One week at Bonsai Mirai

Earlier this year I had the amazing opportunity to spend a week with Ryan Neil at his bonsai garden just outside Portland, OR.  The week consisted of being surrounded by some of the most awesome native material I’ve ever seen.  Each day was spent in the workshop with Ryan and his French apprentice JP, styling one ancient tree after another.  Here are just a few of the photos from my week.

Day 1: Amazing bonsai and rain, welcome to Portland.010A combination of jet lag and excitment led to this first photo taken at 4 a.m. The workshop was filled with tress with many others on-deck.

008012 A massive California Juniper (right) and Sierra Juniper (left) dominated the workshop. The Sierra Juniper became my main project tree for the week. 011The dead wood on the Ca Juniper was unreal.

Day 2. The Garden

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Day 3: Project tree

033Before we started working on our project tree, Ryan had JP and I  draw three different design options. Ryan’s apprentice, JP is a graphic artist by trade which showed in his sketches.

031 Once we decided on the design, JP began cleaning the dead wood.

047Once the wood had been cleaned, Ryan began setting the major branches in place.049Once the structural branches were set in place I continued wiring the smaller branches. This took the better part of several days.

099I can’t wait to see this tree in a pot.

Day 4: Snow048  This morning I awoke to the garden covered in several inches of snow. I quickly grabbed my camera and got the following pictures.

057This was one of my favorite trees in the garden.

058062060077 079 080082 083 086084I think this was my favorite tree in the garden. I kept coming back to it over and over through out the week. The dead wood curving over the lip of the pot was so cool. It reminded me of Capt. Hook.

085The back of the tree was just as impressive as the front.

Day 5: The Greenhouse

100The greenhouse contained trees that had recently repotted or wired. This tree was very special because it came from John Naka’s collection. Even though I get to work on the 6 Naka trees at the Museum, I still have goosebumps when seeing any tree from the Naka collection.

107It also contained less hardy trees like California Oaks and Redwoods.


111112113Just a few Redwoods for one gnarly forest planting.

109Ponderosa pine grafted with Japanese Black Pine


Watch Ryan’s grafting technique here.

Day 6: Here comes the sun.

119 Sunrise and Da Hood

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Day 7: Photoshoot

At the end of the week it was time to assess all that we got done.


sierra juniper 11_005 095  california juniper 06_004050This was another tree I wired during the week.

douglas fir 05_001I want to thank Ryan for his generosity and hospitality in inviting me to his place. I have been to numerous bonsai gardens but Bonsai Mirai is a truly magical place. If your  wanting to take you bonsai skills to the next level, plan a trip to spend a week at Bonsai Mirai.


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.

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