I recently had the good fortune to attend a bonsai workshop run by Akio Kondo. In contrast to the last Kondo workshop I attended, this event was more pensive, more contemplative. My trees experienced no radical transformations. Instead, we spent time making plans for the future and talking about how and when to execute these plans. Not the most exciting bonsai work, but some of the most important work. Others in the workshop had similar experiences.
Kondo had a number of suggestions for the trident maple above. Some branches were left long so they could thicken. Others were kept short. Long drooping branches were wired slightly upward. In a year or two, the long branches will be shortened to stubs and the process will begin again the following year.
A grafted prostrata juniper with wonderfully green shimpaku foliage showed up for styling. Trees benefit greatly from professional attention at this stage of development. Watching the tree shape up with help from a such a talented artist was a treat. Although the day ended before the tree was finished, I’m hoping I’ll see it completed before long.
Kondo spent a long time making subtle adjustments to an old procumbens juniper. Cutting a bit of a branch here, wiring a branch there, Kondo performed fairly mundane work on the tree. We were surprised, when he finished, at the difference these small adjustments made. Although the tree will continue to improve as the branch pads develop, we now have a much better idea of what form the bonsai will take in the future.
Refining a branch pad
The matter of the front is still up for grabs a bit. The front pictured below is a good candidate, as is a similar front a few degrees to the left.
The primary styling goal is to highlight the interesting movement in the trunk.
Sonare – trunk detail
The most radical step in the tree’s immediate future will be repotting. Setting the tree in a more appropriately sized – read: smaller – pot will make a world of difference.
Like many bonsai enthusiasts, I’ve long dreamed about studying bonsai in Japan in a formal apprenticeship. After hearing tales from Kathy Shaner, Boon Manakitivipart, and Michael Hagedorn, I’m both excited by, and somewhat afraid of, all that the experience entails.
Recently three more bonsai students began apprenticeships in Japan: Tim Gardner, Peter Tea, and Tyler Sherrod. Tim is studying with Tohru Suzuki at Daiju-en in Okazaki. Toshinori Sukuki, Tohru’s father, trained Yasuo Mitsuya, Kathy’s teacher, and Kihachiro Kamiya, Boon’s teacher.
Peter is studying with Junichiro Tanaka, owner of Aichien Bonsai Nursery in Nagoya. Tanaka studied bonsai with Tohru Suzuki.
Tyler is studying bonsai with Shinji Suzuki in Obuse, near Nagano. Michael Hagedorn studied bonsai with Shinji Suzuki, and Matt Reel continues to study with Suzuki. Shinji Suzuki studied with Motosuke Hamano, Masahiko Kimura’s teacher.
Somehow, both Peter Tea and Tim Gardner have found time to write about their adventures and share them online. Their blogs are among my favorite bonsai sites as they contain great photos and excellent advice on bonsai training and care. I recommend them both highly.
Here are some photos from Peter’s Aichien Journal (photos by Peter Tea):
Japanese black pine
Japanese five needle pine
And here are some photos from Tim’s Daiju-en Journal (photos by Tim Gardner):
Tohru Suzuki working on a Japanese black pine
One of the greatest collections of pines on earth – Daiju-en
More pines from Daiju-en
Peter, Tim, and Tyler – I wish you all the best of luck. Ganbatte!
Learning to evaluate bonsai is a big part of the Bay Island Bonsai experience. If one doesn’t understand a tree’s good and bad points, it’s hard to improve the tree, and it’s hard to know how much to pay for it.
We’ve been using a simple form designed by Boon for over 10 years. The idea is that it’s easier to evaluate part of a tree than it is to synthesize all of a tree’s good and bad points into a single measure. At our recent May meeting, we looked closely at two trees: a Tsukumo cypress and a Japanese black pine.
Tree #1 – Tsukumo cypress
Tree #2 – Japanese black pine – exposed root style
At a glance, the Tsukumo cypress is the more impressive tree. It is full, healthy, and has a nice silhouette. The pine looks like it has a way to go before we’ll see it in our exhibit. The judging, however, tells a different story. I’ll save you the math and provide averages for the forms that appear below.
Tree #1 – Tsukumo cypress
Pot Selection 3
Tree #2 – Japanese black pine
Pot Selection 4
After marking our forms, we reconvene and publicly discuss the results. The corrections on several of the cards below reflect the broader consensus.
New members often have trouble with this atomized approach to evaluating trees. Over time, however, member scores tend to move toward the mean. These evaluation exercices prepare us for our annual exhibit. At the exhibit, members select the best tree in each class. Winning trees receive Members’ Choice Awards. More importantly, the skills we gain from learning to evaluate bonsai help us guide our own trees toward exhibit.
A complementary exercise at BIB meetings involves creating practice displays and bringing trees to share with others in the hopes that we can together determine whether or not a tree is ready for exhibit.
Satsuki azalea blooms
Satsuki azalea blooms
This azalea is planted in what the Japanese often refer to as a “white” pot. Age has darkened the pot to the point that it evokes grey now more than white. It’s a beautiful pot that suits the azalea well.
We were also treated to an attractive hinoki bonsai. I’ve been partial to hinoki bonsai for years. They have wonderfully dark green foliage and their well-composed branch pads can reveal age well.
Hinoki cypress – branch pad detail
I’m still unsure about which of my own trees will make it to exhibit this year. I’m hoping I’ll have a better idea by the end of summer. If I had to decide today – well, it would be a hard decision.
After visiting the GSBF Mammoth Fundraiser last weekend, I stopped by the Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt. Spring is a great time to visit the garden as the quince are in bloom and the maples are just starting to leaf out. It’s also a good time of year to see the blooms that make the winter hazel (Corylopsis spicata) unique.
Winter hazel blossoms
Winter hazel (Corylopsis spicata)
The garden is home to the largest pomegranate bonsai I’ve seen. According to the garden’s website, the tree was “Dug from an old orchard (thought to have been planted in late 1800s) in Lodi by Vince and Kathy Owyoung. They donated the tree, Sept. 2002. Styled by Seiji Shiba. A glass jar was found embedded in the trunk. Potted at the Garden, Aug. 5, 2008.”
Pomegranate (Punica granatum)
Pomegranate – trunk detail
A number of Japanese maples had just started to leaf out. The new foliage is beautiful.
Japanese maple foliage
Japanese maple – note bamboo used to arrange trunks
Japanese maple grove
I’ve watched the California juniper below develop for close to 15 years – it has an interesting curve to the trunk. From the website: “Collected in 1954 from the high desert region near Palmdale in southern California, this tree was styled about 1964.”
The fruit on the citrus below puts the tree in perspective. Every visitor that passed by stopped for a closer look.