Juniper- Fall of 2012 till Now

I'm taking a break from the Visiting apprentice posts, but I still have one more that i'd like to share from my trip to Japan.  For today I want to share a tiny portion of this tree's story.  I say tiny portion because when you're talking about Sierra Juniper yamadori, a few years can seem like a few months or maybe even just a few days to a tree that can live up to a couple thousand years old.

Here it is in Fall of 2012 right before being collected.  The first sign which gave me hope that it might be collect-able was the soil around the tree.  I was hoping to discover a mat of fine roots in this pocket of soil on top of granite. The idea is to get under the mat of roots and scoop the tree up with a nice intact root ball. However, it's difficult to tell with a tree like this until you get down near the base of the tree to clear away the duff around the base and examine what's going on with the roots.  Junipers that are collectable are on the rare side, the vast majority are not in collectable situations.


Fortunately, I was able to remove this tree with a large root ball.  While it might not look that big, It always makes me smile because trees always look smaller to me when I'm in the mountains compared to when get them back home.  Packing this back to my trunk turned out to be an intense work out.


Here we are back home on a rainy day after potting it up in 100% pumice.  I ended up putting it in a wooden box I had laying around from an older project. I added four pieces of fence board along the corners of the box to fit the root ball a bit better.  Looking back on this, I probably should have potted it up in something even smaller.  All you really need is a box to fit the root ball with a tiny extra space and nothing more.  In this picture, the foliage is blocking the majority of the interesting sections of the trunk. Large iced coffee cup for scale 😉



Looking into the interior showing off my favorite sections of the trunk.  when styling this tree, I wanted this section to be much more visible.


Fast forwarding to a couple weekends ago here's the tree as of now.  I jinned a section of branch on the secondary trunk and wired the small section of foliage in the middle of the trunk, moving it to the left.  As you may notice the foliage color has changed a bit from a green/yellow color to a blue/green/grayish color.  Unfortunately the foliage has also developed more of a weeping habit than any of my other Sierras which is something I'm not a fan of.  However, this tree has never been transplanted and has a lot of mountain soil around the root ball.  My other Sierra's have responded really well when I removed the mountain soil and replace it with akadama, pumice and lava over 2-3 repotting sessions.  I hope some of the weeping characteristic goes away with time, or I will likely graft new foliage in the future.


Here's a couple close up shots showing the textured deadwood.


I didn't get a chance to clean up the live veins, but will do in the future.


I finally bought a raised camper shell for my truck, but it didn't come in time for transporting my tree.  This should be the last time I have to use my ghetto pallet structure to block the wind:)


One small feature I'm wondering about is shown below.  Lodged in this piece of deadwood is a funny shaped piece of something.  I think maybe it's metal or lead, any guesses on what this might be?  I think my best guess might be an old bullet, but i'm really not sure.  I wonder when this might have happened.



Here we are back on my bench with my new copper watering can and water basin.  I ordered the can from Japan through, which was the cheapest I could find and got the large pot from a place down in Gardena, CA.  There are a few deciduous trees in my yard that I started using only rain water.  The large pot is only filled with rain water to make dipping the can more convenient.   This tree still has a long way to go, I hope I can improve it over time and eventually put it in a show.  Thanks for reading, take care!



AMA with Michael Hagedorn

Bonsai is a complicated and complex art form.  Finding solid information and getting your questions answered by reputable sources can often be challenging especially in the US.   Because of this I'd like to strongly encourage anyone that loves Bonsai to take advantage of the "Michael Hagedorn-Ask Me Anything thread" that just popped up here:

In my opinion, Michael Hagedorn is one of the best in the US and he'll answer any question you might want to know.  You don't have to travel anywhere, you'll likely learn some new and it costs you nothing!  Check it out!!!

Michael's amazing backyard



Aichi-En visiting apprentice trip report: part 3

And.... I'm back with the third post about my trip, I'm sorry it took a while to get this one up.  I believe i'm going to wrap everything up in one more part after this. In this post I'm going to start with more pictures around Aichi-En, talk about Japanese Ramen, teach a cool trick for anchoring guy wires and end with some pictures around Daiju-En.

In between working on trees, my favorite pass time was walking around the nursery and looking at different aspects of the trees.  With so many trees in the yard, it was a bit overwhelming, part of me wanted to keep running around looking at everything, moving from one to another, then another and another...   I love the magnificent chunky old bark on these three Black pines.


Root over rock maples always catch my attention as well.  It was cool to see the variety of different rocks that were used.  Different shapes, sizes, textures and colors can make for very unique and impressive trees.


I especially dig the idea of growing trees over stones with natural indents which allow water to pool on the stone like this one below.


It seems to me that Chojubai has been gaining popularity recently, I think at least some of this is because Michael Hagedorn's fantastic posts about Chojubai which he started in 2011.  Here's one tree in the yard that doesn't seem to have a lot of shaping or structural work, but a project tree that I would not mind taking on.


Because they are difficult to find and interest has been on the rise, the prices of Chojubai in the US has been much higher than in Japan.  It's nice to see more interest in the US and to see people propagating them.  We need to keep growing the one's with good bark from cuttings and root cuttings.  This one had a cool pot too!


Taking a break from Bonsai for a second, one of the best discoveries I made during my trip to Japan was Ramen!  For American's that have been to Japan before, this is likely just old news.  But, for a first timer in Japan it was a wonderful discovery.  After a long day of wiring and repotting in the cold weather this hot noodle soup really hit the spot. Here we are entering a Ramen shop with enticing bright lights which had a sort of an American Dinner feel to it.


Ramen is very popular in Japan, there are restaurants all over.  Each region of the county has their own variations.  It was interesting for me to learn that, like Bonsai apprenticeship, people also apprentice to become Ramen Chefs.  I like how eager and intense Danny, Mr. Tanaka and Juan are while watching the Chefs prepare the food.


Mr. Tanaka ordered for all of us and I was always very happy with his selections. Here's a few pics of the Ramen I tried in Japan. This shop added lots of bean sprouts on the top.  There are some different sauces and spices that you can add to customize it.


This is from a spot we stopped at in downtown Nagoya.


And here's a close up of the Ramen I got on my last day in Tokyo before getting on the plane.  This is definitely the food I miss most since come back home.


Jumping back into Bonsai, I was tasked with wiring and styling this White Pine below.  With this tree I'm going to show a useful technique I learned for creating a good anchor point for guy wire.


Because the main branch of this tree was very horizontal and straight, we decided to bend it down to give it more of a cascade feel.  I used the strong black plastic to tightly wrap the area which would take the bend.  I used the jack to lower the branch which I anchored to the side of the pot, a trick that Juan taught me.


Here are the steps I took to create the anchor point on the side of the pot.  First I used a thick gauge copper wire and cut the end at a point.


The reason for the sharp point is to make it easier to drive the wire up into the firm root ball.  We pushed the wire through the root ball until it hit the top layer of the soil.  I don't believe this method would work well if you just repotted and the soil was still really loose.  However, we would not want to be doing a lot of work bending and styling this tree if we just repotted either.


Next we bent the wire and had it run the length of the pot.  Because I would be bending the main branch, I didn't want the tree popping out of the pot.  I was concerned with the original tie down wire, so I replaced it.


After this, I bent a loop into the wire with my hands.  The final product will sit against the pot this this.


To finish the wire loop I used two pairs of pliers, or you can use a pair of pliers and the end of another tool to twist the loop while holding the section below so that you create a secure loop that won't un-twist.   I positioned the loop against the pot like it is in the picture above.


After this I used the jack to slowly bring the branch down, using a guy wire to hold it into place.  I twisted the jack a few times, then did the same to the steel guy wire.


We used a stainless steel screw in the branch to tie the wire to and rubber padding where the branch touched the pot.  I also wrapped the tree's other main branch, anchoring at it's jin to bring it toward the other main branch.  I believe it looked more natural to have both branches coming out of the trunk at similar angles.

I ended up with three guy wires connecting to the anchor point we created below.  Next, I wired all the branches and adjusted the pads.


To make it convenient, sometimes they used magnetic hooks to have the wire next to you while you're working.  It was nice that you could put them anywhere you needed.  I ended up buying some to bring back home with me.


Here's a pic from Daiju-En of a rolling wire caddy.  Both options make keeping your wire close by more convenient.

Once again, here's the before picture.


And here's how far we took it for now.


While I enjoyed all of the short side trips we took while I was there, one of my favorites was to  Daiju-En.  I've heard a great deal about this famous nursery, but it was a real treat to get to see it in person.


Toru Suzuki is a third generation professional and the current proprietor of Daiju-En.  I first heard about Daiju-En from my teacher Boon.   This is the nursery Boon's teacher Kihachiro Kamiya studied at many years ago under Toru Suzuki's father, the late Toshinori Suzuki.  Junichiro Tanaka from Aichi-En is also part of the Daiju-En family and was a student here as well.


I got the chance to spend some time looking around the nursery with Juan, John and Dean while Mr. Tanaka visited with the Suzuki family.  Mr. Suzuki's grandson who is a toddler kept us company while walking around the nursery and he only had one shoe on.  It showed up eventually (in the pic below)  🙂


As you might be able to tell, Daiju-En is famous for it's work on Black Pine Bonsai.  In fact, the original De-Candling technique was first created at this very nursery many years ago.


The story I heard was that the idea first occurred after insects damaged the spring growth on one of the Black pines.  New needles grew from the damaged areas and came out smaller which resulted in experimenting with De-candling.


This technique helped change the amount of control that is possible with black pine.  Before the technique was created, needle size was maintained by reducing water and fertilizer.


Not only were there great Black Pines, there were also stunning Deciduous trees as well like this Chinese quince.


And this root over rock Kaede.


The branches with a lot of taper and a soft feeling towards the tips are showing tremendous ramification.


I'd like to make a similar stand for the garden in the future.  The one Juan is pointing to is made from Juniper deadwood.


There were a few greenhouses at the nursery which were used to protect trees from the cold.  This was the largest of them.


Here's another green house used for the smaller trees, this was not fully inclosed, at least not during the time I was there.


I really appreciate the large stones which added lots of character to the garden.


This one with a flat top section was also used to display this red flowering quince. I wondered about the gold streak on the rock, I think it looks cool.  I imagine it was painted on somehow, but didn't learn it's story.


Here are a few trees inside the tea room, which I believe just came back from show.



And finally, I also got the chance to meet Dean Harrell who is pictured below with John.  Dean is a really cool guy and is currently apprenticing at Daiju-En. He is a fellow American from Virginia.  We all went out to lunch and I got to hear entertaining stories about his apprenticeship and we had a good conversation about Bonsai.  I'm always happy to see American's studying Bonsai in Japan and look forward to seeing Dean's work in the future.


Well, that's about it for now.  Thanks for checking out the pictures and taking a look at the blog.  Cheers! 


Aichi-En visiting apprentice trip report: part 2

So, being there in early March, I felt really lucky that this spectacular Ume decided to bloom during my trip. This tree was one of the original plants which was grown from seed in 1896!  I think it's much larger in person than the picture portrays.   From what I've seen, currently white or dark pink flowers seem to be the most popular colors in Japan, its what you see most frequently in the show books. However, I think the light pink flowers are a nice change of pace.  In this pic the tree is not styled for show, but I think it's absolutely beautiful as is.


The bark on this tree really blew me away and the tree has an old feeling you just couldn't re-create without the insane amount of time it took to grow from seed.


Pines are what definitely make up the majority of the garden at Aichi-En and there are hundreds of really great ones.


Usually, the way that I look at these pines, is by first looking at the overall appearance of the tree...


Then, I would crouch down lower to take a closer look at the trunk line, nebari and bark.  I like this guy with nice movement and thick plated bark on a relatively skinny trunk.


Sometime around two years ago, when Peter Tea came back to the US, Aichi-En became a three apprentice nursery and the number of trees increased a bit because there was more Deshi power to handle the workload.


While Pines make up the majority of the nursery, they work on many other types of trees as well like this small Tosho or Needle Juniper in a high fired growing pot.  These high fired grow pots last much longer than the terracotta ones you find in the U.S.  Why don't we have these pots?    


Speaking of Tosho and Peter Tea, did anyone catch Peter styling a Tosho in Kinbon back in 2012?  I heard about this photo shoot, but did not see it until just recently.  Congrats to Peter and Mr. Tanaka!


Another of the current full time Apprentice's at Aichi-En is John Milton showing me this impressive Sekka-Hinoki.  I found out this is currently one of the most popular varieties of Hinoki in Japan.  John is a really talented and nice guy originally from England where he worked at his families dairy farm before starting his apprenticeship.  It was astonishing how knowledgable all the apprentices were and tried to learn as much as possible from them.  If for some reason you haven't checked out John's blog yet, I highly recommend giving it a look.  I've read every post, top to bottom.


One thing I thank John for really helping me to understand is the importance of leaf and twig quality in Bonsai.  Generally speaking trees with smaller leaves, have smaller twigs and can become more ramified than trees with larger leaves and twigs.  In Japan good leaf quality can increase a trees price exponentially. You know what they say, size doesn't matter 😉 I believe it's something we should pay more attention to with species where dense ramification is desirable.  Not getting too deep into this subject right now, this doesn't mean you should throw away your trees with larger sized leaves.  However, I think it's very relevant for us outside of Japan where we should be focusing on growing from seed, cutting and air layer with goals between 15-50+ years down the road where this will absolutely come into play.  Using quality leaf size is at least one piece of the puzzle.  We need to be growing those multi generational trees in order to push things to our full potential.

Here's a couple pictures from John's blog, along side Mr. and Mrs. Cooper at Taikan Ten.


John prepped there Japanese maple for the show and it ended up receiving a prize.  John told me that the leaf quality of this tree was one of the best he's ever seen.


Besides from having all kinds of Bonsai related things back home, I also wish we could have vending machines like they do in Japan.  There's always one close by because they are literally everywhere! They usually have both hot and cold drinks, coffees, teas, juice, soda and you can get food from most of them too. Really good coffee is like a buck fifty and you don't have to wait in line at Starbucks to get it.   This one is right around the corner from the nursery where we could run off to grab a quick drink.


The only trouble I had was that you don't know exactly what you are getting.  Like when I bought one and thought "Oh maybe it's Peach soda or Apricot juice or something let's try it...  Oh... it says Ume on the side, that's cool, probably tastes Awesome".

In actuality, it just tasted kinda but I finished it because I didnt want to waste it.  To my surprise I started feeling slightly buzzed after 😉

Basically Japanese Ume Smirnoff Ice


One day on a break, after grabbing a quick drink, we went for a walk with Juan and John, they showed me a cool park with a zip line you could go down which we all had fun trying.  We also checked out this local shrine.


It was cool to see something like this located in the middle of a neighborhood. Some throw coins in the metal box with white writing on the side, like a wishing well.


Sometimes we would be working in the workshop when Mr. Tanaka would come in and say, "let's go."  This meant wrap it up quickly because it's time to jump in the van and roll.  Here's some pics at a bonsai nursery we visited during one of those times.


Here's the largest tree at the nursery, which is Black pine that greets customers as they enter.


For the most part the nursery seemed to specialize in smaller trees, and the prices seemed very good.  


I've seen pictures and video of many of the top quality or more famous nurseries in Japan.   However I was glad to see a range of different types of nurseries.


There were trees in all different stages of development and many projects that would be fun to take on. We had a great time looking through everything in search of little treasures.


Juan pointed all these little nails and branches out to me.  Any guesses about what's going on here or what the goal of this might be?


This group of Chojubai Quince and Princess Persimmon all priced at approx. $45 usd.


Each nursery I visited in Japan was attached to the owners home.  This makes things more convenient and something I'd like to do in the future.



Juan is bending this down slightly with his thumb, showing a slightly more compact design and a potential future potting angle for this exposed root Chojubai.


Mr. Tanaka ended up purchasing a field grown yamadori style Itoigawa from this nursery which is shown below.  I was very happy that he had me wire and style it.

One thing I want to mention briefly is that I make no claims to being a professional Bonsai artist.  My work is no where close, so please don't judge it too harshly.  I am however a student of Bonsai and am trying to improve and achieve some long term goals.  I felt very fortunate that Mr. Tanaka allowed me to gain the experience by working on this tree, when any of the apprentices could have done a much better job.

The tree as purchased


The first step for me was to clean out the old needles, downward oriented growth and thin out the areas that were too dense.  Older needles grow on the interior of each shoot, it's the growth that is closer to the trunk.  These older needles provide less energy for the tree.     


I also remove the outer layer of the sun bleached bark, trying to get down to a cinnamon color.  After this I used the water gun to try and remove the cinnamon color layer and get down to the brownish/red color without going too deep in the bark.

















Then I started wiring and adjusting things into place to the best of my abilities.


I used two guy wires on the tree, one to bring the right hand side branch down so it came out of the trunk at a better angle.  Juan pointed out to me that when anchoring to a Jin it's better to anchor closer to the base of the jin so there's less leverage on the Jin making it less likely to break.


So once again here's the before picture.  I gave this one a go, then had Juan adjust everything to make it look much better.


Here's the result after I wired and adjusted.


Here's the result after Juan helped to re-adjust which in my opinion made a much better and cleaner over all appearance.  He spread things out a bit more, created a small pad on the left hand side below the apex, better oriented the shoots and cleaned a bit more from the bottom of the pads.


While I mostly focused on wiring and styling during my trip I also came to Aichi-En at the start of repotting season.  Here's Juan combing out the roots with bent nose tweezers on a Japanese Maple project.


I think it's a pretty good foundation for a really nice Bonsai.


Here's Juan getting crazy for his repotting scissors 🙂  You can buy these pre-bent or bend them yourself like we did while I was there.  If you work on a ton of trees, it's really nicer to have this angle when cutting the bottom of the root ball.


Mr. Tanaka's had 'Tea' and now he has 'Coffee'.  Here's the very talented full time apprentice Danny Coffee in full repotting mode.  Notice the repotting jump suit and safety glasses.


Here's a trident that I repotted.  I started by cutting the wires on the bottom of the pot, then used a sickle along the edge, popped it out, raked the bottom, cut the bottom roots until I hit hard wood.


Then started combing the roots outward with my tweezers while untangling.



I've got a big dust pan type thing which is used to catch falling debris while I work.  It kind of looks like my knee is in it, but it's just the perspective of the pic.


And finally, here's John leaning back, checking the position and angle of the tree in the pot.  So, that's all for now but part three is on it's way soon.  Thank you so much for checking this out! I really appreciate it.



Aichi-En visiting apprentice trip report: part 1

Right now i'm sitting at the Tokyo international airport waiting for my flight drinking a milk tea I bought from one of the million vending machines in Japan. I decided to skip second dinner and pass up Ramen for the second time today 😉


Over the past two weeks I did a visiting apprenticeship at Aichi-En Bonsai Nursery in Nagoya, Japan. Nothing but eat, sleep and Bonsai for two weeks. It was an incredible experience that I'll never forget.  I'm going to be posting about my trip in five parts. I'm going to jump around a bit during each post and cover some different subjects including pictures I took around the Nursery, trees I worked on, day trips, technique and other stuff.   Unfortunately, i'm quite the slow writer so I apologize if it takes me a while to get everything up.  I really appreciate you checking this out and I hope you enjoy it!

Ume Garden Tree at Aichi-En getting close to sun set


When I wasn't at the Nursery this was home sweet home during my time in Japan.  I thought it was pretty cool to stay in such a small room.   The room was comfortable and not too far away from the nursery.  The price was around $45/night and for an extra $5 you could get breakfast.  It was really nice to have a hot shower and some peace and quiet at night which allowed me to help digest some of the thoughts and ideas from the day.


Here's the $5 breakfast which included rice, miso soup and coffee and tea.  I was surprised to find that a lot of the food was pretty reasonably priced in Japan excluding a few things.  I guess the portions are smaller which accounts for some of that.  Fruit, which I usually eat a lot of back home, seemed to be more expensive.  However, the fruit I did have was all very tasty.


Here I am at Aichi En on my first day.  I was blown away by the nursery and trees.  The nursery it self is bigger and more beautiful than I imagined, owned by Mr. Junichiro Tanaka a 4th generation Bonsai professional.   If you're reading this there's a good chance that you have read some of the history of Aichi En, but if for some reason you haven't then you can check it out here-


While I was there I kept thinking about how crazy it is that Mr. Tanka is a 4th generation Bonsai professional.  This nursery was established in 1896. Can you imagine four generations of your family in love with Bonsai, passing down trees and learning techniques from generation to generation?  I think I came to the conclusion that I have no idea of what that's like, but it left me in a sense of total awe and appreciation.  I'm going to add pics from around Aichi-En in each of these posts starting with this shot of a large Black pine next to a frog water basin.


There are currently three full time apprentices at Aich-En and it was an honor getting to hang out with them.  Here's the friendly smile of Juan Andadrade which I finally got to meet in person. Juan is from Costa Rica, speaks English and Spanish extremely fluently and some Japanese as well.   This guy is headed for nothing but international Bonsai fame.  While he's intelligent and has a scientific approach to things, he is also very down to earth and is fantastic at breaking concepts down so they are easy to understand.


Rumor has it, that he may be at least making an appearance in the US after his apprenticeship. Sure hope that is true!   Here are a couple trees that Juan recently worked on.  I got to see him clean up and style this bad ass twisty Shimpaku.


Juan is also on a short list of foreigners outside of Japan to have worked on trees submitted to Kokufu.  Here's a spectacular Black pine he worked on for this years Kokufu exhibit.  If you'd like to get updates on Juan and his work, check out his Facebook page.


I frequently followed Juan around the garden, trying to steal his knowledge whenever possible 😉

Chojubai Red flowering Quince


When we were not working on trees, he would often stop to point things out to help teach me.  Like with this massive Trident he pointed out the back side...


Explaining that last year he used cement after scraping out the soft and pulpy wood from the wound.  He explained that it's important for most deciduous trees to completely heal big wounds, otherwise long term health issues often arise. The cement provides the hard surface which is required in order to get wounds to close.


There are many old deciduous trees with nice ramification and twiggyness (is that a real word?) at the nursery.  Good technique, good leaf quality and lots of time are all important factors in achieving this type of ramification.  I sure hope we see more of this in the US over time.

Trees at Nursery near a water basin and bridge


Besides from looking at all the trees at the nursery, I always enjoyed peeking under the benches in search for pots!  While the most expensive were kept inside the house.  There were still tons of pots under every bench and many were really good quality.


Some of the benches were built like this one below with no nails or screws, all joint work.  I'd really like to do something like this in my garden some day.


In addition to the main section of nursery, there is also a growing field near by. The growing field is full of trees that are still far from being in a state of being shown, but lots of great project trees.


The first tree I worked on was selected from the field above.  There were maybe fifty or so trees similar to the one below in the field.  This red pine was a good pick for practicing wiring, styling, bending and selecting the best front.  I received a ton of help on each project I worked on at Aichi-En.   Generally, Juan would give me pointers throughout and then help me to make adjustments to improve the overall final appearance.


A couple challenges with this tree are that Red Pines are known to snap and break easily.  The other issue is the straight sections in the trunk line.  In general I wanted to avoid vertical and horizontal trunk lines in order to create the best possible movement and flow.  To achieve this I wrapped the areas of the branches and trunk line that we ended up bending.


Here's a couple pictures messing with different planting angles.  Which do you like better?




In order to bend down the tallest branch growing up, we used a jack,  stainless steel wire and a stainless steel screw in the trunk.  The jack helps to compress the branch/trunk at a slow and even speed, while the wire was tightened to hold it into place.  I gave the jack three slow half turns at a time, watching and listening.


Here's the final result for the day with the foliage wired into place.  We decided to keep the branch growing straight up past the apex for the health of the tree and as a plan B in case the main branch we bent ended up dying from breaking it.  I did get a small crack when bending the apex and after that point we did not bend it down any further.  I was told that if the plastic rope is applied very tightly around the bent area keeping everything in place, then when you hear one small crack the chances are very good that the branch/trunk will live.  However, if we went further and broke the branch more the chances of living would be drastically reduced.


At the end of my second night I did some exploring and walked all around the hotel.  While I could be totally off, the streets of Nagoya made me feel very safe and relaxed.  I checked out a few different shops and a Pachinko Center which is basically like a slot machine area in a casino, but on steroids.  I found a small udon shop near by, sat down and pointed at a picture of what I wanted on the wall.  It was a very nice way to end the day.

Thanks for checking this out! I've got a ton more pictures so expect more soon.

BIB 2015 show

I wanted to share just a few quick pictures from this weekends annual BIB show.

Jonas and Boon organizing trees to bring to the show.


Daisaku and me trying to put bunny ears on each other.


Some Star Wars spray paint art I found near the show.


Behind the scenes BIB photography


It was a real treat hearing Boon and Daisaku critique the show.


Shohin Japanese Maple


Cascade style Black Pine


Exposed Root Style Japanese Quince


Elm on short root stand.


Shohin Shimpaku, Olive and Zelkova.


Large California Juniper


Suiseki and painting

Ask Me Anything with Daisaku Nomoto

It's not often that you get to ask a Kokufu award winning certified Bonsai professional anything you want.  However, this Saturday Daisaku Nomoto will be hosting an AMA thread on the forum.

Here's a link to the AMA Thread:

Here's an old school picture of Daisaku while he was still under the supervision of Mr. Kamiya while styling this white pine.  This is probably the first time he was ever in Bonsai Today and Kinbon.

And a more current action shot I took of Mr. Nomoto unloading trees at the BIB show.

Here's a great link to today's Bonsai Tonight post showing some of Daisaku's work.

About the AMA Threads:

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Godzilla, Collecting, Ume and Cuttings

Jeez, can you believe it's 2015 already?  I saw this Facebook post saying that we are now closer to the year 2030 than we are to the year 2000.  It's a trip for me to think about how time seems to go by faster and faster as I get older.   Anyways, I hope your 2015 is off to a fantastic start and you and your trees are happy and healthy!

For this post, first I'm going to rewind to fall of 2014 and throw back a few pictures from then.  The first is this Mikawa Black Pine owned by Mr. Manakitivipart.  This is the first tree I ever saw of Boon's and one of the reasons I decided to sign up for an intensive with him.  I saw the tree at the GSBF convention some years back and remember thinking, "This Black Pine looks like something you'd see in a Kinbon magazine."  One of the coolest things about the intensive series is that you get to work on quality material like this pine below.



This time around, I didn't do a whole lot to the tree, just some needle pulling helping to balance the trees energy and thinning in some over crowded areas.  I think the picture above was taken at a better angle, but here is a before and after the work.


In October I went on my last collection trip of the season.  The first pic is a tree that some might call unique, while others may think it odd.  It's hard to tell what you really have from this picture, but I like it and think it's pretty interesting.  I'll make sure to post updates on it's progression in the future.


This second one is a bit of a back breaker and was collected by one of my good friends.  Forget going to the gym, just start taking something like this back to your vehicle on a daily basis and you'll be set.


This might have been the first Mame size Sierra I stopped to take a good look at. Something this small doesn't normally have natural white deadwood like this one.


Fast forwarding to the first weekend of 2015, I brought my Ume up to Boon's workshop where we cut it back and re-potted it.  Because it stays relatively warm during the Winter on the Central Coast of CA, I made sure to remove all the leaves in December to help push the tree into it's dormant period. While I keep the tree in full sun during Spring, Summer and Fall, I usually place it in a spot that gets more shade during the winter to help keep it from growing new leaves until early spring.


This years new green growth had many small flower buds which would've bloomed into white blossoms if I waited another month to cut back. However because of timing, scheduling issues and the fact that I'm ultimately more concerned with focusing on branch structure for the time being I cut it back and will get to enjoy the beautiful flower show in the future.


The first thing I did to repot the tree was to cut the wire on the bottom side of the pot which holds the tree in place.   After the wire was cut I used my sickle along the edge of the pot to create a very thin channel between the root ball and the interior side of the pot.


Depending on the interior edge and lip of the pot sometimes this can be a challenging task.  Fortunately, because there's no interior lip on this pot, the tree and root ball were removed easily.


The next step in the repot, for me, was to reduce the bottom of the root ball.  It's important to try and keep the bottom of the root ball as even as possible while scraping it with your rake.  You don't want to dig any holes in certain spots or make the root ball too uneven.  The goal is to try and keep it nice and flat all the way across.


After working to reducing the bottom, I used bent tweezers to comb out the root ball creating a gradual downward slope going away from the trunk.  This is also the time to uncross and roots and redirect them so they are growing outward.


I got a smaller pot ready which I bought from Boon on his recent trip to Japan.  To prep the new pot I added screen to the drainage holes, put in the tie down wire and sprinkled some pumice on the bottom for better drainage.


Here's the tree after tying it into the pot.


And finally, here it is below, in it's new pot after it was cut back.  This is a relatively young ume, I'm guessing it's maybe between 10-14 years old.  It hasn't yet developed the desirable old crackly bark that contrasts so well with the delicate flowers.  It still needs more carving and branch development.  In a few weeks, I plan to spray a mixture of lime sulfur and water on the tree as a fungicide to help maintain the trees health.


One question I've wondered about and have heard asked a few times is, "Is this called Ume or Mume" and "Is it actually an apricot or a plum?"  It get's a bit confusing because it is commonly called, "Ume", but the scientific name for it is, "Mume."  In the US I've commonly heard this called Japanese flowering apricot, but I've also heard it called Chinese Plum.  Among Japanese websites that I've browsed using an English translator I generally see it translated as, "Longevity Plum."  However to me the fruit of the tree looks more like an apricot than a plum.  I was interested to recently learn that both answers are correct because the species is related to both plum and apricot.


The past few years i've experimented with taking Ume cuttings.  Here's a cutting that is approx 2 years old above and a 3 year old one below.  I wired movement into them while the growth was still soft and then planted them in the ground last weekend.

That's all for now, I'd love to see some of you at the Bay Island Bonsai show on Jan 24th and 25th in Oakland.  Take care and Happy New Year!

Rain Barrel Update and a Ponderosa

With the bad drought we've had in California, it was nice to see a little rain recently. So, I thought I should give a quick update on my rain barrels.  You can find the original post describing the project here-

Here's a picture of them from this morning-

After having these for almost two years, I'd still recommend this as a good project for most. The barrels have held up well so far, I haven't had any major issues with them and they are low maintenance.  I was worried about leaks along the connecting tubes, but they've   stayed sealed.  Its surprising  how little rain you need in order to completely fill the barrels.  But, thinking of how much surface area a roof covers it makes sense.  It seems like one night of rain generally fills them all the way.  It's been nice to have the extra water to mix with my RO water which I use for Bonsai and pre-Bonsai that are still in the ground.

In the future I will likely build a much larger storage system, however this might be a project for a home with a larger yard.   The only thing I would do differently if completing this project again would be to find barrels with a threaded removable top.  This would allow you to more easily clean them out, or repair the inside if needed.


I collected this Ponderosa Pine in early summer of 2013.  I like the trees movement, deadwood and bark.  Collecting it required moving a huge rock which was pressed against the base of the tree.  Might be difficult to see in this pic, but the bark didn't develop as nicely near the base where the rock was pressed against it.  For now i'll just be working on getting this tree really healthy and start throwing out new growth before doing anything else.


Speaking of this pine.....I also posted these pics and asked a few questions about this tree on a new forum that Jonas of recently created.  It's called and I think you should check it out!

Here's a quote from Jonas about why he created this new forum.

"I believe bonsai forums should be open and beautiful - places where visitors can read posts and view photographs without logging in.

I believe in sharing bonsai knowledge as widely as possible. I enjoy responding to questions by email but prefer making these discussions public so greater numbers of people can benefit from them.

I believe the bonsai community has a lot to offer. I've learned a tremendous amount from readers' comments over the years and want to give readers more opportunities for extending their camaraderie and sharing their talents, their opinions and their humor.

Now it's your turn - I'm looking forward to hearing what you have to say smile"

Yours in Bonsai,
Jonas Dupuich

Trip Report

Sooo…Do you say "I recently went to the Sierra"... or "I recently went to the Sierras" ?  Technically it’s just one mass which is why I usually say "the Sierra".  However, I'm really not sure the best way of saying this.  Anyways, I recently took a couple trips up to the most spectacular mountain range in CA for the purpose of collecting, breathing some fresh air and enjoying nature.  While both trips were great, the most recent was wet and cold which I’ll talk about more in a bit.


When scouting around for collectable trees, more often than not, you'll find more nice trees that are not collectable than those that are easily collectable.  If you tried to collect these non-collectable trees you would end up without any roots and find that its extremely unlikely to survive. These non-collectable trees often have roots which run deep into the cracks and crevices of solid rock. Here’s one of these non-collectable trees with some really cool dead wood (above).  With this tree I find myself wondering why certain sections of the tree grew very straight while others have a lot of movement?


Above is a picture of a little guy that I collected from a small pocket of soil in this granite crevice.  I used a snow scraper to help get under the root ball and pry the tree up.  As you can see this tree had a lot of roots compared with the size of the tree.  Junipers that have enough roots to be collected like this one are more on the rare side of trees you find in the mountains.


Transitioning from a very small Sierra Juniper, here's a massive one which might be difficult to determine the size because of the scale in the picture.  Most of this tree lost the battle and died long ago, but the left hand side is still kicking.  Any guess how old something like this might be?


I really liked this smaller tree with interesting movement and shari.  My Wife said this type of deadwood on the shari reminded her of dragon scales which I thought was a pretty cool assessment.


Unfortunately,  I didn't run into the best weather on this trip.   It  rained the majority of the time and was very cold during this Sept. weekend.  On the positive side of things, I think the best time to go collecting is right after it rains, the trees get a nice drink of water and the soil is still moist.  The soil you are working with is less dusty and the pre-moistened root ball will help to reduce the stress of transplanting.


Collecting becomes challenging when its cold and raining especially if your cloths get wet, you can't build a fire and the rain leaks into your tent in the middle of the night...   In general I'm going to try and avoid rainy days when collecting when possible. I also found I was moving around slower because the granite was wet and slippery. Here's my little camp set up, trying to keep as water proof as possible.


My dog Thor is a Husky who loves coming with me on our hikes.  We stumbled across this Ponderosa that decided to grow sideways.  Unlike me, he never gets tired while running around in the mountains.  I try to feed off his motivation and energy so we can cover as much ground as possible.  I'm a firm believer that the more miles you cover while collecting the greater the quality of the yamadori that will be in your collection, which is why I try and keep up with my pup.


"Baby got base!" is what I was thinking when I saw this next tree.  The base keeps expanding as it grows because the tree is pinched in between two pieces of granite.  I think it's an interesting bulb shaped base with really nice bark.  This is another example of a tree that you couldn't successfully collect because of the circumstances in which it's growing.


While in search of trees, this (above) caught my attention.  Besides being pleasing to my eyes, it reminds me of a Japanese style rock garden.  It's interesting to me how flat and perfect the sand around the stones looks.  Also the shape, size and placement of the stones seems to follow some type of aesthetically pleasing pattern that I like.  The scene almost looks altered by man, but I know it's just mother nature.  I wonder.. were the first of these garden types  created because someone long ago was walking around the mountains of Japan, saw something like this and thought, "that would look great in my backyard!."


Hmm.... is this a  good size for Bonsai? This Ponderosa has had a tough life which resulted in a very mangled trunk.   While you can certainly tell a grade A tree from a grade B tree on a collecting trip.  It's much easier to get a feel for the tree once you get it home.  In the field it's difficult to understand it's future design because you can't play with the planting positions of the tree, the dead wood is not cleaned up, it's harder to see where the nebari starts and a challenge to understand the best movement and flow of the tree.

Well that's about it for now, I just wanted to share a couple of collecting trips with you guys.  I've got one or two more trips planned before the season closes.  Below is the little guy from the second picture in the post. Since collecting it in late June, the foliage has thrown out some runners which is a sign that the tree is getting strong and was not too shocked after transplanting.  This is all because I was able to get a good root ball, which is very important when collecting.  I collected some other trees during these trips which will be a subject of future posts.  Thanks for reading!