Inspiration for Backyard Bonsai Displays – #15


Bonsai with Koi. This is what could happen if you have the inspiration, space, time and money to build a pond in your garden. The shot is from Kunio Kobayashi's Shunkaen Bonsai Museum in Tokyo. The concrete display poles are made to look like tree trunks. This photo and all but one of the others in this post are borrowed from Bonsai Empire.

This is the fifthteenth post in our long-standing Backyard Bonsai series. However, if memory serves, this is the first time that we’ve shown commercial gardens that happen to be in backyards as part of the series. In this case, two large backyards that double as complete bonsai nurseries. There are other venues too, but you can see for yourself.

All the photos shown here, with the exception of the last one, are borrowed from Bonsai Empire. We’ve also borrowed some text (in quotes).


BYshunkaenHere's another shot of the famous Shunkaen Bonsai Museum/Garden. Oscar of Bonsai Empire describes it this way: "The garden is quite spacious and this is the center patio; around it the masterpiece trees are displayed on poles made of wood. Most of these trees are pines."



A little cluttered, but you do what you can with limited space. It looks like a classic (non-commercial) backyard with trees displayed around the edge of the yard.



Here's what Oscar wrote about this one: "One of the most beautiful Bonsai gardens in Japan, Taikan is located in Obuse. The trees in the photo catch the eye, as the background and ground are plain. The owner of the garden, Mr. Suzuki, is known for his great skill displaying Bonsai, so this is a garden to look at for inspiration. The trees are fixed to the poles they stand on, mostly to protect them from storms and heavy snowfall." I cropped this photo because I thought the rest was distracting. Here's your link to the original.



Here's a vertical display along a fence at the U.S. National Arboretum. You sometimes see them on walls as well (see below). The photo is by Aaron Karnofski.




Up against the wall! I borrowed this from Rosade Bonsai Studio website. We first showed it here on Bark in a 2010 post titled Backyard Bonsai #6: Un Patio Hermoso.


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Bill’s Bonsai Exploration


Infinity sign. A piece of a Japanese white pine trunk at the Shimpuku-Ji Temple in Japan. This and the other photos in this post are from Bill Valavanis' Bonsai blog.

The photos in this post are from Bill Valavanis’ 2015 Autumn Japan Bonsai Exploration (part 6). Bill has been posting loads of photos from the Exploration almost daily for the last week. The handful shown here represent a small fraction of the photos you’ll find on Bill’s blog.
Continued below…



Not a bad setting for a spectacular bonsai display.

Yesterday Bill and friends visited the Shimpuku-Ji Temple. In Bill’s own words:
“Our next stop for the day was in the nearby Shimpuku-Ji Temple, established in the 6th century. Now reduced in size, it still has a quiet beauty. The head priest Mr. Omura is a bonsai enthusiast and has one of the best collections of bonsai in Japan. Although not numerous, most are masterpiece bonsai creations of Saichi and Toshinori Suzuki.“Saichi and Toshinori Suzuki are the owners of Daiju-en Bonsai Garden which Bill visited earlier the same day.




Another impressive Japanese white pine. In fact, I'd venture to say one of the most impressive you'll see anywhere.



This old Japanese maple is no slouch either.



Pyracantha in full berry. The light blue pot provides the perfect contrast.



Looks like a Japanese black pine.



I'm torn between this Needle juniper and the thick white pine (third photo from the top) as the most impressive trees of this collection (taking nothing away from the rest). The abundance of floating cloud foliage pads are common on old Needle juniper bonsai.



The whole tree from the top of the post.




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Large Bonsai with Thick Trunks Are Nearly Always Developed in the Ground

H12We've shown this Harry Harrington privet before, but it's worth another look.

 I’ve long been impressed with what Harry Harrington has been up to. Both his bonsai techniques and the results, as well as his willingness to share what he knows (three books and a website full of useful techniques and other information). Yesterday it was a remarkable yew. Today it’s a field grown privet and an excerpt of an article Harry wrote on field growing. Both are from our archives.

One reason we’ve featured field growing so much is that the USDA restrictions make importing quality stock from Asia somewhere between difficult and impossible (Europe is a whole other story – it’s easier for them to import plants from Asia). This means that if we are going to develop quality bonsai stock in this country, we need to learn how to grow our own.


Harry's distinctive carving. If you compare this tree with the one in yesterday's post, you can't help but notice strong similarities.

The following text is from Harry Harrington’s, as are all the photos shown here.

Field Growing Trees For Bonsai by Harry Harrington
“A common misconception amongst newcomers to the art of bonsai is that trees (bonsai) with large, thick trunks must have had decades of training to become the size they are and that a thin-trunked seedling will one day acquire a thick mature trunk even though it is planted in a bonsai pot.

“Unfortunately, once a tree is growing in the confines of a small pot, with its roots restricted and upper growth regularly pruned, the trunk and branches of the tree will only thicken very slowly.

“Large bonsai with thick trunks are nearly always developed in the ground prior to being planted into a pot; some are purposely field grown, some are collected mature trees.

“As a tree develops new growth during the growing season, it lays down new wood to feed and supply its new shoots and leaves. The more new shoots and foliage the tree produces, the more new wood is developed to support this new growth. This new wood grows around the outer ring of the trunk and branches in an almost direct passage from the new shoots, back through the trunk to the root system, gradually increasing the trunk’s diameter. Therefore, the greater the amount of new growth a tree achieves in a season, the greater the increase in the girth of its trunk (continued below).


We first showed this raft style Privet back in 2011. We found it at Harry originally found it in a hedge.

A tree that is allowed unrestricted growth will always thicken faster than a tree that is pruned.
“The best way to promote unrestricted growth in any tree or shrub is to plant it into the ground; a large container is an alternative but not equivalent to growing in the ground. (This is chiefly due to the difference in dynamics of soil held within a container and that of a large mass of ground-soil; be wary of planting trees in overly large containers, this can in fact slow growth. See Overpotting).

“Field-growing techniques can be used within any area of ground, if an area of land is unavailable to you (as is often the case) trees can be grown on (and enjoyed) in the garden amongst ordinary garden schemes, as ‘temporary’ 5-10 year hedges or as ‘temporary’ garden specimens. It is also possible with a little work to build raised beds specifically for the purpose of field growing; raised beds can be walled with brick or wooden planks and filled with good quality soil.

“Any tree/shrub species can be used for field growing as long as it is hardy in your local climate. Native species naturally thrive in your local climate and will therefore respond to give the best results; other species will develop well but can take longer to establish in the ground before growing with real vigour.

“Any age or size of tree is suitable for field growing as long as it is well developed enough to compete with any grasses or weeds that might compete for light or moisture. Generally, cuttings, seedlings or saplings should be at least 2 years old before planting out unless you are able to cosset them for the first year.”

For more go to Field Growing Trees For Bonsai

harry11Here’s another Privet. Harry’s collected this one from a hedgerow. The melting pot is by Victor Harris.


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Evolution of Remarkable Bonsai


Harry Harrington’s latest iteration of his English yew. Here’s what Harry said about this tree three days ago: ” Finally, work on my Taxus baccata/ Yew bonsai completed with the branches wired and laid-out. Height 25″/61cm, trunkbase (inc root jin) 12″/30cm. Pot by Victor Harris of Erin Pottery.” 

I’ve been watching the evolution of Harry Harrington’s bonsai for a long time now. In fact, one of our first posts is from Harry’s bonsai4me (March 2009). Now, almost seven years later we have the (you can supply your own adjectives) tree shown here. It’s an English (aka European) Yew  (Taxus baccata).



Here's the earliest shot of whole tree I could find. From July 2013. Harry writes: " Update of my Yew bonsai, 57cm in height. Carving is finished for the time being; I'll carry out more refinement work on the deadwood along with branch placement in the autumn."


july2013cuIn this July 2013 before and after close up, Harry finds a solution to some extraneous roots (taken just before the shot above).



Sept 213. Most of us would stop here. New pot would be good and a little time for the foliage to fill out, but otherwise finished. At the time, Harry agreed (only to change his mind later): “Fully styled Taxus baccata/Yew bonsai. Height 25″/61cm, trunkbase (inc root jin) 12″/30cm I’m very excited to see what pot Victor Harris at Erin Bonsai can come up with for it!



May 2014. In Harry's own words: "I finally photographed my Yew in its new pot by Victor Harris of Erin Pottery / Bonsai on Sunday; Taxus baccata/ Yew bonsai, styled during September 2013 and repotted last month. Height 25"/61cm, trunkbase (inc root jin) 12"/30cm."




November 11, 2015. Harry again: "Update on the carving of my Yew bonsai (Taxus baccata) that I started last week. I've now refined, aged and lime-sulphured my initial work.
"The tree has settled down from its styling of 2 years ago, I have been able to establish the narrow live vein that meanders up the front of the trunk and carved the large panel of deadwood at the front of the tree.
All that remains now is to finish wiring and styling the foliage mass."



Another close up from November 11th, 2015.



November 20th, 2015 again. The broken pot effect provides an elegant solution to the lopsided nebari.


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Bonsai from Nothing

Royinsyah-SimulationRobert Steven's simulation of a tree that was submitted by David Royinsyah (below).

The following is from two years ago today (the first time I rehashed this post): “Even though I promised I wouldn’t do any rehashed posts for a while, my day is already full and it just happens to be my birthday, so I’m going to cut myself a little slack. Anyway, what better to rehash than a Robert Steven critique? This one originally appeared almost three years ago.”

After featuring a couple dozen of Robert’s critiques over the years, I’m still impressed. This one is quite unusual and particularly impressive. The stock is totally raw and not that interesting. Robert simply manufactured all the branching and the foliage from nothing and the trunks have been transformed from taperless sticks to what looks like naturally time-worn wood. He even created a new pot from scratch. Testaments to Robert’s vision and artistry.


David's original provides an usual challenge for Robert.

Robert’s comments

“Usually I only critique finished bonsai and not raw material. However, David Royinsyah sent me this photo to challenge me, because I often mention that I believe any material can be made into nice bonsai.

“Many people, including David, would consider this poor bonsai material, because the trunk lines are very straight with no taper and nothing seems to be interesting.

“I agree that this material can hardly be done into nice bonsai if we are thinking the “textbook” way with the 1-2-3-apex rules. No way to correct the taper and train an ideal apex with the 1-2-3 branching. But once we master the “transformation” concept (read my book Mission of Transformation), then we can easily simulate nature and turn this material into nice bonsai.

“In my opinion, this is ideal material for a triple-trunk design. The position and the size of the middle trunk is just perfect for the focal point, and the leaning motion of the front trunk nicely adds dimension to the front. Now, our job is to design the overall composition in a reasonable manner that follows horticultural clues.

“To handle the straight clear-cut trunk, let’s assume this tree used to be much taller with tapering trunks, but an accident happened that caused them to be shortened. Then this tree went through a transformation process to form its new shape. To simulate this, I would carve the tops of the trunks and create deadwood down the trunks to suggest the accident and simulate the aging process. At the same time, the shari will lend a tapering illusion. The dead apex and the shari will enhance the story and create beauty.

“Thanks to the fact that the tree is a Pemphis, we can easily expect new shoots from almost anywhere on the trunk and rapid growth in the training pot. This allows us to easily train new branches with the ramification shown in the simulation. A handmade pot will suit the design.

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.

“You can also visit my bonsai blog.”


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Boon’s Juniper Bonsai & Our Juniper Book

B1JUNBoonSierraThis Sierra juniper by Boon Manakitivipart is one of three trees by Boon that appears in the gallery section of our newly reprinted Juniper Masters' Series book.

Boon Manakitivipart (Bonsai Boon) is very well-known and highly respected bonsai artist and teacher (a teacher’s teacher). He also has the distinction of having three of his trees in our newly reprinted Juniper book. All three and a couple others appear here. Including one that is on the cover of our final Bonsai Today issue from way back in 2007.

At least four of the trees (maybe all five) shown here are yamadori (bonsai that were originally collected in the wild) and four of the five are from North America’s western mountains ranges (the Shore juniper just below is native to Japan and judging by the bark, is probably a yamadori).


This simple, natural looking tree is a Rough bark Shore juniper (Jun procumbens sp.). It's also by Boon and it also appears in our Juniper book.


boon1rocky mountain juniper

Though we showed this one yesterday, it completes the three Boon trees in our Juniper book, so we'll include it here as well. It's a Rocky mountain juniper with a very distinctive piece of deadwood hanging on the trunk.



This California juniper, also by Boon, is not from our Juniper book. We had well over a hundred choices for the gallery, so some very worthy trees were left off.


boon3sierra juniper 3

This one, also by Boon and also not in our Juniper book, does have the distinction of being on the cover of our final issue of Bonsai Today (issue 108). It's a Sierra juniper.



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Juniper Bonsai Book Is Back!


Our famous Juniper book is back. Just in time for the gift season and for your winter bonsai study sessions.

It has been thirteen months since we sold our last copy (number 5,000) of our Masters’ Series Juniper book. Too long really, but somehow time just slipped away. Anyway, we just got another 1,000 from the printer, so off we go. If you already own a copy, you can buy one for a friend (or, if you have more than one friend…).

boon1rocky mountain juniper

Rocky mountain juniper by Boon. From the gallery section of our Juniper book.



Developing fine branching over two seasons. From the Ramification chapter in our Juniper book.



Warren Hill's collected California juniper. From the gallery section.





One of Kimura's famous rock plantings. From the gallery section in our Masters' Series Juniper book.



Four out of 28 illustrations from a chapter titled Step by Step Layering.



The back cover of our Masters Series' Juniper Bonsai Book.

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Ficus, the Exotic Bonsai


This powerfully built gem is from Ficus, the Exotic Bonsai by Jerry Meislik. It's a Ficus Microcarpa. In addition to its rugged good looks, small leaves and a strong penchant for survival make it a bonsai favorite.

The photos shown here originally appeared way back in January, 2010. I enlarged them to fit our current format and I’ve tried to bring the text up to date.

If you want to grow bonsai indoors (winter or year round), you’ll be hard pressed to find subjects better suited than Ficus.

But not all Ficus are created equal when it comes bonsai and to growing indoors. A couple that I’ve had luck with are the Green Island (a variety of F. microcarpa) and the ‘Too Little’ (F. benjamina ‘Too Little’). I’ve also had some luck with the Willow Leaf ficus (F neriifolia – there is some disagreement about the botanical name – here’s a discussion by Robert Kempinski). If you have any experience with other varieties (successful or otherwise), let us know.



A large Willow leaf ficus with some impressive aerial roots from Ficus, the Exotic Bonsai.



A large Benjamina with a well developed nebari by Bradley Barlow, from The Art of Bonsai blog.



This simple Willow leaf planting is from a bonsai exhibit on Morikami's website. Though it's far from a masterpiece, it does have some charm and is the type of project that almost any beginner might attempt.



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Full Attack Mode


Aggression. Everything is moving to the left. The deadwood, which is so dominant appears to be in full attack mode, while the crown and living branches provide some contrast (speaking of contrasts, you might notice the piece of wood pushing a piece of the trunk up and the wire pulling another piece down). Whether you like this tree or not, my guess is you'll remember it.

I found these photos here. Due to the language I don’t know much beyond that. Feel free to do your own research (you could start with the face below).



The long needles and gnarled bark suggest a Japanese black pine, but I can't say for sure. The color of the pot plays well with the bark.



Another Japanese black pine?



 Looks like a field grown Shimpaku juniper made to look like a yamadori. These have been popping up everywhere these days. Many, if not most, are from Taiwan. I'm not sure why the crown has been left so dense.



We'll call this one a bunjin, even though the foliage is too robust. In any case, you don't see too many cascading bunjin (or bunjin-like) trees.
manDo you recognize this face?

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