These three sets of rocks and plants were provided by Fuku-Bonsai for a special workshop for long-time friend Charlene Smallwood and her friend Joneth (both of Albany, Oregon).  Also participating and assisting in the instruction was Ryan Chang of Oahu who is a Journal contributing editor who was on his fourth visit to Fuku-Bonsai.  The rocks had been pre-mounted to stand upright with anchor wires in the bases.  The trees were 15 to 20 years in training and the older woody trunk had been previously wired and the roots already extended. 

           Bird's Tongue Podocarpus is very suitable for training into exposed root styles and can be aggressively wired and therefore make outstanding Hawaiian Dragons!  The left tree assigned to Charlene had a heavily twisted lower trunk and a long young very supple section had been allowed to grow.  The objective is to create a nice rock planting and Charlene would face the challenge of wiring and shaping the crown after it is shipped to her home in Oregon.  Joanna's tree in the center was the most developed with extended roots that had already been partially exposed and rewrapped and wired.  The top had also been wired and we teased Joana that we really made it too easy for her!  Ryan's tree and rock had a nice potential and was also largely prestyled and prepared for this rock-planting workshop.  In this situation,  Fuku-Bonsai serves in a professional capacity to create high potential plants and materials to allow the hobbyists to do the actual assembly and to complete the final styling plan and refinement training. 


             This article is the first of a series of articles on Bird's Tongue Podocarpus that was made famous by the late Hong Kong grand master Yee-sun Wu.  Some podocarpus can be grown in temperate climates but is sometimes called the "Tropical Yew" because some will grow in the tropics and the leaves resemble those of the Yew plants.  Various varieties of podocarpus are grown in Japan, China, and Australia.  In Japan, they are grown close together and can form dense hedges when frequently fertilized and pruned to form a solid dense green barrier that take up just a foot or two.

               They are beautiful long-lived trees that tend to grow straight up to form windbreaks. The leaves must have some form of natural chemicals that prevent weeds or other plants from growing once their leaves blanket the ground.  This is a favorite Fuku-Bonsai landscape tree and we like Podocarpus nerifolia and P. gracilior.  It can be shaped in much the same way that pines are trained as sculptured trained garden trees in Japan.  Podocarpus 'Makki' is used for that purpose in Japanese-type gardens in Hawaii.  

                 During a China trip in 1981, I collected cuttings of Bird's Tongue Podocarpus.  It is slow growing and has a very challenging root system.  When young the tree is extremely limber and can be wired more aggressively than any other tree that I know.  Generally this tree is more suited to be trained into single apex - tier branch structures similar to most traditional Japanese bonsai.  Because of its slow growth, suitability to train into a wide range of styling,  its association with both Japanese bonsai and Chinese penjing, and the beauty of the trees,  it was selected as the primary tree to demonstrate general bonsai training concepts --- but utilizing Chinese penjing styling concepts. 

                 The workshop was preceded by a short class showing how the trees needed to be trained in a professional large scale situation, the massive reduction techniques needed to create good trunk taper and equally dramatic root pruning to create a heavy shallow root system.  The trees used in the workshop were amongst a relatively small number that were properly prepared for rock planting workshops.                   


            The three participants mixed Fuku-Bonsai's Cornstarch Keto-Tsuchi with equal parts of jellied cooked cornstarch, damp long-fibered sphagnum moss, and fine granular high velocity pumice ejecta that passed through a 1/8" screen.

           To cook the cornstarch,  add 1/2 cup of cornstarch to 1/2 cup of water to dissolve it,  Then add one cup of hot water and cook and stir vigorously until it thickens. Allow to cool before use.




           The cooked jellied cornstarch (in the blue tray), sphagum moss,  fine pumice,  a mixed batch of keto-tsuchi, two grades of body mix, and coarse bottom.


          The workshop began with a demonstration on how to create a large "planting cushion" on the selected "saddle" position,  how to cushion the root trail crevasses with sphagum moss, and how to stash a Nutrient Granules cache.

           The major challenge had been to prepare the slow growing 15-year old plant.  It had long roots that had been previously been separated and trimmed and the older heavier part of the woody trunk had been wired many years ago when it was still limber. 



          The next challenge was to actually pair the tree and the rock in the most compatible manner to produce an effective and attractive planting that utilizes the natural root trail crevasses for the roots to reach the media in the pot.  Root-over-rock is the preferred rock planting method that produces more successful healthy results. 




             Once the root paths are chosen and the plan set,  firmly tie the tree to the rock securely and start locking in the roots according to the plan.



            Charlene lined the root trail crevasses with sphagnum moss, media, Nutrient Granules and figured out the paths her roots would take to be secure around the rock and into the potting media.  She exposed and separated the long extended roots, being careful to allow media to hang on to the root hairs. 



             She built up the area's planting cushion, positioned her tree, secured the tree to the rock, and guided the roots into the crevasses and down to the base of the rock. 



            Joneth quickly had the tree out of the pot, sized up the root system and began preparing her rock.  Her tree had had a lot of work over the years with the roots already extended and separated,  the older woody trunk had major bends in place, and even the young crown had received some training. 



            Her rock also had a lot of deep natural root trail crevasses that she filled and prepared with keto-tsuchi, sphagnum moss,  potting media, and Nutrient Granules.  Where the root trail crevasses were deep, she added another layer so the roots would end up near the surface and not be buried deep.



             Charlene easily mastered how to use the keto-tsuchi to paste the roots in place to follow the root trail crevasses and down to the bottom.  Where the roots were stiff, she used the paper-covered bindwire to hold them in position. 



             Ryan had the most experience and after he helped Charlene and Joanne, he quickly caught up and he worked on his.   Then he assisted using the heavy wire that was part of the rock base to anchor the rock to the shallow 12" diameter shallow 1:10 Project saucer that had many drain holes drilled into the bottom.



             He was the first to complete securing his plant,  helped others to secure rocks to saucers, and still had time to help to rescreen all the old media into coarse bottom,  a medium and smaller body mix,  and a large amount of fine organic rich top dressing which was dampened to coat the areas with roots, the surface of the shallow 12" saucer, and to serve as a transition to blend the saucer surface to blend into the rock. 



               Charlene is shown completing contouring the fine organic rich topping that promotes a profusion of fine hair roots to develop.  These fine hair roots are the key to quick establishment on the rock as it will lock in the media so it will not quickly wash away.  Without healthy hair roots, the larger roots to follow are very slow to become established.


              Joneth is shown with her rock planting with a full saucer surface aluminum foil apron that holds the surface contours in place,  firms up and locks in the transition between the container media surface and blends it into the rock, as well as secures all topping that coats all areas where there is sphagnum moss and  roots.  The top of the foil is flared to make it easy to water the upper area and a lot of air holes are made to create a good environment for root growth.


         Bird's Tongue Podocarpus is a pretty tree with beautiful small leaves that grows very slowly with a wiry woody trunk that is very limber while young but impossible to bend once it reaches a certain age. The tree is then allowed a second growth spurt and the first section was wiring again and the newer section received its initial wiring. It is necessary to complete wiring the lower sections before it hardens up and the new growth spurt on Charlene's and Ryan's trees are ready to receive their first wiring.  Joanne's crown had been wired once and she has the option to wire it again or to refine the crown. 

         Charlene is a bonsai old-timer, and although she hasn't done this type rock plantings,  she picked it up quickly.  Joanna had less experience but did very well as she had rock that cooperated with a well prepared tree whose roots quickly grabbed onto the rock.  While Ryan hadn't worked with Podocarpus previously, he quickly adjusted.  On his very first visit about 17 months ago,  we did an introductory rock planting so he was already familiar with keto-tsuchi and was able to pick up some more advanced techniques.  I asked each of them to send me a short summary to add to this report and each individually follows:



             I thought the experience of doing the rock planting really improved on the skills I had practiced on my own.  Its like cooking, your mom can tell you what to do but there is nothing like watching someone with lots of experience. You don't forget when you see it done. You can read lots of books but there no substitute for actually following the teacher and getting your hands dirty after his instruction. It was a great treat to be able to actually end up with a nice start on a good tree. Thanks David, you taught us in a very simple lesson how to develop a (first class tree in a few years time). Every time I study with you , I learn something new.



          I reached Fuku Bonsai  7:45am and I met and talked story with David.  Shortly after, we were joined by Charlene and Joneth.  It was great to meet Charlene who donates the Oregon pumice to the members of the Fast-Track study group.  I give much thanks to her and Lee who collects them for the group.  We really appreciate and am grateful for the efforts. 

           Before the workshop, David went over the basics of heavy pruning to achieve a high standard bonsai with character starting within 1” of the soil line.  Staring with cutting that were allowed to growth over 3-4’ in height to thicken the trunk.  He cut using the dive bomber method down the apex and flat cuts the secondary branches to widen the trunk.  The only thing was left was about a 2.5”-3” pruned tree with trimmed roots and repotted into a cut down 4” nursery pot to further grow and thicken.

            It is always a pleasure to have more people participate in the workshop, that way, I can see how others will attempt to do things that differs from me.  I think the ladies did a great job, in fact, I was always playing catch up.  However also helping them, I found it easier to do mine and speed along.  It was like we all participated in each other’s workshop and were able to learn three times as much.  It was a great day that passed by quickly.  I am always trying to be silent because there are a lot of great things to learn from all the people who are there and I only speak up when called upon, but I really enjoy everyone’s company who visits and participates as well as those who happen to just pass through. 

             The Podocarpus rock planting workshop was tons of fun.  I was shocked and a little amazed that these three trees were already 15-20 years old.  I’m still amazed because I can’t wait to see it in the years to come.  I’d like it to be some type of dragon sitting on this rock, maybe a lion.  I’m sure this one will out live me and wonder what it will look like on that last day I shall lay my eyes upon it.  - - - Ryan



             I enjoy teaching bonsai as much as being able to continue to create one-of-a-kind trees. The great majority of the trees I work on are now Dwarf Schefflera as they are fast growers and can be trained into many more shapes than any other plant used in bonsai! 

             Bird's Tongue Podocarpus is almost an opposite.  It is extremely slow growing and especially suitable for a penjing type version of the traditional Japanese single apex - tier branched structure. Because of its slow growth, the unstructured limits of penjing, and the limited attention such a collection requires,  a relatively small educational exhibit at the Fuku-Bonsai Cultural Center is being developed that will show a second parallel concept of bonsai.  In finalizing the exhibit,  I had three extra trees that were ideal for this workshop. 

             Throughout the day,  we discussed the role of the bonsai professional and I told them I've been criticized for making it "too easy" for those who take workshops here and that may be true.  I think that it's necessary that there is success, and that the methods used that results in success should be explained.  A huge part of any bonsai workshop is based upon how the tree was pre-trained.  Workshops for collected "Nature's Bonsai" are an extreme example.  Nature may have trained the tree for many years under unique conditions to produce the potential and any workshop will be just an instant compared to the total life of that tree!

              But workshops that uses "Nursery Bonsai" still need to have the potential pre-trained as the potenial at the end of the workshop really was already there at the start of the workshop!  It's therefore important to understand that what is done in a workshop is just one small step in a long journey with many different kinds of steps.  It was very satisfying to share the trees that I brought this far with good friends that will guide them into their bonsai future!  ~~~David

              © Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and Fuku-Bonsai, 2014