Christmas comes early to the Bonsai Museum

Earlier this week a very jolly individual with twinkling eyes and a white beard arrived at the Museum. He had traveled a long distant in a short period of time in order to deliver some very special presents to the Bonsai Museum.


Gary Wood, (seen here) a bonsai teacher from Muscle Shoals, Alabama had driven from Southern California to D.C. in 3 days with two very famous bonsai recently donated by bonsai artist Ernie Kuo.

For many these trees will be recognized immediately, as both have won international accolades . The tree on the right won the 1994 BCI Ben Oki International Design Award and the 1994 Kindai Bonsai Magazine’s reader’s Sakafuten Award. The tree on the left won the Sakafuten Award in 1995. Ernie also wrote an article describing the creation of these two masterpieces in detail.  The article, which last appeared in Bonsai Today’s Masters’ Series on Junipers, is re-posted here with the consent of Stone Lantern Publishing. Two Studies by Ernie Kuo

Ernie Kuo with 284

For more examples of Ernie’s tree see Bonsai Bark’s Gallery.

Sincerer thanks to Ernie for his amazing gift, to Gary Wood for driving them out here, the National Bonsai Foundation for funding the transportation, and Wayne Schoech, Bonsai Bark/Stone Lantern, for permission to re-post Ernie’s article.

Please subscribe to this blog in order to receive updates of new posts, to support the N.B.P.M., and to help me know how many people are reading. Thanks!

Ryan Neil visits the Museum

Bonsai artist Ryan Neil recently made his first visit to the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum. Ryan was in the area conducting workshops and spent one of the few days he has off touring the Museum.

Ryan got a chance to see the entire Museum, including a portion of our Viewing Stone Collection.

Whenever we have a bonsai professional visiting we want to get their input on how they care for certain types of trees. Ponderosa Pine is known to be Ryan’s favorite species for bonsai so I asked him to go over his approach.

According to Ryan, in order to get back budding never bud/candle prune Ponderosa. Also do not remove any needles except those on the bottom of branches. The reason for this is that the more photosynthetic surface area the tree has the more energy it can invest in creating more buds. If Ponderosa are treated like Japanese Black Pine they will eventually weaken and die.

Ryan uses a 1:1:1: mix of Akadama, Lava, and Pumice for his Ponderosa. I asked if lava or pumice could be substituted for something like granite. He said that the porous nature of lava and pumice provides more pore space for water and air near the roots. Old collected Ponderosa like this one only need to be repotted every 15 years so long as you use a hard baked Akadama.

In the Chinese Collection Ryan was really drawn to a few of the antique containers like this lotus shaped pot. Here are some of the other Chinese pots that Ryan appreciated.Antique Chinese pot with blue-green glaze.

I asked him what he liked about this antique pot. He identified the black coloring created during the firing process when this pot came in contact with the fire. You can see that some of the glaze has actually bubbled off the pot. Ryan said this would have originally been considered a mistake by the potter however now it is what gives it more value.

He also liked this literati pine that I feature in a previous post, “The Graduation Progression of a Literati pine bonsai” He suggested that the main branch could be longer to really emphasize the Chinese character of the tree.

Perhaps the most significant piece of information I got came up when we were discussing the principles of the Clip and Grow technique.

For most bonsai enthusiasts, myself included,  the Clip and Grow technique is one of the basic concepts first learned when studying bonsai.

The concept outlined in every book I have ever read is that new growth can be directed by pruning to a bud which is pointing in the direction you want. What I have never come across is that this only works if you leave a stub above the bud you want to grow. Ryan showed me an example of what he was talking about with this Sageretia theezans.

You can see on this branch that there is a stub above the new shoot that is growing to the left. The reason for leaving a stub is that it forces the new growth away from the branch. If no stub is left the new growth will grow along the path of least resistance .

On this branch you can see no stub was left and the new growth is not growing away from the branch but continuing to grow straight.

All of us at the Bonsai Museum really enjoyed having Ryan here and look forward to his return visits.

Roy Nagatoshi

Recently bonsai professional, Roy Nagatoshi, stopped by the Museum while he was in the area teaching . Roy has been coming out to the DC area to teach bonsai for over 15 years.

From left to right, PBA President Chuck Croft, Museum Curator Jack Sustic, Roy Nagatoshi, and myself.

When he is not traveling Roy can be found at his nursery, Fuji Bonsai, in Sylmar California. Fuji Bonsai Nursery was started in 1965 by Roy’s father Shigeru . Roy is one of the few second generation bonsai nurserymen still operating in the U.S.

In 2007 I spent several days working with Roy at his nursery and admiring some of his amazing trees.

The front of the nursery contains numerous mature bonsai specimens including many collected trees.  The back of the nursery is comprised of mature bonsai, trees under development…

… and a lot of propagated stock.

This massive Pomegranate was one of many very large trees at the nursery.

Here is a close up of the trunk with my hand for reference.

Oriental Sweetgum,Liquidambar orientalis

Narley nebari.

Roy has an in depth knowledge of many California species like this Cork Bark Oak.

Perhaps the thing he is best known for is changing Juniper foliage with his approach graft technique. Approach grafts are different from scion grafting because the graft has its own root system which sustains the graft until it has fused with the stock plant. Roy grafts Shimpaku Juniper whips onto collected California Juipers because Shimpaku foliage is much finer and more compact than the plants natural leaves. This process of replacing a plants foliage with a different cultivar is known as “changing cloths”.

Here is a close up of an approach graft with the Shimpaku whip on top of the stock plant.

The results of this technique can only be fully appreciated in person.

For more information on Roy’s grafting technique visit’s Bonsai Bark’s post “Roy Nagatoshi Grafts Shimpaku Branches and Foliage onto a California Juniper