The First 25 Years of the Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt

On November 6, 2024, the Golden State Bonsai Federation’s Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt, in Oakland, California, will be celebrating its first 25 years. It was as early as 1974, when the concept for the bonsai garden came about during a conversation between Toicho Domoto and Bill Hashimoto, two notable Japanese American bonsai pioneers. They were interested in preserving bonsai produced in northern California. They understood bonsai required a permanent place to continue to thrive. They asked themselves what will happen when we can no longer care for and maintain our bonsai trees? The answer to their question was and is the Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt.

On April 5, 1997, an official groundbreaking ceremony was held at the site located within the Gardens at Lake Merritt. Construction took more than two years. Support for the bonsai and suiseki display garden came from individuals and bonsai clubs throughout the State of California. Hundreds of volunteers and donors were responsible for making the concept into a reality.

BGLM opened its gates to the public on November 6, 1999, by hosting a grand opening celebration of bonsai and suiseki, held on site at the Gardens of Lake Merritt and Lakeside Park Garden Center. Dennis Makishima was master of ceremonies for the grand opening, including then Mayor Jerry Brown, John Naka who talked at length, Harry Hirao, Yasuo Mitsuya of Japan, recreation and parks Officials, and many more. In addition to the ribbon cutting, there was a lively celebration inside the Lakeside Park Garden Center; well attended, Japanese Taiko drum music, donated sake keg, etc.

Since the gates were opened to the public, the collection has dramatically grown in size. The most significant historic and legacy trees include the historic Daimyo Oak (Tree #115) brought to the U.S. during President Abraham Lincoln’s administration in the 1860’s, the 500 year old Japanese Black Pine (Tree #262) donated by Mas Imazumi, and featured at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, and legacy trees by famous bonsai pioneer artists; Harry Hirao, Jimmy Inadomi and John Naka just to name a few.

A group of dedicated volunteers is working to publish a book which captures the history of the garden thus far.

The book, which working title is “The First 25 Years of the Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt”, will present the very best bonsai trees in the collection and to celebrate the many donors, supporters and volunteers who have contributed to the evolution of what is now a museum quality bonsai and suiseki garden.

Pre-sales for the book will start in mid-April, with a publication date scheduled for November 2024.

Post-37th REBS Bonsai Show

Over 1,100 visitors were counted as attending the 37th REBS Bonsai Show over the weekend of August 26 and 27, 2023, at the Rohnert Park Community Center, Rohnert Park, California. Ryan Neil performed two morning workshops, daily demonstrations and a post-show critique of the exhibit trees. Ryan’s performance was superb! His demonstrations on yamadori Mendocino pygmy cypress and shore pine were both informative and entertaining to full crowds.

REBS will be pressed to outdo the bonsai show in 2024!

The exhibit trees were photographed by David Campbell and George Haas early Saturday morning using what light was available in the exhibit hall. All exhibit tree photos have been posted to the REBS website under the menu title GALLERY 2023 REBS Bonsai Show for your viewing.

San Jose Juniper exhibited by Bob Shimon

Kathy Shaner, Sensei

On August 20, 2022, Redwood Empire Bonsai Society (REBS) members said thank you and farewell best wishes to Kathy Shaner, our beloved club Sensei of more than 20 years. Kathy is in the process of moving to a home waiting for her in Alabama.

Kathy is internationally known as a Master Bonsai professional, who apprenticed under the contemporary Bonsai Master Yasuo Mitsuya in Japan and became the first non-Japanese citizen and the first woman to be certified as a professional Bonsai artist and instructor by the Nippon Bonsai Association of Japan. She has been a devoted Bonsai practitioner for over 30 years.

She is leaving behind an era of Bonsai teaching and community service. She was the club’s Sensei to REBS members and the driving force in making the club well known for its August Annual Bonsai Show. Once an exhibition of more than 200 bonsai displays and the largest club show in the US for many years. Kathy with the help of REBS members ensured we had quality Bonsai displays. There were large, medium and small Shohin Bonsai trees all artfully displayed. For years the August Annual Show at the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building was the single Bonsai event, and Bonsai enthusiasts from around the country came to take part in the activities; see large Bonsai displays, shop in the major vendor area and member sales, see Kathy’s demonstrations with demo tree raffles, bid on silent auctions, and enjoy Bonsai Café refreshments.

Kathy performed expert demonstrations and taught REBS members advanced techniques six to seven times a year. She also served as the curator for the Golden State Bonsai Federation Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt in Oakland, California. She trained associate curator volunteers who care for and maintain the collection trees. In addition, Kathy performed demonstrations and advanced workshops for other clubs  and individuals located in the greater San Francisco, South, East, and North Bay Areas. She has travelled throughout the US providing Bonsai instruction to individuals and clubs. Kathy often performed as a headliner to regional conventions and seminars.

Kathy is kind and generous in welcoming new students of Bonsai. She teaches all levels of Bonsai – beginning, intermediate and advanced. It is well acknowledged that the best way to learn Bonsai is to join a local Bonsai club. In 2004, a dear friend introduced me to Bonsai to take up as a hobby in retirement. I visited REBS in September of that year and observed Kathy perform a demonstration. I was so impressed with her passion and confidence in teaching Bonsai skills, I decided to join REBS that evening. She has been my top-tier instructor ever since.

And, so REBS members thought it was most appropriate to take part in a “thank you” dinner and wish her well, hoping she will find the time to return to Northern California, her second home, for a visit.

George Haas

2020 REBS (Virtual) Show

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions on in person gatherings, the REBS annual August 2020 Show was cancelled. The following back yard images are member bonsai. These bonsai are representative of the trees that would have been shown in the annual show.

Tiger Bark Ficus
Ficus microcarpa 
In training: 15 years
Olea europaea
In training: 5 years
Korean Hornbeam
Carpinus coreana
In training: 25 years
Ginkgo biloba 
10 years in training
10 years in training
California pepper
Schinus molle
60 years in training
Corkbark Elm
Ulmus parvifolia ‘Cork Bark’
20 years in training
5 years in training
Garden Juniper
Juniperus procumbens nana
20 years in training
Japanese Maple
Acer palmatum
20 years in training
5 years in training
Coastal Redwood Grove
Sequoia sempervirens
20 Years in training

Trident maple
Acer buergerianum
12 years in training
Crab Apple
Kusamono Accent Plant

Trident Maple
Acer buergeranum
22 years in training
Dwarf Pomegranate
Punica granatum nana
5 years in training
Coastal Redwood
Sequoia sempervirens
25 years in training
Contorted Hawthorn
Crataegus monogyna ‘Snakethorn’
4 years in training
Fern Accent Plant
Chinese Elm
Ulmus chinensis parvifolia
9 years in training
San Jose Juniper
Juniperus chinensis ‘San Jose’
25 years in training
Pygmy Cypress
Cupressus pygmaea
10 years in training
Cork Bark Oak
Quercus suber
In training for 36 years
San Jose Juniper
Juniperus chinensis ‘San Jose’
In training 27 years
In training 32 years
Utah Juniper
Juniperus osteosperma
In training 36 years
Japanese Maple
Acer palmatum
In training 47 years
Sierra Juniper
Juniperus occidentalis
In training 31 years
Grass Accent Plant
Japanese Black Pine
Pinus thunbergiana
40 years
Japanese Maple Kiyo Hime
Acer palmatum ‘Kiyo Hime’
40 years
Olea europaea
8 years in training
California Coast Live Oak
Quercus agrifolia
Burning Bush
10 years in training
Japanese Maple Laceleaf
Acer palmatum var. dissectum
12 years in training

A special thank you to the REBS members who contributed their bonsai images above.

Craig Thompson
Michael Murtaugh
Bob Shimon
Gene Lynch
Garth Gordon Hoka
Nancy Schramm
Ivan Luckrich
Alan Murakami
George Haas

Next year’s annual show hopefully will be the fourth weekend, 28 & 29 August 2021 at the Veteran’s Memorial Building, Santa Rosa, California.