A report of a major group workshop creation!

                 Most traditional temperate climate masterpiece bonsai began with the discovery and collection of an old high-potential "Nature's Bonsai" developed in harsh environments --- sometimes after centuries of natural catastrophies, die-back, regrowth over and over again. "Character" develops after surviving a series of calamities and these each of these special bonsai are unique in their history and beauty.

                True Indoor Bonsai does not have such "Nature's Bonsai" high-potential stock as it has roots in a hobby begun just a bit over 50 years ago in 1962.  There are no gnarled old houseplants that can be dug from the wild and we begin our challenge with a unique idea and component.  In this case the uncommon component was the trunk of a tropical tree that had died and rotted. 

                 In Hawaiian,  "hanalike" means "working together"  and it is an special naming at Fuku-Bonsai.  The first such plant was "Hui Hanalike"  that translates into a "group or organization working together which is a very appropriate name for the tree we also call the "Entry Tree."  Although grown from one of the first cuttings when Dwarf Schefflera was introduced in 1973,  it had been field grown in our parking lot and had become a large bonsai shaped tree by 1985 when Fuku-Bonsai evolved from a Fukumoto family sole proprietorship to a Hawaii corporation. We believe that "Hanalike II"  will also become a significant bonsai!

        The bottom of the trunk was cut and attached to a plywood so it would remain upright .  Two views show that the center was largely hollow,  that there is a good location on the right for a major branch complex. The back photo shows a large opening to accommodate a well developed root system and provide a foliage background to give depth to the arrangement.  The most difficult section was perceived to be the upper middle where a small special tree would be needed to provide character and balance to the portion of the trunk that was plain and unattractive. The top had interesting features that would be enhanced with some detailing. Overall height is ___".
        This arrangement was  to honor Edison Yadao who joined Fuku-Bonsai in 1999 and has become Fuku-Bonsai's Customer Service and Workshop Manager and vice-president of the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation.  

        The oval pot is ___" long, ___" wide, and ___" high.  Six plants were selected that ranged in age from 8 to 28 years in training.  The major tree (farthest right) would be mounted to compliment the bend in the log with aerial roots reaching the pot surface.  The farthest left three is another important tree with long roots that will enhance an uninteresting section of the rotted log. 

        With hand drill,  heavy pruners, and a die grinder, David took charge of carving and detailing to provide access to the hollow core, for roots to travel down, around, and through various openings.  There was work on all parts of the log and  most of the work removed excess wood in areas that would not show.  The surfaces of the aged weathered wood that would be exposed were left as natural as possible.  The design assumes that the log would continue to rot and that pieces would be falling out in the future.  But by then,  the "tree made up of several trees" would be well established and not need the support of the log.
          About 30% of the mass of the log was removed during the carving and detailing.  Although the wood dust would probably incorporate well with the planting media, it was washed out so we could better see the details and assess the remaining strength of the remaining wood. Additional carving would be necessary once the final position of the upper trees were determined. The soft porous wood was allowed to soak up as much water as possible to help keep the roots of the newly planted trees damp until they became well established. 
          While David was doing the carving,  Michael, Ryan, and Linda were partially bare-rooting the trees, covering them with removed media, and spraying with water to not allow roots to dry out.  Michael had loosened the roots of the largest oldest tree and we needed to greatly enlarge the openings as some of the roots would be in the hollowed out log while the more attractive roots would be exposed. Large openings would allow the tree to be turned and positioned for the branches to be at their most attractive position.  
       The main largest oldest tree was selected as the best plant to compliment the rotted log. The overall design was developed primarily on the anticipated appearance when the tree was positioned at the mid-height.  It looked like as if an epiphytic strangler had killed the host tree. If the wood was of the type that did not rot, it is likely we would have considered the bonsai finished and not add any more trees!

        "EPIPHYTIC BONSAI" is one of the areas that we will address in the future.  This is clearly one of the most exciting "tropical bonsai" design concepts.  Besides having appropriately shaped trees,  it is necessary to obtain dense "mountain driftwood" that will not rot.  

        Note that the flat plywood base allowed us to work with the log in a nursery flat. Paper-wrapped Bind-wire is thin iron wire that will quickly rot away in a few months and need not be removed.  It was use to hold roots in position. 

       About a third of the roots were in the hollow trunk, another third travelled down through natural and carved "root-ways", and the remaining aerial roots that were already long enough to reach the media in the pot, were positioned for best appearance.

       This bonsai training strategy is a form of "ASSEMBLY"  and based up the concept that the completed arrangement can be much more that the sum of its component parts.   It's not often that we have an opportunity to work on large arrangements. This is one of the fastest way to create impressive bonsai but requires a high level of skill.  

        Originally Edison was to have led the positioning of the main tree, but he called in ill.  So the gang began the group workshop in a sober slightly sad mood. But we brightened up when Edison arrived.  

       Linda had been assigned the second tree and had it pretty much completed when Edison arrived.  He checked the progress to date, approved, and positioned the key back tree before he left. 

        David and Michael complete positioning and anchoring Edison's contribution to the arrangement. The tree has a large impressive root system and Linda had done a nice job of untangling the roots.  We tied roots into bundles and half of the root system is in the hollowed out trunk.  
          Michael had attached wire loops to the four corners of the plywood base so it was easy to wire down and secure the roots into position.  When roots followed the edge of an opening in the trunk,  a hole was drilled nearby and Bindwire was used to hold the roots in position.  As we installed the trees, they blocked the openings so later potting media could fill the hollow trunk area.
        With the first two trees positioned, we were able to select the best location for the third tree.  When looking down on a bonsai.  The three largest most important branches should generally be spaced about 120į degrees apart so the tree will have foliage in all directions.  Although we were positioning older trained trees,  in positioning them we used the general bonsai branch placement guidelines. 

        To install a tree,  enough holes were drilled through to the hollow center until the opening was large enough so some of the roots join other roots already in the central hollow center. 

        Ryan Chang had flown in from Honolulu on the first flight and he was assigned the third tree.  Although it was much smaller that the first two, it had a complex root system and long trailing roots.  A third of the back roots were bundled with bind-wire and fitted into the hollow center. 

        The longer roots were arranged to add interest to the plain parts of the trunk and when it passed an opening in the trunk, a hole was drilled and the roots secured so the roots could easily grow into the opening.  

         This view shows much of the trunk was already draped with roots and the arrangement was taken on the appearance of a tree that had been taken over by epiphytes that germinated from seeds carried high into the host trees by birds.  Such trees are common in places with high rainfall such as Hilo which gets 125" of rain a year and moss easily grows on walls and on the ground.  The most common epiphyte is Chinese Banyan (Ficus microcarpa 'Retusa')  although there are a number of others. 
        The three remaining trees were smaller and easily positioned and secured.  A short "Sumo-type" tree was positioned to be the apical top.  It had enough branches to quickly form the crown once the trees recovered.  We sprayed the trees down to keep them moist and took a mid-session break to observe what was done so far, to evaluate what was working and what needed to be changed, as well as have a discussion of what we did and why with Ryan and Linda asking a lot of questions.
         In addition to cleaning out the roots, both Linda and Ryan were also to take notes to contribute to this report.  Ryan began True Indoor Bonsai in December of 2012 and is the lead "Fast-track Study Group" member who is making remarkable progress,  a Journal Contributing Writer who articles have appeared in every Journal issue to date.

        Linda Puente is retired,  moved from California, and has lived in Hilo for about 10 years.  Now with some time to pursue her interest in bonsai, she is a volunteer that will be increasingly important to our efforts.    


          This creation is the result of a lot of planning that began with the discovery of the rotted hollowed out tropical tree log several years ago.  At that time,  we simply did not have the time and resources to devote to planning this creation properly.  From the first days, we knew it had a strong potential and the plans are the result of input from many individuals over a long period of time.  But although Michael, Edison, and I knew of the potential,  the actual creation was to be a public event and the opportunity came when Ryan Chang had planned a second visit and Linda Puente had increased her commitment as a Foundation volunteer.

          Michael and I (assisted by Edison and the Fuku-Bonsai staff)  have done a number of such large bonsai and a few such projects have been posted on the website.  But with Ryan and Linda invited to be members of the team,  there was reason to stop and take a mid-workshop discussion break.  Up to that point,  there had been just a limited discussion of the planning and design concept as each member of the team was given initial assignments. The discussion break produced a number of changes including: 

     1.  Slanting the tree by placing a plastic pipe under the plywood base and securing it to the pot. Upon placing the arrangement into a more appropriate size pot,  there was an improvement in the overall proportions.  The tilt created a more dynamic line and dictated the adjustment to the apical point. 

     2.  One tree was removed to improve the apex.  This visually lowered the tree.  If and when the top dead wood details rot off, It will further visually shift the apex above the trunk to create a visually stable trunk-line.

     3.   A rock was added amongst the aerial roots to visually create a broader "trunk base."  Perhaps in the future when the aerial roots thicken, the rock can be removed or a smaller rock substituted. 

     4.   A cardboard sandwiched between plastic film became a partial collar to hold additional media to allow the roots to get more strongly established. This is a temporary solution.  In the coming weeks after we have had more time to review the work,  it is likely that we will redo the upper portion of the tree above the three major lower trees.  It makes more sense to drill and create additional trunk openings so the roots of the smaller upper trees would have access to the large amount of potting media within the hollow trunk.

     5.   With concensus that the major trees were in appropriate positions,  potting media was funneled into the hollow trunk, dibbled,  and more added as necessary.  Wherever potting media "leaked out,"  sphagnum moss was used to plug openings.

       With everyone participating from several angles, the potting media was quickly was completed and Michael did the honors of watering the arrangement to complete the workshop for the day.  All were pleased with the result and there was a consensus that we expect that the arrangement will survive, thrive, and become a significant bonsai in a relatively short time. 

       Over the near future,  there will be additional detailing of the top. The trees will be allowed to grow strongly with branch selection to begin in six months.

       The gang of four completed with enough time to have additional instruction on wiring and creating first and second stage "top dragons."

       In the afternoon,  we did upgrades and additional work on previous advanced workshop projects and discussed a full range of topics.  Too soon it was time to drop Ryan off at Hilo Airport with a box of supplies and plants arranged earlier. This will support his energy and interest as he moves into his next stage of training! 




                I found myself not able to sleep the night before flying to Hilo as I was too excited for what was to come.  David picked me up and on the way to Fuku-Bonsai explained the workshop for Hanalike II (which hadnít gotten its name yet). He assigned me to the important 3rd plant that would add character to a portion of the rotted hollow trunk.  I was a little shocked to I saw the size of the trees and thrilled to learn how to handle them!

          I was able to see how they do things and it gives me confidence.  Michael advised me to get all the aluminum foil out while bare-rooting and to straighten all roots. A few minutes later David advised me to remove more, how to move the roots around, and how and where it should go. 

          He gave me free reign while Michael assisted with holding the tree while I tied its roots in place along the trunk. During the project, David would point out certain details of the tree; how it needed to be tilted one way to pull the apex more towards the center, how one planting was too high and why he removed it. 

           He added the rock on the bottom to widen the base.  It was all spur-0f-the-moment decisions and once it was finished, it was amazing!  At one point, I thought it looked great the way it was but wanted to see how it would be his vision in the end. 

           It does look stronger with the rock and much more balanced with the top shorten by removing one plant and bring another down at an angle.  Iíd like to see how David and the crew modify the top collar and move the roots to join the main roots already in the hollow trunk

                 I jotted down only a few notes, but enjoy re-doing the workshop over and over in my head.   The technical basics like bare-rooting and prepping come easily with practice.  Change is the essence of the workshop and the revisions went quickly.  Itís all part of finding the best form that gels with the pre-planned objective.  Taking a mid-workshop break and discussion to develop or improve the design strategy to re-do or change something mid-way is is important and necessary when trying to obtain a high-quality one-of-a-kind bonsai. 

***  Go to Three Month Report of a 3-person workshop with three plants in February 2013


***  Return to June 2013 issue of Journal of Tropical and True Indoor Bonsai
***  Go to Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation home page
***  Go to Fuku-Bonsai home page
***  Go to Ryan Chang's portal page
***  Go to "Learning and Teaching Bonsai" portal page
© Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and Fuku-Bonsai 2013