There’s More To Bonsai That Meets The Eye

Image

Although bonsai is a visual art, there is more to this art than meets the eye. Of course the beauty of bonsai is of paramount importance and is commonly determined by the trunk, branches, silhouette, container, season, antiquity of youthfulness and the total aesthetic impact. However, it is important to consider other factors, which are not immediately visible to those with limited experience and exposure to the art. Most bonsai hobbyists, and professionals as well, do not have the background to fully understand the hidden beauty that lies within the bonsai and only consider what their eyes first see when viewing a bonsai.

 Image

Japanese flowering apricot in full bloom delights the eye and the old rugged trunk is matched and is respected by the careful selection of the antique chinese container

Image

Although this antique Chinese container is not planted with a bonsai, it was displayed in the 2013 Taikan ten Bonsai Exhibition on an excellent and valuable display table.

 

It is important to have respect for the tree, container and history of the bonsai. Respect is not usually considered when first viewing a bonsai, but comes later on when the tree is really studied and contemplated. This adds immensely to the appreciation of bonsai art. In Japan the history of the bonsai is important and is deeply respected. Aspects of the history of a bonsai include: the origin of the tree, who grew it, how it was grown, where it was grown, who designed it, who matched the container, who displayed the tree and current and past owners. These factors are not quickly evident when viewing a bonsai to those with a limited exposure and knowledge. Unfortunately, like training a bonsai, time is also significant to fully appreciate and respect a tree.

 Image

This Japanese zelkova bonsai is famous because of the unusual shape and the prior owner, Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida. It was first dug and drastically pruned in 1937 and was displayed in the 1955 30th Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition as well as the 1968 42nd Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition.

Image

Prime Minister Yoshida was a bonsai lover who appreciated fine bonsai. His Japanese zelkova has been under the care the proprietors of Kyuka-en Bonsai Garden in Omiya Bonsai Village Japan, Kyuzo Murata, Isamu Murata and Yukio Murata. The late Kyuzo Murata characterized this bonsai as follows: Despite the fact that it has a very unusual style as a Japanese zelkova which normally conforms to natural styles, it is seen  as a large natural tree and deeply moves people. It is a large tree which seems even more natural than a natural tree. This is something like the male kabuki actors who portray women who seem to be even more feminine than the real women. It is preeminent masterpiece which has both the power of nature as well as the artistry of bonsai creation. Surely the reason that Prime Minister Yoshida particularly like it and made much of it was probably because he saw this.

Additional information and photos of this bonsai can be located in the 2007/NO. 4 issue of International BONSAI. Photos courtesy of Kyuka-en Bonsai Garden.

 

The more bonsai, exhibitions and gardens one sees helps to understand the all embracing true beauty and value of a tree. Additionally, meeting people behind the scene and actually working and growing bonsai are also important key elements to bonsai appreciation.

Image

This Sargent juniper was collected from a high rocky area and was not grafted. It has been displayed in a Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition before World War II as well as the 2011 85th Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition. It is well matched with the antique Chinese container.

 

I have encountered numerous hobbyists, and professionals as well, who quickly determine that they do not like a specific bonsai because of some defect in their determination beauty. But, when I thoroughly explain the background of the tree, container and suggest that they respect the past and also importantly to consider the future development, they suddenly see the light and have a different opinion of the tree. Yes, there are those who completely disregard the past and only “see” what they want. But that is fine, everyone has different levels of bonsai appreciation, which is developed over time and depends on their background, personality, taste, environment and how serious they are.

 Image

Little remains of this 1,000 year old Japanese flowering cherry tree in a Shizuoka Prefecture park. A sign near the ancient tree shows a photo of it as it appeared in 1908. Old trees, especially with character are deeply revered in Japan.

 

In Japan, as in many cultures, age is highly honored. People, buildings, containers, objects, as well as trees, and stones are respected in Japan. Although most bonsai present an appearance of agedness or antiquity, some present a youthful appearance. In the Japanese bonsai community the word “mochikomi” is the customary term to refer to the years of love and training a bonsai in a container. An aged bonsai usually presents an elegant feeling and expresses a different type of beauty than a bonsai which has not been trained and containerized as long. From my understanding of the term the actual age is not as important as the establishment and careful loving care the bonsai has received.

 Image

Youthful beauty can be appreciated, Chelsey Jill Taylor

 

Image

Mature beauty is also appreciated, Irene T. Valavanis

Image

This famous antique Chinese container has a long and interesting history. Here it is on sale for US $1,000,000. It was sold for a bit under that amount and is now back in China.

Image

Damaged antique Chinese containers are respected and not discarded. This container has the missing sections remade with gold.

 

Image

Although greatly damaged, this antique Chinese container has been repaired with gold so it can be matched to an equally old masterpiece bonsai.

 

For example, there are numerous large recently collected bonsai, which are quite aged, mostly with large dead wood often displayed. However, in spite of their great age lack mochikomi which the bonsai does not display. On the other hand, one can have a small tree, started and trained from seed or cutting for 20 years and it might exhibit mochikomi because of how it has been established and carefully tended for in a container. The bark will begin to show the aged appearance. A complete mossing of the soil surface also indicates the aged establishment, and recently applied moss looks fresh if not planted correctly.

 Image

This beautiful Sargent juniper masterpiece bonsai has been well matched with an antique Chinese container. However the bonsai does not show an aged appearance or dignity. It has not been container grown for many years.

Image

This famous Ezo spruce bonsai has been cultivated in a container for many decades and displays age. It is growing in an antique Chinese container.

 

Image

Old bark and weathered wood are indicators that the bonsai has been carefully and lovingly cultivated in a container

 

Image

The old flaky bark on this bonsai is valued as part of the aged beauty. Note the small nails holding bark to the trunk. It is important to remember that bonsai are living objects and considerations must be made to maintain their health and beauty.

 

There is more to bonsai appreciation than simply, pruning, wiring and shaping a tree. And this level of appreciation varies greatly from person to person, depending on their background, involvement in the art and personality.

 Image

This old and elegant Sargent juniper bonsai shows age and is well established in the well matched antique Chinese container

Text and photos Copyright 2014, William N. Valavanis

Repotting Begins!

Image

Although the temperature is still cold and snow piles remain, some deciduous bonsai need repotting because the buds are now beginning to open. These bonsai have been overwintered in the garage. My son Chris has been working on several cars and turned the kerosene heaters up a little to make it more comfortable than the 27F temperature I’ve been maintaining. So… many deciduous bonsai woke up a bit early this year.

Usually we transplant the deciduous species first, followed by the narrow leaf evergreens and finally the broadleaf evergreens. Additionally, I “try” to repot bonsai which are pot bound and difficult to water during the summer. Some of those bonsai have strong roots and the root pressure splits containers. Also the roots of pot bound trees often raise the soil level up higher than normal. All I need to do is to remember which trees drained slowly. I do not repot bonsai on a regular schedule, but rather when the trees tell me to. Transplanting too often disturbs growth and I’d rather wait a year (or two) before repotting. Some of my pines have not been transplanted in ten years. They grow slowly, have short needles and still drain well.

 Image

Bob preparing containers and soil mixes

 

Image

The containers are prepared before the roots are worked

On Wednesday Bob Pfromm and Alan Adair helped me transplant. At one time we were working on five bonsai at the same time. I was trimming a bonsai; Bob was preparing the soil and containers for other bonsai, while Alan worked the roots of another. Most of the containers were matched ahead of time, while sometimes we prepared the roots and fit them into the containers to see how they looked. Usually we selected the right container first. And, it’s not unusual for us to have five or six excellent containers lined up for final selection. I made the final trunk positioning in the container and Bob and Alan finished up and mossed the soil surface.

Image

This bonsai needed to but cut out of the container because of the slight incurving rim 

As we were transplanting I thought of a few topics, which might help others while repotting. Students often ask why I use the large size long handle wire pliers. They say that they don’t have large trees so smaller size tools are better. However, in addition to providing additional leverage, the long handles allow hands to stay free from damaging tender branches.

 Image

Long handle pliers provide leverage and allow hands to stay clear of the delicate branching

 

Image

Euonymus, November 2011

My large Euonymus bonsai with rough bark is an unusual bonsai that is colorful in autumn with the coral colored fruit. It has been growing in a contemporary oval Chinese container for many years. Last spring it was transplanted into a smaller, much finer quality, rare, old Japanese container to make the trunk look more powerful for displaying in the 2013 Artisan’s Cup of Portland Bonsai Exhibition. The event was delayed until 2015 and the announcement came out after I transplanted the tree into the smaller container. It needed watering more often because of the smaller container. The container is quite special and originally came from Yuji Yoshimura’s father. It was broken over 30 years ago and I received it from a friend who had patched it up. He patched well, because it held together until last year. The root pressure pushed out and the container split apart.

 Image

Image

Alan removing the tree from the old container

Image

After trimming the tree Alan repotted it while the container fell into two pieces. We immediately wrapped the roots to prevent dehydration while the container was repaired. Alan used a two part epoxy cement with drainage screen as patches. The plant roots cannot detect colors (I think) so we used purple screening over the drainage holes to provide a festive mood.

 Image

After the container was repaired we began cleaning the trunk. For the past five decades I’ve used old toothbrushes to clean the bark of dirty trees. Most of my deciduous bonsai are cleaned yearly, especially before exhibits. In addition to removing algae, moss and other dirty things, the water cleans the trunk, which often permits dormant adventitious buds to freely grow through the old bark. In the past I used water with liquid dish soap and a few drops of Superthrive to clean the bark. Narrow leaf and broad leaf evergreens are washed more carefully than deciduous species. This year after trying out a friend’s new Japanese pressure sprayer made specifically for bonsai, actually satsuki azaleas, I splurged and purchased one from Japan. It works GREAT, but I can’t add dish soap or Superthrive because it might clog up the fine spay nozzle.

 Image

Image

After experimenting a bit, I instructed Alan how to use the pressure sprayer. He spent over 35 minutes cleaning the bark of the old Euonymus bonsai. Afterwards he said he could have spent more time cleaning the bark. We finished, but will clean it well again next spring in preparation for display in the September 2015 Artisan’s Cup of Portland Bonsai Exhibition.

Image

Bark before washing

 

Image

Bark after washing

 

Image

The transplanted Euonymus bonsai 

On Thursday Paul Eschmann joined Alan Adair and me to continue repotting. The large Trident maple from Dr. Andrews was pruned and potted using many tools including a power reciprocating Sawzall. This tools comes in quite handy when making a flat cut across the bottom of a root ball or for sawing through heavy roots.

 Image

Alan sawing roots while Paul carefully holds the tree to prevent damaging the branches

 

Image

Combing the roots before trimming

 

Image

Oto Hime Japanese maple bonsai, March 2011. This bonsai has two fronts.

In March 2011 I got an Oto Hime Japanese maple grown by Julian Adams during my annual spring southern lecture tour. By the time I got home the tree had leafed out and I did not feel comfortable potting it into a shallow container because I found several large heavy roots. Having grown in a deeper than normal bonsai container for three years the tree produced many fibrous feeder roots and we proceeded to repot it into a shallow container. This was a lot of work and required a couple of hours to completely repot the bonsai.

 Image

Image

Trunk base before washing and pruning crossing roots

 

Image

Image

Image

Image

Heavy roots in the center of the root ball were hard

 

Image

A chisel was used to hollow out heavy roots

Image

Before washing

 

Image

Washing root base

Image

Crossing roots were revealed

Image

A Masakuni chisel was used to simply remove the crossing root with one tap of a mallet

 

Image

The remaining roots were washed with a forceful spray of a garden hose

After I trimmed the branches of the Oto Hime Japanese maple bonsai Paul removed it from the container. Then Alan, Paul and I worked on the roots. Making a flat cut through the 2.5 inch root ball was a chore! The heavy roots in the center were old, hard and we needed to change the new Sawzall blade we started with. After we got through the root ball the tree would not sit properly in the new container. It rocked because a heavy root remained. I did not feel comfortable reducing the entire root ball any more so got out my handy Masakuni bonsai chisel and proceed to carve the heavy root. We reduced it quite a bit, but the tree still rocked, so we needed to chisel out a few more heavy roots before we got it to sit correctly at the proper depth. Over 12 different tools were used to repot this bonsai.

 Image

The newly repotted Oto Hime Japanese maple showing the “other” front

All of the newly repotted bonsai were thoroughly watered and place outside because the temperature was in the low 40sF. However the forecast was for lower temperatures so we put them into the garage for the evening. The low temperature for Wednesday evening was 25F. Although they would have been fine, it is better to be cautious and provide maximum aftercare. They will again go outside in the morning and probably go back inside for the evening. Thus the “Bonsai Dance” season begins. More on that activity later.

 

It was a busy two days transplanting several bonsai. After my friends left I still had the energy, drive and creativity to design four additional European beech forests for sale.

The Joys of an Early Rochester Springtime!

Image

On Friday morning a few distant students from my Classical Bonsai MasterClass remained. So, as my custom, I put them to work. Nobody stands around here…

Image

Image

The migrant workers, Diego from Brazil and John from Ithaca volunteered to help move some of the dormant bonsai outside with Alan Adair my assistant. Only evergreens and deciduous bonsai with tight buds were moved. A few other friends came later on and my garden began to look more like a bonsai garden than a grey winter scene.

Saturday morning my Saturday Crew came and moved all of the large and two-man, bonsai outside into the display and sales area. As they know, just put the trees outside, I’ll move them all later and even if I tell them exactly where I want them, I’ll still move them around. So when you look at the trees on the tables, note many are not straight and parallel with the table edge, however, I guarantee they will be straightened out at a later date.

As the Saturday Crew was moving trees someone mentioned that we were in a winter storm warning. It’s a good thing they only moved trees, which were still in deep dormancy. Other trees, which had enlarged, and opening buds remained inside the poly houses. The low temperatures were only forecast to be about 29-31F. which is fine. Remember, my trees have been acclimated to 27F. However, IF the temperature forecast drops to about 20F. we will be a bit busy around here moving some trees into the garage or under the tables.

Image

Harvey spent most of the day refining and cleaning the roots of his Japanese maple.

 

Image

Bob Pfromm worked on a Japanese five-needle pine.

 

Image

Fran Mahoney wired two Nishiki Japanese-black pines.

 

Image

Jim Dolce worked on a Chinese quince.

Image

Bob Blankfield worked on a Japanese yew.

Image

It took both of us pushing hard to compact the top section of the bonsai using three guy wires, but we did it!

 

Image

Rick Marriott likes small size bonsai and always brings a load of tree and selection of containers.

My two Open Workshops finished at 4pm on Saturday. After cleaning a bit and checking my e-mails I was so exhausted from teaching 11 classes in five days I simply went to bed at 6pm. I woke up at 9pm (don’t need much sleep) to find freezing rain and snow coming down quite hard. Got dressed, took my camera and went outside into to check the trees and to take a few photos. Then I went to bed, again after having a quick bowl of Sapporo Ichiban noodles.

Saturday evening:

Image

 

Image

 

Image

 

Sunday morning I woke up to a “Winter Wonderland” and took a few more photos. I agree the trees look beautiful in a fresh snow covering, but I hate snow and really only like it on Xmas cards. We had at least 9″ of HEAVY wet snow and deeper drifts. Wet snow is about three times as heavy as common snow.

Image

 

Image

 

Image

 

Image

 

Image

Image

 

Image

People often ask why I live in Rochester with the “interesting” weather. Well, I have made many close friends here during the past 46 years, and I’ve trained numerous students as well. It would be impossible for me to promote bonsai, in my style, without their dedicated support. Also, if one purchases a bonsai from me, you are pretty sure it will be winter hardy in your area, if you live south of the North Pole.

Image

A “snow hat” keeps Yuji Yoshimura warm, or did he really want to be a “cone head?”

I am anxiously awaiting better weather, hopefully, this week. There are many bonsai to be trimmed and repotted and I have a couple of special new creations in the works, especially one in an unusually long container.

Creating A Beech Forest Bonsai

Image

Beech are highly prized for bonsai because of their characteristic white bark, beautiful foliage, winter hardiness and easy training. There are several beech species native to Japan. The Japanese beech, Fagus crenata is the most commonly trained species for bonsai in Japan. Specimens near Mt. Fuji are especially valued because of their small thick foliage. The American beech, Fagus grandifolia, has rather large thin foliage and often collected specimens are grown for bonsai. The European beech, Fagus sylvatica, is trained for bonsai in Europe and spectacular bonsai are created from thick trunked collected trees.

In the United States European beech, and its numerous cultivars are commonly used in the landscape for different colored foliage or unusual growth patterns. These cultivars are usually grafted onto seedlings of European beech, so they are a widely grown nursery stock.

The normal leaf size of European beech is a bit larger than Japanese beech. Although individual seedlings vary in leaf size and character, European beech mostly have thick leathery foliage, which quickly reduce in size. Whitish bark quickly develops in approximately six to ten years.

Image

A few weeks ago I received a nursery offering for one to two foot European beech seedling transplants with low branching for hedges. European beech are often used for hedges in Europe and old estates in the United States. The offering sounded great and 150 sample trees were ordered. They were intended for single tree workshops for my next year’s Introductory Bonsai Course. Upon arrival, after inspection, the branching was not ideal for single tree bonsai, but excellent for forests.

I was quite excited about the shapes of the new plants and immediately created five European beech forests of different designs. Only a few of the seedling transplants were selected for single trunk bonsai. Since I was working alone I did not take the time to photograph the process of creating a forest bonsai. The five forests came out great and have the possibility of developing into future fine bonsai, so I ordered another 100 seedling transplants to make another forest with a friend photographing the creative process.

 

Image

The seedlings arrived last week, but I did not have an opportunity to create the forest because I was preparing for my new Classical Bonsai MasterClass. Three of the four students arrived a day early to drop off their bonsai and since my preparations were complete I seized the opportunity to create the European beech forest while presenting a private demonstration lesson for the early arrival three students.

 

Image

The first step in creating a forest, rock planting or any bonsai is to prepare all the material ahead of time: trees, container, wire, soil, tools and moss. I like oval containers for forest plantings because they do not have difficult corners to aesthetically use. Shallow containers are best without prominent feet. A flat foot is better than cloud feet to provide a solid visual anchor. Beech is a deciduous species and I personally prefer an outer lip because of the flat foliage. Although unglazed containers can be displayed year around, I selected an old Japanese Tokoname-ware container from the Suishoen Heikisui Kiln. This container has been used for several bonsai from my garden during the past 30 years and has history. When selecting the container I was thinking about respect and came up with another interesting article on the topic. Rather than take up the time and space here the topic will be in a forthcoming blog entry, or magazine article.

 

Image

After selecting the container, notice that it has been cleaned inside, but shows antiquity, drainage screen is placed over the holes. Although nearly everyone who grows bonsai takes the time to secure the drainage screen over the holes to prevent movement when potting with pieces of short copper wire, I do not. I have learned through decades of experience that it takes time to make and insert the wire and it’s easier and cheaper for me to simply use a larger piece of drainage screen over the holes. When potting my bonsai, usually most of the holes have copper wire to tie the tree into the pot. If carefully positioned, they will hold the drainage screen from moving. However, for this forest bonsai (mostly for demonstration purposes) in addition to using a larger piece of drainage screen, I added small copper wire clips.

Copper wire for holding the trees into the container were used, lots of them. It’s better to have too many wires than not enough, although extra wire can be always added to secure stubborn trees that want to move around. A small layer of coarse bottom soil was placed into the container, which was set aside until later.

 

Image

The shipping box of the seedling transplants was then opened outside where the sunlight was bright, a rarity in Rochester this year. Each bundle of ten trees was cut open and every tree was studied. Again a few more specimens had suitable shapes for individual bonsai, while the others were graded into large, medium and small sizes. They were graded by trunk diameters, not heights, because they can easily be trimmed down or grown tall, but the trunks thicknesses are more difficult to change.

Image

 

Image

 

Image

 

Image

The graded seedlings were brought into the studio and root pruned. Long and heavy roots were immediately pruned short. Sometimes seedlings will develop two root systems and the lower one is often removed. But, it’s important to study all the roots, sometimes the upper roots are removed because the lower level root system has better distribution or finer roots. These are young deciduous seedlings that are vigorous, especially at this time of the year. They do not need a large number of roots at this stage. Most of the top growth will be shortened after positioning. One of the advantages of using young deciduous seedlings is that they can be positioned closer together than potted specimens with a larger root system. Again, after root pruning, the trees were graded and placed into three groups: large, medium and small.

 

Image

 

Image

 

Image

 

Image

 

Image

 

Image

 

Image

The basic design of a forest bonsai is actually created by the position of the main larger trees. If a larger tree is not available, two trees can be planted close together to appear as one large specimen or the tree can be planted a bit higher in the container. After carefully placing the trees into the container, soil was added around the roots to keep the trunks from falling over, remember, they do not have many roots. A small amount of water from a hand sprayer will add weight to the soil to help stabilize the trees. Also, often times two or more trees are tied together at the base of the trunks. And temporary wire is usually used in the upper sections of the trees to keep the trees from moving.

 

Image

 

Image

Additional medium size trees are then used around the larger specimens working toward the container rim. First position the trees for similar trunk movement, keeping in mind any small branching the trunks might have. Ideally the branches should be positioned so they grow towards the outside of the forest, not inside. I do not usually prune the heights or remove inner branching until after the forest is completed. Please note that the trunks were not wired at this time. If necessary, they can be wired or refined during the summer or even best next year. I have learned, the hard way, that if you only wire one or two trees, they will look so good that you continue on and eventually wire all the trunks. So, either wire all or none of the trunks at this time.

 

Image

 

Image

A distant view design will be used for this forest bonsai because of all the lovely similar seedlings. The main tree is positioned towards the center of the composition and the beauty of the bonsai lies with the delicate branching the trees will develop.

 

Image

Finally the smaller trees are added to the group. I also looked through a few of the European beech seedling bundles we mail order for even smaller trees. This forest actually had four different sizes of seedlings to present a wider range of trunk calibers and heights.

 

Image

 

Image

 

Image

 

Image

 

Image

After enough trees were added to present a pleasing forest they were secured using the copper wires inserted through the drainage holes. I never counted the number of individual trees in this forest. The actual number is not important because the normal human eye can’t easily count more than eight trees at a time in a forest planting. Basically, what I was aiming for is to have most of the larger trunks around the main tree on the right and positioning them closer together than the other trees near the smaller trunk trees on the left.

 

Image

The wires run through the planting and are tied with a wire pliers making certain that both ends of the wire are twisted together at the same time. The ends are not trimmed until the end, because they are often handy for tying to each other for additional support. Soil is then added and carefully placed around the roots.

 

Image

 

Image

Next moist green moss is applied in small pieces first around each trunk base. It is gently pressed into the dry soil to secure the trunk positioning. While doing this, each trunk is again adjusted and can even be rotated for better viewing from the front. All the moss is placed next to each other without gaps to hold the trees in position.

 

Image

Once the moss has been completely planted the trees are trimmed. First the height of the forest bonsai is established as well as the sides. Then all the other trees are trimmed to different heights, keeping in mind the heavier trunks ideally should be taller than the skinny trunks. As adjusting the tree heights inner growing branches are removed. Trees can still be slightly positioned at this stage of development. It’s important to remember that when the planting is completely planted it is only the beginning of its development for a future forest bonsai.

 

Image

After completing the planting the wire on the bottom of the container is twisted to lock the plants into final positioning. They must not move around. Additional small pieces of thin wire might be added to the tops of the trees to keep them from moving. The planting is watered from the top with water and Superthrive until it runs clear through the bottom drainage holes. Then it is placed in a sunny area, out of the wind until new buds grow.

 

Image

These are the identical techniques and theory I teach when presenting educational programs around the world. My next Group Planting Seminar will be held on Saturday, April 5, 2014 in Rochester, New York.

 

Image

 

Image

 

 

Classical Bonsai MasterClass Session III

Image

Today the final session of my Classical Bonsai MasterClass began with a discussion of the alcove display. In addition to exposing and teaching bonsai shaping techniques as well as horticultural tips to grow healthy beautiful bonsai, I feel it’s important to appreciate bonsai in a formal setting. It is not necessary to have a Japanese alcove, only an area in your home with a plain background so the tree is isolated so one can truly enjoy the beauty of the bonsai which are created and refined during workshops and grown outdoors.

As mentioned in during the previous sessions, seasonality is an important aspect of bonsai display and appreciation. The bonsai, scroll/painting or companion usually indicates the season. During the first two sessions of the Classical Bonsai MasterClass, a bonsai in flower and a deciduous tree just leafing out clearly indicated springtime, even though it was snowing outdoors. The scrolls which were displayed with the flowering and leaf emerging bonsai also featured flowers fading and cherries blossoming.

Today’s display was different however. An evergreen species bonsai was the main element on display and was combined with a scroll painting of the rising sun. Neither of these two objects indicated seasonality. So, the companion planting was used to convey the season. It was a bit difficult to first notice, but a small planting of Acorus sweet flag was combined with an overly large figurine of a Canadian goose. But, upon careful examination a young gosling was under the mother’s wing, thus suggesting spring time.

Image

 

After we discussed the formally presented display we spent a few minutes on the importance of suiseki when combined with bonsai. My well-known natural double hut stone from Puerto Rico was compared to a contemporary commercially produced hut stone from Japan, which was “enhanced” to appear natural.

Image

The group was offered several different options for the topic of the PowerPoint program. Everyone wanted to learn a bit more on the refinement of bonsai, so I showed my Refinement of Maple Bonsai program which covered trimming, shaping, container, soil mix and growing conditions for refining a bonsai which is the next step after developing a bonsai.

Image

The four students spent the remaining of the last day completing the shaping of their bonsai, starting the shaping of future bonsai and critiquing established trees. As interesting shaping techniques were used everyone gathered around to learn from the other trees.

ImageImage

Before wiring and shaping collected Engelman spruce by John Wiessinger

Image s

After shaping by John Wiessinger

To conclude the first series of the successful Classical Bonsai MasterClass sessions wine connoisseur, Joe Moore, brought a bottle of fine French champagne, complete with crystal glasses. Everyone partook of the liquid treat, including me, although I personally thought McDonald’s sweet tea tasted better.

I look forward to a new group of students in my next Classical Bonsai MasterClass.Image

Classical Bonsai MasterClass Session II

Image

The second session of the Classical Bonsai MasterClass began with discussing a different alcove display featuring a cascade style Kiyo Hime Japanese maple, just leafing out and ready for bud pinching and trimming. After discussing the formal display tradition and principles we went over how to correctly control the new growth of both developed and undeveloped deciduous bonsai. Since this bonsai was not bud pinched last season, most of the terminal buds will be shortened to maintain a compact form, yet presenting a light elegant feeling.

 Image

Wiring techniques were the main topic of the morning PowerPoint presentation. After a brief explanation of basic wiring, we quickly changed the topic to more specific applications for bonsai shaping and refinement. John Wiessinger brought in an old collected American larch from a bog in Maine. Relocating a lower heavy branch would improve the design. A sharp trunk splitter was first used to dislocate the desired branch from the trunk to create more branching in empty areas. John watched the process and did not cringe as the branch was popped out of the trunk, bent and relocated. The newly positioned branch was held in place with wire and a guy wire. Cut paste was used to fill in the open would to promote a quick callus covering. Small pieces of flakey American larch bark were pressed into the moist cut paste to disguise the open bark wound.

 Image

 

Image

 

Image

 

Image

 

Image

 

Image

Each student worked on their own bonsai, and when an interesting technique was used, everyone came to watch, discuss and learn. Kip Neal brought a huge Forsythia for additional training which he dug from a landscape a few years ago. In the first session he began to carve the massive lower trunk and completed the process during the second session.

 Image

 

Image

 

Image

 

Image

Then we all moved into the garage where there was more room to use the reciprocating saw to easily and quickly remove the old heavy roots. I guided my assistant, Alan Adair, with the cutting process while the students intensely watched as we sawed through the heavy woody root system to allow the tree to sit lower in the large training pot.

Image

Coarse soil with horticultural charcoal was used for most of the potting mix to promote fast growth of new branches from the old trunk. As the new adventitious buds grow each new shoot will be wired into the new desired positions.

 Image

After a full day of studying classical bonsai art training techniques we went for a quick dinner then everyone retired to rest for tomorrow’s final session.

Classical Bonsai MasterClass Session 1

Image
Yesterday we had the inaugural session of my new three day Classical Bonsai MasterClass which was limited to four students. The detailed instruction and individual help with the student’s bonsai will reinforce the principles and techniques learned from the program.

Image

We begin each day with an explanation of the display alcove with the main bonsai, accessory and scroll discussing how they relate to each other and the season of the year. After questions are answered a PowerPoint program is presented on the topic to be studied. The first program discussed aspects of Classical Bonsai design.

Image

Next came a critique where each student brought a bonsai for discussion and a bit of work. Diego Denair from Brazil did not bring actual trees, however brought many photos of his bonsai for advice. The Trident maple which Kip Neal brought needed an thread graft to place a branch in a needed area. So, out came the drill, tools and we proceeded to discuss and demonstrate how to thread graft using Kip’s bonsai.

Image

Joe Moore from Rochester, New York worked on a Japanese maple

Image

Dr. Diego Denari took a six hour bus ride from his home to the San Paulo, Brazil airport then spent the next day and a half traveling to Rochester. He worked on a Sargent juniper

Image

John Wiessinger, who writes the interesting column “Right Before Your Eyes” for International BONSAI magazine came from Ithaca, New York. He worked on a collected Engelman spruce

During the workshop which followed, each student worked on their own bonsai with my assistance. Great bonsai were brought in for advice and work, some for structural design, others for refinement.

After a short lunch break another PowerPoint presentation was made on pruning theory and techniques, which was followed by another workshop. Some of the bonsai from the morning session needed additional work, while other new trees were worked on. Each student brought several trees to the Classical Bonsai MasterClass which are protected in the garage and only brought into the studio at the right time. This way the studio was not crowded and everyone had ample room to work with the many tools.

Image
Kip Neal from Main continued to work on his Trident maple bonsai we thread grafted earlier and also on a huge Forsythia he has been training

 

Image

At the conclusion of the first day the group went to a nearby Chinese buffet for dinner and we next all proceeded to the March meeting of the Bonsai Society of Upstate New York. At the meeting I presented a PowerPoint presentation on the history, care and appreciation of Shohin Bonsai. This was followed by a short demo on a Little Gem dwarf spruce and explanation of the many shohin bonsai members brought in to share with others. We had over 50 members and two guests (from Brazil and Maine) at this meeting. Next I conduced a workshop for 11 students and Harvey Carapella and Marc Arpag assisted me.

Image

It was quite a long day for me, but the four students and 50 some members of our bonsai society enjoyed and more importantly had the opportunity to learn from my five decades of bonsai study. We still have two more intense days to study Classical Bonsai art, and I’m all ready and prepared to assist the four students.