Time to Come Back Home


The National Award for the Finest Bonsai Masterpiece. Japanese Black Pine, by Scott Elser of Portland, Oregon.

It’s vacation time so we’ll resort to borrowing from our archives. I picked this one from January 2013 for a couple reasons: it’s time to come back home after six straight post featuring European and Asian bonsai and our the 4th U.S. National Bonsai Exhibition is coming soon, so I’m hoping that this will provide a little encouragement to those of you who are on the fence.

BTW: I was at the last National Exhibition, and even though Bill and his crew took great photos, photos can never do justice to bonsai up close and personal. If you’ve never seen a live show of specimen quality bonsai, I highly recommend that you start packing for Rochester.

Here’s the original post from 2013

For the whole scoop and photos of all ten winners, Bill Valavanis has posted the winners and his comments on the Internet Bonsai Club. The three images shown in this blog have been lifted from Bill’s post. Stay posted here for more on the winners.


Deciduous Award for the Finest Deciduous Bonsai. Japanese Maple by Suthin Sukolosovisit of Stoughton, Massachusetts.


Ho Yoku Award for the Finest Western Display. Japanese Maple by Joseph Noga of Winterville, North Carolina.


This closeup wasn’t in the original. Just thought you might you might be able to better appreciate the power and unusual movement of the trunk this way.


Though we long ago sold out of volumes 1 and 2, we still have some threes left at Stone Lantern.

Generalizations Can Also Be Odious


I am struck with the open and relaxed elegance that this pine displays. I wonder what would happen if the relatively heavy first branch was removed. Would it enhance the open elegance or would it rob the tree of its uniqueness? Like all of the photos in this post and the previous two posts, this was taken by Sandor Papp at the 2014 Noelanders Trophy (I cropped most of them to emphasize the individual trees rather than the displays). There was no caption with this tree, so we don’t know who it belongs to, nor do we know the species.

This is the third and final post in a series that started last week with Comparisons Are Odious, But Still… Like the other two in the series, all of the photos are from Noelanders 2014 and were borrowed (most were cropped) from the Bonsai Blog of Sandor Papp.

I was going wrap this series up by saying something about appreciation of the arts in Europe versus the U.S., but I have nothing but opinion to back me up and like comparisons, generalizations can also be odious.

What I do believe to be fact is, the number of people that attend bonsai shows in Europe greatly exceeds the numbers in the U.S. (and Canada). But rather than doing the research to confirm this belief, I think I’ll just relax and enjoy my European vacation (Iberian vacation is more accurate; I’m enjoying  Porto, Portugal right now and will soon move on to the Galician coast of Spain).


Trident maples (Kaede in Japanese) are often all about nebari and this one is no exception.

nwinnnerThis one just says ‘Winner Kifu’. Like most of the other photos in this post, it was cropped to bring the tree closer.

nyellThe yellow flowers are great, but what really caught my eye is the slab. There are no dimensions given, but you can tell it’s an unusually large piece of an unusually large tree. The bonsai is a Jasminum nudiflorum.

noakPart of the reason to show this massive old deciduous Oak is the great shadow dance. The other part is the massive old deciduous Oak itself, with its bark, taper, flowing lines and all the rest.


There are so many other great photos we could steal from Sandor, but we’ll leave you with this eccentric old European larch. No artist mentioned.


Bonsai Stock & Increasingly Severe Restrictions

pallThis impressive and rather massive Mugo pine belongs to Walter Pall. Like the other photos in this post (and the last post) it was taken at the 2014 Noelanders Trophy by Sandor Papp.

Continued from our last post…
One reasons European bonsai is more developed than North American bonsai is more relaxed import regulations. Much of the high quality stock that has appeared in Europe over the last fifty years or so originally came from Asia.

Though some high quality stock has been imported into North America, the U.S.has always had more restrictive plant import laws and over the last few years the situation has actually worsened with increasingly severe restrictions on imported plants.

Lately more quality bonsai stock is being grown and collected from the wild in both Europe and North America, but these things require skill and time. Meanwhile, imported stock offers a short cut to quality bonsai.

We’ll continue this discussion in our next post…


This powerful root-over-rock Spruce belongs to John Pitt. In addition to being a bonsai artist John is also an accomplish potter, so we’ll take a wild guess that the pot is also his. BTW: the variety of Spruce isn’t mentioned, but I think there’s a good chance that it’s a European spruce (aka Norway spruce, Picea abies).

john armitageKifu display by John Armitage. Kifu is a Japanese term that refers to medium size bonsai (roughly 20 cm to 40 cm tall). It’s hard to tell what the tiny plant is, but the other two look like Shimpaku and Quince. 

john armitageCUA fuzzy closeup of John Armitage’s Shimpaku from the photo above. I wonder if the stock was imported from Japan or Taiwan, or is home grown European. Maybe someone will clue us in.

stewartiaI was just going to show trees with the artist’s name attributed, but I couldn’t resist this lovely Stewartia with it’s remarkable nebari, trunk and ramification. I wonder if the stock comes from Europe or Asia. 


Here’s another unattributed tree that I couldn’t resist. Sandor’s only comment is ‘one of my favorites.’ I wholeheartedly concur.


All of the photos in this post and our previous post are from The Bonsai Blog of Sandor Papp.

Comparisons Are Odious, But Still…

stem2European black pine (Pinus nigra) by Mauro Stemberger. I took the liberty to crop this photo (the uncropped version is below) and to brighten it up a bit (the other photos in this post too). All of the photos here are from The Bonsai Blog of Sandor Papp.

The bonsai shown here all appeared at the 2014 Noelanders Trophy in Belgium. The photos were taken from The Bonsai Blog of Sandor Papp. They represent a small sampling of Sandor’s Noelander’s photos.

Whenever I see photos of the some of the best European bonsai I can’t help but compare them with the best North American bonsai. Even though it is oft said that comparisons are odious (this great old quote is most often attributed to John Lydgate). But then, some comparisons are more odious than others. I’ll leave it to you to decide about this one (to be continued in our next post…). Meanwhile, enjoy the photos!

ferrariI really like this wild old Buxus (boxwood), even though the photo is a little fuzzy. I like the pot too and it seems pretty good with this tree, though I wonder if an oval pot that is a little longer and a bit shallower might be even better? Sandro’s caption says the tree belongs to Mugo Ferrari, but I think the name is Enzo Ferrari.

vallejoAnother great tree. The caption says Juniper procumbens by Luis Vallejo. You might notice the shadow play on the wall. It’s on the others too, just in case you missed it.

iglesiasThis magnificent tree with it’s wild and wonderful deadwood belongs to Andres Alvarez Iglesias. The variety isn’t listed.


You can see all of the shadow play in this upcropped version of the tree at the top of the post.

A Dilemma We’d All Like To Have


These two views of the same tree and the question posed (below) are from Tony Tickle’s website.

The tree shown here belongs to Tony Tickle. It’s a Yew (the species isn’t mentioned, but I’m guessing English). You can find it on Tony’s Bonsai & Yamadori site under the heading Please choose your favorite ‘Front’ for this Yew.

If you visit Bonsai & Yamadori you can vote for your favorite front (aka best view), and, if you’re really ambitious, you can explain yourself in the comments (you can do the same in our comments below).

Meanwhile, I’ll keep my opinion to myself. Except to say it’s a dilemma we’d all like to have.




Daring & Over-the-Top Brilliant


Daring and brilliant. I think the daring part is combining such a strong and unique pot with such a brilliant little flowering tree. Each could stand on its own, no problem. But together the brilliance is multiplied.  This photo and the other photos in this post are from Machiko Koide’s timeline on facebook.

I don’t know much about Michiko Koide and google didn’t help. All I could find is her facebook timeline. Turns out, based on the photos, that’s plenty



These pots are most excellent, with or without little trees.


The two handed approach (see our last post). 


Contrast in trees and pots, but both very sweet. I’m guessing that the tree on the right is a Cryptomeria (Japanese cedar). The Shimpaku is too easy.


Feast your eyes and then imagine what you could do with such a brilliant selection of pots.

A Bonsai in Hand


It’s not unusual to see a photo of someone holding a small bonsai in one hand. However, you almost never see a photo with someone holding a bonsai with two hands. Until now that is. This two handed approach gives the feeling that the tree (a rather spectacular Shimpaku) is being offered. This photo and the others in this post are from Japan Shohin Bonsai.

One of the problems with photographing bonsai is conveying size. The easiest and perhaps best way is to provide something familiar for contrast.

It used to be fairly common to see bonsai with cigarette packs before smoking fell out of favor (you still see them occasionally in places where smoking is more accepted). You also sometimes see soft drink cans, though soft drinks are also starting to fall out of favor (like cigarettes they are unhealthy and a waste of money). Either way, cigarette packs or soft drink cans, the effect is distracting and shows a lack of respect for the natural beauty of the bonsai.

Which brings us to hands. One of the great things about hands is they are always available (close at hand). Another plus is they tend to look good. And then there’s the natural relationship between hands and the art of bonsai. The only downsides I can think of are, they don’t work with large bonsai and it takes two people to create the photo (you could struggle to photograph with one hand while holding the bonsai with the other, but my guess is the best shots involve two people).

Before I shut up, just want to say how happy I am to have discovered Japan Shohin Bonsai. Not only are their trees super top notch, but they are so well photographed. There are few things better in our online bonsai world than well-photographed top notch bonsai.


Another two handed offering. This one looks like a Needle juniper (Juniperus rigida).


 This little Japanese maple only needs one hand. I like the trunk a lot and of course, there’s that sweet little pot.


We’ve shown this lovely maple before, but a two minute search came up blank.


No hands here, but I couldn’t resist.



Speaking of Shohin Bonsai, this Stone Lantern book will take you a long ways in developing your shohin bonsai and your appreciation of the art. And the price is right.

The 4th U.S. National Bonsai Exhibition Is Fast Approaching


The tree is nice, but it’s really about the flowers. As you can see, there are three distinct flower colors on this tree. Though quince are known for the brilliance of their flowers and multiple hues are not uncommon, still, you don’t see many with three distinctly different flowers on one tree. This and the rest of the photos in this post belong to Bill Valavanis. You can find them and others on his Bonsai Blog.

Bill Valavanis’ 4th U.S National Bonsai Exhibition is fast approaching, so this seems like a good time to remind you of just how important it is for bonsai in North America (and beyond). It’s not too late to sign up. My guess is you’ll be happy you did.

While we’re at it, we haven’t featured Bill’s bonsai for a while so this seems like a good time to enjoy a few. You can find these and more on Bill’s excellent bonsai blog.


Bill famous Koto Hime. It’s not common to see Japanese maple varietals which such powerful trunks. At least in my experience. BTW: this is not the first time I’ve used the term ‘Bill famous Koto Hime.’ The last time was for a different tree that, though quite powerful, is not as strong as this one. I suspect that one of them is the parent (I think Bill told me that about twenty years ago). My guess is that it’s this one.

korean Magnificent colors. Great trunk. Beautiful pot. Enough said.


Another Hornbeam. Not as colorful or as powerful, but more stately. You might notice the excellent nebari and the striking striated bark.


The 4th U.S. National Bonsai Exhibition is coming soon. If you haven’t signed up yet, this is a good time. The dates are September 13 and 14. As always it’s in Rochester NY and as always, it promises to be one of the best and most important bonsai exhibitions in the U.S. and beyond. The details are here.

Heavy Crowns & Wordy Captions


Based on the photos from Sandor Papp’s blog, this, or the tree just below, might be my exhibition winner (the actual winner is at the bottom of the post). It’s unusual to see this much deadwood on a deciduous or other broad-leafed bonsai, but then Privets are tough trees (Ligustrum vulgaris in this case). Speaking of deadwood you might notice the impressive sabamiki (Japanese for hollow trunk – plural in this case). The unique, well-chosen pot is also worth a mention.

The trees shown here appear on the Bonsai Blog of Sandor Papp. The occasion is the recent bonsai exhibition in Wroclaw Poland. I’m assuming that Sandor took all of the photos (we’ve presented just a small sampling here). The excessively wordy captions are all mine.

Sandor Papp’s name popped up in our last post and though I’ve know of Sandor for years, we’ve never featured him on Bark. In this case, it’s Sandor’s blog rather than his trees we’re featuring, but we’ll get to his trees soon enough.



This powerful flowering Hawthorn by Richard Chambers (artists are mentioned with some trees but not with others) provides another example of deadwood on a deciduous tree. There is plenty to like about this tree, including the flowers, the taper, the fluid movement and particularly the two-trees-in-one effect, but you’ll need to ignore the arrow that’s trying to get you to look off to the left.



That’s some pretty impressive deadwood. It’s a Sabina juniper (no artist mentioned). It’s a fantastic yamadori, but I wonder if the crown could be opened up some. Especially considering that the deadwood tells a story of great abuse by the hostile forces of nature, while the crown speaks of fat times. Maybe the artist felt that it needs to be so dense in order to avoid being overwhelmed by all the deadwood…

winner copy

The actual winner. It’s a Tsuga (Hemlock, species not mentioned) by Harald Lehner. Unfortunately, the photo is a little dark, so it’s hard to appreciated the subtleties. What is easy to appreciate is the tree’s overall power, especially the  strong trunk. However (brace yourself), like the juniper just above, I wonder if the tree wouldn’t be better served by reducing and further opening up the foliage. Doing this might help accentuate the powerful trunk.