2018 41st Annual Mid-America Bonsai Exhibition


The 41stMid-America Bonsai Exhibition sponsored by the Midwest Bonsai Society was held at the beautiful Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, Illinois. Held on August 17-19, 2018, this well organized and attended exhibition is one of the oldest exhibitions the country.


The Chicago Botanic Garden has an excellent and diverse bonsai collection and a selection of some of their masterpiece bonsai is displayed during the summer months in two outdoor courtyards. Curator Chris Baker has been improving their bonsai, some of which have a long history and also a large collection donated from Susumu Nakamura from Japan.


Professional bonsai artist Naoki Maeoka from Japan judged the exhibition and conducted workshops, a critique and a demonstration.


This year Tim Priest from Grand Rapids, Michigan won the “Best of Show Award” in the Open Category, with his display of a medium size Sargent juniper and Chojubai dwarf flowering quince bonsai three-point display.





May 2018 at the Upstate New York Bonsai Exhibition, photo by Joe Noga.

The 1stplace Professional Award was won by Wm. N. Valavanis, Rochester, New York, for his Full Moon Japanese maple. Unfortunately, during the long trip to Chicago his trailer hit a bump in the road and the excellent Japanese container the Full Moon Japanese Maple was growing in broke into several pieces. This has never happened to him before, but with a bit of SuperGlue the bonsai still went on display and won. The container will be properly repaired and should be on display at the 2018 6thUS National Bonsai Exhibition coming up soon in a few short weeks.



The 2ndplace Professional Award was won by Tim Priest for his large Rocky Mountain Juniper bonsai. A few years ago this bonsai also won the “Best of Show Award” in the same exhibition in the Open Category and had to be entered this year in the Professional category.



The 3rdplace Professional Award was won by Wm. N. Valavanis for his Koto Hime Japanese Maple.


Chinese Evergreen Wisteria, Milletia taiwanensis.






















Visitors from around the Midwest enjoyed the numerous vendors and approximately one hundred beautiful bonsai on display.

43rdPark Ave Art Festival & Gudmund Jos Olsson


This is the 24thyear I have been selected to display and sell bonsai in the Park Ave Art Festival. My Monday Senior Crew and I create indoor bonsai for the public to introduce them to the art. Easy to maintain sub tropical species are used so they have good luck keeping their new bonsai alive.  Each bonsai is pruned, shaped, wired, wired into the container and even mossed. But, the main purpose of participating is to gather new students for my Introductory Classical Bonsai Art Courses. This year we promoted the upcoming US National Bonsai Exhibition too.


Rick Marriott

The Park Ave Art Festival is one of the largest festivals in Rochester, New York, renowned for its architecture, culture and hip urban atmosphere. Over one mile of Park Avenue is closed to vehicles and transformed one weekend a year into a one-of –a-kind shopping Mecca filled with original creations from more than 350 artists, craftspeople and exhibitors from the United States and Canada. Additionally, delicious food and entertainment on four stages runs throughout the weekend.


Alan Adair

This is often one of the hottest weekends of the year, and it was no exception this year. Around 2pm clouds and thunder moved in and we experienced a torrential downpour for about 30 minutes. All visitors in the streets immediately scattered to find shelter, and our tent was soon overflowing with visitors. I announced that everyone must buy a bonsai…. it did not work. But, that’s a good way to get people to see bonsai up close and ask questions.


Rick Marriott, Alan Adair and Diane were the main sales people as I quietly worked on a Nippon Daisy bonsai preparing it for display in the soon upcoming US National Bonsai Exhibition. This bonsai was a cutting originating from Toshiji Yoshimura, Yuji Yoshimura’s father, probably around 1950. It has a magnificent trunk and we have developed small foliage this season. To bad it will not be in blossom next month.


I’m fortunate to have our sales tent in front of Northfield Designer Goldsmiths, the studio of Master goldsmith Gudmund Jos Olsson. Originally from Sweden with degrees from several universities he continued his silversmithing at the Rochester Institute of Technology. His approach to jewelry design is to study the hand or wrist so his jewelry flows comfortably with the natural lines. Everything sold in Northfield Goldsmiths is designed and hand crafted by Gudmund.


Gudmund next to a Scots pine he collected and trained. I’ll help him thin out the top this autumn.


A common Silver maple with an interesting trunk

He has a strong interest in Oriental art forms and philosophies and has found them to be very compatible with the Scandinavian mentality, as they are similar in their naturally functional, down to earth practical way of thinking. His simple asymmetrical jewelry shapes blends well with accents that suggest Oriental influence.


A clear head keeps the chipmunks away from his bonsai


Gudmund began studying bonsai with me over 20 years ago and a few years back helped me one day a week to increase his bonsai techniques. His studio building, an historic 1890 home is a landmark and he is quite limited to what he can do to the exterior. It was difficult to get permission to create a small Japanese garden for his bonsai.


Euonymus forest in an old discarded satellite dish

Being an artistic designer, Gudmund enjoys repurposing items and collecting common plants for bonsai and has fun. He has created a most unusual eclectic collection of bonsai and viewing stones, according to his own style. All bonsai do not need to be classical in design. THE most important element is that one enjoys their bonsai. And, Gudmund does. Being a goldsmith, Gudmund even repairs broken and cracked special bonsai containers with solid gold. He has even molded sections of containers missing pieces with gold.


Goldfish bowl

Occasionally, I will lead friends and students into Gudmund’s garden to see what new bonsai he has created. It’s a small area with not much room to move around.


The Park Ave Art Festival draws thousands of people, including many interesting individuals with colored hair, piercings and clothing, or minimal revealing clothing. The festival is family friendly, no pets, drinking or parties are officially allowed. Numerous dogs, cats, birds and reptiles are however, commonly seen. A lady brought one of her colorful chameleons to share with others and I had the opportunity to hold it. The chameleon jumped into one of my Schefflera bonsai, but we were able to get it out before he became too comfortable.




Towards the afternoon Gudmund presented me with three handcrafted tiny bonsai containers. The sterling silver containers have patina, multiple drainage holes and are even signed by Gudmund. Now I’m looking for plants small enough to live in the diminutive special containers.



Tomorrow, Sunday, the last day of the weekend festival will surely bring new surprises, experiences, food and more interesting people to watch, plus selling bonsai of course.

A Few Bonsai for the US National Bonsai Exhibition Benefit Auction


A Benefit Auction will be held at the 2018 6thUS National Bonsai Exhibition to support the event. It will take place on Saturday, September 8, 2018 at 4pm, immediately after the last demonstration at the US National Bonsai Exhibition. The event is open to anyone attending the exhibition. Bonsai, suiseki, containers, books, tools and many other items donated by vendors and friends will auctioned by Julian Adams, master bonsai auctioneer.

The following bonsai from the Valavanis Bonsai Collection will be among the items that will be auctioned, unless they are sold between now and September. Please contact me if you are interested in any of these bonsai at WNV@internationalbonsai.com


Dwarf Alberta Spruce, 

Picea glauca‘Conica’

This bonsai was originally shaped by Jerald P. Stowell, first president of the American Bonsai Society and the Bonsai Society of Greater New York in the early 1960s. It was displayed in a bonsai exhibit sponsored by the Bonsai Society of Greater New York in 1964. I was fortunate to purchase the Dwarf Alberta Spruce in 1974 and have enjoyed the training the bonsai for 42 years. The bonsai has grown, developed and is now too large and heavy for my collection. The bonsai was featured on the cover of the 1983/NO. 2 issue of International BONSAI. This historic bonsai, representing nearly 60 years of loving training, represents some of the early developmental bonsai in the United States.















Bark detail on the aged Dwarf Alberta Spruce bonsai container grown for nearly 60 years. Indicating age, this type of bark detail requires decades. It is extremely difficult to reproduce this beauty in a short period of time.

Complete information and developmental photos can be seen in my Classical Bonsai Art, A Half Century of Bonsai Studyalbum on pages 165-166.





Willow Leaf Fig, Ficus salicara

This bonsai has an interesting trunk shape which I have named “The Bashful Lady.” I have been shaping her for over 20 years and it was originally trained as shohin bonsai. The bonsai has now developed into a two line cascade bonsai. The Bashful Lady has “gained weight” and is visually too heavy for my taste. It is now time for the lady to find a new friend.


FICUS 2010










The Bashful Lady has gained weight

Complete information and developmental photos can be seen in my Classical Bonsai Art, A Half Century of Bonsai Studyalbum on page 245.





European Beech, Fagus sylvatica

This bonsai has been trained since 1993 from young two, three and four year old bare root seedlings. They were used for a forest bonsai demonstration. The European beech quickly develops the characteristic white bark and small foliage. This species is very winter hardy in a container, which is a vintage Chinese.




Japanese Flowering Quince, 

Chaenomeles japonica cv.

In the early 1960s Carl Young dug this Japanese flowering quince from a church where it was growing for over 60 years. It had a very heavy trunk and like many deciduous shrubs the wood is not long lasting. Now over 100 years old and container grown and trained for 60 years the heavy trunks have been reduced, but the base is still there and has produced numerous vigorous healthy shoots for design development. Each spring this bonsai produces lovely small pink blossoms. It now has several small fruit.






Kaze Murasaki Satsuki Azalea, 

Rhododendron indicum ‘Kaze Murasaki’

This bonsai was originally field grown in Kanuma, Japan for over 30 years. In 1999 Tatemori Gondo imported the bonsai and used it for a workshop he conducted in Rochester, New York. Each spring the bonsai displays lovely pink-purple small blossoms for several weeks.






Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum

Several young seedlings of Japanese red maples were joined at the base to create a multiple trunk style bonsai. The trunks have now fused together and the trunks and branches are being shaped. Each spring this bonsai leafs out with brilliant red foliage.






Trident Maple, Acer buergerianum

In 1983 I obtained numerous field grown heavy trunk Trident maple stumps which were originally eight to ten feet in height. They were drastically pruned for trunk development. As the tree grew the young shoots were immediately wired into desired positions. This particular bonsai developed a heavy base and surface root system. Some years this Trident maple also flowers and sets seeds, but they are usually trimmed to give more vigor the bonsai. The bonsai was featured on the cover of the 2002/NO. 2 issue of International BONSAI.













Complete information and developmental photos can be seen in my Classical Bonsai Art, A Half Century of Bonsai Studyalbum on pages 98-100.





Trident Maple, Acer buergerianum

In 1988 I purchased a flat of young three year old Trident maple seedlings from Miniature Plant Kingdom in California. Two of the young seedlings in four inch pots looked interesting to me so they were saved for my personal training. Each year the roots were carefully trained to develop into impressive surface root display. This bonsai was the finest bonsai from the original group. It is interesting to note that this bonsai has been completely container grown, trained and has never been drastically pruned. I have been lovingly shaped, trimmed and wired this bonsai for 30 years.








Complete information and developmental photos can be seen in my Classical Bonsai Art, A Half Century of Bonsai Studyalbum on pages 93-94.


Benefit Auction

Usually around 100 items are donated for the Benefit Auction for the US National Bonsai Exhibition. Join us for the excitement at the auction as well as the Award Banquet. Kindly contact me if you are interested in any of these bonsai. I hope to welcome everyone at the upcoming 2018 6thUS National Bonsai Exhibition on September 8-9, 2018 in Rochester, New York. Updated information can be located at:




The Jerry & Karen Kral Garden



Each summer our Bonsai Society of Upstate New York Inc gathers and has tours to interesting gardens or nurseries in the greater Rochester, New York area.



This evening we had the privilege to visit the garden of Jerry & Karen Kral who have developed a common size city yard into a “horticultural Zoo.”




Jerry Kral was a high school science teacher for 30 years and seriously became interested in collecting plants in 1992. His garden has expanded twice by purchasing the home next door and also the house behind his home. He subdivided the properties, developed the garden areas and resold the original homes, with smaller yards. Their garden now has one acre full of beautiful plants and is the most visited private garden in the Rochester, New York area. A few years ago he hosted over 600 visitors to see his unique garden.



He loves and enjoys his plants and garden and freely shares his passion with others. Jerry is quite active and has been an officer for numerous organizations including the American Conifer Society, North American Rock Garden Society and the Greater Rochester Perennial Society, among others. Their garden has been featured in many national magazines as well as on television because of the beauty.




Variegated Japanese Snowbell, Styrax japonica cv.





Jerry designed and constructed the entire garden himself. He had the largest residential delivery of stones, over 500 pallets full of Pennsylvania fieldstone for walls and Pennsylvania blue stone used for pathways. The “Great Wall of Kral” surrounds the garden on three sides consists of over 175 pallets two ton stones and 30 yards of gravel. It took Jerry over 1,500 hours over a year and a half period to complete the wall which is three to eight feet in height and three to four feet wide. All solid rock and hand built.




He is a true collector of interesting, rare and little known plant material. Now he has well over 1,000 different species and cultivars. There are over 360 different conifers and about 700 different deciduous trees, shrubs, broadleaf evergreens and perennials.





Four different Ginkgo cultivars




The Jerry & Karen Garden consists of at least 50 garden rooms interconnected by over a half mile of stone pathways flanked by garden sculpture, fountains, fish ponds and waterfalls. Unique sculpture and other touches of whimsy greet visitors as they walk the paths. Every place you look unusual plants are seen, and if you look more closely additional garden art and plant material can be appreciated.



Japanese maple, Acer palmatum ‘Fairy Hair’




Jerry & Karen Kral are proud of the garden they developed during the last 27 years and they should be. They love their plant material and unique garden they designed, planted, re-planted, watered, pruned and weeded. They freely share their passion for unusual plants and how they can be incorporated into garden settings.


The Passing Of Hatsuji Kato




I’m sad to report the passing of Hatsuji Kato, fourth generation proprietor of Mansei-en Bonsai Garden in Omiya Bonsai Village, Japan this morning, July 23, 2018. Hatsuji Kato, 76, was the first son of bonsai pioneer Saburo Kato. Saburo Kato had three sons and a daughter. In the beginning all three of the sons, Hatsuji, Masao and Yoshi were involved with the bonsai business. Saburo Kato was a superb bonsai designer and specialized in Ego spruce and forest plantings. He was instrumental in the establishment of the World Bonsai Friendship Federation as well as the Nippon Bonsai Association and the Nippon Bonsai Cooperative, the professional organization.



After Saber Kato’s death in February 2008, Hats took over Manse-en Bonsai Garden. Often a family business is divided among the surviving children. However, if Manse-en were divided the business would fail. So Hatsuji became the new proprietor. He had a son, Haruhiko and a daughter. Haruhiko assisted his father running the business and will now take over the Manse-en Bonsai Garden as the fifth generation proprietor.


Originally the Kato family was well known for their bonsai creations, but during the past few decades more emphasis was placed on purchasing and selling bonsai, containers and Shinseki, as well as boarding for masterpiece bonsai. Hats Kato created many award winning masterpiece bonsai and many are included in this blog. He was deeply involved with the Nippon Bonsai Association and the Kikuyu Bonsai Exhibition.



He traveled the world teaching and attending bonsai gatherings and also visited the 4thUS National Bonsai Exhibition in 2012. As the chairman of the highly successful World Bonsai Convention in Saitama City in April 2017, he made certain all details were taken care of.


I originally met both Hatsuji and Saburo Kato in June 1970 when I was an apprentice to Kyuzo Murata in Omiya Bonsai Village. Hatsuji Kato was always very friendly to me and spoke English explaining techniques and answering my questions so I could understand what was going on in Mansei-en Bonsai Garden. He often answered my questions at bonsai exhibitions in Japan when I could not understand certain techniques or identify plant species. We met, all around the world where he attended bonsai conventions and exhibitions. He traveled to New Jersey many years ago to teach at a Mid-Atlantic Bonsai Convention.


Twice a year for over 15 years Kora Dalager and I led tours to Japan and always visited Mansei-en where we were warmly welcomed and allowed to photograph bonsai. In 2011 I took Dr. Jonathan Singer, a famed photographer to Japan to shoot photos for Fine Bonsai,a large format book that was published to support victims of the Japanese Tsunami.


My sincere condolences are extended to the Kato family. I personally will miss Hatsuji Kato’s warm smile during my visits to Japan and will cherish the times we spent together. His activities in the contemporary bonsai world have improved the understanding of Japanese classical bonsai. May his memory be eternal.




Experience Japanese Culture, Gardens & Bonsai In A Small Group


Have you ever considered to visit the Japan bonsai community and to experience Japanese culture?


Here is your opportunity to experience the Taikan Bonsai Exhibition, visit private bonsai collections, Kyoto gardens and Shikoku Island. A visit to Tokoname to purchase bonsai containers is also available too!


In November Kora Dalager and I will be leading another one of our popular value-priced trips to Japan. Only a small number of members will be accepted for this tour so we will have ample time to fully appreciate the beauty and culture of Japan. Because of the timing of the Taikan Bonsai Exhibition we will celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday in Kyoto.


Omiya Bonsai Village, the mecca of bonsai, will be experienced, where you will see the top bonsai gardens where many of the famous masterpiece bonsai have been created and are maintained. You will have the opportunity to meet the top bonsai artists and see their trees, both outdoors and in small indoor displays. The Omiya Bonsai Art Museum, near the village will be on the tour where formal instructive displays, in English, can be seen as well as formal bonsai alcove displays. You can then stroll through a large outdoor garden with masterpieces displayed throughout. Directly across the street we will experience a delicious traditional Japanese luncheon.




Bonsai artist Masahiko Kimura will be visited and here you can see many of the top evergreen bonsai in his small, intimate garden. He always has time for us and answers your questions as well.

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A visit to Seiji Morimai’s nearby S-Cube bonsai garden is always a highlight because of friendly hospitality while seeing thousands of bonsai and suiseki. He also accepts credit cards as well…. Bonsai containers, at great prices as well as display tables and art are always popular with our groups.





Kiunio Kobayashi’s Shunka-en Bonsai Art Museum in Tokyo is a visit you will not forget. Here ten indoor formal bonsai displays will feature some of the finest, and most expensive bonsai in Japan. Outdoors a small koi pond is surrounded with other masterpieces. Having run out of room, another area has been constructed on top of the building holding antique containers and more suiseki. Truly a breathtaking experience!


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A bullet train ride will bring you nearby views of famed Mt. Fuji on our way to Shikoku Island to visit gardens, olden Japanese culture and two bonsai production areas. Nakazu Basho Garden is seldom on tours and we will have a leisurely stroll around the pond. Ritsurin Park is one of the finest Japanese gardens. Shikoku Mura is an outdoor museum featuring old Japanese buildings where you can experience traditional olden culture.








Two bonsai production areas will be visited with second generation Japanese bonsai artists who speak fluent English. Next we cross the Seto Inland Sea to Kyoto the ancient capital. This is the highlight season for visiting Kyoto gardens with brilliant colorful maple foliate.




Of course, one of the main highlights of this special tour includes visits to the Taikan Bonsai Exhibition, one of the largest in Japan with nearly 300 bonsai formally displayed with scrolls, accessories and suiseki. The sales area is one of the largest in Japan.



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Following the Kyoto visit we will travel to the Nagoya area for a special visit to a temple complex in the middle of a bamboo grove. After seeing a superb private bonsai collection we will have a traditional vegetarian lunch with a bamboo theme. One of the oldest bonsai gardens in Okazaki will be visited where many of the pine training techniques were discovered.



Finally we will make a stop to Tokoname, an ancient pottery town. Although most famous for toilet bowls, they are now well known for high quality bonsai containers. You will meet some of the top bonsai potters and also have the opportunity to watch them hand build bonsai containers in their factories. All the containers are offered at special discounted prices for our tour.


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Join Kora Dalager and me for a special tour to experience Japanese culture and bonsai. Please contact Kora at kora@astound.netfor additional information. She can arrange special visits if you like.

A tour flyer is available at:



I look forward to exploring the Japanese bonsai world and celebrating Thanksgiving in Kyoto.



Bjorn’s Advanced Bonsai Course


Recently Bjorn Bjorholm and Empire Bonsai (Oscar Jonker) released their latest online Advance Bonsai Course.Bjorn is an American bonsai artist who has been studying and practicing bonsai since he was 13 years old from Knoxville, Tennessee. After graduating college he traveled to Japan to study bonsai with Keiichi Fujikawa at Kouka-en Bonsai Garden in Osaka, Japan. During his six year apprenticeship he also worked on this PhD thesis in Kyoto on business.


Bjorn was Mr. Fujikawa’s first apprentice and after completing his studies became the first and only foreign bonsai professional artist working in Japan. During his apprenticeship and later working for Mr. Fujikawa he spent considerable time refining established famous bonsai which were later displayed in the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibitions, Sakufu Bonsai Exhibitions and the Taikan Bonsai Exhibitions. He also produced a considerable number of excellent and informative YouTube videos, which are packed full of information and still available.


Last year Bjorn and his wife returned to the United States and settled in Mount Juliet, outside Nashville, Tennessee. They are now establishing their new bonsai garden “Eisei-en,” scheduled to open on September 1-2, 2018 with an Open House full weekend of lecture/demonstrations by Mauro Stemberger and Naoki Maeoka.


Bjorn maintains an extremely busy teaching schedule in the United States as well as in numerous foreign countries. During his teaching schedules he has managed to release three online bonsai courses with Bonsai Empire. I don’t know where he finds the time to teach, establish his new garden as well as produce teaching videos. Yes, I do, its called “Youth” and his excellent organizational skills.


The first Beginner’s Courseestablished a three-part tutorial with the basic introduction to bonsai covering history and styles followed by basic pruning, wiring shaping and care. Brief quizzes end each section to make certain students understand what Bjorn is discussing and explaining. Throughout the tutorial he emphasized the health of bonsai. Many techniques revealed are not successful if the tree is not healthy. Although the tutorial is named Beginner’s Course there is something for everyone. I learned some new information too making this course not only a great introduction, but review with new information suitable for everyone training bonsai, even those with decades of experience.


The Intermediate Bonsai Coursecontinues and covers in more detail topics introduced in the Beginner’s Course. It features hours of in-depth technical and practical content, which has never been presented in an easy platform. Species specific lessons including maples, hornbeams, pines and junipers are presented. Contemporary bonsai design and aesthetics are thoroughly discussed in the three and a half hour tutorial.


The newly released Advanced Bonsai Coursereleased in May covers four distinct sections: Philosophy, Aesthetics & Design, Techniques and Display, each of which builds upon the others to provide a well-rounded, in-depth look at the art of bonsai and design.


In the Techniques section,advanced bonsai techniques, which are applicable to a wide range of species, such as covering bending heavy branches on conifers, grafting, exhibit preparation and display. It is interesting and important that Bjorn does only focus on Japanese species, but incorporates United States and European native species.



The philosophy section delves into the nuances of what the word “bonsai” really means and represents. The Aesthetics & designsection builds on the philosophy bonsai discussing environmental, cultural influences on bonsai art and design. The techniques for applying moss to bonsai for display explained by Bjorn are great.


This six hour Advanced Bonsai Courseis excellent in my opinion and is comprehensive for the advance study of bonsai art. Several years ago Bjorn wrote a three-part article in International BONSAI on the history of bonsai. The Advanced Bonsai Coursetutorial continues the article with additional information through photos and excellent narrative by Bjorn. Breathtaking photos of gardens in Kyoto, scenic views in Japan as well as bonsai in displays as well as in gardens enhances the narrative. Actually, if you only listen to Bjorn, without enjoying the photos, which is difficult to do, the Advanced Bonsai Coursetutorial reads like a book. I hope Bjorn finds the time to put in writing what he beautifully and thoroughly explains in book form so people without computers can learn from this talented, knowledgeable and personable professional bonsai artist. Hopefully I will have the time to watch and learn from the tutorials when I have time. I look forward to learning from Bjorn and watching his influence on bonsai outside of Japan. Additional information on Bjorn and his new garden can be found at:


You can take your bonsai skills and abilities to new heights by enrolling in the online Bonsai Courses.Information on all three bonsai courses can be found at:


A few free lectures from the Advanced Bonsai Coursemay also be previewed at: