By Ryan Chang (Waipahu, Hawaii) 
Journal contributing editor

        The goal for this Fast-Track Study Group project was: 3 different versions of tall complex landscapes.   David led the way with DRAGON RAMPARTS with guidelines for Jay and I to follow.  It has been great to watch Jay's and David’s progress, especially seeing the details of all the work.  While seeing David’s many emails to Jay I realized we really had our work cut out for us.  However, with good email communications and weekly reviews; we’ve come a long way.    I had struggles due to the way I sculpted my rocks. Will it last? Will it improve with age?  I look forward to future  "STARS OF UTOPIA" reports.


           EDITOR'S NOTE:  This was an extended project that began for Ryan in the September 2013 issue and his article LESSON #12C: ROCK SCULPTURING & PLANTING ignited his rock creativity.  In the November 2013 issue, his article ROCK BUILDING AND PLANTING shared the start of his trials to create interesting formations.  He provided an introduction in the February 2014 issue  at AN INTRODUCTION TO 360° COMPLEX LANDSCAPESSo this report is the latest and a milestone conclusion of a series of related articles that became progressively more difficult.

            While the first six months activities are primarily teaching basic True Indoor Bonsai techniques and cultural procedures to obtain optimum growth, the members of the Fast-Track Study Group are continuing to challenge ourselves to explore creative and innovative bonsai.  It is done with others in a mutual support manner with each person contributing. Those who complete the Beginners Study Group are invited to create their own custom individual projects and receive help or participate in the Fast-Track group. Please email Jerry, Ryan, Jay, or David for more information.                


                  March 22, 2014:  The photo sequence shows my attempt to follow David’s steps and create a structure that will easily allow you to lift all tall rocks together and place upon wet QuickCrete instead of placing one at a time and risking movement or misplacement of the rocks.  The 2nd photo shows I was able to lift the structure easily.  The 1” ply wood will be used to create the 5-leg slab to be stable and raised 1/2”.


                 The cut out has been made and then covered with aluminum foil.  Then use a plastic cover like a trash bag or saran wrap to cover the whole top area. Take into account that QuickCrete will spill over the sides.  This will make removing the dried hardened slab from the wood cut out much easier.  The middle photo shows the first layer.  You can use pre-screened QuickCrete which is quite expensive at $20.00 for 10 pounds or you can get the unscreened regular 50-pound bag of QuickCrete that will  roughly cost $30.00.  I ended up going with the 50lbs bag and just screened it myself.  The last photo shows that the shaping of the slab has begun. 


             March 27, 2014:  Using a plastic wire mesh that can be found in a hardware store, I cut a strip about 2.5” high and placed it in areas where water would travel toward.  This will allow the planting to have proper drainage and it shouldn’t be kept too wet.  The 2nd photo shows that I continue to add and shape the slab with QuickCrete.  The 3rd right picture shows a close-up of the wire I will use to hold and shape the waterfall area with body media.  I also plan on using sphagnum moss and Kyoto moss in hopes of creating a nice green surface.  However, my environment maybe too hot and windy to keep the moss healthy and growing.


              March 31, 2014:  These 2 views are showing the bottom and top of the landscape.  The bottom has 4 main feet to keep the entire slab stable.  The top view gives you a good idea of what the planting area will look like as it is structured off with wire and colored darker than the outside.  I have less rocks than David and Jay, so I really have to create a scene another way. 


                   One morning while deciding how to improve the scenes further and instead of using more rocks.  I decided to add these dolphins, as it immediately clicked that it fell in line with the utopia theme.  The problem was that they were missing part of their bodies.  I used QuickCrete mixed with fine coco-peat and filled the openings.  Once dry, I went ahead and painted them blue. 

               Using more QuickCrete, I attached the dolphins to the rock.  The smaller one is lower, and the larger one is higher to mimic a playful chase in the ocean that we rarely see from above the water’s surface.  The dolphins easily fit on the rocks thanks to all the holes that I had drilled out.  I ended plugging a few of them with QuickCrete when attaching the dolphins to their permanent location.  The dolphins represent the children of the sea and this scene is coming together nicely.  Before I added them, the scene was boring.  I think it greatly compliments and livens up the utopia complex landscape.


             April 4th, 2014:  My Dragon Tree is my biggest dragon from David.  I did not expect the roots on the dragon to be so stiff.  The dragon is showed in the first picture next to the rock build. In the next photo the majority of the roots dropped straight down. Only a small bunch of the younger roots were able to wrap around and follow the path I had laid out.  I used finely chopped damp sphagnum moss mixed with fine coco peat and cornstarch to hold it together like Fuku Bonsai’s keto-tsuchi, but with a twist.  I also mixed in a handful of Nutrient Granules and expect that to act as a growing medium for the roots.  I sprinkled some granular sized media on the sphagnum moss and lightly dabbled some fine organic material on top of that.  The roots are still small to medium sized, so used the aluminum foil method to allow the roots to grasp the rock tighter. 

               The middle photo shows the Dragon roots tightly tied to the rock following the path of sphagnum moss.  I added nutrient granules and body media, so I expect the roots to thicken nicely and you can see majority is following the path going down.  The right photo is my largest Roots tree from David close up after the removal of the aluminum foil collar.  After I bare-rooted, I wasn’t able to completely straighten the roots as some had developed natural bends and would not be able to be straight, but they can be trained to grow straight downwards into the soil.  The Roots was completed like the Dragon.

               I saved the little Sumo for last.  David sent me this small mature Sumo to train for use in these landscapes.  I think it will grow nicely and fill out perfectly where it is planted.  I placed the tree away from the rock leaning over towards the smaller rock on the left.  Over time, the foliage will fill out the space between the large rock and the small sumo.  In the center photo you can also see the use of the wire screen as a fence lining.  It worked great and holds the media right where I want it. The close up shows what will be a waterfall scene. Instead of water, I’m hoping that the moss will grow in a few months time to look like a wall of green.  The height of the wall is 6.5” and the media tightly packed in a hill form that slopes down to 2.5” down to the small sumo.




             April 5th: Finishing Touches.     I took an extra day to do some finishing touches, making sure the body media was well seated and patted down and made firm.  Covered with the rest of the sphagnum moss then layered with the fine organic topping.  These photos are after its first watering. The photo on the right shows the overall view from what I would consider the back and named “Utopia Falls”. 





           “Port of Utopia”.  Utopia often depicts an imaginary world underwater such as Atlantis.


             “Utopia Park”.  My long term goal is to train the dragon’s foliage to semi cascade down towards the small tall rock.  The photo shows that I carefully situated the trees to look balanced with everything pointing towards the middle. 

            This scene greatly improved when I added the dolphins.  It became known as “Children of The Sea”. 













             Photos from other angles show that every angle is pleasing to the eye.  The goal to achieve a 360° landscape has been achieved!




              “Diving In” --- my favorite primary view.  If you were to dive deep in the waters of the ocean blue, down so deep you find light shining from the earth’s surface, there you will find STARS OF UTOPIA, where the rocks sparkle with stars so bright it lights the ocean floor with a glow that fills the darkness of the ocean bottom. 




               Just before I started  the planting; I had an old childhood friend visit me in my bonsai garden.  I showed my friend various trees and my current project was the rock build.  She pointed out that there was a strong spiritual energy all around my bonsai trees.  She pointed out that my current rock build was special and had a strong energy.  Growing up in Hawaii, we’ve learned to respect the aina (land) and the spirits.  So thinking of the materials used, I had a lot of coral and rock which is part of Pele and the aina, so I asked if she could do a blessing for me.   I believe that every tree has a spirit and I’ve come to connect with them. 

              Thank you David for the guidance and Jay for sharing the way.  Also to Jerry, whose kind remarks have spurred us on throughout the process.  I learned a lot from everyone.   

               - - - Ryan  (ryan_a_chang@msn.com)

               "I do believe we're all connected. I do believe in positive energy. I do believe in the power of prayer. I do believe in putting good out into the world. And I believe in taking care of each other." 

               Harvey Fierstein  Read more at  http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/h/harveyfier368569.html#om3S8koerOY18xLm.99




               On April 22, 2014, I had an opportunity to visit Ryan and spend the day with him.  I was very impressed with what he has learned and accomplished in 16 months ---  far more than where I was after 20 years in bonsai! I learned each fact by patient trial and discovery at a time that the basic principles of bonsai were not known and not shared.  In contrast, Ryan and all in the study groups start on my shoulders with the hope they will take Tropical and True Indoor Bonsai to new heights.

                Ryan's STARS OF UTOPIA is a major milestone achievement for him! It hints at his potential while still learning the basic principles.  It shows his individual creativity, independent thought, and ability to complete complex projects.

               In the first year, we stress learning to create optimum growth and he's learned well. In seeing his situation, I was able to recommendations to improve his growing facilities to move to the next level.


               We began with basic Sumo,  then learned accelerated growth techniques to develop a large, heavy, multiple-trunked tree using a nursery flat.  He may be moving that large Sumo into the first stages of refinement for his next Journal article. 

              He's also learned the principles of the 1:10 Project that utilize very shallow containers to restrict roots and control growth prior to moving into refinement training. 



                He continues to pre-train his plant stock with the goal of blending them with "rocks" that he's built up from common scraps, cement, and coatings.  He's made good progress on small and large Roots as well as small Dragons. 

               He'll have some exciting trees when he moves his contorted Dragons into larger containers and utilizing his accelerated growth techniques!   


              Now he starts learning the details of developing fine bonsai.  He is shown with eight small rocks cut and shaped from as single soft pumice stone.  In this area he'll be following Jay Boryczko's lead to learn how to first create, then assemble complex multiple stone arrangements. 

               A short while later we were on our way to "reconnect with the Koolaus and Koolau Farmers."

        Go to www.fukubonsai.com/Koolau1.html

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