The Foundations of Bonsai

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This Common Privet was originally dug from an English hedge row. It belongs to Harry Harrington who has been developing it since 2004. The photos are from Harry's book, The Foundations of Bonsai.

We’re excited about our ‘new’ The Foundations of Bonsai, an all-encompassing how-to book that is targeted to beginning and intermediate enthusiasts. The North American edition (Stone Lantern Publishing) is due to arrive at our warehouse within the next week or two.

We strongly recommend The Foundations of Bonsai to people buying their first trees (or second, or third…), or really to anyone still grappling with keeping their bonsai healthy and learning essential techniques for styling and maintaining beautiful trees.

To quote the author Harry Harrington, Foundations was written “…to give beginners a solid starting point in bonsai, as well as for intermediate enthusiasts who are having problems with their trees due to weak points in their care regimes. Hence the name The Foundations of Bonsai.

In spite of what we may think, most of us fall into the beginning to intermediate category (yours truly included). This is in no way a problem. When we recognize that we still have a ways to go, we stay open to continued learning.

Continued below…

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A full spread from The Foundations of Bonsai.

 

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Back and front covers of Foundations (U.K. edition).

Field Growing, Drainage & Fertilizing

trident-nebari-bt64-p231This impressive Trident maple's (Acer buergeranum) massive nebari is a dead giveaway that it was field grown. The original article is in Bonsai Today issue 64. I wrote this back in 2009. Though the tree and it's impressive nebari started in the field, much of the development was accomplished in a container (see below).

Enjoying a quick winter vacation in stormy San Francisco. The rain is desperately needed, so I can live with failed expectations of sun and warm breezes. Because this is a vacation, we’ll resort to reposting one of our very earliest posts. It’s from February 2009. I’ve done some adding and subtracting based on the questionable assumption that I might have learned something the last eight years.

I once read a report from Cornell University about the advantages of planting trees directly into the native soil, rather than the common practice of digging in soil amendments, a practice that may be good for the garden center’s bottom line, but not so good for your plants.

If you think about it, it makes sense; if you create a pocket of richer soil, then the roots tend to stay in that pocket. This causes slower growth and increased susceptibility to drought and winter kill.

Ever since the Cornell report, I’ve been simply digging a hole and planting. What a relief! No tedious time consuming soil prep. This frees time to plant more and catch up on emails.*

Continued below…

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trident-in-box-bt64-p20The same Trident maple fifteen years earlier, right after it was dug from the field. At this point the nebari measure 20" (51cm) at its widest point.

I’m lucky that my soil is sandy so there’s no worry about drainage; it can rain as much as it wants. If your soil is heavy and doesn’t drain so well, then it’s time to think about raised beds, but that’s a topic for another post.

Sandy soil also makes fertilizing easier. Basically, you can feed freely. I like organic,* but even if you use chemicals you can fertilize fairly liberally if you have good drainage, because the drainage helps insure that there won’t be excessive build up of chemicals around the roots. Reflecting now, I’d say this is intuitive, but intuition isn’t always enough, so you might want to do your own research.

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*Most years I put a layer of aged cow manure around each plant and every year I mulch with wood chips. This gradually builds organic matter into the soil.

From Snow Covered Forests to Thirsty Redwoods

redwoodsmithsOff to a very good start. Though the branching is young and has a ways to go, the trunk, with its power and character bodes well for the future of this tree. You can find it along with other quality bonsai at Bonsai Smiths.

Long flight, late night. Boston to SF with a stop in Denver for fuel (blame the wind), so we’ll burrow down into our archives for an appropriate retread (nothing like a good mixed metaphor to start the day). This one is from February, 2015.

Out of the ice palace and into Redwood country, so why not take a look at some Redwood bonsai? BTW: it’s raining here in Northern California. A welcome relief for the Redwoods and everyone else.

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This one is a lot like the one above. Great trunk with branch development to follow. From the 2011 Redwood Empire Bonsai Show (photo courtesy of Jonas at Bonsai Tonight).

 

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This one has a complex story to tell. It's also from the 2011 Redwood Empire Bonsai Show (photo also courtesy of Jonas at Bonsai Tonight).

 

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Another complex story to tell. Given the vigor at the top, the bottom must be healthier than it looks (another Jonas photo from the 2011 Redwood Empire show).

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Five Shohin Bonsai Plus One

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A sweet little Firethorn (Pyracantha) in full flower. Yesterday we showed one with a few berries and if you scroll down you'll see one with a lot more than a few.

Thought we’d continue yesterday’s Shohin theme with a few more photos. I’ll spare you too much commentary. The photo above is from Bonsai Mike.

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robert_kempinski_buttonwood_410It's not everyday you see a shohin Buttonwood (Conocarpus erectus). This one belongs to Robert Kempinski. The pot is by J. Baccus. I found the photo on an old art of bonsai post.

 

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Shohin shimpaku juniper from Bay Island Bonsai's 17 annual exhibit. The photo is by Jonas Dupuich (Bonsai Tonight).

 

har61Red on red. The tiny tree is an Elaeagnus pungens (Siverthorn in English, Kangumi in Japanese). It belongs to Haruyosi.

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Red on blue. Another tiny tree by Haruyosi. This time it's a Quince.

 

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A little large for shohin, but who could resist all those brilliant berries? Looks like another pyracantha. The image is from a Cristian De Ross video.

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Shohin Bonsai – An Art Unto Itself

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This muscular little pine is a great example of well done Shohin bonsai. You might notice the lack of secondary and tertiary branching and thus the limited foliage. There is only so much you can do on such a small canvass. This results in an overall look and feel that is quite different than larger trees. Almost like an art unto itself.

It’s Shohin day today. Little bonsai with big advantages. A few of these advantages are: shohin tend to be less expensive than larger trees, they take up a lot less space, they are easy to lift and move, you are less likely to over-water shohin, and they are fun.

Continued below…

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I borrowed the little pine above from Franco Franco Pedrós. The two photos below (shohin pyracantha and the Japanese shohin display) are courtesy of Mark Arpag.

shohinThe U.S. National Shohin Exhibition is coming. Visit Bill Valavanis Bonsai blog for details.
shohin2Here's Mark Arpag's caption for this little Pyracantha: Firethorn Mame created from rooted cutting, no hormones, just clean cut in Bonsai soil / potting mix. Cut top off Shohin Bonsai and it was too nice to throw away. Photo by Wm. N. Valavanis.

 

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Mark's caption for this photo is: Last day on display in Kyoto.

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Satsuki Bonsai, with or without Flowers

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This must be one of the most perfect Satsuki azalea you'll see anywhere. It's sheer power, balance and shape are so spot on that it doesn't need to be covered with flowers (see below) for its majesty to shine through. I'm pretty sure we've shown it before, but a quick search came up empty. I found it somewhere on social media. Unattributed (I can guess it's from Japan) and unidentified....

Continued below…

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The 3 trees below are from a post titled Three Monster Satsuki (April, 2011). Each is a good example of how a powerful Satsuki can stand on its own without flowers.

A prize winning Satsuki azalea from Bonsai -Matsuda Seishoen displaying it power, balance and tranquility.

 

Another powerful Satsuki azalea from Bonsai -Matsuda Seishoen. It's not that often you see a trunk so short and yet so strong. Excellent nebari too.

 

This one is also from Bonsai -Matsuda Seishoen. It's a little different than the other two; the trunk has a lot less taper, and the unruly nebari gives the tree a wilder, freer look.

 

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Just Another Great Juniper with Sculpted Deadwood?

sab1

This dynamic Sabina juniper was posted by Mauro Stemberger (Italian Bonsai Dream), someone whose trees and photos have long graced this blog.

Is the tree featured here just another great Juniper with sculpted deadwood? Well… yes, that’s exactly what it is, another great juniper, sculpted deadwood and all.

There was a day not too long ago when trees like this could only be from Japan. But this is the 21st century and the explosion of high quality bonsai worldwide is happening. If I’m not mistaken, this one resides in Italy. Or at least, that’s where Mauro Stemberger resides. For more on this tree, you can visit Mauro on facebook.

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sab2

Close up so you can better appreciate the carving

 

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Looking up into the tree, as contrasted with the mid-point shots above

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Which Pot Would You Choose?

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Which pot would you choose for this Itoigawa shimpaku juniper?

Here’s a favorite topic by our old friend, American bonsai artist and teacher, Boon Manakitivipart (Bonsai Boon). If you would like to state your choice (and reasons, if you’re up for it), you can visit Bonsai Bark on facebook (we don’t accept comments directly on our blog because of near infinite spam) or you can visit Boon on facebook. Or even better, you can visit us both.

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Speaking of Junipers…

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Bonsai, Culture & a Meeting Place for Friends & Bonsai Lovers (What happens in Belgium…)

noel1This highly unusual and remarkably powerful tree is from the cover of the 10th Noelanders Trophy book. I couldn't find any information on the variety (looks like a Japanese white pine), the artist or the photographer.

The 18th Noelanders Trophy is coming soon. February 4-5. It’s a long standing favorite in Europe. But not just Europe; bonsai artists and enthusiasts from around the world have long considered it a favorite destination for bonsai, culture and a meeting place for old friends and bonsai lovers (what happens in Belgium…).

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noel2017

 

wcaption1It's not that often you see a full grown man sitting in a bonsai tree. The caption and the photo are from BCI magazine.

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A Natural Feel for Bonsai

bt1063rdplace

I really like the natural untouched feel of this old Spruce. It brings to mind the rugged conifers of the high Sierras and Rockies. It's a Norway spruce (Picea abies) by Walter Pall (from Bonsai Today issue 106).

Yesterday’s post featured Walter Pall’s Bonsai, so let’s just keep going. This one is from the dawn of Bonsai Bark, July 2009. It was titled The Great Debate part 3: More from Walter. Now in 2017, the bonsai community has mostly moved on from the great debate (I don’t think it ever was a big deal anyway, but it does provide some insight into different ways bonsai can be viewed and styled).

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In our last Great Debate post, I promised you more from Walter on the topic. The quotes below by Walter are from an article entitled A Naturalistic Scot’s Pine that appeared in Bonsai Today issue 104.

The other two photos in this post are NOT Walter’s trees. They are rather, two examples of naturalistic bonsai by other artists.

 

b1northcarapellalarch1

This sinuous root American larch (Larix larcina) by Harvey Carapella, might not be as advanced in capturing the subtle qualities of naturalistic bonsai. but it's simple naturalness still appeals. It's from North American Bonsai which was compiled and edited by Martin Schmalenberg. At first glance you might think it has only four trunks (were it so, would it be a problem?), but if you look closely, you can see a small piece of the fifth trunk just to the left of the trunk on the right.

We started this quote from Walter in our previous Great Debate post, but left it hanging. So here’s the whole paragraph: “A traditional bonsai is ideal; it is abstract. A naturalistic bonsai is realistic, but never totally realistic. There’s always a certain degree of abstraction. But never going as far as many modern bonsai, which are very groomed, very refined, and often look almost unreal. They certainly look like a human being, not nature, has made them. Naturalistic bonsai is the opposite of this development (which has gone a bit too far in many cases, in my opinion)”

Walter goes on to say… “A lot of people think they understand this, and let nature do the styling of their tree in a pot. They think that naturalistic styling is just letting a tree grow and styling here and there. This is wrong. It is called naturalistic because it NOT natural. The trick is NOT to leave the stock as is and let nature do the styling. ‘Naturalistic’ means that the end result, the finished tree in a pot, conveys the feeling of an impressive natural tree that has not been touched by man. It does not matter how this is achieved, but in most cases it is done very artificially – not by nature!”

“Naturalistic bonsai has nothing to do with method, but only with result. Clip-and-grow without using wire is an old method for creating bonsai. Many think this is naturalistic bonsai styling. It is not, but it could be. A hedge is created by clip-and-grow method; and it can hardly be called naturalistic…”

Naturalistic is not an excuse for lazy people. It is not about untidy looking trees. It is not a shortcut. I think it is even more labor intensive than traditional styling…”

b1lenzp75jun

Like Walter, Nick Lenz has the magic touch. The tree is a Ground juniper (Juniperus horizontalis) by Nick Lenz, from the now out of print Bonsai from the Wild .

Here are links to the two previous posts on the Great Debate, in case you missed them: One & two.

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