Potomac Bonsai Associations Winter Newsletter

The winter edition of the PBA Newsletter is out and features Museum volunteer turned bonsai apprentice Danny Coffey. Danny breaks down his approach in restyling a really cool shimpaku. Get the complete article here.

Danny Clippings winter

You can also follow Danny’s journey as an apprentice on his blog “Tree the People“.

Peter Adams at the 2009 Golden State Bonsai Convention

After hearing about the passing of Peter Adams I went back and pulled some photos of the workshop I took with him back in 2009 at the Golden State Bonsai Convention in Southern California.IMG_4111

The workshop focused on bonsai design with trees brought in by students. There was some confusion with the description of the class since only a few people brought in trees. Once it became clear that Peter was going to do an original sketch of your tree, people quickly went to the vendor area and bought something.


What immediately struck me about Peter was his artistic ability. Its one thing to see his beautiful sketches in Bonsai Focus but to see him create these amazing drawings in person, and so quickly, was really inspiring. In one instance he was sketching upside down so the class could see what he talking about.

IMG_4121The other thing that was hard to ignore was his sense of humor. Even though he called the US his home he still had that dry Britsh wit. Rather than a formal classroom environment, Peter was cracking jokes and making everyone enjoy themselves, he said “after all, bonsai is supposed to be fun.”

IMG_4134 IMG_4138IMG_4141 IMG_4118IMG_4117 IMG_4115IMG_4187 IMG_4188IMG_4192 I think the distinguishing factor of a true bonsai artist is represented in someone like Peter Adams. His had the ability to see the true potential within a piece of material and then have the skill to bring those designs to life through his sketches. I am very thankful I was able to have spent time with Peter Adams, if ever so briefly, because I am now challenged to look for all the possibilities within a bonsai, just like he did.

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!

Bonsai grafting- scion technique

The ability to cut a piece off of a plant and then reattach (graft) it back on to itself or another tree is nothing short of miraculous. Grafting is an invaluable technique in bonsai as it allows the artist to determine the location of each branch on the tree. It also allows the artist to replace the foliage as I talked about in an earlier post on approach grafting.

The success of a graft depends on two things, proper technique and proper aftercare. I’m always trying to understand both of these aspects better and had the opportunity to ask bonsai pro, Ryan Neil about his grafting technique.

Ryan Neil @ Nature’s Way 2.0

Earlier this year I wrote about a work shop with Ryan Neil at Nature’s Way Nursery in Harrisburg, PA. Recently Ryan was back for another round of classes and this time I came with a video recorder.  The first video contains, in Ryan’s words, a “crash course” in Japanese Black, Red, and White pine care. I’ll be posting another video of Ryan explaining his grafting techniques.

The gradual progression of a literati pine bonsai

When caring for bonsai on a daily basis I find it important to look at pictures of the trees taken in the past so I can see how much they have developed. In this post I wanted to show the progression of a Japanese Black Pine in the literati style.

MaYuan “Scholar by a Waterfall”-13thCentury

The subject of literati is too broad, requiring its own post for me to adequately describe it here, but I did want to give a basic idea of what it is. The word literati means a “man of letters”. The Chinese literati were scholar-bureaucrats involved in politics, literature, and art. The paintings created by these men featured trees with slender, angular trunks and branches, with sparse foliage. I admit this definition does not encapsulate all that the literati style is, but as I said, that topic is for another time.  For more information about literati bonsai see the Art of Bonsai Project’s “A brief exploration of the Literati Style.”

This Japanese Black Pine pictured in 2002 upon the death of its creator, local penjing  artist, Stanly Chin, was among 10 trees donated to the Museum by the Chin Family after Stanly’s passing.

Sometime between 2002 and this photo in 2006, the apex died back as a result of a twig girdler.

The pine was allowed to grow and regain its vigor. Here is the tree in 2008.

Since the apex died back, the tree was needing to be restyled. In 2009 the branches were wired and the needles plucked. Initially all the branches were used in this first design.

In keeping with the literati style it was decided that the branch on the right should be removed in order to accentuate the trunk and minimize the amount of foliage.

The next stage was choosing a more suitable pot for the tree. Literati are typically planted in round pots, such as the rustic nanban style or the rivited drum style pot. Drum pots are one of my favorite type of pots, so I selected two that could work with the tree.

Since this bonsai belongs to the Chinese Collection I wanted the tree to have a more classical Chinese style . I think this iron oxide colored pot is more along the Japanese  aesthetic and is slightly larger than I would like.

This other round pot has the riveting like the first and is better proportioned for the tree. I also like the cloud feet that elevate the tree and give the feeling that the tree is growing all alone on mountain top.

July 2012, the pine is ready for candle cutting.

There are a variety of de-candling techniques when working with pine. I have been using the stub (peg & neck) method in which a stub from the candle is left in proportion to the vigor of the candle. The more vigorous the shoot the larger the stub. You can see a medium strength shoot on the left and a strong shoot on the right.

The strong shoot is removed leaving a 1/4 inch stub.

For the medium shoot  I leave a stub 1/8th inches long.

The small shoot is removed completely leaving no stub.

Obligatory shot of strong, medium, and small pine shoots.

With the spring candles cut, the pine is ready to send out its second flush of growth. You can be sure more photos of this tree will be taken as it continues to develop. Now grab your camera and snap some pictures of your own bonsai before they’re all grown up.

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!