Two Pines Before & After, plus a Short Treatise on Bunjin


After. Japanese red pine (Pinus densiflora) by Naoki Maeoka. Not to be confused with our native Red pine (Pinus resinosa) which are common here in Vermont, but alas, are not great bonsai subjects (unlike the Japanese red pine). If you look at the trunk it’s obvious why they call them red pines (the same goes for our native red pine). On a more frivolous note, I can’t help but think of a ski jumper every time I see this remarkable tree.

A talented new kid on the block. Both of the trees shown here are from Naoki Maeoka’s face book photos. We’ve never featured Naoki on Bark and it’s always great to welcome new faces (well, new names at least, we tend to stick to bonsai photos here).

Due to their long somewhat narrow trunks with no low branching, most people might call both of these pines bunjin (aka literati). The only thing that might give pause are the relatively heavy, robust crowns. I say ‘relatively’ because the most ‘bunjin of bunjin’ reflect hostile growing conditions and therefore have very sparse foliage.

I didn’t set out to write a treatise on bunjin, but we’ve come this far, so why not? Here’s a quote from an essay on bunjin by John Naka: “It looks like it is struggling for its survival, or a form of agony. The tree itself should not be in this condition, in reality it should be healthy. The shape or form may indicate struggle but not health. It seems to be a very cruel method but it is only concept. Its appearance should not be too serious nor easy, it should be free, unconstrained, witty, clever, humorous and unconventional. A good example for this is a study of any of nature’s tree that has survived some sort of problem or disaster.”






After. Japanese white pine by Naoki Maeoka.



Our sponsor has informed me that you might be interested in these two ‘on topic’ books and even though I am loath to clutter Bonsai Bark with ads, who am I to argue with the man who signs the checks?



Our famous Pine book


John Naka Sketchbook by The National Bonsai Foundation
available at Stone Lantern

Satsuki Azalea Trimming Lesson


This old Satsuki azalea, with its massive trunk and wild display of mixed up flowers is from our Satsuki Azaleas for Bonsai & Azalea Enthusiasts book by Robert Z. Callaham (Stone Lantern Publishing).

 Trying to get out of town for a little R&R, so thought I’d dig this short and sweet Azalea post out of our archives. It’s from the early years (February 2010).


shearSatsuki shears are used to shape azaleas after the spring bloom and before the new buds set in the late summer/early fall. Not only does this technique keep azaleas in shape, it can also increase next years flower crop (be careful though, sometimes too many flowers can stress a bonsai – see below). All three drawings in this post are from Bonsai Today issue 1.


azthin-212x300Thinning overly vigorous and dense growth. This helps open up the tree and forces energy into weaker zones. In this illustration the thinning is done in the fall after next years’ flower buds have set.


azthin2-172x300Satsuki shears are used here to thin individual shoots. Azaleas that are shaped but not thinned tend to become dense and may even flower more than is healthy (flowers require extra energy and trees in pots can become stressed if too many flowers make too much demand on their roots and overall metabolism).


sat1Azalea flowers from the cover of Satsuki Azaleas for Bonsai & Azalea Entusiasts.



The book. Available at Stone Lantern

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Americans Abroad


This beautifully flowing Sargent juniper(Juniperus chinensis var. Sargentii ‘Itoigawa’ – aka Itoigawa Shimpaku) belongs to Douglas Paul, the owner of The Kennett Collection (we’ve featured The Collection here on Bark). This and the other photos in this post are borrowed from Bill Valavanis’ Bonsai blog.

Just in case you are not familiar with Kokufu ten, it’s a bonsai exhibition that takes place in Tokyo once a year and is widely considered the world’s most famous and prestigious bonsai event. 2015 was its 89th year, which I believe makes it the world’s oldest bonsai exhibition as well as the most famous.

Simply being excepted for display in Kokufu is a great honor, which is the reason for this post featuring the three Americans whose bonsai appeared in this year’s Kokufu. As is often the case, the photos shown here were borrow from Bill Valavanis. They represent a tiny fraction of Bill’s 2015 Kokufu photos.



This powerful Sargent juniper (Juniperus chinensis var. Sargentii ‘Itoigawa’ – aka Itoigawa Shimpaku) belongs to Sean Burke, who seems to be a well-kept secret (not only is the first I’ve heard of Sean, but I couldn’t find anything about him online).



This gnarly Japanese yew (Taxus cuspidata) with its Shimpaku-like deadwood, belongs to Matthew Ouwinga, a highly accomplished bonsai artist who we’ve featured here on Bark.

Bonsai Wiring Lesson


Front view of a freshly trimmed and wired Scot’s pine (Pinus sylvestris) by Luis Vallejo. This photo and the others shown here are from Luis’ facebook feed.

It’s not often we find good bonsai technique photos on facebook, so I got a little excited when I stumbled across a whole bunch of great photos of a freshly wire Scot’s pine by Luis Vallejo and thought you might like to see them too. I won’t attempt to show all of Luis’ photos in the series. You can make the short journey to his facebook feed if you’d like to see them.

Before we start, I think  it is worth noting how thoroughly Luis cleaned up the old needles before he started wiring. If you’ve ever tried to wire a tree with unnecessary shoots and old foliage all over the place, you know how important it is it to clean up before you start.



Back view. On most good bonsai the back could just as easily be the the front. This one is no exception.



Left branch. This is a good shot of the classic under-over U-shape wiring where one branch forks into two.



Left branch from below.



Right branch from below.



Whole tree (almost) from down under.



Fine wiring on the right branch from above. This gives you a pretty good idea of just how thoroughly Luis trimmed and cleaned before wiring.



Whole tree from the top. A shot you don’t see that often.



Where it all started. Gives you a good idea of what a talented bonsai artist can do given enough time.

This is not the first time Luis Vallejo’s bonsai have turned up on Bark and it won’t be the last either. Here’s a link to some earlier posts that feature his bonsai.

Still Crazy…


It’s hard to deny the mind stopping power and originality of this bonsai. It’s by Luis Vila and the photo is by Salvador De Los Reyes. We pinched it from Empire Bonsai (apologies to Salvador and Empire for our crop; we wanted to maximize the tree).

I usually try to come up with a good excuse for resorting to our archives (rather than going to the trouble to come up with something new), but today there’s no good excuse. Unless you think laziness qualifies.

This post originally appeared in November 2013. It was titled ‘Crazy Bonsai.’ Beyond laziness, another reason to show it again is, we featured a piece of the lead tree (above) in our last post.

Once again we’ve been out stealing from honest, hard-working folks. And we’re not even that embarrassed. I suppose we’re redeemed by our fanatical devotion to attribution (if you want to be a successful pincher, you need to show some respect).

In this case our mark is Bonsai Empire, a site that’s just too good to pass up (we’ve lifted a little from them in the past, but not that much). They’ve got miles of great bonsai photos, reams of useful information and they too know the value of attribution (note from the present; Bonsai Empire is still a great place to visit, but I probably should have said that ‘they sometimes know the value of attribution’).

All the photos in this post are from a post of theirs titled Top 10 Crazy and Unusual Bonsai Trees. We won’t show all ten here, but my guess is that you’d be more than welcome to pay them a visit.


217Bonsai Empire borrowed this one from Crash Bonsai. Coincidentally, I started the day thinking that we might feature Crash Bonsai, but decided that too many photos of smashed up cars might be a little disturbing for some of us. But not so disturbing that we won’t show just this one and leave the rest to you. BTW, I greatly admire the detail and precision involved in making these unique little scenes.



Here’s Empire’s caption for this one: “Big apple on a tiny bonsai tree”. It looks photoshoped, but it is in fact a real Bonsai. Leaves can grow smaller, but often fruits remain relatively big. For more information, read the Fruits and Flowers with Bonsai article. Photo by: Flowerstory.


67I’m pretty sure we’ve shown this remarkably long tree on Bark, but couldn’t find (after an exhausting 30 second search). Before I copy Empire’s caption, I want to point out their little logo in the corner. They put it on all of their photos. The reason you don’t see it on some photos shown here, is because of our propensity for cropping. Now Empire’s caption: “It took 30 years to grow the 6,5 foot (2 meter) branch of this bonsai, at Kyoto Garden Ryokan Yachiyo. Read more on Bonsai in Japan. Photo by: Michael Bonsai.”


411Makoto Azuma is the artist behind these implausible, phantasmagorical bonsai. I just consulted our astrologer and he or she said you could look for more of these wonderfully outrageous creations in the future. Meanwhile, thanks to Empire for cluing us in.


A good reason to visit Stone Lantern right now
Three Big Sales end tonight at 11:59pm EDT


Three Stone Lantern sales that end tonight
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Okatsune Bonsai & Garden Tools 20% off
500 gram rolls of Bonsai Aesthetics wire 20% off

Deadwood, Bark and Other Bonsai Fragments


I’ve long been fascinated by close ups. Shots that provided details that you sometimes miss with regular bonsai photos. Especially deadwood and bark details. Maybe it’s because both deadwood and bark tell stories about time, and time (or at least the illusion of time) provides much of the beauty and mystery of the best bonsai.

All the photos shown here are by Salvador De Los Reyes. I believe that all but one of these photos are of his trees (here and here are couple earlier Bark posts that feature Salvador’s bonsai).

You can view more photos of Salvador’s bonsai on facebook and on his blog.



If you are skilled enough you can create the illusion of age by carving and applying other techniques with deadwood. But when it comes to bark, time and only time is necessary for that prized aged look.





The photo is by Salvador and as far as I can tell, this is the only tree shown here that is not his. It belong to Luis Vila. The whole tree is quite remarkable and worth a quick click to a Bark post from 2013.







Just in case you were wondering, Salvador does feature plenty of full bonsai photos (my apologies for the blown-up-too-far fuzz).



Before and after. 


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Walter’s Fairy Tale Bonsai

walterhorn Walter Pall just put this Oriental Hornbeam up on his Bonsai Adventures blog yesterday. I’m not so sure Walter would say the tree is as developed as he’d like, but it is at least well on its way. Especially considering it is one of his ‘Fairy Tale’ bonsai. A style that tends to have a wild almost primeval look.

Walter Pall is nothing if not inventive. Don’t believe me (though I don’t know why you wouldn’t)? Here, here and here are a some pieces of evidence from posts found right here on Bonsai Bark. If you want more evidence, you can take a quick trip to Walter’s Bonsai Adventures blog (maybe not so quick once you get there; he’s at least as prolific as he is inventive).

This post is our second on Walter’s Fairy Tale Bonsai (here’s the first). The name is his invention. He attributes the style to the Chinese, though to my eye his results are somewhat distinctive. You may or may not like what you see, but you must admit that he’s not afraid to push the imaginary envelope.

All the photos below are from a post titled The Fairy Tale Bonsai Style that Walter put up last year.










All the photos in the this post are borrowed from Walter Pall.

A Famous Olive by a Famous American Bonsai Artist

tuckerolive1This dramatic European olive forest on a rooted burl is by Melba Tucker. It’s borrowed from The National Bonsai Foundation‘s 2008 calendar.

Winging it back to the ice palace today, so we’ll plunder our archives once again. This one dates way back to the Stone Ages (so to speak). January 2010 to be exact.

Though it goes without saying
This old gem (above) looks like a forest growing on a rocky ledge somewhere in Spain (or anywhere else olives grow) and, though it goes without saying, I’ll say it anyway: it’s one of the most wonderful, natural looking burl style forest plantings we’ve seen. If you are ever anywhere near Washington DC, check it (and a whole bunch of other world class bonsai) out. It’s at the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum.


melbasui2Melba found this distinctive American Pattern Stone in the Mojave Desert. It’s from her book, Suiseki & Viewing Stones, An American Perspective. The photos (including this one) are by Peter Bloomer. Peter and his wife, Mary Holmes Bloomer are the editors. Peter and Mary are also responsible for Timeless Trees, The U.S. National Bonsai Collection.


suimelba2A Chrysanthemum stone from Japan. Also from Melba’s book.

About Melba Tucker
This is from the Phoenix Bonsai Society’s Book of Days (August 1999): “Teacher, worker and supporter Melba Tucker died in California at the age of 82. She became interested in bonsai in 1956 as a student of Khan Komai, began to teach it a decade later (including to adults in the El Monte and Alhambra, CA schools since 1970), and in 1996 the Suiseki Pavilion in the U.S. National Arboretum was named after her. That was the same year Melba’s book on the American perspective of suiseki was published. Former president of the Santa Anita Bonsai Society and a member of four other clubs including the California Bonsai Society, she also served as treasurer of Bonsai Clubs International for a total of eighteen years. She taught bonsai, saikei, and suiseki worldwide and was equally generous in her financial support of many bonsai and suiseki organizations. A master of saikei plantings, Melba maintained a personal bonsai collection of over one hundred show trees of all styles.”


Melba Tucker’s Suiseki classic. Now on special at Stone Lantern.


Not All the Best Bonsai Are For Sale, But There Are More Than Enough If You Know Where to Look

gcmainThis powerful pine was not one of the winners at the recent 2015 Kokufu en Bonsai Exhibition (widely considered the most prestigious bonsai exhibition in the world). In fact, it wasn’t even on of the entries. It was rather, one of hundreds (if not thousands) of amazing bonsai you might find in the sale area that accompanied the Exhibition. This photo and the other photos in this post are from Bill Valavanis Bonsai Blog.

I am continually amazed how much Bill Valavanis accomplishes as a result of his lifelong bonsai passion. I won’t say much more except that you can see some of what Bill has been up to by visiting his blog (Welcome to My Bonsai World). You could also subscribe to his magazine (International  Bonsai Magazine). Or visit his bonsai nursery (International Bonsai Arboretum). Or make plans to visit his 2016 U.S. National Bonsai Exhibition (or purchase the 2012 album). Or do all of the above.

It’s not completely clear to me, but I believe that all the photos shown here are from the Ueno Green Club’s market near the 2015 Kokufu Exhibition (someone, probably Bill, will clue us in if I am mistaken). In any case, they are all borrowed from recent posts on Bill’s blog. They represent but a small fraction of Bill’s photos, so I suggest you click you way over to view more Green Club, Kokufu and other photos from Japan. You can also read what Bill has to say about the Green Club.


Another monster pine.


Another extraordinary bonsai for sale. Too bad we can’t read the price tag.


Lot’s of pots for sale to, though they don’t all stand out quite as much as these two.





gcAll of the photos in this post are by Bill Valavanis.