(Left)  Pictured above is the tree, better known as “the dog”, I received and worked on in Jerry’s ficus workshop over ten years ago.  This picture was taken in July of 2014.  Its appearance has changed little in the past ten years.  I was stuck on what I should do to take this tree to the next level.  I was unaware the next level was going to require me to cut this tree into five pieces.  (Right) The email recommendation
By Jay Boryczko (Farmington Hills, Michigan) Journal contributing editor

               Time sure flies! 24 years ago I began my bonsai hobby with the need to acquire as much information as possible, which I covered in the January issue of this Journal.  In the beginning, I could not get enough information or trees.  Back then, my head had plenty of room, as did my yard to work trees.  A friend of mine (Tom Truman) who owned a bonsai shop in Mt. Clemens took me to one of the monthly Ann Arbor Bonsai Society club meeting.  At those meetings, I had the pleasure of meeting some bonsai notables like Jack Wikle, Bruce Baker, George Randall, and of course Jerry Meislik. 

               As I look back at the list of names. I felt blessed with all this knowledge around me and enjoyed their stories of bonsai.  One of the monthly meetings was a BBQ where Jerry Meislik did a demonstration on a large yew.  For the extreme bends Jerry was going to make, he employed the use of raffia and wrapped the branches with it.  Jerry explained, when a branch breaks you will notice how the wood blows out like and explosion.  Raffia acts like a tourniquet and keeps the branch from blowing out.  Remember you can still break the branch even with raffia wrapped around it if you bend it too far.  It lets you bend the branch further than you could with just wire alone. 

              During his demonstration, Jerry shared a practical joke with us.  Jerry suggested when you go to a demonstration bring a pencil.   Why a pencil and not a pen I thought?  Jerry then explained when the demonstrator starts to bend a stiff branch and he is really working it, you break the pencil and take a picture of the demonstrators face when the pencil breaks.  The look on their faces is priceless.  That is one of many fond memories I have witnessing Jerry’s work and his sense a humor first hand.  I am not certain I would try that stunt unless I knew the demonstrator really well and they had a good sense of humor.  After a few short years as life would have it, I attended fewer and fewer meetings and took what I believe was a six-year hiatus.


                After returning to the Ann Arbor club, I found a few familiar faces and many new ones.  My return coincided with the club show and Jerry was giving a class and lecture on tiger bark ficus.  Jerry was either moving to Montana that year or, visiting to teach the workshop ---  I do not remember.  Per the club workshop rules to give everyone a fair chance, everyone got a number.  If your number was drawn, you could pick the tree you wanted to use for the workshop and keep afterwards.  Of course, my number was the last one drawn. Not to worry you are not the only one who gets last dibs or the checkout line you are in moves the slowest. 

               It did not matter that I did not received the princess of the ball.  I took it as an opportunity to learn from Jerry.  Since my tree was the ugliest, Jerry took the time to help me downplay the faults and try to highlight the good parts of the tree.   In addition, I figured this would be one of if not the last opportunity I would have to receive lessons from a well-known artist and author.  When I walked up to get my tree and returned to my seat, it was either Jack (Wikle) or Jerry who patted me on the back, apologized, and said, “You got the dog of the bunch”. 

                In Jerry’s defense, the demonstrator Jerry in this case, does not get the opportunity to select the stock for the workshops.  They are at the mercy of the nursery, who makes the selection, packs and ships them to the location and that is usually handled be the host club.  Jerry spent quite a bit of time with me trying to see what we could do to make this tree better.  Jerry said, “We need to make what looks ugly on this tree into something of interest”.  Shortly after that class, I once again fell of the bonsai radar.


                Approximately 10 years have passed since the workshop and the tree had progressed very little.  After completing the first phase of my continuing education commitment, I found myself once again looking to further my bonsai education.  I knew from my pervious connection with the Ann Arbor club that Jerry had written a book on bonsai and I began my search.  With the internet, it did not take long to preview Jerry’s book “Ficus; The Exotic Bonsai” and read David’s review.  The rest is shall we say is history or at least it is written in the JOURNAL OF TROPICAL & TRUE INDOOR BONSAI™.  After my first two articles, I showed David and Jerry the picture of the ficus I had done 10 or so years prior in Jerry’s workshop.


                Jerry was kind as usual with his comments like he was the day I finished the workshop.  David as I expected was to the point but with a different opinion on what to do with the tree.  Jerry and David were on the opposite sides of the spectrum on what steps I should take next. 

                If you have not done this before try asking two people who are deeply passionate about a subject, bonsai in this case, and ask for their opinion.  You will undoubtedly get two different opinions.   I have done this twice to both David and Jerry over the past year and each had a different opinion.  David supplied the above cut plan  where he feels the tree should be cut.  Jerry and David continued there exchange of ideas via e-mail and I would add my two cents and this went on for a week or so.  All the while I am trying to slow the train down. 

                Both Jerry and David are very passionate about there craft and are so willing to help those who want to learn.  They were waiting for me to take one of their ideas and run with it.  I had to be the one to say ‘No’, because here in Michigan June to early August is the best time for repotting and major work on tropical trees.  The debate was over, until today.



                   Now that we have reached the optimal time here in Michigan to work on tropical trees, it is now time to execute the cut plan.  I was able to cut the sections labeled #4 and #5 in the plan using my concave cutters.  I had to break out the saw to continue my way through the plan.  You may have noticed I wired the tree prior to cutting it apart.  I thought better to do it now then try afterwards.  Why not start its training before I even make the first cut.


             I made my first saw cut through two of the three fused sections.  I wedged a chopstick between both sections to hold the cut open so my saw would not bind.  Section # 1, which is the piece on the left in this photo, had most of the roots and needed little care after separation. 

         Section #2 had only a few roots after separation so it went into my Bonsai Fish Tank Intensive Care Unit (BFTICU).  At this point, the base of the tree was still fused.  I moved the surface roots and went in for the final cut.

         Pictured to the right is section #1 recovering nicely, putting out new growth.  We are just beginning the refinement process for this plant.  It looks 100% better and I gained four more trees from the pieces.    

        Since many people, including my mentors Jerry, David, and Ryan name their trees, maybe I should call this one “Meislik”.  Named after Jerry Meislik for his dedication, drive and letting us --- including “The Dog” stand on his shoulders to achieve more. 




           Planting sections #3, #4 and #5 in 2X2 plastic nursery pots with my bonsai soil and sphagnum moss around the cut area.  I watered the cuttings and laid a base of wet grow stones.  Then placed them inside of my BFTICU and covered the top with plastic wrap.  Even after a few heavy rain showers that washed out the plastic wrap lid and almost overfilling the tank, everyone appears to be doing well.



          Pictured to the right is section # 2.  There were five or six fine roots --- not enough to hold this tree upright.  I had to wrap wire around the base of the trunk leaving two long ends.  I ran the long ends under the rock to hold the tree upright until the tree grows enough roots to hold itself upright. 

         As you can see, it appears to be recovering nicely and it is time to start weaning it out of my (BFTICU).  When I took this tree home, I adopted the runt of the litter, a dog. Now that I have broken its bond with its other half, I shall call this one, 壊れた犬, “Broken Dog”.  





                   Pictured above are sections #5, #4, and #3 from left to right.  All three cuttings have rooted.  #3 is responding the slowest --- but it did root.  Section #5 might be my second mini-bonsai.  We will have to wait until next year.  By then all of the plants should have a strong root system and growing vigorously.


                    When the time came to restyle the tree in this article, I let David know I was starting the restyling per his cut plan and I would send pictures latter.  A few weeks later, I said it appears everything is going well, and sent no pictures.  We were both busy, David did not press for pictures and I did not send any.  After I was certain at least sections #1 and #2 survived, I sent David pictures you see in this article. 

                     David suggested I also use this article to share with you my experiences with Jerry.  I will take a moment now to say “THANK YOU JERRY" for all that you have done to help me and others over the years.  I want to let you know all your behind-the-scenes work has not gone un-noticed.  David that goes for you as well.  Thank you both for all your efforts to help lift the rest of us up onto your shoulders and push us to do better.

                    - - - Jay  (Bonsaijay@outlook.com)


                     Wasn't that a great article?  It reminds me of my early years when I was learning from really great bonsai friends.  My first real bonsai teacher was Haruo "Papa" Kaneshiro who was really a student of bonsai for his whole life.  He was constantly trying out new theories and ideas and sharing them with us.  He was excited to teach his latest technique and when sometimes the young plant died because he had fertilized it too much,  he shared the sad results as well as his successes.  He taught me to be very systematic ---  to gather a number of young plants of the same variety and age and how to progressively add a measured amount of fertilizer to the first plant and water well. 

                     The next week add another measured amount of fertilizer to that first plant and one measure to the second plant and water well.  Continue doing this week after week and study to see how the trees react.  At one point, the first tree starts dying from over-fertilizing, but continue the experiment expecting the next tree will likely die a week later.  When you stop the weekly fertilizer applications, if no more trees die,  you've learned the maximum fertilizer that tree at that stage can handle.  It it doesn't die,  you'll know how much to fertilize to obtain optimum growth. You'll learn to recognize the symptoms of trees that are over fertilized.  If you had enough plants that some had never gotten any fertilizer, you can see the difference. Developing the ability to understand the health of a tree just by looking at it requires a lot of effort and experience but is necessary to grow the finest bonsai.  

                     Papa was always trying out new fertilizers --- and he killed a lot of trees while learning.  I do too.  I once asked Papa how I can repay him for his kindness and friendship.  He asked me not never call him "sensei" (teacher) and to just be a friend who also shares and helps others.  When we formed the non-profit Hawaii Bonsai Association, it was open to anyone who was willing to assist others and we became good friends.  We banned all bonsai competitions and included educational exhibits in each of our bonsai shows.  That's the spirit of Hawaiian bonsai and what I hope will be a part of our Tropical and True Indoor Bonsai community.

                     My second major bonsai teacher was John Naka who really didn't write a whole lot.  So it was great to receive a letter or message that was sent through a person he knew was visiting us.  But while Papa was very conservative in training from seeds and cuttings,  Naka was innovative and was always seeking high potential quality stock whether from nurseries, dug from gardens, or aged magnificent "Nature's Bonsai."

                     I think I learned the most from Hong Kong's Yee-sun Wu and Japan's Saburo Kato even though we had a major communication challenge.  I learned mainly by studying their writings and actions.  Both were exceptionally generous individuals who really loved bonsai and wanted to teach a greatly wider audience than their immediate circle. 

                     From as long as I've known Jerry Meislik,  he's been willing to share what he knows.  He's a great teacher, but also a great bonsai student and friend who shares what he knows!  Ryan and Jay are following in his footsteps and it's a joy to see both asking for comments,  mulling over the recommendations received, and putting in their own reasoning to come up with a plan.  But after doing so,  documenting to be able to share his experiences with the readers of the Journal of Tropical and True Indoor Bonsai!  That's really great and I hope others will participate and share so everyone benefits!  Mahalo Jay! 

                   ~~~David (david.f@fukubonsai.com)      

*** Return to the September 2014 issue of the 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, 2014