Demonstration by Mike Pistello – Shimpaku Juniper var. Kishu

On November 17, 2022, at the Rohnert Park Community Center, Rohnert Park, California, members of the Redwood Empire Bonsai Society (REBS) were treated to a bonsai demonstration performed by Mike Pistello, a longtime bonsai artist and instructor.

Mike worked on a mature Shimpaku juniper (Juniperus Chinensis ‘Kishu’), is a dwarf variety of the Chinese juniper. He described the demo tree as once styled as a shohin, less than eight inches in height. However, the tree has grown in size and no longer considered shohin.

Mike examined the tree by first looking at the nebari or base of the tree. The nebari are the surface roots as they spread out from the base of the trunk. He said the nebari was not that important on a juniper as they are with other species, such as pine or Japanese maple. Next, he evaluated the movement of the trunk and taper. The demo tree showed great movement in the trunk, but little of no taper. Shari was present along the trunk line. Mike said the tree has grown out of its shohin size into kiu sho size bonsai (roughly up to 16 inches). The foliage was full, bushy and a healthy green. Mike pointed out some of the branches were beginning to become leggy.

Upon examination, Mike identified and began to remove some of the leggy and larger branches. He would jin some of the larger branches. The process proceeded by identifying branches course to fine, so that no large branch appeared in the upper region of the tree that appeared out of proportion with the trunk. The work included removing dead foliage and branches and thinning some of the foliage. Mike used a bonsai scissors in thinning the foliage. He cautioned never shear the foliage and not to pinch it. Instead, he demonstrated cutting the runner back to healthy lateral foliage.

Once the tree were cleaned and thinned out, Mike began to wire some of the branches. He used copper wire for positioning the branches in downward movements and into pads.

Shaping the tree and creating an apex was the finishing work of the demo tree. Mike noted the front view of the bonsai tree by marking it with two bent pieces of copper wires. The front view should expose the trunk movement to the viewer, showing shari and the life line. The apex is pointing towards the viewer. The overall shape is asymmetrical having two sides or halves that are not the same.

Some juniper bonsai tips include:

  • Provide regular watering;
  • Feed sparingly while they’re small then increase as they mature;
  • Prune when needed;
  • Keep juniper bonsais in morning sunlight with afternoon shade.

Upon completion of the demo, the tree was raffled off with the winning ticket purchased by Diane Matzen. How lucky was she?

Mike Pistello displays a mature Shimpaku juniper var. Kishu for his demonstration
Mike examining the demo tree
Removing large unwanted branches
Creating jins on selected large branches

REBS members in attendance
Thinning unwanted foliage and cutting runners
Wiring branches
Creating pads with the wired branches
Working with the apex
Wiring the last of the upper regional branches
Demo complete
Diane Matzen takes home the demo Shimpaku juniper

Demonstration by Bob Shimon – Procumbens Juniper Nana

On October 27, 2022, at the Rohnert Park Community Center, Rohnert Park, California, Redwood Empire Bonsai Society (REBS) members were treated to a bonsai demonstration performed by former club president Bob Shimon, owner and operator of Mendocino Coast Bonsai, Point Arena, California

Juniperus procumbens ‘Nana’, commonly called Japanese garden juniper, is a dwarf plant, native to Japan. It grows by branches spreading parallel and above the ground. It is a great starter bonsai for anyone’s collection.

It tolerates hot and dry environments and poor soils. Intolerant of wet soil conditions. Used in gardens as a groundcover and can be pruned severely.

Procumbens Juniper Nana demo tree

The demo tree is approximately 25 to 30 years old in a nursery container. The tree shows great movement in the trunk. The trunk has little or no taper, which makes it suitable for Bujin (literati) styling. The foliage is heavy in the apex or upper region of the trunk.

Bob started out working on the demo tree by removing all dead branches and unhealthy and weak foliage. Next, he removed long and leggy branches. Branches too large for their respective locations on the trunk were removed or saved for jin (deadwood application).

He removed cross and bar branches and thinned out the foliage. This included straight down and up growth and unwanted crotches. He would prune coarse branches back to finer and actively growing branches

Bob later moved onto wiring primary and secondary branches. Senior member Ivan Lukrich joined in to assist with the wiring.

Evaluating the demo tree
Begin styling demo tree
Removing large unwanted branches
Wiring can be fun with Ivan Lukrich’s help
Removing foliage and branches at upper most region

Bujin or literati styled bonsai are abstract and considered an approach versus normal bonsai styling. Bob reduced the amount of foliage and branches at the upper region of the tree leaving a “less is more” sort of look. Junipers look great with jins and shari or deadwood features for the appearance of age, character and survival in harsh environmental conditions.

Bob recommended a round or nanban pot for the demo bonsai tree.

Demonstration by Randall Lee – Cyprian cedar

On August 25, 2022, at the Garden Room, Rohnert Park Community Center, Rohnert Park, CA, Randall Lee performed a bonsai demonstration for the members of the Redwood Empire Bonsai Society (REBS). Randall is a professional aesthetic pruner, long-time bonsai enthusiast, and avid bonsai experimenter. He started bonsai in 1984 by reading books and attending a few demonstrations. He is a member of East Bay Bonsai Club and the Merritt Aesthetic Pruners Association. His favorite species are Hinoki cypress and Cedar.

There are only four true cedars: Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica) aka Blue Atlas cedar, Cyprian cedar (Cedrus brevifolia), Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani), and Deodar cedar tree (Cedrus deodara). Others are false cedars.

Randall brought in for showing the Atlas cedar, Cyprian cedar and cedar of Lebanon. He demonstrated on a nursery stock Cyprian cedar (Cedrus brevifolia). The demo tree was tall and skinny. The trunk had little or no taper. It was healthy and full of green foliage. Based on the overall appearance, height, thin trunk, the tree was best suited for a Bunjin style bonsai.

Bunjin bonsai comes from the Japanese word “bunjin-gi”. The style is traced to Chinese culture. Bunjin is also referred to “literati” style.

John Naka in his book Bonsai Techniques stated the following: “The Bunjin style of bonsai is so free that it seems to violate all the principles of bonsai form. The indefinite style has no specific form and is difficult to describe, however its confirmation is simple, yet very expressive. No doubt its most obvious characteristics are those shapes formed by old age and extreme weather conditions.”

Bunjin may appear to have been collected from the wild or “yamadori”, but it is not.

Some guidelines for Bunjin, include: Tall with little or no trunk taper. Trunk movement is desired. Twists, turns, radical bends lend value. Nebari or surface roots are not important as in other bonsai styles. There are few branches. The first branch is at least two thirds up the trunk. Foliage on the branches should be sparse.

The appearance of Bunjin is that of a tree influenced by severe environmental conditions, such as a mountain cliff or storm damage.

The aesthetics of Bunjin or literati style is difficult to achieve.

Randall studied the demo tree before starting anything. He identified where branches were thick or large on the trunk. He would first remove those large branches near the top of the tree, leaving only the small branches. Branches that were too close to each other were removed. Negative space was critical to the aesthetic design. Randall cited that some branches were left alone for not wanting to stress the demo tree all at once. A branch can always be removed later. In creating a Bunjin style, the saying “less is more” comes into play.

The demo tree was wired using copper wire. Movement in the branches was achieved by use of the wire in a downward position for the most part.

Randall recommended post demo care to include shade for the tree to recover from the shock of pruning and wiring. Cedars like indirect sun. Water daily and do not let the tree dry out completely. Too much water will tend to turn the needles yellow.

Upon conclusion of the demonstration, the Cyprian cedar bonsai tree was raffled.

Demonstration by Jonas Dupuich – Arranging Bonsai Displays

Typical Japanese formal bonsai display for medium sized trees

On June 23, 2022, the Redwood Empire Bonsai Society (REBS) hosted guest bonsai artist/instructor Jonas Dupuich to perform a demonstration on how to effectively display bonsai elements. Jonas is the creator and author of Bonsai Tonight [], a world-famous blog on bonsai techniques. He is also the author of A Little Book of Bonsai, 2021, a great comprehensive guide to bonsai basics. Jonas was a member of the Bay Island Bonsai club for 20 years, where he gained experience in bonsai display. He has traveled to Japan and participated in and photographed many of the formal displays used in the Japanese bonsai exhibits and contests.

The sizes of bonsai are critical to displays. Here you find the approximate Japanese sizing of trees:

          Mame < six inches (15 cm)

          Shohin < eight inches (20 cm)

          Kifu < 16 inches (41 cm)

          Chuhin < 18 inches (46 cm)

          Ogata < 36 inches (91 cm)

The prestigious Japanese bonsai exhibitions, Kokufu-ten and Taikan-ten, provide display spaces at approximately six feet wide. Larger trees require more space, and the smaller trees require less. The display elements commonly used within the six feet of space, consists of the following:

          One large tree with an accent plant

          Two medium sized trees with accent plant

          Up to six small sized trees with accent plant

A scroll, figure or suiseki (viewing stone) can be used with medium sized displays in lieu of a second tree. Three elements are typically used with medium displays. However, two elements may be combined to serve as one. Example: one tree, one scroll and one slab containing the accent plant and figure.

The stand should raise the bonsai tree to a level where the viewer’s eye is focused about mid-section of the tree and the viewer is standing straight, not bent over. A round pot is best suited for a round or square stand. The pot is centered and within the lines or edge of the stand. Consideration should be given to the color of the stand. Dark stands work well with conifers, whereas lighter stands can be used with deciduous trees.

Arranging the display elements takes some thought about their placement. The main tree should be placed towards the back. Place the accent plant towards the front of the display space. For medium trees, place the second tree behind the accent plant but in front of the main tree. Mountain stones are often placed towards the back of the display space as they appear in the distance. Note: for photographing a display, align all elements to the front.

Efforts to convey the season or location are important. For example, scrolls with ocean scenes do not go well with high mountain bonsai trees.

The appearance of accent plants should be full and in season. Also, ensure that the accent plant is within scale with the tree.

Displaying your bonsai trees should be fun. Experiment with different display elements. Artistic displays can be used in lieu of the Japanese formal display above. However, learning the fundamentals of Japanese displays is foremost to understanding the viewer’s perspective of the art form.