Joshua has been growing bonsai for about 9 months and his collection includes two Chinese Banyans, a Portulacaria (Dwarf Jade) and a Surinam Cherry in his Brooklyn apartment.

JOSHUA ROWSON'S FAST-TRACK IWP'S!

               On September 3, I received this email: 

               Hello David, I live in Brooklyn and have been working with ficus for bonsai over the last 9 months, and have noticed a lack of bonsai clubs in my area. The only one I found is not an easy commute,  and they seem to stick to traditional outdoor bonsai. Unfortunately this does not work for me and a couple other thousand people in the Metro area. So after reading many things on your site I have become interested in the fast track program you offer. Is there any information other than what's on your site that you could give me? Thank you,  Joshua

               I replied with the requirements and the next day got an email,  an application for Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and to join the study group, and an order for three Introductory Workshop Packages and the photo above.  Here's a fellow heading for our "fast-track!"  It's easy to spot such fellows as they can move much faster than me!  They don't really bother to read through all the lengthy material provided --- they just jump right in!  They are confident and not afraid to make mistakes or to do redos. They're kinda like me! 

             So while I cringe at the challenge ahead as I struggle to teach how the basic principles of True Indoor Bonsai, I'm smiling a bit as self-starters have the ability to shake up staid organizations and force progress!  The problem is that True Indoor Bonsai is rapidly developing and I just don't have enough time.  So being over-whelmed with the avalanche of Joshua's workshop reports, they ended up in my huge "to-do-someday" pile.  Sometimes things get buried deep and never again surface.  But he was lucky that in spite of the crush of the past hectic 6-week period, I'm getting to them!  Sorry for the delay Joshua!

 

 
                  Those who join our study groups become members of the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation, purchase three Introductory Workshop Packages, and get a few complimentary items.  The "comps" keep changing depending upon what we are currently researching.  In the past few months,  the comp items included some bind wire, sphagnum moss, and a small not sculptured rock.  Only a few unsculptured rocks were sent and reports submitted by George McLean and John Boryczko were published in the Journal. Even with some past bonsai experience, both struggled even with repeated coaching.  So a decision was made not to send out any more.  Joshua received the last one and his report will explain why our decision went that way. 
 
                  But Pat Whitright and Mary Lou Hymen had no problems at all completing two levels of Root-Over-Rock Workshops when a pre-sculptured fully prepared rock was provided.  It didn't bother them that "I made it too easy!" So when we introduce the "Root-Over-Rock Workshop Package" next year,  it will be a separate order item that will include a pre-sculptured rock with other needed supplies.  Raw unsculptured rocks will only be available to the advanced fast-track study group members who work effectively with me.  This is the small group that are helping me to run trails on new concepts and products such as the Premium Prepared Bonsai Stock to be introduced next year. 
 
                 The above photo shows Joshua's three plants for his first IWP workshops that were to have been Sumo, Roots, then Root-Over-Rock so later workshops build upon lessons of the earlier one.  But either I didn't make it clear or Joshua didn't do his homework resulting in a non-traditional workshop sequence!

               SEPTEMBER 12, 2013:    Aloha David,  I received the trees last night.  I was beyond impressed with the packaging. Everything was secure and carefully placed in. I placed all the trees in a row, read the tags attached, and then studied the trees. The trees are in perfect shape, so good in fact that if I didn't open the box myself, I would have thought they were hand delivered. My initial thought on the tree tags was that they got mixed up, for example the Sumo tag was on the Root-Over-Rock tree. I studied them a bit more, recalling what I have read on Sumo and see the potential. (In other plants) I see the curve in the trunk and the overall fuller looking canopy fitting well and flowing with the rock you provided. I am still working on finding the best place to take pictures, and, when I finish my grow station I will send pictures of the setup, including information on the light setup I will be using.  Mahalo,  Joshua

              COMMENT BY DAVID: That's a nice start as I can see he is confident, has the ability to see differences in trees,  and while we may have had a difference of opinion of which tree could be used in each workshop, it's much more important that the owner-trainer calls the shots. Great, I thought!  How should I reply?  But before I could reply, I received his first report!  

 

               SEPTEMBER 13, 2013:  (With 19 photos,  9 of which were selected, balanced, cropped and follow without captions except the brief report below the photos)

            Aloha David.  The first workshop I did was roots. It was a bit more of a challenge than I had originally thought. Towards the top of the trunk were some heavy areal roots that had formed a substantial root mass, which in turn made wrapping the collar a little interesting. After getting everything together and setting up the tray I started easing the roots out.  This took a little while, as the roots where packed in. The media removed was put into the new pot. After untangling the roots I put the rock in and secured it in place to help bulk up the base and the roots. I laid some of new media and some of the fertilizer on the foil and stretched the roots a slight bit more, trying not to damage them. After laying the roots out, I flared them a little bit and began rolling it up. When I turned it upside down I realized that the foil was a bit too long. Working in turns I would add some media and then work the roots around until all the media was in. I trimmed the foil and placed it over the plastic spacer you provided. I reworked the wire you provided making it long enough to secure the tree, and used some of the paper covered wire you provided. I soaked it for 30 minutes and used a dropper to water from the top of the soil. I look forward to hearing your critique.  Mahalo, Joshua

            COMMENT BY DAVID:  WOW!  Joshua is really a self-starter who makes shoot-from-the-hip decisions!  Did he read the Introductory Workshop Package information sheet that calls for first doing SUMO?  Why is he using a Sumo technique to shove the accent rock up under the roots to create a wider spreading root buttressing system when the objective of Roots is to create a tallish root system in which the roots would be tightened and trained downwards to be a visually tapering extension of the trunk that could become either an elegant tall exposed root design or an extended root tree for creating a tall Root-Over-Rock styling?  Did he understand that the Introductory Workshop objectives was teaching Sumo and Roots are to teach the two basic opposing training strategies as major steps toward creating superior trees in each concept?

               JOSHUA MADE A MAJOR BOO-BOO!  While it is possible to create nice bonsai by blending techniques,  by mixing Sumo (short and stout with heavy crown) with Roots (taller, elegant with exposed roots),  he is creating a compromise middle while the primary goal is to teach two contrasting basic True Indoor Bonsai strategies! It gives me a chance to explain an important principle. 

               FUKU-BONSAI STRONGLY ADVOCATES "BOOK-END" PRINCIPLES!  In other words,  get a very clear understanding of the extremes!  If you're going to train a SUMO,  try to make that bonsai the shortest and stoutest with the heaviest crown possible!  Focus on trying to develop an excessive ultimate caricature of the Sumo short and stout concept!  Sumo will create superior "typical" banyan bonsai with heavy trunks with taper,  multiple trunks,  low heavy branches close to the ground, an impressive heavy root buttressing where the trunk(s) flare out to blend with the ground,  with multiple apical growth forming a very wide, but proportionally low heavy crown.  Can you visualize such a magnificent banyan?  This type of banyan tends to grow in drier environments that do not encourage a whole lot of aerial roots. So trees tend to be stout with the emphasis on HEAVY roots, trunks, branches and crowns.  But also, be able to visualize the opposite extreme, that Sumo can be grown as part of a forest canopy in high humidity to be tall and slender with a profusion of aerial roots in the most difficult "Rainforest Banyan" styling! 

              In contrast ROOTS are based upon epiphytes in which a bird eats the seed and flies up high into a tree. The seed passes through the bird's digestive system and emerges from the back end as a "fertilizer-encased seed" that may lodge into the crotch of a branch, the seed germinates, roots travel to the ground, the tree strangles and kills the host tree which decays and a new wide SUMO crown develops atop a tall "trunk" that replicates the original host tree's trunk surrounded by thickening roots that now get nutrients from the ground!  Roots tend to develop in more moist environment and the emphasis is on tall elegance.  So Sumo and Roots form "book-end" strategies and between these two extreme strategies, it is possible to create all of the endless forms of banyan bonsai, but also creative artistic interpretations of nature! 

             I started to create an explanation email, but before I could I received his email.                

 

          SEPTEMBER 13, 2013:    Aloha David,  First I must apologize. It has been a very hectic week and it finally slowed down last night. I woke this morning realizing that I didn't follow the plans you laid out. I've attached a picture of the three plants with a plain background. Until I have the grow station setup the plants are sitting in a south window.  For the lighting I'll be using a 2-foot 4 bulb high output fluorescent system.  I am looking forward to continuing my training while following your steps, critiques, and recommendations.   Mahalo and Aloha, Joshua

 

         SEPTEMBER 14, 2013:   Aloha David,  Thank you for the reply. I will be doing the repot, and completely agree with learning the uniform basics. In the meantime I came home today and one of the trees is sagging greatly. It is the tree that is on the left of the picture I sent yesterday. All of the other trees are doing great. I have attached a photo of the tree. Also the rooted cutting you sent is doing well. Thank you for your help.  Aloha, Joshua

 

        SEPTEMBER 15, 2013:  The temperature I would guess to be in the high 70's during the day. The windows are open, no AC. The roots on the drooping plant are brown.  I will soak it for 30 minutes.  I thought it was uncommon, especially since the other 2 are doing great. I will let you know how it turns out. Tomorrow I will convert the roots to sumo, and then letting it rest and recover. Aloha, Joshua

      SEPTEMBER 21, 2013:  Aloha David:  The tree bounced back a few days ago. I watered by saturation as per your instructions and about a day and a half later it bounced back. I've finished all the trees, I ended up with 2 sumo and one root over rock. I will be doing a roots later and am going to be ordering the 16 bulk pack on Monday. I will be writing my reports and have all the pictures in order. I have a lot of pictures, 26 for the roots over rock alone. Mahalo, Joshua

       COMMENT BY DAVID:  Joshua first contacted me on September 3 and 18 days later he had received his trees,  did all three workshops,  redid his first Roots to convert it to a Sumo,  AND FIVE DAYS LATER I RECEIVED ALL OF IT AS AN OVER-WHELMING AVALANCHE OF REPORTS AND PHOTOS!    For me, it was deadline time and hellish!  Starting from the first issue in January, the Journal was issued on about the 21st and 22nd of each month so when Joshua's large number of photos and reports started flowing in, I was overwhelmed and everything got pushed aside.  Our ISP allows only up to 1,000 emails per day so it's necessary to split the list and issue over multiple days.  Starting from the November, the target issue will begin on the 15th.  For December, target issue dates will begin on the 7th.  If all goes well we will begin issuing on the 1st starting January 2014. So with regret,  all of Joshua's reports didn't get the attention they deserved at that time. 

 

         SEPTEMBER 26, 2013:   (With 26 photos,  12 of which were selected, balanced, cropped and follow without captions with the overall report that follows)

 

 

 

                   Aloha David;  ROOT-OVER-ROCK:  The first thing I did after gathering all my materials was examine the rock and the angles and shape of the tree. I played around with the rock for a bit and then decided on the direction I wanted. The tree had a strong areal root that broke off into little roots the further down it went, I thought this could be a great accent over one side of the rock. So I went to the drawing board and worked out where I wanted the roots to go. I broke out the drill and started to make channels and an anchor hole in the bottom. I didn't want to go too deep with the channels since I am unfamiliar with the rocks tolerance.

              I realized it was going to be a pain to get the wire through the gravel into the tiny bottom holes. So I used the paper wire as a "pull-through," which in the end worked out really well. After setting the "pull-through" I placed the large course bottom in a mound with the plastic separator on top. I filled the rest with media to about half way.

              While I was working on untangling the roots I soaked the sphagnum moss. The roots were really compacted and all collected on one side of the pot. I worked through it trying to do as little damage as I could. I rung out the moss and laid it into the channels putting a few Nutrient Granules mixed in. I placed the tree on the rock and made sure it was seated well. I used the paper wire to secure the tree to the stone and then placed the roots into the channels and secured them in place with only enough pressure to hold them in place.

              I laid the media on top of the prepared foil and followed by placing the the rock on the foil, rolling the foil around the rock and applied enough pressure so that the media wouldn't pour out. I curled the foil up a little bit on the bottom and ran the wire through the anchoring hole. Half of the anchoring wire was already through the bottom. That way I only had to wrap the paper wire around the anchor wire and pulled it through. It took a little maneuvering but came through with ease. I nestled the rock into place tightened the anchoring wire and filled it the rest of the way with the media, then tapped the media down with a spoon and began its soaking for 30 min.

            After I pulling it out and draining it, I tapped it one more time then placed it at its temporary home in a south facing window. I cut back the big branch which had 9 branches coming off of it, and covered the cut with Vaseline. Since I have done this 2 new branches have emerged. I really enjoyed this project and look forward to your critique  Aloha, Joshua

 

             SEPTEMBER 26, 2013 (Received same day as above photos and report --- Included 18 photos,  of which 6 were selected, balanced, cropped and follow without captions except the report below.)

           ROOTS (SUMO II):  I set my station up to do Roots. I had the crumpled foil, changed the wiring a bit, and set the large media in the center with the creased plastic sitting on top. I filled the pot with media to about the 50% mark. I removes the tree from its 2" pot and started working on the roots. This root ball was dense and compact as you can see from the photo. There was very little media in it and the original plastic separator.

        As I was teasing the roots, I thought "This tree is a Sumo", and my whole game plan changed right there. I added a little bit more media to the pot to have the rock sit up a bit higher and give the roots more room to spread out to form a formidable base. I snuggled the rock to the base of the tree and draped the roots around it and secured it all with some paper wire. I placed the tree off center in the pot and secured it down. I was happy with the way it looked, and the thought of how it will turn out. I wrapped the foil around it, but just couldn't get it right. So I unsecured the tree and made a cone out of the foil. I squeezed the top tight around the trunk  and filled it from the bottom with media.

       While filling the cone I used a skewer to move the roots to the around and make sure there was plenty of media in there. I place a piece of firm plastic underneath and placed the tree in its spot. I removed the plastic only to find out I placed the tree facing the wrong direction. Putting a peace of plastic back under did not go so well. So ended up having to fill the whole thing again. Live and learn. I place the tree back on in the right place and facing the right direction. I secured the tree down and soaked it for 30 min. Then placed it in its temporary home. Today it is doing great and has new buds forming on a couple branches. I am really looking forward to watching this tree develop over the next few years and see there it leads me. As usual I look forward to reading your critique.  Aloha, Joshua 

 

SOME PRE-FINAL THOUGHTS BY JOSHUA:    

       First, let me say while working with these plants I have created a new bond with the styles. When I first looked at your styles the Dragon caught my attention. I love the twists, turns and technical aspect of them. I also fell fell in love with the Roots, the elegant twisting, flowing lines. Then there was sumo, and I though "that's cool, but I really love the other two". Then when plants came I saw this little guy. My imagination started running wild, picturing what this tree could be with its multiple trunks and bottom heavy areal roots. At that moment I grew a deep appreciation and love for Sumo. This tree was supposed to be my roots tree, but I just couldn't do it. 

       Second,  bonsai can teach life lessons. As you will see in the pictures there is red lava and pumice mixed with your media. My life lesson was that my 2 1/2-year old, bonsai media, and a vacuum do not mix well. My daughter and I have gone over the rules, and she follows them (I made a deal with her that if she followed them I would get her a tree of her own that both she and I can work on). The rules were simple, don't touch the trees, wire, water, scissors, pliers or anything on the tray. I stepped out of the room and within minute or so I heard the vacuum going. I thought to myself "I didn't know she knew how to turn on the vacuum." Then "WHAT IS SHE VACUUMING?" I stepped back into the room and I see the media bag on the floor and my daughter vacuuming up the spill. I rush over turn it off and say " You know the rules, why did you touch it?"  Her response was "It was on the seat, and I am cleaning it up like you do." So that's why you see the mixture in the photos.

 

POST-POSTING CRITIQUE BY DAVID (November 2, 2013) 

         1.   ROOTS (original version):  With the exception of incorporating the accent rock and not using the bindwire to send the roots straight down,  I think your basic technique is okay.  But your foil column is too loose.  To firm it,  do more dibbling when upside-down and after you've anchored it with wire, firmly squeeze the column,  using strong monofilament type tape to force the column tight.  In potting, you want to remove the airspaces as a loose gravelly situation will allow the roots to just run through it. Foil should be considered another form of vertical potting and the media in the foil should be as firm as media in a pot. 

          2.  ROOTS CONVERSION TO SUMO.  Good recovery.  I think that while you may not have experience and tend to jump in outside of normal sequences,  that you have a relatively good understanding of the principles.  If you did the sumo first and understood the result,  you likely would not have been confused when you did the roots. One think you should consider;  don't jump to conclusions until you've considered all alternatives.  The reality is that any of our prepared stock can grow as either Sumo or Roots as there are such things a thin and elegant Sumos and short and stout Roots.  The idea is to learn how to produce the full range and don't make all your bonsai the same.  When you go to some collections, the person may have made one nice tree in a certain style and if he gets too many compliments,  he continues to do that over and over again.  Here we try to create a wide range of styling as we don't want to create "cookie cutter bonsai" that all look the same. 

          3.  ROOT-OVER-ROCK.  In general you did okay but was too conservative.  Check out www.fukubonsai.com/4a15.html and www.fukubonsai.com/4a15b.html to get a better idea. Normally when I send an unsculptured rock, in the pre-workshop instruction, I break it into two parts and request pre-approval at completion of rock sculpturing prior to actual rock planting.  Check out the differences in the results by George McLean and Jay Boryczko.  I did not have a chance to do this with you. Without prodding, most will do what you did. The plant will take a lot longer to become established.  Most homes in the U.S. do not have our ideal growing conditions and I am concerned that there will be too many failures.  Even with our ideal climate,  we create large cushioned saddles and deep root trail crevasses.  In addition, we use trees that the roots are already extended and extensive bind wire.  A good example is the small rock planting recently done by Paul Bakerman posted at www.fukubonsai.com/1a61b.html.  It is likely we will only offer pre-sculptured rocks as part of Root-Over-Rock Workshop Packages and offer rock sculpturing training only to those in the study group.  Contact me if you want to move forward in this area.

          4.  SUMO #2.  You did a nice workshop with good judgment in the way you used the upside-down collar technique. The other basic way was used by Selma Koga as posted at www.fukubonsai.com/1a102a.html   In their situation, in a shallow saucer-pot,  the intermediate technique gave optimum surface and blending contouring of the media surface which is important in the 1:10 Project concept.  In the future,  we'll be using that technique and concept with Premium Prepared Bonsai Stock and small shallow saucers to create highest quality small bonsai! 

            Because of inadequate communication during the Journal October issue deadline, the three workshops are out of regular sequence and done consecutively instead of one at a time with critiques after each.  This could have cleared up the issue areas and resulted in better results,  especially with the Root-Over-Rock which is really two workshops ---  rock preparation, and after critique,  rock planting. Joshua completed all three with very little guidance and under these circumstances,  he did very well.  He was able to think through the sequence and resolve issues before they came up.  I want to caution Joshua and all readers,  that bonsai is not a race and it is preferable to really take your time and to study each tree. 

             During group workshops,  there is almost always a person who has some previous experience (usually a bonsai book dealing with traditional outdoor Japanese single apex-tier branch "pine-tree" styling).  Having gone through such a class and having been praised the workshop participant is overly confident.  Before the introductory remarks are completed, the person completes selecting branches and pruning the workshop tree based upon what he did in his previous workshop where he was praised. He's training the tree mechanically and just "cranking out bonsai."  He may think he knows the basic bonsai rules and all of his bonsai are shaped to the same simplistic vision.  For some reason, he thinks completing the pruning of a premium workshop tree that took three to five years to develop within 60 seconds demonstrates his superior natural bonsai intelligence and skill! 

               For outdoor bonsai collections,  even if trees are trained mechanically to formula,  there's some interest due to the range of trees that can be trained.  But for those growing indoors,  Dwarf Schefflera is the sole superior plant and if all were trained mechanically by formula, the plants in the collection would all look alike.  So it makes sense to learn and adapt the "book-ends philosophy" and to try to project a distinctive vision for each and every tree.  Each tree should a have a unique personality to guide the training.  Pruning and working on a tree should only begin after the plan and vision is formed!

               Overall you did very well considering the limited amount of assistance.  So where do we go from here?  Will send you recommendations via email to be able to utilize and create diversity in the 16 plants sent you.  Will also be inviting you to be a Journal Contributing Writer to submit articles, but also have additional email exchanges on other plants in your collection.  If you make a folder for each plant and document with photos, sketches, dates and vision and activity notes,  in the future, you'll be able to write articles and explain how specific plants developed.  If you offer classes to others, you can feature different plants and you'll be able to show how that plant developed and that will give you more credibility with your students.  As you graduate from the beginner stage, I look forward to working with you.  I think you have a very bright bonsai future and send congratulations!  Warm regards,  ~~~David

 

SOME FINAL THOUGHTS BY JOSHUA:

              David, Thank you for having patience with me.  Being a true New Yorker and a former pastry chef I sometimes forget that I move at quicker pace than most. I find myself wanting to learn as much as I can as fast as I can. I have learned through your emails and my mistakes that this is not the way to bonsai, and I thank you for that.

                 The fast track system is amazing. Not only do you learn basic techniques you also learn an appreciation for the different styles. Looking at pictures of all the styles only gives you an idea of what can be accomplished. Working on the trees and having a set plan/ design in mind almost forces you to appreciate them in a non-forcing kind of way.

                  I look forward to working with you and extracting as much knowledge from you as I can. I am excited to have the opportunity to contribute to the Journal and help others experience the beauty of True Indoor Bonsai.

                   Mahalo,      - - - Joshua

   ***  Return to November 2013 issue of Journal of Tropical & True Indoor Bonsai
   ***  Go to Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation website
   ***  Go to Fuku-Bonsai website
             Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and Fuku-Bonsai, 2013