By Jay Boryczko, Journal contributing editor (Farmington Hills, Michigan)

                  Aloha, now that is a bonsai tongue twister if I ever heard one, “Rubber Baby Buggy Saikei Bonsai Bumpers”. 

                  I am happy to announce my recent engagement and a trip to Hawaii in December.  On this trip, I am planning to spend a few afternoons with David for a few workshops.  David is already calling this my honeymoon trip.  I am still wondering if he means my engagement and future nuptials or our first meeting and workshop together.  While Laura and I have not set a date you never know, David and Myrtle may have to be our witnesses if we decide to tie the knot while in Hawaii. 

                 The funny thing is I have been writing for David for just over a year and never met David or Myrtle but I have spoken to both on the phone a total of three times.  Something like this would have been unheard of just a few years ago.  Someone teaching bonsai and saikei over the internet via e-mail, it does have its challenges but overall it has been a great experience. 

                      This month I plan to tackle another inexpensive and what I feel is a very doable saikei composition that anyone can complete with little or no experience.  Also in this composition, I have not done any real carving on the rocks.  It is not really carving, if you take a large rock and smack it with a hammer to break it into smaller pieces.  The only two things I have done to these rocks other than smash it with a hammer was to rub them on my cement driveway to flatten the bottoms.  This will help the rock stand upright and be more stable.  The other was to drill a hole or two near the bottom so I could run wire through the holes to help secure the rocks to the pot or in this case a salad plate.  Come along on the journey with me and let us see how this turns out.



                 Now that I am going to be doing more saikei compositions, I am always on the lookout for inexpensive things that I could use as trays to plant in or on.  I found something to plant in while at my local department store.  I came across some melamine salad plates.  They were just over $3.00 a piece including tax.  Not a bad deal, so I bought two.  These plates measured 8 inches by 8 inches by ¾ deep.  I thought this would be a good size for a smaller less complicated saikei.  After drilling several drainage holes and sticking on my rubber feet, the tray was ready to go.


                 I feel we need to take small steps and work our way into more complex designs.  At this point, if there are too many pieces to the puzzle to work out I get overwhelmed.  I have some experience with the need to break down overly large projects into more manageable pieces to keep from getting overwhelmed.  I provide a photo of a project that paralyzed me for years because the thought of building an entire car was just way too much for this guy to handle.  After speaking to a few individuals who have built several of these 1965, Shelby Cobra kits,  I asked one of them, “how do you handle the feeling of being overwhelmed by the 26 large boxes of parts and a 200 page assembly manual”.  He said, “One-step at a time and one page in the instruction book at a time.”  Focus on the smaller assemblies instead of worrying about the whole thing at one time. 

                 Before you know it, going one-step at a time.  Where each step builds on the previous steps and in no time, you are done.  Now the whole composition is greater than the sum of its parts.  The one-step at a time is the approach I will use to help you as well as myself with learning, designing and building saikei compositions.



                After finding the rocks I was going to use, I rubbed them on my driveway to make the bottoms as flat as possible so they would be more stable in the tray.  The picture on the right was one of many trails I did before deciding on the overall design.  The other thing I need to do is actually see what I am building.  David, Ryan, and Jerry can go from a sketch on a flat piece of paper to a full-blown composition just like the one they had previously drawn.  I on the other hand, feel more confident and satisfied with my designs if I mock them up first.  Of course, the mock up pictured here was not even close, to what I finally came up with as a final design.


                Of course the use of my 30, 60, 90 degree triangle is a must when designing and doing mockups.  The photo on the right is where I started building this months composition.  I took a coarse layer of Growstones and used my trowel to pack them in together to provide a stable base for my rocks to sit on and protect the drainage holes from being plugged by the finer soil to follow.  I then took some of my bonsai soil and trawled it into the spaces between my Growstones and then trawled a finer mix of my soil and built up another layer which I did not provide a picture of.  You get the idea right?  You can see from the photo I built the base for this while still being able to see the bottom of the plate all the way around the edges and still finish under the rim height of the plate.  Take note of the wires, I wired the rocks in place and plan to do the same with the plants.



                Picture above are the three plants I have chosen for this composition.  You might recognize the bare rooted plant on the left.  It came from my mobile saikei plant carrier.  The one in the middle was a cutting I received from David with my order for the beginner workshop package.  I felt the cutting was large enough and was a good fit for this project.  The third plant is one of the first I purchased from David for our classes.  The photo on the right shows both the cutting and the plant from my mobile saikei carrier.  Since the cutting is long and straight.  I thought it would pair nicely with the mobile plant that happened to be bare on one side.  This would help fill out this piece to the puzzle and fit nicely into my design.


                Pictured here are the two plants that were combined in the previous step planted in the salad plate.  I combed out the roots to get the trees to sit as low as possible and tried to keep as much of the roots away from the very edges of the plate and did the same for the last tree.  After the last tree was wired down I toweled a layer of bonsai soil mixed with some Nutrient Granules and carefully worked it in and around the roots.  The picture on the right shows this planting just before I placed moss on it for photos. 

                If I had planned to keep this composition together for years, I would have used the usual aluminum foil collar and begin refining this composition.  I do think using foil would be the better choice to let the roots grow large and strong.  Then you could begin refining, remove the foil in a year, then use just a little moss to highlight the roots and maybe add a few small stones.  Since I plan to keep this composition together just long enough to demonstrate to readers what you could accomplish is a relatively short time, I chose to moss the entire composition to protect the soil from being washed away when watered.




                Pictured here are two off views of this month’s project dressed with moss.  Keep in mind this plate is only 8 inches by 8 inches by ¾ deep.  It should be a great fit for those with limited space and budgets.  Remember when creating small compositions to use odd numbers like this one.  Two rocks and three trees equal five elements in this composition.  You could do a three-element composition but they are harder to pull off and are less interesting.



                 These saikei compositions might seem difficult and overwhelming.  Unbelievably, once you finish your first saikei, you will wonder what the big deal was all about and want to try another one.  Just remember to breakdown the complicated compositions into more manageable pieces.  The problem is getting you to try your first.  The True Indoor Bonsai Dwarf Schefflera is a very durable and easy plant to grow.  That is why David and the rest of those who write for this journal use them.  I think this composition might have come out better if I had a larger tray.  The larger tray would allow me to get the two-plant combination and the single plant to swap positions.  This plant swap would allow the larger plants to be in front and the smaller one in the back, which would give us a better scale.  I could have moved the rocks further over but that would put them in the center. 

                  I may be too hung up on the mechanics, I almost said rules.  I have to remember that this is a free flowing art.  Using a formula to produce your compositions will lead to boring and unimaginative works of art.  Over all, I am pleased with how this turned out and look forward to seeing how it progresses.  I will keep this project assembled as long as I can and provide updates on its progress.  However, one day this composition will be disassembled for a future project. 

                  I mentioned in last month’s article about showing my dragon redo this month. I will save that for after my trip to Hawaii because David sent me photos of the tree I will be doing in a Dragon workshop at Fuku Bonsai when I am there in December.  Mahalo!   - - - Jay Boryczko  ( )



                  Every person that I try to teach is different and Jay is a lot of fun!  He's a bit different in that he's really had a number of years of bonsai experience --- but most of it is the Michigan version of the "Japanese traditional temperate climate outdoor bonsai rules that were introduced by Yuji Yoshimura in the 1960's that are not appropriate for True Indoor Bonsai. 

                  The major problem with those teaching Japanese temperate climate outdoor bonsai is that they do not have the same trees that are used to teach in Japan.  There, the "workshop trees" are very well developed and trees may be 10 to 20 years old and grown to Japanese Bonsai specifications that were specified by the bonsai instructor.  The branches are really well established, the tree already would easily win a "U.S. Beginner Bonsai competition!" But that's the level that is used to teach beginning bonsai in Japan. 

                  Most classes teach "Basic Branch Selection"  ---  that it's necessary to remove one of two bar-branches directly opposite from one another on the opposite side of the main trunk.  There's a lot of discussion, rules, and guidelines of which one to remove.  A second major type of problem is parallel branches of one exactly over another.  Pines tend to throw out "wheel" branches where several branches come off the same level off the trunk and the basic guideline is to select one and remove the rest.  JAPANESE BASIC BRANCH SELECTION PLACES AN EMPHASIS ON REMOVING UNSUITABLE BRANCHES!

                  Americans think this is important and teach basic branch selection in all beginner classes and that's a problem.  Americans are too cheap to start with 10 to 20 year old trees with well established branches.  The trees used to teach beginner bonsai in the United States are cheap, very young, with no established branches.  Yet Americans want to teach "Basic Branch Selection!"  HOW DO YOU TEACH BASIC BRANCH SELECTION ON YOUNG TREES WITH NO ESTABLISHED BRANCHES?


                 In one of the behind-the-scenes Fast-Track Study Group emails,  Jay reverted to his old habits and discussed removing a trunk.  I was very proud that Ryan quickly caught it and stopped Jay!

                 WE'VE NEVER REALLY STATED IT BUT NOW'S A GOOD TIME:  A BASIC RULE OF TRUE INDOOR BONSAI SAIKEI IS THAT ALL TREES AND ALL ROCKS SHOULD BE IN REFINEMENT AND DETAILED!  While this may conflict with the one of the original principles of the original saikei that such arrangements are relatively inexpensive,  the primary tree used in the original saikei was the Dwarf Cryptomeria (aka Japanese "Dwarf Sugi.") This dwarf plant can be trained into a typical Japanese single apex formal upright tree.  However, for use in saikei, few if any branches are selected and every possible branch is retained so the tree is a visual dwarf replica of straight trunked conifer tree even when only 2" to 4" tall!  The average height of the trees used in the original saikei may be 6" to 8" tall. 

                 Dwarf Schefflera has the disadvantage of having large leaves.  So to create the illusion on a landscape,  it is necessary for the plant to be as "tree-like" as possible and as small as possible.  For this reason,  the training of small and mini-bonsai has become a more significant research objective. Initial trials over the past year have steadily reduced the size of Dwarf Schefflera Mini-Bonsai. We began with nice 5" high trees and shallow 5" diameter saucers.  As we were able to obtain smaller and shallower saucers, the trees became shorter and the leaves became smaller. 

                 The best mini-bonsai are trained from "character cuttings" taken from refined bonsai with a lot of small branches and tiny.  As we developed smaller and more refined bonsai in increasingly shallow containers,  we also began to have access to smaller and more complex cuttings when mini-trees were massively reduced!  It was a milestone when the compound leaves reduced to jus 1 1/2" across.  Now, we can get them to be 1" across and see the possibility to reduce further!

                 This is one of the educational objectives that I have for Jay's visit.  I have in mind that he'll create a larger more complex saikei with some trees that are now moving into refinement.  Whether he uses them to create a series of saikei or whether a few may end up as mini-bonsai,  I think his visit will open up a whole new way of doing things and I'm really looking forward to his visit!

                 In the past few months, Ryan,  Paul Bakerman, and Burton Flake were here and we created three extraordinary Rainforest Banyans!  Ryan had a choice tree to develop into the most impressive form of rainforest banyan with a huge number of free-falling aerial roots.  Paul's tree used an improved technique and Burton helped me to improve further.

                 I appreciate the individuals in the Beginner and Fast-Track Study Groups and believe it's a great opportunity for them.  But I'm learning too! I invite others to join us!  ~~~David (

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