An Evening with Sensei Kathy Shaner – Redwood Demonstration

On November 28, 2017, the Redwood Empire Bonsai Society (REBS) was treated to a wonderful and informative demonstration by our club’s sensei, Kathy Shaner, who worked on a collected California Coastal Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens). The redwood was collected and containerized about three years ago by Zack and Bob Shimon of Mendocino Coast Bonsai, Point Arena, California.

Almost all the members present for the demonstration have at least one redwood in their personal bonsai collections. The California Coastal Redwood is also the club’s logo bonsai and an inspiration to all.

Kathy began her demonstration with “finding the treasure within the tree.” Of course, this search begins with close examination of the nebari or surface roots at the base of the tree. Then, a look at the base trunk and all of the deadwood features this demonstration redwood tree had to offer. The entire trunk of the tree was hollowed out with open spaces to peer through the deadwood. Next, what is the flow of direction the tree has to show the viewer? Kathy said she likes to follow these features in styling the bonsai. Some bonsai artists use drawings and sketches to style their trees and oftentimes force their ideas on to the tree. She felt it was better for her to follow the natural beauty and growth features offered by the tree, instead.

A redwood bonsai requires a lot of attention in order to keep the tree compact with needles about one quarter of an inch in length as most desirable. Kathy pointed out that the demonstration tree was purchased in August 2017, and that it showed healthy growth in the needles. She said in order to obtain the quality of fine, short needles one has to stay on top of pinching the smallest new growth throughout its growing season. New growth starts in the spring and lasts through the fall. Pinch with your finger nails or a tweezers early to avoid the lengthy needles.

Kathy removed some of the largest branches on the demonstration redwood. About one half inch to one inch of the branch remained on the trunk. She described the lower leaves at the base lie flat for gathering maximum sunlight. The leaves at the tops of redwoods are spiral for maximum sunlight. These top leaves also catch the moisture from fog. She left the bottom branches with some length and wired them to create movement. This movement is more on the inside than on the outer tips. At the top, Kathy wanted to wire the leaves upward, a more natural appearance.

Kathy discussed cleaning the darkened softwood at various locations, using a variety of wire and soft fiber brushes. The darkened softwood would rot if left on the tree. In addition, the brushing and removal of the darkened softwood will expose the beautiful redwood grain.

She noticed a portion of deadwood showing saw marks and so by using the proper cutters or pliers the saw marks were removed leaving a more natural looking jin.

When wiring the smaller branches, Kathy wired between the needles. Otherwise, the branches would be left curled together and making a home for pests. Kathy explained that removing too much foliage from the redwood at one time would stress it too much and risk its healthy growth. She left some branches long to grow out and help strengthen a thin life line on one section of the tree.

Kathy talked about repotting in the spring. Otherwise, one could wait until a year later to place the redwood into a bonsai pot. Note that Bob Shimon said the redwood has been in the same nursery container for the past three years and that it should be placed into a larger container to allow the roots space to grow.

Kurt Kieckhefer won the redwood demonstration in a raffle.

David Nguy – California Juniper Demonstration

On October 26, 2017, Master Artist and Instructor David Nguy and his students of bonsai demonstrated styling a California Juniper for the Golden State Bonsai Federation (GSBF) 40th Convention, in Riverside, California. David and his wife June were guest artists at the Redwood Empire Bonsai Society (REBS) meeting and demonstration in October 2016. Here are photos of the convention’s California Juniper demonstration.

 

Eric Schrader – Raft Style Bonsai

On October 24, 2017, the Redwood Empire Bonsai Society (REBS) held their monthly meeting and demonstration, featuring Eric Schrader as guest bonsai artist. Eric Schrader is past president of the Bonsai Society of San Francisco (BSSF), San Francisco, California. He is a bonsai grower, artist, instructor, and lecturer.

One of Eric’s favorite topics involving bonsai is the creation of bonsai, whether from seeds, air layering, cuttings, or collected from wild and urban environments. Pros and cons of creating bonsai – pros include starting is fairly simple, variety of species available, relative costs are low over time, control of the environment for growing, and creativity. Whereas, cons include time period is lengthy, crop failure, size, and cost over time.

Eric discussed the various styles – formal upright, informal upright, slant, cascades, grove or clump, root over rock, exposed roots, and raft. All of these styles can be obtained through collecting, nursery stock or growing them yourself. Eric said among his favorite styles of bonsai are the exposed roots and raft.

He spent some time on discussing the differences of development versus refinement in bonsai. Eric described the techniques of both development and refinement. Using the Japanese black pine as an example of refinement, he described cutting and wiring needle branches to gain the desired style of bonsai. He used a juniper raft to describe development of a bonsai by growing it in a somewhat large flat wooden box. Using a juniper young whip plant, one side of the whip has its branches removed. It is then potted in bonsai soil mix having the remaining branches point upward. The root ball at one end and the length of the whip planted with bends from side to side and up and down. Eventually, rooting takes place on the underside of the whip.

Eric shifted from the juniper to an elm raft he started a number of years earlier. He pointed out the curves in the laying out of the original elm branch. From the original elm branch he allowed an uneven number of branches to grow upward. These upward branches appeared as individual plants. Eric used wire to instill movement in the individual branches. He described having the largest branch in the middle and suggested ways of training and cutting the branches to have the middle branch appear as the largest and oldest tree with the smaller branches (trees) surrounding and off to the side. It does not look natural to have all the branches lined up in a straight line. That is the reason for putting curves and bends in the initial layout of the single whip. Eric placed some wire on the upright branches to give them movement and to control their direction of growth around the centered branch. He did little or no cutting at this time. Eric said he would like to see more growth and girth to the individual branches.

Eric Schrader illustrating the design and layout of a raft style bonsai
Elm raft style demonstration bonsai
Example juniper raft style bonsai
Placement of wire to instill movement and direction of growth
Bob Shimon and Eric Schrader conduct a raffle for the elm raft style demonstration bonsai

There was a raffle held upon completion of the demonstration. Peter Naughton won the elm raft demonstration bonsai.

 

Rock Plantings by Master Masahiko Kimura

As a follow-on to Randall Lee’s great demonstration for creating a Juniper rock planting on September 26, 2017, I wanted to show some photographs of rock plantings by Master Bonsai Artist Masahiko Kimura of Japan. During the 8th World Bonsai Convention, April 27-30, 2017, at Saitama City, Japan, Kimura performed the first of many demonstrations by Master Bonsai Artists. He chose to demonstrate how he creates a Juniper (Juniperus chinensis ‘Shimpaku’) rock planting. Kimura builds a rock formation using Feather Rock (the landscape boulder is a porous, pumice boulder, sharp and coarse, which is much lighter than most stone). He carves out pockets at various locations and heights where he intends to plant trees. The rock formations are usually formed in a stable, upright position. After carving the rock, Kimura pours a liquid motar cement over the entire rock formation which seals it and makes handling the feather rock easier. The motar cement is colored grey to charcoal. After the motar cement is set, the planting of trees can begin. Muck (Sphagnum moss and clay soil mixture) is used to hold and grow the plant roots. Low carpets or mounds of green Moss are finally pinned in against the muck to hold it in place. Sprays of water are used to keep the plants and muck moist during application and after care.

Photo by George Haas
Master Masahito Kimura’s Shimpaku Juniper demonstration rock planting, 8th World Bonsai Convention, Saitama City, Japan (April 2017)

Other rock plantings by Kimura were photographed at his home and bonsai nursery located near Omiya, Japan.

Randall Lee on Juniper Rock Planting

Front view of juniper rock planting

On September 26, 2017, Bonsai Artist and Instructor Randall Lee of Alameda, California, was the guest demonstrator for the Redwood Empire Bonsai Society (REBS) general meeting and demonstration. Randall chose to demonstrate on how to create a bonsai rock planting.

 

 

 

What I observed first were the preparations Randall undertook for his bonsai rock planting demonstration.

Materials required:
One interesting black lava rock with anchored tie down wires
Several small junipers (Juniperus chinensis procumbens nana)
A variety of companion plants
Plenty of muck (mixed clay and Sphagnum moss)
Sprayer containing water
Turn-table
Aluminum wire
Various bonsai tools
Gloves
Collected moss

Preparations for juniper rock planting

Randall said various kinds of rocks can be used for rock planting, and that you can usually find suitable rocks at bonsai club shows that offer vendors or at local rock landscape material businesses. For the demonstration, Randall chose a black lava rock that was stable enough to stand up vertically and contained a number pockets and crevices to hold the plants. He particularly liked the rock’s peak or top and the cliff like feature for the front. Prior to the demonstration, Randall anchored tie down wires at a number of locations on the front and back sides. To secure the tie down wires to the rock, he used DryLok Fast Plug, a fast setting hydraulic cement product.

Front view
Back view

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He was ready to layer the muck (a mixture of moist clay and Sphagnum moss). Randall said the Sphagnum moss comes in long strings which he cuts in shorter sections so that it mixes better with the clay soil. He layered the muck to cover the tie down wires and fill the crevices and pockets. Randall cautioned about leaving air pockets, and so he pressed the muck tightly against the rock. He often sprayed the muck with water to keep it moist during its application. Sufficient muck should be made beforehand so that you don’t run out of it in creating your rock planting.

Applying the first layer of muck to cover tie down wires, pockets and crevices
The first layer of muck covers those locations where plants will be placed on the rock

Randall completed the first layer of muck, covering the tie down wires and locations intended for plants. At this point, he placed one of several junipers on the back side near the top of the rock, exposing the branches in the front, like a cascading tree, and some foliage around the rock’s peak. He tried another juniper in the same location, this time there was less cascading of the branches. After getting the opinion of the audience, Randall decided with the latter juniper showing smaller portions of foliage in the front and back sides of the rock. Randall said he had trimmed some of the roots before the demonstration, but that the roots remained long and at different lengths. He checked the position of the juniper a couple of times to ensure it was as he intended it to be, and then he used the tie down wires to secure the juniper to the rock. He pressed tightly a second layer of muck around the roots. He pushed the muck into place to cover the roots and ensure there were no air pockets. Randall added a second juniper and a few companion plants in the same manner.

First, adding the cascading juniper
The smaller of two junipers was chosen and wired on to the rock
Additional juniper and companion plants were added

Randall explained that high mountain plants were placed towards the top of the rock, whereas lower mountain plants were located near the middle to low parts of the rock. Companion plants were added in the same manner.

Once the above was complete, Randall covered all the muck with moss he collected for the demonstration. In the vertical locations on the rock, he used wire staples made from aluminum wire to insert into the moss to hold the moss in place. After a good spraying of water over the moss and plants, Randall’s juniper rock planting was complete.

Finishing touches with soft wiring and light trimming of branches
All eyes on Randall as he creates the juniper rock planting

 

Front view
Back view

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A raffle was held and member Suzanne Waxman won the juniper rock planting.

“How am I going to carry this rock planting home?”
Suzanne and Randall pose with the juniper rock planting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For reference, rock plantings by Master Noboru Kaneko are covered in the book “Junipers, Bonsai Today Masters’ Series, Growing & Styling Juniper Bonsai” 2007 by Stone Lantern Publishing, pg. 137.