Impressive & Improbable Root-on-Rock Bonsai


With bonsai, it's almost always the tree that dominates, even though the pot, (stone, slab or whatever) is considered a critical part of the whole. In this case however, it's the rock that elevates the planting to extraordinary. Or, you might say it's the rock and the way it's adorned by the wonderful old tree (along with the moss and ferns), that makes this planting extraordinary. The tree is a Japanese quince. The tree, rock and moss belong to David Benavente. This photo and the two just below are from facebook. You can also visit David's website.



In this close up the bark speaks of great age and the tree's precarious position and gnarled shape tell a story of hard times and survival.


pineHere's an equally impressive and improbable Benavente planting. The main tree, with it playful deadwood seems so relaxed and natural given its precarious position. It's a Scot's pine (Pinus sylvestris) and the others are Japanese quince (Chaenomeles japonica). As with the planting above, there are also ferns and moss. I'll guess the convex slab is man made. Speaking of convex, how does that fern underneath ever get enough light?


B1KIM2-61-500x641As long as we're talking about convex slabs, here's a famous Japanese white pine planting by Masahiko Kimura that happens to grace the cover of our also famous Kimura (aka The Magician) book.


Speaking of books, a quick word from our sponsor….


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Bonsai Train, Deadwood in Deadwood, How-to Tips

trainVive bonsai! Ever wonder why European bonsai events are so well attended? Thanks to Rosade Bonsai for this great photo.

It’s an archival day. It has been way too wet lately, and now the clouds have blown away and the sun is beckoning. Only a fool would spend the day in the office if he didn’t have too. This post is from 2012. I love the train and rest is pretty good too.


Deadwood in Deadwood. If you're ever near Deadwood South Dakota, visit Andy Smith at Golden Arrow Bonsai. Andy is known for his yamadori bonsai (bonsai collected from the wild) among other things. I consider Andy to one of a small handful of genuine collectors; people that collect with deep knowledge and respect and, as a result, a very high success rate. If you can't make it to Deadwood, you can at least enjoy Andy's excellent DVDs.


Tony Tickle. This extraordinary Hawthorn is the subject of a repotting and repositioning video by Tony Tickle.


Potomac Bonsai Association. There's something about Yews. Maybe it's how tough they are, or perhaps it's the luscious reddish wood. Or how they are so common in some places that you can often find older unwanted landscaping specimens for a great price (they don't mind heavy pruning, though the fiercely dense wood puts up a good fight). But what really gets me is the spectacular brilliant new yellow-green growth that pops up every spring.



Brooklyn Botanic Garden. A piece of the BBG bonsai collection. It's a trip worth taking. Especially if you are one of the millions who lives within an hour or two of Brooklyn. BTW: BBG publishes one of the few books available on Growing Bonsai Indoors.


Doing it right. Want a little refresher on the ins and outs of wiring your bonsai into a pot? These two photo are part of an excellent post titled How to wire a bonsai pot, over at Bonsai Tonight. 


Kabudachi Goyomatsu (Clump style Japanese white pine). I like the natural, uncontrived feel of this old pine clump bonsai. It's from Michael Bonsai on facebook.
Screw it! If you look at the very center of the photo on the left, you'll see a Phillips-head screw (the Japanese call this a 'plus' screw) inserted into the trunk of an old Japanese black pine. Once you see that, the photo on the right is self explanatory. Both photos are from a Peter Tea post titled 'Pushing the Limit.'



Our very large wire sale is over , but don't despair, we just started an equally large Book Sale. 25% off Bonsai Books & DVDs, Japanese Gardening Books & other books as well.

An American Bonsai Celebration

goshinGoshin 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 almost 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.

Four times a tradition?
This is forth time for this post. The first time was March 2010, the second was September 2011. The third was Independence Day last year and now it’s it’s that illustrious day once again, so the timing seems right; though it’s always a good time to celebrate our National Bonsai and Penjing Museum and John Naka’s legacy, and always a good time to remember that “There are no borders in bonsai.”

No borders in bonsai
Helen Searle recently (way back in 2010) sent us some photos that she took at the National Arboretum. I picked a few that I thought you might enjoy, including the plaque below by John Naka. The only photo in this post not by Helen is Goshin (above).


nobor31Another very famous bonsai.

Photographing Bonsai – Which Background Is Best?


Background #1. This exceptional Mugo pine belongs to Walter Pall. The pot is by Peter Krebs. For more on this tree and others you can visit Walter's Bonsai Adventures blog.

If you’ve been following Bark for a while, you might have noticed that we have long advocated paying attention to the quality of the photos you present and that just shooting willy-nilly with little concern about background noise, lighting, space around the tree and so forth, diminishes the beauty of even the best bonsai.

Walter Pall grows and styles great bonsai and goes the extra distance when it come to photographing his bonsai. He is also the only bonsai artist I know of who routinely shoots his bonsai with two or more different backgrounds.

Ignoring for the moment that not all the photos were shot at the same stage of the tree’s development (and other differences), try to focus on just the background and let us know your preference. Feel free to elaborate (please don’t email me, rather put your remarks in the comments).



Background #2.


mugo 3

Background #3


mugo 4

Background #4


Summer 2005

Background #5


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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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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.


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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.

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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.

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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).