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“There’s an intimacy to bonsai that is largely invisible…”

Delicate beauty of a Red maple forest. Photo by Stephen Voss

Stephen Voss seldom shoots the whole bonsai and though I can’t speak for him, it seems as if he searches for the the heart of the tree in details. The photos shown here were shot by Stephen at the U.S. National Bonsai and Penjing Museum. You can enjoy more of Stephen's brilliant photos in his book, In Training

The title of this post is from a quote by Ryan Neil. The whole quote is below 

Portrait of a Trident maple

There’s an intimacy to bonsai that is largely invisible. It exists in those sacred moments between artist and tree in partnership; an understanding of what is and can be as it unfolds over seasons and years.

Stephen’s photographs shed a quiet, respectful light on these wonderful moments. I feel fortunate to see such beauty being put into the world with the careful intention these trees deserve.
– Ryan Neil, Bonsai Mirai







The famous 'Hiroshima' Japanese white pine 



 In Training by Stephen Voss
Now on Special at Stone Lantern



How Not to Fertilize Your Bonsai & Black Pine Needle Reduction

You can bet that this Japanese black pine (Pinus thunbergii) was fertilized with a master’s touch. Speaking of, this photo is from our Masters’ Series Pine Book

Time to fertilize is coming. For those of you who live in warm climates, it's already here or coming soon. At least for your younger trees where rapid growth is desirable. With older trees that are already well established, it's best to wait a while

Our friend Michael Hagedorn put it this way on his Crataegus Bonsai blog...  
For fertilizing bonsai, we can make this one basic distinction: Begin fertilizing a young, unrefined tree when it begins growing early in the spring. Wait a bit with an older, refined tree—usually begin fertilizing when it’s just hardening off it’s spring growth…
Quiz: If we were to fertilize everything the same, strongly, starting early in the year, what would happen?
The young trees would stay forever young
The old, developed trees would become young again.” 

So what do Japanese black pines have to do with fertilizing, other than like all bonsai, they need timely feeding? Not much really, but nevertheless I decided to expand this post beyond fertilizing to include needle reduction on Japanese black pines. Mostly because I needed some good images to go with the fertilizing text. Coincidentally, Michael Hagedorn also references cutting candles (a key part of needle reduction) on Black pines in his post about fertilizing


There’s plenty to say and show about needle reduction on Japanese black pines and these illustrations provide only part of the picture. For the whole picture, check out our Masters Series Pine book (all the images in this post, including this one, are from this book)


A bird's eye view of a limb on a Black pine right after completing needle reduction


Usually, when we think of Japanese black pines, we think of larger bonsai. However, with good needle reduction, smaller Black pines can work too, as attested to by this photo and the one at the top of the post. Both are from our Masters’ Series Pine book


For more of Michael Hagedorn's bonsai insights
here's your link to his blog/website


Our Masters Series Pine Book 


Oak Bonsai in Snow & through the Seasons

Luis Vallejo calls this tree a Spanish oak (Quercus faginea) though Wikipedia and some others refer to it as Portuguese oak (other names that popped up are Valencian oak and Lusitanian oak).  It belongs to Luis and resides at his Municipal Bonsai Museum of Alcobendas in Spain

We've got another Oak for you today. The last one was a live oak and this one is deciduous (Quercus fagineashown over three seasons. It has several common names but we'll stick with Luis Vallejo's Spanish oak

Most oak bonsai we've seen in the States are live oaks. Their leaves tend to be smaller than deciduous oaks and therefore more suitable for bonsai. However, as we explore we're discovering that there are deciduous oaks with small leaves that are being used for bonsai. Particularly in Europe

The photos are from Luis Vallejo's Museo de Bonsai Alcobendas (Alcobendas is a suburb of Madrid). We've featured numerous trees from Luis'  Bonsai Museum over the years and will no doubt feature more over the coming years (scroll down for a link to Luis' remarkable bonsai collection)






Cropped for a closer look at the trunk. I'm not sure what the white on the bark is



Winter with companion. Before the snow 


 Quercus faginea growing in a field in Spain 
Wikipedia calls it a Portuguese oak rather than Spanish oak


Here's your link to Luis Vallejo's website


Superb Live Oak Bonsai, Two Sabamiki & a Sweet Deal

This superb tree came unidentified and I'm not sure who the artist/owner is. The leaves look like Live oak leaves and the bark is corky, so you might imagine it's a Quercus suber (a European oak that's the source of cork for wine bottles). By the way, you might notice just how small the pot is in relation to the tree (more on this below). The photo was posted by Eric Batllori Gomez. His caption reads Jean-Paul Polmans (it got complicated when I started following leads, so we'll leave the rest up to you)

Just two trees today. Both are live oaks that are native to the Mediterranean area, and each is quite impressive with a surplus of character and age   

A little grainy but otherwise a decent look at the base of the trunk and the pot. A pot this small in relation to the size of the tree is usually just for shows or photos. As soon as it has served its purpose, the tree goes back into a larger pot that's more suitable for growing


A closer look at the magnificent trunk and bark
When you get this close, it's clear to see that the leaves are of they type you would expect on an live oak (live = evergreen)


Raffaele Perilli's Holm oak with Green T Turntable and tools


A closer look at the tree above. The heavy trunk and gnarled bark create an impression of great age and the two sabamiki (holes) add to this impression


Order a Green T Basic Hydraulic Lift Turntable with Square Top
and receive a $50.00 Coupon for a future order


Shohin Bonsai, Small & Spectacular

Bill Valavanis took this photo at the 45th Gafu Ten Shohin Bonsai Exhibition. Bill is a very busy man who provides an endless photographic stream of some of the world's best bonsai. Many are from Japan, including the ones shown here. Because it's impossible for him to do everything, some photos are without captions, including this one. So we'll leave it at that

Today's photos are from the recent 45th Gafu Ten Shohin Bonsai Exhibition in Kyoto, Japan. According to Bill Valavanis, who took all the photos shown here, Gafu Ten is the highest level small bonsai expo

Because Bill posted well over a hundred photos at Gafu Ten, I've decided to narrow things way down and focus on some that combine great trees with colorful pots. We might show some others later


A yellow to end all yellows. The tree looks like a flowering quince


Bill identified this one as a Crepe myrtle 


It takes a strong tree to hold its own in such a brilliant pot


Though there's no caption with this one, the fruit looks suspiciously like kumquat 


Though there are several shown here, bright yellow bonsai pots are not all that common.
The tree is a Rough bark privet


Must be a quince. Red like yellow, is not that common when it comes to bonsai pots


The two exclamation points are straight from Bill 
Must be because Serissa aren't all that common in Japan 
You see them sometimes sold as indoor bonsai in here in the States,
but they're not that easy to grown and are prone to mites and other problems 


A pot with a story! Here's what Bill wrote about it...
"The 15th bonsai container competition included entries from France, Germany, Australia as well as the United States by Stacy Allen Muse and Roy Minarai. All the containers were beautiful and some were quite unique in shape as well as glazes. One of my favorite containers in the competition was a red container featuring a floral applique by Roy Minarai from South Carolina. I was at the set-up and judging and carefully looked at all the containers. Roy’s beautiful container had the top left of one flower petal broken off! I immediately phoned and facetimed Roy to show him the flaw. He was quite disappointed and I offered to darken the light-colored area with a black magic marker to disguise the break. Roy watched me from South Carolina as I painted the broken area. A couple of hours later as I was leaving the exhibition for the day I stopped to see his container. Someone found the broken flower petal and glued it back onto the container!"



To enjoy more of Bill Valavanis' endless stream of great bonsai photos, you can visit his blog here


Time to start making your plans. Here's your link to Bill's website where you'll find what you need to know. We'll see you there!



Lion's Head Bonsai

This strikingly beautiful tree in its full fall color is a 'Shishigashira' Japanese maple (Acer palmatum var. 'Shishigashira') that resides at the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum in Saitama Japan. Its estimated age is 120 years. And if you're wondering about the title of this post, Shishigashira is Japanese for 'lion's head' (scroll down to the bottom for more on this tree, including where 'lion's head' comes from)

We can't go too long without circling back to the bonsai of the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum, home to some of the best bonsai in the world. We borrowed most of today's photos from Bonsai Master on Facebook, a place that frequently puts up quality photos from Omiya and other Japanese sources

These three photos are from Omiya's website


Literati style Japanese white pine (Pinus parviflora - Goyomatsu in Japanese).  Estimated age is 230 years


Japanese red pine (Pinus densiflora - Akamatsu in Japanese). Estimated age 300 years. With bark this heavy and with it being such a venerable tree, a little reverse taper is no big deal


 Japanese white pine (Pinus parviflora). Estimated age 150 years. No reverse taper here


Winter silhouette of a broom style Japanese Zelkova (Zelkova serrata - Keyaki in Japanese). Estimated age 120 years. Broom style is common with Zelkova . In fact, I don't know when I last saw one that wasn't broom style


Omiya's Shishigashira again, but cropped for a closer look at the trunk, nebari and main branches

Here's a brief description of the Shishigashira Japanese maple that we borrowed from Mendocino Maple Nursery

"Shishigashira is a very desirable Acer palmatum for small gardens, container culture and bonsai. Shishigashira is a slow growing upright palmatum that has thick bunched-up, curled green leaves that give it a unique appearance. The leafstalks are short and stiff. Shishigashira name means lions head, referring to the shape of the leaf bunches. Fall colors can be stunning golds and oranges turning eventually to crimson. May reach 18 feet tall. Sun/ part shade" 



Bones, Stones & Bunjin Bonsai

This powerful cascading Pemphis acidula belongs to Budi Sulistyo. You might notice the hand conveniently placed for scale

We've been fans of Budi Sulistyo since we first featured him all the way back in 2009, our first year with Bonsai Bark. Budi lives and practices bonsai in Jakarta, Indonesia, an important center for tropical bonsai innovation


Budi's Green island ficus


Unidentified bare boned bonsai from Bonsai and suiseki exhibition in ICE, BSD, Tangerang. Photo posted by Budi


Another unidentified tree from Bonsai and suiseki exhibition in ICE, BSD, Tangerang


Here's Budi's caption for this unique stone... "Suiseki exhibition in Masterpeace On fire Tangerang"


Budi's caption... "My new stone 'the moon'"


 Unidentified rock planting by Budi

  Budi's bunjjin
From a post we did way back in 2010. No variety is given


Budi with unidentified tree. The caption on Budi's timelines reads..."In ABFF Convention with Philippines Bantige" Bantique is one of the 7,641 Philippine islands

If you'd like to see more photos of Budi's and other people's bonsai and viewing stones, you can visit him on Facebook


Another American Bonsai Apprentice, Two Exceptional Bonsai Books & Two Trees from Our U.S. National Bonsai Museum

This is the tree that inspired the U.S. National Bonsai Museum's logo. It's listed as a Sargent's juniper (Juniperus chinensis var sargentii), though in the bonsai world many might call this variety Shimpaku. It was donated to the Museum by Kenichi Oguchi in 1976 and has been in training since 1905

When I met Andy Bello at the 6th U.S. National Bonsai Exhibition in September 2018, he had just been selected as the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum's first Curator's Apprentice. Andy was young, friendly and enthusiastic about his new position. A perfect subject for a post here on Bonsai Bark

Then memory being what it is (or isn't) the idea slipped away. Now after more than a year, a post by Andy on the U.S. National Bonsai Foundations blog has jogged that old memory. Andy's post is titled First Curator's blog: My First Six Months as a Curator's Apprentice and it's our inspiration for this post 
Continued below...

 A job with a view. Andy Bello pruning a Korean black pine  
at Elandan Gardens in Bremerton, Washington.
This was before he assumed his apprentice position
at the U.S. National Bonsai Museum

Continued from above...
The National Bonsai & Penjing Museum's First Curator's Apprenticeship for 2019 is funded by generous grants to the National Bonsai Foundation from Toyota North America and The Hill Foundation

 Andy Bello with Michael Hagedorn 
on World Bonsai Day 2019
at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum.
Michael is highly respected bonsai artist, teacher
and author of two Bonsai books:
Post Dated, the Schooling of an Irreverent Bonsai Monk
and his upcoming Bonsai Heresy, which is expected in April
This powerful Trident maple also resides at the U.S. National Bonsai Museum. (you can visit the Museum online here). Or even better you can visit it up close and personal (the difference between photos and these phenomenal bonsai in real time is astounding)  

For more on Andy's story, here's your link to the National Bonsai Foundation's blog

 Speaking of Michael Hagedorn (see above) 
Here's his Post Dated
till the best bonsai read


Gnarly Branches, Ancient Trees
And...speaking of  Elandan Gardens (see above & below)
this brilliant book features Dan Robinson's bonsai  
which reside along with Dan at Elandan

 A small piece of Elandan Gardens


Splendid Larch Bonsai with Value Added & Something Unexpected

This splendid European  larch (Larix decidua) is one of several notable bonsai posted by Marco Merschel. Though there's no information with the photos about who Marco is, or even where he lives, it's clear the trees are his

Just one bonsai today, but it's a good one. And even though the tree is spectacular enough to deserve a post all its own, we've got some value added photos and info for you. Especially if you lean towards dendrology or contemporary paintingThe base of the trunk with its distinctive sabamiki and some freshly carved wood


Same tree in the spring with its fresh foliage. Larch is one of only a handful of deciduous conifers in the world (exactly how many there are, depends on who you talk to and how they classify)  


This full fall color display of European larches is from Wikipedia. The color is more orange (at least in this photo) than the bright yellows you see with our American larch (Larix laricina, aka Tamarack)

Here's a quote borrowed from Wikipedia...
"Larix decidua, the European larch, is a species of larch native to the mountains of central Europe, in the Alps and Carpathian Mountains as well as the Pyrenees, with disjunct lowland populations in northern Poland and southern Lithuania. Its life span has been confirmed to be close to 1000 years (with claims of up to 2000 years) but is more often around 200 years"...I'm not sure about this. 200 years average life span with individual trees living to 1,000 to 2,000 years doesn't make a lot of sense 


Another larch shot from Wikipedia 


If you squint I think you can make out some trees. This is one of a number of paintings that Marco posted


For more of Marco Merschel's bonsai and paintings
you can visit him on Facebook

While you're here, stop and take a look around...
There's a menu above... 

A Bonsai Journey from Japan to North Carolina

Close up of a famous old Japanese black pine named Zuio. This photo was taken at the 2015 Meifu Bonsai Exhibition one of Japan’s longest running bonsai shows. We found it on Danny Coffey's bonsai blog

All the photos shown here  are borrowed from Danny Coffey's Tree the People blog. Danny apprenticed in Japan and studied under Jack Sustic at the U.S. National Bonsai and Penjing Museum. He now lives and practices bonsai in Asheville North Carolina. We've shown some of these photos previously and some are new to us

Here's one we haven't shown before. It's an unusual tree in an equally unusual bonsai pot. The flowers look like they might be forsythia, but that's just my guess.  Another guess might be, is this a phoenix graft (tanuki)?


Cropped and blown up a little for a closer look at the deadwood and sabamiki


Here's one we originally featured back in 2016. The caption is Danny's... "This exposed root Japanese black pine is a blend of Japanese sensibility and American craftsmanship.... Obviously it's a Japanese species, and it's hard to argue that several of the styling cues are based on Japanese bonsai. However, this tree is 100% made in America. The tree itself, started from seed and grown as bonsai material in California. The pot, hand made by American potter Dale Cochy, circa 2004. All brought together, styled and finished by me, an American bonsai artists trained in Japan. An exciting collision of several worlds and a respectful nod to all things bonsai from US and Japan."


 Another one that's new to us. It looks like it might be a field grown Shimpaku


Danny Coffey with 47 Rhonin is another one we featured back in 2016. Here's his caption: "Recently the Pacific Bonsai Museum brought me out to Washington to do some bonsai work. This sub alpine fir forest was a really fun project. The bonsai was donated to the museum by Bob Kataoka. He originally built the composition in 1960 and named it 47 Ronin. Since then, it has died back to the 14 remaining trees seen in this photo. Still, I think 47 Ronin is a really cool name."


 I cropped old Zuio for a closer look at the magnificent trunk


If you'd like to see more of what Danny Coffey is up to, here's your link to hisTree the People blog