Beginner Study Group Member - Naalehu, Big Island of Hawaii

              Leonie is a part of a non-profit group that does projects to benefit her community.  She visited in September with an oval ceramic low wide container and requested a donation of plants for the auction after a community activity to raise funds.  This is one on many such groups that help make the Big Island a great place.  By coincidence the editor/video photographer from the local cable TV Program "LIVING IN PARADISE" was at Fuku-Bonsai and he filmed, edited, and ran a promotional segment that helped to promote Leonie's organization and event!

              She lucked out by being here at the right time.  Fuku-Bonsai has also lucked out as we've been blessed with the super support of KTA Super Stores,  the most prominent and dominant Big Island store chain with two stores in Hilo,  in Waimea, Waikoloa, Kailua-Kona, and Keauhou-Kona.  More information is in the November 2014 Mailbag in this issue telling of Fuku-Bonsai being featured on LIVING IN PARADISE and having the items at KTA on sale for the entire month of November.

              A few days after the event,  Leonie emailed me that she was the auction winner as she just kept bidding until she won it!  She arranged to visit again, joined the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and the Beginner Study Group and received four Introductory Workshop Packages and some complimentary items show in the lead photo.  Edison was not here so I coached her through her first workshop.  Leonie was enthusiastic but hadn't done any bonsai, so it was necessary to help her a lot.  I started a training segment, explained it, and turned it over to her to finish.  She took notes with the idea that she would make a report on this first workshop at Fuku-Bonsai,  take home and do #2 and #3 via email and photos, and that we would do #4 here with a rock that she collected.


By Leonie Caron (Naalehu, Big Island of Hawaii)  Beginning Study Group member

                It's hard to ignore a bonsai tree . . . although I suppose people do . . . but to me they exude such a powerful mana that's different than, say, orchids or roses or even prized plants in a horticultural exhibit.  To me they seem to have a certain energy that even when passing by them I feel such a sense of awe and a sense of a presence.  I remember the very first time I saw a bonsai.   It was about 1974 and I lived on Oahu and one night we had dinner at the Pearl City Tavern.  My friends told me about a bonsai collection that could be viewed there.  That was the very first time I saw a bonsai and I never forgot  that experience. That first time I saw those live trees and I remember feeling as if I was in a temple.


                 So that was then and now it's now.  One day a few months ago, I was driving around the island with some visiting guests and we stopped in at Fuku-Bonsai.  I was captivated on the spot.   I instantly recalled that day at Pearl City Tavern.  Since that day I've visited Fuku-Bonsai a number of times.  After long discussions with David I finally decided I wanted  to actually try to grow bonsai myself.  My sense was that growing and nurturing a dwarf schefflera tree was going to be a by-product of a much deeper discovery and experience.


                 So I signed up for the Beginner Study Group which includes a year's membership in the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and four Introductory Workshop Packages.  I sat down at a table with David upon which he had placed the various items we'd be using.  A small rectangular pot, two kinds of gravel, some wire, a small piece of plastic, a little rock, and a piece of wire shaped into a hooklike tool. David instructed me to pick out four small plants from an area of prepared bonsai stock of perhaps 30 other little plants. I had no idea what to look for. They all looked the same to me and at the same time they all looked different.  I chose four plants where something caught my interest even if just momentarily.  I brought my little plants to the table and David asked me to choose one of them for my first sumo project.  So I chose a tree that I thought would be a likely candidate and we proceeded.  I thought about writing notes or taking pictures, but I just watched closely and tried to remember as much as I could.  This was all a very new experience for me, and I wanted to stay focused.


                 We started by preparing the little pot by threading the wire from the bottom of the pot up through the drain holes, then we made a little hill of the coarse bottom rocks in the center upon which we placed a little piece of plastic that we formed into a "tent".  While holding that in place we surrounded the little tent-covered hill with the body media. We flattened and firmed all the potting material.  My pot was ready now, with wires sticking straight up in the air and the potting material filling the pot about 1/2 of the depth.


                 Now for the little tree.  David helped me to remove the tree from its plastic pot and with the wire tool he showed me how to scrape away the potting material along the top edge, being careful of the roots.  He made comments along the way about certain characteristics of that particular plant --- how the trunk formed, where pruning had taken place, how certain roots were more gnarled or more straight.  This particular bonsai project was to be a "sumo" style, so David  pointed out how the trunk of this plant would lend itself nicely to that style. 


                After removing most of the original potting material, David turned the plant upside down and did a most interesting thing. He snipped off the main root at the bottom of the tree. And he said almost to himself, "You only get one chance to do this".  I will need to ask David more about this, but it seemed to me to be a critical part of the whole operation.  Then he placed damp sphagnum moss around the roots careful to leave the attractive ground level lower roots visible and tied that into place with the paper covered wire. 



                NOTE BY DAVID.  I don't know how this happened that Leonie wrote that I place sphagnum moss around the roots as I don't.   Somehow this mental error has come back to haunt us as when Leonie did her second IWP Sumo,  she needed to redo it.  I just couldn't figure out what she was doing as there were other problems. The second redo was also wrong and another redo is necessary. I'm advising her to visit again and that we review and redo here where there's less chance of error.  Lucky she lives nearby and comes past Kurtistown twice a month or so enroute to Hilo to do shopping etc. 


               To now, we simply fitted the accent rock up and under the trunk, wrapped the larger roots over and down under the rock, and tied it with the bindwire.  Roots longer than 1" below the bottom of the rock are trimmed off and the plant with rock nestled down into the mound of body media and the material that came off the roots of the prepared bonsai stock. 


               What is different is that we are making up a equal part mixture of fine pumice (including dust) and coco-peat (fine coconut husk) that both go through a 1/8" screen.  This is then wetted until it holds together.  We put a little on the accent rock before the roots are tied down, and on and around the roots tied to the rock.  This is then nested into the media hill, wired in, and potting completed.  We are using this technique in our Premium Introductory Workshop Package as noted in other PIWP articles in this issue.  We also recommend an accordion fold foil collar around the accent rock as this produces superior root hairs and faster and better establishment.



                Next he snuggled the little rock beneath and in between the roots and  tied it into place with more of the paper covered wire. He placed this bundle in the center of the prepared pot, turning the tree just so. Explaining that the interesting part of the tree should be at a bit of an angle from the edge of the pot.  He then continued to anchor the tree with the tall wires sticking up out of the drain holes.  He put another 1/2 inch or so of more gravel over the top, spreading it evenly and tamping it down with the spoon.  He then took a 3" length  of 12" wide aluminum foil and folded over the wide edge to form a lip, and then folded the foil accordion style.  He placed this foil around the base of the tree and folded the top lip outwards a bit. 


                David showed me how to trim the excess leaves, explaining that the branch should have more than 6 leaves before cutting it, and that the new branch will form in the same direction as the last leaf on the branch.  Finally, we soaked the pot for 30 minutes and my new sumo style bonsai was ready to take home.   Lastly... We took some of he larger cuttings and trimmed those and wrapped damp sphagnum moss around the very bottoms and potted these for brand new baby trees!   - - - Leonie


              ADDITIONAL COMMENTS BY DAVID.  It's difficult to teach. It's usually more cost-effective to teach a group, rather than a single individual.  It's especially difficult to teach one-on-one on a tiny budget! But I'll continue to try.

                When teaching a class,  the instructor needs just one demonstration kit and the cost is spread out over the number of students.  But when teaching one-on-one, it is costly to do a private demonstration as it just doubles the cost for that single student.  So I tried to do the class by not demonstrating and coaching her with her kit and that may have been a mistake.  As we started each section, I explained and when she struggled, I tried to help as little as possible. But from her report,  she believed that I was doing all and she was just observing and somehow her mind did a mental switch of facts that I just caught.

                 I know she's trying hard and we'll get together again.  I hope she doesn't give up as the area where she lives has really nice rocks and I think she'll create beautiful rock plantings one day!  Hang in there Leonie!  Let's show everyone you can do it!  ~~~David


*** Return to the November issue of the Journal of Tropical and True Indoor Bonsai
*** Go to the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation website
*** Go to the Fuku-Bonsai website
                Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and Fuku-Bonsai, 2014