A Remarkable Transformaton by a Bonsai Artist Not Named Kimura


We don’t usually feature such grainy shots for our lead photo, but this is the best we could find of this remarkable tree (plus we blew it up to fit our format). It’s an ‘after’ photo of a Kishu shimpaku juniper by Steve Tolley.

When I first saw the before and after shots of this remarkable Kishu shimpaku, Master Kimura’s revolutionary transformations immediately came to mind (some examples of Kimura’s transformations are here, here and here). I won’t say much more; we’ll let the photos and Steve Tolley’s text (below) do the talking.



Here’s some of what Steve Tolley has to say about his extraordinary transformation of a somewhat ordinary tree:

“This is a juniper that had sat in my nursery for some time. Just an average piece of material sitting between many wonderful bonsai and yamadori material trees and going virtually un-noticed.

A number of visitors commented that it looked out of place in the nursery. I guess that they did not take the time to look at the trees styling possibilities with so many other seductive trees around.

It is the sort of tree you see in many nurseries. Quite tall and straight with a blob of foliage far away from the nebari. However it did offer several obvious styling options, and what follows is what we chose for this particular tree.”


Here are some ‘during’ photos. You can see all of photos and text here.

All of the photos in this post are from Steve Tolley’s website. You can also enjoy Steve’s bonsai on facebook.

Technical Skills, Great Vision & An Unsolved Mystery


After. By Salatore Liporace. It’s not in a bonsai pot yet, but in this case, who cares?

There are at least five things that struck me almost immediately about this tree. First, it’s a great example of a before and after bonsai. The before is full of challenges and promise (good stock is half the battle) and when you look at the after, it’s obvious that the artist (Salvatore Liporace) has done a masterful job of rising to the challenge.

Second, there’s the exceptionally strong and vividly colored living vein and the way it wraps around and contrasts so well with the deadwood. This is the type of distinguishing feature that sets a great bonsai apart from an ordinary bonsai.

Third, in the after photo the tree looks like a Juniper procumbens. The foliage even looks like a Procumbens ‘nana.’ If you know this type tree you know how rare good Procumbens bonsai are. And you know that such thick trunks are even rarer on Procumbens ‘nana.’ Was there grafting involved (see below)?

Forth, there’s the foliage. In the before photo all of the visible foliage looks mature. In the after photo, all of the visible foliage looks immature, Counter-intuitively, and unlike other junipers, immature foliage is a sign of good health on a Procumbens, while mature foliage is a sign of stress. Was the foliage grafted (and the stock isn’t a Procumbens at all*)? Or was it time and good care that caused the reversion to immature foliage?

Finally, if you look at the before photo there are no branches on the left side. If you look at the after photo it looks like there are three branches and part of the apex on the left side. The requires good vision and a bit of wire wizardry. Or, as mentioned above there could be grafting involved. Either way, the technical skills and vision that accomplished all this are undeniable.


Before. *The more I look at this tree, the more I think it’s not a Procumbens at all. There doesn’t seem to be even one shoot of immature foliage anywhere, something you would expect on any Procumbens.

Bunjin Creds


Caption from 2012: I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a bunjin style bonsai in such a deep pot. You almost always see them in shallow round or near-round pots. No problem though, this one works to perfection; a spectacular tree with a lustrous pot. I think the heavy foliage (unusual for a bunjin) helps balance the heavy pot (Message from 2014: I think it’s a stretch to call this tree a bunjin. Mostly because of the very robust foliage and the deep flashy pot. More below…).

It’s time to dig into our archives. This is one of our earlier Peter Tea posts, from January 2012. It’s titled, Eighty Two and Still Going Strong.

It occurs, from our sophisticated 2014 perspective, that you might question the bunjin creds of two of the trees shown here. Trees that we blithely referred to as bunjin at the time, without even a second thought. But those were more innocent days. Now, thanks to time and a little prompting from our friends, we might pause before we throw words like bunjin around (for more, you can check out the comments from the original post, one of which is copied at the bottom of this post).

Thanks again to Mr. Tea
The photos in this post are all courtesy of Peter Tea, our current favorite bonsai apprentice (nothing personal to the rest of our apprenti in Japan, it’s just that Peter keeps sending great stuff).

Meifu-ten, a show for hobbyists and collectors
It seems like most Japanese bonsai shows are for collectors and professionals, so it’s refreshing to see photos from a show that features collectors and hobbyists’ trees. Here’s some of what Peter has to say about the show: January 14-16 was the 82nd Annual Meifu-ten Bonsai show in Nagoya Japan. Meifu-ten is the second oldest show in Japan behind Kokufu-ten and this year exhibited over 170 trees. All the trees belong to hobbyists and collectors. The average attendance of for the three day show is about 7 thousand (Not too shabby!)…. here’s the rest.

7,000 per day!
In case you were wondering, bonsai is alive and well in Japan.

A very distinctive Kokonoe Japanese white pine. I’ve seen other trees with dominant first branches that seem to break bonsai conventions. but this one really goes out on a limb (so to speak). And then there’s that extraordinarily powerful lower trunk.

The original caption: Too sweet! It’s a Japanese red pine (in a traditional style bunjin pot). Updated now (2014): No doubt about this one’s bunjin credentials.

It’s not that most of the trees in the show are bunjin, it’s just that we’ve got a soft spot for them. This one’s a Shimpaku juniper. All the deadwood action around the base (and perhaps another feature or two), makes for a very unusual bunjin. (2014: this is the other one).

“What you call a bunjin style doesn’t pass the test for me as bunjin.
You are right to call attention to the too deep pot.
It almost works, because the foliage mass is also sizable.
The pot is nice.
The twisted trunk is great.
The foliage mass is well groomed and looks great.
My problem with it is putting them all together.
The trunk is too thin to visually support the mass of the branches and foliage.
The trunk is too thin to visually support the mass of the pot.
I would love to have this bonsai and would scratch my head over how to solve the dilemma.
A pot about half the depth would solve half of the problem.
How to manage the other half without ruining the bonsai would be the harder problem to solve.”

Alan Walker, from the comments to the original post.

The Time of Your Life (In Chicago)

C7Usually I don’t like distracting backgrounds, but the vertical lines in this display aren’t too bad. It doesn’t hurt that the tree is so powerful. It looks like a Yew, but there’s no verification with the photo. I found it at Michael Bonsai on facebook.

Time to head to Chicago. Speaking of, you might be too young to know the song Chicago. It was written in 1922 and was recorded by a number of artists. The most famous version is by Frank Sinatra (1957). Anyway, whenever the I hear about Chicago the song immediately pops into my head. Fortunately, there are a lot worse songs, so no complaint.

All this has little to do with bonsai. Except the part about Chicago. Turns out the Midwest Bonsai Show at the Chicago Botanic Garden starts this weekend. All the photos shown here are from the show setup. I took the liberty to crop and fiddle with the brightness/contrast. My apologies to the photographers.


This has to be one of the most powerful trees in the exhibition. It’s a formal pine that belongs to Bill Valavanis. I couldn’t find a mention of the variety. The photo is also Bill’s.


Is this two headed monster a Korean hornbeam? Or…? Anyway, it’s a great tree. Like a lot of bonsai it’s got that very low branch that some people might remove. Photo by Michael Bonsai.


Good Ginkgos are few and far between. This is the second one we’ve featured in the last few days. Photo by Michael Bonsai.


If you visit Japanese or European bonsai exhibitions, you almost never see tropical bonsai. Here in the U.S. we have some subtropical zones where it’s easy to grow tropical trees. Most notably much of Florida and parts of California. My guess is this Willow leaf ficus is from Florida. Photo by Michael Bonsai.


I don’t know what kind of pine this is but the bark could be Ponderosa, though I think the needles are a little small for Ponderosa. Maybe it’s a Lodgepole? Photo by Mark Field.



Nice Shimpaku. Photo by Michael Bonsai.

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A Good Start…


Horst Heinzlreiter’s caption for this seductively shot photo says ‘Acer buergerianum sitting in a pot from my studio.’ I took the liberty to crop a bit to emphasize the tree and pot (the original is at the bottom of this post). All the photos in this post are from Horst’s facebook photos.

If you’re one of our ten million Bark followers, you know by now that I’m a fan of Horst Heinzlreiter’s pots. The evidence is overwhelming (here, here, here and so forth…). But most of this evidence is just about his pots.

Even though Horst’s pots do stand by themselves quite well (in fact,  many are so distinctive that you would be hard pressed to find just the right tree or companion), let’s take a look at some pots with living plants this time. There are many more to be found in Horst’s facebook photos, still these should suffice as a good start.


This one appears twice on facebook. First time no caption. Second time says ‘customer pic.’



This one says ‘Shun-Ten. At Neues Stadtmuseum.’



This one is titled Kusamono – Nadler Klaus.’



Good Ginkgos are few and far between. This one says ‘Customer pic – PROBST Alex (Germany).’



Here in the states, most people view dandelions the way you might view the Ebola virus. Lawn plagues. But not everyone (when I neglect mowing my lawn is a tapestry of small flowers, including dandelions). Editorial aside, this one says ‘Customer pic – Reiner Goebel (Canada).’



Like the dreaded Dandelion just above, this one says ‘Customer pic – Reiner Goebel (Canada).’


HorstThe uncropped original of the photo at the top of the post. 


An ‘on topic’ word from our sponsor. This photo shows just a small sampling of our NEW Yixing Bonsai Pots.


Time and the Ravages of Nature


This after photo by Juan Andrade is a very good example of a field grown bonsai that is grown and styled to look like a yamadori (bonsai collected frm the wild). Though this is a very sweet little tree that might at a glance fool someone, still, there is something about true yamadori that is impossible (almost impossible?) to mimic. Even in the hands of someone as skilled as Juan (and whoever originally grew and styled this tree).

This post picks up on Field Grown Bonsai that Look Like Yamadori from last week.


Here’s the before photo.


You don’t have to look very closely to see what time and the ravages of nature can do. There’s is simply no way to completely mimic this effect with field grown bonsai, though, if you’re really good, there is a lot you can do (stay posted). This magnificent little tree is a Bristlecone pine that was posted on facebook by Jean-Paul Polmans.


The Cedar on the cover of Nick Lenz’ classic Bonsai from the Wild is NOT field grown.


Time to Celebrate…


The sky blue pot is the perfect compliment to the light pink flowers on this powerful Satsuki Azalea that resides at the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum in Washington DC. There are a multitude of cultivars in the Satsuki group of azaleas. This one is a ‘Nikko.’ It was donated to the museum by Masayuki Nakamura.

It’s time to celebrate our National Bonsai and Penjing Museum once again. If you are anywhere near our nation’s capital, or plan on being anywhere near, don’t miss this phenomenal display. Even if you have no plans on being near Washington DC, you can always make new plans. You won’t be disappointed.


This photo was lifted from a Capital Bonsai blog post on winter silhouettes. Here’s their caption: “Three point display with Trident Maple. In training since 1895. Donated by Prince Takamatsu. Mt. Fuji scroll and Japanese Blood Grass.”


This closeup highlights the shadow play.


This brilliant Japanese Maple was donated to our National Bonsai and Penjing Museum by Ryutaro Azuma. It has been in training since 1906. The photo like the two above, is from Capital Bonsai.



A truly distinctive tree showing off its fall colors and much more. Here’s Capital Bonsai’s caption… “Trident Maple, Donated by Stanley Chin, Age Unknown.”



115 years in training! This dignified old Zelkova serrata lives at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum. It was donated by Yoshibumi Itoigawa and has been in training since 1895. My apologies for the fuzz, but still and undeniably great tree. 


Goshin by John Yoshio Naka. This famous bonsai resides at the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum in Washington DC. Photos will never do it justice. It is huge (about 1 meter tall – just over 3 feet) and is so dramatic in person that it seems to vibrate with power. This photo, by Peter Bloomer is originally from Timeless Trees by Peter and Mary Bloomer. It also appears on the cover of Bonsai Today issue 93, an issue that features a tribute to the life and works of John Naka.



Field Grown Bonsai that Look Like Yamadori


After. This sweet little Shimpaku and the one below were posted on facebook by Bjorn Bjorholm. The before photos for both trees are at the bottom of the post.

Before I make another mistake and look foolish in the process, here’s my disclaimer for this post: I don’t know for a fact the origin of the bonsai shown here. Much of what I have to say below is simply conjecture. 

Lately I’ve been noticing field grown bonsai stock that look like yamadori (bonsai stock collected from the wild). More accurately, the best look almost like yamadori. I believe that’s the case with the two before and after bonsai shown here (both were transformed by Bjorn Bjorholm). Here’s why:

First, the quality wild Shimpaku in Japan have long ago been collected and are very expensive. As a result, most have fallen into the hands of wealthy collectors or people like Kimura and other great Japanese masters. Also, for some reason the old yamadori shimpakus tend to be larger than the trees shown here. I’m not sure why, but this seems to be the case.

Second, though the bonsai shown here are excellent, they don’t quite look like Yamadori. Very good to be sure, but something is different.


After. Tree number two. The before photo is at the bottom.


This is the before shot of the tree at the top of the page.


Here’s the before shot for tree number two . 

Bonsai in Hand (Worth Two on the Bench)


Perfectly small and just perfect. The artist (Haruyosi) doesn’t mention the variety, but the leaves look a bit like Nothofagus gunnii.

This is our second Bonsai in Hand post this summer. Without belaboring the point, one of the bests ways to show size is to provide something for contrast. In the case of small trees, nothing works quite as well as the human hand.

All the bonsai shown here belong to Haruyosi. We’ve featured his trees in the past and will no doubt feature them in the future.


Japanese wax tree (Toxicodendron succedaneum). The red and green leaves contrast well with the yellow pot. BTW, brilliant yellow pots like this one are quite rare.


You don’t often see four trunks in Japanese bonsai as odd numbers are almost always preferred. No problem though. No name either.


The world’s smallest root-over-rock Trident maple.


I have no idea what this strange and wonderful plant is.


No name is given with sweet little companion, though it looks quite familiar.


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