Bonsai-a-thon XXI: New friends and stories

Last weekend I was able to attend the 21st Bonsai-a-thon hosted at the Huntington Gardens. It was a good opportunity to meet members of the bonsai community and to check out some rad trees! I was only able to stay for a few hours Saturday and for the first half on Sunday. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the event for the time I was able to attend.

Meeting new people is my weak suit, so it was great for me make some bonsai friends.

Day 1:

I had missed the demonstrations in the morning but still was able to check out the displayed trees and vendors. The display was hosted by the Viet Bonsai Society for this years show and the quality of the trees were superb. I saw many familiar faces and vendors including Frank Yee, who has been very nice to me since I joined up with Santa Anita Bonsai Society and Barry Altshule who I grabbed a nice live oak from 2 years ago. No shots of vendors unfortunately but here are the trees:


Jim Barrett elm donated to the Huntington Gardens
Al Nelson coast live oak donated to gardens

During the first day I went to Dick Ryerson’s table and talked to him and Phil Hogan (correct me if I got his last name wrong). Dick shared an interesting story about a glaze with me. The so called “million dollar yellow.”

A picture of the glaze I stole from the net

Glazes, or the finish put on pots, are a cumulation of chemistry, ingredients, and artistry. During the high firing process many metals or other components of the glaze oxidize changing in appearance and color. Variations are endless, but when done right you can make a pot of unrivaled character and beauty. For the same reason recipes for highly sought after glazes are often kept secret by the artist. For a particular pottist in China, that secrecy resulted in the recipe dying with him. To the Chinese government’s (or maybe a private company?) dismay, no one could reproduce the highly sought after yellow. Desperate to have the recipe again they offered $1,000,000 (yes, one million dollars) to anyone who could reproduce it. Potter Otto Heino and his wife would spend 15 years trying to reproduce the glaze, and was ultimately successful in doing so. Officials came to his home, confirmed that the glaze was indeed authentic, and paid him the 7 figure check. There was one caveat though–for as long as Heino was alive they could only buy the glaze from him, but would give the formula after his death.

The most amusing part comes next. Heino took that 7 figure sum, presumably an unheard of amount of money in the community he lived in, and deposited at this local bank. Word got around that Otto Heino had deposited a million dollars for “pot.” Yes…that kind of pot. Due to the misunderstanding the local police stormed into his home the following evening and tore up his place in search of the aforementioned “pot.” Goes to show how valuable “pot” can be.

I ended up buying a pot from Dick and put a nice small live oak in it. The tree in question is discussed in my previous post.


Coast Live Oak in Ryerson pot

Day 2:

I was recommended by Dick and Phil to watch the Al Nelson’s demonstration on Sunday. Al’s an expert on developing live oak bonsai and was advised to talk to him. I arrived to the Huntington Gardens early Sunday morning with just that intention but ended up doing something entirely different.

One of the demonstrators was Bob Pressler. Bob’s a well known person in the local bonsai scene and owns Kimura Nursery in Northridge. I had just arrived at the demonstration room when Bob asked the onlookers for a volunteer. Surely, among the audience (most of whom are at least twice my age) had more experience with bonsai and was better suited to help out–but no one volunteered. I thought, “heck why not, it should be fun” and walked over to Bob’s table. For the next 3 hours I applied raffia and wire on a medium sized kishu juniper. Bob on the other hand was working on a bottle-brush (callistemon) tree.

Bob was donating the bottle-brush to the raffle while the kishu would be kept, only brought as a demonstration. As we were finishing up he turned over to me and asked, “do you know what we’re going to do with the tree?” Semi-cascade would be the obvious answer but Bob had mentioned he’d like to do something more interesting if possible, so I replied, “I don’t know.” He said, “you’re going to take it home.”

Al Nelson, to be working on a group planting of pygmy cypress
Lets take a look…
“What have you done to my tree”

I never expected to participate in the demonstration, not to mention taking a tree home. Bob’s a pretty cool guy and I enjoyed talking to him. Working the tree as a “demonstrator” really enabled me to talk to other members of the bonsai community as well. I was approached by Helen Barrett and talked about cycling, bonsai, and her athletic feats. She later introduced me to her husband, Jim Barrett who makes awesome pots. All in all, it was a fun experience.


This is the best shot of the tree I have for now. I will be styling it later this month and will post it up on my blog so be sure keep a look out.

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Small Coast Live Oak



Oak trees are characteristic of California. Abundant and easily found, they decorate the landscape from the highway shoulder to the beautiful canyons and hills. They’re long lived and stand with powerful trunks–it’s that same heft that weighs down their branches giving them qualities unique to themselves.


Yet despite their seemingly rough appearance the grey bark and dense evergreen foliage lends some grace collectively producing an elegant, proud tree.

As a native tree they excel in my hot Mediterranean climate. Fed well and allowed to grow freely, it will even rival a trident maple in growth. Their foliage is easily reducible and branching can be highly ramified. Definitely one of my favorite trees, both in landscape and bonsai cultivation.

In 2015 I acquired a small coast live oak from Bob Pressler’s nursery (Kimura Nursery). It sat in a small nursery can and was nearly 5 feet tall. Although lacking good branching it had a nice trunk and rough grey barking.


The tree was fed aggressively to prepare for the repotting and work to come in the following winter. At late winter/early spring I picked a line to do my trunk chop and cut away. Primary branches were left uncut so that they could undergo more thickening before developing secondary branching.


As for the root mass I sawed the root ball in half and worked the outside. Being lazy I did not photograph this part.

The tree was allowed to recover and by early summer showed strong growth all over the tree. I did some preliminary cutbacks and guy wired all my primary branching into place.


Early Summer 2016

As you see in the previous photos I had pretty good budding around my chop with buds occurring right up to the cut line. These shoots would become the future leader of my tree.

The tree was again allowed to recover, this time taking much longer considering that in a single season it had undergo 2 major traumas. Oaks typically have a second flush of growth by late summer but this tree had already expended its reserves and didn’t do much.

After removing excess shoots the top leader began growing very fast. I carved the top cut to allow for a smooth transition.


By fall the tree began thickening a lot. All the carbohydrates and sugars produced by the foliage produce new wood as well as food for next year.

Wound on top of tree is already halfway sealed–impressive given that the cut was made in the same year

Bark on the trunk began to split as a result of the strong growth. A good indicator that the tree was healthy.


Several weeks ago I cut back all my primary branching and top leader halfway. I still need the top leader to thicken, but had I cut all my primary branching leaving the leader unchecked the tree would abandon the lower branches and put all the energy into the top growth.


The wires there were propping up a plastic bag over the tree. I don’t know if it helps but I tend to think that the increased heat and humidity will give me better advantageous budding. In any case, advantageous budding indeed. Every single branch is covered in tiny buds–secondary branching no problem!

I came back from the 2017 bonsai-a-thon today (a post to come later) and purchased a pot from Dick Ryerson. The pot is a round with symmetrical groves. It features a cream glaze with some “dirty-ness” in the glaze. There is a spill of red with a hint of some blue on the side. Although slightly big for my tree it will work great as a beautiful pot to carry it through next several years.

That’s the pot right in front of me!

I decided that the tree was healthy enough for a repot and given that the root mass in the colander was a similar size to the pot I would not have to do any major root pruning. To fit the tree I cleaned out the center core of the tree slightly–mostly dead roots, organics, and some live tap roots. The edges were very lightly trimmed and the gunky soil from the top of the root ball was raked off.


The tree was then wired in with the bottom and edges with new soil. The tree is slightly mounded but it can’t be helped as I want to avoid overly working the root mass. As I continue development I will be able to sink it lower in the next year or two.


As an added precaution the tree was bagged and will be covered for the next week or so to preserve humidity and ensure the new growth and buds aren’t overly affected by the repotting.

This growing season will be used to create secondary branching as well as to finish thickening the apex of the tree.

Here is a live oak developed by Eric Schrader that’s an extremely realistic representation of what my tree will look like in 5 years or so. His tree was inspiration for mine and I hope that in time it will look just as good if not better 😀

Photo taken by Eric Schrader

I know its been awhile since my last post but I’ve been incredibly busy with school and other work. I hope you find my posts interesting and if so please leave a comment! A subscription is great too


Japanese Black Pine

I found an outstanding deal for a Japanese Black Pine earlier this summer. The base was well developed with barking, a good candidate for a shohin tree. Buds and shoots at the base was abundant and could be selected for future branching. I decandled strong top growth at this time and thinned the shoots at the base to direct more strength to what would become branches.

Summer 2016

The long sacrifice branch was cut this fall

Fall 2016

Temperatures have begun warming up and some of my elms have already begun swelling buds. For Southern California spring is almost here meaning a good time to repot my trees. Based off advice from others and what I’ve read I proceeded to repot this black pine. What I did was a half bare-root repot where only one side of the root ball is worked and replaced with new soil. Doing so allows the undisturbed side to maintain the vigor of the tree until roots in the new soil becomes established. In the following year or 2 you can than bare-root the other side of the root ball thus establishing the entire root mass in a more open “bonsai mix.” The foliage at this time is also a bit yellow. Because of the high amount of winter rains as well as the grass/moss that established on the surface this black pine has been receiving too much water. The color should reestablish to a dark green with better watering as well as feeding.



The tree was then potted in a mix of scoria, pumic, diatomaceous earth, and some zeolite.


The longest branch will take over as the new sacrifice and will remain for the next 3 years if not more. After the tree establishes itself I can begin successive stages of refinement and branch selection. I will need to read up on decandling practices as well as the decandling timing specific to my area. In time, this should be a pretty nice tree.

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Washington Hawthorne

Last year I picked up an unmarked tree from my local bonsai nursery. It was very cheap and potted in a 4 inch square. The root spread was interesting and it had a great display of fall colors, something not so common in Southern California. All things considered I decided it would be a fun tree to pick up.

Fall colors, nice smooth grey bark

The fall colors were equally spectacular this year. Depending on sun exposure you get anything from a deep red to a vibrant yellow and everything in between.

Nebari Shot

I decided to plant the bugger in the ground and let it grow freely the entire season

Spring 2016

The tree grew extremely well. I’d say even faster than my trident which was planted in the ground too. Roots established quickly and as soon as runners began the tree took off. After a full season it was at least 5 feet tall. (no shots before cutting unfortunately) The tree put on over a quarter inch of thickness and started developing fissures in the bark.


I dug out the tree, cut off all long shoots and did a major root pruning. Dug it out and put it in a box. I think this tree has really good potential as a shohin – kifu sized bonsai with a very elegant image. The foliage reduces well and ramification can be had easily. The fall color is a great treat too. The plan is to create primary branching from (hopefully) good back-budding and perhaps allowing the roots to escape in the ground for successive stages of thickening.


Let me know what you think. I still don’t have an image for this tree would appreciate any suggestions or virts. Thanks for taking a look and have a great day!

Clump Japanese Maple

About 2 years ago I acquired a “forest” planting of Japanese maples. The health was questionable but it looked like a nice planting at a reasonable price. At the time the planting was composed of 2 main groupings with 8 trunks. The tree was planted in a dense mucky soil and from information I found online I thought it would be best to immediately repot it…..only that it was past bud break. Being ignorant in repotting practices I bare-rooted and repotted the tree in April. For Southern California that’s about 2 months after the ideal repotting window. What health it had began to decline further and for the remainder of the growing season I had unsightly and weak foliage.

2015 Late Spring

Thankfully the tree did not kick the bucket. This is a photo early on after repotting but the tree was looking pretty grim by November. Being more knowledgeable the following year I repotted the tree during the appropriate window. Additionally I chose to separate the forest planting. With poor branching and not the most convincing arrangement it would never look really good. The planting was separated into 3 groups: the clump, main tree, and a small but well ramified tree. Here is the clump after a really solid growing season without any significant problems:


The tree was repotted last week and underwent a basic styling. Trunks were positioned with guy wires and the twigs wired out. All coarse growth and branching was pruned off. I am hoping for good ramification and branching this next season so that I can really begin getting this tree into shape.

2017 post styling

There are actually 5 trunks in the group instead of 4 when originally purchased. The 5th trunk appeared over the last year and I decided to keep it. The lateral buds should give me branching to play with and help it fit in with the other trunks. The base is fused together well and the nebari is developing well with currently hidden, but nice radial roots. I think over the next few years it will start looking pretty nice. I may allow some whips to grow so that I can approach graft them where needed and rework some of the apexes which have larger internodes. Let me know what you think!

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Root over rock elm

1-2 year old Chinese elm

My neighbor has 2 large chinese elm trees in their front yard. Some years more than others, seeds will fall into my yard and root themselves in various places. Last year I dug out one of these donor elm seedlings, approximately 1 year old, and planted in a small nursery can. The tree grew unrestricted for the entire year over doubling in size.

The tree was significantly pruned back (the previous shoots being at least 3 feet tall or so) and the roots were slightly pruned leaving most of the lateral roots. My initial plans were to let it thicken up and develop it as a broom style tree but I wanted to do something different. The tree was secured to the rock using raffia and seram wrap then planted in the ground. I’m hoping it lives and if so, the roots were secured tightly enough to the rock to prevent separation. Will post updates in spring and will check the roots next year if it lives!

Thanks for taking a look and subscribe for more projects to be posted in the coming weeks!

Why I Love Bonsai and My Trees!

My favorite bonsai nursery, ie the enabler

I started bonsai as a hobby 3 years ago. It wasn’t over an awe inspiring tree or most famously, with Mr. Miyagi in the Karate Kid but rather on an impulse. I was hitting the Southern California surf but instead of pulling out a new PR catch I found a large rock, reminiscent of mountain, stuck in the white water of the falling tide. I pulled it out and almost immediately I thought, “wow I bet a tree would look cool on this.” The following day I surfed the net looking how I could put a tree on a rock and I was introduced to bonsai. Right then and there, it clicked and I knew “bonsai” was something I wanted to do.

2014 Southern California Surf

Fast forward 3 years I still love it and pursue it with ever increasing interest. Despite my love for this art I cannot concisely describe why I enjoy it so much. At face value, bonsai could show an artfully crafted tree–perhaps something nostalgic of an ancient mountain juniper:

Or what we idealize a tree to be:


Beyond the appearance, especially since I don’t have any trees nearly as nice as the ones I’ve been posting 😀 , bonsai provides me with perspective. In many ways they resemble people. Like people, they take many years to cultivate. And over the course of time, they change. Struggles and hardship can become their defining characteristic or something that is overcome. Although a “perfect” tree is admirable in the meticulous care or growing conditions needed to develop it, the ones with “flaws” often show the most character and capture the most interest:

Richmond Park, courtesy of Bobby Lane
Japanese Maple, image taken by Sergio Cuan

And while the trees don’t give a damn about what we think, we impose our beliefs on them and in turn the many years of horticulture and artistry needed to craft them into bonsai. Ironically they end up becoming their own entity all together instead of a reflection of the people who worked on it. In some cases they even become a legacy, living past a human lifespan:

400 Year White Pine that survived Hiroshima: US National Arboretum

If anything bonsai has taught me–rather, forced me to accept that anything good in life takes time to get. I enjoy slowly developing my trees as much as I  e̶n̶j̶o̶  am developing my own life. On both ends, I hope for the best and will continue to do the best I can do.

Thanks for reading my post and what you’ve been waiting for, my own trees! I will slowly give my various projects designated threads and fill them under the “Tree” submenu so that you can easily find them and check on their progress. If you’ve enjoyed my posts please subscribe, leave me feedback, or share it to others.


















That’s it! These are most of my trees but I still have other projects in the works as well. Progressions and more projects to be posted in the future.

Bonsai in Taiwan: Trees + Art (Part 2)

My second bout of bonsai sightseeing in Taiwan was at Wan Jing Yi Yuan garden. Prior to visiting the garden I had seen my great aunt who as a hobby does calligraphy and painting. Below is some of her work:

Wisteria vines and caligraphy
Beautiful landscape

Her teacher apparently is a very talented and skilled having received recognition and awards for his work. Below is a reverse ink scroll of the Heart Sutra. You can find prints of these but this one is completely done by hand.



Having learned that I enjoy bonsai, my great aunt recalled some pictures her friend sent her in the past depicting bonsai in a garden. She found the pictures and later referred us to a garden to check out.


The garden we visited was located in Changhua. This city is one of the oldest, among the first Taiwanese settlements when Chinese migrants arrived in the 17th century. In addition to bonsai we were able to see an extensive art collection as well a historic “old town” featuring a Mazu Temple from the 1700s.


Wan Jing Yi Yuan was a private garden and collection formed by a wealthy contractor. After ammassing such an extensive and large collection and garden he was urged and agreed to make it public. Apparently his inspiration for the garden was to showcase and display Taiwanese trees after he saw a 100 year old camphor tree that was cut down still trying to grow and sprout buds. The garden not only included native trees but an extensive collection of antiques and art imported from China as well as bonsai. The garden was well maintained and aside from the mosquitoes was very enjoyable to walk through. Gnarly twisted junipers were the most common bonsai there, but there were also ficus, podocarpus, and bougainvillea. I believe the bonsai comprise of trees developed in Taiwan as well as some imported from Japan. Please enjoy the pictures

Several twisted juniper chinensis at the entrance
Fantastic looking deadwood




A major bonsai show in Taiwan was hosted at this garden in 2010


They also had a large section of the garden dedicated to podocarpus trees which are native to Taiwan. Unfortunately I can’t find these pictures but I do have some of large podocarpus bonsai:



Massive ficus microcarpa. You’ll only see a ficus grow this big in a humid tropical environment which Taiwan can provide.




Maybe that was too big. How about we scale it down:




Check out some more trees:







My favorite juniper out of the many displayed
Digging the twists



Another great tree



Green Island Ficus


There were many bougainvillea displayed but these were the among the better ones


A great looking pot, don’t have any information on it though


His extensive collection of antiques and art was housed in several wooden temples. Many of these items were bought from private collections and imported into Taiwan. To do so now would be much more difficult not to mention the manner of items imported would cost significantly more to purchase relative to when they were brought in a few decades ago. Here are just a few shots of what they had inside.This only a fraction of the collection they displayed:







An insanely huge cypress burl







Massive Jade
Fancy paperweight

Lastly here are a few shots of the Lukang Mazu Temple. At this time I ran out of memory on my SD card so there aren’t too many shots to show. Mazu is a highly respected revered goddess in much of Taiwan. We can trace its roots to the Chinese migrants coming from Fujian in the 17th century. Because seafaring was quite treacherous at that time early many would pray to and respect Mazu. That same adoration was carried over to Taiwan and its descendants hundreds of years later. The temple below was built in 1725, but was renovated in the 1920s during Japanese occupation of Taiwan. Many people visit the temple to pay their respects, pray, or to ask Mazu questions through a kind of ritual.



That’s it for now! I’ve hoped you enjoy the pictures and please feel free to leave comments and feedback. I’ll begin putting up my own trees and projects soon so please subscribe and watch the blog in the coming days.





Seeking Bonsai in Taiwan: Part 1 (Mr. Su’s Garden)

My father is of Taiwanese heritage while my mother was born in the states. Having lived in the US for most of my life I find my self more familiar with the latter while far removed from the former. I was recently able to visit Taiwan which proved to be a valuable experience to connect with family, culture, and a country I’m unfamiliar with. And of course, an opportunity to see bonsai.

On that note I have to thank both my father and my relatives. Unable to speak the Taiwanese and with mediocre Chinese at best it was them who enabled me to find and visit these trees.

The first garden/nursery I was able to visit was Mr. Su’s nursery. Like Don Blackmond and others in the states, Mr. Su is a tree dealer. He procures trees, mainly from Japan, and will visit there 8-9 times a year to buy stock. He’s been in the business for 30 years following from his father. While the majority of his trees are comprised of black pines from shohin all the way to massive landscape stuff, his garden included different types of ficus, juniper, and what I believe are some native Taiwanese trees of which their names I do not know. The quality of his trees were superb with some well over 100 years old. By the way I’ve got some cool videos in the end so scroll through to the bottom!

Here is the man himself and his website:
 Here is a beautiful tree (no idea what it is) with well developed branching and bark. According to him, this tree won many awards at shows in the past 

A closer look. Personally I’d love to find out what kind of tree this is and if I can find it in the states. Because Taiwan has warm mild winters pretty much anything that will grow there can grow in Southern California too.




The tree was covered with these colorful caterpillars. They didn’t seem to harm the tree and they looked pretty cool


For the rest of my posts I will be posting one picture per tree (unless its a cool shot). I have many shots of all the trees so if you’d like a better look just leave a comment or shoot me a message specifying which tree.


Nice shohin or kifu JBP



Another wicked native? tree. These look a lot like boxwoods. The bark fissures are completely black. Also this tree is for sale for $10,000 USD



Bark too cool not to show. And this wasn’t even the best one




Here’s a crazy looking massive juniper from Japan. When importing trees they have to be bare rooted and incubated for a set duration. Not all trees survive the process and some that do will have damage or dieback. This gorgeous juniper is an example of that with a lot of dead branching where foliage used to be.


There’s no way I can annotate all the pictures, and the ones shown below aren’t even all of them. For now I’m just going to dump them here for your viewing pleasure. Feel free to ask me details about a specific tree and I’ll try my best to answer. By the way, nearly all of these trees are MASSIVE. Do not be fooled by the pictures.

The biggest ficus there. Massive trunk. Probably a 3 man tree at minimum










The last few junipers were itoigawa


















Green Island Ficus I believe 






Cutest caterpillar I’ve ever seen




Some videos! I apologize for you non phone viewers. For the first videos I turned my phone sideways sometimes to capture a wider angle. Feel free to turn your head sideways on your computer for now.

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Thanks for looking through my first main post! I wanted to add more videos but unfortunately not all of them turned out well. I hope you enjoyed looking at the pictures and please leave comments+feedback.

I have much more to show later, so please subscribe to my blog via the email sign-up on the home page!

Welcome to my blog


(Wanjing Yiyuan Garden)

Welcome to my bonsai blog! While I’ve heard both in person and on the net, “to make a million dollars in bonsai takes two (million)”, I would in some shape or form like to have bonsai as apart of my future career.  Even so, opportunities aren’t likely to fall on my doorstep and if anything I need to seek them out. My intention with this blog is to not only share my trees and bonsai adventures, but to help me meet new people–the thing I struggle to do the most. I hope this blog can serve as the starting point for my goal and show me how bonsai can be apart of my future.

I have lots of content to be posted including trips to gardens and bonsai nurseries in Taiwan, my own trees, ongoing projects, and various other topics and images. Ongoing projects will have their own designated thread in the “Tree” menu while “Blog” will encompass everything else. The tree menu is currently empty but will be filled in over the next few weeks.

Above is a taste as some of the stuff I’ll be posting from my trip in Taiwan.