the early years of Bonsai Bark (2009). We still think it’s a good idea and suggest you try your hand at it. Contrary to the pervasive poverty mentality many of us have about these things, you can do it if you just take your time. The drawings (you can call them sketches if that helps) don’t have to be perfect, and with almost any genuine attempt, you’ll learn something about your bonsai.

Not a bad rendition (note for none native English speakers: “Not a bad” often means excellent). Also by Eduardo.

Another Japanese black pine? Speaking of, the 2nd printing of our Japanese pine book is due in two or three weeks.

Source: Bonsai Bark Read more!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Bonsai tree: Whoops! Mea Culpa

This one is an olive. And it is by Andres Bicocca. Who is from Argentina and isn’t from Uruguay. BTW: the way the foliage mass clings to the trunk, makes for a unusual looking bonsai. Though it has a wild, ‘work in process’ look, there’s something compelling about it with its strong nebari and well aged bark.

Egg all over my face

First, apologies to Argentinian (not Uruguayan) bonsai artist Andres Bicocca (see three posts ago). Second, apologies to Wild Bonsai; not only did I mis-attribute one of their trees but I mis-identified it as well (doubly embarrassing when you consider that their name is on the photo and the tree is clearly identified where it appears on Andres’ wall photos – thanks to to my virtual friend and unofficial fact checker Jose Luis Rodriguez for noticing this glaring error). It’s a Phemphis acidula, not a European olive (Olea europaea). So thanks Jose for keeping us honest and thanks Andres for your understanding, and thanks Wild Bonsai too.

Another of Wild Bonsai‘s impressive trees. Our original mis-identified Wild Bonsai tree is below. Both are Phemphis acidula.

Here’s the one I got all wrong. Notice the fine print on the bottom of the photo.

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Monday, June 20, 2011

Bonsai tree: Local Bonsai Styles 2: Growing Conditions, NativeSpecies & Culture

This venerable, naturally dwarfed Ponderosa belongs to American/British bonsai artist and teacher, Colin Lewis. Colin lives on the coast of Maine. Ponderosa pines grow in the inland mountains of the western U.S.; two distinctively different environments.

Climate, native species and culture

If you get a chance, take a look at the comments from the last post. They expand and provide insight into what started as a simple post with a single idea: the effects of culture (human rather than biological culture) on local bonsai styles. The first three comments deal mostly with nature (climate and other growing conditions, and native species) and the forth by Colin Lewis, returns to and amplifies the notion of culture as a primary influence on bonsai styles. Rather than say much more here, I’ll let Colin speak for himself (below). But first a couple more photos.

A wonderfully gnarly Premna by Robert Steven and his good friend, ‘Mother Nature.’ No way you’ll ever find a tree anything like this in the Green Mountains of Vermont or the scrub pine forests of Maine. It is distinctively tropical and almost looks like it grew in some unearthly magical realm (Indonesia, in fact). Robert is a frequent contributor to this blog and is the author of two distinguished and invaluable bonsai books: Vision of My Soul and Mission of Transformation.

Japanese beech by Colin Lewis. This species looks like it might be quite at home in Maine. In fact, when it comes to growing conditions, Maine and the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido have much more in common than Maine and the Rocky Mountains.

Colin’s remarks from the last post

“Local growing conditions and species are only part of the story. Look again at the olives from Uruguay and Spain and you’ll see that the do indeed have a lot in common. First, they are similar material, parts of the nebari of what were much larger and extremely old trees that have long since fallen apart and left just a ring of sprouting root remnants. They are not influenced at all by ancient olives because olives simply don’t grow like that. They are in fact the artists’ responses to the material. They are brilliant works of pure fantasy.

But there is something else: both artists are of Spanish descent, they both have the Spanish flamboyance and the confidence and freedom of spirit to express it. You can feel the swirling flamenco dancers in the works of both. David’s reflects more the sophistication of Madrid, while Andres’ reflect perhaps the more ethereal Uruguayan culture. Transplant either of them to Maine and give them yamadori larch – quite different in nature, and their results would still be similar to each other and would still reflect their Spanish roots.

In North America this unity of national cultural influence doesn’t – can never – exist. In part because of all the immigrant groups who still hold on to remnants of their ethnic origins; but importantly, Americans don’t grow up surrounded by a couple of thousand years of cultural and artistic heritage to give them a common emotional expression. Chasing after a national or local style in a multi-cultural society is futile. Looking for cultural styles within that society might be more fruitful.”

Colin Lewis is the author of Bonsai Survival Manual (and several other books, now out-of-print), and is the consultant editor to The Bonsai Handbook by Robert Prescott. Colin owns and operates Colin Lewis Bonsai Art and the Ho Yoku School of Bonsai. Colin is also responsible for Ho Yoku bonsai care products.

Source: Bonsai Bark Read more!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Bonsai tree: Refining cork bark black pine – decandling

Source: Bonsai Tonight
Refining cork bark black pine – decandling

Decandling my cork bark black pine was a straightforward process this year. I removed the spring growth and thinned unnecessary needles. I did not decandle weak shoots or shoots that grew in areas I’m trying to develop – mostly the lower branches on the right side. Here is the tree before decandling.

Cork bark black pine

Cork bark Japanese black pine – June 2011

Most branches produce a single new shoot – strong areas produce two or more new shoots.

Spring shoots

Two new shoots – this branch is strong

Large shoot removed

Main shoot removed – one shoot remains

When two or more shoots appear on a single branch, I remove all new shoots to prevent the branch from becoming even stronger. These branches usually have a main shoot that grows upward and one or more side shoots that grow at angles. I cut all shoots perpendicular to the direction in which they grow. Cutting two or more shoots at the same time produces uneven cuts that can lead to uneven growth.

Smaller shoot growing at an angle

The weaker shoot grows at an angle

Smaller shoot removed

Both shoots removed – both cuts square

As I worked, I found a needle that was green toward the base and brown toward the tip. I likely broke it when I wired the tree in April. My goal is to break as few needles as possible when I work on pines. Lots of broken needles is a common sign of careless work.

Broken needle

Oh my, a broken needle!

After removing the new shoots, I thinned unnecessary needles. This allows more light to reach the lower branches and helps balance vigor. I leave more needles on weak branches and fewer needles on stronger branches.

Before removing needles

Shoot after decandling – plenty of needles

After removing extra needles

Branch thinned to five pairs of needles

When I’d finished this work, I noticed that the tree looked different than it did last year – a good sign. If all goes well, I’ll have the silhouette I’m trying to develop in a few more years.

After decandling and removing extra needles

Decandling and needle thinning complete

Part of the improvement is due to improved branch structure. You can get an idea of what the branches look like below.

Branch structure

First branch on the left

Each large branch is comprised of a number of smaller branches. The subtle differences between these branches provides depth and interest.

Branch structure

One of the branches that comprises the large first branch

For comparison’s sake, see the tree when last decandled one year ago: “Decandling cork bark Japanese black pineRead more!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bonsai tree: That’s a Stretch

After. Almost twice as tall (the before photo is below). So tall in fact, that there’s barely room in the photo for the top of the tree (that’s a bad joke, but it’s true that the photo is a little cramped). Shimpaku juniper, height 28″ (71cm). From The Magician, The Bonsai Art of Kimura 2.

From 15″ to 28″ tall

You’ve seen plenty of bonsai reduced in height, but how many have you seen that are almost doubled in height? Granted, in this case, about half of that increase comes from changing the planting angle, but how about the other half?

How did he do that?

Rebar, bamboo sticks and a little creative genius are a big part of Kimura’s bag of tricks. For a detailed exposition of just how these trick are employed, check out The Magician, The Bonsai Art of Kimura 2.

Before. Not a bad tree, but could be much better. Height 15″ (38 cm).

This’ll give you some idea of the process. You can see the whole step-by-step transformation in The Magician. That’s the Master, Masahiko Kimura holding the rebar.

The Magician: full of magical bonsai transformations

And it’s now half price at Stone Lantern (retail 29.95, our low price 14.97).

Source: Bonsai Bark Read more!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bonsai tree: Thinning Japanese black pine

Source: Bonsai Tonight
Thinning Japanese black pine

Here is a recent photo of a Japanese black pine I decandled last fall. The new shoots began growing in fall, paused during winter, and continued growing in the spring. Now the needles are mature and the tree is full. This is how pines decandled in spring typically look in November.

Fall growth

Black pine – June 2011

The goal of decandling the tree in fall was to encourage new interior buds. Now that several of these buds have appeared, I want them to get stronger. To further push the interior buds, I thinned new growth in strong areas to a single bud.

two terminal buds

Two new shoots – this branch is strong

Thinned to one bud

Branch thinned to a single shoot

I also shortened as many branches as I could to further encourage the interior shoots.

After thinning

After thinning and cutback

When the interior shoots get stronger, I can shorten the branches and further reduce the tree’s silhouette. A lot of work for such a young pine? Yes! But from this work, I’ve learned a lot. And so far, I’m happy with the results.
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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Bonsai tree: Happy People, Healthy Bonsai

Happy people make for healthy bonsai (not to mention a healthy business). BTW: there are some household bonsai names above. Can you spot them?

Breaking with our tradition

Bonsai Bark is all about bonsai. We usually (almost always) leave the people photos to others. But just this once, we’re breaking our own rules by mixing in photos of people enjoying bonsai and just enjoying themselves.

New England Bonsai Gardens

All the photos in this post are from New England Bonsai. If you’re ever in their neighborhood (on the Mass/RI border, an hour from Boston), definitely stop by. They’ll be happy to see you.

Sweet tree. Great pot. Nice knot.

Paula, Kandy & ??? Not really. If memory serves, it’s Teddi, John and Hitoshi mixing business and pleasure.

A peaceful Buddha presides over a peaceful scene.

Another peaceful scene.

I rest my case. That’s Elaine (another happy New England Bonsai staffer) with Hiromi Tsukada, visiting bonsai artist.

Source: Bonsai Bark Read more!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Bonsai tree: Bonsai apprentices online

Source: Bonsai Tonight
Bonsai apprentices online

Like many bonsai enthusiasts, I’ve long dreamed about studying bonsai in Japan in a formal apprenticeship. After hearing tales from Kathy Shaner, Boon Manakitivipart, and Michael Hagedorn, I’m both excited by, and somewhat afraid of, all that the experience entails.

Recently three more bonsai students began apprenticeships in Japan: Tim Gardner, Peter Tea, and Tyler Sherrod. Tim is studying with Tohru Suzuki at Daiju-en in Okazaki. Toshinori Sukuki, Tohru’s father, trained Yasuo Mitsuya, Kathy’s teacher, and Kihachiro Kamiya, Boon’s teacher.

Peter is studying with Junichiro Tanaka, owner of Aichien Bonsai Nursery in Nagoya. Tanaka studied bonsai with Tohru Suzuki.

Tyler is studying bonsai with Shinji Suzuki in Obuse, near Nagano. Michael Hagedorn studied bonsai with Shinji Suzuki, and Matt Reel continues to study with Suzuki. Shinji Suzuki studied with Motosuke Hamano, Masahiko Kimura’s teacher.

Somehow, both Peter Tea and Tim Gardner have found time to write about their adventures and share them online. Their blogs are among my favorite bonsai sites as they contain great photos and excellent advice on bonsai training and care. I recommend them both highly.

Here are some photos from Peter’s Aichien Journal (photos by Peter Tea):


Japanese black pine


Japanese five needle pine


Japanese maple

And here are some photos from Tim’s Daiju-en Journal (photos by Tim Gardner):

Daiju En

Tohru Suzuki working on a Japanese black pine

Daiju En

One of the greatest collections of pines on earth – Daiju-en

Daiju En

More pines from Daiju-en

Peter, Tim, and Tyler – I wish you all the best of luck. Ganbatte!
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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Bonsai tree: American Bonsai Heaven

Still a work in progress, but an exceptional work at that. Douglas fir, styled by Ryan Neil. Collected by Randy Knight.

Full tilt bonsai

Is it just me, or has Oregon quietly become bonsai heaven? Think about it; Michael Hagedorn (Crataegus Bonsai) has been hunkering down in Portland every since he returned from his apprenticeship with Shinji Suzuki in Japan. Now Ryan Neil (International Bonsai Mirai), still somewhat fresh from his six year apprenticeship with Masahiko Kimura (if you’ve heard of anybody, you’ve heard of him) has settled in the Portland area too. Both Michael and Ryan are going full tilt bonsai, and if that’s not enough there’s this other guy, Randy Knight (Oregon Bonsai) who’s a madman (in the good sense) collector of wild material that’s making a big name for himself with his ferocious eye and techniques and sensitivity that make for almost unprecedented success rates (such hyperbole, especially given that I’ve never met Randy… but I’ve seen enough photos and drank just enough coffee to go out on this limb).

Bunjin juniper, originally from Japan and styled by Michael Hagedorn. I’ve been wanting to post this sweet little tree for a long time, but have hesitated because of the lazy line and dots in the background (I’m really not a finicky person, it’s just some idea I have about standards for Bonsai Bark). But the tree has finally won me over, dots and all.
Just collected by Randy Knight. The cryptic captions say Colorado, so, given the orange bark, I’m guessing it’s a ponderosa.

This’ll give you some idea of the scope of Randy Knight’s collecting passion, perseverance and patience, not to mention his strong back.

I’m breaking another of my own rules (about featuring bonsai rather than people in photos). It’s Ryan Neil back in his apprentice days working on one of Kimura’s most famous trees.

This one speaks for itself. It’s from Ryan’s website and was taken somewhere in Japan. Is it Kimura’s nursery?

Source: Bonsai Bark Read more!