ABS Rendezvous On The River 2022

The ABS Rendezvous On The River Conference was held in Memphis, TN on May 26-29, 2022. It was hosted by the Memphis Bonsai Society and Brussel’s Bonsai Nursery. The venue, Whispering Woods Conference Center was decorated by masterpiece bonsai from Brussel Martin. Welcoming visitors in the lobby was a magnificent Satsuki azalea in full bloom.

There were two displays in the spacious room, an invitational exhibit from bonsai collections and professional bonsai artists and a special “creative displays, where artists thought “out of the box” for their presentations. All the bonsai were of very high quality.




International Bonsai Spring 2022 Bonsai Open House & Sale

The International Bonsai Arboretum will be hosting the Spring 2022 Bonsai Open House & Sale on May 21-22, 2022 in Rochester, New York.

Come, visit and see what’s new in the garden and enjoy a 20% discount on most items. See how bonsai are propagated, trained and maintained in the garden as well as formal bonsai displays.

The Bonsai Society of Upstate New York will be having a one day exhibition on Sunday, May 22 from 9am to 5pm at the Golosano Autism Center. The exhibition is about a 10-15 minute drive to the International Bonsai Open House. Make a weekend of it and visit both!

49th Upstate New York Bonsai Exhibition & Sale

Sunday, May 22, 2022 (One day only)

9am to 5pm


50 Science  Parkway

Rochester, New York

Our members are thrilled to be able to have our bonsai exhibition again to promote bonsai to the area and nearby bonsai organizations. A warm welcome to anyone who would like to join us for this special Bonsai Exhibition & Sale. A suiseki exhibit will be hosted by the Suiseki Study Group of Upstate New Work. Bonsai demonstration on Sunday at 2pm.

Creating An Ezo Spruce Forest

A few days before the April 2022 Mid Atlantic Bonsai Festival, April Grigsby posted a photo on her Facebook page of the largest container she made indicating it came out of her kiln, straight. This is often a difficult task because many warp during the firing process. I was impressed with her container as much I was when I saw her as vendor at the 2021 7TH US National Bonsai Exhibition. When I saw the container on her sales table at the Mid Atlantic Bonsai Festival I quickly snatched it. April Grisby may be contacted through her web site: aprilgrigsbyceramics.com

I was thrilled with my new container! It was a good size, not too big or too small, unglazed with shading to suggest patina, oval with straight sides and small lip, with two small belts to give the illusion it was more shallow than it actually was and the inside was scored to promote a downward root growth rather than horizontal. That’s my taste for an evergreen forest container, rather than the deciduous forests I commonly create.

Black lines indicate where the anchoring wires should go

I don’t have many evergreen forests because it is extremely difficult to find suitable material. I don’t like Sargents junipers for this style because of trunk thickness and shapes. Well, I just happen to have the true Ezo spruce, Picea glehnii, not the commonly available species sometimes found in the United States, Picea jezoensis. I just so happen to have over 800 two and three year old seedlings to select from. After an hour, several were selected and the bottom of the trunks were located. It took some time to select the trees because they are all seedlings and many have different characteristics such as needle color, branching and bud formation. Spruce do not generally bud back on old wood, or even on branches with needles. When trimming spruce it is important to cut just above a bud so new growth will develop.

Ezo spruce seedling variations

Tip will die back to the bud, cut closer

Don’t leave a stub, cut closer

Perfect cut!

The major problem for this proposed forest is that all the Ezo spruce are approximately the same diameter, heights can be easily adjusted, so I don’t worry about that. When a large main tree is needed in a forest for a focal point or to indicate eye movement there two techniques to create a focal point. Two trees can be planted right next to each other so the trunks appear as one or making a small mound of soil for the trees to make them higher in the pot. Even if I completely filled the container with trees, the composition would still not be in balance. The container depth was a bit too deep for relatively thin trunks and viewers would first look at the pot, rather than the forest. So I needed some heavy “trunks.”

Saburo Kato authored Forest, Rock Planting and Ezo Spruce Bonsai in 1963. The National Bonsai Foundation published the book in 2001 and I was honored to compile and edit the text. In this book and other bonsai creations Mr. Kato sometimes used a dead tree to suggest age and a focal point. So I had a solution to my trunk size problem. Just use a deadwood tree. However, I don’t happen to have any larger Ezo spruce, alive or dead. Marc Arpag looked in the fields during his seven hour daily walk for dead carcasses. 

I figured the next best possibility was to use another spruce because of the branch characteristics.  This was an easy solution because the Dwarf Alberta spruce it is a spruce and had similar branching. They are commonly available in nurseries and garden centers. This cultivar is often used for bonsai training, but not successfully because the tree has a “poor memory” for branch shaping. A tree can be wired, and even allowed to cut into the bark and scar, after removing the wire they return to the original positions. There are, however, many forest of Dwarf Alberta spruce which look good and also a technique used to maintain branch shapes.

Three Dwarf Alberta spruce of different sizes were selected

Off I went to a few garden centers to find three Dwarf Alberta spruce to use as the three main trees in the forest. This was not as easy as you think, because the trees needed had to have the right trunk thickness in relation to the height. Also, I was looking for taper. Finally, I found three trees and took them home for a week, thinking long and hard about using them as deadwood for the forest bonsai. Since I don’t have any living or dead Dwarf Alberta spruce, these three trees needed to be “prepared” for the forest. I could not do it, either could two of my friends. We spend all our time trying to keep trees alive. Finally I found an executioner to prepare the three trees. 

Main tree

Preparing the tree

Determining height

Tearing and removing the bark

Since the trees were still alive it was easy to remove the bark and cambium layer, trim branches and remove bark. If the bark was allowed to dry out, it would take a considerable time for removal. Often it was easy to find a small flap and just tear the bark off in long strips. All three trees of different diameters and heights were stripped of their bark.


Main trees prepared for the forest.

Prepare the container, note the screen is not anchored

The first step in creating a forest bonsai is to prepare the container. In the photo the wire positions are indicated with a black line from one hole to the other. Usually I do not like to cross wire under the container, looks messy and sometimes get caught when moving. The wires actually surround the pot perimeter. No. 14 gauge annealed wire was used for anchoring the trees. Also, notice that each piece of the plastic screening is NOT anchored to the bottom of the pot. It is much more time effective for me to simply use a larger piece of plastic screen and not anchoring and to be careful how the trees are moved so the screen does not move.

Preparing the trees

Planting the trees

Final positioning

Brian Witcomb, in a yellow, hoodie prepared each tree by exposing surface roots, removing most of the soil and trimming roots. They were put in three groups, large, medium and small, according to trunk diameters. Alan Adair in a green shirt helped to hold the trees in their approximate locations while I continued to add more and more trees, until the balance of trees and container were to my taste. Finally, six hands were required to complete the forest and tie the trees in place. The ten pieces of annealed copper wires were tied together to stabilize the composition. The ends were not immediately cut off as some ends were used again to grab trunks.

Before mossing and trimming

Mossed and beginning trimming

Note: the trees were not trimmed or thinned out, only the bottom of the trunk positions were important at this stage of composition. Next fine, thin, green moss covered the soil surface. The moss was wet so it could be easily used to adjust trunk positions. The forest was now complete, except for the final pruning and thinning out of the branches. First the heights of each tree were established, including the stripped trunks, to create an asymmetrical, stable triangle of the three main trunks. Tree positions were easily changed with the moist moss. Then branch selection took place. The new Ezo spruce forest was photographed (dry trees show more detail and true color) and finally watered. Using that photo as a guide, more branches were thinned. A photo is much better than seeing the bonsai because it picks up views the eye misses.

After first trimming: After second final trimming for this beginning stage of development

Selecting the trees took about an hour. Preparing the trees another hour and planting the composition required about three hours. I have no idea of how many trees I used, except for the three deadwood trunks. I’ll count them sometime, but now busy creating more forests. It will now take several years to finish the composition and refine the Ezo spruce bonsai for enjoyment.

Container Selection & Positioning A Scots Pine Bonsai

Selecting a container for bonsai is of paramount importance as it adds to the beauty the tree presents to the viewer. Also, by definition, a bonsai must be potted. There are many factors in determining the correct container including the following aspects.

Purpose: If the tree is undeveloped, it is best to train in a round deep pot. The depth will help the tree grow vigorously, while shallow pots, which are normally used for training bonsai will develop a more compact root system, but the tree will grow better in a round deep pot. Roots have an easier time to follow the curved interior of a round pot when growing, while roots in rectangular training pots or wooden boxes must make a 90 degree turn and grow slower.

         Therefore, trees which are being trained or encouraged to grow are usually planted in larger, rather than smaller pots. While developed bonsai are potted, usually in ceramic exhibition containers.

Size: An appropriate size container must be selected for beauty, balance and the horticultural growth of the tree. Many flowering and fruiting species prefer to be grown in deeper containers to support the flowers and fruit. While evergreens can withstand drying out, shallow containers are commonly used. 

         Also, the climate must be considered. Often bonsai grown in tropical or hot areas are planted in deep containers, so the roots do not dry out. Bonsai are often planted in deep containers which hold more heat during the winter to protect the trees in cold and frigid climates.

         There are many different formulas to determine the specific size of a bonsai container. The method I use for standing style bonsai is the height of the tree should equal the length and depth of the container. This is determined by visual mass. A 12 inch tree could be planted in a pot 10 inches long and 2 inches deep. The same 12 inch tree would also look and be balanced in a pot 8 inches long and 4 inches deep. In general bonsai appear to be larger in smaller sized containers.

         Species can also determine the size of containers. Fast growing bonsai such as Weeping willow or Crape myrtle are best grown in larger, deeper containers. Of course, heavier trunks should be planted in deeper containers for visual balance and thin delicate trunks look great in shallow pots. Also, the original root formation of collected native species sometimes determine the size and shape of the pot, until a compact root system is trained. This is also the case for nursery or field grown trees until smaller root systems are developed.

Shape: There are many different shaped containers, but basically, they all fall in one of the following two categories, equal sided and unequaled shapes. Examples of unequaled sided containers are rectangular and oval. Equal sided containers include round, square, hexagonal and multi sided.

         Generally standing style bonsai are grown in unequal sided containers when the width or branches are to be emphasized. While equal sided containers tend to enhance tall trees, such as literati style because the eye movement will travel upward faster. Equal sided are also usually used for the cascade styles only deeper for visual stability.

Color: Color selection is mostly determined by personal taste and understanding of bonsai. Some like to harmonize or compliment the main color of the tree and container, like a red azalea in a red pot. Others like to use contrasting colors, like a white Flowering crabapple in a blue, green or colorful glazed pot. Of course, unglazed brown, red, grey and tan colors are quiet and are usually used for evergreen species, so they do not detract from the beauty of the bonsai. Almost any species look good in brown unglazed containers, but they are so commonly used that they can seem boring.

         It is also important to consider what time of the season you intend to enjoy your bonsai. A bright yellow container might make a great contrast with colorful maples in autumn, while after leaf drop the yellow would be overwhelming. Many who grow small and shohin bonsai often have several pots which are seasonally used. I have ten different colored and shaped containers for one maple bonsai. They are changed according to the season of enjoyment or how they are used in box display tables to avoid duplication.

Design: The container rim, side body and feet all play an important part in selecting the right pot for your tree. Outer rimmed containers usually look good for deciduous and flowering and fruiting species. While straight rimmed pots are often used with pines and other evergreen when a simple feeling is preferred.    

         The side bodies can be straight or angled or curved. Straight sided containers are often used for bonsai with straight trunks where a more formal appearance is desired. Oval containers are the most versatile shape, especially one with curved sides. Additionally, painted pots with designs are often used in smaller size bonsai where the color and design would not be overwhelming.

Quality: One important factor for selecting containers for bonsai, which is often not considered is the quality. I have often seen beautifully shaped bonsai in inexpensive bonsai pots. I have, as well, seen undeveloped trees in training gown in old antique containers. Most bonsai hobbyists do not consider the quality, but as they gain more experience and exposure to higher quality pots, they begin to understand that container quality is important to release the full beauty of a bonsai for appreciation, yours and to the viewers.

Selecting A Container for a Dwarf Scots pine

For several months I’ve been on search for the “perfect” container for one of my Dwarf Scots pine. This last week we narrowed the selection to two unglazed grey pots. Then, as we were potting, suddenly three more unglazed brown pots were considered. I would have preferred a brown pot because the needles of this Dwarf Sots pine are bluish and would sharply contrast with the brown pot. I tried to avoid the two final unglazed grey containers which are kind of similar to the foliage. Of the three new pots to pick from, one was too plain, one was too large and one not of high value or quality.

Watereri Scots Pine

Pinus sylvestris ‘Watereri’ generally develops into an upright pyramidal bush or small tree, often used in rock gardens. However, the original tree, selected in 1865 is still alive and now reaches about 24 feet in England. They rarely grow that fast in smaller sizes. This cultivar must be asexually propagated by grafts, budded or air layered. I have not seen this cultivar root. Some of the original tissue must be maintained. While some have produced seedlings, they are not identical to the original Waterei Scots pine. The graft union is very good for my tree. When and if the different bark colors bother me, I’ll glue additional reddish orange at the bottom.

        A good graft union

Side A deep container Side A shallow container

In small sizes, the Waterei Scots pines are usually container grown and develop into nice compact shapes, perfect for bonsai training. They can be commonly found in rare plant nurseries and garden centers. The needles are quite short naturally with a bluish green coloring. Using the correct bonsai training techniques, they can be maintained to about one or two inches in length. The orange buds are attractive in spring as they open as is the reddish orange peeling bark, which is also characteristic of the common Scots pine. 

Side B deep container Side B shallow container

         Once the final container was chosen the tree needed to be lifted from the small brown bonsai container it was grown in for about 15 years from a container grown grafted plant. The reddish orange bark is paper thin and fragile as well as attractive. There are two methods to handling trunks with fragile or colorful bark. First the tree can be lifted from lower branches, avoiding touching the trunk. Another method often used is to carefully wrap the upper bark with moist newspapers or paper towels and to only handle the paper, not the trunk. I have seen many valuable and old bonsai, especially with Cork bark Chinese elm, ruined by not protecting the bark when moving and repotting.

Lifting tree from branches to protect bark Lifting tree using moist paper towel to protect bark

         Yesterday I posted two photos of my Dwarf Scots pine on Facebook and invited readers to select their choice of containers. Many comments were posted, and the vast majority preferred the deeper pot. Me too!

         The deeper container was selected because of the size, rim shape, feet, quality and sides. The shallow container seemed a bit small for the tree, but when root pruned the tree fit in perfectly. Using my formula for determining the pot size for standing style bonsai, the tree is 24 inches tall, the length 16 inches while the depth is 4 inches. The dimensions, 16 inches plus 4 inches is 20 inches, which is about the ideal size. I know in two or three years, should I still own this bonsai, the twigging will increase and present a full massive canopy which will fit the straight sided deep container.

The outer lip and bottom belt on the shallow pot were a bit too busy for my taste. Usually, I like to use rectangular pots for evergreens, especially pines because they are the most formal and powerful of all species.

         The deeper container presented a more stable feeling for this bonsai. The plain undecorated sides really contrast with the reddish orange bark. Although I prefer rectangular containers with no rims. The gentle corners picked up the feeling of the character branch on the right side. The shallow pot had a stepped foot, while the deeper pot had a flat foot, thus adding more stability and dignity for this pine bonsai. The shallow pot was a bit too elegant for my taste for this bonsai massive bonsai.

         It is interesting to note that I purchased this Japanese Tokoname-ware container from Saburo Kato when I was an apprentice in Omiya Bonsai Village, Japan 50 years ago. I believe the container artist is Seizan, who was the father of Reiho. Fifty years ago, I easily hand carried the container home from Japan. Today, I could not even lift the empty pot.

         After carefully trimming and arranging the roots the tree was positioned in the container. My preference is just off center with one edge of the trunk touching the center line. This unusual bonsai can be appreciated from both sides. Rather than plant the tree with the top leaning slightly forward we positioned the tree straight up so the tree would look good on both sides. Having two front viewing sides is an important factor for my bonsai design because I like to share my trees through display. Sometimes the trunk movement is in the wrong direction for the display area, or the scroll painting is in the opposite direction. With having two pleasing fronts the tree can be displayed in both trunk movement directions. 

Also, one basic factor in selecting the viewing side was the shape of the trunk. All trees do NOT grow in an even shaped circle. Many are oval, making the trunk appear narrower from one side. We selected the viewing side which showed a more tapering trunk.

Removing ugly stump A large curved knob cutter was used twice

A sharp chisel used to shape cut Brown cut paste was pressed into the deep wound

Small, thin, fragile pieces of bark were pressed into the brown cut paste

However, one determining factor to select “a” preferred viewing side was the unusual first branch on the right with unique curves. This focal point, or character branch, had an ugly stump hiding the beauty of the entire length of the branch. We took a large, curved knob cutter and first removed most of the stump. It was old, dried out and hard. Although a large size tool could have easily removed the stump, it was taken off in two steps to make an exacting smooth cut. The second cut made a slightly concave cut. Then a sharp chisel was used to make the cut deeper. Brown cut paste, usually used for evergreens was packed into the wound and pressed hard. Finally, small pieces of the reddish orange fragile bark were carefully placed on the cut paste and pressed to maintain contact. One would never know an ugly stump was there an hour earlier. The tree was mossed, photographed and finally watered.

Narrow trunk base Heavier trunk base with taper

         I hope some people will find these thoughts helpful with their bonsai creation and container selection. Have fun transplanting. Spring has finally arrived in Upstate New York, and we are praying it stays.

Side B, preferred viewing side

Side A, another viewing side

Trunk positioned straight up so both sides can be appreciated

Sandrobe Dwarf European Beech

Late yesterday afternoon, while we were finishing up the eight small size Trident maple forests, Diane and Dave Steele went to a local garden center to check out some Japanese red pines. The shapes were so poor Diane did not even bother to send me photos. However, she spotted two Sandrobe dwarf European beech with interesting shapes. She sent me a photo of the best specimen and said it was very good. Initially I was not impressed and suggested she leave it right there. Again, she repeated that it was very good, so I told here to go ahead and buy it. She does NOT need my permission to buy plants. After seeing how this tree was shaped, Dave returned to the nursery after class this afternoon to purchase the other specimen.

I could not believe my eyes when she showed me the Sandrobe dwarf European beech! It was fantastic! All the students in my classes also liked the tree. So with the assistance of four students, while I was teaching they looked at the tree after I removed the leaves, and later in the day helped trim, wire an shape the tree. They even brought me five possible containers and helped pot the tree as well. The leaves are small and neat, uniform on the tree. Also the twigs were thin and buds were tiny; even smaller and more slender than Japanese beech. All of last year’s foliage remained on the tree during the winter indicating the tree was strong and vigorous. The structure was truly amazing and also had a good lower trunk and surface root display. After studying the tree, two different styles were obvious, an upright and slanting. The best root display was if it was trained in the informal upright style. However, I have several upright beech and decided on the slanting style which is a bit unusual for beech. It is similar in form as the European beech bonsai I’ve seen in Europe where they are native and collected.

The slanting style beech bonsai was rather easy to shape. More time was actually spent considering which form to use for the future bonsai. After shaping and studying the roots I was not comfortable root pruning the beech to fit it in a more shallow container and could place it in the ideal position. That can be addressed in the future when the secondary wiring and refinement are to be addressed. Please note that the final form for today was only the initial shaping. The first photo here is a virtual composition on how I expect the tree to develop, should no one purchase the tree in the next few years. It is now planted in a vintage Chinese container with a stone accent to fill in a vacant space next to the base of the trunk.

Dave Steele went back to the nursery to get the remaining beech before another student bought it.

Dave’s beech also looks good!

Creating Small Size Trident Maple Forests

Creating Small Size Trident Maple Forests

70 tree Trident maple forest created in one and a half hour– March 2020

The small leaf Trident maple is excellent for bonsai creation. I’ve been growing many in small pots, 3”, 2.5” and cell packs for several years now. Diane keeps wanting me to plant them in larger pots, but I did not. They are being prepared for forest plantings. I’m trying to keep them small. Yes, many are potbound and need an additional watering somedays. Large size Trident maples are commonly available but not small specimens. The Trident maples we are using are two, three and four year old seedlings, with none over about 10 inches. The same age seedlings allowed to grow would be measured in feet. Once I grew a six foot branch on a Trident maple in a bonsai container in only ONE season, and our growing seasons are not that long.

So we have lots of Trident maples. We used over 100 for a workshop and demo for the Bonsai Society of New York last month. And I used 115 alone today to create eight small Trident maple forests. Two years ago I created a 70 tree forest in an hour and a half, all are still growing in a one inch deep bonsai container.

November 2020

My assistant for the day was Brian Witcomb, who often helps out in my studio. We (Brian actually, because of my new shoulder replacement I’m not supposed to lift items) brought four flats of Trident maples growing in cell packs. Additionally “we” brought in two flats of Trident maples growing in 3” pots and another flat of 2.5” pots. An excellent selection to choose from. I also have many Trident maples growing in 4” and gallon pots as well. He prepared each of the eight containers with plastic drainage screen and two pieces of No. 18 annealed copper wire.

Ideal time for transplanting deciduous species

Transplanting can also be successful when in leaf

I selected several seedlings of different sizes for the eight forests. Brian then found the base of the trunk and removed most, or sometimes all the soil. We grew the Trident maples from one year old seedings and most of the tap root was removed at that time. So only small fibrous roots were developed. Brian used bamboo chopsticks, a root hook and tweezers for the soil removal. The timing of planting the forests was perfect, buds were beginning to open and grow. Even if the seedlings are leafed out they can be transplanted. I commonly transplant deciduous bonsai in full leaf, with extra after care. No problems for me using that technique for 60 years.

3″ pot 2.5″ Pot Cell pack

Eight containers prepared and trees selected

One typical forest prepared

As soon as he had completed preparing a group of seedlings I began to create the forests. We were able to keep up with each other, and he even went outside to collect some thin moss, two times.

Brian Witcomb preparing the seedlings

Bamboo chopsticks, a root hook and tweezers were used to remove most of the soil

Before root pruning

After root pruning

Each seedling was examined for trunk thickness, shapes and root systems. I mostly used the soil they wee growing in since it was moist and easily supported the trees. Our nursery mix is chicken grit, Turface and Pro Mix in equal amounts. We have had excellent results using this mix and Osmocote fertilizer is also added.

Designing the forest and adding some soil

It is important to have all the trees wired to avoid movement. The two pieces of wire had four ends. Two were placed diagonally through the forest for anchoring. They were tied together using a bonsai pliers which only meets at the tip. Both ends of the wire must be carefully twisted together equally. Sometimes the long wire was also used again through the forest.

Bonsai wire pliers used to carefully twist the anchoring wire making certain both ends are equally twisted

Before trimming

After trimming the forest– it will be refined during the growing season

Green moss is the trick to this type of forest creation. Moss is used to stabilize each tree and they can also be turned and adjusted too. Finally the heights of each trees was established and crossing branches removed. This is only the first potting of the forest and they will be refined though the growing season. Brian and I used 115 Trident maple seedlings to create eight small forests. I look forward to watching them leaf out and develop.

The completed eight small size Trident maple forests, with a few other forests

2022 Mid-Atlantic Bonsai Societies Spring Festival Club Exhibition

The bonsai exhibition was held on April 8-10, 2023 during the festival held in Parsippany, New Jersey. h. This year there were many beautiful bonsai displayed by the 10 member clubs of the Mid-Atlantic Bonsai Societies. Each club displayed three or four bonsai. There were a total of 37 bonsai and one suiseki to delight the participants and public.

Maidenhair tree, Ginkgo bliloba, in full bloom!

I was personally impressed by the high quality of the bonsai and also for the artistic effort put into the compositions for display.  Although there were many bonsai which could be displayed in the 2023 8th US National Bonsai Exhibition, three were selected for the exhibition. Please join us in September 2023 to see which bonsai will be on display.

Root Pruning Trident Maple Bonsai

Spring has sprung, and I hope the good weather remains (It won’t, forecast is for 14F for Tuesday.) But we are still going ahead and repotting and root pruning.

I recently sold a developed Japanese maple bonsai. The new owner asked about root pruning and I mentioned we often use a reciprocal saw to simply remove the major portion of the roots on established or pot bound trees. Simply slicing the roots off does less strain on the tree than picking away old soil with a wooden chopsticks for hours. Before potting, we of course use sharp trimming shears to make clean cuts. We do NOT use our old trimming shears because they are usually dull.

A few years ago we transplanted a Trident maple forest on a granite stone that Yuji Yoshimura created many, many years ago. The roots were so thick and powerful they pulled the hydraulic cement off the rock. It actually was just sitting on the rock and we often raised it to water.

One sunny day in MAY we decided to repot the group into a bonsai container. Please note the tree is in full leaf. Out came a reciprocal saw and two friends simply sliced the roots while I was supervising.

The tree was immediately potted and placed in the shade for a couple of weeks. The tree never realized what happened and continue to grow vigorously, even though it only has four trees which have now grown


A Visit To Sean Smith’s New Bonsai Studio

Formal display alcove

A few days ago, Mark Arpag and I took a road trip to see Sean Smith’s new bonsai studio in Marysville, Pennsylvania, a short 4-5 hour auto trip from Rochester, New York. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Sean for 30 years and he has traveled to Japan with me on multiple occasions. 

Semi-formal display alcove

Sean Smith is a gifted artist who has trained in furniture and bonsai display table construction, suiseki daiza carving and bonsai, both in the United States and Japan. With an extensive background in construction, he combined it with his passion of bonsai and started his Custom Oriental Woodcraft business (bonsai display tables, suiseki daiza and Japanese rooms) and now his Three Mountain Bonsai Studio- Sanzan Bonsai Gakkou (bonsai instruction, bonsai display and Japanese aesthetics.)

Suiseki and display tables for sale

Throughout the decades Sean has studied suiseki in Japan and with a small group of friends sponsored seven International Stone Appreciation Symposium every two years in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, from 2002 – 2014. Suiseki authorities were brought in from around the world. The first headliner was Arishige Matsuura, a past chairman of the Nippon Suiseki Association. Upon arrival Mr. Matsuura proclaimed Sean as the number one daiza carver outside Japan. And, if he lived in Japan would be among the three top daiza carvers in Japan. Sean studied daiza carving with the foremost artist Koji Suzuki, who sadly passed away a few years ago, raising Sean’s position to a higher level.

Containers and display tables for sale

In Japan he studied with the foremost artists and authorities on aesthetics and display with Seiji Morimae and Mr. Negishi. His suiseki daiza carving teacher and mentor was Koji Suzuki, his only student. In the Tokyo area wooden storage box construction was taught by Akira Shiraishi, scroll making with Seizi Mauroka and container repair with Nakada Tomohide. They were also the top leading masters of their fields. Seiji Morimae made all the arrangements as well as studying Zen at the Hoshyu-in which is a sub-temple of the Daitokuji temple complex where Mr. Morimae recently opened a high-level bonsai garden and display in Kyoto. Sean’s well rounded, unique background has made him a sought-after teacher and workshop leader around the world.

Suiseki, water basins and other art display items for sale

Sean’s life-long dream to create a studio where he could teach bonsai, display, as well as handmake display tables and suiseki daiza has become a reality. Two years ago, Amish carpenters constructed the shell of his 28 x 42 foot studio. Two-thirds is dedicated to carpentry and bonsai instruction. He can fit 50 people in the room for a lecture/demonstration. The remaining one-third of the new studio is dedicated to formal Japanese display and aesthetics to teach bonsai and suiseki display. Sean has designed and constructed three authentic alcove display areas of the three formality levels: informal, semi-formal and formal.


Informal display alcove in tea room

Tea bowls and items used in the tea ceremony

Also included in his new studio is an authentic tearoom, which also has the informal alcove for displaying ikebana during the tea ceremony. Antique tea ceremony cups and tools used for the actual tea ceremony are proudly displayed. This room is not quite finished yet, as are a few final touches to the main display room but will be completed for his first Open House on May 6-7, 2022.

Amish carpenters

The studio shell before Sean started his magic

Woodworking and bonsai instruction room