January 2018: Randall Lee

The Marin Bonsai Club started the new year off with an energetic and informative forest-on-a-slab demo from Randall Lee, the professional aesthetic tree pruner with a strong penchant for bonsai. Randall brought with him a whole bunch of young but distinctive Catlin Elms, a small collection of sample slabs in addition to the one meant for the elms, some mesh, and some buckets of muck, and set about creating a dramatic tabletop scene in just two hours.

Knowing he had a lot to do in a short amount of time, Randall was already prepping the slab meant for the elms before the demo officially began, and essentially never stopped working and talking until he was done. He did a very good job of keeping a conversation going without interrupting the project.

The prep work he was already doing as the demo began was the creation of an alternate wire tie-down method since his attempt to epoxy wires directly to the slab had failed. This is one of the biggest challenges whenever one attempts a bonsai style that uses something other than a regular container to showcase a tree–how to affix the bonsai material to the rock, slab, deadwood, or whatever else you may be using. Rock plantings have the advantage that you can sometimes find creative ways to wedge the wires into crevices, or even thread wire through the more complex rocks. No such luck with a solid slab. Randall did, however, encourage us to attempt to drill into our rocks and slabs, though it can take a while depending on the hardness of the material, and be sure to use a masonry drill bit! Other than for wire tie-downs, another reason to drill into a slab is to create drainage holes, otherwise slab plantings can get a little swampy with nowhere for the water to go.

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Spring has sprung!

Well, not quite. But it sure seems like it when you look at Jay McDonald’s Ume today.

JaysUme

Yes, Winter. Ume in January 2018

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November 2017: Jonas Dupuich

Jonas Dupuich joined us in November to help us better understand bonsai pots and the how-and-why of their importance to our trees. Echoing the last hour of our latest presentation from Peter Tea, Jonas started by pointing out that matching a pot to a tree alone is a huge topic, with a lot of variables to consider, and promised additional tidbits of information to round out the talk. For instance, it is important to know that the pots you see trees in at shows are most often different from the day-to-day pots for those trees. This is especially true in Japan, where the best shows occur during the winter, when transferring a dormant tree from one pot to another and then back again is no big deal.

In his signature engaging style, Jonas started asking the audience for their opinions regarding the important points when matching a tree to a pot well before he distributed his very informative summary page for the talk, which had all of the most popular answers on it. The important pot-choosing points named by the audience were glazed versus unglazed, oval versus rectangular, considerations of origins and styles, and keeping up with standards and trends, among others.

Jonas’ handout, which loosely served as an outline for his talk, had the following five major topics, with three to five points under each topic: “Bonsai pot basics,” “Some conventions,” “Match the container to the stage of development,” “Consider pot alternatives,” and “Preparing pots for exhibits.” If you were not there to get a copy of the handout, try asking an active member for a copy. I’m sure somebody can scan it and send it to you.

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Autumn colors

Jay McDonald has submitted these seasonal beauties for our viewing pleasure.

You can also find these photos and more in the Fall/Winter Bonsai gallery on our Visuals page.

Zelkova

Wisteria

Liquidambar

Korean Hornbeam

Japanese Maple

Hawthorn

Chinese Elm

 

 

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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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