By Ryan Chang (Waipahu, Oahu, Hawaii)  Senior Journal contributing editor

            This is a story of a rock and its transitions.  I knew bonsai existed but I never really gave it a second thought until I was well into my late 20ís.  Upon reawakening past images and comparing them to what I now see online, to me, the art is flourishing.  It may not be all great or nice bonsai, but the amount of activity and people willing to experiment is a great thing. 

            As David mentions, there are many who strictly follow the formal ways of the past. They are  the elite and should be called the "bonsai upper-class."  However, you must always improve.  Bonsai is a small piece of a larger puzzle. Penjing is another part that I try to achieve every time.  If my plantings can represent a scene or take your mind away and catch you dreaming, that is what I strive for.  I too want to be taken away every time I look at it. 

            I started this project In November  2013 on a large rock provided by David.   He always stresses to not to start until you have a plan.  But, plans change, people and opinions change, and so did my efforts to create a single large tree rock planting.  I waited until I could see what I wanted it to be. 


          The left photo shows the large rock at the start with the middle photo showing the other side.  The third edge view would be the key to the the vision I have for the planting.  Iíll clue you in now.  Can you see a ship?  To be honest, I didnít see it at this point either.  It would take almost nine months for me to see it, and when I did, it was full speed ahead! 

         To carve, I mostly used a 1/2 inch masonry bit and later a 1/4 inch bit.  Some parts of the rock were hard and I was not able to sculpt.  So I looked for the weak spots and managed those areas the best I could or totally removed them.  I was keen on quickly carving out what I had seen and ended up drilling a 1.5 inch hole into my left hand.  In hindsight, I think I should have gone to the ER to get it stitched up, but I was too "hard-head".  I just slapped on some Neosporin and band-aided it up after bleeding stopped.  To be honest, it was pretty horrific and I didnít even want to take photos of my hand.  I do have a scar to prove it though.  I consider myself lucky as I regained full use of my hand like nothing happened.  Good thing it wasnít my bowling hand, lol. 

           The initial plan for the rock is always self sufficient in my mind.  Meaning, it can stand alone even without a tree planted on it.  Otherwise, to me the rock is not exciting enough for the privilege of a tree to be mounted on it.  In this picture alone, I could see a planting in it.  To help you see what I see, I will literally paint the picture on the rock.  But, first let's carve it up. 



                  Even while my hand was healing, I was working on this rock.  I made sure to glove up  when working on rock carving since then.  I now know what angles to be careful. Anytime you have your hand in the way of a power tool be careful of the amount of pressure you direct that tool.  For me, it slipped on a hard surface and my left hand was grasping the top and all it took was a moment.  In the end, it made my connection to this rock more profound; I literally spilled my blood working on this one, lol.  I envisioned a tree on a rock, and so I painted what I saw in my mind.  The blue is water of course and represents waves crashing upon the large rock that protects the tree.  The above right photo shows the opposite side. Even though both sides of the rock  have the same feel and are similar, each scene is completely different. 


              The above left photo  is another view of the deeply carved channels that will provide excellent media pockets for the roots to grow in.  The above right photo is the opposite side.  You can also see the detailed carving that was implemented to created a one of a kind self sufficient rock as I would call it.  This was just part one of the process.  I would end up leaving it looking like this for about a month or longer.  Then I decided to change the color upon planting because it wouldnít hold up in the end.  The color schemes would get lost in the planting and look unappealing.  I ended up going with another two-tone color choice.   Please stay tuned. 


               During the winter months, feeling a little jolly, it was very natural for me to go with green.  Then it was easy for me to choose black as the base because I was thinking of longevity and black will always hold up.  If you look closely, you can see hints of green on the bottoms of the black.  If you look at the rock from the bottom up, all you will see is green.  You may have noticed that I also worked the rock even further.  I felt that the painted tree on the rock was just too much, and it needed refinement.  This is the final rock transition, but it will stay un-planted for eight more months.



                Can you see the ship now?  I still couldnítÖlol.  The amount of deep carving in the channels looks great and most natural rocks wonít have that type of potential for a nice root-over-rock.  At this point, I was still thinking that Iíd pot it up soon, but I couldnít bring myself to do it because I knew something wasnít clicking. I havenít yet named it, but I knew it wasnít finished  ---   it needed something.   By this time, we were working on scenic landscapes.  When things died down, and I had time to come back to this rock.  It was easy for me to see the fix would be a penjing planting and the rock will be part of something bigger.



                 Something clicked one day and I saw not only the rock or the trees ---  I saw a story!  I stared at the rock and the trees and hoped that they would cooperate --- the love story of trees.  The manís name is Scheff and the womenís name is Flera.  This husband and wife loved to dream and be adventurous.  They grew up together in someoneís nursery; they grew strong and distinctive with a purpose.  Scheff is the roots, while Flera is the dragon.  Their dreams of sailing away on a big ship became a reality when they were introduced to the large rock.  Upon seeing this magnificent rock Scheff said to Flera, you set up here honey and steer us wherever you want to go, and I will set my roots behind you and set the sails for adventures to come.  The story continues in the final section.

                The right photo above shows my attempt at Fuku-Bonsaiís Keto-Tsuchi.  I layer out in places where I would plant the trees.  Using the 17Ē oval plastic pot provided by David, I angled the rock so that it wouldnít dominate the center.  It really lends to the scene when you have angles and not straight lines.  Meaning it would be unpleasing if I chose to put the rock in the middle, it just wouldnít feel right.  The bonsai wire will be used to secure the rock to the pot. 


                  The bottom of the rock was previously prepped with holes for the wire, and I had no problem securing the rock to the pot.  This picture shows how I chose to run the roots through and down the rock.  I also did a good job of filling the open areas around the roots with media and fine media with Nutrient Granules to feed the roots when it gets there. I temporarily used foil to hold everything in place.  I also using the paper-covered bindwire to hold roots in place.   After finishing up the 2nd planting, I wasnít completely satisfied.  However, I knew with time, I would keep enhancing and refining.  I felt it wasnít quite the time just yet to start refinement, so I did a major cut-back and started shaping the future sails.  Flera was just lightly pruned to start the refining process.  It will take some time, but it will be one of my best rock plantings to date


                   This photo shows the cuts Iíve made on Scheff and the new growth that's popping out.  Iíve also learned to grow green sphagnum moss that substitutes as grass.  If given too much sun the tips will whiten and this can be fixed by returning the planting to more shade. Basically, its important to look for as fresh as sphagnum moss you can find.  I found my dry sphagnum moss at Koíolau Farmers.  I chopped the sphagnum moss up into tiny pieces, even using my hands to further rub into sawdust-like components.  I then put Nutrient Granules under or mixed in with them, watered and put into full sun.  Within a weeks, you will notice the green start to spread.  You will also notice the bow of the ship has been added, so now it looks like a ship

                 September 22, 2014.   About a month or so after the workshop.  Trying to expose some roots, also adjusting, especially around the vertical planting. I try to keep roots moist with the sphagnum moss and put some nutrient granules to encourage healthy growth.  Sorry, rock isnít cleaned.


                  The only problem was Scheff and Flera had settled their roots firmly into the rock, and into the ground becoming land wrecked.  Nonetheless, their spirits reflect their adventurous side and portrays their dreams of sailing into the open ocean.  You would think the amount of damp sphagnum moss I used would dominate and rot the roots, however, in my area its so windy and sunny that it will dry up before noon, and Iím counting on the humidity within its own planting to help stimulate the growth, and so far it seems to be working.  New growth continues to emerge and that tells me that the roots are doing jus fine.  During the planting I lost a few roots, so I was not afraid to go ahead and make the cuts that I did because I knew that it would bounce back. The moss will eventually be removed to reveal more of the roots, however, for now, I just want to see the foliage start thickening out. 

                    The name of this planting arrangement is now:   "LAND - WRECKED!"

                  I'd like to get some feedback on my rock sculpturing and planting and invite readers to contact me directly or if you need help.  Aloha!    - - - Ryan   ( )

                 "It is not the ship so much as the skillful sailing that assures the prosperous voyage."   George William Curtis   (Read more at


                    From the very beginning,  Ryan has created the maximum amount of sculpturing of the relatively soft lava that we call "welded-splatter cinder" that is formed in specific volcanic cinder cones where thickened blobs of lava are thrown up and plops on those thrown up earlier.  When a large chunk is dropped, it may shatter into a number of smaller pieces.  Large chunks that are from one "plopping" are not common so I wanted Ryan to experience it. 

                    Ryan is learning very rapidly because he has a pure love for bonsai and is not afraid to find the "outer limits" and has a lot of broken rocks to prove it!  So he also learned how to bond and cement pieces together.  This was reported in an article by Ryan in the May 2014 issue of the Journal posted at:  At the end of that article,  there's a photo of the sculptured rock that Ryan used in this article.

                   Ryan has been in bonsai for less than two years and you can retrace his progress as he has contributed an article in every single Journal issue starting from the first in January 2013.  Ryan has what I consider the optimum qualities for a bonsai trainer beginning with interest, enthusiasm, and desire to create for the pure love of it.  He is secure in himself and rightfully reserves the right to make the final decisions.  But he is not afraid to make mistakes and to learn from them.  He shares what he knows and is able to gently critique others while also giving them compliments on good work. 

                  Ryan was named the leader of the Fast-Track Study Group and available to be contacted directly.  With the elevation of Jerry Meislike as "Journal Contributing Editor Emeritus,"    Ryan is the Senior Contributing Editor assisting where he can as we build a "Tropical & True Indoor Bonsai" community.  Please contact me or Ryan if you need more information about the Beginner Study Group, and upon graduating,  joining the Fast-Track Study Group.  ~~~David (

***  Return to the October 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 and Fuku-Bonsai, 2014