The Art of Illusion


The profusion of such tiny figures make this tree look absolutely massive. This effect is not an accident. Whoever put this together has a masterful grasp of spatial relations, perspective, the art of illusion... however you want to say it. He or she is also a very accomplished bonsai artist. Just the tree would stand alone as a superior tropical bonsai.

We don’t post that often on Penjing tray plantings, but the photo above was just too good to pass up. It was posted by Sanjay Dham on Bonsai Club India. Sanjay’s caption says only “From China Penjing & Scholars Rocks,” with no indication who the artist is or what the tree is.


penjing-copyHere's another masterful Penjing. It by Kuanghua Hsiao. We posted it in January - our last post with a Penjing lead.



Here's a much less ambitious Penjing, but still perfectly put together. It's from Zhao Qingquan's Penjing: The Chinese Art of Bonsai.


I like the simple clean lines and sense of movement and direction in this Japanese white pine planting by Zhao. It's also from his book.


B1PENJING6802Here it is - THE book on Penjing

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Growing Superior Pine Bonsai

001pineOne of the most famous Japanese white pine (Pinus parviflora) bonsai in the world. After restyling by Masahiko Kimura (aka the Magician). This photo is from the White pine gallery in our Masters’ Series Pine Book.

If you would like to grow pine bonsai, there no better place to start (and continue) than with our Masters Series Pine book. We’ll show you just a few photos and illustrations along with the Table of Contents, so you’ll have some idea of the depth and scope of this remarkable book.

Though I know this post reads suspiciously like an infomercial (our Pine Book is just back from the printer). Still, you might enjoy the beautiful photos and useful illustrations.


Table of Contents
Introduction to Japanese White Pines
Kimura Transforms a semi-cascade using energy balancing & more
Cultivation Balance – Energy balancing and needle reduction
Goyomatsu – Balancing and redesigning
Kimura Plant Positioning – Nine possibilities, an in depth study
The Primary Branch – Selecting the best one
Multiple Trunk Bonsai – Three bonsai, three perspectives
Rock Planting – From to zuisho
Jewell to Whirlpool – Transforming famous old bonsai shari
Gallery of Japanese White Pine
TOC continued below…



Table of Contents continued
Introduction to Japanese Black Pines
Development of Short Needles – Balancing growth & needle size
Creating a Cascade – Styling, balancing & needles
Choosing a Pot – Accentuating a tree’s best features
Transplanting and Nebari Development
Pine from Seed
Restyling an Old Tree – Challenges & rewards
Gallery of Japanese Black Pines
Glossary of Bonsai Terms
Glossary of Japanese Bonsai Terms

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Growing and Styling Japanese Black & White Pines
is suitable for growing any pine bonsai
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Masters Series Pine Bonsai Book Is Back

One of dozens of world class trees featured in our Bonsai Today Masters Series Pine book.

It’s back! To reward those of you who have been waiting so patiently, we’re going to offer it at a discount…. only 26.95 (list is 34.95). Order yours while the price is right.

If you need some encouragement take a look below…

Candle pinching. An essential needle reduction and energy balancing technique for almost any type of pine.
Elegance. Bunjin Japanese white pine.
If you'd like to grow some black pines from seed, here's a few steps from the only source you'll ever need.



The cover of our Masters Series Pine Book

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You don’t have to live in the tropics to grow tropical bonsai, but it helps

tropThis sweet little shohin bonsai with its unusual flowers and great little Japanese pot is a type of Ixora that belongs to Pedro Morales' cousin Carlos C. Morales. 

Trying to catch a couple days at the shore, so rather than go to the trouble to put together a new post, we’ll dip into our archives. This one originally appeared July 12, 2012. I updated the piece about the weather and made a few other changes.

You don’t have to live in the tropics to grow tropical bonsai, but it helps. This summer we might as well be in the tropics. Night before last it rained so hard that torrentially is an understatement and so far July has been remarkably hot for northern Vermont. Still, it’s nothing like the tropics, where you can grow tropical bonsai year round, rather than eight months indoors and a four month recovery period outdoors.

All the photos shown here belong to Pedro Morales. You can visit Pedro on facebook or on his website).

tropdisplayFrom Pedro's facebook photos. All it says is: "Display Ganador (winning display) VIVA PUERTO RICO!!!!!"

B1TROPPedro's Tropical Bonsai book. It's the only one we know of in English. Available at Stone Lantern.
tropcascadeThis cascade is from Pedro's website. My apologies for cutting off the base of the stand (it's a long story).


troptokoPedro's tropical style tokonoma. Tokonoma is a Japanese word that means 'display alcove.'

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Moon Pine & a Masterful Moment


I like everything about this Japanese white pine and its Moon pot. Except maybe the clutter on the left, the color was enhanced a bit too much, no variety is given and there's no attribution. Still, it's a beautiful bonsai that I'm happy to share.

As the whole world migrates to social media, so goes bonsai. People and groups that used to have websites and blogs now appear only on facebook. Which is where I found the photos shown here and where we get about half the material for this blog (which also appears on facebook, of course).

In this case, our source presents both bonsai and Japanese gardens. We’ve occasionally shown that very mix here, and there is an obvious link. Though I’m not sure most bonsai lovers spend that much time or energy exploring Japanese gardens.

Because our source doesn’t attribute or link their sources (this is common on social media), we’ll follow suit and do the same (this makes me a little nervous, considering how many times I’ve pointed out the importance of attribution… still, there is some justice)


Though you might want to do something about the crossing main branches, nevertheless the connection with bonsai and garden tree pruning (Niwaki) is obvious.

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The back cover of Modern Bonsai Practice. We meant to show it in our last post, but in a masterful moment of seniority, showed the front cover twice

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Modern Bonsai Practice


The cover of a brand new and up-to-date bonsai book by Larry Morton that features the latest in bonsai horticultural practices and a bonus gallery of 165 photos of some of Walter Pall's best bonsai.

Walter Pall has been advocating applying modern horticultural knowledge and techniques to our bonsai, rather than relying only on what has been passed down through the generations. This can be accomplished without disregarding the wisdom of the old ways while paying close attention to what science now knows about growing plants. With a mind open to the latest knowledge and a willingness to experiment, you can enjoy the best of the old and the new.

Horticultural scientist Larry Morton has put together the first bonsai book that focuses on what we now know about growing plants and applying that knowledge to bonsai. This clear, concise and exceptionally thorough book, will provide a lifetime of knowledge for any bonsai enthusiast who wants to learn and keep on learning.
Continued below…


One of the over 150 bonsai by Walter Pall that are featured in Modern Bonsai's gallery

Here’s what internationally renowned bonsai artist (and bonsai entertainer) Walter Pall has to say about Modern Bonsai: “Larry Morton’s new book is totally different from any ‘normal’ bonsai book. Bonsai horticulture is seen with eyes of modern well proven horticulture. It is shown that bonsai horticulture practices are often 50 years behind this openly available set of knowledge and practices. This book will open your eyes. it certainly will cause a lot of discussion.
The book is full of bonsai images which are all my photographs. It can also be used as a picture book.


The back cover Whoops! My mistake...

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Still More Sacrificing & Bonsai Eccentricities

W2746 - 2013 Exhibits BrochureSometimes it's helpful to break a bonsai down into its constituent parts. What you might see in this case, is a somewhat classical root-over-rock Trident maple bonsai accentuated by two rather long, undulating branches on either side. For some of us, there might be a temptation to cut them off; to revert to something safer and more recognizable as bonsai. But sometimes it's a good idea to think twice before acting. You can always cut a branch off later, but you can't put it back on. The photo is from the National Bonsai Foundation's 2013 calendar.

At least two points are touched on in this post. First is how we view and deal with bonsai eccentricities and second is a continuation of our discussion about sacrifice branches.  Part of this post originally appeared April 2013. The rest is new.

I wonder if the two long branches on the tree above were originally left on as sacrifice branches (see our last two posts for more on the topic) and then at some point the artist (Stanley Chinn) realized how much they enhance the tree, so he decided to leave them on.


The sacrifice branches on this clump style Japanese maple are there to help thicken the main trunk. The photo is borrowed from Walter Pall's Bonsai Adventures where you can learn more about this tree, sacrifice branches and a whole range of bonsai topics.

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More Sacrificing – No Ceremonial Drums, Just Sharp Shears Required

bt61p42The styling on this Juniper is almost done (at least for now). The exception is the sacrifice branch on the top. The artist, Mr Toshinori Suzuki, has decided to leave it on to strengthen the tree's apex. When he is satisfied with the apex, he'll sacrifice the branch. No ceremonial drums, just sharp shears required.

Most trees are apically dominant (most of the tree’s energy and thus growth, tends to flow up into the apex). However, most junipers, including this one, are laterally dominant (most of the energy flows into lower lateral branches).

In order to develop a new apex on this laterally dominant tree, growth at the top needs to be encouraged. This is accomplished by allowing a branch at the apex to grow unimpeded. This unimpeded growth draws energy (water, gases and nutrients) upward. Especially if the tree’s lateral growth is impeded by trimming. Once the apex is fully developed the branch at the top is sacrificed. Thus the name.

Sacrifice branches can be used in a number of situations. Two common and almost synonymous uses are: to thicken a trunk or branch and to strengthen a section of a tree. If you look at the photo above, you can see that the apex is not as lush and well developed as the rest of the tree.  Thus the need for the sacrifice branch (if you look at the rest of the tree, you might notice three or four smaller sacrifice branches).



Before. Can you see how Mr Suzuki got from this to the tree in the photo above? If you're interested in seeing some of the steps and what Suzuki has to say about them, you can check the original article in Bonsai Today issue 61 (Japanese articles and photos are courtesy of Kindai Bonsai and Bonsai Focus).

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Sacrificing for Better Bonsai


The huge girth and dramatic taper on this powerful Satsuki azalea, were achieved primarily through the use of sacrifice branches. In fact, some are still being employed to help thicken the primary branches. This photo is from The Magician: The Bonsai Art of Kimura 2, by Stone Lantern Publishing.

I just received an email from Morten Albek about a new post on sacrifice branches on his Shohin Bonsai blog (I pity the poor English teacher reading this). NOTE: it was just pointed out to me that this reads as though I am mocking Morten’s English, but what I was trying to do is make fun of my string of 4 prepositional phrases. This got me thinking about this old post from 2009. It was titled Energy Balancing #4: Kimura’s Sacrifice Branches. I hope you find it helpful (even with fuzzy blown up photos).

In energy balancing #3 we showed a juniper with a single sacrifice branch at the top. Single sacrifice branches are often used, especially to thicken trunks, and they can work quite well. However, one problem with using single branches is that, in order to be effective, they can become quite thick and can leave an unsightly scar when removed.
One solution to the scarring problem is to use many small shoots as sacrifice branches. This technique works particularly well on azaleas and other types of trees that put out a profusion of buds on old wood.


A truly amazing transformation. This is what Master Kimura started with. Though you can see the beginnings of the powerful nebari and base of the trunk, the overall appearance isn't up to much. Kimura cut off almost all the foliage in order better see what he was dealing with. With azaleas and other prolific budders, this isn't a problem.


One year later. The profusion of shoots shows how easily azaleas bud on old wood. Kimura has already removed some shoots and left others as future branches and as sacrifice branches (sacrifice shoots might be a better term in this case). The little clumps of sacrifice shoots just above the soil, are being employed to thicken the base of the trunk.


Some time later (the original says one year after the photo just above, but I find that hard to believe; must be a translation error). Now that the trunk is where he wants it, Kimura leaves selective shoots; some as future branches and some to help heal some large scars (another use of sacrifice branches). Also, as you can see, Kimura has decided that it's time to start developing the apex.
B1KIM2-61-500x641If you want to see the entire process on the development of this old Satsuki azalea, you might want to consider this book. It is currently 25% off at Stone Lantern (only 12.70), as our all of our books.

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Bonsai Wizardry in Portland (again)


Looking up from below. This is a cropped version of a photo taken by Greg Brenden at the opening of American Bonsai Mirai exhibit at the Wieden & Kennedy gallery in Portland Oregon. Greg's uncropped photo is below.

Another Bonsai Mirai groundbreaking public event. Greg Brenden attended the opening of American Bonsai MiraiWieden & Kennedy gallery in Portland Oregon and posted these photos. I’ve done a little cropping to bring the trees a little closer. Greg’s original photos are below (plus one from Ryan Neil that gives a unique view of the exhibit).


Greg Brenden's uncropped original. I like the way Greg's photos provide a window into the event. People enjoying bonsai in their individually designed environments (21st century tokonomas?).



This shot from Ryan Neil's facebook photos provides an excellent window into the creative wizardry behind the exhibit and its unique displays. I know Ryan provided the trees and my guess is he had something to do with how they are displayed. Not to call anyone names (creative wizard in this case) but based on a whole string of innovative bonsai displays (some examples from previous Bark posts), it's easy to see how one might get suspicious.


Cascading pine with an unidentified piece of clothing. How often do you get to look at a full cascade from below?



Goodwill. Uncropped with clothing now identified. 



Same tree, different shot. My apologies for the fuzz. I wanted to get closer to the tree.



The original. With footwear.



It seems most of the trees in the exhibit are pines.


GB2Same tree. Five sneakers


GB6See what I mean about pines...



Aha. Not a pine. Greg says Bald cypress, but the foliage looks like it might be a Pond cypress. A very close cousin that some people say is a sub-species of Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), while others say it is a distinct species (Taxodium ascendens).

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