Here’s what we have planned for 2020. Eight new demonstrations, some returning favorite artists/instructors and some new faces. Topics will include Shohin bonsai, redwoods, olives, trident maple, tropical indoors/outdoors, Monterey cypress, and Princess persimmon. Peter Tea will return with a new program – an evaluation of 10 lucky members’ bonsai.
Marin Bonsai Club and guests were treated to an educational and entertaining presentation on bonsai rock planting by Jay McDonald at the September 2019 meeting. In the Japanese tradition this is called a saikei (sigh-kay) and in the Chinese tradition penjing. The volcanic stone Jay used had a dramatic arched shape and he chose a small, shohin-sized shimpaku juniper for the signature planting. Jay discussed the various positions he had considered for positioning the tree before deciding that a placement just off center showed the tree to the best advantage and flowed well with the lines of the stone.
Ever considerate of his audience’s limited attention span, Jay had done extensive preparation on the stone and tree before the meeting. Screen platforms or pockets for soil were created to provide growing material and stability for the tree, and drainage holes created to keep the roots healthy. Jay had purchased the tree in August, pruned and styled the branches and cleared the roots of old soil so it would be in prime condition for planting on the stone.
It was clear that Jay had done considerable thinking about his composition and the elements needed to create a composition that would be a real show stopper. He had purchased several accent plants that mimic larger plantings one might see in the woods, and had accumulated some prize silverback moss to fill in and secure some of the plants.
The positioning of the main tree went smoothly and may have given the audience a false sense of these rock creations being easy to create. However, watching Jay carefully secure the tree into place with strategically placed wire and much thought about just the right angle hopefully illustrated the high level of experience and technique required to create a successful saikei. Jay emphasized the need to make a very tight connection with the stone so that the tree won’t be jarred loose and roots damaged, and pointed out that no ‘muck’ was needed in this case, only good soil and the right sized pocket.
Jay also insisted that the tree be rotated in the garden on a regular basis so that the tree grows evenly. This will necessitate looking at the back of the stone at times which is not as attractive as the front (although Jay thoughtfully hid some of the technical parts with more lush green moss), but is essential to keep the tree healthy.
Future care will involve regular fertilizing, like every week, and keeping the saikei out of direct afternoon sun – morning sun only! The stone drying out could be disastrous for these plantings because the rock heats up more than a pot will and roots will shrivel in soil that will dry out quickly.
Understandably there was much competition in the raffle for Jay’s saikei, but the lucky winner was Diane Matzen. We congratulate her and hope to see the planting in a future MBC show.
Marin Bonsai Club will conduct their annual bonsai auction and sale Tuesday, August 6 from 7:00 to 9:30 pm at the Terra Linda Community Center, 670 Del Ganado Road, San Rafael, CA. Quality bonsai, bonsai-related items and pots, pots, pots… Preview at 7:00 pm and live auction starts at 7:30 pm. In addition, there will be silent auction and sale items. Public is invited.
TIP: Come early and have dinner at the many great restaurants across the street, featuring Thai, Mexican, Italian, and Japanese food, and deli selections at Scotty’s Market!
On July 16 and 23, at the Terra Linda Community Center, San Rafael, California, Marin Bonsai Club (MBC) conducted its annual beginners’ workshops. This year there were two workshops, one with 10 students and the other with 11 students, all learning the living art form referred to as bonsai. Each student worked with a senior member of MBC on creating a bonsai from nursery stock. The trees were Prostrada junipers, roughly five years old and having been repotted by the Calaveras Nursery, Inc., located in Sunol, California. The junipers were repotted in five-gallon nursery containers about two and a half years ago and had well developed root systems.
The workshops were laid out in five tables with two and
three students per table. A senior MBC member/instructor was assigned to each
table. Many thanks to John Doig, Janice Dilbert, Dan Keller, Alan Voight,
Michael Murtaugh, Chris Ross, and George Haas for volunteering their time and
experience in teaching the workshops.
Beginners’ Workshop #1
John prepared the junipers in advance of the workshops by
cutting the root ball in half, reducing the size of the nursery containers and
wiring to secure the trees in the container. He also exposed the nebari by
scraping away some of the surface soil from around the trunk base. This
preparation saved a lot of time and avoided the mess of the students dealing
with the same. It allowed for the instructor to begin the teaching of bonsai
Prostrada juniper (Juniperus horizontalis) has a
low horizontal growth pattern. The plant is used in landscapes. The numerous
branches provide extreme movement and is quite suitable for bonsai.
Instructions basically started with cleaning the branches
of unwanted foliage; dead foliage, downward growth, crotches. Once the heavy
foliage was removed, unwanted branches were removed entirely or made into jin
(deadwood) features. Some proceeded to select a front view, while others
delayed identifying the front view and continued to work on structural and
Students had input into the bonsai design with some
choosing cascade or informal upright styles. John brought two Prostrada juniper
demonstration trees to aid the students in their creations. These were junipers
that were created by John and Chris during demonstrations conducted in
conjunction with the Marin County Fair earlier in the month.
Beginners’ Workshop #2
MBC provided aluminum wire for the workshops. Wiring was
a critical part of creating the student’s bonsai. The instructors demonstrated
the application of aluminum wire on the trunk and primary and secondary
branches. The students then followed by wrapping the wire around the branches.
The students expressed great enthusiasm and enjoyment in their creations of bonsai. A number of them showed interest in joining the club. In fact, there were several students who joined MBC during the workshops. All of the students were invited to join MBC’s winter repotting workshops in 2020.
Just before his May 7 presentation to the Marin Bonsai Club, Peter Tea wrote on the board nearly the same basic bonsai manipulation tactics he has written up there, and discussed, since his first lecture in our ongoing educational series with him. He listed the three methods of direct manipulation most relevant to the current discussion: Cutting, Pinching, and Defoliation. And then there were the five other main overall ways of inducing change in bonsai: Sun, Water, Soil/Pot, Repot Interval, and Fertilizing.
Not that he was being redundant. Quite the opposite, he
was showing the foundation of bonsai methods we have been studying with him for
a few years now, and foreshadowing the way in which his talk was about to focus
on Cutting and how it really stands alone in contrast to all the other methods
he listed. Note that for purposes of his present discussion, Peter minimized
his discussion of Pinching and Defoliation, since they’re essentially
variations of the same technique: physically altering your tree by removing
part of it. His ultimate point was that cutting is a little more dramatic than
simply feeding your tree differently or giving it a larger pot, and therefore
should be treated as the alternative to those other methods. To emphasize his
point, he referred to cutting as “Tactic 2.” The other methods, which
Peter collectively referred to as “Tactic 1,” he said may not be as
exciting as cutting, but they are ultimately more powerful and controllable in
a lot of important ways and should therefore be your first means of altering
But when changes in fertilizer, soil, etc. aren’t
accomplishing your goals, it’s time to pick up your tools and do some cutting.
And May is certainly the right time of year, because any tree or area of a tree
that is getting too much energy will be growing like gangbusters. May is a real
busy time for owners of deciduous trees.
Peter makes a point to differentiate between cutting and
thinning. Cutting a branch back causes division, which leads to ramification
and other desirable aesthetics, but it also slows the tree down, which is often
the only real reason for cutting back the branch of a fully developed tree.
Thinning, on the other hand, is not just a more widespread approach to removing
growth tips from the tree, it’s an important method for revigorating what’s
left after you’ve trimmed. What’s left will be stronger, an effect that is particularly
helpful if that area was struggling.
This cutting/thinning distinction set Peter up for his
conclusion later on, when he discussed the way interior growth can suffer despite
your isolated attempts to cut back the ends of the branches. If you’re trying
to encourage an individual piece of secondary growth to divide and thrive, cutting
the end may not be enough, because the tree still does not consider that area
to be part of the exterior, or canopy of the tree. In other words, even though
there’s nothing growing further out on that particular branch, and you may have
cut areas back above, the fact remains that, in relation to the rest of the
tree, it’s not at the “outside” of the tree, which is where the tree
wants to put its energy. That is why sometimes you just have to cut way back all
over the tree and essentially start over. The way Peter puts it, sometimes you
just need to “make the inside the outside.”