40th GSBF Convention, Riverside

Today I was able to attend the 40th annual Golden State Bonsai Federation convention conveniently held here in Riverside. A short 10 minute drive brought me to the convention center where I spent my day. Despite only being able to attend one of the 4 days in the show I was able to find many old faces, as well as meeting a few new ones.

After checking in I went swung by the vendors. The usual suspects were there including June Nguy with a wide arrangement of tools and Nathan Simmons with about as many pots as you’ll see in any show. Right out of the door I met with Barry Altshule, better known as Legacy Cork Oaks. Barry sells excellent pre-bonsai material and is who I purchased my large coast live oak from.


Another familiar face was Frank Yee. Known in the local bonsai scene for his corking variety of portulacaria afra or dwarf jade. Generally speaking succulents are not used for or considered as bonsai. But the dwarf jade is an exception. The small leaves and easily built ramification can lend to a good image. Here is an excellent example from the Pacific Northwest Bonsai museum I visited 2 springs ago.


Now imagine looking at the tree above (which mind you still has pretty bark as far as succulents are concerned) with thick corking akin to what you’d see on a cork Chinese elm. It’d make for a pretty cool tree, right? I tried to get a shot of Frank but he’s a little camera shy. It was great talking to him though and I’m glad I was able to stop by.

Although not pictured, my friend Nelson bought a monstrous old cork jade from Frank. Hell even I was considering buying it given the amount of cuttings you could take from it.


I did end up buying one corking jade from Frank. Corking just started to show on it and it’ll only get better from there. This one will be making it’s way to Chicago in the near future.


Do you see the cork? Of course you see it. It smack dab in the middle of the shot.


After spending some time with the vendors I made my way to the exhibit room. There were 2 rooms of bonsai and one with suiseki. There were many excellent trees on display. Here are some of my favorites.



Excellent black pine by Tom Vuong.



Tanuki by Michael Jonas. An easy eye grabber in the exhibition. Union between deadwood and live vein is done well. While this is an excellent tree I’m not a big fan of tanukis. Personally speaking, deadwood although attractive can easily become overbearing and dominate the composition.

I like seeing strong brown or red live veins reaching down and touching the soil line. This makes the tree feel more grounded and in my opinion builds a better image. In this tree that’s lacking. At the same time I don’t think bringing where the live vein meets the soil line to the front will improve this tree for several reasons.

Obviously you can’t just pry off the live portion and reposition it, least not on a tanuki. So to meet the criteria I previously mentioned you’d have to rotate the tree clockwise and recompose the entire composition. I am sure the front it’s currently at accentuates the movement of the deadwood and tree the best.

The other problem disguising it’s identity as a tanuki and convincing the viewer that it’s a natural, single tree. Because the deadwood is so heavy a single sliver of brown coming right off it into the soil line would look very contrived. By having the live vein escape diagonally off the right it appears as if there could be more live vein wrapped around the deadwood. By doing this the possibility of the tree not being a tanuki is preserved although you are not immediately convinced. Anyhow this is just my opinion. All in all still a great tree with beautiful healthy foliage to boot.

Look at the pictures and tell me what you think.



Boon Manakitivipart’s entry. I like the more “natural” softer feel. Not to be confused with unrefined. Although there aren’t clearly defined foliage pads there is a high degree of ramification and branching. (unfortunately I don’t have a shot under the skirt) Actually I would say having this ramification is more important than having defined foliage pads. You can always take an unruly mass of foliage and wire it together but building ramification takes many years but in turn produces a better tree. From that ramification, having sharper or softer foliage pads seem to be a thing of personal preference.




My favorite and in my opinion the best tree in the exhibit. In contrast to many California junipers seen in the exhibit this one has much “lighter” deadwood and very graceful movement. Per my preference the live veins are strongly seated in the soil line grounding the tree. The foliage is very fine for a California juniper and collectively with all its other attributes make for a great tree.


Big quercus suber or cork oak. If you read my blog you know oaks are probably my favorite tree to grow.


I wonder how many wine corks are in there…


What is this trickery!?! There’s no such thing as fall in the chaparral desert climate of the Inland Empire!! Some sneaky bastard thought he could bring his tree from Northern California and fool us southern neighbors.

In all seriousness it’s a nice older trident and the fall color was a treat. It’s not easy traveling with trees and it’s stressful for it’s health.


Onto the suiseki! Some excellent stones on display from the US, Europe, Japan, and even Africa.






After talking to a few friends and going through the entire exhibit it was time to watch the highly anticipated demonstration by Kunio Kobayashi! I was on my way to Raincross ballroom when I ran into someone asking if he we’d met. I said no. He followed up asking if I had a blog. It went something like bon…..  “TSAI!” Yes friends. There it is. I’ve made it. I’m rolling in the fame. Basking in the wealth and glory built from the thousands of my readers.

Here is a shot of my current favorite fan, Ian.


Onto the demonstration. The material was a collected California juniper brought out from Fresno. It was an excellent tree with lots of natural deadwood and shari along with some usable branches.


Mr. Kobayashi was assisted by a former apprentice, Hugo Zamora Luna, based in Mexico as well as his current long time apprentice, Jin Yasufumi. They made quick work of prepping the material by clean veins, foliage, and assisting with wiring. His apprentices are impressive guys. Both are trilingual (Spanish, English, Japanese and English, Chinese, Japanese respectively) I think. I’m already struggling a lot with 2.


Mr. Kobayashi is a pretty light humored guy. He’d make many jokes, tell stories, and take cracks at his apprentices.



Mr. Kobayashi explaining the differences between horticulture and bonsai with assistance of Hiromi Nakaoji who did a stellar job in taking questions and translating during the entire demonstration.


Splitting branches and applying raffia.


Setting a bend while Hugo cranked down the guy wire.


Not bad!


Mhmmm copper.


Mr. Kobayashi showing off an article printed about him and his “million dollar tree”.


As you can see it was difficult taking shots without getting tuffs of hair in the border. I was sitting second row to front and couldn’t stand without obstructing the people behind me.


The finished tree.


I have a very rudimentary knowledge in Japanese. Namely some hiragana, rosetta stone, and self study one summer. I was preparing my one liner last night so I could ask him to take a picture together in Japanese. 一緒に写真を撮ってもいいですか? Phonetically this says issho ni shashin o totemo ii desu ka? After doing some research today I realize this is not even correct. I was going to ask him to take a photo of or for me?

In the end I didn’t even get to try it out. The translator Hiromi was inviting people to take pictures and when she saw me approaching she gestured me on stage and I was too shy to say anything. Got the picture at least!


Talked to Hugo for a little bit after the demonstration as well. It’s pretty amazing how culturally diverse the bonsai community is. It really is an international community and it was cool meeting a professional based in Mexico. Unfortunately I did not get a picture with Jin but I enjoyed talking with him as he was able to answer some of my questions about pursuing an apprenticeship.


Towards the end of the show I was also happy to meet Kaya Mooney (not pictured). He’s the recent apprentice of Boon Manakitivipart. Like me, Kaya is a young bonsai enthusiast (same age I think?). I’m so used to being the youngest person at every show, workshop, or meeting I attend that it’s pretty exciting to find other young enthusiasts who share the same level of passion I do.

All in all I had a good time. It was my first time out at a GSBF convention and as always, it’s great looking at cool trees and talking to equally cool people! Hope you enjoyed the read and feel free to leave any comments.


I’d like to add one last note to this post. I am very seriously looking for both domestic and foreign apprenticeship opportunities to pursue after I graduate or within 1 year or so. I graduate from UCR June of 2018. If I can find a domestic opportunity then my plan is to start right away and apply for jobs in the city of nursery/master.

If I go the foreign apprenticeship route first I’d like to spend at least half a year to a year working to save money and taking classes in the language of the host country. I absolutely love bonsai and undoubtedly want to pursue and apprenticeship but I also need to be financially and culturally ready to some degree.

In any case I am looking at ANYTHING and EVERYTHING. I’ve been trying to make a huge effort the past half year to reach out, express my interest, and look for opportunities. But I could use some help. If you know anyone who could help me out in this respect, pass on knowledge, or refer me to someone who can I would greatly appreciate it!

Doing things on your own is tough. It’s really the people you meet who help shape you and give you direction in life.



Arrastre Creek Aspen Grove


“Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.”

– Robert Frost

If you’ve been reading my previous posts you’ll know that I’ve expressed interest in photography and have since taken many photos. With the autumn season already upon us I thought way better way to practice photography than to shoot autumn colors!

Unfortunately Southern California more so synonymous with brown and crispy than it is with red, orange, and gold. Finding a reliable autumn display wouldn’t be easy and require a good bit of leg work.

After a bit of research I was ecstatic to discover that Southern California had an aspen grove. Quite literally called “Aspen Grove” by the USFS it was a popular location for autumn hikers and photographers. While I was planning my trip I read a notice and my heart sank. The grove was burned down in 2015 from the Lake Fire and was not yet reopened for public access.

My plans were scrapped–or so I thought. I started from square one went to a page for a local wilderness association. I expressed my interests in finding a good autumn display and soon found out that a second aspen stand existed in Southern California. It was off trail though and its location, kept discrete by locals and other hikers.

Some rigorous searching on the interwebs yielded that it was near Arrastre Creek with an old forest service document describing it 200 yards up a canyon.

Here’s an interesting bit of information from the same document. The Pleistocene age was over 10,000 years ago mind you:

“These two groves, separated from the
nearest populations by more than 200 miles (322 km), are believed to be relics
from the late Pleistocene when the climate was much cooler and wetter.”

I had narrowed it’s approximate range but it still would be a challenging search. I was fortunate a few days prior to my trip, I was able to receive specific directions to the grove. Had I not had them, with my limited information I may never have found it. A big thanks to Joseph Esparza whose blog you can find here.

With good information, I set out on a long drive followed by a longer hike and had success reaching the grove. It wasn’t without difficulty though. I discovered the limitations of my 21 year old car (I’ll keep this one as an inside joke), slipped down 5 to 6 feet of gravel, got cut by dead cottonwood branches, had a branch break and fall on my head, got flipped off for over 20 minutes by a driver who could not see the cars backed up in front of me, and lost my tripod.

Despite these difficulties they pale in comparison to having a good time with friends, exploring the mountains, and experiencing fall at it’s best.

I thought I’d share the best pictures I took and hope you find them enjoyable:





arrastre quaking aspens


I also thought it may be interesting to mention that Andy Smith has had success collecting aspens in recent years. I think they have the potential to be excellent native bonsai material and hope to see more in the future. If not for my hot climate I’d grow some too.

Lastly if you’re worrying that the content of my blog is straying, fear not! Next week I will be attending the GSBF convention held here in Riverside, CA. I’ll be covering the show on Saturday so expect a good review, pictures, and maybe some videos. Hope to meet many of you there and watch some of the best in bonsai.

Until next time, Julian.

Utah Juniper

A few months ago I received a yamadori Utah juniper from my time at the Hidden Gardens. It’s been growing well in the warm Southern California climate with new growth tips showing all over the foliage.


As a collected tree it’s abundant with character. A sizable hollow is found in the center of the trunk and natural shari lines are present along many branches. The extremely fine growth lines on the deadwood indicate a great age too.







For all the character this tree has there are still some flaws. As common with many yamadori this tree lacks good branch placement and structure. Most of the foliage sits on leggy branches leading the eye away from the key features of the trunk.

In order to compact the tree and give me more design options, I’ve decided to graft this tree. But rather than grafting the much finer shimpaku or itoigawa foliage I intend to graft the native Utah juniper foliage. The larger and coarse foliage will be slightly out of place on a smaller tree but in turn I’ll get to keep the beautiful icy-blue color which for me is one of the best features of the tree.

In February I will repot the tree to expose buried nebari and will begin approach grafting whips of foliage lower on the trunk.

I do not have a design envisioned for this tree yet but will upload a virt when I do.

Thank for taking a look.