This Japanese flowering apricot (Prunus mume) is from Kunio Kobayashi’s Shunka-en Bonsai Museum. I borrowed the photo from Bill Valavanis' Bonsai blog.
When it comes to photographs of the best Japanese bonsai Bill Valavanis' Bonsai Blog is hard to beat. We found all today's photos there. And all the trees are from Kunio Kobayashi’s Shunka-en Bonsai Museum.
A muscular old Camellia full of flowers and buds. This photo and a couple others below were taken by Bill Valavanis during a 2018 visit to Shunka-en Bonsai Museum in Tokyo.
More color. This one looks like a Persimmon and the pot looks like it has a story to tell. Like the Camellia this photo was taken by Bill Valavanis during a 2018 visit to Mr Kobayahi’s Shunka-en Bonsai Museum.
Some people complain about highly stylized bonsai and in many cases I get the objection. But please don’t complain about this one. To my eye, It belongs in the pantheon of highest quality bonsai art. A masterpiece of movement, harmony and creativity. When I first featured this tree a couple years ago I wrote the word Embrace. Now I don’t remember if it was my idea or if the name came with the tree. No matter, I think it works.
Quoting Bill... "There are over 12 alcoves for formal bonsai displays. Mr. Kobayashi always shows his creativity in creating distinctive bonsai displays."
A closer look at just the tree.
One of many powerful Shimpaku at Mr Kobayashi's Shunka-en Bonsai Museum. Here's a quote from Bill, "There were many large grafted Sargent juniper bonsai, all wired and just waiting to fill out for future sales." Bill consistently refers to Shimpaku as Sargent junipers. He is of course correct, even though most of us in the bonsai world refer to them as Shimpaku (there is a lot more that could be said about this, but we'll leave that for another time).
This would be a remarkable bonsai even without the flowers. In addition to Japanese black pines and Shimpaku junipers, Mr. Kobayashi is known for his Satsuki azaleas.
Here’s a great little Satsuki root-over-rock.
Another Satsuki in full bloom and another of Mr Koybashi’s tokonama.
“What a monument of naturalistic bonsai art you have Walter - a charismatic ajan spruce —- like a walk in a microcosm of enchanted trees - a place to linger for a fraction of eternity” This quote is by Frank Krawiecki from the comments about this tree appears on fb. It’s an old (estimated over 300 years) Ezo spruce (Picea jezoensis) that was originally collected in Japan. The artificial rock is by Avicenna.
Walter Pall’s bonsai collection is so rich, varied and astoundingly numerous, that we could feature one of his bonsai every day for a year and still have only scratched the surface. All this without sacrificing any quality. Not even one whit.
Almost all of Walter’s trees fall into what you might call Naturalistic bonsai. A term used for bonsai that look like they’ve been barely touched by human hands, even though this natural look requires a high degree of skill and human involvement with the entire process. Especially in the case of the top quality trees shown here. Or really, shown wherever you find Walter’s trees.
The other side, this time with a grey backdrop.
There can be no doubt that Walter likes spruce and ditto here, especially Walter’s spruce. In this case, it’s a Picea abies (Norway or European spruce). This photo appears in Bonsai Today issue 106 (Nov/Dec 2006).
Speaking of Walter Pall and Bonsai Today magazine, here’s Walter’s naturalistic Scot’s pine on the cover of issue 104. Unfortunately, both 104 and 106 (see above) are sold out. But the good news is that we still have quite a few back issues in stock.
We’ve been featuring Walter’s bonsai for over ten years and I’m pretty sure this is the first tropical variety of his we’ve seen. One thing that stands out about this tree is how natural it looks. More like a tree than a bonsai, which is something Walter might say. This photo is from Walter’s fb timeline.
This Grape vine (Vitis vinifera) was originally collected in a vineyard in Croatia. It’s around 40 years old and stands 55 cm high (approx 22”).
A small piece of Walter’s garden taken this August.
A massive naturalistic Trident maple that was originally imported as raw material from Korea. The pot is by Tom Benda.
Natural and relaxed. This one has Walter’s naturalistic style written all over it. Here are some specs (from Walter’s website): Norway spruce. 75 cm high. Around 150 years old. Pot by Derek Aspinall. From a tree which was collected in Switzerland in 1998.
This European beech (Fagus sylvatica) was collected in Germany in 1995. It’s 50cm high ( about 20”) and its estimated age is around 70 The pot is by Lubos Skoda.
I’m not sure you’d see this tree in a top flight bonsai show. It’s too rough and the branches need some time to catch up to the trunk. Still, if you put aside preconceptions, Walter does it just right with this Japanese maple’s scarred old trunk and its contrasting smooth flowing movement.
Just rediscovered this in Walter’s fb photos from last winter. Also discovered that I had left a comment at the time… “So natural… a gift!” There’s no information with the photo (if you wanted to work your way back through Walter’s timeline, you might find it). It looks like a single species Spruce forest with trees of varying ages, but that’s just a guess.
FInally, a great tree enhanced by a wonderful Lubos Skoda pot. It’s Mugo pine (the tree, not the pot) that Walter says is about 100 years old. It was collected in Austria in 1995. It’s 40 cm high (about 16”).
The sheer beauty and power of Suthin Sukosolvisit’s roots-devouring-rock bonsai is a good example of why Suthin has long been one of our favorite bonsai artists. Over time, roots can virtually swallow rocks, especially with trees as vigorous as this Trident maple, which happens to be the most popular type tree for root-over-rock bonsai.
No source is given for this colorful 'Seki-joju' Azalea. My best guess is that the tree and photo are originally from Japan; it's not uncommon for Japanese trees to remain unattributed.
This Trident maple root-over-rock by Wolfgang Putz has to be on my top 100 bonsai photos list (if I had such a list). It originally appeared in a 2014 Bark post.
Here's a brilliant Trident that started as a root-over-rock and slowly morphed into a root-swallowing-rock (like root-devouring-rock, this not an official designation, just an observation). The photo is originally from Kaede Bonsai-en (Kaede is Trident maple in Japanese).
A strange sort of root-over-rock. You might imagine that it started more or less like other root overs, but because the rock is so small, the roots grew under it and pushed it up, while also growing around one side and creating a firm grip on the rock. Though I originally thought the result might simply be a happy accident, upon reflection I think it was the intention of the original artist 40 to 50 years ago... It's just too perfect the way most of the rock, particularly the bowl is left uncovered and even emphasized. Like so many root-over-rock bonsai, the tree is a Trident maple. I borrowed the photo here from Peter Tea’s blog back in August 2012.
A Robert Steven tree. We’ve shown it before, but it's been a while and it's worth another look.
This is what can happen when you have a great rock and excellent plant material to work with (a little skill doesn’t hurt either). It’s by Norboru Kaneko, from our Masters’ Series Juniper book.
Needle junipers and companions growing on a rock. Like the photo just above, this one is by Norboru Kaneko and also from our Masters’ Series Juniper book. Given what we’ve seen so far, it’s safe to say that Mr Kaneko has achieved a degree of mastery when it comes to root-on-rock bonsai.
With bonsai, it's usually the tree that dominates, even though the pot, (stone, slab or whatever) is considered a critical part of the whole. In this case however, you might decide that it’s the rock that dominates and elevates the planting from very good to extraordinary. The tree is a Japanese quince (Chaenomeles japonica). The tree, rock and moss belong to David Benavente.
Here's an equally impressive and improbable Benavente planting. The main tree seems so relaxed and natural given its precarious position. It's a Scot's pine (Pinus sylvestris) and the others are Japanese quince (Chaenomeles japonica). As with the planting above, there are also ferns and moss. I'll guess the convex slab is man made.
A planting by Marc Noelanders. No mention is made of the type tree or what the rock is made of.
Three robust Shimpaku junipers on a stupendous rock. We’ve shown this one more than once, but it’s good enough for at least a fourth or fifth encore. From the Omiya Bonsai Museum.
Kimura rocks! I don’t think it’s a good idea to feature a bunch of root-on-rock plantings without at least a quick visit to Masahiko Kimura (aka the Magician), the grand master of root-on-rock plantings and almost anything to do with bonsai innovation. The photo is from a facebook posting by Alejandro Sartori that he took during a visit to Kimura’s nursery. The trees are Shimpaku junipers.
Another root-on-rock by the Magician that was taken by Alejandro Sartori. It looks like the trees might be Hinoki (Cham. obtusa), a tree often used by Kimura for rock plantings.
Beyond bonsai… Here’s an unusual and quite compelling rock planting by Colin Lewis. It’s hard to tell, but it’s likely that some of the roots have found their way down into the soil in the pot via the mossy channels you can see, which might make this one a combo root-on and root-over.
This magnificent mixed forest is by Saburo Kato, who was one of the original old masters of Japanese bonsai. You can find it and other remarkable trees in his timeless classic Forest, Rock Planting & Ezo Spruce Bonsai (see below). You can also find some of the most comprehensive how-to bonsai instructions anywhere. The trees are (more or less left to right) Japanese maple, Japanese beech, Dwarf Stewartia, Japanese red leaf hornbeam, Kyushu azalea and Desojo Japanese maple. The planting was about 30 years old when this photo was taken. Its height is 41 inches (104cm). In other words, it’s a lot bigger than you’d think just looking at this picture.
We’ve got four uncommon forests for you today, the first two are mixed forests and the other two are unique in their own way. Forests with mixed species can be a little tricky; not only does the planting have to make sense aesthetically, particularly when it comes to questions of scale, but the various types of trees should make sense growing together (would you find them growing together in nature?)
Not that you can’t experiment with trees that normally might not grow in the exact same locations, but the more different their natural habitats are, the more unnatural the planting might seem and the more difficult it might be to keep all the trees healthy.
This mixed forest/landscape is from Spain. The Museo del Bonsai Marbella to be exact (from Bonsais del Sur). It's too bad the pot is chopped off and the whole photo is cramped, but that's the way we found it. Still, from what we can see, it looks like a very ambitious project with numerous types of trees, smaller plants and other features to integrate. No mean feat to pull off.
When I first caught site of this planting on Quoc Viet Tran‘s timeline I was immediately struck by how powerful and realistic it is. I wish I could tell you more but no information is provided. I guess we’ll have to settle for simple appreciation of the artist’s mastery.
Bonsai Empire's caption says "Buxifolio Bonsai forest, planted on a rock, by Luisa Alfaro." The Buxifolio part is a bit of a mystery. Buxifolia (with an a) is a species name, but without the genus, it could be any number of things. The leaves look tiny, so we'll try Neea buxifolia.
Michael Hagedorn's Ponderosa pine in an rusty old brake drum.
Okay, if your interest isn'tpiqued by the photo and caption just above, maybe it's time for a nap. Or a cup of coffee...
However, if you're still here, rather than listen to me scribble on, here's the whole story in the words of Michael Hagedorn, our favorite brilliant bonsai bard and shapeshifting trickster.
In Michael's own words, just as I lifted them from his Crataegus Bonsai blog: "Years ago a friend dropped off an old brake drum, an old rusted thing from a car, and said ‘Put something in that’. I was pretty amused and said I would, and yet it’s taken me a while to find something worthy of it. We finally did, this spring, and it was the first time I’ve ever put a tree in a metal container.
"I’ve featured this Ponderosa here before. Collected way back in the 80’s, it made its way onto the cover of BCI magazine in 1992. The lower branch was getting weak and last fall we had a post about cutting that branch off, and rethinking the inclination and front."
The same Ponderosa pine on the cover of BCI magazine in 1992.
Michael's caption... "Fall of 2019. A lower branch was cut off, with some blocks helping us think about what a restyle might look like. The only problem with this perfectly serviceable front is that it looks like a bonsai should look, when it’s being polite."
"This spring we put the pine in the brake drum. I worried that the metal container would heat up a lot, but, interestingly, it didn’t (more about that in another post).
"Fall has arrived and the tree is plenty strong enough for a restyle. While looking at the pine again an edgier front possibility arose, and we went with that…
"August 2020. In spring the Ponderosa pine was repotted into a rusted brake drum, at this new angle, but we found a new front, too. The decisions here were not easy (are they ever), as we had to give up an interesting burl of wood at the base of this tree for the new tucked in look. What I liked was the more interesting line from this view. Bunjin is all about line, not base, or nebari, so we sacrificed that to get a far more active trunk line. No major bends were done, just a turn of the pot 90 degrees. There is nothing I did here that a future owner couldn’t undo, with a return to the original front, which is a nice one. But, the original front felt a bit…prosaic…to me, and I wanted something edgier. The unusual container choice and the unusual front have a touch of simpatico. It’s a little less bonsai-like and maybe a little more interesting. To me at any rate."
That's our favorite bonsai trickster on the right, trying to confuse a juniper.
A close up from the cover of Michael's now famous Bonsai Heresy. I'd like to say 'the only bonsai book you'll ever need' but that might be silly. So how about this quote from Gary D. Wood that appears at the beginning of the book: "Doing it right will take you a long time; doing it wrong takes forever".
This exquisite beauty must be one of the best overall berry bearing bonsai I’ve ever seen, with just the right combination of berries leaves and space. You might say it’s understated as compared with some others we’ve seen. It’s a Nepal Firethorn (Pyracantha crenulata), in training since 1966, donated to the U.S. National Bonsai & Penjing Museum by Yee-Sun Wu. It’s hard to tell for sure, but I think that’s a stone on the left.
I grew up in California’s Great Central Valley where hot weather and Firethorns (Pyracantha) are abundant, with equally abundant berries ranging from various reds, through oranges and yellows. In the ground you’ll often see them as hedges as their sharp thorns make them quite impenetrable.
Firethorns take to bonsai culture, but insects, blight and other diseases also take to them, so they need to be raised with plenty of attention to detail. We won’t go into symptoms or treatments here, but there’s plenty of good information online and in books about general treatment for pests and diseases including What’s Wrong with My Plant?
Other than that Firethorns are hardy to zone 6 with good protection and care that is basic to most bonsai. Be sure to give them plenty of sun if you want abundant berries. The same goes for water - they’ll drink a bit more when growing berries (don’t keep the soil soggy though, that’s an invitation to all kinds of problems).
We recommend our regular professional soil mix for almost everything, including Pyracantha and the same goes for our Green Balance slow release pellet fertilizer, which is great for promoting berries.
Just the right amount of berries for this miniature Firethorn (Pyracantha) beauty. It and the pot were done by Mame master Haruyosi (mame is the Japanese name for tiny bonsai. It literally translates as ‘bean’).
Red berries, red pot. Or maybe more accurately, orange and red berries, red pot (colors vary from screen to screen, so it's hard to tell for sure). The tree is a Firethorn (Pyracantha) that belongs to Bill Valavanis. Bill sent it to us with the line I LIKE RED POTS TOO!, in response to a post we did a couple years ago that was titled, Red Bonsai Pots, a Shift in Taste.
Shohin Pyracantha with yellow berries. A couple things jump out. First are the luminous berries (without these, I'm not sure we'd bother). The other thing that jumps out is the funkiness of the roots-turned-lower-trunk. Exposing roots so they become part of the trunk is common practice. In some cases it works, in other cases less so. You can be the judge. The tree belongs to Edson Cordeiro who lives in Brazil. It's from a series titled "Pyracantha em 3 anos de formação" on facebook.
Tiny Pyracantha with smoke by Yoshiyuki Kawada.
Pyracanthas can be prolific bearers of berries and this one is no exception. It's from a post we did in 2012. I don't know who the artist or owner is, but my guess is the tree is in Japan.
I chose this one as much for the pot as the berries. It’s from Bonsai in Japan.
Flowers come first, so maybe we should have started with this sweet little Bonsai Mike Pyracantha that we originally featured way back in 2010.
All bonsai have numerous before and after moments in their progression. You might say that every time you pick up your tools and start to work on a tree is a before moment and every time you put down the tools and walk away is an after moment.
We could have started this newsletter with any number of excellent before and after trees. But how many great two legged trees do you see? It’s a Sierra juniper (Juniperus occidentalis) that belongs to Bonsai Mike. You can see the potential peeking out underneath the foliage in the before shot. Still, even with good potential, the after shot reveals an impressive transformation.
You might divide before and afters into two other general groups. One is radical restyling and others is what I call maintenance styling, which is mostly just bringing an overgrown tree back to, and perhaps beyond, its earlier beauty.
Staying on topic, here’s a strikingly beautiful maintenance before and after by Naoki Maeoka.
Another maintenance before and after. This time the artist is Jan Culek. Most of what was done on the tree just above was also done here, though it doesn’t look like there was much wiring and no repotting this time. No variety is listed, but it looks like it might be a Shimpaku juniper.
Here’s one that involves much more than maintenance. It’s an Itoigawa juniper before and after by Gabriel Romero Aguade. When I first saw this one, my guess was that the transformation took years. But rather than settle on a guess, I decided to ask Gabriel Romero Aguade how many years it took. Here’s what he wrote... “From the first to the second photograph, 6 hours have passed. more or less.“ Go figure.
Before and after by our friend Robert Steven. The before photo was submitted to Robert by David Royinsyah. The after is one of a large number of digital simulations that Robert employs as a teaching tool. The tree is a Tamarindus indica, a type of tropical legume. The photos are from the Black Scissors Community.
Note: the following are my comments, not Robert’s.
First thing was to get rid of the ugly pot and replace it with something more natural whose lines and color complement the tree – what an improvement!
The rest of the changes are fairly subtle. What I see is a tree with a gentle prevailing breeze from left to right. With this breeze you get shorter branches on the left and extended branches on the right, with the foliage on the right extending beyond the tips of the branches. You might also notice some inner branches curving to the right.
Another change is the apex, with its nod to the right which further emphasizes the prevailing breeze. Beyond that, I’m sure there are other changes, but you’ll have to check with Robert about those.
And on that note I think it's about time to be after before & after. We could go on an on I'm sure. If you made it all the way to the end well thank you. Give yourself a little pat on the back.
Do you like deadwood on bonsai? If so, are you in the let’s not overdo it camp, or are you a proponent of the no-holds-barred, go for broke approach that’s expressed loud and clear on Masahiko Kimura's Dragon?
The no-holds-barred deadwood approach by the grand deadwood innovator and master, Masahiko Kimura. He named the tree Dragon. The photo is from Bonsai Today issue 2 (long out of print). It also appeared in The Bonsai Art of Kimura (also long out of print).
Or maybe you don’t like deadwood at all. If so, you might want to stick with deciduous or tropical trees, where deadwood is a lot less common. So you won’t be tempted.
No need for deadwood on this famous tropical masterpiece. It's a Ficus microcarpa by Huang, Ching-Chi of Taiwan.
If you stray into conifers (especially junipers) where most trees these days have experienced at least some carving, sooner or later you'll most likely find yourself succumbing to the urge.
Maybe it will be just a small jin on a little branch stump. Or a modest shari to cover an accidental wound on a trunk (that happened to me just the other day).
This is where it starts, but if you’re not careful some day you’ll end up carving trees that look something like this. Well. maybe not really like this, but you get my point.
This photo is one of many that were taken by Andres Bicocca at the 2017 European Bonsai San Show in Saulieu France. None of the trees or artists are identified (no blame, they were no doubt taken on the fly and I’m just happy to have them). The tree might be called sculptural. It's a look that seems to offend some people. The primary complaint is that it looks plastic (I think Walter Pall used that term). Another is that it doesn't look like tree. As John Naka said "Make your bonsai look like a tree".
John Naka, the Dean of American bonsai with his famous Goshin. As you can see, Mr Naka used ample deadwood - even whole trees in his forest are dead - but the planting still looks natural. Photo by Cheryl Manning.
François Jeker, deadwood artist and author of Bonsai Deadwood does some of the most detailed and natural looking carving anywhere.
One mistake beginners (and others) make, is to carve too much too soon. If you jump right in without much experience (or without a plan) and start peeling and gouging away, you can do a lot of damage in just a few minutes (take it from someone who knows first hand).
These illustrations by François give you a glimpse into the depth of his understanding of deadwood (and of his talent as an illustrator). They originally appeared in Bonsai Today issue 103.
Before you start carving, it's critical to know where the living veins are. If you damage a vein that supports a branch or even a whole side of the tree (or even the whole tree) you can easily end up with dead branches or worse, a dead tree.
Living veins are roughly analogous to blood vessels (or highways) that move water and nutrients from the roots to the tops and vice versa. Some elements go up from the roots to feed the tops and others go down from the foliage to feed the roots - an ongoing and critical exchange (this exchange is interrupted during dormancy).
Close up of live veins on a Rocky mountain juniper that belongs to Michael Hagedorn. I borrowed the photo from a post on Michael's Crataegus Bonsai blog titled Juniper Live Veins and How They Move.
Live veins aren’t always obvious, though they often bulge a bit. So if you find a bulge running the length of the trunk with crevices or indents on either side, then you’ve located a live vein (live veins also run out branches).
Another way to locate living veins is to gently scrape away loose dead bark. If the cambium layer underneath is alive (green) then stop scraping. If it’s not alive, continue to scrape the bark away and expose the deadwood underneath. Just be sure to stop when you come to a live area. Now you’re on your way to successfully locating and distinguishing living veins from from dead tissue. It's these area with dead tissue that are okay for carving.
This almost otherworldly carving job belongs to Harry Harrington. The tree is a Yew (Taxus baccata). We’ve shown it a couple times on Bonsai Bark, but I think it’s worth another look. The built to fit pot is by Victor Harris of Erin Pottery.
Once you’ve located dead tissue, feel free to carve it. But as you’re peeling away the bark that's covering the dead tissue, be careful not to peel bark that’s covering live tissue. This may sound simple, but it takes some practice and judicious care.
There’s much more on the art of carving, though if you proceed with caution and remember to locate the living veins and take care not to damage them, you might be successful.
Olive deadwood by Harry Harrington. You can create deadwood that looks old with skillful carving and finishing, but only nature and time can create aged bark .
Almost forgot... Not all carving is done on tissue that is already dead. You can also intentionally kill living wood by carving it. This is okay if you know what you're doing and you make sure to save the essential live veins you need to support the parts of the tree you want to stay alive and healthy.
It's good to have friends. Especially ones who think of you when they see something related to bonsai in a national newspaper. In this case the friend is Greg McNally, a fellow tree lover and the owner of the Northern Vermont land where I dig most of my larches
The link Greg sent me is from The Washington Post and though it has little do with larches or other trees it does have something to do with bonsai. Or at least an art that is intimately related to bonsai
But rather than me going on about it, we'll let Adrian Higgins, the author of the article tell the story (well, just the first few paragraphs)...
Here's Adrian's caption... "Although bonsai trees can appear immutable, kusamono compositions mark the seasons, here the arrival of the early spring blooms of the epimedium hybrid Niveum." Like this caption the ones below are also by Adrian Higgins. (photo by Young Choe)
One reason for this is that although bonsai is a popular and commercialized hobby, there are just a handful of kusamono virtuosos in the United States, none more accomplished than Young Choe, a Korean American horticulturist from Ellicott City.
"Horticulturist Young Choe brings an American flair to the Japanese artform of kusamono. This composition includes the wildflower Indian pink, sedge and the perennial Culver’s root." (Photo by Young Choe)
"Most of the subjects are grasses and perennials, but Choe sometimes uses shrubby material. This wild rose was raised from seed and took six years to bloom." (Photo by Young Choe)
"Her creations — unexpected, essential and surprisingly haunting — take common plants and elevate them as living subjects of delight and desire. A pennisetum grass you might barely notice in the office park becomes kinetic sculpture; common cranesbill is transformed into a grove of flowers; and the trillium of the woodland floor is placed on Choe’s pedestal. 'I love to show people how beautiful they are,' she said."
For the rest of the article visit The Washington Post.