Well, it is a pretty darn big place. Bonsai Mirai has just announced something we’ve been lacking in the United States, and that is a yearly jaunt moving bonsai and bonsai related items around the country on wheels, hither and yon!


I don’t see Chelsea in that old photo, perhaps she’s in the wagon, but I think that might be Ryan up on the horse. He’s an old soul and has been around a while. They were working on a draft of the following letter back then, on an old typewriter. It ran out of ink for about 150 years and they’ve just completed it, which I copy here for anyone interested in this valuable service, now gas-powered:

Bonsai Mirai is proud to announce The Covered Wagon, the first bi-coastal bonsai shipping service in America.  Until now, private gardens have been limited by what could be packed in a box and shipped.  Sadly, those voyages often end badly for trees.  Deadwood breaks.  A box is delayed and a tree is left in the cold.  Trees suffer and even die.  The Covered Wagon provides reliable delivery that aims to enable enthusiasts to expand their personal collections and to close the distance between America’s bonsai communities. 
The Covered Wagon will take two trips each year, spring and fall, to deliver trees, pots, soil, and other bonsai accoutrement from East to West and West to East. With The Wagon expertly packed and drivers who are well-trained on tree care, your tree will enjoy a safe and quick ride to its final destination.
The inaugural Covered Wagon will roll out of Portland, OR on May 5, 2014, make several stops along a northern route, and end its eastward journey in New York. An East to West route is currently unplanned, but if you have a need for something to be delivered in that direction, let us know and we will see if we get enough orders to plan an East to West Wagon.  
If you have a tree or something else that you need moved and would like to reserve space on The Wagon, please click on the this link to complete a request form.  We’ll get back to you with a shipping quote and confirm your delivery.  If you don’t live near any of the scheduled stops, if you have an East to West delivery need,  if you’d like to reserve space on the Fall Covered Wagon, or if you think of a shipping need that you’d like to bring to our attention, please email chelsea@bonsaimirai.com.
Again, fill out this delivery request form if you’d like to have something shipped.
Let’s get bonsai moving, America.
Very Truly Yours,
Ryan & Chelsea Neil


Our Winter Seasonals featured new trees, lots of repotting, a few odd projects, and fresh new faces- enjoy our photo gallery!


Potting a bunjin Ponderosa that was styled in a Seasonal last fall. Clockwise from left: Ben, me (or perhaps tree), Ron, Howard.


Bobby with the challenging job of holding a tree while the rest of us hoot and jeer. Bobby’s a Portland Timbers fan. Naturally.


Expressive wand technique by Ron-


Howard enjoying lubricating the drill bit…and getting me wet. In a new twist of the Tom Sawyer tale, I sold the task of drilling the hole to someone else…


Working on a Hinoki forest. The next two photos are of this same tree-


Our hinoki forest as it was found, grown together for more than 10 years, with nearly equal sized trunks and nearly equal spacing. That was our starting puzzle. With only one small hinoki we could add… (because it’s all we had!)


Our solution: Without taking the trees apart which would have made a wreck of them, turning the group about 15-20 degrees clockwise made the trunk placement have more engaging spacing. And we added a little wee hinoki to the far left, tucked under the eaves of a large one. Some of the differences in the size of these trunks can be mitigated over time, with growing and training the trees differently. And then, maybe we’ll feature another few upstart hinoki saplings tucked in here and there in another Seasonal. Some other year. When we have more upstart seedlings. I think the nylon slab we put it on is a bit overlarge for these (cough) six trees, but the trees are weak and need a lot of work and will develop in size. And in a few years we can redo it perhaps with a few more trees added. We did make cuttings…


Pine roots after 5 years in oil-dry. This is why I don’t use oil-dry.


Pine after 3 years in pumice. This is why I use pumice. The root ball is this tight all the way through.


It was a delight to have Jonas here for a Seasonal, who is an old college buddy. And joining him is Randi, also from their Virginia bonsai club.


In repotting this limber pine we found a double helix root structure down below-


I’m not sure Jonas knew I was quietly doing bonsai in college, too…

DSC_1104Bobby looking through a drain hole in our slab for the hinoki forest. Stripes. Again. Very horizontally stable fellow. Good balance.

…apprenticing with Shinji Suzuki! Are hats are off to you, Matt, this is a huge week for you!

If any of you remember the ridiculous, stressful stories from my book Post-Dated about the life of the apprentice, well, how anyone could have done that for nearly 8 years is simply ASTONISHING to me, and it makes me smile, too. I hope those stories might give you some sense of how momentous an event this is for Matt.

Matt joined us briefly at the last March Seasonal, and here are a few photos of his visit:


In total surprise, Matt Reel called me this week from a taxi in Japan, asking if I’d be around the next day. I was, and so were my Seasonal students, so in his first day in the United States as a free man did some bonsai work—after just finishing his 7 years and 9 months apprenticeship with Shinji Suzuki. We fed him well in celebration, and then he repotted his yew with the Seasonal class. Congratulations Matt! Your apprenticeship is a high water mark of dedication and passion that might never be reached again. WELCOME HOME!


Matt’s yew that has been missing him desperately, and that he finally got around to repotting this week.


Looking forward to having you around in your hometown of Portland, Oregon, Matt. Again, welcome home!

Many trees like their roots far away from anything saturated, which is the bottom of the pot. Two in particular, pines and azaleas. And in muddling about the Western bonsai world I’ve been haunted by the number of pines planted in very shallow containers.


The pine that Matt Reel is working on is in a deep pot, and this is typical for pines. This has as much to do with horticulture as aesthetics.

‘Rules’ are slippery things, as anything in bonsai has exceptions. So consider this a ‘slippery-rule’, a ‘you might want to consider’, and not necessarily a ‘darn it you’d better do it or get swatted with a bamboo chopstick’ sort of offering—-but please, in general, get your conifers, particularly pines, in deeper pots, and your deciduous might go in shallower ones because you can get away with it horticulturally.


This maple in Shinji Suzuki’s tokonoma is in a pot typical of this kind of tree. It works better aesthetically, in two ways. A shallow pot will make the nebari continue spreading, and the delicacy of the trunks is enhanced by a shallower pot. But a maple is also a tree that appreciates water. And a shallow pot will retain more moisture than a deeper one, in a soil-to-soil relative way. It’s a wetter pot.

Now the disclaimers. Breathe in. (That’s for me).

You can certainly plant your pine in a shallow pot (loud thwack of a chopstick on my fingers), but consider mounding it. Mounding and getting live moss established will help greatly in drying out the root ball the way a pine wants it. Mounding helps drain excess water, and moss prevents excessive drying of the surface, which might sound like an oxymoron but it works.

The happy zone of any tree is fairly specific. The top often dries out a lot. The bottom might stay too wet. And the pine likes the middle zone. So most pots for pines should be deeper to broaden that happy zone. Or, if you mound a tree by 3″ above the lip in a 3″ pot, then you’ve essentially given the tree 6″ of growing space and a fairly broad happy zone. Shallow pots for conifer bunjin, clumps, and forests are good examples where mounding is appropriate and often used.


Pine in a shallow pot, mounded.

Without an erosion free and water retentive surface, however, like live moss, mounding is unlikely to be a happy equation. Search for ‘moss’ on the search field in the upper right of my blog, and you should find some moss articles there and how to establish it. I think I wrote a few.

Happy potting! Or resting, if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere.

True, this is not as exciting as Star Wars, but still, our Final Episode is the photographic finale of our trip to Japan this February! Yay! Cymbals crashing, drums going nuts, frogs leaping off bridges, etc.


Going back in time a bit to our first day…we all became kids over dinner. Here’s Grant and Peter in bibs, waiting for their ‘bacon’ to be finished, as they called the strips of pork on the grill. In a Korean restaurant in Tokyo.


Again tripping back in time, this is Howard perusing a greenhouse full of ume in Saitama.


Now we’re back at Suzuki’s. This was my last tree, a juniper that had been planted at a new angle so the branches needed quite a bit of adjusting.


Another tree I worked on. I forgot about this one, but there’s a dreadful finished shot of it later.


Matt Reel working on a tree behind an ume being debudded. Old ones will just get weary and pouty if you leave all their flower buds on.


Dreadful photo, as promised. Too much snow at this point for good light… it’s almost five feet up the side of this greenhouse. It got up to seven feet between the greenhouses…


Matt with a Black Pine, and Bobby looking on.


Bobby with his juniper. Again, stripes.


Matt adjusting fine wires on the exterior of this Black Pine.


A tree Matt has been working on, a spectacular juniper that could win a prize someday. It’s a grafted tree.


By request, here’s the Red Pine that Tyler was working on. Very contorted trunk. Nice work-


The cascade juniper I worked on, in display. Scroll of moon, stone of rock.


Bobby’s nicely done juniper-


The White Pine restyling completed and set up for Suzuki’s inspection.


And a bit more snow.


After hours of shoveling, Tyler’s coat had soaked all the way through and his shirt was totally wet. I wrung water of my gloves just by squeezing them. And we still weren’t done shoveling. Yuki to the right, who is Suzuki’s nephew and his newest apprentice.


Matt. Snow. More Matt. More snow.


What happens when the bullet train shuts down for two days. The Nagano train station is usually rather empty, and these folks were waiting for the tracks to reopen. The Australian snowboarder with the mohawk had just got it cut in celebration of, I think, boredom.


Wagtail in the train station, and the only one there who seemed to be having any fun-

Part II of our trip to Japan earlier this month…


Tyler Sherrod, in one of those lucky shots of light and opportunity that make it one of my favorite photos of the trip. This was a spectacularly odd red pine he was working on, reminding me of the odd bends and flattened reaction wood that some of our native lodgepole can get involved in. In any event, Tyler did well with it.


Looking a lot like a post from two years ago, here’s the weird side-opening truck that Suzuki uses to transport the Kokufu trees, which thankfully arrived on one of the non-snowy days.


Matt Reel, in one of his famous ‘make a face’ photos. I’ve rarely got a shot of him not hamming it up. Here he is with one of the platforms used to transport the Kokufu trees back to Nagano, in the greenhouse that is protected from freezing by heaters. The trees are in the show for too long to be trusted with just a windbreak in arctic Nagano.


Bobby Curttright with one of the trees from the show, on a cart, somehow navigating the narrow corridors of the big greenhouses. He likes striped shirts. Ripped fabric on the ground, with near-perfect tripping placement…


Pine being settled into the protected no-freeze greenhouse by Tyler and Bobby. I’m being incredibly helpful in this photo, lifting most vigorously with my mind.


After working on my four trees I was tasked with displaying some of them in the tea house where Suzuki welcomes clients. I suspected he wouldn’t like the two stands under the wooden figure, and I wasn’t wrong. Rule of thumb is one stand per element. Well, some of the elements I used did not go over well, but then if I had gotten all of them wrong I would have learned even more. Rats. Wasted chance.


At least he seemed happy with the tree. The before shot is in the last post.


Suzuki will usually throw a design challenge at me on these trips. Some times it’s really tricky. This one, which he had bought at an auction a year or so before, was worth puzzling over. It was obvious that this tree was grown for many years with this as the front, with the evidence in how the branches were shaped, and the way the apex was grown. Something was not too exciting about it, though.


When I looked closer, I found that the key branch was very weak, and part of it, the larger part, had died off. Rarely do we want to chose a front with a weak key branch.


After poking around, and tipping it up in the front, the back of the tree seemed a very likely new front. There was a very strong and interesting key branch to the left, a powerful twisting base, and something that Suzuki is not afraid of presenting—a pigeon breast. A more aggressive feeling than the last front, but better for several reasons. I chose this one, and thankfully I had chosen the right one or the trip would have ended up with a mediocre overall success score… More photos in another post, with the styling of this tree, and a cascade juniper. And Bobby’s juniper too!

…the usual Japan bonsai experience in February.

I’m writing this in the snow-socked city of Nagano, 6 hours after my plane left from Narita Airport on the other side of Honshu. Waved vaguely in the direction of my apprentice Bobby Curttright, who enviously left Shinji Suzuki’s garden several days before I did and had a nice time visiting museums in slushy, but not ground-to-a-halt, Tokyo. Here we had over two feet of snow in less than 24 hours, much more in the mountains, and stopping the Shinkansen, bullet train, in its tracks.

This is why they held the winter Olympics here in 1998: Snow is likely.

But there is no snow in this post… at this point in our trip, we had no idea what was coming. Come to think of it, there are no photos of the Kokufu show either, where photos are not allowed (we have to wait for the book…). Only the middle word in the title is represented here, Friends. Along with a few not so shabby bonsai.


Our entire entourage that went to Omiya Bonsai Village: From the left, Grant, Howard, Peter, Bobby, and me at Mr. Kato’s multi-generation garden, Mansei-en.


Eating lunch with Mr. Nakamisu, who guided our tour and three days earlier had opened this restaurant. Marvelous! Delicious. If you’re in Omiya, don’t miss it- (someone from the group, please post a comment with the name of it, I don’t have it handy and my memory, which is like a sieve, is working well.)


One of my favorite bonsai by Mr. Kimura, a Hinoki forest. His spare garden makes his memorable trees stand out. My teacher’s son is studying there, and it was good to see him briefly.


Our first day concluded with the astonishing garden of Mr. Kobayashi, where Bobby bought a 300 year old kowatari pot that we were all drooling over. The drool adds to the patina.


A sadly dreadful shot of one of Mr. Kobayashi’s indoor tokonoma rooms. He is one of the reigning display masters in Japan, my teacher is another one.


Bobby and Bill Valavanis on the Shinkansen to Obuse, Nagano Prefecture, the village where my teacher has his garden. It was mildly treacherous getting there, the beginning of the snowy week to come, and Bill and Bobby’s first trip there. Welcome to Nagano: Wear your fleeces, woolens, silk underwear…


Tokonoma at Shinji Suzuki’s, with a Japanese maple, a scroll of a deer in the snow, and a budding accent offering a hint of spring.


Red ume (hibai) with a scroll of snowy cottage roofs in a village, and a wagtail which is a cheerful bird at this time of year.


Plant on a tile, with water flowing underneath two crabs… All the rest of these photos are at Suzuki’s  garden in the village of Obuse, rather tucked away from the busyness of the bonsai world on the western part of the main island. Getting there is an event in itself, with a sweet reward. His is a simple garden with lots of space and a feeling of serenity. He built a huge addition onto his garden three years ago. For some reason I did not care for it when I first saw it, to be honest, but it grows on me. I think I was comparing it to the museum he was a curator for when I was a bonsai apprentice there, and that was a busier display area and I was used to seeing his trees in a different setting. Now he’s taken over a big grape orchard in addition the original greenhouse area, and its expansive feeling is a clean backdrop for his evocative trees.


Inside one of Suzuki’s greenhouses. Behind the wooden wall is the display area featured in the previous photos.


The other side of the same greenhouse, with one of Suzuki’s favorite trees, a bunjin red pine that won a prize at the Sakafu show. He has four big greenhouses in all, which are full of trees in the winter.


I worked on four trees in the five and a half days I was not shoveling… this was the first. I’ll post the reworked tree in the next post.


Bobby was there for several days. Here he is getting started on a juniper he was given to work on by Suzuki. Almost the whole time we were working in Obuse Suzuki was at the Kokufu show in Tokyo. More photos from Japan in other posts! Including snow! How exciting. I know. Wait for it.


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