Aluminum foil covers over an opening in a rare lava stalactite.  The other opening will also be covered and clear kitchen plastic laid over the entire piece.  Concrete will be placed between the two foil covered areas to tightly fit against the portion of the stalactite between --- separated only by the thin plastic.  A "wire ladder" will be built on this section to allow planting a tree that will compliment the beautiful lava formation. 

                     Creating bonsai using "ASSEMBLY" techniques is highly recommended once you start understanding the basics and graduate from the Beginner Study Group.  At this point you should know the basic "Sumo" concepts of how to create character within 1" of the soil line and a shallow compact root system within 1/2" of the soil line.  You'll know how to use an accent rock to create an impressive buttressing root system or to help visualize a scene that will help you to train the tree into the vision in your mind.  You'll know how to extend and expose roots and how to prepare a tree for rock plantings. 

                     At this point, the rapid learning curve slows down dramatically and it evolves into a methodical observation and the goal to steadily improve the growth of the trees.  At this early stage of development,  the priority is to learn the needed cultural skills so the trees grow vigorously.  Poorly growing or stunted trees are difficult or impossible to train.  If you follow Fuku-Bonsai's methods to add bulk with a lot of character,  you'll allow the tree to aggressively grow to thicken the trunks, roots, and branches.  When cut back hard, the regrowth of many new growth points improve the potential.  But while good growth and design skill is needed, the actual selection of growth points can be done very quickly and this is followed by another lengthy growing out period.  In each "reduction-building" cycle, the tree develops much more potential.  While important,  there really isn't very much to do!

                    During this lull period,  those continuing into the Fast-Track Study Group are encouraged to learn "ASSEMBLY" techniques that moves you into intermediate bonsai activity.  Assembly includes planting two less-then-ideal trees to make a higher potential 2-tree bonsai.  Several low quality trees can be trained into a more attractive clump grouping.  Pair a plant with a rock.  Grow several plants on a large rock.  Or grow multiple plants or multi-rock assemblies to create complex landscapes.  With each additional complexity, there's the potential for significant beauty beyond the results of the basic Introductory Workshop Packages!

                    Much of bonsai is logical and common sense.  Good bonsai requires plants with good potential, an interesting design concept, and a fair amount of skill.  Really great bonsai requires exceptional plants, exceptional design, and an exceptional amount of skill.  The fastest way for a relative beginner to create exceptional bonsai is to obtain the highest quality plants and components and use "assembly" techniques in a skillful manner.  This is the story of such an assembly situation. 


                   Red hot lava can swiftly travel long distances when flowing through insulated lava tubes that roof over to allow the lava to stay hot and liquid.  When the source of lava stops, the lava drains out, leaving large tunnels that may have lava dripping from the top of the lava tube ceiling.  Tiny cracks develop.  If a hot fluid lava flow runs over a top of an old empty lava tube,  sometimes the new hot lava drips through cracks and these drip lava formations are known as stalactites while lava pillars that form on the floor build up into lava stalagmites.  These beautiful formations are greatly prized by all who enjoy the beauty of lava.  They are often mounted for display as Nature's Sculpture.



            The "wire-ladder" is made with 1"x2" welded wire bent with a pliers at every section until it conforms to the desired shape and more or less following the rock shape.  When the clear plastic and wire-ladder are in place, mix up the cement.  I use QuickCrete as-is after the gravel is screened out.  We use some cement color and have a blackish, brownish, and reddish color mixes as well as natural gray.  We intermix to get the color close. After the cement weathers and becomes discolored, it really blends in well.  



              I tried to create a texture to match the stalactite.  At the runny consistency,  the concrete drips seem to match the lava drip marks.  After it cured for two or three days,  I was able to lift off the section and remove the foil protection and clear plastic.  The piece fitted back snuggly and the stalactite looks great with the view of the openings preserved to retain interest. 



               The stalactite and wire-ladder filler section were taped together and tripod sticks added so the whole unit could be lifted up together and placed onto the "concrete pancake' that was made over a round wood disc.  The size of the wood disc assured the finished rock would fit into the intended pot. A mound of aluminum foil and three "fins" created drainage openings under the rock.  Concrete was mixed and placed on the aluminum foil covered disc, the tripod stalactite placed back into position, and concreting completed.



               A broken stalactite piece was taped in position and locked into the concrete pancake which included some heavy tie-down wire.  The wire-ladder allows placing the pre-shaped extended roots bonsai close to but not actually on the stalactite.  I did not want the Dwarf Schefflera roots to intertwine with the lava stalactite.  It was left to cure for a month or two and the scheduled visit by Ora Scott was a good time to plant it as part of a concentrated workshop as he joins the Fast-Track Study Group.



                 The tree had been part of our 1:10 Project in a 9" diameter saucer less than 1" deep.  It's roots were already extended about the right height and it had the right amount of mass.  About two years ago it was a 8LS8-Roots. The roots were further extended and individual roots separated so I knew roots were long, straight, and separate.  The plant was about 10 to 12 years in training and ideal for the intended use. I didn't want to use a small plant that would take a long time to get fully established. Given the choice, I prefer to do root-over-rock plantings with full size trees.  As our Fast-Track Study Group members become more skilled,  they have access to special prepared bonsai stock such as the Premium Introductory Workshop Package plants or even older specially trained trees that could become special Custom Collection plants.  This is a major benefit of being a study group member as such plants are not available to general customers who may not have the skills to properly utilize the premium plants.



         The left photo shows the wire-ladder filled with a layer of sphagnum moss that serves as an internal water distribution network,  a mix of coarse bottom and body media, and nutrient granules.  Paper-covered bindwire pieces were threaded through the wire-ladder before it was filled.  The roots were carefully trimmed and a few large heavy roots were removed so only the flexible outer roots remained.  The roots were opened, slipped over the wire-ladder and it fitted almost perfectly!  Starting from the top, the roots were arranged and tied with the bindwire that will rot off in a few months without scaring the roots.  I have very high hopes for Ora Scott and believe having him participate in such innovative rock plantings will help set his personal goals and standards to a high level.  We invite our active study group members to schedule their visits well in advanced to have other such projects that allow participation if possible. 



           Ora assisted in most areas and here he shows how the rock was locked into the bottom of the oval Fuku-Bonsai 17"x12"x2" plastic pot.  Both sides of the arrangement are interesting and I asked Ora which side he preferred.  He likes the side that in which the roots are clearly visible so his photo was taken with that side.   I think the stalactite is a special treasure so prefer the side that features the rock with the plant in a subordinated role.  As time permits  the large number of outstanding rocks in the Fuku-Bonsai Collection are being prepared and will be planted.  We were fortunate to have had access to choice rocks before the Big Island began developing.  Many of the places where we collected our best rocks are not longer accessible or have been flatten by heavy equipment as hotel-resorts were built as part of the visitor industry.  The Big Island of Hawaii is the best kept secret, but each year, more learn about this special place and Fuku-Bonsai.  We hope we can provide the needed support to make it an international bonsai Mecca! 




Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and Fuku-Bonsai, 2014