Ron Davis of Montana was another recent visitor who took a workshop here in May of 2006.    This was shortly after we had worked on the Hawaii-Alaska driftwood tree. (See  Ron saw it,  wanted to try one,  so we did.  A while later he wrote and I could sense we had a fellow with a poetic soul so I urged him to tell the story in his own words and he did!



                I became a bonsai enthusiast seven or eight years ago because the idea of combining horticulture and art appealed to my interest in trees of all kinds and my as-yet-unfulfilled artistic inclinations. Bonsai books were filled with pictures of healthy and well-crafted trees in beautiful pots. I wanted to try my hand at growing trees that would "evoke a response in the viewer".

           Due to the extremes of climate here in Montana my choices were limited. After trying several species of juniper, maple, hornbeam, elm, pine and spruce for several years it became evident that I had the best results with pines, spruce and elms. That was it. No other trees, in my experience, could withstand summers of 90°F and twenty percent humidity, sudden hailstorms, an ongoing drought and then go into winters of subzero temps with thirty percent humidity and desiccating winds.
         I took care of my trees with much love but no experience. I read all the books and embarked on a trial-and-error education. The growing season was encouraging with new growth but it always seemed too short. My designs for each tree were realized very slowly over the years. The trees spent five months on their outside benches and seven months hunkered down in mulch bins inside the garage. I spent much time planning but not enough actually cultivating the art of bonsai.
           I began to ask myself, "What if I had a couple of indoor bonsai?" I could spend more time engaged in the whole experience of growing trees in pots and fulfill this burgeoning passion that brought me so much enjoyment. So I went back to the books, journals and websites searching for a species of indoor bonsai that would fulfill my desires. Nothing seemed to be quite right until I looked at the  Fuku-Bonsai website.

                "Aloha and Welcome!" greeted me in bold red letters and it immediately felt like this site really had something to say about bonsai. After drifting through the riot of web pages I became interested in the design of these leafy Schefflera in spite of what I considered to be "real" bonsai. Instead of a tapered trunk with a single apex, there were sometimes several trunks with a multiple apex. It appeared like many of the trees had no definite front view…they looked good from several directions! I began to get the idea that the Schefflera could be an interesting way for me to maintain my bonsai addiction throughout the long Montana winter.

            Scheffleras were familiar to me, but only as big handsome houseplants. My wife, Pamm, and I have had one in our living room for eighteen years. We appreciate this plant for its deep green abundant foliage. 

          As with many leafy houseplants, the Schefflera contributes to the health of our indoor environment by exchanging carbon dioxide for oxygen. But our plant was obviously not a bonsai. The Scheffleras at Fuku-Bonsai had to be a different species.

                My overall impression of the website was that the main man, David Fukumoto, had a heady desire to share his years of indoor bonsai research and development with other enthusiasts. Every time I consulted the website I uncovered more fantastic articles on the art and science of raising these trees to a high level of horticulture design. 

                I was intrigued by the Schefflera’s contrast to my outdoor trees as well as David’s depth of experience and willingness to share his knowledge. Then I saw that David was available for hands-on training workshops. My wife and I had a trip planned to Hawaii in May, 2006…well, within two weeks I had arranged for a private session with David during our vacation.

                My first impression of the Fuku-Bonsai nursery and gardens was something like, "Good golly, we’re not in Montana anymore!" The Hawaiian sun filtered down through a light drizzle and seemed to drip off every shade of green imaginable. On benches, trays, and rocks sat trees the size of fingers snuggled up to their big-shouldered brothers. Trees twisted about like Sufi dancers, some were graceful hula dancers, and every so often there would be the big guardians with stately aerial roots supporting massive canopies that felt like a refuge from worldly travails.

                "Aloha and welcome to Fuku-Bonsai!" came from a man who appeared as strong and friendly as his trees. It took David Fukumoto about three minutes to make me feel like the most important visitor he has had in years. He took me into the garden of his most prized trees and proceeded to explain the hows-and-whys that went into their care. After a half hour of conversation, me mostly listening, I began to hear a message behind the words, "I’ve got a lot to teach to you. Can you handle it?"

                The next morning, still bewildered by these curious trees and their keeper, I arrived back at Fuku-Bonsai for the workshop. David greeted his good old friend (that was me) and we went into the woodshop. There I met Mike who was engrossed in carving a beautiful wooden plant stand. I stood aside as David and Mike briefly consulted on my workshop. Then they picked out a piece of driftwood from the pile, found a suitable oval pot, and Mike screwed a 5"x7" flat plastic disc into the bottom of the slanting driftwood.

                David took the pot, the driftwood and me over to the workshop bench all the while keeping up a patter about trees, soil, design, creativity, and adventure. He helped me to select a specimen of schefflera that "looks like a little challenge". Somehow I got the impression that we were going to have fun and it was going to take most of the day. "I’m ready, what’s next?" I said.

          After removing the plant from its pot, the bonsai master took several minutes placing it in various positions at the top end of the slanting wood. I was wondering how the heck was he going to get that thing to stay on top of a one and a half inch wide diagonal base. Weaving together experience, wire, string, boldness and magic, David Fukumoto showed me how to affix the plant’s roots securely to the wooden armature. I was impressed.
          "Let’s make a sushi roll", David said. We were right in the middle of this workshop, the plant was stuck like a wad of gum on the end of a stick, and it wasn’t even time for lunch. "So what the …,"  I thought. 

           He gathered up a couple buckets of soil, sphagnum moss, a little fertilizer, and a roll of aluminum foil. With these ingredients the bonsai sushi chef cooked up a dish that would provide support and nourishment for the next year of this little tree’s life.

                By the end of the workshop, I was excited, bewildered, enchanted and hooked on these strange tropical plants. We arranged for the tree to be shipped to my home the next week. The thought came to me that this Schefflera would be lonely in the Rocky Mountains and at the last minute I bought two little guys already in training to be a Dragon and a Roots -over -Rock. But a nagging thought chewed at the back of my brain: can I keep these trees alive in Montana?

                The trees arrived hydrated and happy. I found a suitable spot in front of a big southeast facing window. I got together a copper humidity tray with gravel. I was prepared with the right fertilizer. And I was worried. What now? How do these trees bud out, how do the roots grow, what’s the lowest indoor temperature they can take, how much sun do they really need, do I have to provide artificial light, and how do I come up with a design image for each one?

          To solve this conundrum I turned to one of the fundamental tenets of Daoism: Wu Wei. I would take no inappropriate action. I would not be in a hurry; rather I would take care of their basic needs and wait to see what happens. 

          This approach seemed to keep the trees healthy. The big "Driftwood Sushi" developed a mass of new growth. Every time I looked at it I was satisfied but very curious about what was happening inside the sushi roll.

Driftwood-Sushi     Part II

                With the warmer temperatures and stronger sunlight of June and July, my Driftwood Sushi tree was growing nicely and needed to be watered more frequently. While moving it in and out of the watering pan for submersion, I noticed that the base of the wood was loose in the pot. By August it had become so unstable that I felt it was in jeopardy. Something had to be done.

                There were two options. One was to run wire through the drain holes and up the length of the "sushi roll" to replace the disintegrating string. I wouldn’t be disturbing the foundation (how far down had the roots grown?) but it would be rather unsightly and would interfere with progressively peeling off the foil. Second option was to remove the soil in the pot and see what had to be done at the base. If I could firmly reconstruct the wood base to the pot it would be the best solution, but I might cause the bottom of the sushi roll to come undone. I didn’t really think that the tree could have sent roots down twelve inches to the pot in three months so I went with the second option.

          I excitedly took the Driftwood Sushi Bonsai to my workshop. The sense of adventure was high. There was risk involved but the well being of the tree was at stake. So I - the guardian of this precious plant - gathered up tools, wire, screws, a drill and some courage and forged ahead.

          The major problem was the one screw that held the driftwood to the flat plastic plate had come loose in the wood. The remedy was to drill and place two new screws through the plastic and into the driftwood at different angles and depths. Then I wired the plate to the pot through four drain holes. 

          My vision of this tree was to have many roots coming down the driftwood frame and spreading across the soil. It would have enough mass that it needed to be very securely attached to the pot. Two thin screws from the little plastic plate weren’t going to do it.

          The plate was reinforced with #10 copper wire by running it up through two drain holes with one side three times longer than the other. The longer length went around the base of the sushi roll twice and the two ends were twisted together. Then a little crimp in the wire beneath the pot firmly locked together the sushi roll, plastic base and pot.

          To finish off the reconstruction of this design, I placed new foil over the old; this would hide the wire and funky foil and allow slightly more coverage of the soil. In this process I was completely surprised to see a few tiny white roots at the bottom of the sushi roll! None of my outdoor bonsai trees have this kind of rapid root production. It was astounding and quite encouraging!

          After this operation the bottom of the Driftwood Sushi creation was stable and growing. I added some new soil with about a tablespoon of MagAmp fertilizer around the pot. David Fukumoto has done much experimentation with this product so I trust his advice, but this too was new for me, as I have always used only liquid fertilizer. I knew we included MagAmp in the sushi roll mix and the tree has shown new root growth so I eagerly added it to the soil in the pot. This renovation of the "Sushi roll" was pleasing to the eye and much more secure. So far, so good.

                Now I had to deal with the top. Like so many people that love to see lush foliage and are relatively new to bonsai growing, I really hesitated to prune the crown of this happy little tree. When I consulted David about trimming this tree and the two others I got from him he replied, "Sushi will be your greatest challenge". 

                At the time I thought he was referring to taking the next step in determining the major branch and the genesis of the overall design. But perhaps, in his wisdom gained from many years of teaching bonsai cultivation, he was also acknowledging this great uncertainty felt by many novices.

                The instructions were to trim off all but three leaf stems on each branch. This would open up the crown to show how the branches were distributed. I got my shears and went to work. Being unfamiliar with the grow habits of Schefflera, I was not completely sure of what should and should not be trimmed. But I clipped away and came up with a much leaner Driftwood-Sushi Bonsai.

         The innate branch placement gave a definite direction for the design. It would grow long to the left with a nice canopy on top and shorter branches on the right for balance. The Cascade style is one of my favorites and that is what I want for this tree. 

          I lowered the main branch with wire (it’s a little too tight in this photo) and it looked like we were off to a good start. After some time spent contemplating the design, I decided that the branch above the main one could be lowered to add mass and separation from the top.

                 I had sent a picture to David of the Sushi with the main branch wired. He replied promptly and recommended "bedspring" wiring  (go to   for more information). This is a looser method that guides the branch without undue pressure on the bark that could leave wire marks. So I removed my first wiring and cut off a length of #12 copper wire that was long enough to wire both the first and the second branch. 

                With patience, and after several attempts at this new technique, I was able to place the wire where I wanted it. The main branch lowered nicely and I started in on the second one. This branch had a nice curve coming right off the trunk. I thought that if I could bring it down to blend in with the main branch it would add more visual weight to the overall design and more likely "evoke a response in the viewer". 

                This phrase is my fundamental mantra in cultivating all bonsai. On the other hand, I could just leave the second branch alone and wait to see how the tree developed from here. But I was eager, perhaps impetuous, to see the design take shape. So I began to manipulate the wired branch downward.

                Of our five major senses, Sight and Touch are the primary ones used in the art of bonsai. The visual impact is the culmination of what we do, and we achieve this by our sense of touch in the handling and management of our trees. Rarely do we use our sense of Hearing. In fact, beyond the soft rustle of foliage under our fingertips, we do not want to hear anything from the trees. Please, no snapping, crackling or popping of the wood.

          But it happened. With the second branch between my thumbs and fingers I heard the thunderclap of a branch breaking…the awful sound of wood being ripped asunder. Well, OK, it was a bonsai-sized sound, but it signaled the end of the world for the second branch. 

          One moment I was embracing a living branch that would figure prominently in this tree’s future and in the next moment the weightless discontinuity of what had happened lay in my hands. The broken branch sagged in its wire net as my spirits sank with the full realization that I had gone too far.

                What now? In the process of bending the branch to its breaking point I had also broken off one of the remaining three leaves on the main branch. The tree looked weak and abused. My original idea of a massive primary branch was ruined. All I could do was cut off the empty spiral and wrap the wire end around the sorry stub of the second branch. This would give the wire of the primary limb a good anchor for future growth. And maybe, as some compensatory gift to me from the great Dao, the stub would sprout new energy and I would learn from my mistake.

                As I considered the plight of the Driftwood Sushi, I thought of what Lao Tzu says in chapter sixty-four of the Dao De Jing:

                "Rushing into action, you fail.

                Trying to grasp things, you lose them.

                Forcing a job to completion, you ruin what was ripe.

                Therefore, the sage takes action by letting things take their course."

           And then I recalled the wise words of David Fukumoto, "Sushi will be your greatest challenge". 

           With those thoughts, the tree and I sat there for a while reflecting on what was  .  .  .   and what could be.


      STAY TUNED .  .  .   Ron will send us updates as he and Sushi continue their journey.  But in the meantime, the other trees are ready for the next steps too!

                I invite those who are willing and able to learn while teaching others to also create a page and share the development of their trees.  Those interested in participating are invited to contact:
                David Fukumoto, founder and president, Fuku-Bonsai Inc.
                     PO Box 6000 (Olaa Road), Kurtistown, Hawaii 96760
                     Phone (808) 982-9880;   FAX (808) 982-9883
                     E-mail:        URL:
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