Bonsai Flowers & A Certain Kind of Provincialism

Wisteria bonsai doing its profuse thing. It belongs to Gerard Schoofs of the Bonsai Society of Victoria. Being a North American I just figured Victoria BC, Canada without a second thought, until I read this caption: “I managed to get this photo about Oct 2011…”

Turns out, there are several Victorias in this wide world and this one is a state somewhere in that over-sized island south of Indonesia (just kidding sort of, with only a hint of irritation about a certain kind of provincialism that assumes*…. or maybe I’m just cranky).

I think it’s a good time to start a series of posts on color. Flowering bonsai to be specific, with maybe a few colorful pots thrown in. After all it’s April and even though we still have at least a foot of compacted snow and ice everywhere around these parts (Vermont, USA, just in case you think I’m guilty of a certain kind of provincialism that assumes….). Still, spring is in the air and it feels real good. Not that we should get our hopes too high…


I don’t know what this is or who it belongs to. The rounded crown and profusion of flowers might suggest an Azalea (maybe even a deciduous azalea), (better eyes report they see a Bougainvillea here) but I can’t be sure. I found it here, then traced it back to Bonsai Empire, but couldn’t find a name or an attribution.


Even though it’s early for Satsuki azalea flowers in most places (Satusuki means 5th month, which means they bloom more or less in May Japan) and we’ve shown this delicious little tree at least twice already, still it’s worth another look. I originally found it on Tae Kukiwon Bonsai.

What would you plant in this pot? It’s one of hundreds of gorgeous, creative and often colorful pots by Horst Heinzlreiter, one of Bark favorites.

* I couldn’t find any reference to which Victoria anywhere on their site… it was finally Gerard Schoofs (facebook) that blew their cover.










































































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Four Beautiful Bonsai & An Exercise In Futility and Frustration

I think this tree deserves some attention. Especially the extraordinary powerful trunk that shows massive shari (trunk deadwood) with only a hint of a living vein (peeking out lower left and upper left). Then there’s the foliage which is somewhat groomed but still free-flowing; giving the tree an informal feel. It might also be worth mentioning that it’s slanting style. You don’t see nearly as many quality slant style bonsai as you do upright bonsai. The photo is from Salvador De Los Reyes facebook photos, as are the other three photos in this post. Here’s the caption that appears on facebook. “Juniperus (no species given) by Salvador De Los Reyes. Approximately 80 years of age. Added by Gustavo Celayes.

This isn’t the first time we’ve featured the bonsai of Salvador de los Reyes (here’s a Before & After from August 2012). Actually that may be a bit misleading because none of the bonsai shown here belong to Salvador, though all four appear among his facebook photos. He worked on the tree above but it doesn’t belong to him (here’s the story in Spanish) and the trees below also belong to other people, though Salador worked one at least one of them.

There’s a story embedded in this post about just how confusing facebook photos can be, especially if you are interested in attribution. Photos get posted and reposted, sometimes dozens of times and trying to trace them back to the artist most often proves to be an exercise in futility and frustration.


Beautiful tree, beautiful pot, beautiful companion, beautiful arrangement and excellent photo. I believe Salvador de los Reyes might have taken the photo, but I’m too busy -aka impatient- to suffer the aggravation of researching right now (especially in Spanish), so if anyone knows the whole story…. I do know (or believe I know) that the tree belongs to Jose Manuel Frontan Salas.


Have you ever seen a Carob bonsai? I think I have, but maybe just once before and maybe it was this very tree (memory has it’s limits). Here’s the caption from facebook: Carob Tree (Ceratonia Silicua) by Salvador de Los Reyes from Spain. Owner, Manolo Vargas. Height: 90 cm. Added by Gustavo Celayes


This somewhat overly groomed tree with its magnificent see-through trunk is also from Salvador de los Reyes facebook photos. Is it an olive? The caption says: Excelente obra maestra propiedad de German Gomez Soler (Excelllent masterpiece owned by German Gomez Soler). BTW: German is his name, not his nationality. It’s not clear to me if Salvador ever worked on this tree or photographed it, or just liked it and included it in his facebook photos.


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Backcountry Bonsai

This ancient three-quarters-dead Limber pine (Pinus flexilis) is clinging for its life on Cusick Mountain in the southern part of Eagle Cap Wilderness in northeastern Oregon. I borrowed both photos in this post from Backcountry Bonsai.

Trees like this fascinate me. Obviously, it will never be a bonsai, but only someone stuck on bonsai without real appreciation of wild trees would care. BTW: such poor benighted souls exist (excluding present company of course). Rather than saying more, I’ll defer to our 26th President (TR) “A people without children would face a hopeless future; a country without trees is almost as helpless.” Then there’s this one by our 40th president (RR). “Trees, how many of ‘em do we need to look at?” I think the latter quote was in reference to protecting ancient redwoods.

Following a digital trail. I found the two photos in this post at Backcountry Bonsai. But that’s not the whole story. Backcountry borrowed them from Ascending the Giants, which belongs to Gary Dielman who is credited with discovering the ancient tree according to Dr Chris Earle of


A magnificent monster! At first glance I thought there’s a strange purple flower growing at the tree’s base. Turns out it’s a backpack that serves at least too functions: it provides a sense of scale, and it distracts from the beauty of the tree just a bit. I suppose it goes without saying that the yellow dots are flowers.

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Bonsai Wire, Your Choice: Copper or Aluminum? Japanese or Chinese?

Like most bonsai, this one has been wired. In fact, there’s visible wire on it right now. It’s a Shimpaku that’s from a chapter in our Masters’ Series Juniper book, titled Keiko Tamaki’s Deft Touch.

It’s time to reach back into our archives once again (from May, 2013). This time our motives are almost purely commercial. We’ve just put up a big Bonsai Wire Sale (20% to 30% off all wire) and that’s something you should know about. BTW: I think this post is worth re-posting even without our commercial motives; you might find the information useful, and I’m sure you’ll like the photos.

Most bonsai are wired at some stage in their development. In fact, bonsai that have been around for a long time may have been wired repeatedly over the years. There are very good reasons for this, not the least of which is, it is often very difficult to get decent results without wire. There’s much more that be can said about this but we’ll leave that for another time.

Anodized aluminum wire is by far the most popular type of wire for bonsai, at least here in the Western world (the other choice is copper wire). We sell both Japanese (Yoshiaki brand) and Chinese (Bonsai Aesthetics brand) anodized aluminum wire and, as a result, we get plenty of question about the difference.

Put simply here’s the difference: Yoshiaki wire is a little stiffer than Bonsai Aesthetics wire. Stiffer means slightly more difficult to use, but a little better holding power.

However, holding power versus ease of use is not the whole story. There are at least two other things to consider: the price and the type of tree you are working on.

When it comes to price, Bonsai Aesthetics wire is hard to beat. It’s such a good deal that even though you have to use slightly heavier wire to get the same holding power, you still save a considerable amount of money.

Types of trees can be broken down into four very general categories: conifers, deciduous trees, temperate zone broad leaf evergreens and tropicals. We’ll just skim the surface here and maybe dig a little deeper in future post.

Most conifers require stiffer wire than other trees, so copper works quite well (it’s strongest of all and very good for heavy branches). However, many people eschew copper wire for the ease and lower cost of aluminum. If you do use aluminum you’ll need a gauge that is quite a bit thicker than the gauge for copper.

Deciduous trees are usually wired with aluminum as are most temperate zone broad leaf evergreens trees. Either Yoshi or Bonsai Aesthetics will work depending on the size of the branch and your preference.

Many types of tropicals are seldom wired, if at all. If you do have a tropical that you’d like to wire, we recommend Bonsai Aesthetics aluminum wire. This is in part because tropicals grow so fast (especially when they’re in the tropics) that you’ll be taking it off not long after you put it on, so why spend the extra money?

At this point, I’d be well-served to borrow Michael Hagedorn’s disclaimer: “There are plenty of exceptions to everything I just said, which naturally makes blogging about bonsai a total disaster.”

One good reason the best Japanese bonsai look more refined than most Western bonsai is because Japanese bonsai artists wire all the way out to the tips of the smallest twigs.


Once the wire is on (copper in this case) it’s time to bend. This photo and all the others in this post are from our Masters Series Juniper book.


Another good use for wire. If you want to prevent future mishaps, both small and large, it’s an excellent idea to wire your tree into the pot.

Spring Bonsai Wire Sale. 20% to 30% off all Bonsai Wire.

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Focal Point, Balance, Scale, Age & That Elusive Quality…

I stumbled across the European hornbeam by Walter Pall on facebook. The shot looks like spring with some trees lagging behind others.

Without the dominant tree this forest planting by Walter Pall would be a whole lot less interesting. With the dominant tree the planting has a focal point, balance, scale, a feeling of age and that more elusive quality we call interest, or beauty.

Focal point. Everything organizes around the dominant tree. In other words, your eye goes there first and from that point the rest of the planting falls into place.

Balance. If you look at the silhouette of the whole planting you’ll immediately see and feel how everything flows from the dominant tree, creating an overall sense of balance and harmony. This has a lot to do with the natural strength and dynamism of scalene triangles and something called The Golden Mean or Golden Ratio (aka Magic Thirds).

Scale. Notice how the large tree is in the front. Not only does this show off its size and power, it also highlights a sense of depth when contrasted with the medium sized trees in the center axis (left to right) of the planting and the smaller trees in the back. Rather than seeing these trees as smaller as they go back, we tend to see them as further away.

Age. When it comes to age, there are two types of natural forests: ones where all the trees are more or less the same age and size (for example a stand of trees that grew up after a forest fire or some other disaster) and the more interesting and common old forest with trees that show a mix of ages and sizes. This planting is a good example of the latter, with the main tree emphasizing and even exaggerating the contrast. To carry this a little farther, you might even imagine that at one time the dominant tree stood alone and gradually seeded the others.

Walter Pall often takes and shows several photos of the the same bonsai over time and with different backdrops. I think this is a good idea, especially given that no single photo will ever completely capture the power and dynamism of a good bonsai. Not to say that several photos will do that either, but they might help.






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Grafting Lesson & A Totally Unrelated Wall of Ice

A few stills captured from Capital Bonsai’s video on grafting that features Ryan Neil.

I just got home from a short vacation only to be greeted by a three foot wall of ice blocking my front porch (photo below). Weather and a serious roof design flaw conspiring in an effort to ruin my homecoming. Fortunately, Corey and Ric kept the office and warehouse doors clear, so here I am, jet lagged, cold, happy to be home (strange I know) and ready to go to work. But only ready enough to take the easy archival way out. This post originally appeared November 2012 and it’s one that might have a real effect on what you do with your bonsai and when you do it. So…  just in case you missed it.

Capital Bonsai (the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum‘s excellent blog) is at it again. This time it’s an outstanding video on grafting featuring Ryan Neil of International Bonsai Mirai.

Fall versus spring grafting. Here’s what Ryan has to say about fall versus spring grafting (loosely paraphrased): Grafting in the fall is more successful than in the spring if you can provide winter protection from freezing. If you graft in spring you have to protect from sun and wind. In the fall you have to protect from freezing.


This compelling photo of suiseki at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum is from Capital Bonsai.


Here’s an opportunity to do something that will have a long-lasting positive effect on our world.


Here’s that wall of ice (mentioned above). The photo was taken just now with my iPhone. It’s noon March 24th, the fourth day of spring. My thermometer says 10 F.


While we’re on the topic… I guess we’d be remiss if we failed to tell you about our selection of grafting knives.

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Dreams of Flowering Bonsai

Sabamiki and uro. Aside from its overall power and beauty, there are a several things that might catch your eye: the flowers and buds, the aged bark (Ume bark develops an aged look fairly fast) and the hollowed out trunk (sabamiki). If you look closely you can also see several uro (small hollows that are left on deciduous trees where branches have rotted and fallen off, though bonsai uro may well be man made).

We’re venturing back into the deep riches of our archives once again. This one is from July 2012 (with a little present tense editing). Seems like a good time to look at some flowering bonsai. Many of you can look out your window now and see flowers everywhere. Some of us can dream.

What’s in a name?
Ume have several names: Prunus mume (or just mume), Japanese apricot (or sometimes Japanese flowering apricot) and Chinese plum to name the most common. In the bonsai world, Ume seems to be the name of choice.

Great bonsai
Ume is an Asian native and even though they make great bonsai, for some reason not many nurseries grow them here in North America (Muranaka Nursery on the California central coast is one exception). As far as I know, they aren’t that difficult to grow as bonsai and they have numerous positive traits: they show the appearance of great age while still fairly young (due mostly to rugged bark and rapid thickening), they combine graceful elegance and tough looking ruggedness, and offer a striking display of buds and flowers late each winter. Altogether a noble candidate for your bonsai collection.

Omiya Bonsai Art Museum
The trees shown here reside at the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum in Saitama City, Japan. The photos are from Yoshitomo Ishizuka’s facebook page.


Shari. Though it’s a little difficult to see, this Ume features some deadwood (shari) on the trunk. You usually see deadwood on conifers, as it tends to rot fairly quickly on deciduous trees. However, on ume deadwood rots quite slowly, so the shari on this tree appears natural. Note from the present: you can preserve deadwood for a very long time with lime sulfur. This is one reason you see bonsai hundreds of years old that still have prominent deadwood.


Fluid motion. Ume trunks and branches tend to display both graceful, fluid motion and wild abrupt turns. This distinctive feature is one more reason that Ume make such great bonsai.

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Okatsune Bonsai & Garden Tool Sale Ends Wednesday

A sampling of some of our Okatsune Bonsai and Garden shears. There are many more, including hedge shears, saws, sheaths, sharpening stones and etc

Our 25% off Okatsune Tool Sale ends Wednesday, March 26th at 11:59pm

Okatsune are the Mercedes of Bonsai and Garden Tools. Expensive? Not when you consider their quality. Worth if you can afford it? Absolutely. And, now with 25% off, they are well within reach.

Okatsune Bypass Shears with Sheath. Forget about Felco. Okatsune Bypass Shears are in a league all to themselves.


Okatsune Bonsai Shear. Even though there are several other bonsai shears that I like a lot, still, this is the one I usually reach for. It has everything. Reach, precision cutting and strength well beyond its size.

Don’t wait. Okatsune Tools are simply the best. They cut like butter and last forever.


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Transplanting: The Happy Zone

Here’s Michael Hagedorn’s caption: “This maple in Shinji Suzuki’s tokonoma is in a pot typical of this kind of tree. It works better aesthetically, in two ways. A shallow pot will make the nebari continue spreading, and the delicacy of the trunks is enhanced by a shallower pot. But a maple is also a tree that appreciates water. And a shallow pot will retain more moisture than a deeper one, in a soil-to-soil relative way. It’s a wetter pot.” All the photos in this post are from Crataegus Bonsai.

We’ve been talking about basics a lot lately. Specifically watering, fertilizing and bonsai soil. Might as well get into transplanting while we’re at it. For many of you, the time is right (some of us are still stuck under a heavy snow cover, but we can almost feel the warmth at the end of the long cold tunnel).

A good place to start is with an article by Michael Hagedorn (Crataegus Bonsai) about pot depth for various type trees. You don’t see much on this topic, but it turns out to be critical when it comes to plant health. BTW: Michael is a real bonsai pro and a very good writer and his article bears that out. I won’t say much more except to quote just a bit from Michael and encourage you to visit Crataegus Bonsai.

“Many trees like their roots far away from anything saturated, which is the bottom of the pot. Two in particular, pines and azaleas. And in muddling about the Western bonsai world I’ve been haunted by the number of pines planted in very shallow containers. “ To dig a little deeper, visit Crataegus Bonsai.


This White pine is ready for Shinji Suzuki’s inspection and then Kokufu (Suzuki was Michael’s teacher, lord and ruler during his apprenticeship in Japan). This photo is from the previous Crataegus post titled Kokufu, Matt Reel, Snow. Notice that the pot is suitably deep for a pine.


“You can certainly plant your pine in a shallow pot (loud thwack of a chopstick on my fingers), but consider mounding it.”

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It’s All About Yew

The powerful tree with its heavy flowing deadwood (it reminds me of melting wax) and luscious reddish bark is truly wonderful, but then there’s that little companion too. Have you ever seen a piece of deadwood used as a bonsai companion? This Taxus (yew) and charming little piece of deadwood belong to Mauro Stemberger. The pot is a Tokoname.

On the road again today, so we’ll go ahead and borrow from our archives once again. This one originally appeared in December 2012.

Species specific series. I’ve been thinking about starting a species specific series (in this case it’s actually genus specific). We’ve devoted posts to certain species before, but haphazardly and without any notion of doing a series. So we’ll consider this the first in our new series of species (or genus) specific posts. Note from the present: we’ve done a few on this series since I wrote this, but it hasn’t happened the way I planned. No good excuse and you can look for more soon.

In praise of the under appreciated yew. Bad puns aside, I know that I’ve praised yew before, still, at the risk of repeating myself, I’m a big fan. For landscaping and for bonsai.

Landscaping. Yews are often over-used in landscaping and as a result their beauty is not always appreciated. Another problem is that the wood is often hidden by the foliage. This is a shame as the color and gnarly shapes that the wood takes on can be stunning, especially with age. And then there’s that brilliant yellow green new growth in the spring.

Bonsai. Back in the day (it was a Wednesday) when I started bonsai, you didn’t see that many yews being used for bonsai and to some extent, you really don’t see that many still. Perhaps this is because they are under appreciated because they are so common in landscapes and the beauty of the wood is often hidden (especially on the low growing dense varieties, which make the best bonsai), so people don’t think of them for bonsai.

The extreme hardness of the wood probably doesn’t help either. Another note from the present; this is changing. Judging by the number of posts devoted to yews here on bark and other places, seems like more people are tuning into them. Even me. I have some old ones in the ground that are looking pretty good. Someday…

Conversely, they are very tough, and respond to pruning and root pruning with flying colors. Carving too, if you have the patience and strength (or power tools) to work their extremely hard wood. Once they are carved, the deadwood can be quite beautiful (especially in contrast to their striking reddish brown bark). As an extra plus, yews are more rot resistant than most trees. And then there’s that beautiful spring foliage.


Every time I open Bonsai Today issue 106 and lay my eyes on this wickedly powerful old English yew, my mind does a little double take. It may not look exactly like anything you’ll see in nature, but it certainly jumps off the page. It’s by Kevin Willson. Photo by Simon Carr.


The foliage on this one is not quite show-ready, but the rest of the tree, wild deadwood and all, certainly is. It’s by Mario Komsta (he’s been showing up here on Bonsai Bark a lot lately).

This dynamic Japanese yew (Taxus cuspidata) with is fluid play of strikingly attractive dead and live wood, and its perfectly balanced foliage, is from cover of Bonsai Today issue 89 (below). Unfortunately, the artist’s name was lost somewhere in translation.


All back issues of Bonsai Today are currently 75% off at Stone Lantern.

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