One of the major events in North American bonsai is only 10 months away! The long awaited Artisans Cup bonsai exhibition will be held at the Portland Art Museum in Portland, Oregon, USA on September 26-28, 2015. Our five international judges will be David DeGroot, Colin Lewis, Boon Manakitivipart, Walter Pall, and Peter Warren. And quite shortly, in a few days, a new Artisans Cup website will be up to give you details (and I’ll give you a heads up when that happens).

The 2015 Artisans Cup is going to be even better than ever so get your trees ready, choose your pots carefully, get perfect stands for them, think innovatively if so inspired, and then dust off the lenses on your cameras as we’ll need some nice photos. This coming spring Ryan Neil and I will be reviewing the entries and deciding which bonsai are in the show, then on the show weekend our five judges will politely bicker over which of them are best. Which should be terrifically entertaining as well as educational.


In addition to a top-flight bonsai exhibition in the Portland Art Museum, there will be a huge spread of vendors to tantalize your tastes, and Portland Bonsai Village tours to explore Portland’s numerous bonsai studios and nurseries. Buggy tours drawn by lions, tigers, and bears will chauffer around the curious. Should you have animal allergies or a fear of predation we’ll have safer, combustion engine options.

Do stay tuned for the new website…which is coming shortly. Again, get ready! Choose your trees! Choose your wardrobe! And join us for our Portland bonsai smorgasbord, Sept. 26-28, the Artisans Cup 2015!

Al fin, después de muchas peripecias ocurridas en el transcurso del trabajo, “Post-Datado: el adiestramiento de un irreverente monje bonsái” ha sido traducido al español. Estamos en las últimas etapas para la publicación del e-book. Mi amigo Felipe Rodríguez de México ha sido el traductor y su gran entusiasmo y pasión por el proyecto ha sido en verdad contagioso. Y ha sido un gran honor que con entusiasmo similar David Benavente ha accedido a escribir el prefacio.

Finally, after many threats that this was in the works, ‘Post-Dated: The Schooling of an Irreverent Bonsai Monk’ has been translated into Spanish. We’re in the last stages of creating an e-book. My friend Felipe Rodriguez of Mexico has been the translator, and his raw enthusiasm and passion for the project has been truly infectious. And it’s been a great honor that with similar enthusiasm David Benavente of Spain has agreed to write the Foreword.


I used the yellow pie slice. I just didn’t trust the advice to add an ‘o’ to everything.

Para aquellos que no lo saben, ‘Post-datado’ es acerca de los años que viví, sobre-trabajado y casi-sin-dormir, como aprendiz de bonsái con Shinji Suzuki, de Nagano, Japón. Es una extravagante/filosófica forma de asumirse aprendiz como extranjero y trata no tanto sobre como hacemos bonsái sino las razones por las que lo hacemos. Y, como digo en mi prefacio a la edición en español, es también sobre ‘el tipo de problemas que podemos llegar a tener como extranjeros lejos de casa’.

For those not familiar with it, ‘Post-Dated’ is about my years as an over-worked, under-slept bonsai apprentice with Shinji Suzuki, of Nagano, Japan. It’s a whimsical/philosophical take on apprenticing as a foreigner, and is less about how we do bonsai than the reasons we do bonsai. And, from my Preface to the Spanish edition, it’s also about ‘the kind of trouble we can get into as a foreigner far from home.’


It’ll look something like this, but translated…

Dentro de poco publicaré una entrevista con el Sr. Rodríguez acerca de Post-datado y temas afines, para posteriormente hacerles saber cuando estará disponible el libro. Aunque no hablo español, quien desee hacer comentarios en este idioma puede hacerlo, que tratare de darles respuesta usando Google Translate.

Shortly I’ll be posting an interview with Mr. Rodriguez about Post-Dated and related things, and then of course we’ll let you know when the book is available. Although I don’t speak Spanish, anyone who wishes to comment in Spanish may certainly do so, and I’ll attempt to answer using Google Translate.

The Hype over 0-10-10

This is one of our grand leaps down the rabbit hole…0-10-10 fertilizer for bonsai. It has very limited uses, and yet it’s often touted as THE fertilizer for all bonsai in the fall.

The 0-10-10 fertilizer is essentially for maximizing blooms, or perhaps, when you plant a perennial, you might get its roots better established without much top growth. For a bonsai garden with many non-blooming species present, the recommendation to use it exclusively in fall is on very shaky ground.


One of many 0-10-10 fertilizers, which do have their uses, but is NOT the bonsai fertilizer for fall.

The urge to outthink how a plant works is fairly common to most who grow plants. We all do it. Certainly this is where the mis-use of 0-10-10 for bonsai started.

0-10-10 has no nitrogen in it (nitrogen is the first number of the three).

  • And yet every cell process, even those going on in the fall, require nitrogen. 

The building blocks of life are carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen. That’s what makes up your amino acids, which run the ball game. Potassium and phosphorus are necessary too, but they come into the game later.

Fear of tender growth late in the year is at least one of the claims in support of using 0-10-10.

  • But if you’ve used a fertilizer with all three macronutrients present consistently throughout the growing season, continuing to do so in the fall will not bring about a flush of growth in the fall that is susceptible to cold. 

After all, nitrogen does not disappear in the landscape in the fall. The use of fertilizer cakes or something similar (roughly 5-5-5) throughout the growing season, and in the fall, is the accepted standard of bonsai professionals in Japan, and will never push late growth.

So nitrogen is necessary for your plants in all phases of growth, even during the fall. Bonsai are no different than any other plant. Don’t be lured into thinking, ‘Oh gosh, I don’t SEE growth happening in the fall therefore they must not need nitrogen.’ Everything that goes on in a plant requires it.

‘Everything in moderation’ is a good Greek standard to apply to fertilizing. And ‘everything’ would definitely include nitrogen.

On the other hand even moderate amounts of Twitter would kill me, so maybe the Greeks were daft after all. Oscar Wilde modified the original idea by saying ‘Everything in moderation, including moderation,’ which sort of gives us free reign to live expansively, but this has nothing to do with fertilizer and should be reserved for dancing, ridiculous dinner parties, movies featuring Judi Dench, etc.

A tree prequel….here are three trees that have me intrigued and looking forward to playing with: A Mountain Hemlock, a Vine Maple, and another Mountain Hemlock-


We brought back this massive Mountain Hemlock from the PNBCA convention in Victoria, BC a couple weeks back. Very curious descending branch. This tree was collected by Anton Nijhuis. We’ll be restyling this tree soon, and will be sure to have photos up here for you to laugh and jeer at-


This was an interesting recent capture. I collected this in the Cascades this fall, a Vine Maple in the rocks. It had a massive tap root which I recut when we made the box, and out of curiosity I took a loupe and counted the rings… 180 years old! And with some strong young branches, too. One of those examples that makes you rethink the common conceit that understory trees and shrubs have short lifespans. It’s all about how that tree grew, what the local environment was. Quite thought provoking.


Another recent capture, this Mountain Hemlock nearly slaughtered us trying to move it. Nearly 8 feet tall, it has apexes that all go to the right by pure happenstance. But they all go back at 45 degrees as well, so when you’re standing at this front, it feels like the wind is at your back. One of the most evocative trees I’ve encountered in a long while. Looking forward to doing very little with this one…as opposed to doing quite a bit with the other two!

…with a title like that you’d think I was lost in a poem by Tennyson…but I was only looking at a tree in my yard.

I tend to photograph this Red Maple at this time of year… it was created by Anne Spencer, one of our talented Portland artists who passed several years ago. Some months before she passed, I was honored with a phone call from her asking if I’d want to be the next caretaker of it. Being impulsively impish, I replied ‘Is that a trick question?’ In any event, I’ve had the tree for several years now. Especially in fall, when it’s looking so beautiful, I am reminded of our dear friend Anne.

Bonsai is, in so many ways, the art of change: That constant, lovely, haunting dance of loss and addition.

Your tree is looking well, Anne. It’s been the treasure of my yard, a chest of memories, and a quiet education. It’s sweet to be able to share your tree with others so far away, and so far beyond. It still sits in Portland, Oregon, in the fall of 2014, quietly living on.

Anne's Red Maple

Anne Spencer’s Red Maple

Anne's Red Maple, 1991

Anne kept meticulous notes of her trees, which those of us lucky enough to be stewards of call the ‘adoption papers’. They include detailed yearly notes of what she did and did not do, and photographs of almost every year in the life of the tree. This photo was taken in 1991, one year after she bought the small Red Maple seedling.

Last month I received a curious, lumpy envelope from Canada. Enjoying curious, lumpy packages, I opened it eagerly. When its contents were on my lap I remembered I’d sent a silly email to a Canadian fellow who was planning on attending a Seasonal Workshop with me. He’d asked how he could make a down payment on the class. I somewhat impishly suggested some alternative methods, such as a string of shells, gold bullion, wampum. This is what I received in the mail:


Until a couple of years ago, I’d never worked with Limber Pine, one of our North American white pines. It’s growing on me. Buds back well, nice short needle, strong. Has a nice name, Limber Pine, which comes more trippingly off the tongue than Loblolly Pine, for instance. And it has great deadwood features.

This Limber Pine was styled in a Seasonal Workshop a couple of weeks ago. It was collected by a student of mine, Steve Varland of Backcountry Bonsai, who was able to be in the Seasonal to help style it. Loads of fun!

Photo essay follows our journey with this tree-


Limber Pine from one side…


…and from the other side.


And a couple of shots of the base, with the ‘helix’ roots.


Other side.


We discovered that a large area of the trunk was dead. That is, not obviously dead. We might call it ‘pre-shari’, because it looked just like the rest of the trunk. The bark was still adhering very well, but 50 years later out in the wilds it would be shari. So we took the bark off in those areas to speed up the process a bit… Steve and Bobby work at it.


Jim and Steve beginning the foliage preparation for wiring.


Some big bends were planned for this styling , so on goes the raffia-


The first big wires…Bobby without stripes for some reason. He did well enough without them. Hm.


Setting the branches…


Finishing up…


Our completed tree. Well, mostly completed. For a container next spring, we were thinking of maybe a deep narrow oval, to show off those curious double helix-like surface roots. 32″ high.


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