Bonsai goes through many stages of training.  Initially, if it has the possibility of being trained into a bonsai but is untrained,  it is known simply as "bonsai stock."  Most material available to bonsai hobbyists are in this category and it is recommended that there be a major pre-training session to convert this to "prepared bonsai stock" in which major steps towards creating an ideal root system begin. During this pre-training session, you'll examine the root system and recognize what is possible. The first major training session then becomes a joy as there was time to study the prepared bonsai stock and to develop an exciting bonsai design.  

                At Fuku-Bonsai most of the work is done by the staff under the supervision of Senior Plant Manager Michael Imaino who oversees the nursery production and maintains the older plants.  I get to work primarily on trees in the collection that have not yet been "detailed."  This detailing is often the most challenging and will elevate a good bonsai to something special! We don't have enough time to work on the collection plants as much as we want.  The large Entry Tree is in this category.  Generally, we rotate the maintenance amongst the staff and once in a while, I'll step in and do some work that results in a dramatic improvement as shown in Part I.  It was time to upgrade the Entry Tree.

     At the end of Part I, the tree looked pretty good from a distance.  The crown was a wide dome like a mature banyan with an extraordinary number of aerial roots that fell far from the original central trunks of a "Rainforest Banyan."  It's hard not to be pleased and happy with it. But as a trainer that came up through the "Old School," I was a bit embarrassed. My mentor Papa Kaneshiro would be shaking his head and urging me to do better. By his standards, there were a lot of problems. "Moa," a prehistoric Hawaiian fern relative, had been allowed to grow profusely and while this gave a nice soft appearance, there really was too much of it. 

       When we mounted the large tree on the 6' diameter concrete disc and turntable,  we utilized a beautiful rare type of lava with driblets which had a lot of detail and which fitted nicely into the overall landscape with the rocks placed to conform to a natural strata pattern.  But with the tree developing well,  some rock should be removed to allow attention to focus on the tree. We had used two varieties of Serrissas as accents in the landscape and over time, most had died out as they were not compatible with Dwarf Schefflera.

        But the biggest problem were aerial roots that had been allowed to develop at an angle instead of falling straight down!  This photo shows two such roots.  

     By carefully digging out the roots, it was possible to straighten them.  Root #1 was easy. Root #2 had grasped onto a rock ledge and was too short to reach the ground. It was in a good location so I decided to keep it and also cover up  a problem. Somehow one of the arms of the mudman on the farthest right had broken off.  I had tried to plant a mound of Serrissa to partially hide it but was not successful. If the root couldn't reach the ground, my plan was to add a rock and let the root hit the rock and travel down to the soil.  

      When the large low back section was removed in Part I, we had an opportunity to change a lot of potting media.  I used this detailing exercise to also exchange potting media in this section.  The photo shows about 3 gallons of media removed.

     The concrete disc has held up well.  Some of the smaller rocks towards the outer edges are bonded to the disc with color cement.  Color cement was also  used to create an irregular edge to help contain the potting media. Usually, this is not seen as the moss covers it.
       This group of three rocks are bonded to the disc. In setting these rocks, I tried to create continual visual lines as if they are part of a larger lava flow where the low spots collected soil over time and only the tops of the flow was visible.  
      This photo shows the right mudman without his arm, root #2 that did not reach the ground, and the details of the beautifully detailed lava with small dribble patterns.
      A coarse bottom drainage layer made up of pieces between 1/2" and 1" was placed.  At the high end it was 4" thick, tapering down to the edge.  The large dribble piece actually sits of the drainage layer.  We build our large 6' diameter concrete discs with the center concrete about 2" thick and tapering down to about 1" thick at the edges.  A thick coarse drainage layer is recommended.
      A similar lava piece was placed so root #2 would reach it then run down the crease in the rock face to reach the media.  Another portion of the root runs down the back of the rock. At best position, the bottom of the rock would be about 2"-3" above the drainage layer so body potting mix filled the gap.  

       Behind the other pair of mudmen,  aerial roots were descending in an ideal position.  A short piece of stout wire would be the anchor and a long thin wire connected the descending aerial root and the anchor. Long strands of damp spaghnum moss were woven into the aerial roots and another thin wire gently held the column of moss in position. They are vulnerable and will stop growing and die out if there's dry weather. Once the aerial roots attach to  the ground, they become strong and straighten out. 

       Here's how the moss column looks like when it's done.  It takes a while to complete as the roots are very fragile and easily scarred. Often a bundle of several roots will descend together and these are more successful than if only a single aerial root is developing. To create very straight stout pillars, the strongest root section is retained and branching root portions are removed. It's been 10 to 12 years since any detail training. The emphasis has been steady fertilizing to create a dense crown that would increase humidity under the canopy to encourage aerial roots. 
      A close-up of the mudman that had a missing arm. The mudmen are 2" tall and the new rock to its right is only 1/4" away at the base. A recently imported "Micro-Mondo Grass" is being used as an accent.  The leaves are only 1" long and it's half the size of "Dwarf Mondo Grass" which has leaves about 2" long. 


     Looking up into the crown of a good bonsai should give you the feeling that you're looking up into the crown of an ancient tree.  The patterns of such crowns are very complex.






     If you compared this photo with the photos in Part I of Restyling the Entry Tree, you notice a lot of small changes. 

     There still remains a lot of work to continue the refinement to improve all possible details.

There's still a lot of refinement to do as this Part II report on detailing only worked on one section!

               For this detailing session, a large background was installed behind the Entry Tree and this made it easier to notice details.  Generally, bonsai can best be appreciated when it sits in front of a background.  It helps us to spot areas that are in need of improvements. The central portion of the tree was the focus of this detailing session and there were a number of improvements.  You'll notice there's a lot of work that needs to be done.  The aerial roots on both the left and right sides must be simplified to a single root so they will be strong and straight pillars like the Logo Tree. 

                 In the coming weeks the background will stay up as Michael and the staff complete detailing the remaining sections of the tree.  Upon completion, we'll take photos from several different viewing positions as this is one of a small number of mature tropical bonsai that is attractive from several different viewpoints.  Perhaps one day we'll mount the concrete disc on a mechanized turntable to allow it to be turned at the press of a button!  This tree began as a rooted cutting in 1976 so is about 30 years old as of this report.  Thirty years is relatively young as there are bonsai in Japan with documented ages of over 400 years.  

                When I began bonsai, I read that only one tree out of 1,000 can make a good bonsai and that it would take at least 30 years to mature.  I was impressed with that statement and became committed to grow thousands of bonsai to one day have a few good bonsai.  Looking back, I think the statement is both true and false. If you were to try to train any 1,000 trees such as those available in general nurseries and garden shops, it's likely that using standard conservative Japanese bonsai techniques,  most would not make good bonsai.  

                Outstanding bonsai are the result of unique training and dynamic accidents of nature.  Truly natural masterpieces are very few and far between.  A single unique pine tree may exist high in the mountains exposed to very harsh environment and this could be a model for an aged rugged pine bonsai. 

                There are relatively few, if any, "natural rainforest banyan masterpiece trees" as we live in a crowded world and such trees spread over several acres and take up valuable land.  There was once such a tree on the Hamakua Coast on the Big Island of Hawaii surrounded by sugar cane fields.  Before it could be designated a "Big Island Exceptional Tree" which would have given it legal protection, the landowner killed the tree and it exists only in photographs.  At times like this, I think of Japanese grand master Saburo Kato and his "Spirit and Philosophy of Bonsai" which was part of his International Bonsai Congress presentation in Hawaii in 1980.  It includes:

                "People who love bonsai appreciate the beauty of nature and plant trees in small containers. In doing so, they learn from nature and learn a philosophy of life. Even a person who doesn't understand bonsai can appreciate and be moved by its beauty. The power of bonsai is in its ability to portray the utmost beauty of nature. This is the goal for all who grow bonsai. There are three important things to consider:

               First, the roots.  When looking at an old tree, the roots form the foundation and gives strength. This is impressive and inspiring. Strong roots of large tree protect other smaller trees in a flood or a storm. These firmly rooted trees give us a feeling of stability and security. In the case of a bonsai, this should also be true.

               Second, the trunk and the way it's formed. In the case of a solitary tree, its especially important as to how the trunk emerges from the roots and the rising taper that it develops. After many years the aged characteristics and bark appear and you can sense the added character and personality of each tree.

               Third, the branches. These face the sky and are balanced and must have sunlight to flourish. Because branches and leaves are growing strongly, beautiful flowers can bloom. Even though growing vigorously and flowers are blooming, you must not be complacent and must be very diligent in the care of your plants. This care is important.

                Everyone here has gathered together from distant places. In each of your countries you have mountains, rivers, woods and forests. These are beautiful scenes to inspire you. Choose the most beautiful examples for your bonsai. Do not just copy anything. Rather, make your bonsai like the best parts of nature."

            (The entire presentation speech titled:  BONSAI NO KOKORO; The Spirit & Philosophy of Bonsai is posted at )


***  Return to Restyling the Entry Tree - Part I
***  Go to Restyling the Fuku-Bonsai Logo Tree
          ***  Go to Restyling the Fuku-Bonsai Logo Tree - Part II
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Fuku-Bonsai 2005