I feel sad and disappointed that the 40th Nippon Bonsai Taikan Exhibition in Kyoto, Japan was cancelled. Even more so because most foreigners are not allowed into Japan at this time so I can’t share the beauty of Japanese bonsai with friends through this blog and International BONSAI.
A couple of days ago I discovered a special one day bonsai exhibition held in Japan which was outstanding; the bonsai, displays and photographs were all beautiful and well presented. They photos are shared here with you through the courtesy of the Nippon Bonsai Association. I hope you enjoy these photos as much as I did.
I look forward to returning to Japan to see more bonsai and share them with you here.
Our Autumn Open House is normally not an expanded event during years hosting the US National Bonsai Exhibition. This is not a “normal” year with nearly all bonsai events throughout the world being cancelled. So this year’s Autumn Open House will feature displays, sales and free programs on Saturday-Sunday, September 12-13, 2020. There are two special highlights this year, a Suiseki Exhibit and sales from the Joe Noga Bonsai Collection.
The 2020 growing season has been great! Together with the weather and not being able to travel has provided the opportunity to spend more time creating new bonsai as well as refining several developed specimens. Additionally, after an absence of many years, we set up a mist system to propagate some rare varieties used for bonsai training.
Fine quality bonsai will be formally and informally displayed in the studio. Four formal bonsai displayed in our outdoor workshop where the FREE Bonsai Demonstrations will take place. Finally, bonsai will be artistically displayed in the garden featuring a formal outdoor alcove.
In addition to beautiful developed bonsai a large selection of developing bonsai will be on sale. Nursery stock, grown and propagated here specifically for bonsai are in large numbers. Many newly created bonsai are now ready to be added to your collection. A selection of containers, tools and supplies are always available for purchase. A good number of established indoor bonsai are available this year. The bonsai, pre-bonsai, containers and tools and wire will be discounted 20% during the Autumn Open House.
FREE Bonsai Demonstrations
Mark Arpag- Shohin Bonsai, Saturday 10 am
Mark will share his knowledge, skill and love of shohin bonsai with visitors to the Open House. He is an award winning bonsai artist and also the current President of the Bonsai Society of Upstate New York. Special displays will highlight the program which will also feature the creation of a shohin bonsai. The completed bonsai will be auctioned at the conclusion of the program.
Wm. N. Valavanis- Kusamono Creation & Display With Bonsai, Saturday pm
Bill will explain how kusamono and companion plantings are created and also used to enhance the presentation of bonsai. Several formal bonsai displays, featuring different seasons will be explained and how the companion plantings were selected and created. Following a demonstration the companion planting will be auction.
Ron Maggio- Suiseki Introduction & Appreciation, Sunday 10 am
Ron will share the beauty of some of his vast collection of suiseki from around the world. He is an award winning suiseki collector who has displayed his stones in Japan and the United States. Emphasis will be on how to appreciate suiseki and what to look for when selecting stones. At the conclusion of the program a suiseki will be auctioned.
Wm. N. Valavanis- Fruiting & Flowering Bonsai Creation & Care, Sunday 2pm
There are many developed flowering and fruiting bonsai in the Valavanis Bonsai Collection and Bill will explain how some of them have been created and how to develop a bonsai from common nursery stock, cuttings and seedlings. A flowering/fruiting bonsai will be created and auctioned at the end of the program.
Joe Noga Bonsai Collection
Over 580 pre-bonsai and some developed bonsai from the famous Joe Noga Bonsai Collection in North Carolina will be available for sale. He has been propagating thousands of select plants for us during the past 15 years and is running out of room. A large selection of Noga Crabapples, Dwarf Mulberry, Chinese Quince, Kingsville Box, Seiju Elm, Koto Hime maples and more are available, while a small collection of developed bonsai are here for sale. Be on the lookout for developed masterpiece bonsai for sale at next year’s 2021 7th US National Bonsai Exhibition on September 11-12, 2021. All of his trees are winter hardy.
7th Upstate New York Suiseki Exhibit
The Suiseki Study Group of the Bonsai Society of Upstate New York will be presenting an exhibit of member’s suiseki during the Open House. Our greenhouse has been transformed into areas where our members can share their stones. Recently the group had a stone collecting field trip where 12 members each collected some very good and interesting stones from a stream. A few will be displayed along with other famous suiseki. Photos are from last year’s exhibit.
All events are FREE and open to everyone who appreciates bonsai and would like to add to their collection. Please be safe and remember to bring and wear a mask and social distance. If you have health concerns about attending this exciting event, make an appointment for a visit. The 20% discount will be extended to you for a week. Looking forward to welcoming visitors and friends to this special event.
Every summer our Bonsai Society of Upstate New York has a garden tour. In the past we have visited excellent and interesting collections of Hosta, Dwarf Conifers and even a top Dwarf Conifer & Rare Plant Nursery.
Last evening we had a special private visit to the Bergen Water Gardens & Nursery in Churchville, New York, a Rochester suburb. Proprietors Larry & Lily Nau have had much experience with growing plants and fish, in New York as well as in China. They also import Jindezhen porcelain pots for waterlilies from China. Larry was the buyer for a tropical fish store for over 40 years. He was also President of the American Conifer Society and an avid waterlily grower.
Now in its 20th year, Bergen Water Gardens & Nursery in its 16 acer propriety specializes in lotus, waterlilies, koi, goldfish, pond supplies, carnivorous plants and dwarf conifers.
Lotus are a specialty and they have been importing select tubers from China for a few years as well as from the United States. They hybridize many new cultivars and have now amassed a collection of 350-400 different lotus cultivars. Bergen Water Gardens & Nursery was honored to be the first International Waterlily and Water GardeningCertified Nelumbo Collection of Excellence in the IWGS’s 37 year history.
Here you can find tall lotus, over 6 feet in height with flowers 8-9 feet tall as well as teacup lotus which fit in the palm of your hand. New and popular are bowl and micro lotus which grow well in pots only 6 inches in diameter. The flower are small in size too. There are dozens of different cultivars, which are just coming into blossom now. I got a few tubers last year and three more this season. Primarily I purchased them to display with bonsai and this week one began to blossom so a display was created for my Senior Monday Crew during lunch.
Larry Nau and his wife Lily welcomed our group of about 20 members to their beautiful nursery on a warm lovely evening. Larry presented a short program on the history of their nursery and explained many interesting facts about lotus and waterlilies. Before we toured his nursery, Lily arranged for a pizza snack with lotus roots as a topping. It tasted quite good and added a different texture.
Following the presentation Larry showed us all areas of his nursery and explained a few of his 70 plus ponds he dug and has full of lotus for display, sale and hybridization. We ended up in his sales area where several of our members purchased fish, lotus, marginal plants for bonsai accessories and supplies.
Check out their website if you can’t visit in person:
Thank you Larry and Lily for your hospitality to our group to enhance our appreciation of water plants. And the lotus topped pizza was delicious!
Although defoliation is “generally” recommended as a bonsai training technique it actually requires considerable thought and it’s necessary to contemplate each specific tree and the purpose of removing foliage. Today I’ve been told that Ryan Neil and others do not recommend total defoliation of healthy maples. Unfortunately, I did not study with Ryan, whom I respect, and others. I must have skipped the defoliation chapters in the books studied. I’ve learned through intense study (both in the US and Japan) and actual practice for well over 50 years that plants, especially Japanese maple cultivars have diverse growth habits and respond differently to bonsai training techniques.
There are numerous reasons for defoliating deciduous, and even broadleaf evergreens, such as for increasing the number of twig ramification, reducing leaf size, transplanting out of season, reducing vigor on developed trees, energy balance, preparing trees for exhibits, improving air circulation and sun, improve autumn coloring, enjoying colorful spring shoots again, facilitating easier wiring, reviving dehydrated trees, eliminating pests and disease and more. The health, age, size, stage of development, climate and reason for defoliating a tree must be carefully considered, especially with established developed specimens. Undeveloped trees can generally withstand more stress than more developed trees.
June 2020 Katsura Japanese Maple Defoliated Bonsai And Garden Tree. Both Are The Same Age, My 40 Year Cuttings.
I recommend that the foliage matures and trees are fertilized before defoliating in late-spring and summer for maximum results in developing a new flush of growth for training or display. Timing is important to allow the new growth to mature before cold weather arrives. I’ve actually defoliated maples in August with good results, but do not recommend that late a date. Aftercare is important considering sun exposure, watering and fertilizer applications. The subsequent new growth can be trained for different purposes. Sometimes the fine delicate twigs are not as winter hardy as thicker branches.
Katsura Japanese Maple 2010 after growing in the garden for a few years. Before pruning.
2010 After Pruning.
I shared a few photos of my Katsura Japanese maple, Acer palmatum ‘Katsura’ in my original posts in Facebook and the Bonsai Nut Forum. The complete history of this bonsai is attached here. Both the bonsai and the garden tree are the same age, my cuttings about 40 years old and were planted in my garden in 1988. About ten to fifteen years later one of the maples had an interesting shape and it was lifted and trained for bonsai. Katsura Japanese maple is a vigorous grower and this specimen has only been in training for about 15 years after lifting from my garden. It’s a relatively large size and heavy bonsai. Since The outer canopy silhouette was the main reason for total defoliation. After removing all the leaves thick heavy branches were visible and will be corrected in the future.
May 2014, Excellent Spring Coloring.
May 2020, Spring Coloring.
June 2020 Before Defoliation.
June 2020 After Defoliation.
June 2020 After trimming, but before eliminating thick branching.
At the same time as totally defoliating the Katsura Japanese maple posted, I partially defoliated another Japanese maple, Acer palmatum, which was not posted. This special and unique tree is one of the original shohin bonsai from the Matsudaira Collection. Now over 120 years old this bonsai has an interesting history. Count Yorinaga Matsudaira and his wife created the largest shohin bonsai collection in Japan in the 1930s. He was infatuated in bonsai and wanted to see how small a bonsai could be created and maintained. Count Matsudaira, along with Norio Kobayashi established the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition in 1934. This Japanese maple bonsai is from the Matsudaira Collection and was displayed in at least two Kokufu Bonsai Exhibitions in 1957 and 1974.
1958 Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition
1974 Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition
June 2020 After Partial Defoliation
So, this is an old bonsai and not as vigorous as younger trees so it should not be completely defoliated to maintain health. However, I have a few times totally defoliated the bonsai during the past 36 years I’ve been caring for it. It’s been fun and a privilege to be able to care and continue the training of this distinctive and historical bonsai.
Everyone is invited to visit this year’s Spring Open House & Sale on Saturday-Sunday, June 6-7, 2020, at the International Bonsai Arboretum in Rochester, New York. Please be safe and wear a mask.
Since I was unable to conduct my Introductory Bonsai Courses, Seminars and Open Workshops because of the Convair 19 Virus, it has been quite around here. Therefore we have had considerable time to create many new bonsai and prepare pre-bonsai for sale. The gardens look quite good too. We were able to transplant many masterpieces which needed root pruning and fresh soil as well.
There are a few unusual bonsai you might want to check out: Golden Smoke Tree, Climbing Hydrangea and a Red Dragon Harry Lauder’s Contorted Filbert. Additionally you can see how small and compact many of the bonsai maples have developed since bud pinching earlier during the season. Now is the time to pinch pines, and we are busy as they are always producing new shoots at different times throughout the trees.
Golden Smoke Tree
Red Dragon Harry Lauder’s Contorted Filbert
Compact Kiyo Hime Japanese Maple leaves
Its time for the Chinese Quince bark to exfoliate
Golden Full Moon Maple flowers forming fruit
RAF Dwarf Scots Pine
Butterfly Japanese Maple
Dwarf Ezo Sprue
The Upstate New York Bonsai Exhibition, sponsored by the Bonsai Society of Upstate New York, was cancelled so there was no bonsai show for people to visit. There will, however, be the 7th US National Bonsai Exhibition coming uo on September 12-13, 2020 in Rochester. At the Spring Open House & Sale we will be featuring seven formal classical bonsai displays in addition to a beautiful garden full of fine bonsai where basic and advanced training techniques can be viewed and studied this weekend.
Award winning bonsai artists from the Bonsai Society of Upstate New York are joining me at the Spring Open House & Sale to demonstrate their skills and share their techniques and knowledge for creating bonsai. Each artist has many years of dedicated study and experience in training bonsai.
Harvey Carapella was a past president of the Bonsai Society of Upstate New York for several decades. He has a large size Ginkgo bonsai forest which will be redesigned with a new main tree.
Mark Arpag is the current president of the Bonsai Society of Upstate New York and has a special Dwarf Apple for his demonstration. Twenty some years ago our Society had a visit to the famous Kirby Apple Orchard where members were allowed to dig and take home a large Dwarf Apple. Mark has been training his demo tree and plans to improve the dead wood area into a focal point.
Alan Adair is a director of the Bonsai Society of Upstate New York and also the Curator of the Living Collection at the International Bonsai Arboretum. He specializes in Larch bonsai and will share his knowledge on how to train this popular hardy species for bonsai.
Wm. N. Valavanis is a past president of the Bonsai Society of Upstate New York and will be creating a bonsai from a Japanese Yew Diane selected from a local nursery.
From last September’s Open House demonstration. Note how “tall” I needed to be to work on the pine. Well, I was standing on a cement block, look closely. I should have listed to Diane and Jerome Cushman because I broke BOTH feet standing on it.
My TWO broken feet did not stop me. I still went to Seattle, British Columbia, China and Japan a few times.
Check the schedule of events on the attached flyer for the times of the demonstrations. Between the demonstrations visitors are encouraged to study the bonsai displays and garden while shopping for bonsai, pre-bonsai, containers, wire and tools. There is a 20% discount on bonsai, pre-bonsai, containers and tools.
On May 22 Bonsai Empire from The Netherlands conducted a garden tour of our garden. It was filmed by Mark Arpag and assisted by my son Chris. The hour and a half live tour was quite popular and visited by 68,000 people around the world. Check it out at:
Join us this coming weekend for our Spring Open House & Sale, no snow is forecast, only good warm weather, to enjoy bonsai, learn from the demonstrations, meet with others who share your passion and go shopping to add to your collection. Please be safe and wear a mask.
Bonsai Empire by Oscar Jonker has done it again! He has produced another stellar educational and entertaining online bonsai course taught by Masahiko Kimura, the magical technician of contemporary bonsai. This is the first time Mr. Kimura has presented an online bonsai course. I first had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Kimura with Chase Rosade nearly 40 years ago in his bonsai garden filled with masterpiece bonsai. Since that time International BONSAI has featured “Magic Moments- The Artistry of Kimura” a photo essay by Masahiko Kimura for over 35 years. For the past 32 issues we have published “Masahiko Kimura’s Fun Bonsai Classroom where Mr. Kimura shows how he transforms ordinary plant material into stunning works of art.
Mr. Kimura’s private classroom has been opened for his online students
So, I’m quite familiar with this innovator of contemporary bonsai and have watched dozens of his live demonstrations throughout the United States and the world. Twice a year he has opened and shared his garden for my bonsai tour members in Japan.
It’s a wonder how Bonsai Empire was able to capture the essence of Mr. Kimura’s art and techniques in the easy to learn Kimura Masterclass. Like other of Bonsai Empire’s online bonsai courses, this unique course is well organized, photographed and edited to make students easy to learn from the teacher. Masahiko Kimura shares a lifetime of cultivated knowledge through his excellent explanation of this design theory and bonsai techniques he has perfected. The photography was superb showing all details of the techniques. And, there were a few segments of high speed wiring to avoid students being bored.
The four hour bonsai course is divided into three sections which are complete close up views of two demonstrations, plus a bonus content. The first demonstration on an old collected Japanese five-needle pine shows how Mr. Kimura studies the untrained tree and how he prepares the tree for creating into a stunning windswept bonsai. For the first time I learned that Mr. Kimura dyes his raffia close to the color of the tree’s bark to make it “disappear.” Considerable time was spent with his apprentices cleaning the overgrown moss groundcover to show the hidden surface root display. The next two parts of this demonstration shows how he selects the proper gauge of annealed copper wire and how he applies it, cutting the wire to the “exact” size to avoid any waste. Clearly he has done this before. Bending techniques for heavy branches are featured as well as the proper use of guy wires. He explains his thought process of establishing the basic design according to his taste which is the cumulation of decades of study.
Before concluding the new windswept bonsai demonstration Mr. Kimura talks about refining the design and the apex silhouette aesthetics. The finished bonsai is typical of the fine quality work of Masahiko Kimura.
The second demonstration lesson shows how Mr. Kimura creates a clinging-to-a rock planting bonsai using Sargent junipers. He purchased about 50 trees and carefully selected the best six or seven trees for the rock planting composition. Mr. Kimura has been creating numerous clinging-to-a rock planting bonsai and has perfected his techniques to show nature in miniature. He was greatly influenced by his many trips to see mountains in China.
The rock for his rock planting was carved by Mr. Kimura, and although he talks about how he carved and painted the stone I wish photos or a short video on how he created the stone was shown. He wired and planted the stone to the container before planting. Each of the trees was prewired and skillfully planted on the stone. The wires for attaching the trees to the stones used an interesting technique I’ve never seen before. The asymmetrical balance of tree positioning was well done and explained. Considerable time was spent on applying the peat muck and subsequent moss. The finished rock planting bonsai looked established, like it had been created decades before.
The third or Bonus Content will be an eye opener for most students. Mr. Kimura takes a tour through his back area where his unfinished compositions and client’s bonsai are kept and trained. Many future masterpieces can be seen in this section. After the private area tour students are shown the public garden where world-famous bonsai masterpieces can be enjoyed and studied.
Finally to conclude the private lesson an interview with Mr. Kimura explains how his creativity was influenced and how he developed many of his masterwork bonsai. A great conclusion to a stimulating private lesson with Mr. Kimura. It was wonderful to hear Mr. Kimura’s advice to his students and apprentices that you should grow your bonsai with love and affection, the most important factor for bonsai. This Kimura Masterclass is really special because he has no intention to travel to teach bonsai. In Mr. Kimura’s own words about the reason for his first online bonsai course: “to share his knowledge and legacy on.”
Clearly photographed the entire online Kimura Masterclass features Mr. Kimura explaining everything in Japanese. However, Makiko Kobayashi did an excellent job translating all his comments in proper English subtitles. This must have taken considerable work to get all the fine details translated then edited and printed at the bottom of the video.
I suggest the Kimura Masterclass to any serious bonsai enthusiast who wants to learn techniques and aesthetics directly from the master to improve their bonsai skills and understanding.
As an extra added bonus, at the conclusion of my four hour private lesson I was able to print out a Certificate of Completion which can be framed and displayed. Well done Mr. Kimura, Oscar and Makiko!
4 hours of private instruction
Students can easily enroll in the 4 hour Kimura Masterclass at:
Well, “Spring” has finally arrived in Rochester, NY, although the official safe frost free date is May 30! All the bonsai are now outside and the indoor tropical species are also being moved outside, all of them.
Only 6 days later.
This spring has been quite unusual… Since I have been unable to teach or conduct workshops because of the Convair-19 Virus, we have been kept quite busy working on bonsai. Together with my assistant Alan Adair (curator of the living collection at the International Bonsai Arboretum,) and my Monday Senior Crew we have created well over 100 new bonsai, refined and transplanted many masterpieces (which they needed,) and also “dancing” with the bonsai, many, many times moving inside and out on nearly a daily basis to protect tender beautiful new colorful growth from cold, frost and snow.
I believe this year we have actually transplanted nearly every deciduous bonsai which needed it, almost. We are just starting to transplant the evergreens. Truly, we never really stop transplanting here, when a tree needs it, we simply transplant and adjust the aftercare. A couple of days ago we transplanted one of my largest Kashima Japanese Maples in full leaf. I must have skipped the chapter on transplanting in the bonsai instruction books or did not watch the videos on YouTube.
Enjoy these photos from the past six weeks of busy work, actually having fun.
Shishigashira Japanese maple
White Chojubai Japanese flowering quince.
Shishigashira Japanese maple
Kashima Japanese maple
Japanese larch forest created for Diane’s family. Each tree represents a member of the McAleer family in Montreal, Canada
Crabapple logo bonsai for the upcoming 2020 7th US National Bonsai Exhibition which WILL be held on September 12-13, 2020 in Rochester, New York. Come see it loaded, hopefully in an abundance of fruit. Last year in preparation for the exhibition we removed all the flowers to produce more blossoms and fruit for you to enjoy.
Trident maple, completely container grown from a 4″ potted seedling for about 30 years.
Cork-bark Chinese elm redesign, not complete yet, but perhaps a new owner will design in their own taste.
70 Trident maples in a very shallow container.
Mycorrhizae on pine bonsai. Watch for a comprehensive article on this symbiotic fungus in the next issue of International BONSAI, which I’m working on now.
Induced back budding on an old Japanese maple bonsai not by drastic pruning.
Transplanting and root pruning Kashima Japanese maple bonsai in full leaf.
As most friends know, I specialize in maple, deciduous, unusual and forest planting bonsai. Spring is the peak of beauty, OK autumn too, in my garden. On Friday, May 22, 2020 at 2pm (EST) Bonsai Empire will be hosting a live walk through video stream from my beautiful and colorful garden. Even better, after the tour I’ll be delighted to answer any questions you might have. Simply use this link to tune in for a beautiful, enjoyable and educational spring visit.
If you live within driving range, our Spring 2020 Open House & Sale will take place on Saturday and Sunday, June 6-7th. This year Award Winning bonsai artists, Harvey Carapella, Marc Arpag, Alan Adair and I will be conducting demonstrations. Come, spend some time in my garden, learn and enjoy the bonsai, and please make some purchases as well. At least, subscribe to International BONSAI, the first and only professional bonsai magazine published in the United States for the past 42 years.
While most bonsai fanciers in our great country are finished with transplanting and now defoliating and trimming deciduous bonsai, we in the frigid Upstate New York area are still dancing with moving trees inside and out, daily to avoid frost and freezing temperatures. We are still transplanting and have over a month before we can even think about defoliating deciduous bonsai. In fact, we are expecting SNOW tonight and tomorrow.
Friends frequently ask why I live here. Well, many of my friends are around, are kind of centrally located for visitors, it’s the home of the US National Bonsai Exhibition (still coming up soon) and if you buy one of my bonsai, you know it will be winter hardy in most of the country.
Experiencing long periods of cold we learn to appreciate early spring flowering bonsai, a harbinger of a new fresh growing season where we have another season to enjoy and opportunity to improve our bonsai. So, basically, anything flowering in late-winter and early spring means that the “real” spring is not too far away, and hopefully will last more than a couple of days before the hot weather arrives. Today, the Forsythia and Bradford pears are still in flower.
Magnolias make great bonsai, but are not frequently seen, perhaps because they are only attractive when in flower for a couple of weeks and do not look good because of the large foliage. Well, so are a number of other species such as Cherry, Winter hazel, Witch hazel, and these too are not often seen.
I happen to love the beauty of Magnolia bonsai with the different size flowers, varying colors from white to pink to red and even yellow. The fuzzy buds are especially attractive too.
Last year there was a large magnificent cascade magnolia displayed at the 2019 92nd Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition in Tokyo which also received the Kokufu Prize and People’s Choice Award. It was truly beautiful with large dark purple flower buds. It really impressed me and thought it might be fun to attempt to create a cascade Magnolia bonsai.
In March 2019 I was shopping for plants in South Carolina and stopped at a Lowe’s to see what they had available in the nursery area. I was not surprised to see Magnolias for sale but was amazed to find a specimen with a rather unusually shaped trunk which could be trained into a cascade style with a bit of wire. I purchased it, brought it to Rochester and made a few cuts, wired and transplanted it into a training pot for future development. It grew last season and the wire was removed before cutting into the beautiful white bark. Of course, the tree did not hold the desired shape all the way, so must be wired again this week. But before wiring I wanted to enjoy the flowers which increased in number. I’m having fun playing with this tree.
April 14, looking promising
April 16 after frost and in snow
April 20, after frost
We also have a Star Magnolia garden tree in our garden. It was originally trimmed for about 15 years by one of my students who worked in a local garden center. When they closed down, I was fortunate to purchase the 8 foot tall tree and with the help of my friends moved it to our garden. That was about 20 years ago. Since planting, Diane has taken over the yearly job of maintaining the compact shape to keep the beauty of the tree. Please note that Magnolias blossom in early spring and are usually hit by frost before displaying their blossoms. We had an early warm March, but frigid April and actually thought we could not enjoy the fragrant flowers this year. The April weather hit the tree, but it still flowered! And it’s the best display we have been able to enjoy in 20 years.
If you like Magnolia bonsai and want to learn how to train and cultivate them, check out the 2007/NO. 1 issue of International BONSAI on “Spring Flowering Bonsai,” which includes two articles on how to train Magnolias and lots of great photos of other spring flowering bonsai.
It is spring and my garden is beginning to display brilliant colors, so what am I doing sharing information on chrysanthemums now? There is an active thread on the Bonsai Nut Bonsai Forum discussing chrysanthemums for bonsai. I began to write a response but developed “diarrhea of the mouth” and my reply became too long, so decided to share it here.
Chrysanthemums make great, colorful bonsai for autumn display. In the early 1970s while apprenticing in Omiya Bonsai Village, Japan I also had the opportunity to study bonsai chrysanthemums with Tameji Nakajima, co-author of The Art of the Chrysanthemum, the foremost book on chrysanthemums. He co-authored the book with H. Carl Young, who introduced Seiju elm. Mr. Nakajima hybridized chrysanthemum cultivars and selecting those which have small blooms and develop thick trunks for bonsai. I was fortunate to introduce about a dozen of his bonsai chrysanthemum cultivars in the 1970s and traveled the country teaching how to train bonsai chrysanthemums. When I stopped training bonsai chrysanthemums I made sure they would not be lost in commercial production and sold them to King’s Chrysanthemums in California, now located in Oklahoma.
Bonsai chrysanthemums are actually started in autumn, from stolon growth (small shoots) at the base of a plant. That small growth is what is trained for the following year’s bonsai, NOT the original cutting. This technique creates a great lower trunk and surface root system. During the summer growing season the chrysanthemums are transplanted MONTHLY and wired and unwired several times. If successful in developing a bonsai chrysanthemum bonsai they will present you with beautiful small colorful flowers for perhaps a month. Mostly the bonsai chrysanthemums seen in Japan are one year trees.
Bonsai chrysanthemums are extremely labor intensive and difficult to overwinter. They do not overwinter well, and when they do, I have discovered, are not as vigorous as one-year old plants.
As I have grown up the bonsai community I have learned that my time is too valuable to create a bonsai which can only be enjoyed for one year. I want to develop a bonsai which can be kept and appreciated for many years, decades.
So, currently I’m not training bonsai chrysanthemums. However, I am growing another chrysanthemum for bonsai which is long lived. The Nippon Daisy, Chrysanthemum nipponicum, is a woody perennial which is winter hardy in the Upstate New York area and develops great trunks, old bark and bright pure white, daisy-like flowers in autumn. The flower stems are a bit long, but attractive. Recently the Nippon Daisy chrysanthemum has been reclassified as Nipponathemum nipponicum.
Yuji Yoshimura next to his Nippon Daisy chrysanthemum bonsai.
My Nippon Daisy chrysanthemum originally came from Yuji Yoshimura who imported a plant from his father’s Tokyo bonsai garden in the early 1960s. The original plant was started in the 1950s so it must be 70 years old now. When I purchased the bonsai at Mr. Yoshimura’s auction in 1995 it had three trunks.
The lowest branch developed into a cascade bonsai in 2012.
I removed the left trunk and developed it into a cascade style bonsai which continues to flower and presents an aged appearance. Several other plants have been developed from trunk sections, all trained in the cascade style.
After I removed the left lower trunk the remaining two trunks were trained into a stunning twin trunk bonsai. Through the decades the smaller left trunk rotted away and a single trunk bonsai was developed. It is planted in a rather unusual Japanese Tokoname-ware container which was a wedding gift from Hiro Yamaji.
The left trunk rotted away, don’t forget its 70 years old!
The Nippon Daisy chrysanthemum is easy to root and grows great in the garden. In fact, heavy clay soil promotes rapid trunk thickening. Only a yearly spring trimming to keep the plant growing with only one trunk is all that is necessary. In three to five years it is easy to get a 2-3” trunk. Then the plant is dug and branches can be developed to form a bonsai in a container.
Old bark quickly develops.
They grow quite quickly and are trimmed several times during the growing season. However, I try to stop trimming in July or August to allow the plant to set flower buds. Usually I repot them in early to mid-summer when I have time. They prefer deeper containers because the thick leather-like foliage is heavy and demands quite a bit of water. Often I have the container sitting in a shallow saucer of water. Normally, my Nippon Daisy chrysanthemums blossom in late-October to mid-November. After flowering the small twigs are usually pruned leaving only the major branching. Thus branching is easily developed the following year.
I promise to share photos of the colorful maple bonsai in my garden soon.
Last week I participated in GardenScape 2020, Rochester’s premier garden show. We forced many Azaleas, Pears, Cherries and two Wisteria to blossom in March, rather than in May.
The two Wisteria bonsai woke up and the flower buds began to open. One of the bonsai was delayed, exactly one week behind the other. When the flowers racemes began to open they looked quite different. A couple of days later I realized one of the Wisterias was Chinese, and the other Japanese, Wisteria floribunda ‘Macrobotrys.’
The Japanese wisteria I forced suddenly became beautiful with the long, elegant hanging racemes which are also fragrant. This bonsai began as a two year old graft which I sold to a student in 2001 for only $8.00. Each year he brought the Japanese wisteria to my classes for advice and training. Since he is moving out of state I was able to purchase the bonsai and continued its training in my design.
The bonsai flowers peaked today. I do not like all the flower open, but rather appreciate the beautiful long racemes in opening bud. After photographing the bonsai I took a critical look at the silhouette and was not pleased, especially with the flat terminal. So, I thinned out the flower racemes and used guy wires to change a few branches to create the bonsai in my design. One flower raceme measured 24!”
Chinese wisterias are more popular in the United States than Japanese because they have naturalized in the southern states. Large heavy trunks can be collected and trained into pleasing bonsai in only a couple of years.
Chinese wisteria flowers are a bit larger and fuller than the Japanese species, which are considerably longer and more fragrant. I have both Japanese and Chinese wisterias growing in my garden and also trained for bonsai.
Chinese wisteria trained by Bob Blankfield
One of my favorite Wisterias is Rokushaku wisteria, Wisteria floribunda ‘Rokushaku.’ The Japanese word “rokaku” means six, and “shaku” is an old Japanese measurement of about 12”, so the name means six feet long. Yes, this cultivar is supposed to have floral racemes six feet long. I have only been able to measure one 56” in my garden. This cultivar was given to me by bonsai pioneer Saichi Suzuki who introduced Zuisho Japanese five-needle pine over 40 years ago when the trunk was the size of a chopstick. I planted it in my mother’s garden for a few years, then after I married Diane we transplanted it next to the “great wall.” The trunk has thickened considerably and is now over 14” in diameter, with considerable movement as well.
I have taken numerous cuttings and planted one in our front yard about 20 some years ago. In 2017 it produced a considerable show.
International BONSAI has featured Wisteria bonsai in two issues, 1990/1 and 2004/1. Here is an article about the differences between Japanese and Chinese wisterias.
There is also a Dwarf wisteria, Milletia microphylla, which is not really a Wisteria. It’s a beautiful plant with Wisteria-like beautiful foliage. Although it is easy to grow and train, it rarely blossoms. I’ve never seen one in person, but Boon has a blossoming plant and sent me a photo. This blog is getting lengthy and perhaps a Dwarf wisteria could be another topic. In the meantime there is a comprehensive article on Dwarf wisteria in International BONSAI 2004/1.
Enjoy the beautiful fragrant flowers of your Wisteria bonsai when they blossom later on in spring!