Giving Thanks for Great Bonsai & Much More

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This tree won First prize for the Finest Bonsai at the 5th U.S. National Bonsai Exhibition. It's a Mountain Hemlock,(Tsuga mertensiana) that belongs to Eric Schikowski. Photo courtesy of Bill Valavanis.

It’s Thanksgiving today (U.S. American Thanksgiving that is, our friends just north of here celebrated theirs last month). I should be getting dressed and out the door, but before I go we’ll take a quick dip back into our archives. This one is from September. It was the first of many posts that were inspired by our 5th U.S. National Bonsai Exhibition. Seems appropriate to the occasion.

Just home from the 5th U.S. National Bonsai Exhibition and sorting through memories and notes while flashing mental images of great trees, good people and a still palpable sense of excitement.

It will take a while to sort things out, so more to come… but meanwhile, we’ll start with Bill Valavanis. The man behind the Exhibition and so much more in our bonsai world.

Continued below…

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Bill Valvanis' famous Scots Pine. This photo was taken in 2013. Now, three years later, it's even more impressive.

Walking into the Exbition, the first tree you see is Bill’s now famous Dwarf (but very large) Scot’s pine. Though I’d seen several photographs over the years, I was floored by just how big, powerful and magnificent it is up close. The photos here, like all photos of great bonsai, don’t do justice (we work with what we have).

Wandering through the display area, I almost immediately ran into Bill himself. Dispensing with the usual haven’t-seen-you-for-a-long-time pleasantries, he grabbed me for a quick tour. He wanted to show me three trees that had been shown at Japan’s famous Kokufu Exhibition (it’s a great honor to be excepted into Kokufu) and a couple others he was excited about.

Meanwhile a rapidly expanding crowd started following Bill and asking questions, so all too soon my personal tour came to an end. Still, I was honored by Bill’s attention. Stopping and sharing his enthusiasm was a nice touch. Off to a good start…

Continued below…

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The hero of the day, Bill Valavanis with his famous Scot's pine (the photo was taken several years ago).

Just in case you don’t know Bill Valavanis, he is perhaps the most important living human when it comes to cultivating and promoting the art of bonsai in North America. Bill’s energy and enthusiasm for all things bonsai is unrivaled and his list of his accomplishments and contributions is encyclopedic. Now we have five (and counting) U.S. National Bonsai Exhibitions, each better than the last, to add to everything else Bill has done to promote bonsai in North America and beyond.

If I had to chose one word to describe Bill, I would say brilliant and tireless (okay two words….). See you in Rochester in 2018!

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When Was the Last Time You Saw a Trunk with so much Power and Character?

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This has to be one of the most compelling bonsai I've seen in a while. It has that wild, not overly refined look and 'just so' deadwood (it's not dominated by deadwood like so many trees). But the real deal is the trunk. When was the last time you saw a trunk with so much power and character?

Hopelessly behind schedule with Thanksgiving and other family and friend obligations looming, not to mention my other job (Stone Lantern) and its daily demands… So to save precious time, we’re going to rerun a post on one of my all time favorite trees.

This before and after is more about refinement than styling rough stock. Less daunting perhaps, but only someone skilled in the art of bonsai can do what you see here. In this case, that someone is Gabriel Romero Aguade (Bonsai Sant-boi) (this isn’t the first time we’ve featured him on Bark).

Continued below…

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beforeBefore. Already a very impressive bonsai. Just needs an expert hand to bring out its best.

Though no name is mentioned, the tree looks like a Yew. You can tell by the foliage and the reddish bark. Yew bonsai are popping up everywhere. Especially in Europe with the English (aka European) yew (Taxus baccata), where there seems to be an abundance of good stock.

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If You Want to Grow Bonsai Indoors, You’d Be Hard Pressed to Find Trees Better Suited than Ficus

ficus3This powerfully built gem is from Ficus, the Exotic Bonsai by Jerry Meislik.

Our American (U.S. that is) Thanksgiving is this week, so I thought I’d resurrect a post on the topic from three years ago. I’m not flying anywhere this year, but does it really matter?

I’m headed out again. Tomorrow will be another day spent in an airborne cattle car. Then Thanksgiving with family. I know there are some people who’d rather spend time in a cattle car than with family, but I like mine, so I guess I’m lucky.

Though if someone is going to misbehave at the dinner table, it’s more likely me than anyone else. But I’ll hold my tongue and keep it civil.

Continued below…

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A large Willow leaf ficus with some impressive aerial roots from Ficus, the Exotic Bonsai.

I’m not sure Ficus bonsai has anything to do with Thanksgiving. Still, if you want to grow bonsai indoors (winter or year round), you’ll be hard pressed to find subjects better suited than ficus, though some varieties are better suited than others.

A couple that I’ve had luck with are the Green Island (F. microcarpa) and the Too Little (F. benjamina ‘Too Little’). I’ve also had some luck with the Willow Leaf ficus (F neriifolia). If you have any experience with other varieties (successful or otherwise), let us know.

A large Benjamina with a well developed nebari by Bradley Barlow.


This simple Willow leaf planting is from a bonsai exhibit on Morikami Museum & Japanese Garden website. Though it's far from a masterpiece, it does have some charm and is the type of project that almost any beginner might attempt.
The classic book for Ficus and other bonsai that are suitable for growing indoors. Available at Stone Lantern. Now only 19.96 with your 20% to 25% off Site Wide Sale. 

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Contrasting Styles & a Bonsai that is Different from most of the Trees You See

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Bonsai by Minh Hanh. I won't bother to guess the variety.

I know comparisons can be odious, but sometime contrasting things (bonsai in this case), without relying too much on value judgements, can help us see more clearly.

In the 1980s Masahiko Kimura broke bonsai tradition with his outrageously sculptural deadwood that he carved with power tools. Looking back though, you can still see the influence of the Japanese bonsai aesthetic in everything he did.

Continued below…

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One of Masahiko Kimura's more outrageously sculpted bonsai. From our Masters’ Series Juniper book.

 

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That aesthetic is still in play in Japan and much of the world. We’re so used to it, that it’s often hard to see. Until we come across bonsai that aren’t in that mold. Like the tree by Minh Hanh that you see at the top of this post (and below).

Before you get excited, I know the difference between bonsai and penjing. Or at least I think I do, though the line is often blurred. But the tree shown here is a bonsai, even if we choose to call it penjing. It’s a bonsai that is different from most of the trees you see in North America and much of the rest of the world.

 

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The back of Minh's tree? Or, should it be the front? Does it matter?

Anyway. I really like Minh’s tree. It seems uncontrived. Simple and sweet. And as always, good stock never hurts.

 

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Brilliant Spring Color on a Snowy Winter Morning

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Good snowy morning to you. Thought I’d remind you that spring is just around the corner (ha!) by showing you three Satsuki azaleas from our New 2017 Bonsai Calendar. There’s a lot more where these came from. Twenty six specimen quality Japanese bonsai to be exact.

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It’s a perfect time for a

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Expertly Rendered & Beautiful

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This drawing is by Michele Andolfo, as are the others in this post.

We just gave you three straight brand new posts. Now I need to catch my breath and catch up with some new products (including several new Roshi bonsai tools) and as always, continue the heroic quest to subjugate the horrible email beast (100 plus emails a day can wear on you). Long story short, this post is from our archives. October, 2015.

All the drawings shown here are from a program Michele Andolfo led in Quebec this year (last year). You can view more of these expertly rendered and beautiful drawings and the bonsai material that inspired them here.

Continued below…

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andol7

Here's an example of a drawing and the tree that inspired it (below). Here's you link to view photos of all the trees (and some others) that go with the drawings shown here.

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The artist, Michele Andolfo

Taking the time to tune into Michele’s vision of what each tree might become, can help you envision what your own trees might become. It’s a click worth making;

Michele’s Andolfo Bonsai Studio is in Italy. But judging by the news on his website, he travels and teaches far and wide.

andol

 

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More Broken Chains

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Just in case you missed our last two posts, here's another photo on the theme breaking through the chains that limit creativity.

Here’s our third and final post (for now at least) on the recent 3rd National Xiaopin Penjing & Wild Grass Exhibition. Photos courtesy of Robert Steven.

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World's longest cascade

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What's he doing?

 

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More broken chains...

Continued below…

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Wild grasses and moss on an impressive piece of driftwood

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The venue. Or at least, part of it

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Shohin display, Notice anything strange?

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Here it is. There must be a future design consideration (sacrifice branch?) for keep that strange shoot on the right, but normally you'd normally expect something like that to be removed for a show.

 

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Another closeup from the shohin photo above. A little fuzzy, but worth a try.

 

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Uncropped version of the photo at the top

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More Broken Chains & Blending Tradition Chinese Penjing with Something Much Newer & More Radical

today770Yesterday the chains were broken. Today it's the chains and the arm. It's a good thing the tree and pot survived. The photo is cropped so the nitty-gritty at the bottom will show when it's magically transported to social media (the original is below).

Yesterday, we featured some photos and text (courtesy of our friend Robert Steven) from the recent 3rd National Xiaopin Penjing & Wild Grass Exhibition. Today we’ve got some more for you (and even more tomorrow).

The more I look at the photos the more fascinated I become. The scope and variety and especially the concepts behind the whole thing; a blending of tradition Chinese penjing with something much newer and more radical. Robert Steven’s fertile mind at work.

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I don't think I've ever seen a Shohin display shaped like this.

 

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A gnarled gnarly little pine (Japanese black pine?).

Speaking of Pines…

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Here are some of those wild grasses that are mentioned in the Exhibition title.

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Is that another grape (see yesterday)? Only this time without fruit?

 

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Uncropped

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Breaking Bonsai Chains

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This highly unusual bonsai display (previously highly unusual anyway - thanks to Robert Steven and others, displays like this are becoming more common) is from 3rd National Xiaopin Penjing & Wild Grass Exhibition. In Roberts words: "The hands sculptures with the broken chains symbolize the theme of breaking through in creativity."

The other day Robert Steven sent us a whole slew of remarkable photos from the 3rd National Xiaopin Penjing & Wild Grass Exhibition along with text that helps shed some light on the nature of the Exhibition. We’ll show you the text in full (below) and just a few photos now, with more to follow soon.

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Looks like a traditional Shohin display, except a couple trees seem a little large for Shohin. I suspect this has to do with the display being Chinese, where Japanese guidelines don't carry as much weight as they might elsewhere.

The following is a document that Robert included with the photos:
Zhongguo Feng 2016
3rd. National Xiaopin Penjing & Wild Grass Exhibition
“Break Through the Chinoiserie of Penjing Art”

3rd. Zhongguo Feng – 2016, similar to Kokufu of Japan, Huafeng of Taiwan was conducted in Shanghai Botanic Garden from 2nd – 5th October 2016 in concerts to the celebrating of China National Day.

Document continued below…

r1cI've always like bonsai with fruit and especially grapes... wine or table.

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Robert’s document, continued from above:
This time, only Xiaopin Penjing (Shohin) was exhibited together with wild grass (Kusamono), specifically Ocarus grass which is now very popular in China and Korea.

Continued below…

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Here's another "breaking though" display.

Continued from above:
“At the main entrance, there was a unique display (created by Robert Steven as the Artistic Advisor of the event) symbolized the exhibition theme. The word (Feng in Chinese or “Fu” in Japanese) which mean “style” in Kokufu, Huafeng and Zhongguo Feng, also literally means “wind”. That’s why the display used the windy effect (plus sound and fogging) and emphasized with the windswept style bonsai, and the at the same time, the Chinese flag suggest the China National Day celeberation.”

Continued below…

 mainRobert Steven with his main entrance display. For a more dynamic version of this display, here's your link to view the video.

Continued from above:
“During the exhibition, there was also tea ceremony and classical Chinese music performance, bonsai and ceramic pots making demonstration.

Next year, 2017 Zhongguo Feng will be hosted by the International Garden of Rugao, China, sometimes in October 2017…”

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Tea ceremony

Once again, here’s your link to view the video

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