An Invitation to a Peaceful Lagoon

peacefulPeaceful Lagoon, our third in a series of plantings from Toshio Kawamoto’s Saikei classic. The trees are five to twenty-year-old Japanese black pines. The pot (Tokoname) is similar to the ones in the previous two landscapes, though quite a bit larger.

Traveling again, so it’s back to our archives. We’ve been resurrecting Toshio Kawamoto’s brilliant saikei plantings lately, so we might as well stay on theme (we could do a lot worse). This was originally posted almost exactly five years ago. It was titled A Lost Treasure #4: Peaceful Lagoon.

An invitation
The purpose of this section is to show how to create a saikei that depicts a peaceful lagoon just off the ocean. The photo taken together with the drawings (below), create the impression that the author is inviting you to duplicate his work.

Attention to detail
If you look at all the elements: the rocks, the trees, the moss, the gravel (water) and the white sand (foam), you can see that their placement and their relative sizes (scale) creates a near perfect effect. Everything makes sense (except maybe the size of the pine needles, and somehow that’s easy to overlook).

A transporting effect
A good saikei almost convinces you that it’s a large landscape in nature. It’s easy to imagine that you are standing on a large rock on the bank of the lagoon, and that the small gap in the back opens to the ocean. The wind, which blows off the ocean bends all the small trees toward the lagoon. You can almost feel it in your hair and taste the salt air.


sideFront schemata. The pot is 37 x 20 inches (94cm x 51cm) unglazed oval by Tokoname. There are 10 Japanese black pines that range from 5 to 8 inches (13cm to 20cm) tall. There are nine river rocks (numbered above and below) that range considerably in size. The soil is regular bonsai soil (he doesn’t say which regular bonsai soil, but the Japanese almost always use akadama or an akadama mix for conifers). The other materials are river sand and white sand.

birdseye1Bird’s eye view. In this view it’s easy to get the big picture; that’s the edge of the ocean in the back, just a hint of something vast. The lagoon is almost centered on the front of the pot, but that’s not a problem, as its banks are uneven and the land mass on the right is very strong and dynamic, which prevents the whole planting from becoming too peaceful (ie static).

I’m still waiting…
… for someone out there to attempt one of these plantings (or something influenced by them) and send us a photo. G’wan. It’s fun!

Kokufu Mid-Winter Bonsai Splendor

koku6Though any Kokufu bonsai might work, this Japanese white pine looks like a good tree to lead with. Besides, I’ve got a soft spot for short muscular trees. Especially short muscular trees whose scarred bark and hunched stance tell a story of hard times and harsh conditions, while its lush foliage and vibrant strength tell a story of better times and full recovery. This and all the other photos shown here are from Bill Valavanis’ blog, Welcome To My Bonsai World.

Kokufu, the world’s premier (and oldest) Bonsai Exhibition is in full swing. Those of us not fortunate enough to be there will have have to settle for the photos and descriptions of others. In this case the other is Bill Valavanis. A good place to start.

All the photos shown here are lifted directly from Bill’s blog, Welcome To My Bonsai World. His account of this year’s world famous Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition is first hand and what you see here is only a small sampling of the photos and text you’ll find on his blog.

Here’s some of what Bill has to say about Kokufu: I hope you have enjoyed my photos of both parts* of this year’s Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition.  If you want to see better photos of the masterpiece bonsai on display, kindly subscribe to International BONSAI.  The official exhibition album showing over 400 individual bonsai will also be available from my web site as well.
Our bonsai tour is not over yet and I still have more photos, visits and experiences to share with friends, but need to find the time to process the photos. More coming……

*Due to limited space and the large number of bonsai accepted, Kokufu is divided into two stages this year, each four days long. The second stage ends in two days.


There’s something about Quince flowers… Here’s Bill’s caption: A small size Toyo Nishiki Japanese flowering quince, Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Toyo Nishiki’ with multiple colored flowers. Although red, pink and white blossoms are common for this great cultivar, I’ve often seen red branches grafted onto specimens to improve color distribution.



Another Quince (“Chinese quince, Pseudocydonia sinensis, created from air layering the top off another bonsai”). No flowers this time, bit plenty of action nevertheless. At the risk of stating the obvious (and once you’ve gotten past the tree’s sheer compact power), you might notice the exfoliating bark. Not to mention (but to mention) that most amazing pot.



We could have titled this post Quince and Kokufu. Like the tree just above it’s a Pseudocydonia sinensis.



Not a quince, but a Japanese grey-bark elm (Zelkova serrata).



You might get the impression that Kokufu is mostly about deciduous bonsai, but I don’t think that’s really the case (though winter is a great time show off these beauties in their leafless splendor). This one with its massive nebari could only be a Trident maple.

Visit Bill Valavanis’ blog, Welcome To My Bonsai World to enjoy many more great Kokufu bonsai.

One Ficus, Two Taiwanese Junipers, One Literati Japanese Black Pine & One Shohin Bonsai Display


Great tree. Great pot. Great photo too (the uncropped original is below). I’m guessing the tree is a Taiwanese juniper. Here’s the translation: This and the other photos in this post are from 2014, with Chinese-style bonsai Exhibition prize categories: bronze medal for species: Cypress bonsai collection: Lin Minghui

All the photos in this post are from one person’s facebook feed. I can’t say who the person is (can’t read Chinese), but I know he’s Taiwanese and his photo does look familiar.

Fortunately the trees have captions with translations that include the artist’s names. Feel free to do your own research. I couldn’t find links for any of them.

asia2Looks like another Taiwanese juniper with a striking sinuous live vein snaking its way up a stone (how’s that for alliteration?). Here’s the caption: 2014, with Chinese-style bonsai exhibition award category: gold medal species: Fish River Cypress bonsai collection: Lin Chi


Even without the caption there’s no doubt this powerful tree is a Ficus. If there are two bonsai varieties Taiwan is famous for, it’s Ficus and Taiwanese Junipers. Here’s the caption: 2014, with Chinese-style bonsai exhibition award category: gold medal species: Ficus bonsai collection: Liu Jingyan


I love the relaxed uncontrived feel this literati Japanese black pine expresses. And how bout that stone? The caption reads: 2014, with Chinese-style bonsai Exhibition prize categories: bronze medal for species: black pine bonsai, Hsinchu stone collection: Li Xinkuan


One example of many Shohin displays featured. 2014, with Chinese-style bonsai exhibition award category: gold medal species: sketch into a potted plant collection: Huang rich


The uncropped original of the photo at the top.

Toshio Kawamoto’s Brilliant Classic, Round Three

inside4This planting from Toshio Kawamoto’s Saikei classic is similar to the planting on the cover (below): same trees (cryptomeria), same (or nearly the same) pot and somewhat similar rocky ravine separating two tree and moss covered areas. The main difference is that this one shows a deep ravine with tall vertical cliffs.

The other day we resurrected one of the many brilliant plantings from Toshio Kawamoto’s remarkable classic, Saikei, Living Landscapes in Miniature, so let’s keep going (we could do a lot worse).

We originally feautured this planting in 2010 and again in 2013 (look for another round in 2017). We don’t repeat that many of our posts, especially twice, but Mr. Kawamoto’s plantings are exceptional and his perfectly detailed schematas are completely unique to him, at least in my experience.

How to create a deep ravine saikei
The purpose of this section in Saikei, Living Landscapes in Miniature is to show how to create a deep ravine saikei, just like the one in the photo. In fact, if you look at the drawings, it’s almost as if the author is inviting you to duplicate his work.


front2Front schemata. The pot is 27″ x 19″ (69cm x 48cm) unglazed oval by Tokoname. There are 29 cryptomeria rangng from 4″ to 14″ (10cm to 36cm) and 9 river rocks. The soil is regular bonsai soil (he doesn’t say which regular bonsai soil, but the Japanese almost always use akadama or an akadama mix for conifers). The other materials are moss, river sand and white sand.

birdseye2Bird’s eye view. Notice how the opening in front is off center. If it were directly centered and straight it would appear contrived. Notice also how the ravine narrows and curves around and disappears from sight and then opens up into a pool. Viewed from the front, this creates a sense of mystery and the appearance that it just goes on and on into a vast landscape, rather than being restricted to the finite area of the pot.

The cover of a remarkable book. It’s out of print, but easy to find online.

A Remarkable Planting by Joe Selworthy or Dan Barton, Take Your Choice


Joe Selworthy’s‘ Cotoneaster hedge planting.  Here’s part of what Joe has to say about it. I can’t remember whether I posted this image before so I’m posting it now. It’s my cotoneaster hedge (grown from seed) with a deshojo maple and a style with sleeping cat. The “accent” is a wee painted bronze wren waiting for the cat to leave so that it can go to its nest in the hedge!!!”

I found the photo above thanks to a link from Colin Lewis. However when I tried to figure out who on earth Joe Selworthy is, I ended up on Dan Barton’s website.

So I called Colin this morning and asked him if he knew Joe Selworthy. He laughed and said, oh yeah I know him, he’s Dan Barton (which is a whole story in itself I’m sure). About five seconds later, from the deep recesses of an aging memory (that never was all that good anyway) it all came back. I already knew that Joe is Dan and Dan is Joe, though even with the obvious clue, I still hadn’t linked (so to speak) the two names. A little embarrassing for sure, but fortunately sense of humor hasn’t gone the way of memory.


sumacHere’s something else by Joe Selworthy (aka Dan Barton, a highly accomplished bonsai potter and a bonsai artist in his own right).



This very sweet pot turned up when I searched Joe Selworthy. So did this “If you like the above pot, then you may care to take a look at some of my other pots:…/shohinchuh…/” As I said… a little embarrassing.



Cropped and blown up in an attempt to show the cat. With a little imagination, you get the idea.

Digging Out Lost Treasures

ToshiolakeLakeside with Lingering Snow, our second in a series of plantings from Toshio Kawamoto’s Saikei classic. The trees are the same (cryptomeria) as in our last post from the book (creating a deep ravine planting), the pot is almost the same and the landscape is similar, though this one is softer. The focal point, the large single mountain stone that elevates the planting from good to extraordinary, is enhanced by a little touch of snow. The author doesn’t say what the snow is and it’s hard to tell from the photo. It would be ideal if it were simply part of the rock.

Digging out seems to be a daily ritual these days. That and devising ways to stay warm and keep up with our annual Stone Lantern pre-spring rush. Speaking of digging out, here’s a treasure from almost exactly five years ago (and from two plus years ago). It’s part of series on Toshio Kawamoto’s remarkable classic, Saikei, Living Landscapes in Miniature. A series that I consider to be one of Bark’s brightest moments.

An invitation
The purpose of this section is to show how to create lakeside saikei. In fact, if you look at the drawings throughout the book it’s almost as if the author is inviting you to duplicate his work. If you don’t have the book, don’t worry, we’ll be posting photos and the drawings. Meanwhile you’ve got two to go on (deep ravine and this one).

lake211Front schemata. The pot is 26″ x 13″ (66cm x 33cm) unglazed oval by Tokoname. There are 27 cryptomeria that range from 2.5″ to 4.5″ (6cm to 11.5cm) tall. The soil is regular bonsai soil (he doesn’t say which regular bonsai soil, but the Japanese almost always use akadama or an akadama mix for conifers). The other materials are peat (it’s unclear how he uses it, see below), green moss and black river pebbles (the lake).

lake31Bird’s eye view. The lake (or piece of it) is off center which helps create a natural, uncontrived feel. The landscape is soft and inviting. This softness is enhanced by the way the hills and the rock flow into each other (the photo and front schemata show this best). The small size of the trees (much smaller than the deep ravine saikei) and the way they sort of sink into the land, further enhances this easy, peaceful, almost feminine feel. Altogether it looks like a place where you might like spend some time. Just relaxing and enjoying the view and feel of the land, and the soft breezes off the lake. You might even go for a swim.

If you want to try one and send a photo, it just might make my day. If you don’t want to do that (and most of you won’t), at least you can post a comment. Otherwise, this job can seem a bit like…. (you can insert a good Texas down home expression here that conveys something like shooting in the dark).



The cover. Here’s a link to our original post on this classic masterwork.


B1SAIKEITo best of my knowledge, Lew Buller’s Saikei and Art is the only English language Saikei book currently in print. It’s available at Stone Lantern along with dozens of other bonsai books (all currently on sale).

With Buttonwood Bonsai, Nature Does the Real Work


This powerfully compact Buttonwood belongs to Nacho Marin, as do all four Buttonwood bonsai shown here.

With Buttonwood bonsai it’s nature that does the real work. Humans find them, dig them, pot them and eliminate branches and other parts that distract from the natural beauty of the tree (ideally, at least). But nature does the twisting, turning and scouring by sand and wind that results in such unusual shapes and magnificent deadwood.

I’m told* that much of this shaping and scouring happens during hurricanes and tropical storms. I’ve even heard that Buttonwoods are sometimes violently uprooted and blown to new locations. When the storm settles they begin the process of reestablishing themselves. This could only happen in the tropics** where humidity is high enough to keep the exposed roots from dying out.

All four Buttonwoods shown here belong to Nacho Marin. We featured some of his trees (from facebook) a couple days ago. These are all from his website.



Nature’s twisted handiwork.



The tortured deadwood on the right was no doubt once a trunk. 



Saving the best for last. All scrunched and twisted at the bottom and elegantly soaring at the top (we’ll blame it on the coffee). Magnificent pot too.

* I think it was Mary Miller that told me the fascinating Buttonwood story, but I’m not certain.

** Buttonwoods (Cornocapus) are tropical trees that typically grow along coastlines. They are highly successful and have managed to spread throughout much of the tropical regions of the world: including southern Florida, the Caribbean, throughout the Central and South American coastal tropics, the Galapagos Islands, West Africa and Melanesia and Polynesia.


Our FREE Bonsai Wire giveaway ends tonight. Don’t forget to put FREE in the comments when you check out. Details are here.

What Do FREE Bonsai Wire & Football Have in Common?

superbowlfinalThis might pass as artistic to an unsophisticated viewer, but it’s really just a miserably failed photoshop effort. The bonsai drawing is by Rueben Roig.

FREE Bonsai Wire

Superbowl Weekend Special

With any Stone Lantern order

But only if
you write FREE in the comments box when you check out

Saturday and Superbowl Sunday only

Order now for you FREE wire
take advantage of a whole range of existing sales and discounted items

The Details…
You will receive your FREE wire if you write FREE in the comments when you check out*
Orders from 1 to 9.99 will receive 100 grams of FREE wire.
Orders from 10.00 to 19.99 will receive 200 grams
Orders from 20.00 to 29.99 will receive 300 grams….
…and so forth off into infinity
For small orders we will use 100 gram rolls
For large orders we may use 500 gram rolls unless you specify otherwise

If you want wire of specific sizes
, you must specify in the comments box (after you type FREE). If you don’t specify sizes, we’ll decide (don’t worry we’ll pick a range of sizes for orders that qualify)

Don’t forget to type FREE in the comments!

FREE wire giveaway ends Sunday, February 1st at 11:59pm EST. Don’t wait!



I wouldn’t waste my time reading the following if I were you…
If you disdain football but love bonsai, please forgive me. Long ago when I aspired to be a more civilized person, I tried to shake my football addiction, but the power and passion of the game won out and continues to hold me in its brutal grip – but only on Sundays from September until tomorrow – the rest of my life I’m free (well… baseball, but it’s not the same).

And I certainly wouldn’t waste my time reading this…
Did you know that most football fans and bonsai lovers share a single demographic? Men. Specifically, though far from exclusively, mature men
(don’t get too excited we’re dealing in very broad generalizations here).
To celebrate this powerful bonsai and the football connection (and football gods willing, a Patriots victory in the Superbowl), and in hopes of a great game that goes right down to the wire (sorry) we’re giving away a whole bunch of bonsai wire (but only if you wire FREE in the comments box).

*I was going to have you write GO PATS! but decided that was way overboard, as opposed to the idea of combining football and bonsai…

Un andante gracioso entre el Bonsai


It’s a bit of a long story, but Bonsai Do provides famous quotes in Spanish with photos of bonsai (on facebook). In this case Nacho Marin provided the bonsai and the photo. The quote (with my stab at translation) follows: El otoño es un andante melancólico y gracioso que prepara admirablemente el solemne adagio del invierno – Fall is a sad and graceful walk that admirably prepares for the solemn walk of winter. (George Sand).

All the bonsai shown here are by Nacho Marin, as are the photos (facebook). For some reason, we haven’t featured South American bonsai artists much here on Bark (one exception being Nacho). Maybe you have some suggestions to help us remedy the situation.

Nacho was already an accomplished artist when he came to bonsai; a not too common, but potentially fruitful marriage. In Nacho’s case, you could scratch the potentially and leave it at fruitful.



Nice tray. Great tree. Perfect planting. It looks a lot like a juniper variety, but I can’t be 100% sure. BTW: There are no junipers native to the Southern Hemisphere. This is surprising considering just how many types of junipers there are.



A potless pot? Or…?



A front and a back? Or just two fronts? 



It’s very helpful to be able to draw bonsai before you start styling. And though it’s nice to be able to draw as well as Nacho, even primitive drawings are better than no drawings at all.



Though powerful Ficus bonsai are not that unusual, this one really jumped out during my daily facebook scroll.



Here’s a brief Nacho-bio I lifted from his website:
Designer of civil works
Professional photographer and teacher in the Venezuelan Photographers Society, recognized by the Professional Photographers of America
Plastic artist
Student of master Salvatore Liporace (2009)