All You Need Is the Right Pot and Just a Touch of Art

KTT2This unusual gem is part of an excellent selection of Kusamono from Tony Tickle's garden. In Tony's own words... "I have a large collection of dwarf Hostas, these flourish in my rather damp garden, in summer the other Kusamono come into flower and leaf. Here are a few they include Astilbie, Thrift and sedums. Most of the Pots are from my friend Dan Barton but there are pots from Gordon Duffet and many other European Potters." Five of the nine photos in this post are Tony's.

It’s summer, the sun is shinning for a change and my bonsai and gardens beckon, so we’ll take a quick trip back to April of last year.

One of the great things about companion plants (Kusamono or Shitakusa) is that they don’t need the same high degree of technical skill that quality bonsai require. What is needed is the right pot and just a touch of art. The right plant too. Though if you pay attention, the right plant exists almost everywhere in the wild or even in your garden. As well as nurseries, flower shops and similar places.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say. Kusamono (literally “grass thing”) and shitakusa (literally “undergrass”) are a potted collection of plants designed to either be viewed in accompaniment with bonsai, or alone. Normally the term kusamono is used when the planting is displayed as the center of attention, while the term shitakusa is used for plantings that accompany bonsai displays.[1] In contrast to underplantings (which are potted in with the bonsai), kusamono and shitakusa are displayed separately in special pots, driftwood, or even stones.

Plants used are typically moss, grass, lichen, small flowers, bamboo, or bulbs, that may heighten the beauty or reflect a certain season. While traditionally in Japan, plants gathered from mountains contributed to the bulk of companion plantings, modern use has extended to more creative and artistic design.

K6TT-500x463Another one from Tony Tickle's garden.


K110FB-500x336I like the casual look. Like a plant that colonized a broken pot that someone threw away. The photo is from an album titled Kusamono by Yoyoh Hernandez that was posted on facebook by Luis De Macedo Rodrigues.

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A Kusamono post is a strange place to advertise wire, but I'm trusting that most of our reader practice the art of bonsai. And anyone who does practice this magical art needs wire. Sooner or later (mostly sooner).


K2TT-500x452Another of Tony Tickle's. Sweet plant, great pot. I wonder who made it.


K7FB-500x393Brilliant flowers, nice pot. This colorful planting is by Delphine. It appears on her Paradise Express blog.


K5TT-500x500Tony again.


K4TT-500x336And one more from Tony's garden. This one has a lot to like. Not the least of which is the natural look that is enhanced by leaving the dead growth around the base and by the casual simplicity of the pot.


K8FB-500x330We've been showing and discussing red pots lately and this one most certainly qualifies. I would like see a plant more suited to the pot, but we'll take what we can get. The photo is from an album titled Kusamono by Yoyoh Hernandez that was posted on facebook by Luis De Macedo Rodrigues.


K3FG-500x352The somewhat understated plant is perfectly suited to the wonderfully wacky pot. The photo is from Delphine's Paradise Express blog.


b1willi1The definitive book on companion plants and bonsai display. Now only 9.95 at Stone Lantern.

The Art & Science of Watering – Especially in Summer

b1junwateringThis drawing is from our Masters' Series book; Junipers, Growing & Styling Juniper Bonsai (due back in print in November, 2015).

This will be the fourth time we’ve featured this post, but it’s summer now so the time is right.

The more you know about watering, the better.
Without timely, intelligent watering, any plant in a container is at risk. The more you know about watering, the better. BTW: A perfect complement to this post is a post about summer misting (hamisu) by Michael Hagedorn.



Photo from Shohin Bonsai by Morten Albek.


A good watering wand is a must. Especially if you have lots of trees to water.
Watering CansA good watering can is a valuable tool if you grow indoor bonsai and very useful if you only have a handful of outdoor trees.

Over the course of my thirty plus years working with bonsai the thing that most amazes me is how little some people know about watering (it has gotten better over the years, but still…). Brown thumbs abound.

One of the traits that people in the brown thumbed tribe share is a desire for easy answers. Don’t confuse me with valuable information, just tell me what to do. Or, in other words “how often do I water?” If this is your question, perhaps the best answer is: “how often do you drink a glass of water?”

Just a little plant science can go a long ways
Plants absorb most of their water and nutrients when the water content of the soil is around 20% to 50% of the available space. Available space is the space in the pot that is not taken up by solid matter. In other words, it is the space that can accommodate water and/or air. This space is found between soil particles and in pockets, holes and cracks within soil particles.

Skip this paragraph if you are easily confused:
Some sources use a percentage of total volume; if the soil takes 50% of the total volume and available space takes 50% (a pretty good ratio for bonsai soil), then you would say optimal water content is 10% to 25% percent of the total volume. This is the same as saying 20% to 50% of the available space.

If you water thoroughly, all the air is driven out of the available space. At that point the water content is 100% of the available space. If your soil drains properly, excess water will run out and the available space will contain a mixture of water and air.

Ideally, you want this mixture of water and air to quickly reach around 50% water and then slowly dry down to about 20% water. In other words, you want soil with excellent drainage and with good water retention at the optimal levels.

So, how often do you water?
How long soil holds water at optimal levels depends upon all kinds of things: your soil mix, size and type of pot, sun, heat, wind, temperature, time of year and health of the plant, to name a few. This goes back to the questions “how often do I water?” and “how often do you drink a glass of water?” You water when needed (when the soil is almost dry) and you drink when you’re thirsty.

Beware direct sun combined with wind
Just a heads up. Nothing dries soil faster than hot sun and wind. Especially together.



Trees don't necessarily dry down at the same rate. Skip the ones that are still wet and water the ones that are dry or almost dry.

Soak thoroughly when you water
In order to dispel all the old stale air and to assure the soil is thoroughly watered, make sure you soak the soil when you water.

Then wait until it’s almost dry to water again
To assure that the water/air mixture goes through the optimal range for water and nutrient retention, wait until the soil is almost dry before you water again (there are occasional exceptions, but that’s for another time).

Soil is key
So, for the two of you who have read this far, it should be clear that good soil is one of the keys to bonsai health. Without complicating matters by going into the numerous soils on the market, if the soil you are using doesn’t allow for good drainage while providing some water retention at optimal levels, then it’s time to try a better soil (you might consider our Masters Bonsai Soil).



More Bonsai Color & a Snake About to Strike


This is one of those azaleas that would look good even without the flowers. Speaking of the flowers, I suspect the photo has been shopped a bit as the color is a little too bright. You can find this and the other four photos shown here (along with a couple dozen others) at the Akademia Bonsai web gallery.

We’ve been featuring a lot of color lately, especially Satsuki azaleas in bloom and the response has been very positive, so here are a couple more azaleas for your enjoyment and some fall color as well (apologies for those of you who don’t want to think about fall just yet).

All the bonsai shown here are from Academy Bonsai in Warsaw Poland (Akademia Bonsai – Centrum Bonsai Wroclaw). Unfortunately, the individual trees don’t have captions (there is also the language issue, though Free Translation does offer Polish), so we’re still left to guess about the variety and the artist, though thanks to a little detective work, we know that at least three of the trees in the gallery are by Wlodzimierz Pietraszko (one is below).


Another azalea. It's probably a safe guess is that both this one and the one above are Satsuki azaleas, but I can't be sure about the Satsuki part, as there are no captions.

 We are increasing our Bonsai Wire Sale to 25% off
Plus another 10% for Stone Lantern orders 100.00 or more


Fall color rather than spring this time. I'm going to guess hornbeam.



Nice tree and an easy guess; a Japanese maple in fall color (with unusual lighting).



Not so colorful, but a distinctive and interesting tree (a snake about to strike?). It's the one by  Wlodzimierz Pietraszko that we promised you. It's a juniper of some sort in the Literati style, though the crown is a little robust for Literati.

We are increasing our Bonsai Wire Sale to 25% off
Plus another 10% for Stone Lantern orders 100.00 or more


Just in case you are one of the two people who might be interested… Due to a problem at the factory, we just received our early spring wire shipment a week ago. Our mid-spring order is still on the ocean. So here we are with a ton of bonsai wire and the spring season is over. This is our loss and your gain.

Adventures in Bonsai


This splendid Mugo pine with its impressive deadwood belongs to Walter Pall. You can find it on his blog, Bonsai Adventures. It was collected in Switzerland by Peter Thali in 2003. It is 60cm (24") high and according to Walter, about 150 years old. The pot is by Derek Aspinall.

Even though more and more bonsai action is moving to facebook, there are still a number of excellent bonsai blogs out there in our digital wonderland, and Walter Pall’s Bonsai Adventures is one of the very best. How Walter puts together, styles and maintains such a vast and impressive collection of bonsai, in addition to traveling, teaching and blogging, is a testament to a considerable talent and a remarkable work ethic.

The tree shown here is one (#14) of a series of Mugo pines on Bonsai Adventures.


The back. Sometimes the back just as easily could have been the front (and vice versa of course), but in this case, almost all the impressive deadwood is on the other side.



Before. For more photos of this tree and other remarkable bonsai transformations, you can visit Walter's Bonsai Adventures.

This is a great time to stock up on Bonsai Wire
We already have the best prices and now you can save even more.


20% off all Bonsai Wire. This means Kilo rolls are only 15.60
Additional 10% off orders 100.00 + means Kilo rolls are only 14.04
if your total Stone Lantern order is 100.00 or more

The same great deals apply to 500 gram rolls and 100 gram rolls

Choosing a New Pot – Oval or Rectangle?


Which pot would you choose for this Western juniper (please reply in the comments - Im trying to keep my email traffic down to 7,000 a day)? This and the other photos shown here are from a 2013 Boon Manakitivipart post.

Sooner or later every serious North American bonsai artist is influenced by Boon Manakitivipart (aka Bonsai Boon). For some this influence is face to face (if you’re lucky). Or indirectly though one of his students that now teach bonsai (Michael Hagedorn comes straight to mind, though there are others). And then there are his regular posts on facebook that are full of generous pointers and bonsai inspiration (lots of good meals too).

Speaking of pointers and inspiration, are you inspired to point out which pot you’d choose? If you are, please use the comments and share with everyone (my inbox might explode if you email me).




Tea, Poetry & Flowering Bonsai

Tea2Ume (Prunus mume) flowers. Once again we find ourselves borrowing from Peter Tea. This photo and the next three photos shown here are from a post of Peter's that provides a sweet moment's glimpse into a small private bonsai show. Something you don't see everyday.

Can’t go too long without borrowing from our archives (and indulging our passion for flowers). This one is from March 2013. At that time Galway Kinnell was still alive and writing and reading his poetry. I had the pleasure of meeting him at a poetry reading couple years ago through a good friend who was his personal assistant the last few years of his life. I had just turned seventy at the time and he told me that the 70s are the best years of life… “because you know.”

“The last memory I have
Is of a flower that cannot be touched…”

Excerpt from Flower Herding on Mount Monadnock, From A New Selected Poems by Galway Kinnell (Mariner Books). Galway was Vermont’s poet laureate from 1989 to 1993, a Pulitzer Prize winner and one of America’s greatest poets. He was also a true gentleman.


QuinceTea'Boke' flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa). This photo (also by Peter Tea) provides a peek at a piece of one of the many paintings that were featured in the aforementioned private bonsai show.

bokef'Boke' flower up close. Some people consider the colors of quince flowers to be among the purest of them all.

ChojubaiTea1Another quince from Peter's post. This one is a Chojubai (Chaenomeles japonica ‘Chojubai’). It's a strange little tree, but the flowers are undeniable.


chojubai1Many flowering bonsai are relegated to the back bench when they're not in flower, but this charming Chojubai is fully capable of standing on its own, flowers or no flowers (though best, of course, with flowers). This photo is from Micheal Hagedorn's Crataegus Bonsai.

Episode 2 of the Ginkgo Story

lakechichiI'm not so sure about the apex or the way it's so crowded in this photo, but I like the tree anyway. Especially that gnarly old trunk. It's a Chi Chi, a small leaf Ginkgo cultivar. As you can see, it's from Lakeshore Bonsai (Toronto area). Here's Lakeshore's caption: "Ginkgo biloba ‘chi-chi’, 7 years in development from imported raw material. Probably started as an air layer in Japan."

All of the sudden we’re interested in Ginkgo bonsai. I don’t have any, but if I find a good one…

I borrowed the following from an ofBonsai article by Heather Hartman:
“It is best to style Gingko based on their natural inclinations toward a column, or flame shape. Ginkgo can resent pruning, and as a result, many ginkgo bonsai have a similar look, due to how they show their dislike. Pruned branches are prone to dieback, either shortly after being pruned or the following winter. This can result in a heavy trunk with relatively few, upward facing branches. Twigs will grow in clusters from the branches. As the growth and replacement of branches is repeated over the years, it can result in interesting, gnarled areas on the trunk. Fortunately, not all shoots will dieback, but predicting which ones will and which ones won’t is nearly impossible.”



This one belongs to Dan Barton. I found the photo on ofBonsai Magazine. It and the photo just below are part of a Ginkgo article by Heather Hartman (a good read, especially if you like Ginkgo - see above for an excerpt).



Same tree as just above, different time of year and no moss covering the roots.


Ginkgo_biloba_2This eccentric Ginkgo with its rough bark, great taper and impressive hole (sabamiki) was sent to us by Calin from Italy. Would you remove the middle trunk?

 BT96wireNot a Ginkgo. Just a reminder that we just got a shipment in and all of our Bonsai Wire is 20% off this week. With an extra 10% off for orders 100.00 +.


Powerful Bonsai with Brilliant Deadwood


A great tree for a study in deadwood. It's a Juniper procumben from Luis Vallejo's website. I cropped the photo a bit, but you can see the full size original just below.

I just spent the last digital hour or so wandering around Luis Vallejo’s Bonsai Studio (Estudio de Bonsai) and his Bonsai Museum (Museo del Bonsai). Sometimes it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. Without raving too much about what Luis has been up to, we’ll just encourage you to pay him a visit (his website and his fb photos).

Given just how prolific Luis is, we need to narrow our focus for this post. So I’ve decided to feature two Junipers with great deadwood.


The tree above the way it appears on Luis Vallejo's website. I picked this tree because it's beautiful and because it shows truly remarkable deadwood. Not overstated but strong and in good proportion to the rest of the tree. And white! (blame it on lime sulfur). Sometimes when deadwood is too white it looks unnatural, but it works here. And then there's that snaky dead branch on the right.



A fuzzy deadwood close-up (mea culpa) with guy wires.

Tanuki? I don’t think the tree above is a tanuki (phoenix graft), but you can’t tell from the photos one way or the other. Many people frown on phoenix grafts, but some people accept them as a legitimate bonsai technique.



Powerful (to say the least) fluid sculpted deadwood with a strong living vein and some playful action lower right. This one is a Chinese juniper (Juniperus chinensis). Looks like the Shimpaku variety.

This could be the start of something… Stay posted, I think we’ll explore more of Luis Vallejo’s bonsai world over the next few days.



If you're interested in learning about deadwood, this new book by Francois Jeker is the place to go (short of a workshop with Francois, that is).


20% off all Bonsai Wire. While we’re on a commercial break, a large shipment of Bonsai Wire just arrived. We’ve been out of most sizes and know that there’s a bunch of you who have been waiting.


Bonsai Aesthetics Wire is back so what better time to have a Wire Sale. 20% off all our Bonsai Wire! Plus an extra 10% off on all Stone Lantern orders of 100.00 or more.

Pedro’s Bonsai (con su primo Carlos)

tropSweet tree, sweet pot. Pedro Morales says that it's a shohin size bonsai from his cousin Carlos C. Morales. The pot is Japanese. Glen Lord suggested that the tree is a type of Ixora. We originally featured it back in 2011.

For those of you who don’t know Pedro Morales, he’s a well known bonsai artist, teacher and author from Puerto Rico. It’s been a while since we featured Pedro’s bonsai. All but the tree at the top are his (cousin is close enough) and all are new to Bonsai Bark. Enjoy!


I like this Nea buxifolia's natural feel and smooth clean lines, which are echoed by the smooth simple lines of the pot. BTW: Nea is sometimes spelled Neea.


nea2This Nea groove reflects a natural growth pattern, with the oldest tree near the center and the smaller younger trees leaning out for light.


While we're showing Nea... I don't know if this is also a buxifolia, or another species (a quick web search didn't turn any other Nea species up, but the emphasis is on quick).


Another simple, clean tree in a smooth clean pot. This one is an Astromelia.



Pedro's Tropical Bonsai. Available at Stone Lantern. As long as we're talking business, we might as well remind you that our 20% to 30% off Site Wide Sale ends tonight.