Two rocks:  the larger about 11" tall and about 5 1/2" wide;  the smaller about 5" high and about 3" wide are softer red Hawaiian cinder lava.  It is the type that Fuku-Bonsai uses for it's easy-care Hawaiian Lava Plantings.  It is porous, absorbs water and cavities can be created to allow planting with the rock as the bonsai container.  But for those interested in serious bonsai,  it's ideal to use them in "Root-Over-Rock-Into-Pot" stylings because growth is stronger and pot-bound plants can be rejuvenated by repotting.  Over time, the roots become stronger and more impressive, the trees mature and acquire grandeur and for each and every hobbyist that totally creates them,  these are wonderful personal masterpieces!  This is George's!


       If you want to make a masterpiece bonsai,  develop or acquire masterpiece potential bonsai stock and do a masterful job!  If you want to create a masterpiece rock planting,  get exciting world-class rocks, extraordinary bonsai material, create a brilliant plan and strategy,  then do impressive execution!  But if you're starting out or building on limited experience,  it's realistic to lower your goals a bit, to join a strong study group helping each other,  acquire high-potential raw material . . .  AND JUST START!

            George McLean of Kalispell, Montana wrote his first Sumo IWP article in the July issue posted at and in that same issue did a aggressive top and bottom dragon posted at  He's a careful worker and does good work.  So as a member of the Fast Track Study Group, he was one of the first to try rock sculpturing and his result was in the September issue posted at  It also turned out well and set the stage for this larger challenge!


             September 24, 2013:  Aloha David,   about a month ago you sent me an email saying I might be interested in doing a project involving 2 or more small trees and multiple rocks in a roots-over-rock style, possibly on a tray landscape format. I would be interested in doing more rock sculpturing especially in the Chinese Taihu (Spirit) style and trying more roots over rock. Maybe one large rock with more than  one tree incorporated.  Could you let me know what you think might be suitable for me to work on?   Aloha,  George


             October 25, 2013:    Aloha David,    no problem with delay- we've been extremely busy here as well with garden harvests, harvesting the apple and plum trees, winterizing the place, bird hunting etc.   Your suggestion sounds good: I would like to proceed with it: namely, the 2 rocks, #17 conversion kit, 2 4LL8 roots stock, bindwire (no moss needed), and the Quickcrete sample.    Aloha,  George    (PS. Montana tends to have a northern version of Hawaiian time, and I'm no exception!)


             November 11, 2013:  Aloha David,   since your October email,  I haven't heard anything more on that project;  just wanted to check.  (And after a reply)  Your proposal sounds fine. I've just left a message.  (PS. I've been working on an Oregon volcanic rock given to me by our daughter who's in Portland and I've pretty much finished with the sculpturing a challenge--those Oregon coastal rocks are HARD!).  Aloha,  George




             NOTE BY DAVID:    Chinese Taihu rocks are one of our inspirations for carving, but we've turned it upside down as most are top-heavy.  They aren't intended to be rock planted so it's necessary to keep it heavier so the roots won't crack the rock.  After several email exchanges,  I sent a sketch that included notations to clarify some issues which is reproduced.  This helped to serve as a jumping off point and shortly after I received the first set of photos. 


               Photos:  (From left)  Front;  Right side;  Back; Left side.

               November 18, 2013:  Aloha David,   rock work going well and having fun doing it--have finished saddles and root trails, 2 holes near bottom to anchor to pot, 2 holes each above the saddles to bind trees to rock. Next step is Taihu work.   Aloha,  George


            Photos:  (From left)  Front;  Right side;  Back;  Left side.

             November 24, 2013:   Aloha David,   have narrowed top to give more interest and taper, finished root trails, created Taihu holes tunnels etc. on back. Let me know what you think.  Aloha,  George

              NOTE BY DAVID:    Aloha George,  nice work so far, but conservative.  Nice start on the top as seen in the front photo, but from the right side photo, the top is too wide ---  recommend reducing 30%-40% to top for about 2"-4" down on the right side (opposite from the Taihu carving).  When carving Taihu, you can bore out holes twice as large --- but keep outer edges heavier.  If rock breaks, you have Liquid Nails,  Super Glue (gel type) and the colored cement. This is a case of "NO GUTS-NO GLORY!"   Look forward to next report.  Regards,  ~~~David


           Photos:  (From left)  Front; Right side;  Back;  Left side

           November 27, 2013:  Aloha David, glad you like the work on the big rock!   I have not begun to sculpt the smaller rock; will plan to start soon and follow similar themes as larger ie. most Taihu work on side facing large rock and try to match grains, give it some taper and more interest, but of course, no saddle or root trails.  I already have your sketch of Nov. 16 outlining the major suggested orientations of the 2 large rocks and tree positions etc., and I liked it. I think it would give me a better idea of spatial features and how the composition would look with the "real" stuff in place. I welcome your thoughts on this. In meantime will get to grinding on the 2nd rock.  Aloha,  George



         December 4, 2013:   Aloha David, have sculptured 2nd rock and am sending photos of proposed grouping of rocks and trees, along with outline of proposed concrete pancake, and photos of 2nd rock. Rocks have turned out well I think, with a lot of detail. You can see from photos I tried a wire down one root trail but I might use a technique I wrote about in a previous email, i.e. boring a small hole, filling it with liquid nails, and inserting a loop of bindwire  ---  this seems like an easier option for me, at least for relatively short root trails. Please let me know your thoughts.  Aloha,  George




          With a tighter grouping, the main rocks were installed on a "concrete pancake" to lock in the relationship and the first small plant was planted on the lower right side of the large rock per original November 16 sketch.


          George drilled a small hole in the root crevasse to install tie-down wires with Liquid Nails. Nutrient Granules in saddle, sphagnum moss, potting material and the first 4LL8-Roots planted on the upper back of the large rock as show in the photo from the side. 


          December 13, 2013:  Aloha George and Celeste,  can see you're having fun and generally all seemed to have gone well up to the planting of the 2nd (largest) tree.   But I think you put tree #3 in the wrong place.  I recommend that it be between the first two trees and between the two rocks snuggled up against the roots of the largest tree with branches growing out and over the small  rock.  This will create a much more compact grouping that will grow out  nicely.  Please reconsider and advise.  Regards, ~~~David


         December 13, 2013:  Aloha David,  sorry, but your suggestion would be impossible --- there just isn't enough room between the 2 rocks. I considered this situation carefully before planting tree#3, and looked at it again after your email. The base of the tree/aerial roots are 1 and 1/2 inches in diameter and space between rocks only about 1 and 1/4. (maybe we should have used separate pancakes to allow more options)?  Also, if I somehow managed to squeeze the tree in, I would have to sacrifice half of the tree's spreading branches. Also, putting tree #3 between the rocks would hide the beautiful aerial roots from most all views--a negative in my opinion. But the most important factor is--there is just not enough space.  Perhaps the pics don't show it well, but the canopies already are blending and the overall impression is very impressive. Can't wait to show it to our older son when he arrives Wednesday.  I worked yesterday on shaping the lesser rocks  and will send a few more pics and a report soon. I think I will stay with your black lava fine top dressing rather than white gravel for now. I really learned a lot from this workshop and I am looking forward after the holidays to working on that spare rock you sent, perhaps doing a root ON rock using my sumo or ordering another smaller premium stock.  Aloha,  George


         December 15, 2013:   Aloha David,  wanted to wait until son sees trees before dibbling in more media and compressing foil.  My fault in not hollowing out a bigger saddle between the 2 rocks to give space for tree #3--a problem with trying to communicate complex projects via email. All I could recall was that you said put them an inch apart... But that's how one learns: if I had done it perfectly the first time what would I have learned?  I suppose I could try to hollow out a saddle to accommodate the tree now, but it would be very difficult if not impossible given the narrow gap between the 2 rocks, and risk fracturing the pancake (and rocks). Frankly, at this point I'm ready for this project to be over --- I've spent easily 50 hours on it, not including the emails and setting up the photos! I feel like Roberto Duran in his title fight with Sugar Ray Leonard when he quit in the 8th round with these words to the ref: "No mas! No mas!"    Aloha,  George



         December 16, 2013:  ROOT-OVER-ROCK REPORT:   "Duran, on the urging of his manager, reluctantly comes out for the 9th round  .  .  .  "


By George McLean (Kalispell, Montana) supported by wife Celeste

           As a member of Fuku-Bonsai's Fast Track Study Group, I had done 3 prior workshops: a Sumo, a Dragon-Roots, and a Root-Over-Rock planting. But nothing nearly this complex. The inspiration for this project came from reading article #12C in the September issue of the Journal of Tropical & True Indoor Bonsai, where Ryan Chang of Oahu displayed very impressive sculpturing of rocks in the Taihu style. Chinese Taihu or "Scholar rocks" come from Lake Tai in Jiangsu province --- limestone characterized by bizarre and fantastic shapes with multiple through-and through holes, tunnels etc. created by eons of water action on the rock. Many are completely natural, others have been sculptured by local artisans. Intrigued by Ryan's work, and urged by David Fukumoto, I Googled "Chinese Taihu Rocks --- Images" and studied these intensively.

         Taihu rocks are displayed alone and are not generally used for plantings. For one thing, they tend to be narrower at the bottom -- not ideal for a root-over-rock design. But perhaps a hybrid design could work, and David sent me two rocks, one large, one a bit smaller, and three trees, two 4LL8-Roots and a smaller premium prepared bonsai stock. The rocks were splatter lava, the larger 10 inches tall and weighing almost 3 pounds, the smaller 5 Inches in height and 1/2 pound. The trees were beautiful and meticulously packaged with sturdy trunks and great branches and one--the 2nd largest--had 8 or 9 spectacular aerial roots.

         But I needed some help. I was conceptually paralyzed, not having a feel for where to begin, other than that the two rocks should be vertically oriented. David sent a suggested plan: space the rocks only an inch or so apart, and diagonally in the 17-inch oval tray. This would allow an interesting view from more angles. Place the largest tree high up on the large rock, with the smallest one lower on the opposite side of the rock, and the 2nd largest one between the rocks, nestled close to, but lower than, the largest tree so they could form a common canopy. The "backs" of the rocks would be used for most of the Taihu styling, while the fronts left structurally intact and used for root trails. The two rocks would be locked into position by a common Quikcrete "pancake" and wire loops embedded in the pancake would serve to pull the plants down firmly into the media.

      So the work began: first by using my drill and masonry bits and Dremel tool to roughly flatten the bases of the rocks, then finishing by hand grinding on a cinder block. The supplied Quikcrete was poured into a 1/2 inch thick slab using aluminum foil as a mold and the 2 rocks positioned in it. Tray was prepared in the usual manner, with plastic separators over coarse media at all the drain holes. Two saddles were created in the larger rock and root trails created. To prepare to fixate the roots, I drilled holes at intervals in the root trails, filled them Liquid Nails, and inserted a loop of paper-covered bindwire into the hole. This technique worked well.

        The Taihu work presented challenges. This lava has a hard, reddish, brittle outer layer enclosing a soft, black core with many air bubbles. Getting through the outer layers without any disasters was the major challenge. Most of this was done with 3/32 and 1/4 inch masonry drill bits, but for very delicate work after the outer layer was penetrated the Dremel proved better, as it has less vibration than the drill and is less likely to lead to unwanted fractures. Overall, though, the drill was used more, in sizes up to 1/2 inch. And I had my share of unwanted surprises--fortunately none disastrous--repaired with 5 minute epoxy.

        I was now ready to plant, but realized I had put no pull-down wire loops in the pancake! My improvised solution was to cut a one inch length of bonsai wire into the shape of the Greek letter omega and to bury the flat ends of the "Omega" in a 3mm deep groove carved in the pancake by the sharp point of my awl, and pour 5 min. epoxy into the groove. (I had tried drilling holes into test pieces of Quikcrete--they all fractured). This fix worked well.

       Planting of largest and smallest trees on the large rock went fine. But ... the 3rd tree was too big to fit between the 2 rocks, so I placed it a bit off the end of the corridor between the rocks and sent all the photos to David. The reply was swift but characteristically polite:  "I think you have tree #3 in the wrong position...please reconsider... the dreaded "redo" message!  At this point I had spent 5 weeks and more than 50 hours on this project, and, frankly, I felt like Roberto Duran in his title fight with Sugar Ray Leonard when, in the 8th round, he had had enough and declared "No Mas! No Mas!"

        But I reconsidered and came out for the 9th round, and with a lot of gnashing of teeth and mashing and bending of roots I managed to get it to fit, with the sacrifice of  only one branch and one small root and 2 thick ones going straight down which would have interfered with scrunching the tree down into a low enough position.   I thank David for pushing me to limits I thought were not possible! 

       Aloha,  George 


        Left photo:   concave cutter, bonsai shears, funnel spoon, bonsai wire, forceps, root hook, chopsticks for dibbling, brush.

        Right photo:  cordless drill, masonry carbide bits 3/32 to 1/2 inch, Dremel and bits, tack hammer, awl, 1/2 in. cold chisel.



          "ARE WE HAVING FUN, YET?"   Every time I run into a problem,  I resort to consoling myself that I really enjoy the challenge of trying to solve problems --- to do the best that I can --- to overcome any obstacle! Bonsai presents continual challenges of every possible issue ---  after all, it's a fine creative art that can be appreciated whether you obtain promising trees that you nurture and improve, or whether you enjoy the challenge of finding or sculpturing rock and do rock plantings or like to train bonsai.

          BONSAI IS ALSO A HOBBY AND I DON'T THINK THIS IS STRESSED ENOUGH!  A hobby is to create a sense of pleasure and brings joy and there are so many ways that bonsai does that!  Those who tend these little trees in pots find the serenity of nature as a comforting oasis in a world that at times seem to be spinning wildly out of control. In quietly enjoying a form of nature,  it helps to salve the discomfort of an aggressive in-your-face culture that seems overly materialistic,  self-centered, or lacking in ethics.  In its finest form, bonsai takes you into an idealistic utopia to build friendships and promote peace!

          FOR SOME OF US,  BONSAI IS A COMPLEX HORTICULTURAL CRAFT that continues to improve and needs refinement as the trees age!  It's sufficiently complex to often require instructors to help beginners learn the basics.  We enjoy the hobby and craft to the extent our collections grow and to make space for more,  they are great for giving to friends as gift.  That's why I really like trees that can be successful for almost anyone as it was painful to give a good friend a Japanese Black Pine bonsai that he quickly killed and both he and I felt bad! 

          Some of our customers earn our special 50% discount when they order 16 or more Introductory Workshop Packages and enjoy both training them and giving them as Christmas or other gifts.  When you grow easy-care high-potential bonsai,  you'll quickly find that the local garden shop will purchase as many as you can supply as you make room for more advanced training!  I am encouraging serious hobbyists to consider becoming semi-professionals that are needed to support and assist others to learn and enjoy True Indoor Bonsai. Start by joining our study groups and progress at your own pace. 

         More than anything,  I am proud that Fuku-Bonsai is willing and able to provide high-potential prepared bonsai stock!  Bringing trees to this point is the most difficult part of bonsai and as part of advanced study groups,  I teach these techniques.  But most really like the idea of being able to obtain older plant materials and concentrate on the creative challenges.  THAT'S WHY I'M DELIGHTED IN BEING A PART OF THE PROGRESS THAT GEORGE McLEAN,  RYAN CHANG, AND OTHERS ARE MAKING!  

          ALTHOUGH I LIKE THE CREATIVE CHALLENGES,  I'M ENJOYING WATCHING OTHERS REALLY GROW!  George happens to live in an area without a lot of bonsai activity or experience but look at what he's done in just six months!  Jay Boryczko's bonsai interest was largely dormant for almost twenty years, but his enthusiasm is contagious.  Jerry Meislik is probably the busiest "retired" guy around!       

          The goal of the Journal of Tropical & True Indoor Bonsai is to build a fellowship and community of hobbyists (and professionals) who will help and encourage those who are interested.   We hope to create qualified teachers in all parts of the country who will be able to teach True Indoor Bonsai for growing indoors year-around and outdoors when low night temperatures exceed 55F.  For those wanting better growth there should be common knowledge regarding supplemental lighting that would also allow growing Ficus Bonsai.

          There was a model for what I envision.  In the 1960's and 1970's when bonsai was less known, the American Bonsai Society was our opportunity to learn and share from each other.  Dorothy and Luther Young were the owners of Keith Valley Nursery in Pennsylvania and president, then editor of the ABS Journal.  Ernesta Ballard, contributed the basis for growing tropical bonsai indoors.  She was president of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and lived nearby --- not far from Chase Rosade.  Marion Gwyllenswan (sp) founded the Mame Bonsai Growers of America.  Elizabeth Schultz headed Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Connie Derderian was the curator of the bonsai collection at Harvard.  These bonsai leaders created well crafted bonsai articles and ABS encouraged a wonderful fellowship of corresponding friends.  It is my hope that those willing and able to assist others will include their email addresses in their articles and that over the years,  we'll build a fellowship and community of hobbyists (and professionals) to help and encourage those who are interested. 

          George and Celeste, I congratulate you on your creative achievement and thank you for letting me be a part of it!  So after you recuperate and recover from your effort and are in need for another challenge, please contact me if I can help.   Warmest regards,  ~~~David (            

*** Return to the January 2014 issue of the Journal of Tropical and 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