In 1980 the International Bonsai Congress was held in Honolulu, Hawaii co-sponsored by the Hawaii Bonsai Association (HBA) and Bonsai Clubs International (BCI).  It was a landmark convention in which the Nippon Bonsai Association formally participated in their first convention outside of Japan.  Bonsai grand master Saburo Kato was the featured headliner and presented "BONSAI NO KOKORO (The Spirit and Philosophy of Bonsai)." 

                Saburo Kato is an international bonsai giant especially known for his large forest arrangements of Ezo Spruce.  His book The Beauty of Bonsai contains numerous photographs and as part of the promotion of the 1989 World Bonsai Convention in Omiya, Japan, he provided a photo series from that book and reprint permission.   See Forest Planting Techniques by Saburo Kato


                Saburo Kato wanted to create a special IBC 80 Hawaii legacy. Knowing that his signature Ezo Spruce forest plantings would not survive in tropical Hawaii and not finding suitable plant materials on Oahu, in September of 1979,  Saburo Kato and Haruo "Papa" Kaneshiro flew over to visit Fuku-Bonsai on the Big Island of Hawaii. The nursery was then only six years old but had the best materials available.  I share with you a behind-the-scenes account of many areas of consideration that went into creating this impressive forest.

               I have limited understanding of Japanese and he had limited understanding of English. But with Haruo translating, I could understand that he was looking for a tropical equivalent of Ezo Spruce and that the trees be generally apical-dominant forest-type trees. One by one we ruled out plant varieties until Weeping Banyan (Ficus benjamina) became the best choice.  Kato liked the elegant growth and the beautiful foliage. 

                But Weeping Banyan has totally different qualities compared to his familiar trees and this presented challenges for both of us.  The plant has extremely vigorous growth and it would take a very high level of expertise to train and maintain such a forest.  The trees at the nursery were being trained for individual or small groupings so each tree required extensive preparation to be suitable for his planned multiple-tree planting. His preparation, analytical planning, and attention to detail were extraordinary and I prepared them according to his detailed instructions. At IBC 80 Hawaii, his 37-tree Weeping Banyan forest planting demonstration was impressive!

"PEACE FOREST" (1980 - 1990)

                The theme was the harmony and co-existence of trees in a group planting to parallels the relationships of an extended family.  The largest tree represents grandfather or the head of the family and close alongside is grandmother.  At various locations are the children's families including grandchildren. In enjoying the arrangement, a viewer should imagine the relationships of various trees as members of such a family.  At that time, the largest tree was 48" tall with a trunk diameter of one inch with the smallest tree 12" tall with a trunk diameter of 1/4".

Peace Forest 1985 KatoPapaTedEd.jpg (30313 bytes)         In 1985,  five years after Peace Forest was created by Saburo Kato at the International Bonsai Congress in Hawaii, Kato visited Hawaii and visited the forest which was in the care of Haruo "Papa" Kaneshiro. From left,  Eddie Nishida,  Ted Tsukiyama, Kato, and Kaneshiro.

                The tree was exhibited ten years later at IBC 90 Hawaii and when I saw the tree, I was impressed with the full healthy foliage. But it had also grown to almost six feet tall! I was shocked to see the relationships had completely changed. Many trees had deep wire marks and the smallest 1/4" trunk trees representing the grandchildren now had 2" thick trunks that were thicker than the main tree!  No one seemed to notice. After the convention, Fuku-Bonsai was entrusted with Peace Forest, along with "Takamiyama," a rock planting by Shinji Ogasawara, and three Christmas Berry bonsai by John Naka, the trees were flown to the Big Island.


                Detailed study over the first two weeks revealed that the arrangement had been treated as topiary with a shearing of overall form rather than pruning of each tree.  The smallest trees at the outer edges had generous root areas and more room for branches to develop. The combination of larger roots systems and luxuriant foliage greatly thickened the trunks of the small trees.  In contrast, the  major trees were tightly grouped and in a failing effort to control the ever increasing height, the small cone of foliage was repeatedly pruned to a point that the largest tree had hardly thickened at all!

                Bonsai is ever changing and for most trees we had developed a "Stewards' Creed" to guide the restyling of older bonsai in the memorial collections.  However,  no one in Hawaii had knowledge or had successfully trained tight multiple-tree ficus forest groups.  No such forest arrangement existed in nature as banyan trees tend to be short and stout with broad crowns. Continuing the training style of the first ten years was not an option and unfortunately, I had to take sole responsibility. 

                The restoration plan included: 1) Replacement or elimination of all trees with deep wire marks.  2) Replacement or elimination of all smaller trees that had thickened and were no longer compatible with the size relationships established by the "family theme." 3) Reduction of the height of each remaining tree.  4) To recreate as closely as possible the original design placements.  And, 5) To train the overall planting and each individual tree in the trunk and branch structures of apical dominant non-ficus tropical forest trees.

                In 1994, after four years of study and heavy pruning of the top growth, the arrangement was taken apart and the trees with deep wire marks and the small trees that had overly thickened were removed.  A few thinner trees were added.  Initially there were 37 trees. When we received it, there were 33 trees. After the first major restoration effort 27 trees remained.

                In 1998, the forest was again repotted and the arrangement tightened up to allow creation of contrasting spacing between clusters of trees.  While our efforts to remove wire marks were successful with several trees, a few did not respond and three more trees were removed.


PeaceForest1.jpg (20300 bytes)      1.  The arrangement has greatly improved with more of the feeling of a forest with increased detailed training of each tree. There were two noticeable potential problems:   a) What was the smallest tree at the left was beginning to overly thicken due to having a larger root area and room for the crown to grow. And, b) The main tree was thickening but not as fast as a few of the other trees.  Peace Forest was still under my authority and this restoration session strategy was to specifically address these two issues.
PeaceForest3.jpg (14711 bytes)        2.  Michael Imaino, president of the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation holds up the pot that was specially designed by Saburo Kato and measured 48" long by 24" at the widest point in an uncommon pear-shape.  Another unusual feature were the abundance of very small drain holes.  The pot had been hand-built by Seizan Kataoka, one of the top master bonsai potters in Japan.   
PeaceForest4.jpg (15828 bytes)         3. Only a small number of these pots were made and the first one that was sent arrived in Hawaii broken in spite of a sturdy packing crate. Thirty 1" diameter clusters were evenly spaced over the bottom of the pot. Each cluster had 18 small 1/16" holes.  These provide sufficient drainage but allowed only tiny roots to go through.  The bottom includes Kataoka's stamp and a felt pen inscription that is almost unreadable and disappearing. 
PeaceForest2.jpg (27277 bytes)        4.   Michael is holding the largest main tree.  Because it is surrounded by other trees, the roots are restricted and although the other trees are pruned to allow more top growth, the trunks of several other trees are thickening more quickly. The group of trees were to be split into two groups.
PeaceForest5.jpg (29995 bytes)        5. With root hook, heavy duty pruner, a metal pick, carving mallet, and chisel, the two groups were separated. This would allow adding more space between the two groups to allow the largest trees to build a larger root system to thicken specific desired trunks. 
PeaceForest6.jpg (23950 bytes)         6. The other major problem tree was once the smallest thinnest tree. With a lot of room for the roots to develop, it had developed a lot of new growth and had thickened considerably. In this photo much of the new growth above the bend had been removed.
PeaceForest7.jpg (26091 bytes)        7.   The plan is to pull the cluster of trees so the small trees would be up against the pot and the lack of space for roots to grow is expected to slow the growth of the trees that need to stay small. The two trees were turned so the smallest tree is against the outside edge of the pot. 
PeaceForest8.jpg (23960 bytes)         8. With the exception of five trees, all remaining trees are still in in two groupings.   This photo shows the planned new arrangement. Compare it with photo #1 to understand the concept of the changes planned. One tree that had developed a bend near the base was deemed unsuitable and removed.  The 23-tree group planting has many similarities and the feel of Saburo Kato Ezo Spruce group plantings.
PeaceForest9.jpg (28896 bytes)         9. Michael's hand shows the location of the main tree whose growth is being slowed by the surrounding trees.  The two groups of trees had been separated as shown in photo #5, but were positioned together for this photo. 
PeaceForest10.jpg (25228 bytes)        10. By swinging most of the trees to the left side, additional space is created on the other side. This allowed the second group of trees to be moved farther out to create room for the main tree's roots to grow. Trunks thicken in proportion to the size of its root system and the amount of foliage. By creating a larger root system to support a doubling of the main tree's foliage, the trunk will thicken a lot faster.  In contrast the trunks of trees with restricted roots will not thicken.  In the next few years, the trunk thickness are expected to again be in proper relationship. 
PeaceForest11.jpg (24613 bytes)         11. The smallest tree is secured to the pot with copper-colored aluminum wire that is passed through the drain holes.  A needle-nose pliers and a flattened nail with a drilled hole is useful for getting the wire through a root ball so the securing wire will not be visible and distracting when complete. Note that the bottom layer is very coarse and hipped higher in the center of the pot. More coarse material is used where growth is to be slowed while more body material used where stronger growth is desirable. 
PeaceForest12.jpg (21285 bytes)         12. The largest group of trees are positioned as a single unit and body media is added.  At this point, the foliage has not yet been trimmed back. It is necessary to prune back tropical top growth to compensate for root pruning.  Root pruning of pot-bound trees and the addition of new potting media creates improved plant growth and vigor.  Note that the trees at the right are leaning.
PeaceForest13.jpg (28867 bytes)       13. To correct the leaning trees, Michael first cut 1 1/2" off from a scrap of watering hose and slit it. This cushions and prevents wire from damaging the trunk.  A wire is looped between two trees and by turning a nail the loop is tightened and the right tree is brought into the desired upright position.
PeaceForest14.jpg (25530 bytes)       14. We would not get the maximum benefit of creating more root room if all trees could send roots into the area.  So we created two circular sheet metal "soil-dams" that will prevent the roots of the trees at the right from invading new growing area that was created.  This will create more growth and vigor in the favored main trees on the left.  Media is carefully dibbled into any empty spaces between the roots.
PeaceForest15.jpg (24728 bytes)         15. Michael is completing the surface with the aid of "Keto-tsuchi," a muck that holds the soil contours and helps to establish the surface moss. The muck is made up of thickened cornstarch, fine volcanic pumice, and spaghnum moss.
PeaceForest16.jpg (23134 bytes)         16. After fine pruning and completing the surface detailing, the tree is well watered with a very fine mist spray.  After two days in the shade, Peace Forest was moved back into the full sun. The 23-tree arrangement has been reduced with the tallest tree now about 46" tall, a full 24" shorter than when it was placed into our care!


                Creating multi-tree forest arrangements require a lot of skill and Saburo Kato is the premier master of such skills.  Maintaining such arrangements that utilize fast growing tropical plant materials requires an understanding of root control and is much more difficult than when using slow growth temperate climate trees.  In 1980 when this arrangement was first created, no one in Hawaii had such skills.  In the eleven years that this arrangement has been in our care, we've learned a lot.  The design has evolved to represent an apical-dominant tropical forest similar to the structures of Eucalyptus forests.  This forest has been our greatest challenge to date.  It's a legacy of a landmark convention and extraordinary bonsai master!

Peace Forest 17 formal Oct 2001.jpg (42541 bytes)

               17.  We're now confident that the forest has an exciting future. At the next repotting, it is likely that two more trees will be removed to bring the forest down to twenty-one trees.  Two months after the August 2001 restoration session, the temporary bracing wires have been removed, the trees are beginning to fill out again, and there's been light trimming for this formal photo.

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