2017 5th Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo Awards



On Sunday morning after my educational constructive critique, I announced the award winners. It was a difficult job as there were so many excellent bonsai. Last year there was an award for Fruiting Bonsai, however only one had fruit. This year there was not a Fruiting Bonsai Award, and there were several which could have been awarded this prize. One never knows what will be exhibited.

Although the beauty and excellence of the bonsai is important, I considered how the bonsai was created, the length of time of training and the total aesthetic impact. There were two “finalists” for the Evergreen Bonsai Award. Although both were beautiful and well grown the final decision went to the Japanese five-needle pine that took considerable work to create. Although the other Taiwan sergeant juniper was large and most impressive the foliage pads and bark appeared “young and immature” to my trained eye.

Steve Zeisel, sponsor of the Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo, kind of made my job selection a bit easier this year. There was not a single “Best of Show” Award; there were four, each in a different category. Also, I was quite pleased to see Steve use the word “evergreen” rather than “conifer” for a category. Most bonsai exhibitions, at least in North America, have a “conifer” and “deciduous” category. Which of these two categories would you enter a Bald cypress, Larch or Dawn Redwood, as all three are deciduous conifers. The word conifer describes the fruiting of the species. That does not make sense to me because other categories are classified horticulturally according to the foliage. So, in my opinion the correct categories would be Evergreen, Deciduous and Broadleaf. Even better would be Narrow Leaf Evergreens, Broadleaf Evergreens and Deciduous. Since many bonsai are appreciated for their flowers and fruit another category could be “Flowering and Fruiting or Flowering and Fruiting.”

In North America people like to grow species that cannot be easily grown in their area. We call this “Zone Envy.” People from warm regions want to grown Larch, deciduous species and pines which cannot be grown because of their climate. Northern area bonsai hobbyists want to grow figs and other tropical species that are not winter hardy in their area. So, people in the Northern areas must grow non winter hardy species like figs indoors. And, therefore another category is created called “Indoor Bonsai” or Tropical Bonsai.” If people from the hot Southern areas could grow larch, deciduous and pines, another category could be formed. But, so far the bonsai community has not been successful in growing the winter hardy species in hot climates. Perhaps a cooler could be utilized, but that would only take into consideration the cool dormant season. Then summer humidity would need to be considered for the health of the plant. Many winter hardy Northern species cannot tolerate high humidity. This might make an excellent future research project.



Best of Show– Evergreen

Miyajima Japanese Five-needle Pine

Pinus parviflora ‘Miyajima’

Adair Martin, Georgia

This bonsai was created well over 20-30 years ago by Mas Imazumi who grafted a few Japanese five-needle pine scions onto an ancient Lodgepole pine with aged bark and old deadwood feature. Boon Manakitivipart trained and developed the bonsai with his students and was finally refined by Adair Martin.


Best of Show- Deciduous

American Hornbeam

Carpinus caroliniana

Tom Bjorholm, Tennessee



Best of Show­– Tropical

Green Island Fig

Ficus microcarpa ‘Green Island’

Seth Nelson, Florida

This masterpiece bonsai has an interesting story as told by Seth Nelson, curator of the James Smith Bonsai Gallery at the Heathcote Botanical Gardens in Fort Pierce, Florida, in his recent post on Facebook. The Green Island Fig bonsai has been trained for approximately 30 years. Jim Vandingham in Florida who studied and worked for the Tropical Bonsai Pioneer Jim Smith originally created this bonsai. Seth inherited the bonsai and the earliest photo was taken in 2010. This year, working with Juan Andrade they redesigned the bonsai to improve the aesthetic appearance of the bonsai. The bonsai was turned around making the original rear view the current front. No branches were removed, only a few unattractive thick aerial roots were pruned. On August 26, 2017 the planting angle of the trunk was changed creating a new appearance. Jim Vandingham has seen the newly designed bonsai and is pleased to see his original creation in a new light. The bonsai was defoliated for the Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo to display the fine twigs and interesting buds and bark. During my critique, Seth turned the tree around to the original front, which also looked good, but now needs a couple of back branches. Good bonsai often have more than one viewing side. Developmental photos by Seth Nelson.





August 2017



August 2017



August 2017



Best of Show– Display

Princess Persimmon

Diospyros rhombifolia

Mac McAntee, North Carolina

There were about six “creative displays” in the exhibition. Only three actually featured bonsai and it appeared to me that the others only used bonsai as an accessory and reminded me of a museum diorama. On one featured an erupting volcano painting, but I could not find a dinosaur…

The award winning Persimmon Display by Mac McAntee was beautiful, well presented and distinctive. Each year he presents his bonsai according to his own taste, the way it should be. His display did not follow the classic Japanese bonsai display that avoids duplication as he wanted to feature Persimmons throughout his exhibit.

The featured bonsai is, of course, a Princess persimmon he trained from a tree originating in California. He built the display table completely out of Persimmon wood. The intricate detail in the top rail was patterned from a Persimmon leaf and in the center he inlayed a solid Persimmon leaf made from Persimmon wood as well. The unique and most appropriate print featuring an opossum eating a Persimmon fruit was found on the Internet and was enlarged and framed for his Persimmon display. The accessory was a ceramic Chinese figurine featuring an elderly man holding Persimmon fruit. Then as a final piece, Mac used tan colored tablecloth to add interest to the display. It is not as an accident that he displayed it in a rhomboid shape. This species of Persimmon is rhombifolia.

It is NOT necessary to always display bonsai according to the classic Japanese bonsai style to be effective. What is important is that the display be interesting, well balanced, in good taste and the main feature being a bonsai. Mac did this perfectly, reflecting his understanding and appreciation of bonsai.



Peoples’ Choice Award

Dwarf Hinoki Cypress & Japanese Maple

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Gracilis’ & Acer palmatum

Steve Zeisel, North Carolina




American Bonsai Society Award

American Hornbeam

Carpinus caroliniana

Gary Clark, North Carolina

The American Bonsai Society President Karen Harkaway, together with Adam Lavigne presented the American Bonsai Society Award for a native species, to this beautiful snowy forest scene display of American hornbeam. This display was also my second choice for the Best of Show– Display Award.

Congratulations to the winners of these awards, but each exhibitor in the Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo should also be complimented for sharing the beauty of their bonsai with others to appreciate.

I look forward to next year’s 2018 6th Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo in December and hope to welcome you there, hopefully with one of your bonsai.