Continuity, Charm & the Chinese Century

mainRoot-over-rock bonsai. When we originally showed this photo, we (that’s me) missed the rock part, even though it’s obvious (especially once you know it’s a rock). Here’s the caption from last year: At the risk of getting carried away, how about ‘wandering sage stops for a moment to contemplate an ancient tree by the light of the moon.’ In any case, I don’t blame him. You don’t see trunks (or trees) like this one every day.

Our last two post have featured Penjing, so for continuity (and charm) we’ll make it three in a row. This one is borrowed from last year (Dragon Ascending, May 2013). I rearranged the photos, added just a little text and changed the title to reflect something Robert Steven says (bold type just below). Everything else is the same.

This post, like the previous post (previous to the May 2013 original) titled BCI: Bonsai Strong, shows more of Robert Steven‘s photos from the recent BCI convention in China. As you may know, in addition to being a great bonsai artist, Robert is also an expert on bonsai and bonsai history, with a strong bent towards Chinese bonsai and penjing. Here’s what he wrote about Chinese bonsai in the comments to the aforementioned post (squeezed into native speaker English by yours truly) “Chinese bonsai has seen amazing progress the last 15 years, but it wasn’t very well exposed till the last few years (through aggressive international events). They are coming out with very creative and refreshing designs, and ideas present no limits for them. At the same time, I dare to say the Japanese are in stagnation. I anticipate a change in worldwide bonsai orientation that will turn to China…”

One thing I noticed about the pines in the previous BCI post, is how much they seemed to be influenced by Japanese bonsai while at the same time being quite unique, not to mention extraordinarily powerful. On the other hand, the broad leaf trees in this post seem much more Chinese to my eyes. That’s not to say that they don’t express new and exciting ideas (they do), just that they also reflect a very traditional Chinese style. This is especially true of the tree above and the last three trees below

Something else you might notice about the trees shown here is that every one of them has a figurine, while none of the pines shown in the previous BCI post have any.

china3What appear to be roots growing out of a long hollow on the side of trunk, creates a very unusual and fascinating effect. The rest of the tree isn’t half bad either and the flute player adds a playful human quality and contributes to a sense of vastness. The photo, which is courtesy of Robert Steven is from the recent BCI convention in China


This large bonsai (with blue watering can) features another fascinating trunk. Though it’s impossible to tell (for me at least) the leaves look like they might be azalea.


Even though they are broad-leaf trees, their towering vertical thrust is reminiscent of a conifer grove high in the mountains of the western U.S.


Windswept bonsai with hitchhiker. This one reminds of some of Robert’s trees.



The big guy almost looks like a rock. Nice tree too.


Here’s the whole photo of the tree at the top of the post. Given my obsession with background distractions (noise), you can see why I cropped it.

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Strong, Wild and Full of Character

11There’s a lot to like here. First, there’s some of that same funky (in the good sense) quality that you see in the feature tree in the previous post. Both are strong, wild and full of character. In this case so strong and clearly defined that the background noise doesn’t distract all that much. All the photos in this post are from Bonsai Quinn.

Our last post featured a couple Penjing plantings so we’ll stay on topic. All the photos shown here are from a newly discovered blog (for me at least) called Bonsai Quinn. The man behind the blog is Matt Quinn. He lives in Montreal, which makes him a neighbor of sorts.

Matt took these and numerous other photos at the recent (?) Guangzhou Exposition in China. I passed over some great trees because of background noise* and cropped most of the ones shown here to eliminate as much distraction as possible.

When I at look at these trees, a couple questions (no answers) come to mind: Is Penjing bonsai? Why aren’t there any good Penjing plantings by Western artists (or am I missing something?)?


13I like this tree, though, like the tree above, I picked it in part because of how clearly it stands out from the background. It is, without a doubt Penjing style, though a lot about it is much closer to Japanese bonsai than many, if not most, Penjing.


12Is this tree yawning? No matter what the gaping hole brings to mind, the trunk clearly has that wild, sculptural Penjing look. So much so that you might miss the excellent ramification and the high degree of artistry and technical accomplishment by some great bonsai artist (Ng Shing Fat – see comments below).


10Raft style penjing in a beautiful arched pot. Both chaos and order come to mind with the wild roots and unruly trunks tamed by the balance of the single flowing crown.


7Matt mentions a famous windswept tree. Is this it?


manAn old man enjoying the show. Is that a flute? What’s that rope hanging down and that thing that looks like a ‘towel rack’ attached to the stump?

* Background noise; not to be confused with the lovely sound of background singers. A little off topic, but Twenty Feet From Stardom which I just watched for the second time is absolutely delicious.

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Win a $25 Gift Certificate

funky bonsaiI love this funky bonsai. Though I suspect someone like Robert Steven could place it in a category, to my eyes it’s one of a kind. Though it wouldn’t be a stretch to place it in the Chinese Penjing tradition (there’s just nothing Japanese or Western about it). A couple people have posted it on facebook without attribution, so rather than reward their laziness with links, we’ll turn this into a quick contest. The first person to identify the owner and the species of this tree, along with a link that provides proof, will win a 25.00 gift certificate to Stone Lantern. You can put your answer in the comments below.

Sometimes I see the same bonsai posted on facebook by ten different people (or groups, or companies). Usually unattributed. In spite of conventional wisdom about mellowing, my gut reaction to unattributed bonsai photos hasn’t lessened a bit. It’s lazy and unkind to the person who took the trouble to style the tree, take the photo and then post it for the enjoyment of others.

I suspect I’m fighting a losing battle. From what I can tell, facebook is mostly ‘look at me and like me,’ rather than useful knowledge. I do understand that there are exceptions and I’m not particularly interested in being labeled an old curmudgeon, so mostly I keep my mouth shut (fingers in check). Still, it wouldn’t hurt to exercise the tiniest degree of curiosity and ask who the tree belongs to or what kind of tree is it rather than the default ‘nice’ or ‘awesome.’


98karin-500x375Here’s another funky Penjing. Even though the pot and stand overwhelm the tree a bit (in this photo at least), still it’s a great example of of what can happen when you marry a high degree of creativity with masterful technique. The photo appear on a Bark post from 2010. Here’s the original caption: A magical Chinese elm Penjing by Wang Huai Shun. Did this creative landscape, and others like it, influence some of Kimura’s more daring innovations? Robert Steven’s too? From Bonsai Today issue 98. Submitted by Karin Albert.


B1PENJINGHere’s something you might consider spending your 25.00 gift certificate on. If you like Penjing (why wouldn’t you?), you’ll love this beautiful book. It’s currently on special at Stone Lantern for 22.00. Less your 10% to 30% Site Wide Sale discount.


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The Right Pot and Just a Touch of Art

KTTThis 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.

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.

K6TTAnother one from Tony Tickle’s garden.


K110FBI 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.


K2TTAnother of Tony Tickle’s. Sweet plant, great pot. I wonder who made it.


K7FBBrilliant flowers, nice pot. This colorful planting is by Delphine. It appears on her Paradise Express blog.


K5TTTony again.


K4TTAnd 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.


K8FBWe’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.


K3FGThe 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. This low price is even better when you consider our 10% to 30% site wide sale.

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Exquisite Trees, Exquisite Pots

har5There are few things more delicate and beautiful than fresh spring Maple leaves (Trident maple in this case). This exquisite tree and exquisite pot are perfect expressions of the artistry of Haruyoshi

The only hard part with a post like this, is figuring out which photo to show first (the one that shows up on facebook and in our newsletter). We had the same problem with our previous two posts that featured Haruyosi pots and bonsai (here and here).

I won’t bore you much more, except to say that Haruyosi does a couple things that set him apart. First, he puts up a very large number of masterpiece shohin and mame bonsai and pots; and second, he puts up a lot of photos that reveal the process. For both trees and pots.


har6Red on red. In our last Haruyosi post (Very Red and Very Rare), we mentioned that red glazes are expensive and not that easy to do. Apparently, neither the cost nor difficultly deter Mr Haruyoshi. The tree is a Elaeagnus pungens (Siverthorn in English, Kangumi in Japanese).


harMore delicate spring beauty. This time the pot is yellow. It turns out that, like red pots, yellow pots aren’t all the common. The tree is Malus halliana (Hall’s crapapple).


har3This luscious little Japanese quince (Chaenomeles speciosa) looks old and yet is so small. As is the sweet little pot (small, not necessarily old). I know I’ve mentioned this before, but there’s something about the brilliance and purity of quince flowers.

har4Just another Haruyosi masterpiece pot. Red and yellow together, but I guess you probably noticed.

A quick word from our sponsor…

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What You Do to the Land You Do to Yourself – An Indepth Discussion with Andy Smith on Collecting Wild Bonsai

collected_walter_pall_styled_rmj1Rocky Mountain Juniper (Juniperus scopulorum) collected by Andrew (aka Andy) Smith and first styled by Walter Pall. It would hard to find a better pair for the job. Andy (Golden Arrow Bonsai) is a professional forester, master collector of wild bonsai and a bonsai artist in his own rite, and Walter Pall is a world famous bonsai artist, teacher, trouble maker (in the positive sense of course) and owner of a very impressive bonsai collection. The photograph is by Walter. My apologies for the fuzz. It’s  the result of dramatically increasing the image size. On balance I think this size presents a better look at the tree in spite of the fuzz.

This morning (way before the birds or any sensible humans start their day) I was looking for photos of Lodgepole pine bonsai when I stumbled upon an old interview with Andy Smith that appeared on The Art of Bonsai Project blog, way back in 2005. I consider this a stroke of good luck for at least two reasons: our last post was about Andy (nothing like a little serendipity to brighten your day), and it’s a great interview. So great that we’re going to post the whole thing and encourage you to jump in and enjoy Andy’s unique insights into wild bonsai, the art of collecting and much more.

The Art of Bonsai Project Interview with Andrew Smith

Andrew Smith is a contract forester in South Dakota’s Black Hills. He became fascinated with bonsai in 1994 while collecting core specimens from very ancient pines to use in past climate studies.

Smith transplants 300-400 trees per year for bonsai and has supplied demo and workshop trees to many of the world’s best bonsai artists. He enjoys learning about this beautiful and extraordinary art and meeting with other enthusiasts around the country.

The following is an on-line interview conducted with Andy Smith (continued after the photo):

collected_walter_pall_styled_rmj2Another Rocky Mountain Juniper (Juniperus scopulorum) that was collected by Andy Smith and first styled by Walter Pall. Photograph by Walter.

AoB: Andy, how do you answer the critics who insist that removing trees from a supposedly pristine environment is detrimental to that environment.

Andy: That depends upon your values and goals for the particular environment in question. For instance, most of my trees come from public lands and the permit process (in my opinion) is well regulated. I pay between $5 and $10 per tree for the right to collect in certain areas (no refunds if they die!). But there are huge areas that are off limits to collecting; for instance all wilderness areas; areas with high recreational value such as along hiking trails and near campgrounds and lakes; wildlife preserves; national monuments; state and national parks; along heavily travelled roads; areas with spiritual, historical or special visual significance; etc.

In these areas the guiding management principles place a higher value on the aesthetic, spiritual and natural qualities of the environment than they do on someone, like me, being able to go out and pursue an interest that might change the landscape somewhat.

The areas that are open to collecting are usually the same areas that are open to other resource extraction. In other words these areas might well be logged, grazed or mined at some point in time, or at least such uses are not prohibited.

andyAndy beside the large pine that he collected in his How to collect Wild Trees DVD.

Another thing to consider is the scale of the enterprise. I collect about 300-400 trees, from several different National Forests, every year, which is far more than anyone else I know. And it takes a huge amount of time, effort and energy to do that.

Meanwhile, the Forest Service is trying to control burn about 8,000 acres a year just here in the Black Hills alone, and many, many thousands more nationwide. This is done to reduce fuel loading and prevent catastrophic wildfires. I understand that it needs to be done but they kill more potential bonsai doing that in one year than I will collect in ten lifetimes. Consider that we recently had a wildfire here that burned over 130 square miles. The fire damage is worse than an atomic bomb would cause. It’s amazing, that in many places you can look from horizon to horizon and not see one live tree.

Read More »

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If It Ain’t Fun, It Ain’t Bonsai

spruceThis Black Hill Spruce belongs to Andy Smith. As you may have guessed the tree was collected in the Black Hills of South Dakota. By Andy. He estimates that it’s 150-175 years old. The stone was also belongs to Andy. You can find this image and all but one of the other images in this post on Andy’s Golden Arrow Bonsai website.

Golden Arrow Bonsai is Andrew Smith (aka Andy), though he no doubt enjoys some help from friends and family. Andrew is a bonsai artist and professional woodsman who specializes in collecting trees from nature. If you would like to learn how to collect the right way, check out his DVD, How to Collect Wild Trees. He also has a DVD on styling collected trees that’s entitled Finding the Bonsai Within, Ponderosa Pine Wiring Techniques, Working with Difficult Trees. Andrew lives in Deadwood South Dakota. I borrowed this paragraph from an early (September 2009) Bark post.

Here’s another (August 2009) borrowed Bark paragraph. Deadwood in Deadwood. If you’re ever near Deadwood South Dakota, visit Andrew Smith at Golden Arrow Bonsai. Andrew is known for his yamadori bonsai (bonsai collected from the wild) among other things. I consider him 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 Andrew’s excellent DVDs.

favThis is one of Andy’s all-time favorite pines. Estimated age 250 to 300 years old. Photo is from Andy’s website.


ponA small but old cascade style Ponderosa pine. This is a sweet little tree just as it is, though you could employ some needle reduction if you wanted to go to the trouble (our Pine book has some excellent how-to needle reduction).


limber This Limber pine (Pinus flexilis) is going to stay put right where it is. Photo by Andy Smith, from the home page on Andy’s Golden Arrow Bonsai
comCommon juniper. Estimated age 125 years. Collected, wired and potted by Andrew Smith, Golden Arrow Bonsai.


mirai3Dazzling deadwood. I think I see a live vein on the left edge of the trunk. Otherwise, this spectacular old specimen is a study in deadwood (with a little rebar thrown into the mix). It’s a Rocky Mountain juniper. The artist and owner is Ryan Neil, International Bonsai Mirai. The tree was originally collected by Andy Smith of Golden Arrow Bonsai.


pon150Literati Ponderosa pine. I chose this one from Andrew’s web photos because it retains the wild look that characterizes so many Andrew’s trees, enhanced by his bonsai skills (there’s a before photo too). This one is for sale (425.00), as are many of his collected trees.


lionMountain lion photo by Andrew. I cropped the photo to enhance the size of the lion.


sara1Couldn’t resist. We featured a tree and pot by Sara Rayner a few posts back, so I was looking for some pots by Sara as a follow up, when I stumbled upon this little gem at The Art of Bonsai Project. The caption says ‘Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa) pot specially made for this bonsai by Sara Rayner bonsai and photograph by Andy Smith.’


andy“If it ain’t fun, it ain’t bonsai.” Andrew Smith, professional American woodsman and world famous collector of wild bonsai.


sceneThe Black Hills of South Dakota. Photo by Andrew Smith.


Andy DVDs2Andy’s DVDs. On special at Stone Lantern.


B1PON-DAlso on special at Stone Lantern.

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Absolutely Very Cool

pot3This absolutely very cool bonsai pot has to be one of the sweetest hand-painted ceramics around. We’ll call it Village Life (are the two people in the middle dancing?). Part of the description say: “Wei Miao Wei Xiao” This Chines phrase means ‘lifelike, or remarkably true to life.’ The photo is from here as are all the photos in this post.

Of the well over two thousand people who visit Bonsai Bark every day, I suspect most don’t bother to read what we have to say (I’ve seen better humble brags but this is the best we’ve got right now). They just look at the pictures and move on. However, if you’re one of the handful who bothers and you’ve gotten this far, then you might know that there’s this recurrent theme about the importance of attribution.

Which brings us to this post. The name of the source is in Chinese characters (see the photo immediately below). When we copy and paste the Chinese characters in our attempts to attribute, we get ??? (literally). All is not lost however, as the links are perfectly good, so you can visit the source yourself. It’s a trip worth making.

All of the photos in this post are from the aforementioned source. My apologies to the artist/photographer for our cropping job.


photoYou can see the Chinese characters on this cropped piece of the facebook header from ‘the source.’






pot5A little change of pace.

We borrowed all of photos in this post from here. We cropped them all to enhance the size of the subject and to minimize distractions.

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The One Percent

wbffYou have your own eyes so there’s no need for me to say much. Except to point out a couple little things, like the bright new rusty red buds and the daring glaze on the perfectly shaped pot that picks us the trunk color and contrasts with the buds. Another thing that distinguishes this bonsai is the amazingly fine ramification (fine branching). And then there’s the perfect mossing job. Photo is from the World Bonsai Friendship Federation

The one percent. I probably look at between fifty and hundred bonsai a day. Online. Some are pretty good and a few are very good. And then, every once and a while, a bonsai like this (above) comes along. It’s from the World Bonsai Friendship Federation. They don’t say who the artist is or name the species, though it looks so much like a Japanese beech, that I’d bet a week’s paltry pay on it. Meanwhile, I’ll wait for one of our enterprising readers to tell us the artist’s name (in fact, the first person to provide the name along with link for proof, will win a 25.00 gift certificate to Stone Lantern – just put your answer in the comments below).


wbffposterI found this poster on the World Bonsai Friendship Federation’s facebook feed. It’s for the upcoming World Bonsai Day (May 9 – 21, 2014) at The Omiya Bonsai Art Museum in Saitama, Japan.

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