Big Bonsai Tool Sale Ends Sunday Night

Tools - Koyoa small sampling of our large selection of Koyo Japanese Bonsai Tools
now Koyo and all other tools are 25% off
plus an extra 10% off for any order 100.00 or more
but only until Sunday, Sept 6th at 11:59pm EDT

We’ve been offering a steady stream of beautiful bonsai, bonsai tips, events and related stuff for almost 7 years. All for FREE. But every now and then, we turn a post over to our sponsor (that’s me). Don’t worry, we’ll be back with more bonsai tomorrow.

Meanwhile, you can go ahead a take advantage of some very big savings if you’re inclined. All of our Bonsai tools & Gardening tools are 25% off.
Plus another 10% off all orders 100.00 or more.
But don’t wait too long. Sale ends Sunday night (Sept 6th) at 11:59pm EDT.


tool sale includes some items you might not expect
like turntables, sharpening stones and sheaths for example

a small sampling of our large selection of Bonsai Aesthetics Tools
now Aesthetics and all other tools are 25% off
plus an extra 10% off for any order 100.00 or more
but only until Sunday, Sept 6th at 11:59pm EDT


Roshi Bannera sampling of our large selection of Roshi Bonsai Tools
now Roshi and all other tools are 25% off
plus an extra 10% off for any order 100.00 or more
but only until Sunday, Sept 6th at 11:59pm EDT

Bonsai Under American & African Skies

ryanThis Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii subsp. glauca) is one of numerous extraordinary bonsai at Ryan Neil's Mirai American Bonsai (near Portland, Oregon). It was originally collected in the Rocky mountains by Randy Knight. It's age is given as 10-250 100-250 years. Height is 36" (91cm), width 52" (132cm).

Time has a funny way of slipping by while we dither, and it would be a shame if you let the Artisans Cup come and go without signing up and booking your trip to Portland. Before you dither any further or just dismiss the idea altogether, when was the last time you viewed North America’s most illustrious bonsai in a art museum?

The bonsai above and just below, belong to Ryan Neil. Ryan is, among other things, the prime mover of the Artisans Cup. He is also a headliner in the upcoming Under African Skies, the 4th African Bonsai Convention (below).



Artisans Cup. September 25-27. Here's your link to register.



Under African Skies. Here's another big bonsai event that promises to be one of the best (check out the headliners if you need convincing - you'll notice Ryan's name along with several other bonsai stars). October 22-25.


bougThis brilliant Bougainvillea bonsai belongs to Tobie Kleynhans. You can see it along with thirty other excellent South African bonsai at the Under African Skies gallery.



Under African Skies will be held in scenic Stellenbosch in the heart of South Africa's wine country.


The Portland Art Museum. Home of the Artisans Cup.


ryan2Close up of Ryan's Douglas fir.

“A Little Bit Above Average” – Backyard Bonsai 14


Bird's eye view of Dan Dolan's backyard.

It’s has been a while since we’ve featured a backyard bonsai post (our last one was in 2013). Now, finally, we’ve got another good one for you. The yard and the bonsai, as well as the Japanese influenced landscaping and structures, belong to Dan Dolan.

A little bit above average. Dan sent along some of his thoughts on bonsai and bonsai display:
“Unlike many enthusiasts who heed the remonstrance of American bonsai masters to acquire only the best material upon which to work…… I take only the least promising and strive to make them a little bit above average.

As a previous Board Member of the Midwest Bonsai Society at the Chicago Botanic Garden, I spoke often on the subject of bonsai display.

My theme was to encourage our members to invest at least as much on the environment in which they grow, develop, refine and present their trees in training (99% of our trees are in training, as Walter Pall acknowledges) as they do on the material, containers, tools and supplies.”








Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda) showing off.


dolan6Dan's Bonsai Today library. BTW; he's looking for issues 103 and 104 (we're out of both).

Speaking of…


Our back issues of Bonsai Today are now 60% off
We are down to ones and twos of some, so don’t wait around too long

Surrealistic Bonsai

Wayan-Suryawan-SimulationRobert Steven's simulation of a photo submitted by Wayan (see below).

Yesterday’s post was about art and the art of bonsai and today we’re down in Williamstown Mass catching Van Gogh at the Clark before he’s gone (how’s that for bonfides?). The upshot is, no time to put together a new post, so we dug up this Robert Steven critique from 2011. We renamed it Surrealistic Bonsai, an accidental allusion to art (post Van Gogh of course).

What a difference a pot makes
Though Robert doesn’t mention it in his critique (below), introducing a shallow pot, rather than the tree’s clunky and rather unattractive pot (also below), instantly transforms the whole tree. Nothing outside the box, just a simple change that does wonders for a bonsai.

Wayan-SuryawanBefore. Submitted by Wayan.

In Robert’s own words
Although the trunk is very interesting, it is quite difficult to turn this tree into a design that ideally portrays a large mature tree. The stump is too bulky, so it is not easy to train the other physical elements to fit it in a proportional manner.Imagine the stump as a hill, and trees are growing here and there creating a unique composition.

Think out of the box! Make a rather “surrealistic” design…

Thanks to Pemphis which we can expect new shoots to easily grow, especially on the gnarled knots; then train every single shoot as a tree following natural phenomena as shown on the simulated picture below. The only tree to add separately is the one on the left bottom; or you can do without it if you prefer.

General comments
There is more than one way to design any bonsai and my critiques and recommended solutions might not always fit your taste and personal preferences, but I always try to give my opinion based on artistic and horticultural principles.

To understand my concepts better, please read my books Vision of My Soul (out of print) and Mission of Transformation which are available at Stone Lantern.



Robert's famous exploration of art and the art of bonsai

“It’s About Time We in the Bonsai Community Caught Up”


This majestic old pomegranate (Punica granatum) was styled by John Naka. After John died, his wife Alice donated it to the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum. Mr Naka was and is a major influence on Dave De Groot's view and practice of bonsai (more below on Dave).

Yesterday’s post resurrected an old debate that has been running on and off for years here on Bark and elsewhere. We’ve been calling it highly refined bonsai versus naturalistic bonsai. If you check the comments to yesterday’s post and earlier posts on the topic, you’ll get an idea of just how high passions run with this topic.

Which brings us to this post. Dave De Groot (bonsai artist, teacher and author of Principles of Bonsai Design) joined the discussion yesterday in the comments to one of the original posts on the topic, so I thought it might be a good idea to keep the discussion going and to include what Dave has to say in this post. Which, by the way, is an excellent treatise on bonsai and the history of art as it pertains to bonsai.

In Dave De Groot’s own words:
“I always enjoy the articles you post, and normally do so silently, as I rarely engage in online discussion. I do so this time only because you posted a subject comment from someone who shares my first name but not my point of view.

I am surprised and puzzled by the fact that the bonsai community is still chewing over a subject that the rest of the visual arts world put to rest almost a hundred years ago. The problem might be partially one of semantics, so I propose that instead of discussing whether a bonsai is “natural”  – whether produced in Japan, Taiwan, or the United States – we recognize that no bonsai is “natural”, no bonsai hides “the hand of man”. They are artificially dwarfed trees in pots, for Pete’s sake! It might be more useful to use the terms “realism” and “abstraction.” (continued below)…


A spread from Dave De Groot's Principles of Bonsai Design.

“All bonsai are suggestions of trees in nature, or most usually, of other bonsai. They are not perfect scale models, they are not photo-realistic images, they are all to some degree, abstracted images.

Bonsai such as Dan Robinson produces are certainly closer in many cases to realism in terms of the ancient trees he chooses to portray. The very beautiful and elegant Taiwanese bonsai at the head of your post is of a school that is more abstractedly sculptural, and unabashedly displays the technical skill of the artist in the precisely arranged dome of lush foliage that rests serenely (if rather incongruously) on the wildly contorted, stripped trunk.” (continued below)…


This is the Taiwanese juniper that Dave mentions above. It is one of many trees featured in his Principles of Bonsai Design. There's more on this tree here.

The point is that all bonsai are abstract, but they are abstract to different degrees, and in different ways. The degree or type of abstraction is not central to determining whether a given bonsai is effective as art; more to the point is whether it has something to say, whether it tells a story, whether it stirs emotions, whether it is admirable, whether it is beautiful.

The world of western painting moved from realism to impressionism in the 1870’s and into pure abstraction in the early decades of the 20th century. The days are long gone when the legitimacy or value as art of any of those styles is questioned. It’s about time we in the bonsai community caught up.”


Another spread from Dave's book, Principles of Bonsai Design.

Revisiting An Old & Still Relevant Bonsai Debate

B1GNARLYHINOKIHinoki cypress by Dan Robinson. From Gnarly Branches, Ancient Trees. An excellent example of a naturalistic bonsai.

I think it’s time to revisit a discussion that seems to provoke plenty of interest each time we bring it up (there were 35 comments to this post back in 2011 and numerous comments to previous posts on topic). It’s also timely given that Gnarly Branches, Ancient Trees is now back in print and Dan Robinson’s bonsai play a big part in the discussion.

A note about Gnarly Branches, Ancient Trees that I neglected to mention last post: By agreement with the publisher, we are not discounting this book. No point waiting around for a lower price.

Judging from your comments, the discussion about the virtues of highly refined Japanese bonsai vs a more naturalistic western style (championed by Walter Pall among others) is a topic that many of you are interested in.

I won’t say much here, but if you want to read an impassioned comment on the topic by someone named David (and my reply), check the comments on a post titled ‘Nature, Picasso & the Hand of Man‘.

To whet your appetite, here’s an excerpt from David’s comment: “To be fair and honest I don’t believe in “extremely” naturalistic views from artists like Walter Pall, Dan Robinson and a thousand European artists who “sell” this naturalistic approach to Bonsai. In the end they just look like they love the art but they can’t be real bored of wiring again and again and styling their trees for 20 years in a row searching for true perfection like TRUE Japanese Artists have done for more then a 1000 years.”

juniperAn excellent example of a highly refined Shimpaku juniper. By an unidentified Japanese bonsai artist. From our Masters' Series Juniper book (due back in print in November, 2015).


PallSpruceThis rather famous Norway spruce by Walter Pall has appeared in several places, including Bonsai Today issue 106. Walter is a strong proponent of the naturalistic style.


BT43 60% off Bonsai Today Back Issues
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Gnarly Branches, Ancient Trees is Back!


Gnarly Branches, Ancient Trees: The Life and Works of Dan Robinson – Bonsai Pioneer is back in print!

We’ve been waiting for this wonderful, ground breaking book to come back into print for a long time.

Gnarly Branches, Ancient Trees is surely one of the most important and beautiful bonsai books ever published. Will Hiltz, author and photographer elevates the art of book making, and Dan Robinson, bonsai artist and master, elevates the art of collecting, growing and styling bonsai.

Dan Robinson’s approach is uniquely his own and shows profound respect for trees, nature, art; the whole process that we call bonsai. Bonsai pioneer is a good choice of words to describe who Dan is. The Picasso of bonsai might be equally good.

I don’t know if you’ll ever see another bonsai book as wildly beautiful and unique as Gnarly Branches, Ancient Trees.


Korean hornbeam. We could have picked any one of over a hundred trees as wild and beautiful as this one (the rich fall color doesn't hurt either).



Hinoki cypress. Another of a multitude of quality photos that you'll find in Gnarly Branches, Ancient Trees. 

NOW Back in print and available at Stone Lantern. Gnarly Branches, Ancient Trees. Hardcover. 9 1/8″ x 10 1/4″ (23 x 26 cm). 284 pages. Well over 300 quality photos.


The three trunks rising from the fat and robust roots of this Japanese maple bonsai fan out…

summerJapanese maple in the fullness of summer. From the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum.

The other day we posted a Japanese maple (Yamamomiji) that we found online. At the time we didn’t know who the tree belonged to, but it didn’t take long for Michael Bonsai to clue us in. It’s from the Omiya Bonsai  Art Museum. The original fall photo is below.

Here’s what the Museum has to say, in a rather poetic fashion, about this powerful old tree: “The three trunks rising from the fat and robust roots of this Japanese maple bonsai fan out in the shape of a fan. During the months between the start of summer and coming of fall the branches of the tree grow thick with leaves as if to cover a great swath of land with its shade. In the autumn the changing of the leaves leaves the bonsai looking like a great red hill, which is the meaning and source of the tree’s name, Kouryou.”








Bonsai with Japanese Maples
On Special at Stone Lantern

Still Opulent, Outrageous & Outstanding

102 This Itoigawa Shimpaku (Juniperus chinensis 'itoigawa') by Dougie Smith qualifies as opulent for sure. Outrageous? Well there is that huge rock jutting up from the skinny little (but very handsome) pot. As for outstanding; that goes without saying. Note: I don't know what the smaller trees down low are. Maybe azaleas? Myrtle? This photo and the others in this post are by Philippe Massard, though I cropped them all to bring the trees closer.

A quick two day vacation and another dip into our archives. This one is from February 2014. I picked it to show a second time, primarily because of the tree above (not to downplay the other great trees). The size of the massive rock and the tree taken together relative to the size of the pot is unusual, to say the least. And it works.

All the photos in this post are from the Noelanders Trophy XV which was recently held last year in Belgium. The photos are all borrowed from Philippe Massard (cropped to bring the trees closer). The five chosen here are a drop in Philippe’s photographic bucket. I picked these five mostly because they are unusual. This is not to say that there weren’t numerous other unusual trees featured; Europeans seem to be on the cutting of edge of unusual bonsai these days.

Just in case anyone is ready to jump to any misunderstood conclusions, all three words in the title, Opulent, Outrageous and Outstanding, are meant in the positive sense. Opulent as rich rather than ostentatious. Outrageous as unconventional, surprising or even shocking, as opposed to very bad or wrong. Outstanding simply means outstanding, in every sense of the word.


A very uncommon, Common juniper (Juniperus communis) by C.Przybylski. Not very opulent, but outrageous for sure. And undeniably outstanding. Especially considering you almost never see good Common juniper bonsai (American bonsai artist, Nick Lenz provides some exceptions).


419This stubby Trident maple (Acer buergerianum) is by John Pitt. I'll guess that the excellent pot is also by John. The nebari most def qualifies as opulent, outrageous and outstanding, though such things are not uncommon on Tridents.


231Austrian pine (Pinus nigra) belongs to Mauro Stemberger. This one just might be my favorite. It and its wonderful pot qualify in every sense; particularly opulent and outstanding. We'll leave the outrageous up to you. BTW: great shadow, just in case you missed it.


97English yew (Taxus baccata) from the fertile mind and sure hand of Tony Tickle. Outrageous! Outstanding! Not so opulent (well, maybe the books). And then there's that excellent bridge type slab that the tree is clinging to. It's by Erik Križovenský. We've featured his innovative pot art here on Bark.





25% off all Bonsai Tools
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Additional 10% off orders 100.00 or more

Two Beautiful Bonsai & Two Questions

acerI would love to know more about this this powerful Japanese maple, especially the artist's name. I recognize the logo in the corner, but there are no credits with the photo.
Thanks to Michael Bonsai we now know this tree is from the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum collection.

NOTE: Since we posted this Oscar from Bonsai Empire has gotten in touch and very graciously thanked us for pointing out the problems. He came up with a solution to attribution and is working on other solutions. My thanks to Oscar and friends. I look forward to meeting you at the Artisans Cup.

Both photos shown in this post are from Bonsai Empire’s online gallery. There’s a lot to like about Bonsai Empire and we’ve shown photos borrowed from them over the years. Still, there are a couple things they do that might provoke questions.

Attribution. Bonsai Empire does attribute the bonsai artists on facebook but I wonder why they don’t bother to attribute on their online gallery. It would be easy for them and save a lot of trouble for those of us who would like to know who the artists are.*

Logo placement. Bonsai Empire puts their logo on photos that do not belong to them. As far as I know, they are the only ones in our bonsai community who do this. This strikes me as strange at best and I have to wonder how they justify this practice.

pallmapleThis Japanese maple belongs to Walter Pall. This and other photos of this famous tree have appeared in many places including Walter's website. The question is; what is Bonsai Empire's logo doing on the photo?

* In their online gallery Bonsai Empire states the following: “For the photocredits, check the Bonsai of the Day albums at our Facebook Page!” I tried this with both photos shown here, but gave up after five minutes of scrolling down through both their feed and photo galleries.


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truly an invaluable resource for any bonsai enthusiast