May 2015 Classical Bonsai MasterClass


Today we concluded a three day Classical Bonsai MasterClass with five students from New Jersey and New York state, plus my assistant. We first discussed the topics they would like to study and selected studying classical bonsai design, wiring techniques, maple bonsai, bonsai refinement as well as bonsai display appreciation.


Each day began with the theory and creation of the main bonsai displayed in the studio alcove as well as the counter display of smaller trees. Powerpoint programs were presented with handouts highlighting the important elements of the topics. On the first day each student went to their hotels with a 23 page Classical Bonsai Design Test comparing 50 different sets bonsai and graphic designs.


After lunch we proceeded into the garage workshop where three more displays were shown and discussed. Finally, the rest of the afternoon was spent training each student’s personal bonsai. My small power washer to clean the bark on bonsai was demonstrated and some tried it out. Looks like they liked this tool to save considerable time cleaning with a toothbrush and sources for similar pressure washers were shared. We all had dinner and discussed bonsai species as well as growing techniques.


Tom Friday and Paul Eschman


Paul Tuttle

The next morning we all discussed the Classical Bonsai Design Test comparisons of bonsai and graphic designs. There were no right or wrong answers, but lively comments were made on several of the images. We then spent considerable time on wiring and forest bonsai design and creation. Again my personal alcove bonsai display was explained. After lunch during the afternoon workshop, while students worked on their trees, my assistant began preparing a large established Ezo spruce forest for redesigning into a rather unusual mixed species planting. When it came time to add the European beech to the Ezo spruce forest all students gathered to discuss the techniques and new design. We all dined together in the evening and several students returned to the workshop to continue working on their bonsai.


Sergio Cuan


Bob Taylor


Paul Eschman

Sunday morning began with students pairing together to create three bonsai displays in the garage workshop. They could use any of my personal bonsai along with my vast collection of display tables, scrolls and companion plants. When each group finished their displays we went into the studio to watch three Powerpoint presentations on Maple Bonsai, Creating Impressive Root Sisplays for Maple Bonsai and Refining Maple Bonsai.


Three student displays


Ginkgo bonsai display


After explaining my Ginkgo alcove display we went out and discussed each of the three student displays. The displays were quite outstanding, looks like they listened well, plus added their own creativity. Students spent time thinking of what they wanted to express and explained their theory to everyone. I was quite impressed with the displays and the selection of display tables, companion plantings and scrolls.


Tom Friday and Bob Taylor displayed a Deshojo Japanese maple bonsai


Paul Tuttle and Sergio Cuan displayed a Dwarf Austrian pine


Paul Eschman and Alan Adair displayed a Scots pine bonsai

After lunch we spent the rest of the afternoon with the final workshop. Some students worked on several trees while others concentrated on a single bonsai. Several larch, maples, pines and a large Zelkova bonsai were refined and improved.


Sergio Cuan with a Zelkova bonsai, not completely finished


Nearly completed Zelkova bonsai on its way to refinement

This was an excellent group of serious students who wanted to improve their understanding of classical bonsai art as well as refine their own bonsai. Each expressed their individual opinions while respecting comments from the others. Additionally they learned and practiced bonsai display which will improve their individual displays in future club shows as well as for the next U.S. National Bonsai Exhibition.

Spring Beauty At The International Bonsai Arboretum



Spring is my favorite time of the year, and also the busiest especially if you have many deciduous bonsai. In addition to transplanting and shaping emerging buds of developed bonsai must be pinched. This requires pinching many times over several days because the buds do not open at the same time on each bonsai.
Joe Lentner spent many hours pinching and trimming Japanese maple bonsai
All of this work can not be done alone. I’m fortunate to have many good friends who volunteer to help me create and maintain bonsai as well as preparing for classes and in the garden as well. My “Monday Senior Crew” came many more days during the week this spring. Each Monday there are eight of us transplanting, pinching, wiring, pruning as well as cleaning up. Because of their dedication and hard work my bonsai and garden look pretty good now.
Rick Marriott preparing container
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Paul Eschman pressure washing Hornbeam trunk before transplanting
Moving bonsai after transplanting
Watering after transplanting
Enjoy the beauty of my spring garden as well as alcove displays arranged for classes and for welcoming visitors to my garden.
Rough Bark Trident Maple, Acer buergerianum ‘Arakawa’
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Koto Hime Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum ‘Koto Hime’
Koto Hime Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum ‘Koto Hime’
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Robinson Bradford Pear, Pyrus calleryana ‘Robinson’
Deshojo Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum ‘Deshojo’
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Seigen Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum ‘Seigen’
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Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum
Kashima Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum ‘Kashima’
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Butterfly Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum ‘Versicolor’
Seiun Satsuki Azalea, Rhododendron indicum ‘Seiun’
Shishigashira Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum ‘Shishigashira’
Koto Hime Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum ‘Koto Hime’
Oto Hime Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum ‘Oto Hime’
Katsura Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum ‘Katsura’
Spring in Rochester, New York30

African, Oceanic Art & Classical Bonsai Exhibit in New York City

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Wood sculptures and masks created by remote cultures for use in daily life and ritual will be on view, combined with classical bonsai in the unique exhibit: “Mastering Worlds; Exploring Space & Scale in Tribal and Asiatic Art.” The exhibit runs from May 13-17 at 291 7th Ave. PH, in New York, NY.



The exhibition is vetted, containing only authentic museum quality objects and marks the first time classical bonsai and ethnographic arts have been formally paired together. This exhibition and New York Tribal Arts Week is running concurrent with Frieze Week (Art Auction Week) and as well as the other Spring Art Fairs for visitors in New York City.



Among the several bonsai on display include an important Sargent juniper bonsai approximately 100 years old, originally from the Kennett Collection and a Japanese white pine approximately 100 years old, last styled by Sean Smith and displayed in the 2012 U.S. National Bonsai Exhibition.



Cole Harwell, CEO Cole Harrell African & Oceanic Art organized and is sponsoring the exhibition. Mr. Harrell comments: “In conjunction with New York Tribal Art Week, I’m proud to present this selection of African & Oceanic Art with classical bonsai to explore how cultures condense and materialize concepts of faith, identity and belief. By examining the different art forms with mutual regard to space and scale, I’m hoping viewers develop a fresh perspective into our mutual humanity.”



Admission to the exhibition is free. It opens on Wednesday, May 13th, with a viewing party Saturday, May 16, 6-9 pm, 291 7th Ave. PH, at 27th Street in New York City. Show Hours are by appointment only Wednesday, May 13th 11am – 8 pm through Sunday May 17th 11 am – 7 pm. RSVP: For details please visit: or

Getting Ready For A Bonsai Show



American larch bonsai on cork board

Most spring bonsai shows have probably taken place by now in southern areas. However, it’s now show time in the north. Our local bonsai exhibition will take place next weekend in Rochester, New York, and I’m always trying to improve each member’s display. Last month information was presented in this blog on how to make a quick and low cost companion planting from dwarf Columbine.


Dwarf Columbine companion planting on cork board

This month I’d like to suggest a quick and low cost “wooden slab” for companion plantings as well as smaller size bonsai. Traditionally, wood is used and although inexpensive types can be found, high end quality wooden slabs can cost hundreds of dollars, even for small 10 inch sizes. The prices increase with rare wood species and hand carved edge details.


Elm burl by Michel Villeneuve, Montreal, Canada


Wood from western USA tree species


Chinese quince burl


Edge detail of Chinese quince burl

Several pieces of bamboo or reed can be tied together to make similar flat board for companion plantings and bonsai as well. However, traditionally bamboo “rafts” are only used during the summer season. Since the weather for the past few days in Rochester, New York, has been over 90F, summer has probably arrived here so bamboo “rafts” are suitable now.


Pack of 4 cork tiles, $10

Thin cork boards are readily available from craft stores or Lowe’s Home Improvement Centers. Although they come in different sizes, the 12” x 12” size is great and comes in packs of four cork boards for only $8-10 making each board about $2 each.


Round shape


Free form shape

They are easy to design by sketching an irregular round, oval or free form shape using a pencil. Then simply cut out the shape with a pair of scissors. But, if you carefully try to tear the oak with your fingers and finger nails the irregular edge will look better. The sizes can be individually made for specific containers or to fit many containers of similar sizes. That’s it, finished ready to show.


Unstained cork board


Unpainted cork board edge detail

However, the cork board color is light and if you want to present a more finished “wooden slab” they are easily to paint. Dark colors are preferred to present a quite feeling, but ideally they should be a different color from the container and display table for the featured bonsai. I tried spray paint to darken the light colored cork, but got much better results using Minwax Wood Finish Stains that come in numerous colors. A foam brush works well for applying the stain, especially for coloring the edges. Simply press the foam brush around the edges first, then paint the flat surfaces last. If both sides are painted two different shapes will be created thus providing greater diversity when selecting the perfectly matched “wooden slab” for your companion planting or bonsai. This entire process can be done in only about an hour, but it’s best not to make them the day before the show.


Minwax Wood Finish Stain and foam bruch


Unstained and stained cork boards


Chinese quince bonsai on stained cork board


Crabapple bonsai on cork board

Larger Size “Wooden Slabs”

Sometimes larger sizes are necessary since the “wooden slab” should be larger than the container. It’s difficult to find larger sizes cork boards, but easy to place two smaller sizes together to appear as one. If the container is carefully positioned it is impossible to determine if one or two or even three cork boards are placed together. Once in Japan I saw a large forest style bonsai on an artificial flat stone displayed on a wooden board. But, upon closer study I found numerous smaller wooden boards carefully placed to appear as a larger size. When cutting out the cork boards, simply shape two boards with similar shapes.


Two unstained cork boards to be displayed together


Two unstained cork boards under larger bonsai


Companion planting on two stained cork boards

Thicker Larger “Wooden Slabs”

The thin cork boards are fine for smaller size companion plantings or small bonsai. However they may appear visually too light to anchor larger size containers. Ceiling tiles come in many sizes, but the 24” x 48” size is pretty standard and cost about $5. A utility knife comes in handy cutting out the initial design of the ceiling tile, but the edges look better when shaped by hand.


Unpainted ceiling tile after shaping


Painted ceiling tile

Ceiling tiles are usually white with small holes, not the best for displaying with bonsai. After shaping I sprayed the ceiling tile with a brown spray paint, making certain the edges are completely covered with paint. I did not initially like the effect, but the spray paint did fill in many of the ugly holes. So after the spray paint dried I simply used some of the same Minwax Wood Finish Stain used on the thinner cork boards and painted again. The result came out quite well. The thicker size is well proportioned for smaller and medium size bonsai.


Unpainted ceiling tile edge detail


Painted ceiling tile edge detail


Dwarf Ezo spruce bonsai on painted ceiling tile. Note the thicker size is in proportion to the larger size bonsai.

Both of these inexpensive “wooden slabs” are ideal for flat rock planting style bonsai where larger size display tables are difficult or expensive to purchase. They can also be cut to the shape of the individual stone. Make them a couple of inches larger than the stone all around for best effect.



The 42nd Upstate New York Bonsai Exhibition & Sale will be held on May 16-17, 2015 at the Monroe Community Hospital in Rochester, New York. The show hours are 10am to 5pm daily with bonsai and ikebana demonstrations at 2pm. Approximately 100 fine quality bonsai from local members will be on display as well as Ikebana flower arrangements from the local Ikebana International society. About ten vendors will have bonsai and supplies for sale.


International Bonsai Arboretum Spring 2015 Open House & Sale 




Additionally to make a full day of your trip to Rochester, my annual Spring Open House & Sale will take place at the International Bonsai Arboretum on the same days as the bonsai exhibition from 10am to 4pm. Contact me for directions, questions or details.


The annual Lilac Festival down the street from the bonsai exhibition features over 700 lilac shrubs in over 400 cultivars. Come, visit Rochester– the snow has finally melted and warm weather has arrived (and I hope it stays), so come see, study and buy some great bonsai!


Create A Companion Planting For Your Spring Bonsai Show


Its show time and the time for spring bonsai shows is rapidly approaching. In order to complete the presentation of your bonsai an appropriate companion planting, suiseki or figurine is often utilized next to the tree. Formal bonsai display requires study along with fine taste, which is a lengthy topic. Rather than to attempt to cover the theory, design and background of bonsai display, I’d like to present a quick and easy solution to creating an instant companion planting, which may enhance the presentation of your bonsai for your bonsai show.

Perennials are often used as companion plantings for bonsai. There are almost an unlimited number of different perennial species which are suitable for bonsai companion plantings. Dwarf or low growing plants work best. Often, when pot bound the foliage reduces in size and is more delicate. Pot bound companion plantings usually dry out quickly so keep many of them in a shallow saucer of water during the summer, especially dwarf Hostas with large leaf areas.


Perennial selection at Lowe’s Home Improvement Center

A few days ago I went to one of our local Lowe’s Home Improvement Centers and was surprised to see a display of dwarf Columbines growing in one quart pots for sale. The common Columbine, Aquilegia Canadensis, is a wild flower native to eastern North America, which reaches heights of approximately two feet.


The dwarf Columbine cultivar ‘Little Lanterns’ is an excellent dwarf mounding perennial suited for small areas and rock gardens because it only grows to ten or twelve inches in height. The small deep red and yellow nodding flowers stand above the blue green foliage and often last from April to June depending on the weather. I purchased a few pots of the ‘Little Lanterns’ columbine at $3.98 each and returned to my studio to create a spring blossoming bonsai companion planting.


First an appropriate container was selected. Generally shallow round containers with short feet are best for combining with bonsai for display. A smaller size companion planting is better than one which is larger. The choice of an unglazed or colored container depends on the bonsai container. Personally, if the bonsai container is glazed I’ll select an unglazed companion pot. If the bonsai container is unglazed a glazed companion pot is used. Also, if the bonsai container is symmetrical (round, square or equal-sided) an asymmetrical (rectangular or oval) companion pot is used. Likewise I like to combine asymmetrical bonsai containers with symmetrical companion plants. Many people like to use expensive containers for companion plantings. However, when the plants are fully grown they often overhang the container and sometimes the container cannot even be seen or enjoyed. Therefore, I generally do not use high quality containers for companion plantings and even used chipped or broken pots when the final result will be a full planting.


Two of these three plants are to be combined for the companion planting. The third plant was planted in a smaller container which will be displayed with a smaller size bonsai

I generally first select the bonsai to be displayed, then chose an appropriate companion pot. Then  proceed to create the companion planting or switch pots of an already established planting. If the companion planting is established, it is probably full of roots and the container can be easily switched. This is commonly done to change from a glazed to an unglazed container to contrast with the bonsai to be displayed.


Plastic screening placed over the drainage hole to keep the soil in the container


A small amount of the original soil, mixed with bonsai soil was first placed on the bottom of the container

Companion plantings are best presented when they completely fill the container, often overflowing. Sparsely planted companion plantings are not as effective as a container full of foliage and flowers as well. If a few smaller plants are planted in a larger companion pot and have not completely filled the pot it is best to wait and display in the future.

The bonsai, which will be displayed, is an American larch, Larix laricina, growing in an antique Chinese rectangular unglazed container. I collected this tree “north of Toronto, Canada” over thirty years ago on the lakeshore. Therefore a round blue glazed container was selected for the companion planting so it would contrast with the rectangular unglazed container of the bonsai.

Two of the ‘Little Lanterns’ columbines were selected for the companion planting since I wanted a full container of plants. Plants with plenty of unopened flower buds were selected to prolong the flowering season display. Its always advisable to select plants with many unopened flower buds to extend the blossoming period. However, try to select plants with at least one open flower bud to make certain the color will be suitable for displaying with a bonsai and especially is not the same color as the companion planting container.


First sharp trimming shears were used to cut the root ball in half


Although the pant appears to be pot bound, it is not


Note the roots are primarily growing around the perimeter of the pot and the center is dry


A bamboo chopstick was used to carefully tease the roots of each plant

Each plant was removed from the one quart plastic growing pot and was severely root pruned. Then about half of the soil was removed from one side of each of the two plants and they were combined to create a single plant.


A little bonsai soil was mixed with the original peat/bark nursery soil to fill the display container. The completed companion planting was immediately thoroughly watered and placed in the shade to recover from the transplanting.


The first plant was positioned in the new container


The second plant was added trying to keep the crowns of both plants close to each other so they appear to be one plant


Additional soil mix was added and gently firmed with a chopstick

A few days later the companion planting was groomed to remove any damaged leaves, old flowers and to create a symmetrical appearance. A stand was then selected for the formal display of the American larch bonsai. The companion planting must also sit on some kind of display table as well. Flat boards, wooden burls or bamboo rafts are commonly used for companion plantings. Since the bonsai is in a rectangular container on a rectangular display table I did not want to repeat the straight lines and selected an irregular shaped wooden burl for the companion planting.


The completed ‘Little Lantern’ columbine companion plant ready for display with a bonsai

This companion planting of ‘Little Lantern’ columbine is only an example of what can be created from commonly available perennials at local garden centers. There are hundreds of different Hosta cultivars which can also be used as well. Annuals can also used as companion plantings as well.


This bonsai display is being prepared for the 49th Upstate New York Bonsai Exhibition on May 16-17, 2015 in Rochester, New York. Everyone is invited to visit the exhibition and see nearly 100 beautiful bonsai including my American larch bonsai. Also, it is no accident that both the American larch and ‘Little Lanterns’ columbine are both native to eastern North America. It is sometimes desirable to use companion plants which grow in the same area as the bonsai.

Ueno Green Club



The Ueno Green Club is the headquarters for the Nippon Bonsai Cooperative a long time professional bonsai organization organized in 1931. The organization is a business corporation and members must be approved and pay a hefty entry fee, plus annual dues. Twenty one years ago there were over 500 members. Today the membership is approximately 250.


Nippon BonaI Association Building

6P4A0315Nippon Satsuki Association Office

Twenty one years ago the Nippon Bonsai Cooperative built a three story building in the center area and removed the long buildings. Then a more modern building was constructed on the left side. The building is owned by the Nippon Bonsai Cooperative, but the land is leased. There is a close relationship with the Nippon Bonsai Association, a non-profit organization established in the early 1960s which was first established as the Kokufu Bonsai Society in 1934. Their headquarter building is located diagonally across the street from the Ueno Green Club. About a half block away is the headquarters for the Nippon Satsuki Association.

6P4A0320Third floor shohin bonsai sales during Kokufu Bonsai Exhibitions

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6P4A0325Second floor bonsai sales during Kokufu Bonsai Exhibitions

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Outdoor sales area during Kokufu Bonsai Exhibitions

Located next to the Ueno Zoo on a corner lot the land actually belongs to a government organization and the corporation has a long term lease. The area was originally called the “Bonsai Club” and is used for auctions, meetings, exhibitions and selecting trees for shows. Originally there were long buildings around an open area where indoor activities were held. The open area in the center had tables for sales and displaying bonsai.


Since the Nippon Bonsai Association and Nippon Bonsai Cooperative work closely together and membership overlaps, it is a bit difficult to distinguish their differences. However, one organization is a for profit professional corporation and the other is a non-profit association. The Nippon Bonsai Association rents the Ueno Green Club for three days each January from the Nippon Bonsai Cooperative for judging and photographing bonsai for the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition.


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The Ueno Green Club building is a modern three story building with very thick walls for earthquake protection. There are elevators which make moving large bonsai for exhibitions, auctions and sales easy. Each floor has been deigned to be partitioned to create individual rooms for meetings, judging, sales and bonsai displays.






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Yukio Murata, Kyuka-en Bonsai Garden just purchased young Trident maple seedlings for future masterpiece bonsai using Masakuni Tools

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Peter Warren helped Minoru Akiyama, a graduate apprentice of Kunio Kobayashi, and his son in law, with this sales area. A large suiseki was sold which was in a wooden storage box with the owner’s name. The new client did not want the previous owner’s name on the box so Peter began to erase the inked name. It was taking considerable effort and someone suggested he use a power tool to sand off the name. Great idea, it worked!



Osamu Fukudata, another graduate apprentice of Kunio Kobayashi watches.





Most foreigners are familiar with the Ueno Green Club as only a sales area during the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition, but it is indeed much more.


Omiya Bonsai Village, Masahiko Kimura & S-Cube


Each of our exciting bonsai tours to Japan includes a private tour to S-Cube, Masahiko Kimura’s studio, Omiya Bonsai Art Museum and the bonsai gardens in Omiya Bonsai Village. There are always new bonsai and other interesting things to see and study.

Seiji Morimae
Hanyu City
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Masahiko Kimura
Saitama City
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Omiya Bonsai Art Museum
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Mansei-en Bonsai Garden
Hatsuji & Takahiro Kato
Omiya Bonsai Village
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Seiko-en Bonsai Garden
Tomio & Kaori Yamada
Omiya Bonsai Village
Kyuka-en Bonsai Garden
Isamu & Yukio Murata
Omiya Bonsai Village
Fuyo-en Bonsai Garden
Hiroshi Takeyama
Omiya Bonsai Village
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