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.


40th Annual Mid-America Bonsai Exhibition


Best of show, Gary Andes

This past weekend I was able to experience Midwest bonsai at it’s best. The Midwest Bonsai show is the largest in the area and many enthusiasts from surrounding states and the east coast attend. Many beautiful trees, as well as some comedic entries, were displayed in the exhibit.

I came both as a participant, helping table and load trees, and as a guest able to chat and enjoy the show at my leisure. I was able to meet many new people as well as others I was only acquainted with through various online bonsai groups.

The venue was excellent as well, hosted at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. I was able see the permanent bonsai collection, Japanese, and waterfall gardens. On display was a rare corpse flower too! Unbeknownst to me, it bloomed just as I was loading the trailer and left.

I hope you enjoy this post and without further ado, on to the pictures.

Day 1:

Friday morning I finished work early and scrambled to the station to catch the earliest train heading north.

Cool weather, great for the show


on time!

I made it by early afternoon. I met up with John, a friend from bonsainut and walked through the exhibition with him.



The show displayed a range of trees from novice to professional categories. The quality in the professional category was outstanding. The ones photographed were among the best in the show.




Upon observation all the white pines displayed at the show were grafted. That said the grafts were well done and extremely clean. I’d love to have a pine like this but both my climate and wallet won’t tolerate it.



At many shows sometimes people pay too much heed towards the awards. Bonsai is a product of many years of labor and love. Receiving critique and watching other trees get more recognition is not an easy thing for many. Jim Doyle’s display reminded both participants and onlookers to enjoy the show. Served with humor on the side.

Although illegible in this photo the note reads, “who climbed these trees first…man or monkey?”


An aptly chosen banana accent plant.


Monkeys hanging in the trees


A nice larger douglas fir displayed by Andy Smith.







An interesting 10 tree shohin display by Dan Turner. It is a bit too busy for my personal taste but an cool display nonetheless.


Cool root over rock trident by Mark Fields.




If you look carefully at the trunk you will notice a very smooth line diagonally across the trunk. Early in the tree’s development wire is wrapped around the trunk between the graft union of black pine root stock and white pine. The wire bites into the tree as it grows and the surrounding cambium thickens. Over time the wire is completely encased. The method is controversial for some but given enough time is a viable method to thicken a trunk and induce some character. Signs of this technique being used was visible on most white pines at the show.


I believe this is a Virginia pine. A eastern US pine but cool to see native species used other than stuff from the mountains. (–this is actually a Scott’s pine but there was a similar looking Virginia pine at the show)



Grey Owl juniper. Nice well developed tree but not in best health. Many foliage pads were pinched hard in the last season or 2 and appear to be sulking.



Here is a sign provided by the Chicago Botanic Gardens that accompanied Bill Valavanis’ trees.


Below is Bill Valavanis’s Dwarf Brush Cherry he displayed at the same show 40 years ago.


The development of the tree was shared as well:


A Kashima maple also by Bill Valvanis, in development for many decades.


The progression was displayed as well:



Seen below is a Tanuki. No, not the brown racoon looking thing but the tree. The deadwood on this tree was artificially attached to the live vein. Also known as a phoenix graft, a young tree is closely bound to a piece of deadwood and allowed to grow together. A successful graft will introduce character to the tree and create the illusion of age. They are difficult to do without the tree appearing contrived.

On another note in Japanese culture Tanukis are depicted as a mischievous and deceptive animal, often capable of shape shifting into people or inanimate objects. Thus the adoption of this name for a tree that tries to deceive the viewer.



A nice red pine. The apex feels too strong in my opinion. I discussed with John the possibility of removing the apex and bringing the the immediate branch on the right in as the new apex. The movement of the tree feels disjointed with the apex fighting with the lower branching. A very nice tree though and something I’d like to own.




An outstanding large “Kokonoa” Japanese white pine. Perhaps my favorite tree in the exhibition and highly refined.



Twisting pomegranate. These trees have very brittle branches and coarser growth. They are not an easy species to get a high level of branch ramification with. I was told by Owen Reich that the tree was primarily developed by clip and grow with some wire use.




Excellent suiseki display by Dan Turner. The chrysanthemum stone in particular is a gem. “Cheaper” chrysanthemum stones you find on ebay or in peoples collection will only have one flower pattern. This one has a complex array of prints that evoke the feeling of dragonflies and lilies.



Shots from the permanent collection:

Boulevard Cypress


Trident Maple



shimpaku raft
European olive


Walter Pall limber pine


Day 2:

I started my day bright and early and hitched a ride with Jeff from the Hidden Gardens. No roosters to start me off but some hens clucking will suffice.


The show was rough in terms of sales with most of the interest in cheaper pre-bonsai to mid-high range trees. In between and over was a rough bet. Exceptions to this were Sara Rayner who did exceptional for the show and Nitsu pottery seemed to do well with good prices on nice pots. Andy Smith had some killer material for low prices and Todd Schlafer did really good for his first vending experience as a bonsai pro.




I watched a Kathy Shaner demo later that day. Unfortunately I was not able to get a before picture of the tree, but here is the finished work. The demo tree was a black hills spruce provided by Andy Smith. Kathy discussed in depth about preserving the manner the tree was growing in and to showcase the struggles it had in its life. She set primary and secondary branching in place but did not do too much detail wiring. Much of the tree was preserved giving lots of potential design paths for the future. The tree was raffled but I hope I can see where it is taken in the future.




Trees were judged Friday evening and were displayed with awards on Saturday. Gary Andes twisted pomegranate won best of show and Bill Valavanis’ Kashima maple won first in the professional division.



Day 3:

The day started off slow but by early afternoon the show became fairly crowded with visitors crowding around vendors and trees. I had more leisure time–least until it was time to pack out, but enough to explore the gardens.

Here are some shots of the Japanese and waterfall gardens.




I enjoyed good bonsai conversations with Loren and talked with Owen who filled me in on the bits about the apprenticeship and bonsai professional life. Also met a younger guy Griffen if I remember that right. Griffen is a younger bonsai enthusiast who started back when he was 12 and now has done bonsai for 4 years. He was helping out Jim Doyle for the show. Its cool to meet other “young” people into bonsai as I’m often the youngest at every show and event I attend!

Group shot with (left to right) Jeff, Todd, me, and Loren.


I also talked to Sara Rayner and bought a pot from her.



Got a shot with Owen towards the end of the show.


Last look at some cool trees and then I packed out. Well, after a good 3 and a half hours of loading trees and shelves. Jeff and I packed out a trailer tight! One more tree and it would be sitting with us in the truck cabin. 😅




All in all it was a great show. I made some new friends and thoroughly enjoyed my time there. Big thanks to Jeff who not only saved me a lot of time and train fares, but enabled me to meet many people in the local bonsai scene both in the show and out.

Pursuing bonsai professionally is a huge goal for me and I’ve been trying to explore possible paths that can open up bonsai as a sustainable career for me. There’s a large gap in knowledge I need to fill before I can find what will work for me.

Owen has helped me out in this regard a lot over the course of the show and I owe him thanks as well. I’ll see on returning the favor.

Thanks for reading and feel free to subscribe to see updates on my trees and more bonsai adventures. I will be investing into photography in the coming months and will get the rest of my trees up on the blog with quality pictures.


Carving Hornbeam at the Hidden Gardens

I’ve been heading down to the Hidden Gardens often this past month. My work schedule at Argonne is pretty variable, so days I get off or get out early Jeff’s been letting me hang and help out at the nursery.

One of the projects I recently worked on was an American Hornbeam with massive dieback. In contrast to the coniferous yamadori found at the nursery Jeff started carrying collected deciduous material. Mainly American hornbeams, but red maples, lilacs, oaks, among others can be found.

Many of these trees have significant post collection dieback. On one end the dieback detracts from the value of the tree–the likelihood of creating a “seamless” trunk becomes increasingly difficult.

The same dieback however provides an opportunity to impart character and to impose a ruggedness characteristic of trees at the Hidden Gardens. Jeff gave me full reins to pick out a hornbeam to carve–so I did!

I have very little carving experience, but I did participate in one Will Baddeley workshop discussed here.

The tree I selected had a decent base with twin trunks–both of which significant dieback.



I neglected to take good before shots but there wasn’t too much to show. The bark was carefully stripped to separate the dead and live regions. The two trunks were crossing significantly so Jeff and I decided to cut the left one off. With minimal movement and little top growth on a mostly dead trunk the decision was easy.

I proceeded to shade the regions I wanted to carve out. When using high powered die grinders and dremels its easy to take out a chunk of tree you’ll never get back. Better to take it slow then to hog down big chunks of wood right off the bat.



After assessing the deadwood I began carving. First with the lower chopped trunk then with the top. A dremel was used both to establish a hollow and to add detail work. A die grinder was used on the top to remove excess wood.

The final height of the right trunk will actually be much lower (up to the sharpie) but I opted not to chop it back. Currently the narrow strip of cambium is solely supported by some top growth. Chopping lower risks dieback to the extent where deadwood will comprise more than half of the trunk. While deadwood has its place among deciduous trees it can easily become overpowering.

The trunk will be left alone with the intent of approaching grafting one of the suckers mid height onto the trunk. Until growth is established either through backbudding or grafting cutting back poses to great a risk.






The bottom carving turned out very well. The top, not as much. It was challenging creating a wide channel through the curved trunk. The same techniques I used to create detail work on the smaller lower trunk resulted in a contrived appearance on the top. The second mistake I made was not offsetting channels in the top enough. This meant you could see through the trunk at some angles. Fortunately this was not the case for the potential fronts.


Flaw in top work seen here


I may try to clean up the top more in the future and put more depth in the “flatter” areas. For now we’ll see how the grows next season as its not particularly strong at the moment. Working on this tree was good practice and I’m certain my next carving project will be even better.

Big thanks to Jeff for letting me potentially butcher a tree. I just hope that my work increased the value of the tree instead of depreciating it.  😅

On a side note I’ll be heading up to the Midwest Bonsai Show possibly all 3 days! I offered Jeff to help table and prep for the show so I’ll be hitching a ride with him up to the botanical gardens. I’m trying to reach out to the bonsai community more and hope to meet many people there. I plan to document the show on my blog so stay tuned.

For your viewing pleasure here are some photos of a sunrise I recently photographed:






In Chicago! Bontsai in the Midwest

From the Southern California suburbs I found myself in the Midwest. Farms and all, but still within close proximity to the city and the outdoors. I’ve began an internship at Argonne National Lab, a great opportunity not only for my professional career but for me to network and meet new people.


I aspire to pursue bonsai professionally and I think a big component of that is getting to know the community. For my brief time here I hope I am able to meet as many Midwest enthusiasts as I can! I will try to attend both the Prairie State Show and the Midwest Show in August. I’m always up for a bike ride or a trip to the Hidden Gardens too.

On Monday I was able to meet the crew at the Hidden Gardens.


It was good talking to Jeff as well as meeting Kevin and Jennifer. Their nursery, in contrast to what we have in SoCal, has a TON of yamadori. Old rocky mountain junipers, ponderosas, and spruce occupied most of the benches. This season they also brought in a bunch of deciduous trees with massive hornbeams.


There were many impressive trees with tons of character. Here is a fir with a massive base:


RMJ with an twisting shari and live vein:


One of Jennifer’s trees? Some kind of spruce but the gnarly deadwood and trunk line made it one of my favorites:



I should of taken a picture of the entire tree but here’s a massive RMJ with a really nice trunk:


The high quality character and abundant foliage came with a price. Although not photographed that massive trunk is supported by two skinny strips of live vein. Imagine a body builder who never did squats. The challenge is to relocate the root mass closer to the trunk line so that the tree can be repotted in a more stable and aesthetic position.

I was talking to Jeff about an old Kimura video where he removes the dead wood, splits the live vein connecting to the root mass, and does some crazy bending to relocate it to a more desirable position. I thought that would be the best and possibly only option for this tree and Jeff was thinking the same thing.

The current root mass would need to be placed somewhere between the milk carton and the nursery can. Perhaps next year he’ll undertake the daunting task himself or enlist the help of some pros. Kimura himself would be the best 😀 .

I snapped a picture of Todd Schlafer working on an RMJ too.


All in all I enjoyed my time at the Hidden Gardens and the hospitality of the whole crew there. Given that I live only a few miles away I definitely plan visit again!

I’d love to buy an RMJ to send back home to SoCal (apparently they grow fine there) but shipping plants into California is a bit of a problem 😦 .

Well that’s it for now folks. If anyone is in the area feel free to message me. I’m open to meeting most any bonsai enthusiasts.

A few shots of the local trails and the secret real glen waterfall. Location courtesy of bnutter “CasAH.”





The Great Outdoors: Mt. Wilson

“This trail has been created for you – the city dweller – so that you might exchange, for a short time, the hectic scene of your urban life for the rugged beauty and freedom of adventure into the solitary wonderland of nature.”

– United States Forest Service

Its been long due for a post. If you’ll entertain me, I’ve decided to do something a bit different.

7 AM. Start. Class, research, study, socializing, networking, career, career planning, relationships, improve mandarin, learn Japanese, learn Spanish, work out (gym? cycle? climb?), aspirations, mindless streaming, mindless gaming, more study, eat. Stop. Despite achieving some, I am successful in none. Even if only temporary I sought an escape–an interlude from the chaos imposed by day to day life.

Memorial day weekend arrived and with more time on my hands I decided to set out on a hike. Although I’ve been afforded many hiking opportunities in the past, it had been at least 3-4 years since I went on something more substantial. For the route in question, perhaps 5 years since my last attempt. Of since I’ve gained a much greater appreciation of the outdoors. All things considered, I was eager to set out.

I would be hiking Mt. Wilson starting from the Gabrielino Trail and looping back on Mt. Wilson Trail. The route is approximately 15 miles round trip with 4,000 ft of elevation gain.

mt wilson map

I began my day at 5:00 AM, an unholy hour. While the sane, should they have the choice, was sleeping in I packed my gear and set out early to secure parking.

But hey, the cat’s awake though!

I was heading to the Chantry Flats station. Despite getting there at 6:25 AM, 25 minutes after they open the gate, the parking lot was already completely filled. I was fortunate to find parking further down the road. Had I been enthusiastic enough I could of biked up there and locked it to the provided racks, bypassing the need for parking. I wasn’t too keen on stacking a difficult bike ride and hike together. Perhaps next time.


I followed the Gabrielino Trail, a popular well traversed segment likely due to its creek-side pathing. Water running through the Santa Anita Wash created a lush understory and a diverse canopy of both deciduous and evergreen trees. White alders dominated the landscape with oaks mixed in.




I also got a look at the nearby Sturtevant Falls. Even at 7 am there were still a fair amount of people at the falls. Speaks for its popularity.


As the trail branched away from the creek the canopy transformed into groves of live oaks, one of my favorite species for bonsai cultivation and in its natural form. One oak in particular stood above the rest. The enormous trunk and boulder its’ roots grasped was a testament to it’s age–undoubtedly a centennial at minimum. It’s difficult to get a sense of scale but the boulder is at least 5-6 feet tall.


Here are some shots for the remainder of the Gabrielino Trail.


20170527_075851 (1)

The Gabrielino trail led into Sturtevent Trail which would be taken to the summit. The gradual incline became steeper and steeper and white firs and big cone spruce would begin to take hold.




The dense canopies restricted your field of vision but the latter half of this segment afforded expansive vistas.





Soon after I reached the top. Instead of pristine alpine summit you’re met with paved roads and astronomical equipment. As a consolation prize you get to eat at a cafe.




Of course, the trip wouldn’t count if I didn’t photograph the USGS marker.


The views back down were nothing special but I did see many spectacular manzanitas–characterized by the striking contrast between their red bark and bleached deadwood. Highly sought after as bonsai, but are extremely difficult to collect and keep.


All in all it was an enjoyable trip and I plan to do more in the future. I hope you’ve enjoyed my post and its off topic nature. Thanks for taking a look!

Bonus panorama shot:


Carving workshop with Will Baddeley

Easter Sunday wasn’t spent in pious gatherings or church festivities but rather in the deafening whirling of 8-9 simultaneously running dremels. I came unprepared for the onset of woody carnage. Flying bits of wood, flying bits, and flying die grinders. Good thing I was wearing eye protection. This action was found in non other than a Will Baddeley workshop–a bonsai professional from the UK with a focus on carving. There were 9 participants with a wide arrange of material including olives, bald cypress, buttonwood, boxwood, and others.


I neglected to take pictures of everyone’s’ trees but got a few good shots. For starters here are my own trees:

Large nandina bamboo with corky bark
Foliage tied down to clear space for carving

I dug out this nandina several months back. Considering how much foliage it has put out and that it was relatively secure in the pot (meaning new roots) I was confident that the tree could handle the stress of carving. I would be carving down all the middle trunks that failed to backbud post initial collection as well as a stub in the front where I had removed a low sub trunk. Will’s workshops are very hands on–meaning you do most of the work and he provides the direction.


I really should of taken my time here and was fortunate I didn’t compromise the design. I went all out and grabbed a makita die grinder with a large 3/4s or 1 inch ball carbide and grinded away. All those mid sub trunks were obliterated but I quickly realized that I needed to leave some wood to do finer detail work on.


I used this triangular bit to add in some channels and prepared the next region for carving by stripping the bark. The stub would become an uro with a lip and the outer region would be recessed more. A lot of Will’s advice emphasized depth. Meaning that instead of carving clear cut holes you should do them at angles to create shadows or pockets. Doing so created more realistic deadwood as opposed to a contrived flat image.


Best shot I could get at the time but you can see it taking shape.


Rough work in the back. Edges need to be worked and detail put in.


Hollowing some small sub trunks on another side. A nice detail I added here myself is a spiraling piece of wood. Its in the upper middle part of the shot and was carved out from one of the larger sub trunks.

Some finished shots. The carving could be refined and use some detail work but for the most part its done. I will allow the tree to grow unrestricted the entire year with lots of fert. Next spring I will cut back the outer sub trunks more and select primary branching.

Final shot
Image is a bit flat but the carving here was the best on the entire tree in my opinion. The lip has lots of detail and character
I realize that I didn’t clean up the bottom of the channels with the obvious drill bit holes. At the time the entire tree was covered in sawdust and details like that went unnoticed

Tree dos:

This is jujube I’ve actually had for quite a long time. It started out as a tree in my parent’s yard. They were going to throw it out so I took it and bonsai’d it. Meaning chopping off 90% of the tree. Although covered this tree has REALLY good nebari with nice thick spreading surface roots. I didn’t really do anything with it and just let it grow the past few years. Last year it sulked a bit from over-watering but overall seemed out. There was some dieback from the initial cutback and decided that I might as well bring it to the workshop since I had no other plans.

Removing bark and prepping for carving
Top hollowed
Hard to see detail here but under Will’s advice I created lips on the outside and angled cuts to create depth
Top prepped for detail work. Did not take a close shot of top after detail but its dark. I’ll stick it in later
Final shot. Burned the wood a bit to add depth.

Plan is to feed heavily and allow for strong growth. I will use basic wiring and clip and grow to develop this tree. I plan to make the foliage weeping seeing how mature trees have overhanging foliage. If they live I’ll post updates in the summer. Should prove to be interesting projects for me to mess around with.

Anyhow enough of my trees and onto shots of the workshop and trees other people brought:

Settling in the morning
Safety talk
Assessment of trees
Work on a large olive. Neglected to photograph the tree but a lot of wood removed on this one
Jamie’s bald cypress
Hank’s olive
Nelson’s buttonwood. Gnarly deadwood on this one
Getting all up in there
Detail work
Bob’s boxwood
Nelson’s buttonwood enjoying a wash and reprieve from carving

A group picture I stole. Hank took the shot. Missing Jamie and Jack if I  have that right?


Well that’s it folks. If I find any good shots I’ll add them in. All in all I had a good time. It was nice talking to Nelson, Jamie, as well as meeting many new people. Was able to have a hand at my first serious carving attempt even if it wasn’t very good. Hope you enjoyed the read! These posts take quite some time to make so if you liked it a subscription is cool too.

Large Coast Live Oak and Labor Extortion at Kimura Nursery

I was recently offered a spot in a Will Baddeley workshop. Bob informed me that some space was open and in lieu of the workshop fee I could also trade in work. I didn’t have $200, but with the onset of spring break I did have time. With a few trees that could use carving as well as an opportunity to meet more members of the bonsai community I gladly accepted. I spent the last few days working at his nursery doing anything asked of me. If I could sum up the 15 or so hours of work in one word–deweeding.



In seriousness it was good to spend some time outside and I enjoyed talking to Audrey and Bob. I will be attending the Sunday April 16th workshop and look forward to meeting those there.

Great weather on the days I came


Updated picture, see rest of post for progression!


Anyhow on to the tree. Winter of 2015 I picked up a large coast live oak from Barry Altshule. I visited his home and was able to get first pick before he brought the trees to that year’s GSBF Convention. It had good character, gnarly deadwood, and decent taper. All in all it looked like an interesting tree and I picked it up.


As seen in the picture, the whole front of the tree died off at some point. The heath of the tree as purchased wasn’t the best either and lacked a lot of foliage. .This was caused by borers of which were still in the tree! In the successive growing season I had to treat the tree with a systemic as well as physically removing the borers and treating the points of entry. After a year and a half of strong growth I can confidently say that the borers are gone and the tree is healthy.


Tons of character on the wood. These trees were collected and the slow growth with subsequent weathering produced gorgeous deadwood.


There was also significant dieback at the top of the tree as seen by the “L” shaped line. Despite the tree’s character and nice deadwood there were many design challenges. For one the tree lacked good primary branching not to mention the awkward transition to the apex as well as random bulges on the back. The tree was fed well to prepare for the major repotting.

Oaks being a semi-evergreen tree hold their leaves year round. This makes repotting difficult and many have reported losing their trees post repot. I was advised to defoliate the tree prior to repotting as to avoid transpiration loss and presumably a weak or dead tree.

oak repot20160213_110139_zpsvcvgdolo

The tree responded well and leafed out 1-2 weeks later. The top chop would be carved and and some preliminary wiring was done. In retrospect I should have cut back the front branch at this time to get better budding closer to the tree. But given that it was weak and had borers I feared the front of the tree dying and losing the bridge of live tissue between the top cut and the main deadwood.

Anyhow here is the tree several months later having pruned unnecessary branching as well as wiring some primary branching in place. As far as cut-backs for oaks the best time is mid-late winter right before the buds start swelling, and right after peak summer temperatures when (at least for coast live oaks) begin a second strong flush.

Spring 2016

I missed the window to do cut backs on the larger primary branches due to my concerns of dieback. Due to my impatience I cut back the front branch with poor timing. It did throw out one tiny bud, but it was burned up in the heat. Fortunately I was able to get some side primary branching going.

Here is a shot of the branch structure developed at this time:

oak structurea
Late spring 2016

With several months of strong growth primary branches thickened substantially.

oak structure
Summer 2016

From my brief experience, coast live oaks develop SUPER fast in Socal. All the branching in this photo was developed from scratch.

At this point development was done for the year and I fed the tree aggressively to prepare for the big cut-backs to be done

I cut the tree back some time in late January. Just before the tree starts sending up sugars so food would not be allocated to branches that would be thrown away.


A few weeks later

oak treesa

Fast forward nearly 2 months later it it became a head of green.


Yes leaves and outer nodes are monstrous, but the node length for the first few pairs are short and usable. I tried out these dried hard balls of composted chicken poo and turns out they had much more nitrogen than I anticipated. Thankfully it was slow release so my initial growth didn’t come out with poor internodal length.

Unfortunately I did not get buds directly on the big branches I cut back. I did however get plenty of buds near it and opted to approach graft branching in place. My top side branch was removed entirely and will allow an adjacent shoot to fill in the space.


It’s a bit chaotic but I will be allowing the new growth to grow unrestricted until late summer when I do the cut backs. This will help me thicken my primary branches and give strong back budding when I do the cuts.

On the tree I did a total of 3 approach grafts. One in the front and 2 in the back. Unfortunately the front stub is dead but the cambium behind it bridging the gap between the top chop and front deadwood is alive and strong. Meaning graftable.


Cut is probably too deep


Few dormant buds on my branch that should wake up after cut backs

Not the cleanest grafts but I have confidence in them. As long the cambium underneath is alive and strong the branch should eventually fuse as it thickens up. Least I’m counting on it.

Here is the finished tree post spring styling. Extensions will be cut back and after a year the basic form of the tree will be set! Hard to believe it has developed this much in under 2 years. It’s hard to see the form with all the leaves but I will post an update when I do my cut back later this year.

Syringe is for the tree, not me

A quick before and after showcasing the current progress:

Thanks for taking a look and I hope you’ve the read. Feel to leave me any comments. Have a great day! 🙂


Here is a more updated picture of the tree from April:

It is healthy and developing well.


Fall 2017: