The Most Amazing and Provocative Bonsai Extravaganza…


Art, culture and the passage of time. I think this old tree and ancient Indonesian deity capture something of the flavor of the Robert Steven’s Bonsai Biennale. The uncropped version of this photo is from Bill Valavanis’ Bonsai Blog.

Robert Steven’s just completed 1st International Bonsai Biennale may have been the most unusual and provocative bonsai extravaganza ever (it’s hard to imagine another bonsai event that even comes close, but these kinds of statements are subjective and open to question, so we’ll leave it at may have been…).

For those of us who weren’t there, all we have to go on so far are the photos and the ones I’ve seen so far are pretty convincing that something unquestionably groundbreaking and very daring just happened. Here are a small sampling of photos that we’ve seen so far. We’ll post some more soon.



A great shot of one of many highly creative mixed media scenes that deserve a long close look. From Bill’s blog.




A happy Robert Steven and friends enjoying the show at the opening ceremony. I found this shot on Robert’s facebook photos.



I’m guessing that this is the front gate. From Robert’s facebook photos.



Close up.


b3Another creative mixed media scene. From Bill’s blog.



Opening ceremony. From Robert’s facebook photos.



Opening ceremony performers. Again from Robert’s facebook photos.



More mixed media. This one with a sense of humor. From Bill’s blog.



 Don’t shoot the messenger. Photo from Bill’s blog.

Enough for now. We’ll post some more soon.

Semi Cascade Not Windswept


After by Kimura (aka the Magician). This photo is from a chapter in our Masters’ Series Pine Book titled Masahiko Kimura Transforms A Semi-Cascade. The tree is a Japanese white pine (Pinus parviflora).

I’m at the tail end of a short vacation of sorts, so we’ll indulge in one more rerun before it’s back to work full time. This one originally appeared in August 2012. It was titled The Other Cascade: Before & After.

The other cascade
Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seem to me that, with the exception of Junipers (especially the ever present Procumbens nana) you don’t see that many semi-cascade bonsai (I just scrolled back through the last couple month of Bonsai Bark and about 10% of the trees featured are semi-cascade; more than I thought I’d find, but still, not that many).

Actually, you don’t see that many full-cascade bonsai (see the photo at the bottom of the post) either, but when you think of cascades, my guess is that it’s full-cascades that comes to mind.

Semi-cascade is NOT the same as windswept
It’s not unusual to see semi-cascade bonsai referred to as windswept. This is a mistake. Windswept bonsai can be in any style (though I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a windswept full-cascade), including semi-cascade, and most semi-cascade bonsai don’t really qualify as windswept.

Here’s a Robert Steven critique that explores windswept bonsai (there are others, but this is a pretty good start). BTW: Robert is the author of two excellent bonsai books (one now out of print).


Before. It helps to have well developed stock to start with. You can find the 28 other photos (not shown here) that describe the process and give general information on styling pines in our Masters’ Series Pine Book (currently on sale along with all of our other books).


Full cascade (the lowest point of the tree is below the bottom of the pot). From the Black pine gallery in our Masters’ Series Pine Book.


B1PINE680 Our 30% to 40% off Book Sale ends tonight. All of our bonsai books including our Master Series Pine Book are currently on sale. But like all good things, this sale will end. Tonight at 11:59pm EDT. Don’t wait.

Grafting Lesson – Juniper on Juniper


Shimpaku foliage grafted onto a California juniper by Roy Nagatoshi. All of the photos in this post are by Dale Berman. They originally appeared in Bonsai Today issue 108 in an article by Marcus Juniel.

Still traveling, so once again we’ll dip into our archives. This one is from Bark’s early days (March 2010). The title back then was: Roy Nagatoshi Grafts Shimpaku Branches and Foliage onto a California Juniper.

Shimpaku foliage on California junipers
California juniper foliage is heavy and somewhat coarse (I think it looks fine on native stock, but Shimpaku foliage is beautiful and looks even better) and many bonsai artist opt to graft on Shimpaku foliage.


Approach graft. The Shimpaku (scion) still has it roots in soil when it is joined with the stock. Once the graft has taken, it is cut off from its roots in a place and way that best hides the graft so that no (or almost no) traces of the procedure show. How this is done is a big part of the skill involved in grafting bonsai. This sketch and the one below are also from Bonsai Today issue 108.


One of Roy’s approach grafts in process. The top of the small Shimpaku in the plastic pot is being grafted onto a large California juniper. When the graft has taken, the part of the Shimpaku below the graft will be removed. It will still be alive and can be grown on for future use as a bonsai or as another scion.

Roy Nagatoshi
I first met Roy Nagatoshi sometime in the 1980 at he and his father’s (Mr Shigeru Nagatoshi) Fuji Bonsai Nursery in Sylmar, California (home of row after row of some of the most massive bonsai you’ll ever see).

At the time Mr Nagatoshi senior was still actively running things and Roy seemed to be keeping a fairly low profile. Later, when I visited a couple times in the 90s, things were shifting. Roy was clearly in charge, and his father seemed to be stepping back (Shigeru Nagatoshi died in 2000). Now Roy is fully in charge and as his skills continue to develop, so does his fame; both as a preeminent bonsai artist as as a popular bonsai teacher.


Whip graft (also called tongue or splice graft). Unlike the approach graft, the scion doesn’t have roots to support it while the graft is taking, so you need to provide humidity to keep it alive. A humid greenhouse helps, but the most common method is to use a plastic sleeve with a damp medium (eg sphagnum) inside.


Some tools Roy uses for grafting. Photo by Dale Berman.

Shimpaku foliage on San Jose junipers
Grafting Master Mas Ishii first introduced me to grafting Shimpaku foliage onto San Jose juniper stock. He said that San Jose stock grows better than Shimpuku in North America (or at least under his local conditions – his nursery Chikugo-en is in Los Angeles), but that Shimpaku foliage is much more beautiful (and touchable) than San Jose foliage, and is easy to graft. For more on this topic and Mas Ishii, there’s and excellent article by Lew Buller in Bonsai Today issue 75 (Lew is the author of Saikei and Art; the only English language Saikei bonsai book in print).


All of our books are now 30% to 40% off. Including Saikei and Art, which in this particular case makes for a very good deal (30% to 40% off of 5.00).

A Long Awaited Bonsai Event


This is the long awaited weekend of Robert Steven’s first International Bonsai Art & Culture Biennale. For those of us who were unable to make it to Indonesia, here are a few photos that Robert posted to promote the event. Many of these have already appeared here on Bark, but some are new to us. Stay posted for some photos of the event itself.


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Robert Steven’s Mission of Transformation and all of our other Bonsai Books are now on Sale for 30% to 40% off. Don’t wait though, the sale ends in a few days.

Bonsai Detectives – Win a $100 Gift Certificate


(A) I found this spectacular olive online with no attribution or identification of any sort. I know I’ve seen before, but don’t remember where. Maybe you can help me. We’ll call it tree A.

The contest. If you want to skip directly to the contest, scroll down to the bottom of the post.

European olives are not a traditional bonsai variety. If you were to surmise that this is because they don’t occur in Japan or China, I think you’d be correct.

However, as is the case with many Western native trees, all this is changing (actually, it has been changing for the past forty years or so). Though I’m not so sure you’ll see many Western varieties in major Japanese bonsai shows for a while, you’ll certainly see people continuing to experiment with a wide range of trees that have only recently been introduced into bonsai consciousness.

Needless to say (but we’ll say it anyway), this rise of non-East Asian bonsai varieties is a good thing and in the case of Olives, a particularly good thing.


















The contest. Here’s what you have to do to win.
Identify the artist (or owners) of as many of the olive shown here as you can along with links that provide evidence.

Links. I’ll say it again; you must provide links as evidence.

The deadline. You have one week from today. Entries after 11:59pm EDT, October 23rd, 2014 will not be accepted.

What you’ll win. The person who correctly identifies the most artists or owners of the trees shown here (and provides links to each one), will win a $100 gift certificate to Stone Lantern. In case of a tie, the person who submits their answers first will be the winner.

Email me!
Your answers must be sent to me <> (DON’T PUT YOUR ANSWERS IN THE COMMENTS BELOW!). The subject line should say $100 Contest.

Good luck!

Still Searching (Every Which a Way)


At a glance you might think this is just a stump with some foliage tacked on, but then as you look closer you notice the taper at the base and the way the texture of the wood creates movement and a feeling of age. Then there’s that little cave that enhances the story of time and place and natural forces that came together to help create this Dogwood by Franco Berti. From a post titled Reportage Vi Trofeo Bonsai e Suiseki Città di Poppi by Bonsai Romano.

Taking off for the other coast today, so I’m sure you’ll excuse me if I dig into our archives. This one originally appeared November 2012. It was titled Searching for the Unusual. The only things I’ve changed are the title (if you don’t know, don’t ask) and sizes of the images.

Searching for the unusual
I spend a lot of time looking for unusual bonsai. Bonsai that they might cause a shift in how we view the art of bonsai and even how we see and approach our own trees. If that’s asking too much, there’s always the hope that something happens, positive or negative (hopefully not neutral) and that some spark awakens something, if only for a moment.


I don’t think you’ll see trees that grow like this in nature, with such symmetrical back and forth movement. This looks like the result of the old clip-and-grow technique. You don’t see as much clip-and-grow these days as you used to, wiring is faster and allows for more variation, but it’s still an excellent time-tested way to shape a trunk. This elm by Claudio Tampucci is, like the tree above, from a post by Bonsai Romano.


Too unusual? Though there’s plenty to like about this old olive, especially the powerful trunk with its aged bark and expressive deadwood that piggybacks up from the first curve to the crown, I wonder if the heavy piece of deadwood at the top right isn’t a little too distracting. Or, maybe it’s an important part of the tree’s story? The tree belongs to Franco Berti (just like the one at the top of the post). I found it on

An Outrageous Explosion


This perfect curlycue has to be among the all time greats when it comes to distinctive deadwood. The tree belongs to the very talented Minoru Akiyama. The photo appears just the way I found it, with the apex and most of the pot missing.

The art of carving bonsai deadwood was popularized by Masahiko Kimura and his custom power tools back in the 80s and 90s. Now a couple decades later amazing deadwood (and not so amazing deadwood) is everywhere with more and more outrageously wild examples popping up.

Though this explosion of jin and shari is not everyone’s cup of tea, it has undeniably altered the art of bonsai and provided a range of new techniques, tools and possibilities. And a fertile ground for discussion and argument.

Though there are several worthy  pioneers in the deadwood art, two of my favorites have long been Mr. Kimura and Francois Jeker. Now after enjoying Minoru Akiyama photos, it’s time to make room for a third.


Cropped and enlarged for a closer look.


Jin (deadwood branches), shari (deadwood on trunks) and less common sabamiki (hollow trunk). Though Junipers reign as the deadwood kings, you sometimes see distinctive deadwood on Pines.


Deadwood and more deadwood. This one may be Minoru’s signature tree.

It’s hard to imagine a greater contrast in textures than in these two photos (just above and just below).


An explosion of detailed carving.


Behind all great bonsai artists are a great collection of tools (you probably guessed that Minoru is the gentleman on the right).

Bonsai Book Sale. Because we are now offering all of our bonsai books at the ridiculously large 30% to 40% off, I thought you just might like to see a few books that directly relate to this post.


Not only is Francois Jeker a deadwood artist extraordinaire, he’s also an accomplished teacher and the author Bonsai Aesthetics 1 and 2.


Masahiko Kimura is aptly nicknamed ‘The Magician.’ 


Junipers and Pines. And because three of the trees above are Junipers and one is a Pine

Bonsai Crazy


I love these close-up deadwood shots that let you see every little scar and sliver. The tree is a big Yew that belongs to Mark Fields.

Here’s what Mark Fields has to say about this tree: “Uchi-San just finished up styling the big taxus. It took about 16 hours to complete. Ready for the big show now! We know the pot is too big for the tree. We will repot in spring.”

Mark Fields is an American bonsai artist and owner of Bonsai By Fields in Greenwood Indiana. Uchi-San is Bonsai Crazy Uchi (we’ll devote a whole post to him soon). The show that Mark is referring to is the 4th U.S. National Bonsai Exhibition.



After Uchi-san’s magic touch. I look forward to seeing a photo after the tree is repotted into a smaller pot.


Before Uchi-san. I dug around Mark’s facebook photos and found this before shot. You might imagine that’s Mark in this hands-on profile and you’d be correct.


Bonsai Crazy Uchi. Crazy is his idea and there’s a good reason he’s wearing shades (stay posted).

Staying on Theme – New NABF Website


Japanese black pine by Dan Robinson. Dan is known for his dramatically wild collected trees from the American northwest (and Canadian far west). Obviously this Black pine doesn’t fall into that category, though a bit of that wild look is still there. It received a WBFF Certificate of Merit.

We’ve been featuring new websites a lot lately so we might as well stay on theme. All the photos in this post are from the new North American Bonsai Federation (NABF) website. NABF is affiliated with the World Bonsai Friendship Federation (WBFF)..

One of the things the WBFF is known for is their annual Photo Contest (here’s the entry form for next year if you’d like to enter). All the photos shown here are past contest entries from North America, except one, last year’s Grand Prize winner from Japan.


I was just looking in vain for a Dave DeGroot tree to feature in a post we did last week on the new Pacific Rim website (I hope you’re not an English teacher). Now this elegant windswept beauty shows up. They don’t say the type tree, but given the exfoliating bark, I’m guessing it’s a Crape Myrtle.



The Grand Winner of the 2013 WBFF Saburo Kato Memorial Award. It’s a Shimpaku juniper that belongs to Naotoshi Takagi of Japan.


This profuse Bougainvillea belongs to Brian Donnelly from somewhere in Canada.


Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 2.51.25 PM

A seasonally appropriate Trident maple by Randy Clark that won a Certificate of Merit.


They call this Certificate of Merit winner by Bernard Gastrich a Canadian larch, but we know a Tamarack here in norther Vermont when we see one (no offense intended to our neighbors just across the border, they are free to call them whatever they like). If you look closely you can distinguish the well aged bark from the nearly identically colored and textured pot.


hornbeam copy

Another seasonally appropriate tree by Randy Clark. It’s the feature bonsai on the NABF homepage.