Cold Mountain Bonsai


You might pass this one over at first glance, but the spectacular pot, the deeply striated bark and the overall simplicity and naturalness are worth another look.

Today is the long drive home. No time to put together a new post, so we’ll take one more foray into our archives. This one first appeared in November 2012. It’s one I particularly like. Not for what I have to say, but the for simple, unique beauty and naturalness of the bonsai.

Have we been overly influenced by Japanese bonsai?
When you look at the trees in this post there’s a sense of wild naturalness that seems distinctly Chinese. A sensibility that dates back to the ancient poet-calligrapher hermits deep in the Cold Mountains. This connection doesn’t occur with most Japanese and Western bonsai (the exceptions are mostly Bunjin bonsai).

You might notice that most, if not all of the pots in this post could stand alone as art in their own right.

All of the photos are from Nail Sari’s facebook photo album titled Chinese Bonsai Ever… Unfortunately, none are attributed to the artist or labeled with the variety.

tree5 Expressing the primacy of nature; you can barely see the people who live in this magical forest.


Uncontrived, a lyrical poem with flowers.


Rugged, well-balanced and perfectly tapered, all the way out to smallest twigs.


Halloween. Do you see the little arms sticking up out of the soil?

What would it be like to be small enough to walk under this natural bridge?

Lonely trees growing on cliffs.

Sheer power, and closer to the more modern Japanese look.


B1CHINESE-2 This classic is available at Stone Lantern if you’d like to dig deeper into the art and history of Chinese bonsai.

Celebrating An American Bonsai Tradition

Goshin 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.

Three times a tradition?
This is third time for this post. The first time was March 2010, the second was September 2011. It’s Independence Day today, 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 perhaps it’s an especially 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).


American Tropical Jewel


Buttonwood by Ed Trout. The photo is from The Art of Bonsai Project. *

I’m headed out for a brief Independence Day respite, so we’ll take the easy way out and plunder our archives once again. This one is from August 2011 (assuming we haven’t reposted it since then – there’s this issue with memory). I can think of two good reasons to choose it: 1. It’s tropical and it feels like the tropics lately here in northern Vermont where extended hot weather is rare indeed, and 2. Buttonwoods are an American tree and the most American of holidays is in two days (not wanting to offend our neighbors and recognizing of course, that there other countries the Americas, here we are referring to U.S.A).

Our own amazing tropical bonsai
We’ve featured a lot of collected tropicals from Indonesia and vicinity. Much of this has to do with our connection with Robert Steven (Mr. High Energy Bonsai), one of the world’s foremost bonsai artists, authors, collectors and teachers. It also has to do with the fact that so many of the collected trees (mostly Premna and Pemphis) from that part of the world are so amazing. Now it’s time to feature some of our very own amazing collected tropical bonsai. Which brings us to Buttonwoods.

Buttonwood care
There’s lots of information on the web about buttonwoods and particularly their care (they have their very specific needs). Two good places to start are: Of Bonsai Magazine and Bonsai Mary’s. Meanwhile, we’ve gathered a few photos for your to enjoy.

JimSmith I found this monster by Jim Smith in the Of Bonsai Magazine. I couldn’t find any dimensions, but the article on Buttonwoods that accompanies the photo is very thorough. BTW: Jim Smith is the original American tropical bonsai guru. Jim’s nursery (Dura-Stone) is in Vero Beach, Florida.


Mother Nature’s handiwork, with a little help from Robert Kempinski. From the Art of Bonsai Project.


This wild unique tree could only be a buttonwood. Also by Robert Kempinski from the Art of Bonsai Project.


They aren’t all small enough for bonsai. This photo is from Bonsai Mary’s website.

Roshi BannerRoshi Tool Sale 10% to 30% off. It turns out that our Roshi Tools work every bit as well on Tropicals as they do on other bonsai.

*The sad news about the beautiful Buttonwood at the top of the post is that it was stolen in 2008, and as far as I know, was never recovered.

Omiya & Tiny Assassins

goyoGoyomatsu. Japanese white pine from the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum’s gallery.

The photos shown here are from the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum, with the exception of one unrelated photo (can you guess which one?). I took the easy path today and borrowed the content shown here from a post we did back in May 2012.


Elegance. I’ve never been to the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum, but if the elegance of the display shown here is any indication, maybe I should start saving my yen.


Assassins. Bonsai Mary (aka Mary Miller) has a good article on beneficial insects. There’s one shown here about to eat these nasty little critters.


Can’t resist all this color. One more photo from the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum.

Japanese Black Pine – Rushing the Future


A Japanese black pine after some serious trimming and cleaning up. If you look at the photo just below, you might notice that there has been some serious needle reduction too. The tree and the photos in this post belong to Boon Manakitivipart (aka Bonsai Boon).

The first two photos shown here provide a simple one day (or thereabouts) before and after on a Japanese black pine. As you can see it’s a remarkable tree. I was especially taken with the perfectly striated bark and the way it seamlessly flows into the nebari.

Another thing that struck me about this tree was how it represents just how far American bonsai has come. It wasn’t that long ago when a Black pine of this caliber could only be Japanese. But this one is home grown. At least I think it was (I guess it’s possible that it was originally imported, but judging by the photos, it was certainly developed and refined here).

If you want to see the entire progression you can visit Boon on facebook (here and here).


Just before the serious trimming and cleaning up.


This one is labeled August 2001, before. We’ll assume it’s right after Boon got the tree from Lone Pine Gardens (you’ll have to ask Boon for the details).

boon12005Shaping up. This one is labeled January 2005. At the risk of stating the obvious, you might notice the two sacrifice branches. They are there to strengthen the apex by drawing energy up.



May 2013. Almost there. It has been over eight years and one of the sacrifice branches is still there. I suspect it has done its job and is about to be removed.


boon2015Back to the future. Boon labeled this August 2015. But upon cross examination he admitted that he was rushing the future.



If you’d like to know a lot more about Pines, this is the book for you. This is a particularly good time too as all of our books are 25% off our already discounted prices. This sale ends tonight (Friday, June 27, at 11:59 pm EDT).

Ezo Spruce by Any Other Name…


One glance at this Ezo spruce and you know it belongs to Walter Pall. Walter sometimes refers to this natural looking untouched-by-human-hands style as ‘naturalistic bonsai,’ though if you go to Walter’s Bonsai Adventures blog where this photo is from, you’ll see just how touched-by-human-hands it actually was. And just how accomplished Walter is at turning pedestrian bonsai into naturalistic gems.

Ezo spruce are sometimes referred to as Jezo or Yezo spruce (Picea jezoensis or Picea yezoensis) and even Sakhalin spruce, though that’s a really a different species (Picea glenii). Most (or perhaps all) of the specimen quality Ezo bonsai in Japan and most likely in the world, were collected on Sakhalin, an island north of Japan. Prior to WWII the collecting of Ezo was promoted by the late Saburo Kato and his father Tomekichi of Mansei-en. After WWII the island was annexed to Russia and, as far as I know, no collecting has taken place there since then.

Though no doubt some people are now growing Ezo in the U.S., because they take so long to develop that prized old-age-look, finding good stock is difficult. This is compounded by the fact that importing from Asia is so tricky. Perhaps that’s why only one of the photos in this post is from here in the U.S.


ezobt This is not the first time we’ve shown this remarkable old Ezo spruce with it’s unusual shari. It’s a 2011 Kokufu winner. The photo was taken by Jonas at Bonsai Tonight at the 2011 Taikan-ten Exhibition.



Captial Bonsai refers to this bonsai as the ‘Clinton Ezo.’ In 1998 Japanese Prime Minster Keizo Obuchi gave it to President Clinton during his visit to Japan. There’s more to the story on the Capital Bonsai blog.


ezowalt copyThis photo shows the result of another radical Ezo transformation by Walter Pall. If you look at what Walter started with, you’ll see what I mean. 


ezomhWe’ve shown this now famous Michael Hagedorn Ezo spruce at least twice here on bark. Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell that, rather than a slab (let alone a pot), the tree is growing on a board.



This wonderful museum quality bonsai treasure by the true master of Ezo spruce bonsai is marked down from 34.95 to 22.00 at Stone Lantern. This comes to only 16.50 with our current (but soon to end) 25% off book sale.

Imperial Pots Up Close


All the photos shown here are from a post on Kigawa Bonsai Blog titled Imperial Palaces and ‘Bonsai Pots’ in Beijing. We’ve cropped some (including this one) to give you a closer look.

I just stumbled upon yet another excellent bonsai blog (I often wonder if, when we introduce you to a new blog, you’ll wander off and we’ll never see you again. I suppose it’s a chance worth taking; there such a wealth of good stuff out there and we’re all in this together anyway…).

The blog is called Kigawa Bonsai. The post is titled: Imperial Palaces and ‘Bonsai Pots’ in Beijing. All the photos shown here are borrowed from Kigawa. We cropped some for closer looks.

pots In Kigawa’s own words: “One aspect of interior décor there was common occurrence of fake plants. These fake plants were made of many different materials and always came in pairs. In fact, traditional Chinese interior design is very symmetrical and to accommodate that many furnishings must come in identical or almost identical pairs. Anyway, the containers housing those fake plants are the main topic of this post. Images below show some of the containers I spotted in various buildings.” Kigawa’s text continued below.


“These containers were made of a wide range of materials. The materials included porcelain, metal with vitreous enamel, wood, red lacquer, jade and stone. It was difficult to take good photos of them because they often were in poorly lit areas behind one or two layers of glass. They were quite amazing nevertheless. As you can see they closely resemble bonsai pots.”  




For more photos and text visit Kigawa Bonsai Blog.

Joan Miró, Paul Klee & Horst Heinzlreiter


This unique example of ceramic art is by Horst Heinzlreiter as are all the pots in this post.

Just when I thought Horst Heinzlreiter’s pots couldn’t get any better, I discovered these wild and wonderful examples of art disguised as bonsai pots (that’s what I wanted to call this post until I discovered Ceramic Art Disguised as Bonsai Pots on some obscure bonsai blog).

I spent a year of my youth in Europe, with a sizable hunk of that time wandering around art museums (one of the best things I’ve ever done BTW). Two of the handful of artist who left indelible images on my otherwise faulty memory, are Joan Miró and Paul Klee. It’s not that these pots look exactly like their paintings, but nevertheless, both of these great artists come to mind when I look at them.








A Pencil and Paper, and a Desire to Improve Your Eye for Bonsai Design

roigRococo bonsai. If you decide to try your hand at drawing bonsai, my guess is that the results won’t look a lot like this. We’ve featured this illustration by Ruben Roig at least twice (here and here), but it’s been a long time and Ruben’s skills are exceptional, so it’s worth another look.

Consider this post an encouragement for you to try your hand at drawing bonsai (that’s three in row for those of you who love the English language). Or lacking that, you can simply enjoy these illustrations by people who excel at the art of drawing bonsai.

There are at least two overlapping motivations for drawing bonsai. One is for the pure pleasure of drawing (drawing bonsai as an art in itself) and the other is to explore what a bonsai might look like before you start styling. This second motivation doesn’t require much skill, just a pencil and paper, and a desire to improve your eye for bonsai design.

Rudi JuliantoElegance in sepia tones. This, and three other illustrations in this post are by Rudi Julianto. We’ve featured at least one of Rudi’s drawings here on bark (#4) and I just rediscovered him on facebook (where else?) and was struck by his subtle feel for the art of drawing bonsai. As you might expect, Rudi is also an accomplished bonsai artist.

rudi2Elegance in black and white by Rudi Julianto. It’s a simple drawing until you take a second look and notice just how much detail there is.


A little more elaborate. Also by Rudi.

rudi 4Another excellent drawing by Rudi Julianto, but is it just me, or is this tree is going to tip over?

nakaThese two drawings are from John Naka’s Sketchbook. Mr. Naka, was widely recognized (even revered) as the Dean of American Bonsai. He traveled and taught tirelessly and probably did more for bonsai in the West than anyone else. He also regularly used drawings as teaching tools and if you happened to have studied with him and to have received a drawing of what your bonsai could become, then you were lucky indeed.

B1NAKA500John Naka’s famous sketchbook. It’s on special at Stone Lantern with an additional 25% off for our current book sale.

It’s About the Moss, Our Masters Bonsai Soil, and…

shim2A little shaggy and the pot is dirty but it’s about the moss, our Masters Bonsai Soil and a post we did a while back.

An important issue came up in a post we did a while back about our Masters Bonsai Soil. The comment that provoked the question was by Andy Rutledge. Here’s what Andy said: Soil particulate size, especially at the surface, is important. These photos, the latter two especially, indicate problems in tree health will arise in the coming growing season. Be careful. 

In a follow-up comment Andy goes on to say: …particle size necessarily varies due to vertical position/layer in the pot, tree maturity, pot size, tree-to-pot proportion, pot depth, soil material (is it inert? organic?),etc….in the lower two photos above, the more important factor is the size and depth of the pot. The surface material should be much smaller in order to properly maintain moisture retention; especially since this appears to be an almost completely inert mix. There’s more but this will do for our purpose now.

Though I don’t know if Andy would agree, but my solution is moss. Moss slows down the drying process, especially on the surface. At the risk of stating the obvious and of over simplifying what Andy said; if the surface dries too fast, the roots closest to the surface will suffer and the rest of the tree will follow.

So far the moss solution has worked. It’s true that the hottest days of summer are in front of us, but we’ve already had several days around 80F and sunny, so I’m optimistic.

larchHere’s a freshly cut back native Larch (Tamarack) that I transplanted into our Masters Bonsai Soil about 7 weeks ago. I left some open spots for aeration and as places to apply some slow release fertilizer. As you can see, I also left the Sword Shears I used.

larch3More evidence and another dirty pot (I sometimes rail against other people’s photos with dirty pots). This Larch, which appeared in the aforementioned earlier post, was also transplanted about 7 weeks ago.