China National Penjing Exhibition– Part 1


The China Zuni– 2014 (Yuyao) National Exhibition of Collections of Chinese Penjing Collectors will be held on October 31- November 2, 2014 in Yuyao City, near Shanghai, China. I was honored to be invited to attend and help with the complicated judging of the most important penjing exhibition in China for 2014.






The exhibition opens to the public on Friday while the complicated and detailed judging began on Wednesday morning at 8am. There were a total of ten judges, eight from China and Taiwan and two foreigners, Tony Tickle from England and me representing the United States. We were bused to the event and had a meeting to explain the complicated process. Fortunately, the 14 page “Evaluation Scheme” was in both Chinese and English, but we still had questions which needed to be answered. Lots of regulations, no discussing penjing with other judges and more.



There were supervisors watching us at all times. Everyone was given a clipboard with the judging forms plus a hat and even an umbrella because of the impending rain. It sprinkled for a few minutes, but did it not slow anyone down. Each of the 41 judging pages needed to be signed and dated by each artist. I believe all the scores will be published and displayed to the public and artists can dispute scores, but have not seen this yet and hope I don’t enjoy that experience.



There were 121 individual penjing to be point judged, plus about a dozen more. We had a few meetings, one to discuss a beautiful two part rock planting of Japanese five-needle pine (6 trees by the way, and beautiful) which was simply placed on the display table. It looked great, but some judges inquired about the missing tray because the “basin and basin appearance quality” constituted for 6 points.


It was interesting that if a tree had metal wires a minimum of 5 points must be deducted from the score. As we were beginning to judge some last minute trees were being “installed” on the tables.




Removing wire



The exhibition was held at a junior high school in the track, a large one. Each penjing was displayed on a custom made table with one background for two trees on each side. The white backgrounds had a subtle scene printed which was effective for some of the trees. The trees were on two different levels and each fit inside the background, except for a few extra long branches. All the trees were displayed on the huge oval track while the center field was empty.



Around noon the judges were rounded up and had lunch together in two groups, vegetarians and meat eaters. Then we returned back to work to complete the judging process. Most of us finished up this part around 4 pm. We were then taken back to the hotel for dinner and returned at 7pm to watch the final tabulations, then go outside in the dark to see the top three winning trees. Finally, after another meeting it was decided to allow the calculated winners to be accepted. Back inside we all needed to sign again, twice. By the time we returned to the hotel it was 10 pm.


On Thursday the opening ceremony and party will be held in the evening. The exhibition opens to the public on Friday. More photos and interesting details to follow on the opening ceremony, demonstrations, sales area and stone display. But this is an exciting important event and I’m honored to be a small part of it.




Suiseki Master Training Seminar


Today, October 25, 2014, Marc Arpag, Fran Mahoney, Les Allen (from Erie, PA) and I, all members of the Upstate New York Suiseki Study Group drove to Marysville, PA, to attend the Suiseki Master Training Seminar with Seiji Morimae, Sir Peter Warren and Sean Smith. The intense one day seminar was held in a delightful lodge nestled deep in the woods near Sean’s home. The quiet venue was a perfect setting for this advanced seminar on suiseki which was limited to only 15 individuals who were familiar with the art and wanted to improve their understanding. People traveled from Florida, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey and New York state.


Everyone was asked to bring two suiseki for the display and critique. An empty water basin and another suiseki for positioning in the water basin were necessary for the seminar. Sean provided high quality washed sand for all water basins.



Before the formal program began all participants set up their suiseki displays featuring both daiza suiseki and water basin suiseki which were arranged with accent plants or other small art objects and a few hanging scrolls. People who brought extra display tables and accent plants shared with others in order to present each display to its finest beauty.


After a few brief introductions and announcements Seiji Morimae, proprietor of S-Cube in Japan showed images to explain Japanese aesthetics with the excellent translation of Sir Peter Warren, who was well schooled in the art and understanding of Suiseki during his six year apprenticeship with Kunio Kobayashi who is the present head of the Nippon Suiseki Association. Mr. Morimae first showed images of his bonsai garden, but explained for the first time in public his thinking and philosophy on its design. The path through the garden as well as the entrance gate orientation are important and were discussed. Although I’ve had the privilege of visiting Mr. Merimee’s garden in Hanyu, Japan, numerous times during the past ten years of its opening, this is the first time he has explained in detail his thoughts. When I visit his garden again in a couple of weeks with my tour I’ll be certain to simply sit and think about Mr. Morimae’s philosophy.


Next images of Japanese art, architecture, nature, bonsai and suiseki were shown and explained how all these elements worked together to contribute to the development of Japanese aesthetics. He spoke about the importance of the two general types of bonsai and how they differ and also mentioned that there are two types of suiseki as well.








Just before a delicious catered luncheon everyone joined Mr. Morimae outside on the deck for a demonstration on how to fill water basins with gravel. He showed the sand and explained in detail the correct way of filling the water basin with sand, leveling, placing the stone, watering and finally adjusting for the best viewing position. Then everyone moved to individual tables and prepared their own water basin and suiseki compositions. Mr. Morimae, Sir Peter Warren and Sean went around helping the participants using some of the several provided tools. When everyone completed their stone arrangement, Mr. Morimae critiqued each composition and presented ideas on how to improve the stone display so the best viewing angle could be appreciated. Again here Sir Peter translated so everyone could easily understand his teaching.





After lunch a walk in the woods was led by Mr. Morimae who spoke about the relationship between nature and stones. The walk also helped to wake people up after the delicious and filling luncheon.


When we returned back in the lodge all participants lined up and were split into three groups, each to compose a formal suiseki display using the large tokonoma alcove Sean built for the event. We could use any item and although all three group displays were beautiful Mr. Morimae made suggestions on how the displays could be elevated to a higher level of appreciation.





Finally, we had a small auction with items donated from Mr. Morimae, Sean and the other participants. Several of the high quality suiseki sold for excellent low prices. Suddenly Sean remembered that there was washed sand remaining from the workshop so all of the five gallon buckets were brought inside and auctioned.


Thank you to Mr. Morimae and Sir Peter who traveled around the world and gave so much of themselves to help serious suiseki lovers to better understand the deeper elements of suiseki and how we can improve our displays. But, the biggest thank you goes to Sean Smith for his concept and execution of a most successful Master Suiseki Training Seminar, all first class and making the fifteen participants feel welcome. I learned a lot which will be shared with others and feel lucky I was invited to this unique training seminar.

Thank you Sean!

Autumn Beauty In Rochester, New York


I returned home from Japan and Indonesia on late Thursday evening to find my main display garden ablaze in color, what a nice welcome home! Although the colors are beautiful, they are not quite at their peak… yet. Probably next week or the week after they should be even better.

10-2014 GARDEN VIEW 5

Most people think the cold temperatures bring on the autumn colors of deciduous species. However, the onset of dormancy actually begins on June 21st when the daylight decreases. Although the diminishing light is not immediately apparent to humans, the plants can detect the reduced light. This stimulates the onset of dormancy, but the cooler weather in September is more apparent to people. Sometimes after a hard frost or freeze colors intensify.


It’s interesting that some species always turn a certain color in autumn, like the Ginkgo which always turns clear yellow. Burning bush, Euonymus alatus, always turns red to pink in autumn. But, some species have many different coloring each autumn, like some maples.


Burning bush

I have a Chinese elm forest with about twenty seedlings and two or three always turn red-pink rather than the common yellow.

DCF 1.0 2002  CHINESE ELM 20082008

Here are some photos of one of my Trident maples illustrating the different autumn coloring during the years. I’m not quite sure as I’m still experimenting, but it seems to me the fertilizer, water and sunlight combined greatly affect autumn coloring. The final autumn coloring this year is not yet complete so here are some older photos. I have one where the entire tree is bright orange, but can’t seem to find it. Not finding photos or other items which I “know” I have sometimes happens since our house BBQ a few years ago. But, I’m thankful for what we still have. Photos are difficult, if not impossible to replace.

OCTOBER 2001 2001  OCTOBER 2010  2010

OCTOBER 2012  2102

This was my main display garden yesterday. Today after I took some more photos we had a wind storm which blew many of the leaves off the trees. A few of the bonsai looked especially colorful so took a few individual photos.

10-2014 GARDEN 2 10-2104 GARDEN 1

VIEW  10-2014 GARDEN 4

This was my main display garden yesterday. Today after I took some more photos we had a wind storm which blew many of the leaves off the trees. A few of the bonsai looked especially colorful so took a few individual photos.



MUM CASCADE Nippon daisy chrysanthemum


The Washington hawthorn suddenly turned orange and also had some fruit so it was taken into the studio for an autumn display with Toad lilies which just finished blossoming.



Enjoy autumn while it lasts, and I hope for a long time, because you know what is coming up….


International Bonsai Art & Culture Biennial 2014– Part 2



The last three days were busy with morning demonstrations and afternoon tours. Robert Steven did a stellar job organizing the entire convention, exhibitions and especially the twelve demonstrations from ten countries. Friendly people from twenty one countries were represented at the convention.

Next to the most unusual bonsai exhibition the demonstrations were the highlight of the four day convention. There were four demonstrators working on stage together under their country’s flag. Since I was “working” on stage on Sunday it was difficult to get many photos. Sometimes there were so many people crowding the stage it was difficult to get good shots, especially when the backgrounds blended into the tree and spotlights glaring into the camera lens.





Chong Yong Yap from Malaysia worked on a well developed Wrightia and showed how to lower branches and screwing them into place. This bonsai was well developed before and looked even better at the conclusion of his demonstration.



Professor Amy Liang came from Taiwan to show one of her specialties- forest style bonsai. The well developed Wrightia were drastically root pruned to fit on the shallow white marble tray. She brought two assistants from Taiwan to help her move the large size forest.5 TAIWAN



Mauro Stemberger traveled from Italy to demonstrate his techniques for shaping a very large size juniper. He removed quite a bit of the foliage and created a dead wood feature with the remaining stumps. He did not trim the branch tips to give strength to the foliage.




William N. Valavanis represented the United States and worked on a large size Dwarf ixora. This species grows quite slowly so the demonstration tree was old. This was a difficult tree to shape and Mauro immediately offered to split his juniper in half for me to use for the demo. It would have made a great small size bonsai, but going that way meant that my demo would have taken a few minutes rather than the tree hours allocated.






I was lucky and did not fall off the table!





9 DEMO 2


Cheng Cheng Kung from Taiwan also worked on large juniper and carefully explained and demonstrated how to create dead wood using tools he invented. It is important to first look for the living lifeline under the bark before creating dead wood going around the trunk.




Sulistyanto Soejoso, an Indonesian native worked on a huge Phempis collected and established in a container. Four men were required to lift the tree on to the turntable and into the new container. He worked all around the tree and did not establish the front until the tree was completely shaped. Finally he potted the tree in a container he made from concrete especially for this bonsai.







Zhen Zhi came from China with one of his students to show how to create shohin bonsai. China is most famous for the large size penjing, but he started a shohin penjing organization and exhibition. He brought two junipers from China for his demonstrations and they quietly worked and created two beautiful shohin bonsai.




Mano Kumar and Shrikrshna Gagdi presented their first international demonstration outside India using several tropical trees for creating a forest bonsai. A flat container looking like a rock was used for planting the trees. Many different design ideas were presented using the same material before completing their bonsai.






19 DEMO 3


Isao Omachi, a recent award winning bonsai artist from Japan also worked on a large juniper. I was photographing another demo and when I looked back at his tree most of it was removed, only leaving an interesting low branch. He worked very hard stripping and carving the dead wood and created the living branches into a triangular silhouette at the end.

24 JAPAN 1

25 JAPAN 2

26 JAPAN 3




Robert Steven, also from Indonesia worked on a large size Dwarf black olive. It was from a cutting originally given to him from Pedro Morales from Puerto Rico. He explained in detail how he shapes a bonsai and decides on the front at the end. When completed he added a few rocks to the composition.




Pedro Morales came from Puerto Rico with his son, Joel, for an assistant. He got the Dwarf ixora with trunk movement and many branches. From certain angles the bonsai looks like a single trunk tree, however he kept both trunks because of their movement.


21 pEDRO 3




Jun llaga traveled from the Philippines to show his design and techniques for creating a forest landscape bonsai. He had many plants to work with but at the end only two well formed trees were used. A large shallow bonsai container was used emphasizing negative space.







30 IMG_5689


Group photo during a tour. I did not climb up to the beautiful temple in the background because I could not find the elevator.





Sales area




Outdoor bonsai exhibit area





OuOne evening everyone was invited to wear their country’s native costume. I had a hard time trying to figure out what that would be for the United States, but came up with one which was popular. Pedro came as a pirate.


Here is view of Robert’s “peep show” exhibit featuring hotel do not disturb door signs with holes between









Again, it must be mentioned that the International Bonsai Art & Culture Biennial 2014 was a most unusual event, which highlighted the creativity of artists using bonsai. The exhibition, demonstrations and warm hospitality made for a most successful event which will hopefully elevate bonsai as an art form and present bonsai display in a creative light. I look forward to their next convention in 2016.

International Bonsai Art & Culture Biennial 2014





Today we visited the opening day of Robert Steven’s International Bonsai Art & Culture Biennial 2014 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. There were lots of beautiful bonsai displays to appreciate in a large exhibition hall, which was divided into about ten smaller galleries, plus a Robert’s “Thinker’s Secret Studio” complete with “peep holes.” Each gallery displayed several different styles and forms of bonsai and displays. Most of the compositions were labeled belonging to Robert, but other exhibitors were listed as well.



This was not an exhibition where one goes to study the form, trunk, and roots leaves and the bark of a bonsai. The beauty of each tree was creatively used to present a new use of bonsai artistically, unlike anything that I’ve seen before, and I loved it! Although I’m accustomed to seeing bonsai displayed in Japan with a quiet and refined taste, these bonsai were dramatic, creative, exciting and innovative. I truly believe Robert has elevated the artistic appreciation and use of bonsai to a new level with his stimulating exhibition.








Of course there were many single bonsai traditionally displayed alone with a plain background, but these were greatly overshadowed by Robert’s unique displays, similar to dioramas seen in museum settings. Many had lights flashing, two displays had the clicking sounds of cameras, one was rotating showing half a missing container held together with stones and moss holding a free form bonsai. Several of the displays included traditional Indonesian batik cloths and human figures made of dried grass. A couple featured picture frames with bonsai coming “out of the box.” Most were dramatically lighted, often with different colored bulbs which made for poor photography, but lovely for an up close personal view.




These descriptions may sound garish, but they were all beautifully executed in fine taste, just not in the style most people are accustomed to. Perhaps some visitors were offended because they did not understand what Robert Stevens was attempting to present to the world– the true artistic value, appreciation and use of bonsai.


I believe one must have an open mind to see and experience many different styles of bonsai from around the world. Quite often people have a limited viewpoint and do not have, nor desire to understand other forms of bonsai appreciation. There is nothing wrong with this viewpoint, but in order for an art form to grow, I believe its necessary to expand our understanding.






Many of Robert’s displays used his native Indonesian culture and folklore as inspirations and as accessories, while others were more modern. Quite a number of the displays were large, ten feet or more. Immediately many people would say, this would never fit into my home, or the bonsai is too large for me to move alone. Well, those people have lost the entire meaning and concept of this exhibition which is to present bonsai artistically and innovatively. In order to fill the exhibition area, large pieces are necessary. There is nothing to stop anyone to recreate or even improve on these display concepts and designs on a smaller scale. By the way, as you look over these display you might not like some of them, but that does not mean that they are poor, it only means you don’t understand the design concept of Robert Steven.




Throughout the indoor exhibition halls, sand paintings of different colored gravel artistically arranged on the floor seemed to lead you from one exhibit to another, all in an Indonesian flair.




There are often discussions about the validity of bonsai as an art form. The International Bonsai Art & Culture Biennial 2014 clearly indicates that bonsai IS an art form and can be used to express both the beauty of bonsai as well as the culture of a nation, and have fun with it as well.




Purple lighting with shadows were intentional


This exhibition took over a year and one half of Robert’s life to conceptualize, assemble and finally to display with impeccable taste so the participants can have a greater understanding of bonsai as a true art form.

Well done Robert, I congratulate you on your successful exhibition and wonder what you will do in two years to improve your show.




Oh, there is also an outdoor exhibition which I briefly went through in the sweltering heat which I hope revisit later. Plus tomorrow begins three mornings of bonsai demonstrations from twelve prominent artists around the globe. Stay tuned for more… Tomorrow evening we will dine at the Sultan’s Palace where participants are requested to wear their countries native dress. I wonder what the native costume in the United States of America is….


Street peddler trying to sell our group a bonsai

A Visit To Shunka-en Bonsai Museum



I spent Thursday morning on my way to Narita Airport en route to Indonesia at Kunio Kobayashi’s Shunka-en Bonsai Museum in Tokyo, Japan. I’ve had numerous opportunities to visit his beautiful garden with the many bonsai tours Kora Dalager and I lead to Japan and also when photographing for our large-format book Fine Bonsai. However, it’s not often that I have the rare privilege to just wonder around his garden, alone, uninterrupted attempting to appreciate, study and absorb the beauty of Mr. Kobayashi’s bonsai, distinctive alcove displays and to look for new ideas to adapt to the western bonsai community.


Formal display of Japanese black pine bonsai


As always Mr. Kobayashi arranges eight formal alcove displays along with several others in his museum to visitors can sit and enjoy the beauty. Ever see me just sit and study a bonsai display?


Informal display of Japanese paulownia




A very simple and elegant display of a literati style Pourithia in the small tea ceremony room alcove

This year I’ve visited Shunka-en Bonsai Museum in February, June and will again in a few weeks for our bonsai tours. Each time more and more bonsai are artistically packed into this small garden. In June I personally thought, the garden if filled to capacity, no more space for additional trees. But, I was wrong! There are many more trees than what I saw in June.


For many years now Chinese collectors have been traveling to Japan, paying high prices for antique Chinese containers and returning them to their origin country. This influx of “new” money has been responsible for maintaining many Japanese bonsai gardens open while the domestic market for trees is not nearly at the level it has enjoyed in the past.


Well, it seems to me that the Chinese have purchased most of the antique Chinese containers they want from Japan and are now turning to buying bonsai.

For the past several years there has been a huge increase in large size bonsai of mostly Japanese black pine bonsai that are probably being trained for the Chinese bonsai collectors. The Chinese love large massive bonsai and the Japanese black pine is one of the easiest species for importing into China. I’ve watched the quick development of what appear to be “garden tree size bonsai” into acceptable large size bonsai in Japan. Mr. Kobayashi and other artists are masters of training bonsai, of all sizes and quality, which is necessary to produce income so they can enjoy developing and refining fine-quality masterpieces.




The six foot branch on the right is being used to thicken a major branch or will be used for inarch grafting

Another new recent addition to Shunka-en Bonsai Museum is a section devoted to maple bonsai. I believe a shade cloth might be used during the hottest part of the summer for leaf protection from intense sun and heat. There are a great number of trees that will quickly develop into masterpieces. Plus I noticed many established famous maple bonsai masterpieces back in wooden boxes or deep containers for additional training, structural repair and to improve health.


During my visit I thought Mr. Kobayashi was hosting a BBQ party with individual grills. I know he likes to BBQ, especially on rainy days. In addition to the increase of large and numerous bonsai the most impressive technique that attracted my eye was the addition of large lump charcoal (biochar) to as a surface application. While this is nothing new and has been a common horticultural and agricultural farming practice for hundreds of years. Many bonsai growers, including me, regularly incorporate charcoal INTO the soil mix. I visited Shankar-en Bonsai Museum in June and did not see the great amount of lump charcoal added to the soil surface. Yes, there were a few surface applications of small size charcoal and if you carefully looked at the soil mix it could be seen. Perhaps Mr. Kobayashi learned something new since June, or is simply experimenting with charcoal for improving plant health.


Japanese black pine with yellow-green needles


The majority of trees with large amounts of lump charcoal were pines with yellowish green needles and junipers. Charcoal provides many benefits for improving the soil mix, but perhaps the most important is that it makes plant nutrients more readily available.



For a thorough, authoritative article on the horticultural charcoal (biochar) benefits for bonsai please see the 2013/NO. 4 issue of International BONSAI on page 22. The author, Dr. Peter Hobbs, is a professor of plant crops and soil science at Cornell University. He also grows bonsai and is one of my newer students who travel from Ithaca, New York to Rochester to attend classes and workshops. What, you DON’T subscribe to International BONSAI? No problem, you can easily subscribe at the link below and back copies are also available too:


Perhaps a bit of rusty iron might help too. I’ve frequently seen old rusty nails stuck into the soil.


Additionally, a few unusual training techniques were displayed to move and lower branches. With a great number of trees, creativity helps the bonsai artist to quickly move branches so more trees can be trained.





Akio Kondo and his Needle Juniper received the Prime Minister Award


The Japan Sakufu Bonsai Exhibition (Japan Creator’s Bonsai Exhibition) is the only exhibition for professional bonsai artists in Japan. This is a very competitive exhibition and winning artists usually get more publicity and clients upon winning the coveted awards, plus the value of the bonsai is increased.



Judges before ceremony

The 2014 40th Sakufu Bonsai Exhibition judging was held a few hours ago on October 15, 2014 at the Ueno Green Club. In the morning the bonsai finalists were selected and were moved to the third floor where the final selections would be made. Mr. Fukuda, chairman of the Nippon Bonsai Association and chairman of the World Bonsai Friendship Federation and Mr. Hamano, one of the judges invited me to this special event. I’ve been fortunate to watch the judging of many Taikan Bonsai Exhibitions and Kokufu Bonsai Exhibitions but this was the first time for the Sakufu Bonsai Exhibition.


Evergreen bonsai finalists

There were nine judges, and after the winners were announced the tenth arrived late who was a prominent artist, not from the bonsai community. The finalist bonsai were grouped into evergreen, deciduous, medium size, creative (rock and group plantings), literati, satsuki and shohin bonsai. There were two or three bonsai in each category. They were all displayed along three walls of the room so everyone could easily see the bonsai.


Deciduous bonsai finalists


Medium size bonsai finalists


Creative bonsai finalists (rock & group plantings)


Literati bonsai finalists


Satsuki bonsai finalists


Shohin bonsai finalists

Like other judging, each of the nine judges were given a ballot for voting. The votes were immediately announced and tabulated in front of the small audience. Winners were announced for each category.



11 KONDO 1

Akio Kondo when his tree won


Winning bonsai artists

After the bonsai were judged all the winning artists were presented and Akio Kondo, winner of the highest Prime Minister Award made a few comments. At the conclusion everyone left except for the award winners and judges who gathered around a long table. Each judge made comments and then each winner made more comments.


Mr. Fukuda made comments first


Akio Kondo commented day.

Mr. Fukuda mentioned that Akio Kondo’s award winning Needle juniper was rare because it was the only bonsai to have won the Prime Minister Award five times. NEW, after research it was learned that this bonsai won the Prime Minister Award 6 times! This beautiful bonsai was originally created by the Suzuki family of Daiju-en Bonsai Garden near Nagoya. The first generation artist, Saichi Suzuki won with this bonsai as did his son, Toshinori and his grandson Toru. Quite a famous bonsai!

Mr. Kato wanted to encourage more young artists to participate in this exhibition. Mr. Kondo mentioned that he was very honored about his award. This was the 20th time he entered the Sakufu Bonsai Exhibition, but the first time to win the Prime Minister Award. NEW: He continued that he was familiar with this Needle juniper bonsai for a long time and wanted to care for it someday. Three years ago his dream came true and he was finally the caretaker. He was very honored to have the opportunity to submit this bonsai again so others could enjoy its beauty.


Mr. Omachi best literati bonsai


Mr. Akiyama best satsuki bonsai


Mr. Iura best medium bonsai


Mr. Asako best evergreen bonsai




On the second and third floor the bonsai which did not make it into finals were displayed and also photographed for the commemorative album. Each of these bonsai were beautiful as well. There were approximately 50 bonsai entered into the competition including a unique shohin bonsai composition which I did not quite understand, but enjoyed to see the creativity of the artist.



21 PINE 2



Small leaf Zelkova with tiny leaves!

24 4ROCK



The 40th Sakufu Bonsai Exhibition will be held on December 4-7, 2014 at the Ueno Green Club in Tokyo, Japan. If you can’t attend the commemorative album will be available for sale.

If you can not travel to Japan and want to see some great bonsai, join me at the Winter Silhouette Bonsai Exhibition in Kannapolis, NC, on the same weekend, December 6-7, 2014. More about this unusual exhibition later, but for now look here:!members/citr