This is a small Rocky Mountain Juniper which its owner has nicknamed ‘Twisty.’ We were joking that this is not unlike calling your cat ‘Kitty’… simple, obvious, and hard to forget.

I collected this tree years ago and have the joy of continuing to work on it occasionally-


‘Twisty’, the Rocky Mountain Juniper undergoing a bit of primping, sweet talking, and coddling this past week, in preparation for the National Show in early September.


After primping session. (Same light, different camera…) Pot is a Chinese antique, nakawatari, roughly 150 years old. Juniper antique, North American, roughly 250 years old.

This month I took a brief trip to Japan…

…I was at my teacher’s place in Obuse, Nagano for most of the time, so many of these photos are from his garden…the rest are of the village of Obuse…the surrounding mountains…and there are one or two shots from Tokyo, where I found a bag and luggage museum, off all things. Plenty of amazing national museums around and I go to a luggage museum. Well. One is only as odd as one’s decisions.



All throughout my apprenticeship I squinted up at this nearby mountain, and could barely make out a small structure up there. On my days off I never had the energy to go up and find out what kind of building it was. Until this trip…


Looking from the top of that mountain down on the town of Obuse, to the left, where I studied.


The luggage museum…


Lincoln Proud, an American who has been an apprentice at Shinji Suzuki’s now for five months-



SeulKi, from Korea, is another apprentice at Suzuki’s—Suzuki has a truly international studentship these days.


Innovative repotting bench…with sloped sides on either side that shunt old soil into wheel barrows…the next photo should clarify…


Probably only worth building if you’ve got hundreds of trees, but fun to share-

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This and the next two photos are from Obuse. Not sure what they were protecting with umbrellas in this garden.



This tree is too tall. And the branches are a bit leggy, too.

One of the problems we get into in bonsai design is that with time and growth, height and branch length can begin pulling us away from the trunk. Literally destroying the design, making it weaker. And this tree has a nice trunk, which is a good enough reason to consider redesigning it, to compact the design.

It’s also got another possibility—it currently flows to the right. There’s nothing wrong with the right flow, but I was thinking a tighter design would be going left, even if for the time being we’ll lose some of the density, interest, and development in the branching. So for the short term, it won’t look as good… But the right branch looks young, which is yet another reason to stay away from using it as a key branch, indicating flow.

Given that thinking—and willing to be patient for a few years of re-growth for the design to recrystalize—we redesigned this tree this week.

It’s a Needle Juniper, Juniperus rigida, which we don’t see much outside of Japan. The summer trimming is over, when the long extensions are cut. Working on needle juniper will make the expressive among us let out periodic yelps, as it has the most dastardly stiff, pointy needles of any conifer. It is nice having apprentices.


Needle Juniper before redesigning. Curiously, this looks a lot to me like old work in Japan and the United States, with long leggy branches and apexes that seem much too tall. The nice things about such work is the involvement in the branching and padding, which is often pleasing. The bad thing is we tend to ignore the trunk, because we’re so engaged with the foliage…


Step one…shortening the crown.


Branches cut off the top.


Reworking crown area.


Tree with shortened crown. A small jin remains up there.


Step two, reconsidering the flow. The key branch on the right will be removed.


Branches cut off the right side to shorten the key branch, and make it a balance branch.


Final redesign. It will take a few years to crystalize the form, especially the density of the crown and the length to the bottom branches. The main thing in its favor currently is that it’s now a more compact design, refocusing on the trunk. It should be good for about another 10 years before it might need another trip to the shop, to lift the hood and see what could use tinkering.

I rarely do this. In fact, this might be the first time, to reblog something.

But, I have a reason. I think Jonas Dupuich’s post on Bonsai Tonight about akadama is a very clear, inclusive, and informational LONG post that anyone who is curious about this weird and wonderful stuff should probably give a careful read:

Akadama particles

All about akadama

After three years here at Crataegus Bonsai, Bobby Curttright has finished his apprenticeship and is setting up his bonsai business of Cascadia Bonsai.

I am sad to see Bobby go. Bobby weathered his being my first apprentice with his native stoic nature, resilience, and good humor. We did have quite a bit of fun. There were some epic adventures, from long trips to pick up random trees, to galumphing around collecting, to putting in some major superstructure pieces in the yard that needed a man with multiple talents, which was not me. And then for the last three years Bobby has worked on every tree of note in the yard, maintaining them and the yard in general. I’ve full confidence in his ability to run a bonsai yard with care and boldness.

Someone once said to me that there’s wisdom in knowing when to let something go, and in truth I’ve learned as much from Bobby as I could, so keeping him any longer is just blatant selfishness. He’ll just have to move on to teach others. Sigh.

For those of you who will also miss his unending striped shirt wardrobe, I can commiserate.

Here’s a few photos that will be nostalgic for some who know Bobby well and had the luck to work with him during his time here:

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Well. I’m not sure what to call Black Pines grafted onto Ponderosa stock. Frankensteins? Frankies? Feel free to suggest…

When I first started grafting Black Pine onto Ponderosa, I was unsure whether one could decandle them the same as Black Pine on its own roots. Before I went to Japan to study I grafted a small tree (not this one) and have now decandled it 10 years in a row. So there’s the answer: It’s the same. The tree becomes a Black Pine, it has the same powerful energy.

This gnarly little pine has been in the garden a while, collected by Randy Knight in the Rockies (back when it was a Ponderosa.) Several years ago, about four I think, I grafted two Black Pine scions onto it. This year we potted the tree for the first time, and then we decandled it a few months later, because it was showing a lot of strength. Here are a few photos of the pine this year:


Black/Ponderosa Frankie tree early this spring, testing out this round pot for suitability…


…we liked that pot, so in a Seasonal class we potted it up.


Potting finished.


Now we jump ahead three months…the pine has long candles and is ready for decandling.


All these photos are with Seasonal class students (we used to call them SeaStudents but haven’t in a while for some reason.)


The small pile of needles on the lower left are the pulled needles from this tree, before cutting the candles. (Be sure to leave a lot more needles on a tree with this few branches, not 3 or 5 pairs.)


And now we’re jumping ahead again, about four weeks—the brown stub in the middle is where the spring candle was cut, and the new shoots are coming out on the sides which will be fully needled by the fall, but with much shorter shoots.



What follows is a brief review of the new Intermediate Course, a solid educational opportunity freshly available from Bonsai Empire.


I’ll get to my review in a second, please forgive me for offering some general comments about bonsai study first. All content being equal, if one were to sketch out a ‘utility-meter’ based on the actual usefulness of the method of bonsai study, from best to worst, it would run like this:

  1. In-person study
  2. Videos
  3. Blogs
  4. Books

Videos rank pretty high in teaching about physical activities. As many do not have the opportunity to study bonsai in person with an expert, either because of logistics or finances, videos are really the next best thing.

Bonsai Empire has chosen to offer highly produced and accurate bonsai information using the skills and knowledge of Bjorn Bjorholm. Many of you bought the Beginner Course, which was a smash hit, and this is a continuation of that. ‘Lord of the Rings’ fans will appreciate the gold-morphing text in the opening frames, although the absence of swordplay throughout will remind one that this is, actually, a bonsai video. Detailed classification, care commentary, and progressions from unworked bonsai through to finished work are offered in learning bursts from mini-videos. Examples centering on older, developed bonsai so rarely seen in the West is one of the Intermediate Course’s cardinal virtues. It’s a well-made and thoughtfully produced learning tool, far above standard YouTube fare, and delivers on the promise of deepening the information from the first Beginner Course.

My friend Jonas Dupuich of Bonsai Tonight has written a far more extensive review, which is excellent: https://bonsaitonight.com/2016/06/14/review-bonsai-intermediate-course/

Or go right to the Intermediate Course:  http://www.bonsaiempire.com/courses


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