October 2018: Chris Ross & John Doig

Here’s another inspiring article that was turned in recently by our esteemed copywriter, David Eichhorn. We’re catching up! – Ed. 5/13/19

In October of 2018, the collected club enjoyed one of its favorite regular demonstrations: the Chris Ross and John Doig show. That is to say, Chris and John brought a pre-bonsai with them and, in the gentlest manner possible, showed us how to turn a common nursery shrub into the beginnings of a bonsai tree.

Chris opened the demonstration with a quick expression of his feeling, shared by many other members of the bonsai community these days, that demonstration bonsai can sometimes receive a little too much abuse. Except in the case of higher-level demonstrations involving expensive trees, most bonsai demos that we see take relatively cheap pre-bonsai stock, like a landscape shrub, and stress the heck out of it making it look as much like a bonsai as possible in two to three hours. Chris said that he and John would not be doing that with this tree, a nicely complex procumbens nana juniper that did indeed come from a landscaping nursery.

John, clearly the more aggressive tree-whacker of the two, was showing obvious signs of trying to contain his disappointment while fingering a sharp pair of pruning shears. Kidding aside, though John may be a slightly more aggressive tree artist than the more contemplative Chris, they both agreed upon, and demonstrated throughout the night, Chris’ ultimate point: don’t over-stress your new pre-bonsai by changing too much at once.

So with the goal in mind of turning this once-future-shrubbery into something closer to but not quite a bonsai, Chris started asking the audience for input regarding what to look for in the material that might be saved or removed to give more of a bonsai feel to the overall plant. He reminded us that a good place to start is the trunk line, which must be examined carefully even before you purchase such a plant, to make sure it will lend itself to a bonsai look. At this early stage of doing the very first bonsai-related cutting and wiring on a tree, the trunk will give clues as to what type of structure you can achieve with the tree in the future.

Considering this particular tree, Chris pointed out that the branches had previously all been bowed over when it was being groomed as a landscape plant. The temptation would be to create a cascade or semi-cascade look, but the base of the trunk and other factors made it a poor candidate for a cascade treatment, so Chris said that a bowing branch needed to be chosen to bend up and treat as a new apex for the trunk.

About this time, a member of the audience asked about choosing the front for the tree, given its importance for decision-making in the early development of any bonsai. For the time being, however, Chris said that choosing a front is a bit irrelevant, because there’s so much growth to deal with. Most of what happens with a pre-bonsai like this is cutting away the existing branches in favor of back buds and other new growth that is more pliable and, preferably, more densely foliated close to the trunk–or at least capable of becoming so. Once one is finished with that process, there typically won’t be anything left that is developed enough to dictate where the front should be. You might have some idea, but little to no certainty.

After finally setting John loose on cutting back the tree, Chris went on to explain that branches that are too long for where they are on the tree should be lopped off, or greatly reduced in favor of back growth if they’re not unreasonably thick. He said this as John selected a significant, but particularly disproportionate, branch of the juniper and completely removed it from the trunk. Remember that to give it a natural look, a bonsai’s branches should generally get shorter and definitely thinner as you go up the tree. Furthermore, Chris said, absolutely no branch on a bonsai should be longer than one-half the height of the tree. The obvious exception to that would be if that branch is being allowed to run for a season or two in order to thicken it up.

Some additional points that Chris made while John was removing unsightly branches: Being able to see through your bonsai is an important quality. It gives a sense of depth and structure to the tree. Therefore, plan for space between your eventual foliage pads, even if it’s not possible to create it right away. Also, the newly chosen apex should be left alone now and for the near future, so that it will develop thickness and become a more convincing continuation of the trunk.

With about half the foliage gone, the tree was ready for some wire. Chris and John only wanted to wire a few branches, leaving the rest of the wiring, and the stylistic decisions it might require, to the winner of the tree. Chris said that at this stage, wiring is critically important so that the branches can be spread apart, allowing all of the internal, developing growth tips to get the maximum amount of sun. Chris actually won the raffle for the tree, but gave the tree to Lake Hanyu, who was very thrilled to receive it.

– David Eichhorn

Photos by George Haas

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May 2018: Peter Tea – Deciduous Trees & Thread Grafting

2018? – Yes, that is the correct year. Our talented wordsmith David Eichhorn made us wait a bit for this one but we think it’s worth it. – Ed.

This article is crazy long, partly because of the popularity and intricacy of the topic, but also because Peter talked a lot more than intended about deciduous trees. That was because we had a lot of new members at the time and he wanted to be sure that they were getting a leg-up on some of the basic material we have covered in the past. Therefore, I am suggesting that the newer, less knowledgeable readers read this entire write-up, while those who are familiar with many of Peter’s former talks may want to skip ahead to the section on thread grafting.

Professor Tea

For both parts of his talk, Peter Tea showed up with four trees. He brought three of the trees to talk more about deciduous tree development–two of which we have seen him work on before–and he brought the third as an example tree to introduce us to the topic of thread grafting.

Deciduous Trees

On the whiteboard behind him, Peter had written the common horticultural manipulations for bonsai we have discussed every time before, because they represent the cornerstone knowledge he developed with us in his first few talks in this ongoing series. For review, they are: Sun, Water, Soil (and the Pot), Repot Interval, Fertilizer, and Cutting. He turned to this list at the outset of his talk to point out the ones that are most appropriate to consider when deciding how to encourage or discourage growth in our trees in May. Note that all but Cutting affect the tree overall.

According to Peter, cutting (including pinching) is just one of four important things to consider doing in early May. Fertilization, wiring, and defoliation are the others. To illustrate the importance of starting to fertilize by early May, Peter drew a horizontal curve Continue reading

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Golden Statements Magazine – Free digital access!

The Golden State Bonsai Federation (GSBF) Board voted to end printing of the magazine due to high cost. Now you can enjoy the latest information on bonsai club activities, such as shows and demonstrations, and other bonsai related interests. The digital version of the magazine will be online for free world wide viewership in 2019.

Click here for FREE access to the latest issue of Golden Statements Magazine. (Once on the GSBF page, you’ll need to click on ‘Download here’ or ‘Click here to view…’ to view the issue. Or… here’s a direct link: Golden Statements Spring 2019. Another easy option is to click on the image below.)

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Markus Makes Big Hit with ‘Learning the Art of Bonsai’

It took place on Thursday evening, April 18, 2019, at the Novato Charter School’s Project Night 2019, where Markus Mieritz gave his 8th grade project ‘Learning the Art of Bonsai’. The audience of classmates, family and friends, including the 7th grade students, was full to capacity with standing room only. There were 26 8th grade students in total, presenting their individual projects, ranging from Italian Cuisine to Short Film Production.

Markus’ presentation was all about bonsai and his year long endeavor to become a bonsai hobbyist. He said the project led him to find “the best bonsai club in California right here in Marin County.” Markus showed slides of his collection of bonsai. He thanked his mother for her support. He also thanked Marin Bonsai Club senior member, instructor and mentor Chris Ross for his coaching and patience. Markus received a huge applause from the audience and his classmates.

– George Haas

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Club member Markus Mieritz on stage April 18!

On Thursday, April 18th, Markus will be presenting a 2-3 minute synopsis of his 8th grade project, “Learning the art of Bonsai.”  The Novato Charter School community and friends are invited to attend this event held at Unity Church (600 Palm Drive) in Novato at 6pm. All of his classmates will present their projects through a short speech they have each prepared.  

Markus Mieritz

A casual pizza dinner fundraiser organized by the 7th grade will be served at 5pm in the church’s courtyard (optional). The audience will start seating at about 5:40-5:45. (Arrive early for better seating, not every year but some years some people had been left with standing room only.) The presentations will begin at 6pm and run for about an hour. At approximately 7pm the audience will get a 10-minute stretch break, after which we will resume with the second half. The second half will also run for about an hour, approximately 7:15-8:15. Markus will be presenting in the first half.

We hope you can join us!

  • Aniko Mieritz

April 18, 2019 – 6pm – Unity Church, 600 Palm Drive, Novato, CA

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Our first workshop at TLCC!

On March 19, 2019, MBC conducted its first workshop at the Terra Linda Community Center (TLCC). There were four members involved in pruning, thinning and wiring, while one member repotted an azalea.

It is time to move on to seasonal tasks so the club won’t be bringing soil and drain hole screen material for repotting to any more workshops this year.

Visit the Taskmaster page on this website for information on seasonal tasks.

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Tidying Up a Korean Hornbeam

Here we get a sneak peek at the workshop of our VP of Shows, Jay McDonald as he works his magic on a Korean Hornbeam.

Jay wiring away in his workshop
No, definitely not a Mame!
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