In the mid-1970's I was given a chunk of what was called (Oregon Feather Rock) that was cut, shaped, planted as my first successful tray landscape. It was so easy to cut I expected the roots to tear it apart and I forgot about it.  But every few years as I repotted, removed a tree or two as the others got larger,  and rearranged the design.  In December of 2013 I took off the last tree (left photo) and realized that the rock was still intact.  That was the time that Jay Boryczko was really struggling with the Michigan Feather Rock!  I had no problem recutting the rocks (center photo)  and carving into a more complex pieces to help guide Jay in creating his set (right photo).  So I started to see if more was available!



             Most of my best and oldest mainland bonsai friends were strong writers and correspondents as it was then prohibitively expensive to make phone calls.  They included Dorothy Young, the president and later editor of the American Bonsai Society and Connie and Horace Hinds who were the energy and founders of Bonsai Clubs International.  I got to know them and the California leaders, like John Naka, and others when I attended the 1974 Pasadena convention co-sponsored by the California Bonsai Society,  American Bonsai Society, and Bonsai Clubs International.  I stayed in touch with those who wrote back.

            One of my oldest bonsai friends is Charlene Smallwood of Albany, Oregon who visited in 1975 as she somehow tracked me down after seeing my articles in the American Bonsai Society Journal and Bonsai Clubs International's magazine.  It has been a wonderful friendship and I learned so much from her!   We had two sets of letters exchanging each month for many years. I learned of her first greenhouse and how she solved problems getting a small fan to reduce mold problems and how growing bonsai there was a lot different than Hawaii!

           It was great to have her in the workshop I conducted as part of IBC 80 Hawaii where I introduced "Reduction-Building."  We had discussed this in our letters and most participants were extremely timid.  So it was a joy to see Charlene cut everything off just above a small low branch in a single cut that totally shocked all others in the class!  It was great to see her gutsy pruning and we were then able to discuss "One Branch Styling" that is now a standard Fuku-Bonsai Reduction-Building technique to produce really great taper,  multiple trunks, low branches --- all within 1" of the soil line!  It's no secret of how to create character within 1" of the soil line --- but it requires confidence, good horticultural skills,  and the  desire to grow high-potential plants.

           We got to visit Dennis and Charlene on the way home from a convention and I actually got to see her situation.  When daughter Joni attended the University of Oregon at Eugene,  she was surprised when she entered her dorm room to find it gaily decorated as the Smallwoods were there earlier. Joni was safe, secure, and lucky to have the Smallwoods as her Oregon family!  So our families go back a long way.

          In the later 1970's, they brought over a piece of what they called "Feather Rock" and it was really great to cut and shape and I created my first successful tray landscape that was named:  "Smallwoods & NaPali Cliffs" that used small Japanese Golden Cypress trees.  Over the years, the trees got larger and from time to time when it was time to repot, one or more trees were removed and the landscape rearranged. Initially I thought that the roots would quickly break up the rock.  In December of 2013,  I removed the last tree,  realized the rock was still intact,  and was ideal for those who really wanted to carve their own bonsai rocks.  I cut the original rocks and carved them and this allowed me to guide Jay Boryczko as he struggled with his much harder "Michigan Feather Rock!"

          The Smallwoods have a great group of friends who travel together and have been on the Big Island in May in most years for the last several years.  In February I wrote to Charlene to see if "Oregon Feather Rock" was available and during the next month I got periodic reports of her efforts but cautioned that it would probably be May before the snow would allow finding pieces.  She checked with her Portland bonsai contacts and in March she informed me that while at Dave Degroot's workshop one of her friends mentioned heading for the area that had "Oregon Pumice."

          A few days later she reported that it was collected, that she would be heading for Portland to pick it up, and a week later wrote:  "BOY, DO WE HAVE PUMICE!!!  She sent me a postal flat rate box full of Oregon Pumice, we arranged another FedEx box on Fuku-Bonsai's account, and later another postal flat rate box arrived.  She put me into email contact with our benefactor Lee Cheatle and I got to thank him.  To me, the material is really great but Lee wrote that the Oregon gang thinks it too easily picks up too much algae.




        APRIL 2014.   With the arrival of the first box, I made a fast first trial with a small piece and found the inside water-saturated. After I allowed the pumice to dry in the sun it got easier to cut.  This first piece was sawn into three pieces with a large teeth bow saw.






       The pieces were rough shaped with a knife with both the tops and bottoms shaped like mountain peaks.




          The largest piece was cut with just enough off the bottom to allow it to stand up with the other two pieces cut to give me a complimentary second largest piece and a third largest piece.  The smaller bottom sections were further cut.  I selected a Dwarf Serissa that reminded me of the upright evergreens of the Pacific Northwest.





      After a bit of carving,  a wire brush created nice details and this "Oregon Pumice Landscape Set"  was planned as a gift to Charlene. 




         The rock holds a lot of great detail.  At this point,  a lot more detail can be added.  My primary concern was that the color was too distracting.  Lee's comment resulted in a plan to totally dry out the rock, then saturate it into Water Seal to "water-proof" the rock.  Color would be added to knock down that orangey color that bothered me. 




        This is the set of components for the "Executive Sandbox Kit" to give to Charlene.  The Dwarf Serissa was potted into cut-down 2" and 3" square nursery plastic pots.  Both the tallest tree and the tallest rock are about 6" tall.  One idea was to use various sizes of 2"x2" blocks to raise either plants or rocks to make up different arrangements.   




          I made up a treatment that is primarily Thompson's WaterSeal with some exterior Driftwood color transparent stain.  The initial trial dried too light and some Dark Walnut stain and some black enamel was mixed in.  The photo shows the staining in process with the three larger pieces not yet stained.  When dry, it was closer to the desired color. 




        I sent an Oregon Pumice rock to Ryan Chang and this is his first photo of his first effort!  Clearly Ryan has strong rock-sculpturing abilities!   He was planning to visit Fuku-Bonsai so we arranged for he and Charlene to visit on the same day.

                    May 29, 2014.  It was a great day and the results of the workshops will be reported in next month's Journal.  We ended the day with Charlene, Ryan and I moving around various components and creating a range of landscape designs.  We took this photo with one of the arrangements.  Using wood blocks, the mountain peaks or the "trees" could have been higher.  The contours of the land would have been shaped with the potting media and the Keto-Tsuchi muck and pieces of moss could have completed a nice scene.

                      The concept of developing components for "landscape sets" that could be temporarily arranged and enjoyed could be a great stress-relief "Executive Sandbox" or a nice educational tool for learning to design scenes.  Imagine using a thin clear oval plexiglass and building the landscape on it with the rocks attached,  plants positioned,  and the surface mounded with the aid of keto-tsuchi that holds moss in place!  In this small size,  it could be a great accent or companion display with a larger bonsai in formal exhibits!  In either case,  we're just beginning and there's a lot more projects to do and improvements to be made!

                     THANKS CHARLENE!   THANKS LEE!

*** Return to the June 2014 issue of Journal of Tropical & True Indoor Bonsai
*** Go to Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation website
*** Go to Fuku-Bonsai website
               Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation & Fuku-Bonsai, 2014