Master Bonsai Magician

bt56-p031-011This powerful and famous Yew by is by Bonsai Master Masahiko Kimura. It's from The Magician (below). It also appears in Bonsai Today issue 56.

Archives plus today. Most of this post originally appeared in February 2010 and again last year. It was originally titled ‘Eccentric Bonsai: Fearless Master Kimura Again’. I’ve added some copy and killed some of the original copy in an attempt to reduce the wince factor. I’ve also added another photo for your enjoyment.



Same species but very different tree. Though it's not as powerful as many other Kimura trees (see above and below), nor is it considered one of his classics, still... there's that unusual trunk that give pause for thought. It's a Japanese Yew that appears in The Bonsai Art of Kimura (long out of print). There is no explanation given for how the trunk was formed. My guess is that Kimura split the original trunk and re-joined the two halves.

The following is from The Bonsai Art of Kimura (still out of print) in a section titled ‘Some future bonsai masterpieces.’

“…this Yew was a favorite tree in the artist’s collection. He sold it once only to buy it back again.

“In the summer of 1984 the back branch died because the wire Kimura put on originally had not been removed (this no doubt happened during the time when someone else owned it). Although it was an important branch that provided balance, it was compensated for by changing positions of other branches. The tree’s height is 26″ (66 cm).”


kim51Shooting the Magician at night. This astounding tree is originally from an El Tim album that we featured in 2013.



Dig in and let yourself be inspired by the bonsai brilliance of the The Magician. On special at Stone Lantern.

Don’t Starve Your Bonsai

Lush summer foliage and impressive deadwood on an old Shimpaku juniper.The lush foliage is the result of timely feeding. The photo is from our Masters Series Juniper book (due back in print in December). I know the tree is from Japan, but don't know who the artist is.

Many, if not most people underfeed their bonsai. There are many reasons why ample fertilizing is critical to developing healthy and beautiful bonsai. I’ll list a few (if I missed something important, please let us know in the comments).

1. It’s up to you. Most bonsai soils don’t contain nutrients. This means your tree’s nutritional requirements are completely dependent on you. If you do use a soil that contains nutrients* (organic matter), these will eventually get used up or leach out.

2. Healthy foliage is beautiful foliage. You want vigorous healthy foliage. The foliage on underfed trees will lack color and luster.

3. Rapid thickening. Fertilizing promotes rapid growth which promotes trunk and branch thickening (younger trees and older trees are treated differently**).

4. Ramification. Healthy growth (along with skillful trimming) promotes the development of fine branching (secondary, tertiary and so forth).

5. Pest resistance. Healthy well-fed trees are better able to resist pests.

6. Stress resistance. Same goes for heat, cold, wind etc.

7. Human error. Healthy well-fed trees with strong roots can better resist forgetting to water or over-watering (but only up to a point).

*Organic matter in soil tends to inhibit aeration (aka drainage) and is not recommended by most bonsai professionals.

**With younger trees you want rapid growth so you start feeding in the early spring and keep feeding right through the summer. With older more developed trees too much growth can cause loss of shape, but you still want healthy trees with beautiful crowns. The secret here is wait until the summer to start feeding.


maplewalterYou can bet that this luxurious crown is the result of generous feeding. This lush Kiohime Japanese maple belongs to Walter Pall, so I'm guessing that's his arm and hand. It (the tree not the hand) is 45 cm (18") high and more than 50 years old (again the tree, though if it's Walter's hand...). It was originally imported from Japan. This photo and the one below are from Walter's blog. They are part of a series of photos on the development of this tree.



Walter's maple after he reduced the crown and turned it around. Now the proportions are better and you can see the bones better too. This shape and crown will be maintained by proper feeding (more summer less spring) and skillful trimming. The pot is by Petra Tomlinson.



This hornbeam belongs to Mario Komsta. I lifted it from an old Bark post (2010). It's an great example of a powerful trunk and an extreme example of fine branching, the result of ample fertilizing and skillful trimming. Once the trunk and branching are well developed you can stop spring feeding but continue to feed in the summer.



Feed your Bonsai!
Organic slow release fertilizers are the best
(Green Dream pellets & Rape Seed cakes)

You can also supplement with liquid

More Deadwood & Six Reasons to Love a Bonsai

nicolaThe uninitiated sometimes wonder how a tree like this stays alive. The answer; excellent care and that live vein that snakes its way up the trunk.
The feature that really sets this tree apart (taking nothing away from the live vein and the tree's overall beauty and balance) is that delicious deadwood reaching into the sky. I think it's the fluidity of the movement that keeps it from being over the top (so to speak). The tree belongs to Nicola Kitora Crivelli. It’s from a gallery on  Bonsai Empire.


More deadwood. We’re on a roll so we’ll just keep going.


jin1Going down? I can think of at least six reasons to love this tree: that little piece of wood that hangs over the edge of the pot, the remarkable texture and color of the bark, the way the powerful old trunk seems to cling to the pot, the radiant health expressed by the foliage, the fact that it's Southwestern white pine (Pinus strobiformis) a variety that's new to me, and that remarkable jin that seems to point in the direction the rest of tree is headed. The tree belong to Greg Brenden. The photo is from the 2010 2nd U.S. National Exhibition Album (out of print but we still have the 3rd and 4th).

B1-SET2ALBUMS2The 3rd and 4th U.S, National Bonsai Exhibition Albums


jin2Going up? When I let go of my notions of naturalness and try to look with unprejudiced eyes, I’m struck by the way the whiteness (fresh lime sulfur) of the deadwood sets off the delicious slick live vein (a tough brush and some camillea oil?). Then there’s the story behind the partially hidden twisted deadwood stump. Something happened to this tree before it was discovered clinging to its little patch of soil somewhere in eastern North America (it’s an Eastern red cedar that's really a Juniper (Juniperus virginiana). Oh yeah, and there’s those three jin. The tree belongs to Juan Calderon. The photo is from the 2008 1st U.S. National Exhibition Album (out of print).


Roshi2 Our large selection of famous Roshi Bonsai Tools are on Special
Roshi tools equal precision cutting, durability and excellent prices


Carving Deadwood – How About Yew?

yewEvery time I open Bonsai Today issue 106 and lay my eyes on this wickedly powerful, dynamic 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, bonsai artist and deadwood carver extraordinaire. Photo by Simon Carr.

We’ve been flirting with deadwood a lot lately, so let’s keep going. This time we’ll dip back into our archives and resurrect a post that originally appeared in 2011.

A labor of love
Yew wood is very hard. Harder than almost any other  type of wood you might carve for bonsai. In this light, take a look at the photo below and then at the photo above. Now imagine all that carving with only hand tools…. Okay, I’m kidding. Kevin used power tools. But still, it’s a labor of love (and considerable skill).

There’s much more
The sequence of steps that take us from what you see below to what you see above is covered in great detail in Bonsai Today issue 106. 13 pages of photos (38 in all) and informative text.




yew3Getting started.

How about yew?
Okay. I know this pun is a little lame…. but if you are interested in deadwood carving (and why not?) we suggest you start with hand tools. Once you get the hang of it (there’s more than meets the eye) you can graduate to power tools.


TC5CS-CarvingHand tools work fine for smaller jobs and to supplement power carving. This set of 5 Bonsai Aesthetics carving tools are on special for only 59.00


The Sensationalism of Deadwood?

fjThere's deadwood and then there's deadwood. This photo is from Francois Jeker's website. Judging from the bark and the leaves, I'd guess this is a Yew. Probably European (Taxus baccata).

Dick Matthews wrote this in the comments on a post from a few days ago (from my personal facebook feed). “Sometime I think that in a bizarre sort of way, bonsai is evolving into the sensationalism of dead wood. The more bizarre looking the dead wood, the more it represents the age of a bonsai, but I don’t think that the dead wood should be the central theme and eye-catcher of a bonsai.”

It’s always good to read comments that are thought provoking, and this one qualifies. I won’t say more; I’d rather read what you have to say.

fj3Francois Jeker’s illustrations on natural aging of deadwood. Originally from Bonsai Today issue 103. All remaining back issues of Bonsai Today are now 50% off.



The cover of Francois new book aptly illustrates his skill with deadwood, as does the inside of the book. Today is the last day of our 25% off Book Sale at Stone Lantern.



A lot less deadwood on this pine. From Francois' website.



What do you think? Does the deadwood enhance or distract from this tree?



Power carving tools are now the standard when it comes to deadwood. This photo is also from Bonsai Today issue 103. That's Francois' finger.



Francois’ three excellent English language bonsai books (another reminder; our 25% off Book Sale ends tonight at 11:59pm EDT).


Super-Sized Penjing & Our Summer Bonsai Book Sale Is About to End

bigpenjingThis super-sized three part penjing is by Robert Steven; renowned bonsai artist, teacher and author, and frequent contributor to this blog. It's worth noting that this is freshly planted, so you might imagine what it would like after things settled and filled out.

Every time I see this magnificent Penjing planting, I want to share it. For this and other reasons, this is the third time for this post, though the original photos have been enlarge to fit our newer format and a couple new cropped versions have been added. I’ve also stuck some pertinent books in to remind you that our Big Summer Book Sale is about to end (tomorrow night, Sunday at 11:59pm EDT). The original post is from December 2011.



Robert Steven's now famous second bonsai book (the first is currently out of print). Robert's bonsai are exciting and inspirational and will light blazing fires in the mind of any bonsai lover. List price is 55.00. Now only 36.00 with our normal discount plus our 25% off Book Sale.

In Robert Steven’s own words
“This is a super large penjing I did two weeks ago. The total length is three meters (about 10 feet). I combined three large special-order white marble trays in the arrangement in order to give a unique presentation in perspective and composition. The mountains were made of real rocks by a friend who hollowed some areas for planting the trees (Triphasia trifolia, aka Limeberry). The problem was to find a background for the photo, finally got it….”


This photo offers a little perspective.


B1PENJINGTwo of the greatest living Penjing artists are Robert and Zhao Qingquan. This beautiful book covers simply everything you want to know about Penjing, including design, care, categories, techniques and much more. List price 26.95, now only 18.71 with our normal discount plus our 25% off Book Sale.



Blown up and a little fuzzy, but still, a closer look. You can see and appreciate the range of colors and textures a bit more.


bigpenjingcu2The other pieces.



One more book that we really like. It's both a practical how-to bonsai book and an exploration of its history, aesthetic, styles and preservation of the art of Literati bonsai/penjing. List price 28.95. Now only 17.96 with our normal discount plus our 25% off Book Sale.

The Sun Almost Never Gets Too Hot Here in Northern Vermont, but It Just Might Where You Live

suthin11Deciduous Award at the 2012 U.S. National Bonsai Exhibition for the Finest Deciduous Bonsai. It's a Japanese Maple by Suthin Sukolosovisit of Royal Bonsai. It has nothing to do with the topic of this post, at least directly, but the 3rd (2012) U.S. National Bonsai Exhibiton Album and all of our other books are now on special at Stone Lantern.
Michael’s font of bonsai wisdom: The following very useful piece of summer advice is by Michael Hagedorn from his Crataegus Bonsai.

When the sun gets too hot…

July 16, 2015 by Crataegus

“There are various ways of helping our bonsai cope with sun and not literally cooking them on our benches in the summertime. They are in pots, but it doesn’t mean we want to fry a special root dish, in a soil sauce…

“Because bonsai are in pots, they are very unlike trees in the ground. We want to reduce any similarities to a dog in a car on a hot day.

thFry your bonsai it can, without cooking oil…

“There are two situations… A cooler climate with rare spikes in temperature to 100 F / 38 C or higher that might last a few days, and then there are the hot summer areas that are always that high…”
For the rest of the article, visit Crataegus Bonsai.

BTW: if you’ve never visited Michael’s Crataegus Bonsai, you’re missing some of the best writing and most useful bonsai information on the web. Speaking of writing, Michael is the author of one of our favorite bonsai books: Post-Dated – The Schooling of an Irreverent Bonsai Monk.


b1shohingwatering-300x1971Photo from Shohin Bonsai by Morten Albek. Published by Stone Lantern.
TJWANDA Watering Wand is an excellent idea. As is a Fog-It nozzle (not shown here but available at Stone Lantern).

An Astonishingly Eccentric Two Headed Monster

shimpCalligraphy anyone? I think this is the third time we've shown this astonishingly eccentric two headed monster, but it's been about four years, which means many of you haven't seen it, and I think everyone should have at least one chance. I don't know its full history, but I do know that it appeared on The Art of Bonsai Project in a post titled The Bonsai of Mario Komsta, as did all the photos shown in this post. Yixing pot.

Once again it’s time for Mario Komsta (Super Mario), one of Europe’s and the world’s new wave of younger bonsai artists. Many of these up and comers, including Mario, have apprenticed in Japan. The skills and sensibilities they are bringing back to the West are a big reason for the relatively recent dramatic progress in Western bonsai.

All the photos shown here are borrowed from The Art of Bonsai Project.


If this Hornbeam were a full size tree, you might be able to walk through the hole. Tokoname pot.



Another Shimpaku, this time with antlers. It may not be as eccentric as the one above, but it's pretty distinctive. You might notice that it lacks some of the more conventional bonsai features (taper, or more or less evenly radiant surface roots for example), but to my eye it doesn't matter. Yixing pot.



This Japanese red pine (Pinus densiflora) is a more or less a conventional informal upright bonsai with great movement and compelling deadwood that looks like it has been freshly painted with lime sulfur (deadwood is less common on pines than junipers as it tends to rot faster which means it requires more effort to keep it). Tokoname pot.


jwpJapanese white pine. Another informal upright with deadwood and another hole. From this perspective the deadwood doesn't look aged, so you might imagine that the carving is fresh. Yixing pot.



More deadwood, this time more aged. This one is a Japanese yew (Taxus bacatta). The pot is a Tokoname.


Rich in Bonsai Wisdom & Advanced How-to Articles


Eric Schrader's caption for this photo reads: "At Ryan Neil’s place the Ponderosa were all about the twists and deadwood." Ryan Neil is the artist behind the wonders of Bonsai Mirai and Eric Schrader is a five star bonsai blogger.

I just discovered a phenomenal bonsai blog. It’s called phutu and it belongs to Eric Schrader (Eric lives in San Francisco and is involved in the Bonsai Society of San Francisco as a volunteer and teacher). I don’t understand how I missed phutu for so long, especially considering Eric has been posting regularly since 2003.

I encourage you to pay phutu a visit. Not only is it rich in valuable bonsai wisdom and lore, it’s also a great source of advanced how-to articles. All supported by excellent high-quality photos.

The photos shown here are from a phutu post on Ponderosa pines titled Postcards from Portland: Part One (May, 2015).



Eric's caption: "Another great Ponderosa in Michael’s garden." The Michael is Michael Hagedorn, an American bonsai artist, teacher and author par excellence.



Ponderosa needles, buds and cones. This photo and the two above are from phutu.

Three pertinent books…

 B1PON-2The only Ponderosa Pine Bonsai Book is now 25% off our already discounted price, as our all of our Bonsai Books.


B1POST for webMichael Hagedorn's Post Dated. Still the best bonsai read


B1PINE-680Our Masters Series Pine book. Now 25% off our discounted price, as are all of our bonsai books (but only until Sunday night).

More Bougainvillea Bonsai but More Elegant & Less Showy this Time

42-770There's something about a beautiful bonsai in flower. If you let your eyes linger for a few moments, you'll notice how the seemingly perfectly placed flowers enhance the power of the tree rather than overwhelm it. It's a bougainvillea by Robert Steven. All this photos in this post are from Robert's facebook gallery.

Yesterday we featured three Bougainvillea Bonsai. The first two were covered with brilliant flowers (actually bracts) and the third was less showy, more like the two you see here. From a purely bonsai perspective, these two are splendid and elegant, with or without flowers, though the flowers they do have complement the beauty of each tree.

The four photos and most of text featured here are from a post we did back in 2012.

Always a pleasure
It has been a while since we’ve featured the bonsai of Robert Steven. In addition to being one of the foremost bonsai artists and teachers on this fierce and lovely planet, Robert is also a friend. Not in the ordinary sense of buddies you hang out with, but in the sense of someone you’ve gotten to know and respect over a long period of doing business together (we sell his books and his Bonsai Aesthetics tools and wire, and he provides free bonsai critiques and other material that we feature on this post). Beyond mutual benefit, genuine trust and loyalty has developed. This doesn’t always happen in long term business relations, but it’s always a pleasure when it does.


13-770Another Bougainvillea with just enough flowers. In this case it's a full cascade with a somewhat unusual sweep that starts on one side of the pot and finishes on the other.
10-770Ficus root-on-rock style on a penjing tray. Aside from the power and beauty of this tree clinging to a rock with almost no soil in sight, there's the added interest of the way its two trunks are connected by that strong trunk/root in the center.
72-770Another planting on a penjing tray. This one offers a whole scene with trees, rocks, land, grass and water. Though it looks like it might be fairly easy to create this type of scene, an ample dose of expertise goes into making one that creates such a natural sense of scale, dynamic balance and tranquility (forgive me for the somewhat pedantic dynamic balance; what I mean to say is that though the scene is quite tranquil, it isn't exactly static; there's a subtle sense of movement that invites your eye to freely move from one side to the other and back again... oh well...).

More shameless promotion. We’re don’t usually advertise quite so blatantly as yesterday and now today. But bear with us, we’ll return to our old low-key ways tomorrow.


Mission of Transformation, Robert Steven’s brilliant opus magnus is now 25% off our regular discounted price, as are all of our bonsai books.

Tools - gardenNEW Sale, 20% off all Japanese and other Gardening Tools (including our Okatsune tools). Plus an extra 10% off orders of 100.00 or more


B1-NEWBooksOur 25% Book Sale ends in less than a week, so don't wait too long and miss this great opportunity to upgrade your bonsai library


Watering Cans

Our 10% off Watering Can Sale ends tonight at 11:59pm EDT
 and our 20% off Embroidered Bonsai Clothing Sale also ends tonight


Plus an extra 10% all orders of 100.00 or more