October 2017: Peter Tea

Our October meeting featured the final Peter Tea presentation of the year. For demonstration purposes, he brought two trident maples, a cascading cedar, and an Itoigawa juniper. The taller of the two tridents was the same one we’ve seen him work on a couple times before. The other was a shorter, stockier trident that we’ve only seen briefly in prior presentations. The conifers he brought to discuss overall style and pot-choice issues.

Having seen Peter work on the taller trident twice before over the past year really helped the assembled audience see Peter’s plan taking shape in the tree. The frequently trimmed top was beginning to look more ramified, with lots of division going on in the branches, and the untouched lower branches had grown very long with some obvious thickening occurring close to the trunk. Because he wants to continue to thicken the lower branches, Peter’s light trimming this evening was limited to the top of the tree.

Focusing on an area where he had done some prior pruning and wiring, some of it in front of us back in August, Peter pointed out that many of the littlest branches were new just since then. He had already done some trimming in the intervening months, and proceeded to do some more. His goal was to select promising branches and trim out the unnecessary ones. If the branches to be kept had nice short internodes already, they were left alone. Branches that were growing too quickly, with undesirably long internodes, were cut back to the point where they last had a nice short internode length. This method ensures division and ramification in the tree’s top and diverts the tree’s energy to other areas where more vigor is desired, like the lower branches that still need thickening. To review: an internode is the distance between sets of leaves on a branch, the points where the leaves come out being the leaf nodes. Peter was aiming for internode lengths on the order of half an inch in the top of the tree.

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September 2017 Workshop Action

Art carefully applying juniper pruning principles learned from Peter Tea

Workshop leader Chris Ross works with new members Cheryl and Anne

The Marin Bonsai Club conducted its BYOB (bring your own bonsai) workshop on September 19, 2017, at the Livermore Room at Marin Art and Garden Center (MAGC), Ross, California. This workshop was a great showing of members and their bonsai. Junipers were the work of the evening for the most part. There were other species worked on, such as the Japanese black pine and coast redwood.

The preceding general meeting and demonstration on September 5 featured Bonsai Artist and Instructor Peter Tea. At that time, Peter provided instructional information regarding junipers; the pruning, thinning, styling, and care. This follow-on workshop allowed members to perform hands-on practice regarding Peter’s instructions on their own junipers.

These photographs, courtesy of Candace Key, depict members working on their bonsai.

George Haas consults with new member Pablo on his juniper

Al discusses styling options for new member Belinda’s Japanese black pine

Marin Bonsai Club workshops are held every third Tuesday from 7-9pm on a RSVP basis. The club uses the RSVP in order to determine if enough members are interested in attending the workshop, at which time a MAGC room is rented for the evening. The workshop is free to members and $20 for non-members.

Everyone is expected to bring their own bonsai, tools, wire, etc., necessary to the work to be performed during the workshop. The club provides aluminum wire. Senior members and instructors are present to teach and assist in bonsai basics. The workshops are intended to provide seasonal work and follow-on instructional guidance from the preceding general meeting and demonstration.

Marcia studies her bunjin juniper

Dan and Peter contemplate Peter’s redwood

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September 2017: Team Styling Demo

Those who attended the September 5, 2017 meeting of the Marin Bonsai Club were treated to the latest installment of the ever-popular John and Chris Show. Two of our most avid and knowledgeable club members, John Doig and Chris Ross are like the Penn and Teller of bonsai. One of them does all the talking, the other does all the work, and they’re always entertaining.

Which one’s Penn?

This time around, John and Chris were there to take a common juniper exactly like the ones that were provided for the Beginners’ Workshop participants and turn it into a remarkable pre-bonsai. I say “pre-bonsai” because Chris made it clear at the outset that the days of over-stressing common nursery trees immediately into showy bonsai for the purposes of a demonstration are over. This juniper hit the bench as a bushy, lanky specimen from a landscaper’s nursery, raised to be a shrub, not a miniature tree. To transform it over the course of two hours into something you could show off as a bonsai would be almost certainly to sign its death warrant. If not the whole tree, large areas of it would probably die off as a result of that much stress. Such a transformation should be done in stages and John and Chris set out to do just one stage . . . or maybe two.

Having said that, John and Chris can really work a tree into a remarkable piece of art even without stressing it to death. The first step for this one was to cut away as much extraneous material as possible to get a good look at the two solid twin trunks. I couldn’t help noticing early on that both trunks had equally solid first branches and that both of those branches were pointing in the same direction. I was sure that would force a decision somewhere down the line, and was not disappointed. Continue reading

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August 2017: Peter Tea

Peter’s “Some kind of” Cypress

Our August session with Peter Tea focused on three different junipers. He brought a Sierra juniper trunk with lots of successful Shimpaku grafts, a Kishu, and an Itoigawa. He also brought some type of cypress as an example of a well-developed tree. The ramification on the undersides of the many dense pads on the cypress were a wonder to behold.

Before proceeding, I would like to share the results of a little online research I did into the names of the junipers Peter brought. Peter kept referring to his “Kishu” with a quick, parenthetic reference to “Shimpaku,” the name I recognize for the smoother, more luscious-looking variety of juniper. I was unclear if Peter using both names meant they are interchangeable or something else, and I suspect I wasn’t the only one. Apparently, Kishu, Itoigawa, and Shimpaku are all distinct but similar varieties, equally valued for their smooth, scale-type foliage, which is universally considered superior to the needle-type foliage found to differing degrees on other juniper varieties.

As he prepared to start work on the first tree, Peter reviewed the list of signs you want to see from a tree before you start any major work on it. These are bushiness, runner branches, and foliage that has hardened off. He pointed out that with relatively slow-growing varieties like Shimpaku, you may only get these signs of vigor once a year while developing Continue reading

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2017 Auction Recap


Photography by George Haas.

Our annual auction was held on the evening of August 17, 2017 at the Terra Linda Community Center for the first time which worked out very well. We used two out of three adjoining rooms, and have the option to spread out next year if we need the space. We all agreed a microphone would have been useful so that people in the rear of the rooms could hear more clearly and not miss any of Jay’s jokes. As a fundraiser, the auction was a great success. We did better in revenues than the past two years. These funds will help us plan for next year’s operations and calendar of events, such as inviting professional bonsai speakers, demonstrators, etc.

Shortly after the auction, Candace Key announced she was stepping down as auction wrangler to take a well-deserved rest and allow for someone else to manage the annual event. Sharon Bone offered to take on the responsibilities of next year’s auction wrangler. A very critical position! The auction wrangler is responsible for planning, scheduling, locating and securing a venue, organizing leaders and helpers, insurance needs, and ensuring the event runs flawlessly. With the support of the club membership, no doubt Sharon will do to a fine job.

We certainly want to thank our members and the support from other bonsai clubs and the community at large for the auction’s success. People came from great distances and through miserable traffic to buy and sell at our auction which is a tribute to our organization and professionalism. We look forward to next year and the likelihood of using the same venue for our annual auction. Did you check out the Three Twins Ice Cream across the street? Next year . . .

– George Haas and Candace Key

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June 2017: Jay McDonald

The June 6, 2017 meeting of the Marin Bonsai Club featured our very own Jay McDonald, who demonstrated some work on a sizable, two-tree rock planting, which was raffled off at the end of the night. Jay had assembled the planting earlier this year, almost completely from materials he obtained at the Golden State Bonsai Federation’s Mammoth event in February. Its well-established health was a testament to Jay’s skill with this fascinating subcategory of bonsai artistry.

Before starting in on the rock planting of the evening, Jay first introduced us to another, older planting he had created, featuring a Nanking Cherry tree, the arcing limbs of which complemented the giant arc of the rock. Planting trees in rocks requires a fair bit of ingenuity. Sometimes you have to drill or chisel into a rock to create more space for roots, find unique ways to attach anchor wire, or epoxy small bits of rock in place to eliminate the tippiness of a rock. For his Nanking Cherry rock planting, Jay showed us where he had to create more root space by attaching a large piece of screen (the type we all use to cover the holes in our pots) across a gap in an otherwise high side of a natural bowl in the rock. There’s no amount of accent plants and moss that will completely cover something that dramatic, but since it’s in the back of the planting, the end result works and looks just fine.

Nanking Cherry

Next Jay introduced us to his current subject matter, a Cedar of Lebanon planted with a unique maple, appropriately spaced and arranged with accent plants on a nice dramatic Continue reading

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Beginners’ Workshops

The Marin Bonsai Club conducted its annual beginners’ workshop on July 18 and 25, 2017, at the Multi-Purpose Room at the Marin Art and Garden Center, Ross, California. This year’s beginners’ workshop or workshops were different in that they were taught as two-part classes by senior club members. The objectives were to teach interested students what is bonsai and learn from practical, hands-on techniques for developing nursery stock plants, styling, care, and maintenance of bonsai.

Roger Lion lecturing on the definition of bonsai and its origins.

The club provided the students with two plants (boxwoods and golden junipers) and aluminum wire and the tools to work with. The cost was $70 which included plants and supplies. Reservations were required and were started at the Marin County Fair bonsai display at the beginning of July. The responses to reserving one of 12 positions were great. The club had to turn away a number of individuals due to all 12 positions being filled early.

John Doig and Roger Lion covering bonsai styles.

On July 18, the president of the club, George Haas, welcomed everyone and introduced lead instructor Chris Ross, assistant instructor John (the Wire Guy) Doig, and bonsai historian Roger Lion. Other club members were present to help out.

The first class covered the definition and origins of bonsai by Roger. Then, Chris explained styling a bonsai from nursery stock. The students worked on boxwood Continue reading

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