Very much a work in progress, I just published my first episode of the Bonsai and a Beer Podcast which is available now in the itunes store. Please go easy on this.
For this first episode I sat down with Matt Reel, Tyler Sherrod and Paul Kellum on a late Saturday night inside Paul's trailer. They were kind enough to let me interview them about their apprenticeship, Mr. Shinji Suzuki and several other Bonsai related questions.
Tyler and Matt are incredible guys, they are both extremely talented and have done what very few Americans have in completing a formal apprenticeship with one of the leading Bonsai professionals in the world, Shinji Suzuki. With their incredible Bonsai accomplishments, they are the type of guys you'd really want to hang out with, they're down to earth, friendly, respectful but also know how to have fun.
I had a really great time at last weekends 18th annual Bay Island Bonsai Show. It's very impressive that Boon and his club have been putting this show on for 18 years now! Props to Boon, Paul Kellum, Matt Reel, Tyler Sherrod and the club for planning and executing on a great show. I've included a few pictures from some of my favorites from the weekend and a before and after of my entry below.
On first glance, I assumed this was a Japanese Maple, but the owner Paul Kellum explained that it's a Trident. I love the nebari and the fact that the second smaller trunk originates directly out of the nebari to create a true double trunk tree. The white bark extends throughout the trunk and main branches which is a sign of age.
This Chojubai a variety of Japanese Quince is owned by club member Kenny Lamm. You can see a few red blossoms just about ready to open. This clump style tree has ramified nicely and makes a fantastic addition to this shohin box display.
Adair's Olive was the heaviest tree out off all. The wide base, rapid trunk taper and overall size make this tree very impressive in person. My nickname for it is Jaba the Olive:)
I know almost nothing about Suiseki, but I know what I like and I like what I see here. The overall presentation gives me a calming feeling, it's the type of thing that makes you slowly take in a deep breath. You could get lost looking into the painting which I believe was created using spray paint forming a picture that's both simple and complex at the same time.
Here's John Kirby's California Juniper which I believe many years ago was initially styled by Shinji Suzuki during a demo and since then worked on primarily by John, Daisaku and Boon. My favorite Junipers tend to show both power and grace which are two characteristics of this tree. The height and and trunk diameter almost give this a Bunjin feel, but the tree also exhibits power and strength. You can't beat the candy cane twist of the live vein and wonder how mother nature made it wrap around the trunk like that.
Next to the California was this small Crape Myrtle. All I can say about this is, "Baby got Back!"
I'm not sure who's Ume this is, but I really like it and wish it was part of my collection. It sure is hard to find good ume in the US! The crackly bark and deadwood on this tree lead me to believe it's pretty old, at least as far as Ume go in the US. Did you know ume is closely related to both the Plum and Apricot? The delicate flowers contrast beautiful with the rugged trunk.
During our show, everyone picks a task or job to ensure everything flows smoothly during the show. My job was to bring all the trees to the photographer, then set them back up at their display. Here's Sam Ogranaja a fantastic photographer getting set up with this twin trunk Stewartia.
As always I appreciate the opportunity to get up close and personal with each tree. This Kokonoe White pine which also belongs to John Kirby is the best I've seen in the US. The tree was originally grafted to a Black Pine base, however Kokonoe being one of stronger varieties, was able to ground layer it self from just above the graft line. Now this tree has a high quality nebari and is on it's own root base. John has done a phenomenal job with it.
Break time! Shout out to my new friend Sam Ogranaja, who took us to Firebrand Artisan Breads for a quick snack. Very tasty coffee and cream puff.
This was the second time I showed a tree. A Sierra Juniper which still has a long way to go. Currently it needs to be shifted over to the viewers right hand side and the foliage pads need to fill in and develop a lot more. I collected it in either 2011 or 2012-can't remember exactly. There's a piece of granite embedded in the lower right hand side. This is just a pic I took with my phone, Sams pics looked much better.
Not the best shot below, but here's the same tree just after collection from a different angle. It's fun to look back and see how our tree change over time.
That's all for now, but please stay tuned for a podcast where I got to sit down and chat with Matt Reel, Tyler Sherrod and Paul Kellum.
Because of our moderate climate here on the Central Coast, we can get away with re-potting anytime between winter and early spring. This year, I'm glad to get started early because I've never been so busy with tons of little projects that need repotting like this little coast live oak. Future award winner in the year 2045;)
I've been collecting Junipers for about seven years now, and I'm always trying to learn more about how to work with them. Generally speaking I've always tried to error on the side of caution which is the reason for this super long and skinny box. It seems like the more roots you collect, the better chance the tree has of surviving after collection. However, I think I was a bit too cautious with this one.
Because the tree has been growing strongly, I decided to re-pot and put it into a small box. The first thing I did was to take the box apart. Using screws makes the box stronger and easier to take a part.
If I could go back in time, I probably would have reduced the length of the root mass by about 25% at the time I boxed it up. That way I could get it into a Bonsai pot more quickly.
Here's a closer pic of all the roots growing in pumice.
Once again staying on the side of caution, I cut off about 1/2 the roots and then bare rooted the front half.
Here it is after cutting off half and combing out the front of the root ball out. I built a new box and used Clay King as the soil medium.
Now being in a smaller box it's much easier to move around now. I tilted the tree a bit more forward which changed the profile of the foliage for now. The next time I re-pot I'll bare root the back half and shorten more length off the sides. The tree still has a long way to go and I look forward to wiring and styling in the near future, stay tuned for more updates. Thanks so much for reading and Happy Holidays!
I wanted and tried to get this post out earlier especially because October is a great month to collect in California, but life just got a bit too busy and I couldn't make it happen. I've listed a few basic tips or general guidelines below that i'd recommend when collecting trees for Bonsai. This isn't meant to be a definitive guide, more so just what I do personally and some advice I'd give to non-experienced collectors. I'd love to hear what you think.
Be respectful of the land - get permission from the land owners, back fill all your holes and make it look like you were never there when you leave.
Try and get as many fine fibrous roots as you can. The more roots you can keep, the better chance the tree will survive (up to a certain point).
Bring tools that are appropriate for the collecting site. Collecting a CA juniper in a desert situation is very different than collecting Sierra Juniper off granite mountains.
Wrap the root ball with damp sphagnum moss, an old t-shirt or anything that will hold some moisture. Then use a plastic trash bag and wrap the whole thing with clear packing tape, this will keep the root ball from getting too beat up on the trip back.
Tie the tree to a metal frame pack to hike it back to your vehicle.
The best time of year to collect is generally the same time you would re-pot.
Use a plastic, wood or ceramic container that will fit the root ball nicely. I like building wooden boxes so I can make them the same shape as the mass of roots.
Your container only needs to be maybe 1/4 inch to 1.5 inches of excess space around the sides of the root ball.
100% washed and sifted pumice is my favorite soil for newly collected trees to start out in.
Make sure to firmly secure the tree into the pot so it doesn't move around(sometimes you have to get creative to do this, use aluminum wire or support the tree by attaching more wood to your box).
Frequent Misting, or fogging(even better) could be good, but may not be required. Try not to get the soil wet from misting/fogging.
If the tree has a good amount of roots, personally i'll put it into full sun right away. If the tree does not have many roots, I think some shade or misting house might be better.
Light foliar feeding during the first several months is a good idea.
Bottom heat maintaining temps between 65-75 degrees F could be a good option, but not required(I don't currently use).
Lightly feeding with organic fertilizer one month after potting is good- but don't over do it.
Thanks for taking a look, here's a couple I collected during my last trip.
Here's a quick update about what i've been up to recently. If we're friends on Facebook you may have already seen some of these pics.
I got to spend a few days up in the mountains with my wife and dogs which is my favorite way to clear my mind and take a break from the day to day. Who doesn't like looking at ancient trees growing in the granite? I particularly liked this naturally dwarfed Juniper that Courtney and Thor are sitting next to.
This little Ponderosa is pretty funny 🙂 These trees grow often grow with a bulbous base because the trunks swell while pinched between the granite cracks.
But... I've never seen one grow into such a nice little round ball. Would make an odd Bonsai.
I love seeing a variety of native CA trees up in the mountains. In this pic there's Ponderosa, Juniper and Manzanita which is a tree I hope to see more used for Bonsai in the future. Anyone have any success with Manzanita? Smooth red bark, twist, curve, silver/grey deadwood, small green leaves and flowers. They also show the struggles that mother nature throws at them. But, most say that their really challenging to keep long term and i've never collected one.
Speaking of CA native trees, here's one of my recent projects that I worked on while sneaking away from working on our house remodeling. This is a Coastal Red Wood I purchased from Zack Shimon late last year. This is the pic before working on it. This time I thinned the tree significantly, selected and wired the branches that were usable.
I also discovered that a large portion of the front had died off. Because of this I removed the bark to expose the wood underneath and discovered there was some type of insect boring in many section of the dead wood, which created these holes in the trunk. I don't have an after pic right now, but next time I re-work this redwood i'll post one.
The next project I worked on is one of my favorite Junipers, a twin trunked tree. Here it is after I worked on it last year. You can see a small root graft that we placed on it on the right hand side under the spiky jin. In the future I'll cut the foliage off the graft to leave it's roots which will feed the main tree.
I put quite a bit of copper wire on this tree, which took me two full days of work .
For this tree I used wire from a new supplier i've never tried before. It came from a Facebook friend of mine named Aaron Wiley. I was very impressed with the softness and quality of his annealed copper wire. If your interested, feel free to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please let him know I sent you and you'll get a 10% discount.
6 gauge 25 foot roll $28 each
8 gauge 25 foot roll $24 each
10 gauge 50 foot rolls $26 each
12 gauge 50 foot roll $18 each
14 gauge 50 foot roll $16 each
16 gauge 50 foot roll $14 each
18 gauge 50 foot roll $10 each
20 gauge 50 foot roll $8 each
Some annealed coils of Aaron's wire, good stuff!
I also added shari on the left hand trunk around the middle of the live vein. The plan is to slowly widen the shari over time, giving the tree time to rest and get strong again before widening anymore.
In cases like this it's better to work on your trees little by little, instead of doing everything at once. I followed the grain of the wood and created a long window of Shari.
Here's the result after styling the tree. Please note the lovely hand model to the left by Mr. John Kirby who was nice enough to hold the tree stable while I took a picture. I'm going to re-pot during late winter of 2016 and tilt the tree forward a bit. I'll also be reducing the size of the box it's growing in and taking measurements for a new pot.
And here we are after loading up in the back of my Tacoma, ready to drive back to the Central Coast. The spiked Jin features on both trunks are my favorite part of this double trunk and make me look forward to the trees future development. Here's a few different angles to close this out. Thanks so much for stopping by, really appreciate you taking a look!
Last weekend I was happy to be greeted by a beautiful show of flowers from this old Wisteria. Evidence that Spring has officially sprung. This tree was relocated from Boon's old house to his new house, 2-3 years back. I was there the day they brought it by truck and planted it next to his workshop. The relocation process took several men and a big metal tripod to move and transplant it to it's current spot.
Beautiful drooping flowers and rugged old trunk make me envious that it's in Boons yard and not mine 🙂
While at Boons house last weekend I styled this juniper, pictured below. This pic shows the back side shortly after collection. I really liked the feature right at the base of the trunk, however the other side has really cool dead wood.
It wasn't till the day after I potted it into this Anderson flat that I noticed the granite at the base which was still covered in mountain soil. Can you tell how this tree was oriented when it was growing in the mountains, or what caused the larger recessed section on the trunk?
This is the other side, which I was thinking for the front.While I could be wrong, I'd assume that the majority would use this side as the front because the deadwood is more visible and more attractive. Although, I always found myself checking out the back side of this tree as well.
For me, exercises in finding the best front have always been fun and thought provoking. Ultimately, the best viewing angle is a subjective decision. However, there's still a method behind the madness and not all fronts are created equally. With this tree I was a unsure of which side I wanted to go with and found myself with some questions that were fun to ponder, at least to me. Below shows the tree after transplanting into a clay growing pot in Jan or Feb of 2015.
Getting back to this past weekend...
I decided to change things up and make what I originally thought would be the back into the front. Ultimately, I decided to change the front because it interested me a bit more than the other side. However, I think either side could be a good option. One of my favorite features on this side is this twisting upper section.
The rock is much more visible after being cleaned off. It's the only tree I have with this characteristic and I like the quirky uniqueness about it.
We also added some shari to the trunk, which I'll likely extend in the future.
Here we are after the first wiring with the back as the new front. Still a work in progress. It will look more powerful in a smaller pot. Thank you for taking a look and reading, I really appreciate it!
In Oct of 2015, my wife and I decided to take on what turned out to be a massive project in selling our current home and buying a new one. The new house is a major, "fixer upper" and has taken up just about all our free time. We completely gutted the inside and are now about 85% finished with remodeling the inside of the house. Because of the timing in selling and buying, there were a few months where I couldn't keep my Bonsai at my new or old house. Fortunately, my good friend Ron Bereman was extremely kind and let me keep my trees at his house during the transitions.
You might be a Bonsai nut if the main purpose of buying a new home is to have enough room to accomplish your Bonsai goals;) Mine include building the garden I envision and someday having a Bonsai business. Our new house is on an acre in Nipomo, CA here's a shot of the front section of my new yard and future site of my display garden.
Nipomo has nice sandy soil and a climate that I love. After we finally move in, I plan to spend a lot more time with my trees, collecting new ones and growing Bonsai from seed, cutting and airlayer . I dug about seven of these Kishu out from my old yard and have transplanted them into the new one.
Anytime that I'm not spending on the new house, I definitely feel guilty about. However, you gotta take breaks sometime right? I had lot's of fun taking one of those breaks at the 2016 BIB Show.
My main job at the show for the past several years has been to assist Eric Schrader and David Campbell by bringing them trees for photography. I wanted to show a few pics of the trees from the beautiful show. I need to power through our house project, then I hope to be working with Bonsai and this blog a whole lot more. Please stay tuned, thanks!
This is my Kifu sized Sierra Juniper(Juniperus occidentalis var. australis) that I showed in Oakland at the BIB exhibit. It was my first time ever showing a tree. Here's a short history since I've had it up until now. I hope to continue its progression in the future, Thanks for taking a look!
I collected this Juniper back in 2010 with a pretty solid amount of roots from the get go. This was also one of the easier trees I've ever collected. It took maybe 10-15 minutes to remove with a large mat of fine roots. Here's a pic from 2010 of my three favorite that I collected that year. The middle and right hand side are Sierra Juniper and the lower left is either Utah, California or a hybrid Utah/California. Lower left now belongs to my good buddy Greg McCleary and was also shown at BIB this year. The larger tree in the back is doing well and I hope to show it show it sometime down the road.
During the first re-potting, I bare rooted the front half of the root ball and replaced all the pumice with Clay King. The tree grew well so the following year I wired it for the first time. That's about as far down as I could bring the key branch because the pot was in the way. I think I have the correct years on the pictures below, but it's difficult to remember and I need to take better notes:)
The next year I was considering changing the angle to this image below. The tree was not actually re-potted into the pot below, the pot pictured below was placed in front for visualization purposes. You can also see the differences in color on the deadwood where we removed a small portion of the live vein that had died back.
After this you can see the tree's foliage filling in a bit more. The apex was kept long in order to increase strength in that area and is covered by a white cloth.
Here's the tree as of last weekend all cleaned up, with the angle changed back to my original plan. One of my best friends and cousin-Jarett Wright(www.jarettwright.com) took this great shot for me the night before the show. The tree still has a lot of room for development. Over time I hope to create a fuller, more compact image by replacing leggy branches and develop tighter and more refined pads.
Here it is with some different lighting in the yard of my new house.
Hey there, Wow... life has been a bit crazy for me lately! Lots of things going on, but one of the main things is that I sold and moved out of my house and I am currently in escrow on another! I really have not had much time for my trees lately, which is a bit sad, but the reason for that is because I've been busy securing the future for my Bonsai garden and nursery. I'm crossing my fingers that everything goes smoothly, but I should have a real fixer upper project in the near future which includes enough room to expand on one acre. I'll definitely have many updates on this blog showing my long term progression of my future Bonsai garden and nursery.
During just about the only Bonsai weekend I've had recently, I had the privilege of interviewing and talking with Boon Manakativipart and Morten Wellhaven. Podcasting is something that I've wanted to get into for a while now. Even though in many ways doing so is a bit scary for me because I have no background in anything related to podcasting and don't have the gift that other podcasters have when it comes to clearly and easily communicating the thoughts in my mind. Over the last several years however, i've listened to some insane amount of hours of other's free podcasts and I definitely have learned a ton while listening.
With that said, I'd love for you to take a listen below. Hopefully I can figure out how to get this on iTunes soon as well. Boon and Morten were extremely gracious in being my lab rats and allowing me to try this out with them. I hope to improve and put out many more interviews in the future about Bonsai and the crazy people that love little trees so much. Thanks for checking it out!
First off, a quick shout out and congrats to everyone that had a tree accepted in the Artisan Cup! A great accomplishment to those that made it. I'm so incredibly pumped to attend the show in Sept and can't wait to see your trees.
I'm sorry I've been super busy recently and I'm getting this post up way after the fact, however if anyone is still interested i'm going to finish out my Aichi-En Trip Report posts. The pics below are from March of 2015 and there's quite a few of them. So without further ado, I'm going to jump right into it.
Below, is one of the more funky tridents I've ever seen sitting near the house. I could see how people could either like or dislike this tree. Personally, I'm all for it and think it's unique character and age make it absolutely stunning! In some ways it doesn't fit into general Bonsai guidelines. While I don't like the term, you still couldn't call it a, "cookie cutter." For me, it's refreshing to look at and the ramification and age speak highly of Aichien's skill, technique and history.
More about this tree on Peter Tea's Blog: https://peterteabonsai.wordpress.com/2011/12/24/the-strange-trident-maple/
One day I saw Mr. Tanaka walking on his way back into the nursery after what appeared to be a stroll around the neighborhood. While coming through the front gate of the nursery, I saw him with this little tree in his hand. I remember thinking it was funny that he just went for a leisurely walk and came back with a little tree. This is definitely something I wish I could do back home, but that would never happen:)
It turned out that he walked over to another Bonsai enthusiasts home and bought or maybe traded for it while he was out on his walk. At one point this little guy use to be a juniper whip that was wired, twisted and allowed to grow to thicken the trunk. At a quick glance I assumed the trunk was carved to add the indentations in the wood. However, looking at it more closely, I think the effect was created more so by letting sections of the trunk die off at different time periods. Cool little tree, in my opinion.
The weather sure didnt want to make up it's mind and seemed to enjoy fluctuating between hot and cold while I was there. I was there right after Kokufu which is in between Winter and Spring. I wore a t-shirt some days and two jackets during others. Don't worry it's not dandruff in Juan's hair, it was just snow flakes 😉
Being from the Central Coast of CA, I really don't seem to acclimate well to the cold. In fact, on the cold days it was only with great effort that I could pry my feet way from the kerosene heater in the workshop. However, getting to see all the trees covered by the snow was a really unique and beautiful experience. A first time for me.
The Bonsai auction scene in Japan is impressive. One morning we helped Mr. Tanaka load up his van to drive to a big auction in Tokoyo. We stayed behind to continue working on trees at the nursery.
On another day me, Juan and John jumped into the van with Mr. Tanaka and headed to the 8th auction, which occurs on the 8th of every month. This is an auction for professionals only. Trees and pots were placed in this big open space below. There were a ton of trees at this auction, they filled up more than just this area spilling out past the entrance of the nursery that hosted the event.
Looking at everything before the auction was a lot of fun, but it was also like being a kid in a candy store with all of my favorite chocolates for sale and then being told I can only look. US regulations make it almost impossible to bring a tree back to the US.
You can see a few trees here spilling out past the entrance to the nursery. I believe this is a Chojubai that was created by twisting multiple skinny trunks, and then letting them grow together.
I was impressed with how smoothly the auction ran. You could tell that they've done this many times before. For me, Juan and John our jobs started by placing one of these flat pieces of wood on this metal set of rollers. We would grab the next tree or pot, place it on top of the flat wood and role it down to the auctioneer in the center.
Their were two auctioneers who switched out about midway through as i'm sure their vocal chords were tired from yelling about the hundreds of trees at the auction. Bot did a fantastic job with voice projection and engaging the crowd. The auctioneer would talk about the tree, build up the bidding, take the number of the highest bidder, then push the tree on the board to their left hand side along the other set of metal rollers.
Our main job was to grab the tree/pot or lot of trees/pots off the other side of the rollers once they were spoken for. We would move the goods to the new owners established location. Each bidder had a number and most of them also had a van outside the nursery with a corresponding number aside the van.
At the auction, Mr. Tanaka picked up this gem below.
Once we got back into the work shop, Mr. Tanaka picked out this small JBP project for me to work on.
One issue that can become a real problem is moss growing on trunk of Black Pine, because it will cause the beautiful bark to rot and fall off. Because of this we first gently removed as much as possible with tweezers.
Then painted the the area with white cooking vinegar and allowed it to dry to kill the rest of the moss.
I also did a rough wiring and styling of the tree. Here it is below after wiring the primary branch pad.
And here's the rest for now.
Sometime around the middle of each day, Mr. Tanaka's Mother or "Grandma" as Juan and John would refer to her would come inside the workshop say, "tea time." She seemed like an incredibly sweet woman who was full of character. The fresh mochi and tea that she brought us was my absolute favorite snack, it tasted phenomenal!
While I was there, I purchased this old antique Chinese container.
The clay is very smooth and I really like patina and thick outer lip along the edge of the pot.
I have a small Sierra Juniper that i'll probably put in this.
Below are a few photos from some side trips we made. The first are from an ume festival which included a small Bonsai show. We dropped by on the last day to help pack everything up.
Lots of vendors selling this and that at the festival.
During my time there, the apprentices had one day off. On that day I was fortunate enough that they took me to Nagoya Castle. Can you spot the golden Dolphins at the top?
This rock wall above the castles moat was very impressive to me. 'Challenging' is a huge understatement when thinking about what an intruder would have to do to get in.
Checking out the Ancient Samurai gear was too cool!
The last project I worked on was this White Pine which Mr. Tanaka picked for me to clean up, wire and style. Juan help guide me thorough the process.
The first step, which is frequently the case is to remove some of the old needles.
Old needles are typically closer to the base of the branch. Removing some before wiring has a few benefits including allowing more light into the interior, making things look cleaner and easier to wire. So they don't damage the branch at Aichi-En they cut old needles from White Pine.
The key branch on this tree needed to be lowered, so I wrapped it tightly with black plastic rope. Here's how I started wrapping the branch. The copper wire is there to hold the plastic in place while I wrapped over the branch.
We used a wooden block to change the location of the leverage point when lowering the key branch.
You can also see the green tie down wire I used to re-secure the tree into the pot. When putting so much pressure to lower the key branch It would have been easy to yank the tree out of it's pot. I wired the largest primary branches first, then the secondary and tertiary branches and arranged the foliage pads.
Here's the before pic one more time.
And after wiring and styling.
Overall I had an unforgettable visiting apprenticeship experience. I was incredibly lucky and honored that I got to go. This trip added more fuel onto the fire that is my Bonsai obsession. A huge thank you to Mr. Tanaka and the Aichi-En crew!!!