Bonsai, Deadwood & Another World Series Win


Deadwood! Just before we originally featured this post (August 2012), we showed a couple of Serge Clemence’ bonsai in a post on deadwood. I guess the reason I didn’t include this Mugo pine in that post is because Serge has so many trees with powerful deadwood. Still….

Got excited about the SF Giants winning the world series last night and ended up sleeping until 9:00am this morning when I was shocked awake by a vicious horn blast from a truck delivering our 2015 calendars all the way from Japan (soil sieves -large & smallturntables and watering cans too). All this is my way of telling you that my schedule for the day is shot, so it’s archive time once again. This one is from August 2012. Stay posted for more on the calendars.


More deadwood! I found this powerful tree on Bonsai Tonight. It’s from the Redwood Empire Bonsai Society‘s 29th annual show that took place in Santa Rosa CA. When you see a tree like this and others in the show, it’s hard not to be struck by just how far north American bonsai has come in few short years. It belongs to Ned Lycett. The photo is by Jonas Dupuich.


andolfo2 Deadwood on a small tree. Is it just me, or does the foliage on this Shimpaku mirror the pot? I wonder if it’s intentional. The tree belongs to Michele Andolfo.

Improving Excellence


Morten Albek’s virtual restructing of Hans Vleugels’ Shohin display (the text and arrows are very helpful, though it would have been great to see a second version without them… but we’ll take what we can get). This photo and the three just below are from British Shohin Bonsai.



The original. It’s a real eye opener when you realize that something this beautiful and simple can be improved upon. If you look at Morten’s virtual enhancement (above) the beauty and simplicity are still there, but a more dynamic element has been added.
Here’s a piece of the text from British Shohin Bonsai: “The display was created as part of a photo session at Hans’ bonsai club Eda Uchi Kai where members were asked to bring some trees for a professional photo shoot by Jan Dieryck. The trees in the shohin display are a Juniperus chinensis, an Acer buergerianum, and a Zelkova serrata. Hans’ request for possible improvements brought out several responses, mostly in favour of the existing display but also with minor suggestions such as moving the Juniper slightly off-centre on the rack. But the most enlightening response came from Morten Albek…” (you can visit BSB for the rest of the story).



The owl is difficult to make out in the photos above.


cropped-caragana-expanded-2British Shohin Bonsai’s masthead photo.


HEADER-6 copy

The masthead from Morten Albek’s Shohin Bonsai Europe website.

displayorder 1

This self explanatory display photo by Morten Albek was one of hundreds of photos that Morten submitted with his Majesty in Miniature Shohin Bonsai book that didn’t make it into the book (if you ask the editor/publisher why, he’ll say that the market just wasn’t ready for a six thousand page book).



The cover of Morten’s excellent Shohin book. Currently on Sale at Stone Lantern

A Rare Find and an Old Complaint


It’s rare to find a wild tree that needs very little for it to become a great bonsai (other than digging, keeping it healthy and a little refinement, which are far from very little).

I was delighted to stumble across the the photo above (here) but was disappointed when I read the following: “Saw this picture on FB. A natural growing juniper that already looks like a great bonsai.” It would have been simple to provide a link to the source, where more information may (or may not) be available. Like who took the photo, what kind of juniper is it and where was it found (not the exact location for obvious reasons). This lack of information, which is usually accompanied by a lack of inquisitiveness (there are several comments, but no one asks), is all too common on facebook (btw: accomplished bonsai artists tend to attribute when they show other people’s trees).

eltim4Here’s one from our archives (June 2012) that we found on El Tim. Their caption reads Bonsai Budes Medellin-Colombia and Alejandro Sartori.” When I found this tree in Alejandro’s photos, it links back to El Tim. The same goes for Bonsai Budes Medellin, who have numerous photos of famous and not so famous bonsai and all the ones I checked are attributed. The same goes for Alejandro (no cause for complaint here).



Here’s another one from our archives (Sept 2013). The caption reads: “This magnificent juniper makes its rocky home in California’s Sierra Nevada range. This photo, and the next three photos, are from a recent series on Boon Manakitivipart’s facebook timeline titled Sierra trip with Dylan, Toby and Freddie at Carson Pass.

The Most Amazing and Provocative Bonsai Extravaganza…


Art, culture and the passage of time. I think this old tree and ancient Indonesian deity capture something of the flavor of the Robert Steven’s Bonsai Biennale. The uncropped version of this photo is from Bill Valavanis’ Bonsai Blog.

Robert Steven’s just completed 1st International Bonsai Biennale may have been the most unusual and provocative bonsai extravaganza ever (it’s hard to imagine another bonsai event that even comes close, but these kinds of statements are subjective and open to question, so we’ll leave it at may have been…).

For those of us who weren’t there, all we have to go on so far are the photos and the ones I’ve seen so far are pretty convincing that something unquestionably groundbreaking and very daring just happened. Here are a small sampling of photos that we’ve seen so far. We’ll post some more soon.



A great shot of one of many highly creative mixed media scenes that deserve a long close look. From Bill’s blog.




A happy Robert Steven and friends enjoying the show at the opening ceremony. I found this shot on Robert’s facebook photos.



I’m guessing that this is the front gate. From Robert’s facebook photos.



Close up.


b3Another creative mixed media scene. From Bill’s blog.



Opening ceremony. From Robert’s facebook photos.



Opening ceremony performers. Again from Robert’s facebook photos.



More mixed media. This one with a sense of humor. From Bill’s blog.



 Don’t shoot the messenger. Photo from Bill’s blog.

Enough for now. We’ll post some more soon.

Semi Cascade Not Windswept


After by Kimura (aka the Magician). This photo is from a chapter in our Masters’ Series Pine Book titled Masahiko Kimura Transforms A Semi-Cascade. The tree is a Japanese white pine (Pinus parviflora).

I’m at the tail end of a short vacation of sorts, so we’ll indulge in one more rerun before it’s back to work full time. This one originally appeared in August 2012. It was titled The Other Cascade: Before & After.

The other cascade
Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seem to me that, with the exception of Junipers (especially the ever present Procumbens nana) you don’t see that many semi-cascade bonsai (I just scrolled back through the last couple month of Bonsai Bark and about 10% of the trees featured are semi-cascade; more than I thought I’d find, but still, not that many).

Actually, you don’t see that many full-cascade bonsai (see the photo at the bottom of the post) either, but when you think of cascades, my guess is that it’s full-cascades that comes to mind.

Semi-cascade is NOT the same as windswept
It’s not unusual to see semi-cascade bonsai referred to as windswept. This is a mistake. Windswept bonsai can be in any style (though I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a windswept full-cascade), including semi-cascade, and most semi-cascade bonsai don’t really qualify as windswept.

Here’s a Robert Steven critique that explores windswept bonsai (there are others, but this is a pretty good start). BTW: Robert is the author of two excellent bonsai books (one now out of print).


Before. It helps to have well developed stock to start with. You can find the 28 other photos (not shown here) that describe the process and give general information on styling pines in our Masters’ Series Pine Book (currently on sale along with all of our other books).


Full cascade (the lowest point of the tree is below the bottom of the pot). From the Black pine gallery in our Masters’ Series Pine Book.


B1PINE680 Our 30% to 40% off Book Sale ends tonight. All of our bonsai books including our Master Series Pine Book are currently on sale. But like all good things, this sale will end. Tonight at 11:59pm EDT. Don’t wait.

Grafting Lesson – Juniper on Juniper


Shimpaku foliage grafted onto a California juniper by Roy Nagatoshi. All of the photos in this post are by Dale Berman. They originally appeared in Bonsai Today issue 108 in an article by Marcus Juniel.

Still traveling, so once again we’ll dip into our archives. This one is from Bark’s early days (March 2010). The title back then was: Roy Nagatoshi Grafts Shimpaku Branches and Foliage onto a California Juniper.

Shimpaku foliage on California junipers
California juniper foliage is heavy and somewhat coarse (I think it looks fine on native stock, but Shimpaku foliage is beautiful and looks even better) and many bonsai artist opt to graft on Shimpaku foliage.


Approach graft. The Shimpaku (scion) still has it roots in soil when it is joined with the stock. Once the graft has taken, it is cut off from its roots in a place and way that best hides the graft so that no (or almost no) traces of the procedure show. How this is done is a big part of the skill involved in grafting bonsai. This sketch and the one below are also from Bonsai Today issue 108.


One of Roy’s approach grafts in process. The top of the small Shimpaku in the plastic pot is being grafted onto a large California juniper. When the graft has taken, the part of the Shimpaku below the graft will be removed. It will still be alive and can be grown on for future use as a bonsai or as another scion.

Roy Nagatoshi
I first met Roy Nagatoshi sometime in the 1980 at he and his father’s (Mr Shigeru Nagatoshi) Fuji Bonsai Nursery in Sylmar, California (home of row after row of some of the most massive bonsai you’ll ever see).

At the time Mr Nagatoshi senior was still actively running things and Roy seemed to be keeping a fairly low profile. Later, when I visited a couple times in the 90s, things were shifting. Roy was clearly in charge, and his father seemed to be stepping back (Shigeru Nagatoshi died in 2000). Now Roy is fully in charge and as his skills continue to develop, so does his fame; both as a preeminent bonsai artist as as a popular bonsai teacher.


Whip graft (also called tongue or splice graft). Unlike the approach graft, the scion doesn’t have roots to support it while the graft is taking, so you need to provide humidity to keep it alive. A humid greenhouse helps, but the most common method is to use a plastic sleeve with a damp medium (eg sphagnum) inside.


Some tools Roy uses for grafting. Photo by Dale Berman.

Shimpaku foliage on San Jose junipers
Grafting Master Mas Ishii first introduced me to grafting Shimpaku foliage onto San Jose juniper stock. He said that San Jose stock grows better than Shimpuku in North America (or at least under his local conditions – his nursery Chikugo-en is in Los Angeles), but that Shimpaku foliage is much more beautiful (and touchable) than San Jose foliage, and is easy to graft. For more on this topic and Mas Ishii, there’s and excellent article by Lew Buller in Bonsai Today issue 75 (Lew is the author of Saikei and Art; the only English language Saikei bonsai book in print).


All of our books are now 30% to 40% off. Including Saikei and Art, which in this particular case makes for a very good deal (30% to 40% off of 5.00).

A Long Awaited Bonsai Event


This is the long awaited weekend of Robert Steven’s first International Bonsai Art & Culture Biennale. For those of us who were unable to make it to Indonesia, here are a few photos that Robert posted to promote the event. Many of these have already appeared here on Bark, but some are new to us. Stay posted for some photos of the event itself.


b9b8b7b6 b5b4b3b2b1


Robert Steven’s Mission of Transformation and all of our other Bonsai Books are now on Sale for 30% to 40% off. Don’t wait though, the sale ends in a few days.

Bonsai Detectives – Win a $100 Gift Certificate


(A) I found this spectacular olive online with no attribution or identification of any sort. I know I’ve seen before, but don’t remember where. Maybe you can help me. We’ll call it tree A.

The contest. If you want to skip directly to the contest, scroll down to the bottom of the post.

European olives are not a traditional bonsai variety. If you were to surmise that this is because they don’t occur in Japan or China, I think you’d be correct.

However, as is the case with many Western native trees, all this is changing (actually, it has been changing for the past forty years or so). Though I’m not so sure you’ll see many Western varieties in major Japanese bonsai shows for a while, you’ll certainly see people continuing to experiment with a wide range of trees that have only recently been introduced into bonsai consciousness.

Needless to say (but we’ll say it anyway), this rise of non-East Asian bonsai varieties is a good thing and in the case of Olives, a particularly good thing.


















The contest. Here’s what you have to do to win.
Identify the artist (or owners) of as many of the olive shown here as you can along with links that provide evidence.

Links. I’ll say it again; you must provide links as evidence.

The deadline. You have one week from today. Entries after 11:59pm EDT, October 23rd, 2014 will not be accepted.

What you’ll win. The person who correctly identifies the most artists or owners of the trees shown here (and provides links to each one), will win a $100 gift certificate to Stone Lantern. In case of a tie, the person who submits their answers first will be the winner.

Email me!
Your answers must be sent to me <> (DON’T PUT YOUR ANSWERS IN THE COMMENTS BELOW!). The subject line should say $100 Contest.

Good luck!

Still Searching (Every Which a Way)


At a glance you might think this is just a stump with some foliage tacked on, but then as you look closer you notice the taper at the base and the way the texture of the wood creates movement and a feeling of age. Then there’s that little cave that enhances the story of time and place and natural forces that came together to help create this Dogwood by Franco Berti. From a post titled Reportage Vi Trofeo Bonsai e Suiseki Città di Poppi by Bonsai Romano.

Taking off for the other coast today, so I’m sure you’ll excuse me if I dig into our archives. This one originally appeared November 2012. It was titled Searching for the Unusual. The only things I’ve changed are the title (if you don’t know, don’t ask) and sizes of the images.

Searching for the unusual
I spend a lot of time looking for unusual bonsai. Bonsai that they might cause a shift in how we view the art of bonsai and even how we see and approach our own trees. If that’s asking too much, there’s always the hope that something happens, positive or negative (hopefully not neutral) and that some spark awakens something, if only for a moment.


I don’t think you’ll see trees that grow like this in nature, with such symmetrical back and forth movement. This looks like the result of the old clip-and-grow technique. You don’t see as much clip-and-grow these days as you used to, wiring is faster and allows for more variation, but it’s still an excellent time-tested way to shape a trunk. This elm by Claudio Tampucci is, like the tree above, from a post by Bonsai Romano.


Too unusual? Though there’s plenty to like about this old olive, especially the powerful trunk with its aged bark and expressive deadwood that piggybacks up from the first curve to the crown, I wonder if the heavy piece of deadwood at the top right isn’t a little too distracting. Or, maybe it’s an important part of the tree’s story? The tree belongs to Franco Berti (just like the one at the top of the post). I found it on