Discover Shikoku! The Journey Within– Part 1


I was invited to Shikoku Island in Japan by Kohei Kubota (Discover Shikoku!) and Takahiro Miyazaki (International Tourism Division for Shikoku) to visit and report on interesting sites for bonsai tourists. I arrived on Tuesday evening and we began our exploration in the city of Kochi on early Wednesday morning. Although I’ve been visiting Shikoku Island since 1970, I’ve never had the opportunity to visit Kochi and looked forward to the adventure.


Shikoku Island is comprised of four prefectures (Shikoku means four provinces), Kagawa, Ehime, Tokushima and Kochi which is the largest most southern prefecture. It is a popular stop for the Shikoku Pilgrimage which visits 88 important official temples.


Chikurin-Ji Temple

Founded by Gyoki, a Buddhist high priest in 724, this temple is a treasure to experienced, not to be missed. Monk Yamada showed us around highlighting the important and interesting sights. In the main hall we saw a small statue of Buddha, but was quickly pointed out that the main statue was stored in the large wooden box behind. It is brought out once every 50 years and the last time it was viewed was three years ago. We did not the required 47 years to wait, so must return then to see it then, if I’m alive…









6P4A4116.jpgThe grounds and gardens were immaculate and there were many large old garden trees. I was impressed to see large Hinoki cypress, Chamaecyparis obtusa, growing with several small seedlings beneath growing in the lush moss. Very few people have actually seen the common, species Hinoki cypress, which is an important timber tree in Japan. Most people are familiar with the Dwarf hinoki cypress, a common garden tree frequently trained for bonsai.


Makino Botanic Garden

Next to the Chikurin-ji is the Makino Botanical Garden, which was originally land belonging to the temple. Dr. Tomitaro Makino was a well-known botanist who collected 400,000 botanical specimens and named over 1,500 species. When I first came to Japan in 1970 I was immediately introduced to his Flora of Japan book by my teacher Kyuzo Murata, Kyuka-en Bonsai Garden, in Omiya Bonsai Village. This books if filled with beautiful botanical drawings and is an important volume in my bonsai reference library which I often use today.


I was excited to visit this botanical garden opened in 1958 to honor Dr. Makino and his accomplishments. The bronze stature of him is holding a tall mushroom which was one of his favorite plants.


The hills and valleys were scenic and appeared to be natural, but every plant was planted in certain locations in important botanical sequences.

6P4A4139 copy



Japanese five-needle pines, Pinus parviflora

blackJapanese black pines, Pinus thunbergii



Pinus thunbergii ‘Ogi’  which has fasciated or crested growth. Interesting and rarbe, but not suitable for bonsai


Japanese red pines, Pinus densiflora


We were fortunate to visit yesterday because they had a special exhibit of pines. There were three sections to the display featuring Japanese five-needle pine, Japanese red pine and Japanese black pines. These were displayed for their unique cultivars, NOT for their bonsai forms. I found this especially valuable for my education because I’ve only read about some of these cultivars, not actually having seen them. There were single needle cultivars of Japanese red and black pines, as well as golden Japanese red pines and cork bark cultivars.



Outside the pine exhibit were a few large Chabo Hiba hinoki cypress. This dwarf cultivar was used for bonsai in the early 1900s and many of the historic first bonsai imported to the United States were of this cultivar, which is difficult to find.


There was another exhibit building featuring Chinese and Japanese native orchids which were in full flower with aromatic blossoms. Across from the orchid display was a special exhibit of Acorus, or Dwarf sweet flag, Acorus gramineus.


Walking through the botanical garden was a tropical greenhouse in the distance. Many plant species which are used for bonsai training were seen as we walked through the hilly gardens. In the greenhouse were unusual tropical plants and an outdoor display of carnivorous plants, several native to the United States. Nearly every plant in the botanical garden was labeled, which I found helpful.






This carnivorous plant looks like Dark Vader!

This visit was valuable for me. There is more to bonsai art than just pruning, wiring and shaping… which most people do not understand or appreciate.


Garden of Monet


Views are appreciated for their scenic reflections

There are only two official “Gardens of Monet” in the world and we were fortunate to visit the one near Kochi. Claude Monet was a founder of French impressionist painting and loved and treasured Japan’s ukieo-e wood block prints. He developed his personal garden in France so he could paint beautiful scenes. The village of Kitagawa developed this unique Garden of Monet.








We were fortunate to be guided by the head gardener who explained many interesting facts. The original garden, opened in 2003 duplicated exactly the original garden in France. However, as the French plants grew, they failed because of the difference of moist and wet climates. So, this garden changed to Japanese species which are in the “spirit” of Monet. The head gardener visited France and Europe to study the scenes and species and has done a superb job developing and maintaining the Garden of Monet, which features vast areas of colorful flowers, as well as water gardens with blue water lilies Monet liked to paint. Plus, a garden of light was developed.


Although the gardens and vistas looked unkempt, they are actually planned and skillfully maintained. I also saw something new “Super Salvia” a tall growing Salvia from the United States.


Oka Palace

Next, we briefly visited the Oka Palace, developed by a wealthy merchant built in 1844. The Tosa Clan Lord would stay in the Oka Palace during his stay in the area, preparing for his required visit to Edo, every year. His procession was comprised of 500 people and took two to three months.


We visited his sitting room, slightly elevated from other rooms and saw where he sat viewing his small garden featuring a trained garden tree which has been trained to look like a dragon’s face. Since the Tosa Lord was not there, I took the privilege to use his seat to enjoy the garden view.


6P4A4187 6P4A4195

Ioki Cave

On our return trip back to Kochi City we stopped at the Ioki Cave which was made by flowing water andsandstone erosion from earthquakes some three million years ago. This well-known cave for its peaceful and healing properties.


The entrance was dark, and I was a bit apprehension to enter because it was completely dark inside. I saw a small white bag hanging on a stick and was told it keeps the wild boars away. Later we were told the cave is home to bats, poisonous snakes and wild boars. Following the winding path in the shallow water (we were given boots and helmets) suddenly the sky opened up to a magnificent sight. I thought I was in Jurassic Park!


The cave is well known for its unique fern communities. Forty different fern species are native in this cave. Japan has 400 to 600 different fern species. Kochi Prefecture has more native ferns than all of North America.


That was quite busy day, especially with Jet lag! Next we cross Shikoku Island to Kagawa Prefecture home to the Takamatsu area featuring the finest pine bonsai production in the world.



Watch for my article in a future issue of International BONSAI, and visit

Discover Shikoku!

2017 4th Zhongguo Feng Penjing Exhibition– Part 4 Stones, Sales Area & More



Mixed in with the shohin bonsai displays were beautiful stone arrangements, small and elegant of course. They were displayed on traditional shohin bonsai box stands. Some of the stone arrangements had artificial trees, very cute and probably took a great amount of time to create, but easy to care for.








There were several displays featuring grasses and two hanging bonsai as well.








The entire exhibition was held in the center of a huge greenhouse complex. Surrounding the exhibition on three sides, but still in the greenhouse complex was the sales area which wrapped around the exhibition.




On one side there were mostly plants and bonsai, from young untrained material to developed, and heavy bonsai which needed to be moved by a fork lift. All looked healthy and clean. Nearly all were Chinese, but I did spot many Japanese imports. Since I’ve been to Japan a couple of times, I can easily recognize Japanese bonsai, especially the Satsuki azaleas. I did not spend too much time looking at the plants because they were too tempting and I did not want to get into trouble. But, if they were easily importable, I would have purchased many.






There seemed to be a great number of sales areas devoted to shohin bonsai, containers and display tables. Hand carved root stands were abundant if you looked. In June I had a difficult time finding the perfect size shohin display table for a Sargent juniper displayed at the 2017 US National Shohin Bonsai Exhibition held in North Carolina. Suddenly I came across a wide selection of small square display tables. When I approached the salesperson he looked proud of his hand made tables and took one off the table and stood on it. It was only three inches square, but quite strong. Unfortunately the airline personal were stronger and I now have a “kit.” But I purchased several of different sizes for future displays.








The larger size bonsai containers were quite elegant. Each registrant received a beautiful commemorative container upon arrival. Two of the identical containers were put into the auction and were sold for $2,000 and $3,000. Each container was numbered and the ones auctioned had special numbers which are considered lucky.


This bonsai was planted on an interesting piece of driftwood and looked different.


A couple of more photos of the demonstrators. Elsa Boudouri from Greece created a beautiful Japanese black pine, while Chris Xepapas from Australia shaped a cascade Sargent juniper while I shaped another Japanese black pine. We were three Greeks, but never had the opportunity to get a group shot together. So it takes two images to get us all together.



Two Greeks and my Australian friend & assistant

The entire exhibition was great, well organized and hosted by friendly young people who spoke English and were helpful. A big thanks to the three groups organizing the event and to Robert Steven who arranged for the demonstrators from around the world. Well done!


2017 4th Zhongguo Feng Penjing Exhibition– Part 3 Exhibition




I was very pleased to see this exhibition, as it was different from others I’ve seen in China. There were a wide range of different styles and sizes represented which presented an interesting balance, something for everyone. I was told it “almost” represented all the different styles of bonsai in China. Some of the bonsai were huge, while most were of average size. But I believe there were more individual shohin bonsai than larger trees. The only reason I’m in one of the photos is for size comparison, but remember, I’m not that tall. Good things come in small sizes. Compare the prices of small bonsai containers to larger pots.





The exhibition was in a huge greenhouse complex with shading on the ceiling to shield the harsh sun and intense heat. Red and white flags decorated the ceiling to break up the wide expanse. Surrounding the exhibition, but still in the greenhouse complex, were the vendors offering a wide range of products and plants which will be in Part 4.







The layout and design of the exhibition was great! Three walls surrounded the exhibition which displayed shohin and small size bonsai. The lighting and white backgrounds were perfect for photographing and a good representative can be seen in Part 1 of this blog.



The central part of the bonsai exhibit was a delightful stroll through a maze of tall yellow backgrounds which were able to be put side to side to make a wider background for the larger size trees t. It was easy to get lost, but everywhere one turned you could see another beautiful small display which lead visitors through a lovely stroll through the bonsai. All were painted yellow and were of different heights which provided an interesting view for the visitors. The yellow color was not perfect for photos, but the exhibition was not set up for photographers. Nearly every background wall had a much lower attached lower block where a shorter bonsai or was displayed.





Careful and thoughtful taste was used when grouping the trees into effective smaller displays, many quite distinctive. In most cases, size and direction of the trees were considered.




Common Pomegranate, not the dwarf cultivar










There were several grass plantings. An identical 3 foot wide planting of  Dwarf Acorus planted with stones on a marble tray sold for US $3,000. in the auction.





Note the display table has been cut on one side






This shohin Japanese black pine was in the sales area, not the exhibition


This was my personal favorite bonsai in the exhibition


As in most of the exhibitions I’ve attended in China, the opening ceremony and first day were extremely crowded and made it difficult to photograph the exhibition. But on the third day one could roll a bowling ball through the exhibition and not hit a single person. On the first day seven busses were necessary to move people from our beautiful and comfortable hotel to the exhibition. On our last day, everyone fit in one bus.


2017 4th Zhongguo Feng Penjing Exhibition– Part 2 Demonstrations


While over 10,000 people enjoyed the beautiful bonsai and visiting over 300 vendors the organizations sponsoring the exhibition arranged for Robert Steven to coordinate the demonstration programs.



There were thirty demonstrators from throughout the world, each working on conifer bonsai, mostly Sargent Juniper, Japanese five-needle pine and Japanese Black & Red Pines.




All the demo trees were well established, many in bonsai containers. The many Chinese demonstrators, however, had a definite advantage because they brought their own material, mostly pretrained and much larger and quite a bit different that the trees provided to the foreigners. I don’t blame them and I would have the same if had the opportunity.



There were five sessions for the demonstrations, during two and a half days. Although three hours were allocated for each demo, most did not require the total time.


Eight demonstrations were on the same stage at the same time, but the last session only had six demonstrators. During the demos there was loud Chinese music in the background. Behind the eight demonstrators was a huge LED projection screen with close ups of the people working, and these changed as well all the time. It was quite distracting for both the viewers and demonstrators. Carefully look at the next photo of Sharon from Germany working. There is a black circle around her, while the red circle is around her projected image. Kind of strange…. There is also a head above her head from the screen as well.



All the demo trees were displayed beforehand next to a hanging scroll of each demonstrator’s face, name and country. A great unique idea! And, the same image was also used on large banners announcing the demos and also used on the custom made aprons. Even better a duplicate scroll was presented to each demonstrator along with a certificate at the conclusion of each demo.
















I selected my Japanese black pine demo tree and decided on a good front to make a simple classical bonsai. The back had an ugly scar with a piece of dead wood imbedded into the hollow scar. Just before my demo I decide to turn the tree around to emphasize a long lower branch for the focal point. Unfortunately, that left the scar exposed. But I brought my own tools, and copper wire too, since I don’t really like using sissy wire. During the demos there was a moderator in Chinese with a translator. When he approached me he grabbed the lower trunk of my tree to move it. Well, I had a wooden mallet which I was using to hollow out the trunk in my hand and said ‘NO’, he kept his hands on the rough bark, so when I went to smack his hand, he moved. I nicely explained that the rough bark requires years to develop and is highly prized. I then needed a sweet tea break, not McDonalds, but still delicious… and full of sugar. My good friend Dianne Boekhout from Perth, Western Australia assisted me and we both had black hands after needle plucking and wiring. She has helped me several times and know how I work, and is also President of the Australian Associated Bonsai Clubs.





I did NOT add the cone and got lucky we did not knock it off while shaping  the tree




Actually, just before our demo I spotted another great tree, a large Japanese red pine. So, I tried to switch it, however the Chinese owner brought it from home for his demo so it was not available. Good thing we did not use it. He had SEVEN people helping him shape the tree and took all the allocated time.


2017 4th Zhongguo Feng Penjing Exhibition– Part 1 Shohin Bonsai



The 2017 4th Zhongguo Fen Penjing Exhibition is being held on September 28-30, 2017 at the International Garden City in Rugao, China, a long three hour bus trip from the Shanghai Airport. This is the largest penjing exhibition in China with 150,000 members. There are well over 200 exhibit areas and a countless number of individual bonsai because of the large presence of shohin bonsai.


This blog part will cover some of the shohin bonsai which rather impressed me. Larger bonsai, demonstrations and more during the next parts.






_P4A3 548

















Autumn is the time of the year pomegranates begin to ripen and I like the small fruit, especially when displayed on SMALL size bonsai. Actually, I’m working on a new pomegranate program, and exposed root style program as well, but I guess you can tell that from these photos….



_P4A 3647







2017 Autumn Open House & Sale Report


The 2017 Autumn House & Sale was held on September 2-3, 2017 at the International Bonsai Arboretum in Rochester, New York. In addition to my garden and bonsai collection we hosted the Upstate New York Suiseki Exhibit.





Two programs on suiseki and four bonsai demonstrations were scheduled during the two day event. Despite the cool and occasional wet weather we had a good turn out and were able to welcome visitors from New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Canada, Ohio as well as China and other states. Jason Henderberg brought his drone and camera and was able to take some aerial photos as well as video clips included in this report.




The first program was presented by Les Allen from Erie, Pennsylvania, who recently returned from China where he also presented a program on American suiseki. He brought several examples from his collection to share with the audience as well as a map of the United States indicating famous collecting areas.





His teacher, Zhou Yishan from Shanghai came with Les and spoke about Chinese stone appreciation for a while. He is one of the top authorities on stones in China and has lived in Japan for many years. He recognized me from visits many years ago in Japan and we enjoyed memories.




Alan Adair, my assistant and Larch authority presented a program and demonstration on how to train Larch for bonsai. He brought several of his specimens to illustrate his training techniques and how the bonsai should be developed.







My first demonstration was held outdoors because of the large size of the Dwarf Alberta spruce bonsai. I created it 43 years ago and it needed trimming and the perspective was changed from a distant view forest to a near view forest.


Sunday began with Marc Arpag, President of the Bonsai Society of Upstate New York and suiseki leader speaking on Japanese suiseki. A large number of fine suiseki from his collection was explained and shared. At the end he took a some of the audience into the suiseki exhibit and explained fine points of stone appreciation.


Next Harvey Carapella, past president of the Bonsai Society of Upstate New York brought one of his older collected Eastern white cedar bonsai to show how strong the growth has developed. He continued to thin out the foliage then wired the bonsai. He also brought a developed Eastern white cedar bonsai he developed from another collected tree for several decades.


I concluded the two day event with a demonstration on a Colorado blue spruce which Todd Schfaler, First Branch Bonsai, in Denver, Colorado, collected several years ago. He had it well established so it was safe to prune, wire and shape into a classical bonsai form. Actually the demo began the day before when I explained what I was attempting to show and did some wiring with my assistant Alan Adair.



The second day was necessary to complete the demonstration because the tree was exceptional and I did not want to rush the shaping into a short time period. Some pretty heavy annealed copper wire was used to move the large heavy branches. Actually not too many branches were removed from the tree, most were only rearranged to fit into my classical bonsai form ideals.




After the demonstration the tree was photographed and then restudied. Its best to photograph a bonsai, ideally in black and white, to actually see how the bonsai looks. Photographs do not lie. Several branch adjustment were made and the tree was rephotographed. Two virtuals were made in Photoshop to illustrate how the bonsai will be developed during the next few years. A vintage red glazed container was used at first to emphasize the height of the bonsai. Next an unglazed modified oval Chinese was used which added balance and stability to the presented form. The bonsai will be transplanted next spring when the new growth emerges. Although both the glazed red and unglazed brown containers are suitable, my taste, today is for the unglazed modified oval. However, the final decision will be made next year.



Many of my friends and students came and helped to host the event. Some cooked and served hot dogs, some acted as guides for the suiseki exhibit as well as my personal bonsai collection. And, a few friends were on hand to direct visitors to where the bonsai and containers were for sale. Everyone had a wonderful experience to learn and to appreciate bonsai as well as suiseki.


Even one of our cats, Zeus, liked my suiseki display!

2017 5th Upstate New York Suiseki Exhibit


On September 2-3, 2017 the Upstate New York Suiseki Study Group held their 5th exhibit during the International Bonsai Arboretum Open House & Sale in Rochester, New York. The greenhouse was transformed from a working area to an unusual setting to highlight the beauty of suiseki.




A total of 39 suiseki were displayed from members in New York State and Pennsylvania. Stones originated from New York, California, China and Japan.







Members who displayed suiseki included: Ron Maggio, Harvey Carapella, Joe Moore, Les Allen, Harry Clark, Bob Blankfield, Marc Arpag, Ken Buell, Fran Mahoney, Joe Letner, Rick Marriott, Tom Friday and Wm. N. Valavanis.





A variety of suiseki forms were displayed including figure stones, landscape stones, and object stones. The stones were displayed in hand carved daiza as well as in American, Chinese, Japanese and antique ceramic and bronze water basins.







On Saturday Les Allen spoke on American suiseki and on Sunday Marc Arpag discussed Japanese suiseki. They took visitors into the suiseki exhibit and answered questions as well as discussed interesting stones.






The 6th Upstate New York Suiseki Exhibit will be held in 2019.