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.

Demonstration by Boon Manakitivipart – Common Olive & Shimpaku Juniper

REBS was privileged to have internationally acclaimed bonsai artist Boon Manakitivipart present the program at our May 26, 2022 meeting. Boon gave us a bit of his personal bonsai history as an introduction, detailing his first frustrating efforts in the 1980’s to even get his trees to live, and his opportunities beginning in the early 1990’s to study in Japan and learn from masters there. Boon spoke of apprenticing in gardens that specialized in Japanese Black Pines and the wealth of high quality material there to study and work on. During his training he had the opportunity to work on several trees that subsequently won top prizes at the Kokufu show in Japan. He has carried this love and study of JBP and bonsai in general to his work in the US at his gardens outside Sacramento, California.

Boon worked on three trees during his presentation, the first an olive. He explained that olives with big leaves are referred to as Mission Olives or Common Olives. These will bear fruit, but those with small leaves do not. Olives are easy to collect locally in old orchards or neighbors’ yards, and if you have a good trunk of a common olive the smaller foliage of the small leaved variety can be grafted on from cuttings. In the wild olives have no shape to the foliage, they just look shaggy, but they can have wonderful chunky trunks which make dramatic bonsai when the branches are directed with wire. Branches are grown out for girth and pruned to the desired shape when the tree is full and healthy. On more mature trees pinching will help keep the tree in shape, but Boon warned not to take all the new growth off. When pinching and cutting back in the spring it is important to leave some growing tips so the branch won’t die. During spring cleanup old leaves and downward pointing leaves can be removed to better show good branching and ramification. Also be sure to remove the suckers on the trunk. In styling an olive Boon suggests leaving the top a little fuller. Overall, the ideal is a triangular shape with a slightly rounded top, and it is important to keep the tree looking balanced.

In his bonsai journey finding the right potting soil for his trees was a big challenge for Boon. Now we have easy access to Akadama clay from Japan and premixed soils with lava and pumice as well, but when Boon started those materials were not available in the US and the prevailing “wisdom” here was to include some organics in the soil mix, like orchid bark or peat moss. His trees were failing because the soil became too wet, compromising the health of the trees, so he read everything he could find about soil, including every issue of Bonsai Today from the very beginning of its publication. It took years of experimenting with many combinations before Boon found the blend he favors, which is Akadama/lava/pumice with about 5% decomposed granite. This last ingredient is similar to the sand the Japanese refer to in their mixes. Boon includes it based on his observations of the natural habitat of junipers and pines in the mountains where they grow well in granite.

The second tree Boon worked on was a small, healthy shimpaku juniper. He used this tree to illustrate the importance of balancing growth in a bonsai and keeping the tree developing new branches with proper pruning techniques. Boon was cutting the long shoots on this tree at this time pointing out how evenly distributed they were on the tree which indicates optimal, balanced growth. He was not going through the tree taking off all the green tips. Long ago this was what local teachers recommended, but it stunted the growth of trees because these growing tips are what is needed to keep the tree vibrant and healthy. You also don’t want to prune a juniper, or any tree, at the wrong time which can also slow the growth or result in branches dying off. Boon mentioned that many bonsai hobbyists work on their trees too much or take off too many of the important growing tips. The result is prickly juvenile growth which is usually not desired, and little or no branch development. If this has happened on our trees, he suggests letting them grow out for at least a year and starting again with the pruning when the mature growth has returned. Weaker branches should be allowed to grow without pruning.

Boon saved the raffle tree for last, an olive whose trunk is a  “nice chunk of lumber”. This is a collected common olive with the larger leaves, but Boon had grafted cuttings of a smaller leaf olive in strategic places on the branches. He talked about the 30-40 year old tree and how the trunk could be made to look older and given more character with some carving. He recommends hand tools which encourages a slow approach, stepping back and reviewing the work before moving on, resulting in a more natural look. The grafts had pieces of blue painters’ tape on them which acts as shade cloth for the graft and keeps them moist as they grow.  Boon suggested we all need to learn to let our trees grow, not overwork them and allow them to have a more natural aspect. The ultimate goal for this tree is to make it look like it came from the mountains.

Diane Matzen was the lucky winner of the raffle and picked up a few more growing tips at Boon’s workshop the next day. We want to thank Boon for an inspiring talk and sharing his expertise and wisdom with us.

Write up by Candace Key

Boon is a past apprentice of Kihachiro Kamia of Japan and Boon has many students as well as private clients throughout the country and the world. He has developed several now common bonsai practices including the 1:1:1 soil mix (Boon’s mix) and half bareroot repotting technique.

He first trimmed a developed olive by removing all of the six inch long spring growth back to one or two sets of leaves. This will encourage new growth and shorter internodes that will be refined later in the growing season.
Boon then explained how juniper should be grown strong enough to produce long extending tip growth. Only when the extending tip growth goes well beyond the silhouette should the tip be cut back to the silhouette. Clean all growth below each pad and never pinch tip growth on a juniper. You can cut the one extending long strong tip.
This is the olive stump before any work. A large stump with large leaf and small leaf growth. The large leaves are from the stump of the commercial (fruiting) olive. The small leaf growth has been grafted from a seed grown plant which does not produce fruit. Boon then removed much growth and placed several more grafts on.
This is the grafting technique Boon uses now. The graft is a two pair leaf cutting inside the plastic bag with wet sphagnum moss. The bag tied closed with a long copper wire and the graft stick end poking out of a corner of the bag. These can be prepared ahead of time. The graft stick is cut on both sides forming a “V” which is inserted into a slice of a short branch. The graft is tied to the branch tightly with stretchy plastic tape. The wire is used to secure the graft to the end of the short branch. If the bag dries out, you can put more water in using a syringe and needle to keep it moist. Painter’s tape can be put on top of the bag to act as shade cover until the graft begins to extend.
At the end of the evening the newly grafted stump was raffled off to Diane Matzen.
Diane Matzen and Boon Manakitivipart

Photographs and captions by Michael Murtaugh