Crazy Color from High on the Bonsai Pantheon


Though it’s usually considered bad form to lop off part of the pot, in this case it’s all about the color (and the wildly expressive trunk). The variety is listed as Issho-no-haru. This and the rest of the photos in this post are from the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum

A few posts back we launched a discussion about the relative merits of  bonsai in North America and Europe (Comparisons Are Odious, But Still…). The discussion was continued in two subsequent posts (here and here)

I expected my remarks might get me into a little hot water, but there was really nothing except one otherwise reasonable comment that concluded with “Be proud to be an American.”

Anyway, at the risk of provoking some disapproval; I think most of us still have something to learn from the Japanese (leaving Penjing and Tropical bonsai out of the discussion for reasons we’ll discuss another time). I say this because I spend a lot of time looking at photos of bonsai from around the world and the truth of the best Japanese bonsai is undeniable.

Which brings us to the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum. In particular, a part of their collection of Satsuki azalea bonsai (at least I think these are all Satsuki).

Enough said, we’ll let the photos speak for themselves. Well, the photos and my remarks in the captions (for better or worse).


This variety is labeled Osakazuki. You might notice the massive trunk. Many varieties of Satsuki trunk up very well. So much so that some are shown out of blooming season.


No name is listed for this delicate beauty.


A triple trunk Megumi. Normally you don’t find trunks so evenly spaced in Japanese bonsai, but when it comes to flowers all bets are off.


This one is a Date-murasaki. Like some of the others photos the trunk is deep in the shadows. It’s more about the art of the photograph and beauty of the flowers.


No visible trunk at all on this Chiyo-nishiki. More than a fair share of luscious multi-toned flowers however.


The most complete book (in print) on Satsuki azaleas in English (maybe in any language).

Fall Transplanting: Taking Full Advantage of Next Year’s Growing Season


Time to repot. Morten Albek intentionally broke the pot to show this Cork bark Japanese black pine’s dense root mass. From Morten’s book, Shohin Bonsai (Stone Lantern Publishing).

Vacation ended around midnight last night. Still, in light of a whole slew of post vacation demands, I’m going to indulge in one more journey into our archives. This one is from August, 2009, which in the life of this blog, qualifies as ancient.

We’ll stick with our current topic, fall transplanting. With one caveat: opinions abound on how to do most anything, and fall transplanting (really almost any bonsai task) is no exception.

Why transplant in the fall?
If you transplant in the fall your trees can take full advantage of the next growing season. If you transplant in the spring (that’s when most people do it), by the time the tree recovers, you’ve lost part of the growing season.

Why not transplant in the fall?
If you have an early winter and your bonsai haven’t fully recovered from transplanting, then you risk serious damage (or worse). If you rootprune heavily, the risk goes up. If you want to play it safe, fall transplant only those trees that need light to moderate root pruning.


Doing some light rootpruning. From Robert Callaham’s Satsuki Azaleas, for Bonsai and Azalea Enthusiasts (Stone Lantern Publishing).

Fall transplanting season is coming up. When depends mostly upon where you live. There are other considerations too, like the type of tree, the health of the tree, your experience and confidence, how much you need to prune off the roots and more.

A rule of thumb
Six weeks before you might expect an early hard frost, is a pretty good rule of thumb for fall transplanting. However, you can’t be too literal about this. Prolonged late hot spells need to be considered (here in northern Vermont, where summers are more often than not quite mild, this usually is not a problem) as does how much you need to rootprune and the type of tree.


If the soil is old and compacted you need to remove it (see note just below). A hard steam of water and root tools are the best way to get it all off. Because the roots are so compacted, you’ll need to do some serious rootpruning. Unless you are an old pro, you might be better off saving this for spring transplanting. From Bonsai Today issue 17 (all back issues of BT are now on sale). Note, in a discussion last year with Michael Hagedorn, he strongly discouraged washing off, or otherwise removing all the old soil when transplanting. What he did suggest (in regards to a specific tree) was taking half of the old soil off (one side) this time and the other half off next time.

The type of tree matters
Deciduous trees need special consideration as you don’t want to rootprune when they have a full canopy of leaves. Conifers, especially junipers, and broad leaf evergreens are usually safest for fall transplanting, though there are variables here too. If you need more information, try to talk to someone knowledgeable who lives in your area.

Don’t forget aftercare
After transplanting, your margin of error goes down, especially with watering (don’t keep the soil too wet, but don’t let it get bone dry). Misting can help. Avoid midday sun, especially if you live in a hot dry climate.


A freshly transplanted Black pine. The photo is from our Masters’ Series Pine book.

Coming Soon to Your Back Yard


As long as we’re on the topic of choosing, I chose this one as the lead photo because it’s the only one with clean pot. A distinct advantage. All the photos in this post are from Boon Manakitivipart’s facebook postings. I took the liberty of cropping all the photos in this post and combining some separate photos into single images.

Still on vacation, so still digging into our archives. This one is fairly recent (December last year) but seems particularly appropriate as the fall potting season is closing in fast. For those of us in inhospitable northern climes it starts as early as late August. Those of you in gentler climes have a bit more time, but it never hurts to plan ahead.

Which pot would you chose? The photos and the concept are courtesy of Boon Manakitivipart (aka Bonsai Boon) on facebook (here and here). Just in case you’re not in the loop, Boon is a highly respected American bonsai artist and teacher who lives in the SF Bay Area.


Without allowing yourself to be influenced by the clean, well oiled pot, which pot would you choose?


Which pot works best with this tree?


This famous Sierra juniper appeared on the cover of the very last issue of Bonsai Today (all back issues of Bonsai Today are now 10% to 30% off). It has nothing to do with the challenge above, except that it’s by Boon and the pot was very well chosen.

Pots. While we’re on the topic, here’s a little something from our sponsor.

Once More, This Time with Better Photos


Joe Noga sent me this official photo of his Ho Yoku Award Japanese Maple (see our last post for the unofficial photo). I didn’t mention this before, but, in addition to appreciating the strikingly unusual effect of the upside-down tree, you might linger for a moment on the exquisitely rendered wooden stand

In our last post we showed three winners from the 2012 U.S. National Bonsai Exhibition. Problem was, the photos were not the best ones available. The best photos are the official photos, the ones in the Exhibition Album.

Now, thanks to Joseph Noga taking the trouble to send us the official photo of his prize winning display, I’ve opted for a rerun, this time with the official photos for all three trees.

These trees are not the only 2012 winners. Maybe as the 2014 Exhibition approaches we’ll post some more 2012 winners as a way of encouraging you to put Rochester on your calendar.


Suthin’s Japanese maple. The angle is different than the unofficial shot. This angle and backdrop create a lighter more elegant, open feel.



This photo of Scott Elsers grand prize winning Japanese Black Pine better captures the power and beauty of the tree.

Time to Come Back Home


The National Award for the Finest Bonsai Masterpiece. Japanese Black Pine, by Scott Elser of Portland, Oregon.

It’s vacation time so we’ll resort to borrowing from our archives. I picked this one from January 2013 for a couple reasons: it’s time to come back home after six straight post featuring European and Asian bonsai and our the 4th U.S. National Bonsai Exhibition is coming soon, so I’m hoping that this will provide a little encouragement to those of you who are on the fence.

BTW: I was at the last National Exhibition, and even though Bill and his crew took great photos, photos can never do justice to bonsai up close and personal. If you’ve never seen a live show of specimen quality bonsai, I highly recommend that you start packing for Rochester.

Here’s the original post from 2013

For the whole scoop and photos of all ten winners, Bill Valavanis has posted the winners and his comments on the Internet Bonsai Club. The three images shown in this blog have been lifted from Bill’s post. Stay posted here for more on the winners.


Deciduous Award for the Finest Deciduous Bonsai. Japanese Maple by Suthin Sukolosovisit of Stoughton, Massachusetts.


Ho Yoku Award for the Finest Western Display. Japanese Maple by Joseph Noga of Winterville, North Carolina.


This closeup wasn’t in the original. Just thought you might you might be able to better appreciate the power and unusual movement of the trunk this way.


Though we long ago sold out of volumes 1 and 2, we still have some threes left at Stone Lantern.

Generalizations Can Also Be Odious


I am struck with the open and relaxed elegance that this pine displays. I wonder what would happen if the relatively heavy first branch was removed. Would it enhance the open elegance or would it rob the tree of its uniqueness? Like all of the photos in this post and the previous two posts, this was taken by Sandor Papp at the 2014 Noelanders Trophy (I cropped most of them to emphasize the individual trees rather than the displays). There was no caption with this tree, so we don’t know who it belongs to, nor do we know the species.

This is the third and final post in a series that started last week with Comparisons Are Odious, But Still… Like the other two in the series, all of the photos are from Noelanders 2014 and were borrowed (most were cropped) from the Bonsai Blog of Sandor Papp.

I was going wrap this series up by saying something about appreciation of the arts in Europe versus the U.S., but I have nothing but opinion to back me up and like comparisons, generalizations can also be odious.

What I do believe to be fact is, the number of people that attend bonsai shows in Europe greatly exceeds the numbers in the U.S. (and Canada). But rather than doing the research to confirm this belief, I think I’ll just relax and enjoy my European vacation (Iberian vacation is more accurate; I’m enjoying  Porto, Portugal right now and will soon move on to the Galician coast of Spain).


Trident maples (Kaede in Japanese) are often all about nebari and this one is no exception.

nwinnnerThis one just says ‘Winner Kifu’. Like most of the other photos in this post, it was cropped to bring the tree closer.

nyellThe yellow flowers are great, but what really caught my eye is the slab. There are no dimensions given, but you can tell it’s an unusually large piece of an unusually large tree. The bonsai is a Jasminum nudiflorum.

noakPart of the reason to show this massive old deciduous Oak is the great shadow dance. The other part is the massive old deciduous Oak itself, with its bark, taper, flowing lines and all the rest.


There are so many other great photos we could steal from Sandor, but we’ll leave you with this eccentric old European larch. No artist mentioned.


Bonsai Stock & Increasingly Severe Restrictions

pallThis impressive and rather massive Mugo pine belongs to Walter Pall. Like the other photos in this post (and the last post) it was taken at the 2014 Noelanders Trophy by Sandor Papp.

Continued from our last post…
One reasons European bonsai is more developed than North American bonsai is more relaxed import regulations. Much of the high quality stock that has appeared in Europe over the last fifty years or so originally came from Asia.

Though some high quality stock has been imported into North America, the U.S.has always had more restrictive plant import laws and over the last few years the situation has actually worsened with increasingly severe restrictions on imported plants.

Lately more quality bonsai stock is being grown and collected from the wild in both Europe and North America, but these things require skill and time. Meanwhile, imported stock offers a short cut to quality bonsai.

We’ll continue this discussion in our next post…


This powerful root-over-rock Spruce belongs to John Pitt. In addition to being a bonsai artist John is also an accomplish potter, so we’ll take a wild guess that the pot is also his. BTW: the variety of Spruce isn’t mentioned, but I think there’s a good chance that it’s a European spruce (aka Norway spruce, Picea abies).

john armitageKifu display by John Armitage. Kifu is a Japanese term that refers to medium size bonsai (roughly 20 cm to 40 cm tall). It’s hard to tell what the tiny plant is, but the other two look like Shimpaku and Quince. 

john armitageCUA fuzzy closeup of John Armitage’s Shimpaku from the photo above. I wonder if the stock was imported from Japan or Taiwan, or is home grown European. Maybe someone will clue us in.

stewartiaI was just going to show trees with the artist’s name attributed, but I couldn’t resist this lovely Stewartia with it’s remarkable nebari, trunk and ramification. I wonder if the stock comes from Europe or Asia. 


Here’s another unattributed tree that I couldn’t resist. Sandor’s only comment is ‘one of my favorites.’ I wholeheartedly concur.


All of the photos in this post and our previous post are from The Bonsai Blog of Sandor Papp.

Comparisons Are Odious, But Still…

stem2European black pine (Pinus nigra) by Mauro Stemberger. I took the liberty to crop this photo (the uncropped version is below) and to brighten it up a bit (the other photos in this post too). All of the photos here are from The Bonsai Blog of Sandor Papp.

The bonsai shown here all appeared at the 2014 Noelanders Trophy in Belgium. The photos were taken from The Bonsai Blog of Sandor Papp. They represent a small sampling of Sandor’s Noelander’s photos.

Whenever I see photos of the some of the best European bonsai I can’t help but compare them with the best North American bonsai. Even though it is oft said that comparisons are odious (this great old quote is most often attributed to John Lydgate). But then, some comparisons are more odious than others. I’ll leave it to you to decide about this one (to be continued in our next post…). Meanwhile, enjoy the photos!

ferrariI really like this wild old Buxus (boxwood), even though the photo is a little fuzzy. I like the pot too and it seems pretty good with this tree, though I wonder if an oval pot that is a little longer and a bit shallower might be even better? Sandro’s caption says the tree belongs to Mugo Ferrari, but I think the name is Enzo Ferrari.

vallejoAnother great tree. The caption says Juniper procumbens by Luis Vallejo. You might notice the shadow play on the wall. It’s on the others too, just in case you missed it.

iglesiasThis magnificent tree with it’s wild and wonderful deadwood belongs to Andres Alvarez Iglesias. The variety isn’t listed.


You can see all of the shadow play in this upcropped version of the tree at the top of the post.

A Dilemma We’d All Like To Have


These two views of the same tree and the question posed (below) are from Tony Tickle’s website.

The tree shown here belongs to Tony Tickle. It’s a Yew (the species isn’t mentioned, but I’m guessing English). You can find it on Tony’s Bonsai & Yamadori site under the heading Please choose your favorite ‘Front’ for this Yew.

If you visit Bonsai & Yamadori you can vote for your favorite front (aka best view), and, if you’re really ambitious, you can explain yourself in the comments (you can do the same in our comments below).

Meanwhile, I’ll keep my opinion to myself. Except to say it’s a dilemma we’d all like to have.