On March 9, 2011, Ron showed up early as scheduled for a planned bonsai workshop. He really didn't know the details except that Fuku-Bonsai had begun expanding since December 2010 with the addition of Anthony Diaz and John McIntosh who were focusing on constructing new nursery benches. Kate Wood and Lea Keomaka had just started their part-time probation in February 2011 and Ron would be a part of their first major bonsai class. He didn't know that he would be teaching the class! In 2009, Ron and Phil Bill did a workshop at Fuku-Bonsai that resulted in a published article. (See "REFINING MATURE DWARF SCHEFFLERA BONSAI") This day's workshop was in two parts and the first part had Ron giving the same class that he received to the new staff. Here's his story:
From left front: Lea and David. Back: Kate, Anthony, and John with the same Dwarf Schefflera bonsai that Ron Davis and Phil Bill had worked on. Ron remembered how we taught him and again we used surveyor tapes to mark the apex, the ends of the lower outer branches, and used thin sticks to teach how and where to make refinement cuts. (Photos by Ron Davis)
It's been four years since I visited David Fukumoto at his nursery on the Big Island of Hawaii. At that time I was looking for advice on how to properly prune the bonsai that I had bought from him a couple of years before. Knowing that “doing is learning”, David boldly suggested that I and another visitor trim one of his most prized Dwarf Schefflera. By working on this huge Schefflera arboricola I was able to overcome, to some degree, my reticence about drastically pruning back and shaping such an imposing tree. See “Refining Mature Dwarf Schefflera Bonsai” in the Journal of the American Bonsai Society, Vol 44, #1 for the details of this landmark learning experience.
Unknown to me when I phoned David to arrange this recent visit to Fuku-Bonsai, I was in for another learning experience but from the other end. This time I would be the teacher.
It was a wonderful sunny day as I found my way to the nursery. Walking from the parking lot to the office I noticed that many of the display tables and plant stands had been renovated or replaced with high quality material. And instead of the rather random disarray I had seen several years ago, a large number of the trees had been trimmed, repotted and displayed in pleasing groups according to style and size.
David and his wife, Myrt, greeted me with their customary spirit of aloha. After handshakes and hugs he quickly took me on a tour of the 12 acre site. Wow. Things were changing. The rotting 35 year old tin and wood benches were being replaced with 300 new benches 6 feet wide by 10 feet long. Thousands of dwarf Schefflera, from 2 inch starters to 3 foot giants, were sunning themselves under blue Hawaiian skies. I thought to myself how exciting it would be to jump in and start trimming this rampant growth into the representative styles of Fuku-Bonsai. I tried, as I often do, to think of ways that I could move from Montana and work in this wonderland. To learn from a master like David Fukumoto, who has over forty years experience in this art, would be a dream come true for any bonsai enthusiast.
And then I met four young people who are just that fortunate. Thanks to a successful business model, Fuku-Bonsai has been able to hire new staff and embark on an accelerated program of producing outstanding retail bonsai stock. Kate, Lea, Antonio and John had just started working at the nursery about a month before I arrived. And, for today, they were to be my students.
David wanted me to teach trimming techniques to this group using the same tree that I learned on a few years ago. OMG! I was sure that, since they had been working daily with David, they already knew more than I did. But then, what the heck, I summoned the courage so necessary to working in David’s style and asked each member of the group to select what they thought would be the apex of the tree’s crown. And we just took off from there.
After tying an indicator tape on the unanimous “shin”, each student selected the tip of a branch that would be at the widest part of the design. We then held up thin sticks to connect apex to branches. Any foliage above this “trim line” would be removed.
I found it interesting how each of these very thoughtful people proceeded in their own way. Some were cautious, standing back with deliberate consideration. Others took one look, then boldly jumped in with pruning shears. And others trimmed with a start-and-stop-to-think-about-it technique. At this point my role of teacher seem to morph into more of a student with David giving us behind the scenes suggestions.
As a group, we were too timid. We would snip at the tree instead of cutting back. We tended to clip off only the one of two leaves that protruded above the trim line. David said we should remove the entire branch to which those leaves were attached. This not only formed a pleasing shape, it also opened up the foliage for a better view of the inner branches and trunk. As the lesson proceeded we did become more confident and, therefore, more at ease with the project.
The staff did moderate to radical pruning on three different trees that day. It was a priceless experience. These were primo trees, highly regarded specimens of their species, and the master teacher was encouraging us to go for it! His confidence in following the principles of styling was contagious. We caught the bug and became progressively more sure of our decisions as we worked through the trees.
I can summarize three core principles of bonsai pruning that David shared with us as we worked on this beautiful specimen:
1. Before doing any pruning, determine the ESSENCE of the tree through observation and contemplation. What is its inherent style? Dragon? Roots? Sumo? Something else?
2. Before doing any pruning, visualize the DESIGN and shape that you want.
3. Once you put your hands on the tree, DON'T STOP PRUNING until you are done with the job. Don’t doubt yourself, don’t question. Be bold, be confident. Cut back drastically.
This was really good for me because when we started on the third tree I was suddenly cast in the role of student teacher. I was told that pruning this tree would be my “final exam”. My newfound confidence retreated a bit and I began with some hesitation. David called out that I was “surrounded by doubt” and he was giving me two minutes to finish this tree. His admonition worked. Like a racehorse out of the gate, my pruners flew around the tree with hardly a thought in my head. One hand grabbed a branch and the other trimmed it off. Off, off, off, until I came to the apex. I paused to request a camera for the final cut.
With these new enthusiastic staff members and the continuing good work of Myrt, Eddie, and Mike, Fuku-Bonsai is well on its way to a bright future. These young folks have a rare opportunity to carry on a tradition of excellence in the propagation of tropical bonsai. I wish them well.
CONCLUDING THOUGHTS BY DAVID FUKUMOTO:
It's wonderful to have Ron visit and have him involved here. We welcome serious hobbyists who are willing to learn, photograph, and submit written reports to share with others. Ron has several larger True Indoor Bonsai at home as well as traditional outdoor bonsai. He's running out of indoor space and liked the idea of learning to grow smaller bonsai --- and got excited about our "1:10 Project: Bonsai in pots 1/10th as deep as they are wide!" We put together a special package for him of 8 shallow 7" saucers, nutrient granules, and as much potting media that could fit into the largest postal flat rate box. Eight premium 2" prepared bonsai stock will be sent when the weather warms up to start a major new challenge.
The idea is to create eight distinctive design strategies. Ron will report on his efforts and Fuku-Bonsai will be increasingly publishing more about the concept. Emails and photos will be exchanged and I know readers will enjoy Ron's writings and perspective!
The "1:10 Project" will be part of an Advanced Workshop Package and Advanced Workshop Handbook. At this point, we're not quite sure what it will include. It may have 7", 9", and 12" saucer versions. STAY TUNED!
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