Visiting Kokubunji & Kinashi Bonsai Villages



The two pine bonsai production villages of Kokubunji and Kinashi have merged to be part of the city of Takamatsu on Shikoku Island, Japan. According to 2014 figures, 219 bonsai nurseries shipped 75,000 bonsai valued at approximately US $2,400,000. A great number of the pine bonsai in Japan originated from Takamatsu where pine bonsai are King.

Hiro Yamaji, 2ndgeneration bonsai grower is no stranger to the United States. He has presented numerous programs and also been the headliner for many bonsai conventions and symposia. Mr. Yamaji was one of the international judges and demonstrators at the 2014 4thUS National Bonsai Exhibition. I first met Hiro during my first trip to Japan in 1970 when I was studying with Kyuzo Murata in Omiya Bonsai Village. During his honeymoon Mr. Yamaji and his bride visited my home and we have been friends for over 45 years. He took time from his busy schedule to show our tour the bonsai production areas of Takamatsu.


Nakanishi Chinshoen Bonsai Garden

We first visited the Nakanishi Chinshoen Bonsai Garden of Yoichi Nakanishi, a 5thgeneration bonsai grower. His garden is neat and immaculate, you could eat off the clean raked gravel and stone pathways. He specializes in pines, especially the Kotobuki Japanese black pine, Pinus thunbergii‘Kotobuki.’ This popular cultivar has very short, dark green straight needles and prominent white vegetative buds. It originated as an unusual tree from a nearby mountain and was collected over 70 years ago.





This bonsai could be yours for US$88,000.


Most of the larger Kotobuki Japanese black pines have been created by grafting buds or branches on to well shaped trunks of Japanese black pines. Many of his developed masterpiece bonsai are approximately 20 to 30 years old, but has numerous older masterpieces started by his father and grandfather. They are primarily propagated by grafting, however cuttings are successfully rooted when taken in March.




Hiramatsu Sunshoen Bonsai Garden

The 4thgeneration bonsai artist Koji Hiramatsu is the proprietor of the Hiramatsu Sunshoen Bonsai Garden. His father still helps caring, creating and training the bonsai. There are vast fields of Japanese black and Japanese five-needle pines being trained for trunk and branch development in the ground. They also grew the Cork bark Japanese black pines when they were popular. There are very few remaining.


The new specialty of Mr. Hiramatsu is shohin bonsai. He is an official instructor and officer of shohin bonsai organizations. Of course, pine shohin bonsai are in great number, he is also skilled with other species as well. Since Mr. Hiramatsu is fluent in English he is becoming a popular bonsai instructor outside Japan including the United States, Europe and Canada. He will be one of the international judges and demonstrators at the next 2020 7thUS National Bonsai Exhibition. He frequently hosts foreign students who want to learn his training techniques.

About 30 years ago Gerald Rainville, originally from Montreal, Canada, now living near Vancouver, Canada, came to study with Mr. Hiramatsu’s father. He now has a considerable bonsai and landscape business shipping bonsai throughout Canada. Mr. Rainville travels to Japan for a month long study period yearly. He was at the bonsai garden during our visit so he could attend the upcoming Nippon Bonsai Taikan Ten Exhibition in a few days.




During our visit we also met Evan Marsh, from Sydney, Australia who is now studying with Mr. Hiramatsu. Both Gerald and Evan were busy wiring Shohin Japanese black pine bonsai for sale at the Nippon Bonsai Taikan Ten Exhibition.






Hiramatsu Seijuen Bonsai Garden

After lunch we visited Mr. Hiramatsu’s uncle, Kiyoshi Hiramatsu at his Hiramatsu Seijuen Bonsai Garden which is next to Koji’s garden. This talented 3rdgeneration bonsai artist also specializes in pine and shohin bonsai.









There were a great number of bonsai neatly packed into his compact garden. He had a small shohin bonsai composition on display for us which included an unusual forest of Sekka Hinoki cypress. He was quick to mention he was going to allow two trees to grow taller for better design, or will add a few more taller trees.


Sanshoen Bonsai Garden

Our guide for the day, Hiro Yamaji brought us to his garden for a visit. He has seven fields full of pine bonsai in addition to his newly expanded and designed main bonsai garden and studio. Across the street he has another area with five quarantine greenhouses full of pine bonsai being prepared for shipping to the United States and Europe.





Arthur Skolnik and Marty Schmalenberg studied with Mr. Yamaji many years ago to learn his pine training techniques. Since Mr. Yamaji speaks both English and French, in addition to Japanese, he frequently travels to France to sell and teach bonsai.


Kandaka Shojuen Bonsai Garden

Keiji Kandaka, 4thgeneration proprietor of Kandaka Shojuen Bonsai Garden has one of the largest gardens in the area. Pine bonsai of all sizes and many different species and cultivars are well represented here. In the rear of his garden Mr. Kandaka has a small area devoted to his finest bonsai masterpieces, all pines of course.








The main focal point of his garden is a Japanese black pine garden tree which is over 200 years old, yet only about 10 feet in height. But, the fantastic and unique quality of this garden tree are the lower braches which stretch horizontally approximately 30 feet in length. The branches are trained flat, similar to a skirt, quite unique and well worth a visit.





Exploring Takamatsu, Japan



Takamatsu is the largest city on Shikoku Island and the gateway to the island over the Great Seto Bridge connecting the island to Honshu. The city is quite famous for the production of pine bonsai. However, today we did not see any bonsai since we will spend an entire day exploring two bonsai villages.



Our tour visited Ritsurin Garden which is one of the top three strolling style gardens in Japan. The word Ritsurin actually means “Chestnut Groves,” but it is most famous for magnificent, manicured old Japanese black and Japanese red pines some of which are over 300 years old. Over 1,400 specimen pines are in the garden, however, only 1,000 are trained by bud pinching, removing old needles and thinning out branches to maintain perfect shaping.




300 year old Sago palms Cycas revoluta, with thick corky bark!




Established over 400 years ago Ritsurin Garden was started by the Sato Clan. It was then inherited by the Matsudaira Clan in 1642. Check out yesterday’s blog entry “The Exposed Root Japanese Five-needle Pine” for an interesting history of a famous garden tree and the relationship of the Matsudaira Clan with bonsai. I quickly posted a photo of this pine on Facebook and a couple of friends wanted more history of the unique specimen so that I wrote that blog first, because it interested me. Then I fell asleep writing and correcting photos so this blog entry was delayed…


There are six ponds and several streams in the garden with many scenic vistas set against Mt. Shiun.





Shikoku Village

Near Takamatsu we traveled to Shikoku Village, an open air museum and gallery where we encountered the traditional face of Japan. There are over 20 old building dating from the Edo Period from around Japan which were brought here and reconstructed to preserve how people of old Japan lived.





The entry way to this most interesting and hilly museum was a suspension bridge which appeared to be made of vines. However, upon closer inspection thick metal cables were the actual support. The swinging bridge made of rough, irregular boards was suspended over a pond. I wanted to cross the bridge, but my walking cast prevented me. Although I know how to swim, and may be crazy, I’m not stupid and went around another way. Several of our tour members did, successfully, traverse the dangerous bridge.


There was an amphitheater, soy brewing building as well as a sugar cane press. Several old farm houses were reconstructed including one with an alcove (Tokonoma) which even had an ikebana arrangement. There were a couple of boar fences which must be working since I did not encounter any, nor the poisonous snakes as posted on signs.


It was an interesting and educational view to old time Japan, but it was hilly with lots and lots of irregular steps. I was fortunate to survive the trip without any injury and walked (hiked?) over four miles.






Chrysanthemum Display

Directly across our hotel, near the train station and port is Tamamo Park, which are the ruins of Takamatsu Castle. When the Asia Pacific Bonsai & Suiseki Convention was held a few years ago one of the main buildings was completely displayed with bonsai.


From our hotel window, we noticed a chrysanthemum display and walked across the street to see it. Chrysanthemums are shown all over Japan during October and November. Yesterday was the last day of the show so several blossoms were just past peak, but still stunning.




34.jpgTraditionally chrysanthemums are grown in several different forms. The basic form consists of one plant with three stems, of different heights and an exact number of leaves per stem. They are displayed in groups of 12 pots with four different cultivars of different colors. Quite interesting, but a bit boring. After you see one, you have seen them all. Kind of like shohin bonsai displays or satsuki azalea exhibitions.


There were a few cascade style chrysanthemums and two “Thousand Bloom” forms, each consisting of only one plant per pot.


I’m a bit familiar with bonsai chrysanthemums. In 1971 and 1972 I studied the art with Tameji Nakajima in Tokyo who was the top grower. H. Carl Young and his wife Shin, also studied with him and wrote the excellent book The Art of the Chrysanthemum,which, by the way, has an great history of bonsai. While studying with Mr. Nakajima I was able to introduce several of his hybrid chrysanthemums for bonsai to the United States. These cultivars have tiny blossoms, woody stems and tend to be long lived.


The entire bonsai chrysanthemum is grown and trained in only ONE season. They are started in November and displayed the following autumn and must be transplanted monthly. It’s a bit difficult to get one to live for over a year, but when I was growing, displaying and teaching the art in the late 1970s I was fortunate (lucky) to have a trunk live for three years.


Root-over-rock style is popular because an image of a heavy trunk is presented with long roots. Often wood or artificial stone is carved for the plant. Sometimes they are even painted. I was particularily impressed with the large number of shohin bonsai chrysanthemums displayed, quite creatively too. The last display featured “2020” promoting the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo.



Visiting Shunka-en Bonsai Museum




Shunka-en Bonsai Museum in Tokyo is the home, studio, gallery and growing area of Kunio Kobayashi. I’ve visited here many times before, and like in the past there is always something new to see and study, plus Mr. Kobayashi’s personal bonsai collection.IMG_0420.JPG

The scenic garden views, especially from the top two viewing areas were quite beautiful. I found it interesting that all of the maple and other deciduous bonsai were in one area, satsuki azaleas in another and the remaining evergreens in the central area of the garden museum. A new bamboo fence for an attractive background was new as was a poly house.



All of the bonsai, especially on the monkey pole display tables were tied down to avoid tipping over during windy weather and earthquakes. Of course, the bonsai are kept outdoors, all year around here.












JIN.jpg6P4A9280.jpgWhen Mr. Kobayashi has guests, he brings a few bonsai indoors and arranges displays in one of the dozen or more alcoves in the museum. Each display features a major bonsai, companion and usually a hanging scroll. Jin Yasufumi, a graduate apprentice is now working for Mr. Kobayashi in the curator position for his museum. He is friendly and speaks excellent English. After our tour members looked around and came down from bonsai overload, Jin gave us a guided tour of the museum, including the upstairs container room full of antique and historic Chinese and Japanese containers, each valued more than average homes in the United States6P4A9292.jpg

There were particularly a large number of large Japanese black pine bonsai, probably for the Chinese market. Nearly all of the maple bonsai were leafless and their beautiful branch ramification was visible.

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The fruiting bonsai were colorful and the Chojubai Japanese flowering quince and Sasanqua camellia were blossoming. There was a large unusual Magnolia bonsai with plump flower buds for spring flowering. I could not photograph a large Satsuki azalea because it was just watered and was on the ground level. Mr. Kobayashi recently won an award with this Satsuki azalea which will be displayed in the upcoming Sakufu Bonsai Exhibition limited for professionals.






As previously mentioned, Mr. Kobayashi continues to add bonsai and containers to his museum garden for sale. Well, it now looks like he finally ran out of space because he is overflowing out his front gate on to the two side walls enclosing his garden. A few bonsai, lots of containers and even companion plants sit right on the street. Flags from different countries flank the walls welcoming the many visitors from foreign countries.


The Exposed Root Japanese Five-needle Pine


This Japanese five-needle pine, Pinus parviflora cv., is growing in Ritsurin Garden in Takamatsu, Japan. It is on the shore of Nako Pond in front of the Kikugetsu-tei tea house complex and has been named “The Exposed Root Japanese Five-needle Pine.”


It was originally a small bonsai and the 11thTokugawa Shogun, Ienari (1773-1841), presented the bonsai to the 9thLord of the Matsudaira clan, Yorihiro (1798-1842.) The family treasured this bonsai but were afraid they will kill it, so they planted it in their garden for preservation. And it did thrive!


The exposed roots of the tree form the focal point for the garden tree. This is not the common Japanese five-needle pine, because it was grafted. I’m not certain of the exact cultivar of this tree, but it has short blue-green needles, similar to the cultivar ‘Miyajima.’ The graft union can still be distinctively seen. In modern times Japanese five-needle pine are commonly grafted onto Japanese black pine. However, Yuji Yoshimura told me he thought the tree was grafted onto Japanese red pine during that period of time.

I’ve been admiring that beautiful trained garden tree since I first saw it in 1970. In fact, that tree is the front piece of my second book, Encyclopedia of Classical Bonsai Art: Japanese Five-needle Pine: Nature, Gardens, Bonsai & Taxonomy.I wrote the book in 1976 and the cover price was $9.95. Currently out of print, sometimes it becomes available for around $600.


September 2017

Today, November 19, 2018 my tour visited Ritsurin Park and I noticed several entire branches with brown needles which have died. The remaining branches are healthy, and the tree has been well cared for. Many of the long heavy branches are supported with wooden posts. I look forward to admiring this unique historical bonsai for many more decades.


By the way, the Matsudaira clan was founded in the 14thCentury and ruled until 1873. It was a large important clad which has a connection to bonsai. Count Morinaga Matsudaira (1874-1944), was a political figure and was a President of the House of Peers. He was a noted collector of bonsai and was fascinated with their small size. He wanted to see how small a tree could be created and commissioned ceramic artists to make small bonsai containers. Count Matsudaira was also the President of the Kokufu Bonsai Association and started the present day Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition in 1934. He was closely associated with Norio Kobayashihi and together are credited with the founding of the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition. The 93rdexhibition will be held on February 9-12 and 14-17, 2019.


Count Matsudaira and his wife, Countess Akiko, were instrumental in establishing shohin bonsai and created a collection of over 1,000 small size bonsai. It was unheard of for women to cultivate bonsai at that time, and is still rare in Japan today. When traveling they often brought several of their shohin bonsai in baskets with them. Perhaps they even brought some of their shohin bonsai to Ritsurin Garden, their ancestral home. Countess Akiko Masuhara continued to care for their collection after the Count died in 1944 with great enthusiasm. About 200 shohin bonsai survived World War II, and she cared for them in Atami with the assistance of the Yoshimura family.


The Nippon Bonsai Association published a commemorative album on the Matsudaira Bonsai Collection in 1975. She died in the late 1970s and the Matsudaira Shohin Bonsai Collection was scattered throughout Japan, and one made it to the United States. I was fortunate to add a distinctive Japanese maple bonsai from the Matsudaira Shohin Bonsai Collection to my collection in 1985. This famous bonsai has been displayed in at least two Kokufu Bonsai Exhibitions.



An Autumn Visit To Omiya Bonsai Village



Today we spent a pleasant 68F sunny day in Omiya, Japan. Our small group of only six people afforded us the opportunity to get around easily and have plenty of time to absorb the beauty of beautiful Japanese bonsai.


Our first stop was the bonsai garden of Masahiko Kimura, The Magician. I immediately noticed the increased number of tall rock plantings he created after carving and painting the stones. He is “playing” with bonsai… I’ll explain later.


There are always new bonsai creations in Mr. Kimura’s garden to view and study. There was a stunning Japanese black pine which was truly spectacular, but I did not photograph it, yet. It is destined for the Nippon Bonsai Taikan.


Exhibition which will be held next week in Kyoto. I can get a better photo then. Perhaps it will win one of the top awards, as his bonsai are usually winners, but it all depends on the judges…


Next, I noticed there were several empty “monkey poles” where several of his finest masterpieces are kept. They are now on display at the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum, which was our next stop. In spring the museum began a new “one man showing” of Contemporary Bonsai Masters. The first artist to be featured was Hiroshi Takeyama who specializes in deciduous, unusual and forest bonsai. The second featured artist is Masahiko Kimura and exhibition is titled: “Playing With Bonsai, The Origin Of His Works.” Photographs and signage in both Japanese and English explain his life with bonsai from an early age to the present. This special exhibit runs from October 26 to November 21, 2018. It includes approximately 20 to 30 of his finest masterpieces. The exhibition was changed several times during the exhibition. These Contemporary Bonsai Master series are in addition to the beautiful collection the museum displays daily. He also presented a demonstration on October 28th.

The 28 page exhibition guide full of Mr. Kimura’s masterpieces is in both Japanese and English with great photos and interesting information and his philosophy and thoughts on creation. According to Mr. Kimura, play is different from work, and the sources of creativity in the creation of bonsai. Through play he is able to create bonsai based on how bonsai should be using his sense of feeling and inspiration. He was greatly impressed with the tall Huangshan Mountains, Wulingyuan area and Sanxia Valley in China. Through play, which he sees as the opposite side of professional work, he has been able to make use of his strong sense of inspiration in creating bonsai.

Check out “Kimura’s Home Bonsai” youtube series which describes many of his interesting creative works, including how to sculpt rocks at:


In his garden, he has a huge Japanese yew which is estimated to be 1,000 years in age. I saw it in February this year, and in fact, included a photo of it in my blog from February 2018, look it up. This bonsai has not been in training too long. The exhibition guide said, in English, that it was collected from Hokkaido in April 2018. Now remember I already saw and photographed it in February. Perhaps the tree was trained since April, not collected in April. Now it is growing in a wooden box and it was first displayed in his exhibition a few weeks earlier. It already has been featured in Kinbon Magazinein a beautiful ceramic bonsai container which was added with Photoshop. According to Mr. Kimura this tree is a rare world-class material. The final form of this bonsai is yet to come, and I look forward to watching and learning from the tree.



I noticed a cascade style Ezo spruce bonsai in Mr. Kimura’s garden which looked familiar. Well, it should because it is featured in Mr. Kimura’s article in the upcoming issue of International BONSAI. This issue will soon be in the mail. If you are not a subscriber, you can easily subscribe to the first and only professional bonsai magazine published in the United States here:

Now, what I found particularly interesting is that I mentioned to one of Mr. Kimura’s long time apprentices, Andrei Bessonov, from Russia, that his photo is included in Mr. Kimura’s article about shaping the Ezo spruce bonsai. He responded that this bonsai was accepted to be displayed in the Sakufu Bonsai Exhibition, which is the professional Creation Exhibition next month under HIS name as an apprentice’s creation. Congratulations to Andrei!

Details are important in the creation and appreciation of bonsai. Look at the base of this large size Japanese five-needle pine bonsai….



I also saw an interesting Sargent juniper bonsai with roots being added to the bottom left side of the trunk. It is potted in a deep wooden training box to promote healthy fast vigorous growth.


The Omiya Bonsai Art Museum featured Mr. Kimura’s magnificent bonsai masterpieces which could not be photographed. But I was able to shoot a short video from the second floor balcony.



Walking through the Omiya Bonsai Village I noticed an “Old Friend” sitting outside Mr. Kato’s Mansei-en Bonsai Garden. The last time I saw this tree was in Mr. Iwasaki’s Takasago-an garden in Niihama, Shikoku Island, Japan. Its a truly magnificent Needle juniper garden tree.

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Hiroshi Takeyama’s Fuyo-en Bonsai Garden is one of my favorite bonsai destinations in Japan. The warm weather in Japan has slightly delayed the beautiful color of the bonsai in his garden. But, if you want to see brilliant color in a bonsai garden take a look at this image of my garden and check out my last blog.



Meet A Few Of My Good Friends


For the past 50 years I’ve been teaching bonsai in Rochester, New York. Thousands of students have been introduced to bonsai through my courses and workshops. Many students enjoy the hobby, are talented and want to improve their techniques. A good number continue with me and become good friends. Often students join the Bonsai Society of Upstate New York Inc, in fact, most of our members originated from my classes. They demonstrate at club meetings, become officers and assist me with my classes and other educational activities.

A few weeks ago Harvey Carapella and Bob Blankfield were introduced in my blog. I’d like to introduce a few more of my friends who are serious about improving their bonsai. Each of these friends has been studying with me for 20-25 years. By the way, I have one more talented bonsai friend to introduce, but don’t have the time to properly introduce him now as its snowing outside and must protect a few more bonsai (not from the snow, that’s good) before I head on to Japan in a few hours.

Enjoy the bonsai photos and interesting gardens of the six friends introduced here. I’m proud of all of them and am blessed with their friendship and support.


Marc Arpag

Marc is the current President of our bonsai society and has also served as other officer positions. He is recently retired and is now spending his time enjoying his bonsai and also painting… scenery, not houses. He is always ready to help and offers valued opinions during both my beginner and advanced bonsai workshops and presents programs to regional bonsai societies.

Each year Mark designs and installs the Welcome Garden for the US National Bonsai Exhibitions. Also he helps set up, run and take down the show.

He loves small size trees, especially mame and shohin bonsai, and excels in their creation and display. This multiple award winning bonsai artist often travels with me on lecture trips and also assists with both my bonsai courses and workshops. Suiseki is one of Marc’s passions and he organized the Upstate New York Suiseki Study Group.





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Joe Moore

Joe is the current Ways & Means Chair for our bonsai organization and a terrific auctioneer at club events. He is a semi-retired registered nurse, which provides him with the necessary time to enjoy and improve his collection. Joe is very interested in suiseki and has made several trips to Japan and Taiwan to see bonsai and increase his stone collection.

In addition to his bonsai collection of larger trees, Joe enjoys the beauty of shohin bonsai and displays his trees, of all sizes in local, regional and national exhibitions. He offers good ideas to the society and works on his bonsai for long hours, and it clearly shows. The creation and maintenance of bonsai requires a dedicated personality.





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Ron Maggio

Ron is the immediate past Treasurer of our bonsai society and spent nearly 20 years keeping the organization’s funds in order. He is a semi-retired insurance salesman and loves to interact with people. His friendly personality draws many new people into our society and is invaluable organizing and running the US National Bonsai Exhibitions. He presents interesting programs during my Autumn Open House & Sale on his vast suiseki collection, which is one of the best in this area.

In addition to his bonsai collection Ron is passionate for suiseki. Together with his wife JoAnn, they have collected stones in California as well as New York State in secret locations. Currently Ron is the Chairman of the Upstate New York Suiseki Study Group. He has traveled with me to Japan and Taiwan many times and has displayed several from his collection in the Japan Suiseki Exhibition held in Tokyo yearly. He has also won awards for his beautiful stones.





Jim Dolce

Jim is one of the past Presidents of our bonsai society and continues to advise the group and work hard to organize activities and programs. He is an executive with Fuji Xerox, which keeps him traveling, however, he always finds time to work on his bonsai and help me whenever needed. He is primarily responsible for setting up all of the past US National Bonsai Exhibitions and his wife Rita sewed all the hundreds of yards of curtains, skirting and table coverings used.

Jim presents interesting critiques for our bonsai society along with Marc Arpag and Harvey Carapella. He always shares his trees in our exhibitions. He recently moved to a new home and is establishing his new bonsai garden. His help organizing my friends to move trees and cover six poly houses for winter protection is valued highly.




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Rick Marriott

Rick is responsible for refreshments for our club meetings, shows and also at the US National Bonsai Exhibition. He is a retired engineer and a member of my Senior Monday Crew, which assists me doing anything needed. His friendly personality is valued when dealing with the public and trying to get them interested in our art. His bonsai have received awards in the Upstate New York Bonsai Exhibitions.

Rick assists me at every bonsai course I offer and is especially interested in starting trees from seed. He has several fine bonsai he has grown and trained from seed collected from some of my developed bonsai. Rick prefers cultivated bonsai, rather then collected trees. When traveling Rick is one of the few people I trust watering and caring for my personal collection. The is the consummate gentlemen and the ladies love him…




Alan Adair

Alan is on the exhibition committee for our bonsai society and in charge of vendor relations. Professionally Alan is a sign painter specializing in the unique art of carnival signs. His background in packaging design is helpful when shipping my bonsai and is my Director of E-Bay Sales & Marketing. This award winning bonsai artist specializes in collecting Larch from our region, but more importantly develops them into stunning specimens, which he displays. He presents programs to regional bonsai organizations.

Alan is my assistant and is the Curator of the Living Collection at the International Bonsai Arboretum. Having studied with me for over 25 years he is familiar with my design, techniques and helps me wire, trim and maintain my bonsai. I trust him to water when I’m traveling and to care for my bonsai, as well as our two dogs. He often assists when teaching classes and presenting demonstrations. His fine eye and sense of design is clearly evident with his beautiful bonsai.





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Brilliant Autumn Bonsai At The International Bonsai Arboretum


The 2018 summer growing season has come to an end with a hard freeze a few days ago. But, before winter arrived, my deciduous bonsai decided to put on a show and I’d like to share thier beauty with you.

The spectacle of green foliage turning rich red, yellow and orange in autumn happens when trees have taken all the food they can from the foliage which is filled with chlorophyll, the molecule that absorbs energy from the sun and gives leaves their green coloring. When the length of daylight and temperatures decreases leaves cease to manufacture food and when the green colored chlorophyll is broken down other colors are revealed.



Usually each species has a common autumn coloring. Maidenhair trees, or Ginkgo and Birch normally become bright yellow in autumn before leaf drop. Japanese maples often turn brilliant red, sometimes orange and even yellow foliage. I’ve even had Chinese elm leaves change to pink before dropping to reveal the quiet beauty of small fine twigs and grey bark. Japanese, European and American beech leaves usually become yellow in autumn rather than orange or red. Of course there are physiological reasons for these leaf color changes, which plant scientists have studied and can better explain.


However, I’m a bonsai artist and educator, and although I’ve earned two ornamental horticultural degrees this topic does not really interest me because what goes on inside the leaf can’t be changed. However, what I am interested in is to understand how to enhance autumn coloring.



Although each species has a “normal” autumn coloring, each year presents a different show of color depending on the daylight, temperature, water, fertilizer and trimming techniques. All of these elements contribute to the autumn foliage colors. I’ve had Trident maple bonsai turn rich red one year, orange the next year, clear yellow another year and sometimes all three colors in one leaf.


If deciduous bonsai are defoliated during the summer to reduce leaf size and increase fine twigs they often present richer autumn colors because of the chemical balance inside the leaves. It seems that the younger foliage change too more intense colors than bonsai with only older foliage which were not defoliated.


It seems that if the summer weather is hot and wet the foliage does not become brilliant in autumn. If the bonsai tend to dry out during late summer autumn coloring will be better than normal. Perhaps the slight stress stimulates rich coloring.


Fertilizing bonsai also contributes to the autumn foliage color change. If fertilizer applications stop in August or September the autumn colors begin sooner than if fertilizer is given in September into October. I do not change my fertilizer schedule during the year. Beginning in May and continuing to September, sometimes October, I use a mixture of high Nitrogen fertilizers throughout the growing season.
The addition of Nitrogen will be beneficial to the tree in spring. I do not reduce the Nitrogen levels as the growing season progresses. Most growers do not recommended this, because they say the addition of Nitrogen fertilizer will encourage late new growth which might be damaged by cold weather because they don’t have time to mature. This is not true if you have regularly fertilized with high Nitrogen fertilizer throughout the growing season. New growth will not be encouraged. However, look at my bonsai. I must be doing something right because my bonsai always reward me with a colorful show before leaf drop.


Kashima Japanese maple. The outer layer of leaves were gently plucked to reveal an undamaged fresh foliage.

During late summer some deciduous leaves show a discoloration or leaf burn around the edges because the leaves are thinner towards the tips. We often let them remain until September or October then gently pluck an entire layer of the damaged foliage revealing an older crop of foliage which has not been damaged. These new leaves become exposed to the sunlight and change color. As the growing season ends they put on a colorful showing. These bonsai are often put on turntables and rotated a couple of times a week so both sides of the bonsai can receive an even amount of sun. If the bonsai are not rotated the coloring of each side often differs. Bonsai kept in the shade tend to change color later than those in the full sun.






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This past summer we kept a multiple trunk Japanese maple in an area which received only late afternoon sun and the foliage did not burn. In late September it was moved into a sunnier location and rotated. This year this Japanese maple bonsai became light yellow, then a few days later a rich yellow. Two years ago the same bonsai turned light orange and the year before that it was dark orange. When the trees begin to change color it comes quickly and changes during the day, hour by hour.


European Beech

Usually Maidenhair trees, or Ginkgo, become yellow then suddenly all the foliage drops at one time. This year my Maidenhair tree bonsai failed to put on a show, while the garden tree changed to its normal rich yellow.


Shishigashira Japanese Maple


It takes considerable time to photograph deciduous bonsai to capture their beauty. I was waiting for my Full moon maple to change color. It almost peaked but the weather changed and it rained. The leaves were not knocked off, but the trunk became wet and dark. Its best to photograph bonsai when they are dry so details are revealed. This bonsai was peaking and the bark was wet. We tried paper towels and even a fan, but it did not help to dry out the bark, especially near the surface root region next to the moss. If you bring a bonsai changing color indoors to protect it from rain and wind you take a chance of drying out the leaves. Its best to keep the bonsai outdoors, out of the wind and away from rain. Low humidity is not good for maintaining colorful foliage. The leaves become a dull color, crispy and drop.


Full Moon Maple, May 2018.


November 1, 2018.


November 3, 2018.


November 4, 2018.

Weather changes and the brief magnificent autumn colors can quickly change. A few days after these colorful photos were taken it snowed about an inch. Good thing we photographed the bonsai last weekend not this weekend.


Japanese Zelkova

After the bonsai present their beautiful foliage changes we remove the old leaves to reveal the fine twigs and bark textures. Usually my bonsai remain outdoors until they get a light dusting of snow because the gritty snow cleans the bark as it melts. Then my bonsai are protected for the long cold winter.


Shishigashira Japanese Maple November 4, 2018.


Shishigashira Japanese Maple November 8, 2018.



Euonymus sieboldiana

However, this year I have a different situation because of my upcoming Autumn Bonsai Tour to Japan during the Thanksgiving holiday. The Nippon Bonsai Association did not consider the American Thanksgiving holiday when they scheduled the Nippon Bonsai Taikan Exhibition. It is held during a long Japanese holiday weekend so visitors to Kyoto can enjoy both the colorful gardens and the bonsai exhibition. Two days after returning from Japan we must leave for the Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo in North Carolina. So, it was necessary for me to begin protecting my bonsai early.


November 9, 2018





Well, the bonsai did get a dusting of snow beforehand. A few weeks ago we began protecting the nursery stock and sales bonsai, keeping my better bonsai outside as long as possible. Usually the bonsai remain outdoors until Thanksgiving or early December, depending on the season. Personally, I hate cold weather and snow and tend to go dormant at 70F. So, I’m off in a few days to show friends the Japanese bonsai world where it will be warmer than it is in Rochester, New York.

FRONT 11-2018

FRONT 2 11-2018