- DR. HORACE F. CLAY &
- "WALKING MANGROVE"
At one time,
bonsai was associated only with older Japanese men who tried to grow the temperate climate
trees of Japan in conformity to perceived rigid Japanese bonsai codification
standards. Most spoke Japanese and little if any English. Then, bonsai was a
secretive past-time. Perhaps the person who most stretched the concept of bonsai as an
"international artistic pot plant" was the late Dr. Horace F. Clay.
Horace was well-known in Hawaii as a horticultural professor at Leeward Community College
and for his extensive writing, published books, and newspaper column.
His popular radio program "Green & Growing" had a large loyal following and
he was at every significant garden or horticultural activity. Horace hosted a large number
of garden tours to all parts of the world, but he had a special love of all things
Japanese and made over 40 trips to Japan. He appreciated the courtesy he
received, the honesty and work ethic of the Japanese, and the refined
understated aesthetics incorporated into all aspects of the Japanese lifestyle and
Horace was a generalist who knew a lot about everything pertaining to plants. And
when he didn't know enough to answer detailed questions, he knew who to contact and
introduced us to the international authority in each specialty. He played a strong
role in the Fuku-Bonsai / Harold Lyon Arboretum Ficus Research Study titled:
"FICUS; An Inspiration for Bonsai for Indoors." He exposed us to
international horticultural standards and taught us to appreciate the special role that
Hawaii plays as an isolated mid-Pacific plant laboratory with unlimited micro-environments
from sunny sandy tropical beaches to the snow-capped peaks of Mauna Kea that now are home
to the finest astronomy observatories in the world.
Horace was always bringing back new plants and I was honored to form a one-time limited
partnership with him named HORVID to successfully import, propagate, and
introduce commercial quantities to the trade a "Pink Princess" ginger that is
now a significant Hawaiian export cut flower. Our friendship began in the mid-1960's
when Horace was invited to participate in bonsai activities. He had written a few
newspaper articles about bonsai, but most of us had never met him. He was the
nicest guy and had a totally different slant on bonsai!
Compared to the classical traditionalists, Horace was already knowledgeable about
Chinese penjing and was already training some of the plants that he had introduced into
"artistic pot plants" that were guided into unique shapes based upon unique
horticultural features of the specific plant. He had an "Ornamental
Papaya" that grew in a glazed dark green deep Chinese pot that naturally twisted and
coiled. A Dwarf Geometry Tree grew with irregularly balanced whorled branches like a
Norfolk Island Pine in a deep dark brown unglazed Japanese pot. But his pride was a
Dwarf Autograph Tree (Clusia sp.) that he had introduced to Hawaii.
Autograph Trees are very common with thick heavy leaves about 6" across. If you
scratch a name or message, it heals, dries, and stands out against the dark
green leaves. These plants are common curiosities and tourists are enchanted
and delighted to leave their marks. The Dwarf Autograph Tree is similar but the
leaves are only 2" across and much better as a potted plant. Too small for an
entire autograph, we call it "The Initial Tree." They drop aerial
roots and it reminded Horace of Mangrove Trees that grow in shallow tidal flats and form
When he went to Japan, he told embellished stories about his "Walking Mangrove
Tree" and how he's been searching for a narrow but extra long bonsai type pot.
He was a good friend of the Giese family who had acquired some of the oldest bonsai in
Hawaii and arranged for Papa Kaneshiro and others to help them bring the trees back to
health. With an unlimited budget, he was asked to design and commission
special pots for these historical bonsai. He was able to contact Japanese bonsai
master potter Seizan Kataoka to hand make the special bonsai pots. In time,
Kataoka also custom-made Horace's long desired narrow but extra long bonsai type pot that
measures 43" long x 11 1/2" wide x 3 1/2" high.
Horace was an original co-founder of the non-profit Hawaii Bonsai Association in Honolulu
with Ted Tsukiyama, Michael Uyeno, and me in the late 1960's and the organization's
president for the first ten years while Ted served as secretary-treasure, Mike the
show committee chair, and me as education committee chair. Horace introduced
us and our activities in his newspaper column and radio program and soon had us doing
demonstrations for high society garden clubs and cultural organizations. Our
team-teaching classes, non-competitive exhibits, and demonstrations have
introduced bonsai to anyone interested and there are no secrets anymore.
When we moved to the Big Island in 1973 to form Fuku-Bonsai, Horace was a frequent
visitor. When all efforts to create a public bonsai collection in Honolulu failed,
Horace was strongly urged that Fuku-Bonsai serve as the catalyst to develop an
international bonsai center to become a perpetual repository for outstanding bonsai.
When we incorporated the sole proprietorship nursery, Horace became a
stockholder and director. He helped to design the Kona Fuku-Bonsai Center and select
the trees and plants used in the landscaping.
When Horace was diagnosed with cancer, he was instrumental in forming the non-profit
Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and accepted a token amount to assure that his bonsai ukiyoe
(woodblock print) collection would stay in the public domain. The 12 prints in
the collection were patiently collected during his many trips to Japan.
"WALKING MANGROVE" trained by
the late Horace F. Clay. In accordance with his philosophy, the tree is
trained to stay compactly on only 50% of the pot "to keep the pot open so the
Mangrove can walk." The one-of-a-kind long narrow pot was made as a gift to
Horace by master potter Seizan Kataoka of Tokoname, Japan. The ukiyoe triptych is
from the Horace F. Clay / Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation Ukiyoe Collection.
Detail of "KIFUJIN NO TASHINAMI" by
Toshu Shogetsu depicts the cultural arts of the noblewomen of Japan. Ukiyoe
woodblock prints were produced during the period of isolation that ended when American
Commodore Perry opened Japan in 1853. As such, the prints provide a snapshot
of the bonsai of that period. The bonsai in this ukiyoe and the other ukiyoe in the
collection is more closely associated with Chinese penjing.
in the 1960's when most of the world had not known of penjing, Dr. Clay was stating
that up to about 150 years ago, Japanese bonsai and Chinese penjing were very
similar. The modern Japanese bonsai is, therefore, relatively young and still
rapidly developing and improving!
the oldest English-speaking bonsai community, Hawaii is now training it's 5th
generation in an environment where the fellowship of bonsai is as satisfying as the
hobby-art. Some of us are the 3rd, 4th, or even 5th steward of old bonsai and we maintain
a record of each to honor those who created the beauty. The donated memorial bonsai in the
Hawaii State Bonsai Repository are maintained based upon the vision or plan of the primary
original trainer, and when this plan is not known and styling is needed, we follow the
Steward's Creed in restyling and refinement. As a mature bonsai community we have lots to
AN INTRODUCTION TO OUR TROPICAL BONSAI
Aloha! If you're travelling through the Fuku-Bonsai website
title-by-title and have reached this point, it's likely that you're very interested in
bonsai. By now, you recognize that there are many aspects to the art and culture of
artistic pot plants. Most people learned bonsai through the Japanese bonsai craft
system which includes a huge amount of rules, or from someone who learned through the
Japanese craft route and is branching out. Relatively few learned through Chinese
art, culture, and philosophy. I've been a student of both ways.
I'm also a product of Hawaii's "BONSAI AS A HOBBY" concept where there are no
competitions and we share knowledge. The following section "LEARNING FROM
NATURE; AN INTRODUCTION TO TROPICAL BONSAI," parallels a fourth major way that I
learned bonsai. In sharing my knowledge I pay homage to the many who shared with me. I
hope you'll continue this chain and share the appreciation and the knowledge of bonsai
W. Fukumoto, founder & president
Inc., June 2001
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- November 1999 (rev.
Feb. 2001 & June 2001) FUKUBONSAI.COM © Fuku-Bonsai