Masters of the Art of Refinement


We don’t usually feature photos with so much background noise. But this bonsai (Trident maple) is phenomenal and the photo has an artistic quality and gives you a sense of place (the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum).

The thing that most separates Japanese bonsai from much of the bonsai in the West* is refinement. With deciduous trees this is most obvious when you look at ramification (branch structure and particularly fine branch structure). There are certainly other feature that express refinement, for example taper and nebari, but nothing expresses it more than the development of fine branching.

All the bonsai shown here resides at the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum in Saitama, Japan. They all deciduous trees in winter with their bare bones exposed. A good time to study line and ramification.

* There are of course some bonsai in the West (and elsewhere) that express great refinement, but in general the Japanese are still the masters of the art of refinement. This has to do with technical expertise and simply time in training.


This Trident maple shows good ramification and phenomenal trunk that seems to have swallowed a stone.


om3 A broom style Japanese Zelkova that shows a powerful old trunk and well-balanced branching with excellent ramification.



This Stewartia, with its light airy branching, is designed to show off its long smooth trunk and colorful exfoliating bark.


om2In this case it’s more about the fruit than ramification. If the birds don’t get them, Crab apples can hold their fruit well into the winter.



As long as we’re talking about ramification… Not to take anything away from this old Trident maple’s spectacular trunk.


om4 The delicate branching provides a sharp contrast to the short powerful trunk and its striking nebari. Though Tridents often feature the most developed nebari, this Japanese maple is no slouch in that regard.

All the photos in this post were borrowed from the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum’s facebook timeline.

360° Bonsai, No Hidden Flaws or Ugly Spots


Cheng, Cheng Kung starts with this view, so we’ll call it the front (south).

I has been a while since we featured a 360 degree Bonsai. The tree shown here is from Cheng, Cheng Kung’s Si-Daio website (it’s been a long time since we featured Mr Cheng as well). If you visit Cheng’s Si-Daio you can watch the tree spin a full 360° circle.

This 360° bonsai brings to mind an old discussion whether a quality bonsai should be attractive when viewed from any angle. No hidden flaws or ugly spots, no matter where you stand in relation to the tree.

I’ve taken screen shots from 8 different points of view as Mr Cheng’s tree* rotates clockwise. Each view is separated by roughly 45°. Or, if you’d rather think about it in terms of cardinal and ordinal directions and you decide to call the front south, then the progression would be: S, SE, E, NE, N, NW, W, SW and finally back to South (confused yet?).

300px-Brosen_windrose.svg copy

 Maybe this will help.

My apologies for the somewhat fuzzy photos. This is mostly the result of increasing the size to fit our format.

*Collector: Mr. Hsu,Lung-Fa


SE view


East view (side view)


NE view


North view (the back)


NW view


West view ( the other side)


SW view


And back to the front (south view)

When Was the Last Time You Saw a Pink Bonsai Pot?


The more I look, the more I love this powerful little bonsai with its proportionally massive trunk and mottled tropical ocean-blue pot that accentuates its bright green leaves (it’s the coffee). The photo is from a section on Takao Koyo in the Japanese Bonsai Pots Blog. The tree is a Trident maple.

This all started with a couple pots (below) by Takao Koyo that were recently purchased by Morten Albek and put up on his Shohin Bonsai Blog. A quick search lead to a Takao Koyo jackpot at Ryan Bell’s Japanese Bonsai Pots blog.

Here’ a little piece on Takao Koyo that I lifted from Ryan:
Born in 1947, his given name is (Kenji Shiobai?). He began making bonsai pottery at the age 25, in 1972. His influences include Tofukuji, Yusen, and Wakamatsu Aiso. He is self taught as a potter, and as such his work resembles more the work of his idols, than of a master he apprenticed under, like many other painters and potters.
His style is varied, from single color, pure, glazed classics, to interesting new forms, and, of course, painted pieces.

And here’s a link to Takao Koyo’s blog (courtesy of Ryan) where you can enjoy an abundance of great pots and trees.



Another Trident. The tree, though very sweet, isn’t quite up to the one above. But the pot speaks loud and clear. Photo from Japanese Bonsai Pots Blog.


potm The pot that set the armies marching. From Morten Albek’s Shohin Bonsai blog.


potm2 Another Takao Koyo pot from Morten’s blog.



Another devastatingly unique and beautiful glaze (we’ll blame it on the coffee again). From Ryan’s blog.



This change of pace gives you some idea of Takao’s wide-ranging mastery. From Ryan’s blog.



When was the last time you saw a pink bonsai pot? This photo is straight from the Master’s blog. The substantial little tree is another maple; but this time it’s  Japanese (Acer palmatum).

Bonsai through the eyes of someone who possesses the patience and skill to take photographs worthy of the subject


Appreciating bonsai is about feeling. This especially true when you experience the raw power and beauty of the best bonsai up close and personal. They vibrate with aliveness. Lacking this direct experience, the closest you’ll come is through the eyes of someone who possesses the patience and skill to take photographs worthy of the subject.

This post is about what happens when you marry quality bonsai with the highest quality photography. The bonsai shown here were all on display at the Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo on December 6-7, 2104, in Kannapolis, North Carolina. The photographer is Joseph Noga. Our source is Bill Valavanis’ blog, Welcome To My Bonsai World.








Due to year end time constraints I didn’t bother with captions. However, if you’d like to do your own research on the artists and the trees, Bill provided the last names of each artist with each photo (I added the type of tree on some):

1. Bonsai at the top of the post by Reich.
2. White pine by Mercer.
3. Shimpaku on deadwood by Hampel.
4. Informal upright Juniper by Zeisel.
5. Deciduous forest by Valavanis.

For more Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo trees and Joseph’s great photos visit Bill’s blog.

A Method to Mike’s Madness


Looks like an old yamadori California juniper with its heavy twisted trunk.

All the bonsai shown here were lifted from the Bonsai Blog of Mike Page. They are all rather unique and they all stray from the trees we usually feature, but to my eye at least, they all stray in more or less in one direction. There is a method to Mike’s madness.



This Japanese black pine by Mike won the Yoshimura Award for the Finest Classical Bonsai at the 1st U.S. National Bonsai Exhibition (way back in 2008).


zzzzz-10The luminous grass, the unique pot and the calligraphic tree pushed way back in one corner bring to mind an unconventional ikebana or maybe Keshiki.



Is this a yamadori Sierra juniper (aka Western juniper)? Sierra junipers and California junipers are very close cousins and difficult to tell apart (in some photos at least). The bark may be a little different, but the feature that most separates them is the foliage: California juniper’s is heavier and more blunt.



Eccentric is good word for this old juniper. Is it a Sierra?


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis one is a Hollywood juniper (Juniperus chinensis ‘Torulosa’). Mike Page lives in San Francisco, where you can find thousands of these amazing gnarly old landscape trees. In some neighborhoods it seems like there’s one in every yard. Still, you seldom see them used for bonsai.

You can enjoy more of Mike’s unique bonsai here.

Judging Bonsai: Scoring vs Elimination and putting aside some people’s objections to the whole idea of judging, the results are in…


Whoops. The tree I missed in the original post. Too bad, because I have a feeling it would have placed very high in our reader’s poll (it placed 3rd in Method A and second in Method B – see below for the methods).

Two weeks ago we posted photos of seven bonsai and asked our readers to rate them. No contest, no prizes, just for the fun of it.

Putting aside some people’s objections to the whole idea of judging bonsai, the results are in. The trees are arranged from top to bottom (starting just below) in order of your preference (*our scoring system is at the bottom of the post).

Two systems for judging bonsai. The photos and the idea came from a recent facebook post by Robert Steven. Here’s just enough to whet your appetite (continued just below the photo….).


Reader’s choice for the best tree with 78 points. You might notice that it has the #1 on it, and, it was first in line. Unfair advantage? (Using the judging methods referred to below, this tree was 4th using Method A and first using Method B.

Continued from above… In Roberts own words:

This is the result of the 2 judging simulation we did :
Method-A (Scoring) :
–    1st Winner : Tree no. 20
–    2nd Winner : Tree no. 9
–    3rd Winner : Tree no. 18**
–    4th Winner : Tree no. 1
–    5th Winner : Tree no. 2
Method-B (Elimination) :
–    1st Winner : Tree no. 1
–    2nd Winner : Tree no. 18**
–    3rd Winner : Tree no. 20
–    4th Winner : Tree no. 6
–    5th Winner : Tree no. 3
The interesting thing is when the 10 judges were asked which method reflected the best accuracy to their objective choice, 9 of the 10 judges referred to Method-B (Elimination).

You can visit Robert on facebook for the whole story….

** Unfortunately we missed tree number 18 in our original post (it’s at the top of this post, where it may have ended up anyway had we included it).


Second place in our reader’s poll with 64 points (Method A first place, Method B third place).



Reader’s 3rd choice with 39 points (Method A second place, Method B unplaced).



Reader’s 4th with 35 points (Method A unplaced, Method B 5th place).


516Reader’s 5th choice with 32 points (unplaced in Method A and B).


233Reader’s 6th with 27 points (Method A fifth place, Method B unplaced).



Reader’s 7th and last choice with 26 points (Method A unplaced, Method B 4th place).

** We awarded 5 points for each first place selection and so on, down to 1 point for each 5th place selection. You can find the individual selections along with some remarks in the comments to the original posts.

Bonsai on Broomstick Bicycle


My best guess is that most of you will appreciate the inventiveness and the humor expressed in this mixed-media bonsai creation, though perhaps a few purists will take offense. It’s by Miyazato Rintaro (thanks to Colin Lewis for sharing it). You can find it and the rest of the photos in this post on Mr Rintaro’s facebook photos.



A little more conventional, but still… the drum pot and the way the soil is mounded so high, the relaxed simplicity of the tree. You get the idea.



Not mixed-media, but not so conventional. One base, one root system, two elongated parallel trunks and one crown.



Satsuki azalea variety in bloom. Satsuki means ‘fifth month.’ Something to look forward to.



This cropped version gives a little closer look.

All the tree and photos in this post are by Miyazato Rintaro.

Not Shimpaku: A Juniper Bonsai Non Starter


This lovely tree with its natural flowing feel is from a 2012 Bark post. The tree resides at the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum. It’s listed as a Procumbens nana, though I’ve never seen a ‘nana’ with such a massive trunk. Which begs the question… (the story is here).

It’s archive time again. This post originally appeared in September 2013. It was titled Not Shimpaku and was supposed to be the start of a series on juniper bonsai. Like many starts in life, it turned out to be a non-starter (maybe later…?).

Japanese Garden Juniper bonsai
Shimpaku junipers rule. You see them everywhere and for good reason; they make excellent bonsai and because they grow wild in the mountains of Japan and have been collected and refined by some of the world’s great masters, they stand as some of the most amazing works of bonsai art on the planet. Still, there are a whole host of other junipers that make great bonsai, so I thought it might be worthwhile to start a Not Shimpaku series on some of these.

The Japanese garden juniper (Juniperus procumbens) and its dwarf cultivar (J procumbens ‘nana’) is a good place to start. In the U.S. at least, the dwarf ‘nana’ has long been the most popular beginner’s tree. For years you’d see young ones in malls (Mallsai) every holiday season and though they are not quite as popular now, you still see more than enough of them around. But you don’t see that many specimen quality Procumbens and you almost never see seldom see specimen Procumbens nana. Part of this is no mystery; Procumbens are slow to develop trunk girth and Procumbens ‘nana’ are even slower. Still, we’ve managed to dig up some worthwhile specimens.


Dwarf Japanese Garden Juniper by Michael Sullivan. From the 3rd U.S. National Bonsai Exhibition Album (apologies for the fuzzy scan). One thing that stands out is how a combination of small touches soften the long, mostly straight, untapered trunk. First there’s the irregular pot which helps emphasize the small irregularities in the trunk. Then there’s the shari (deadwood strip) that adds movement and interest all the way up the trunk. Finally there’s the surprising little jin at the top of the trunk that further enhances the sense of movement (and adds a touch of humor).


This little gem belongs to Thomas J. Mozden. I found it at The Art of Bonsai Project where it’s listed simple as Juniperus procumbens. But, to my eye (though it’s hard to tell in this somewhat fuzzy blow-up) the foliage looks like it might be a Procumbens nana.


This Procumbens by Zhao Qingquan is also from the Art of Bonsai Project. A later version in a very interesting pot can be found Zhao’s excellent book, Penjing: The Chinese Art of Bonsai.

If you are a fan of Procumbens nana or just curious, you might want to check out the comments on the original post.



Speaking of Zhao’s excellent book, here it is. Like everything else at Stone Lantern it is currently 20% off (of the already discounted price no less).

Have There Ever Been So Many Great Boxwood Bonsai in One Place?


Aside from being a phenomenal tree and a phenomenal pot, there’s a relaxed in-synch feeling, like the pot and tree are old friends who have been together for a long time. This might have something to do with the color, texture, soft lines and aged look of each (and because they are both so phenomenal). The color and texture of the stand fits right in too, while a little contrast is provided by its sharp rectangular lines. All together a masterpiece. The artist is François Gau (pot by Greg Ceramics). All three photos in this post are from Parlons Bonsai (I took the liberty to crop all three to bring the trees closer).

The three trees shown here all have at least three things in common: They are all Boxwood bonsai (Buxus sempervirens). They all appeared in a 2013 bonsai show in Saulieu France (European Bonsai San Show). And, they are all remarkably powerful.

Aside from the remarkably powerful part, what caught my attention is the fact that these three trees and several others in the aforementioned show are Boxwoods. Have there ever been so many great boxwood bonsai in one place? If there have been, my guess would be in China or Taiwan. In fact, I would be surprised if these trees didn’t originally come from there.


box4This wild old tree is little more rugged and rough than the one above. That ruggedness and the long stretch of trunk without foliage, leans a little toward literati, though the lush foliage and deep pot betray that definition. If this were your tree, would you remove the strange branch on the left? Or maybe eliminate the inward growing foliage and create a jin? The artist is Raymond Claerr (pot by Isabelia).



When I first saw this tree, my eye went straight to the large hole at the base of the trunk and the jagged wood that frames it. It took a few moments and a more relaxed gaze to take in and appreciate the power of the whole tree. The pot is great though I wonder if it’s a little too strong. The artist is once again François Gau (the pot is Chinese and looks like it might be Yixing).



A few of our large selection of Yixing Bonsai Pots. All qualify for Free Shipping in the U.S.