Creating a Template for Building a Bonsai Pot


, , , , , ,

In my last post, I shared that I recently started working with a group of bonsai society members who want to learn to make their own bonsai pots. In that post, All Secrets Revealed, I shared a video of the actual construction of a bonsai pot, and while I include every part of the clay construction, one thing I omitted was how I created the template I used to make the pot. Today, I remedy that omission. Check it out!


All Secrets Revealed


, , , , ,

Ok, “All Secrets Revealed” might be a little over dramatic for a video showing the creation of a bonsai pot, but I did included every part of the process, which I hope will serve as a teaching tool.

I recently started working with a group of bonsai society members who want to learn to make their own bonsai pots. Next time we meet, we are going to dive into slab construction and I was worried that it would take longer than we have together. When I do ceramics at home, I often take my time and go back to the work-in-progress several times, sometimes over days. This was a test to see how long it takes from start to finish.

The answer: 3 1/2 hours. We will be able to squeeze this into one session, but it will be a very full session.

Air Layer Followup


, ,

I was clearing photos from my phone and realized I had never posted a followup to the Chinese holly air layer I started in the spring. I removed it way back in the beginning of September, so while my post is  very delayed, I can add that the Layer is doing well and has even shown signs of new growth before the cooler weather started to arrive. 

Above is the layer as it was when I cut from the parent plant and carried back to my garden. 

Lots of fine roots!

I will let this become established in this pot before I mess with it. 

Fresh from the Kiln


, , , ,

I fired up the kiln yesterday. 

Removing glaze ware from the kiln is always exciting, and I like the results I got on some new pots for the Bonsai garden. 

Three sizes of Bonsai pots from the four inch rose colored pot to the nine inch hexagon. 

And three small accent dishes in the three inch size category. I look forward to using all of them!

Oh… and how do you like my stamp? Do you see what I did there?

Another Convert


, , , , ,

I love meeting people who are as tree and bonsai obsessed as myself, and today I got to spend a little time with a very new bonsai enthusiast. 

Victor came to the October 14 meeting of the NVBS and managed to win some plants in our raffle. These two young Ficus were sharing the same tiny little pot and I was happy to help get them separated and into larger pots where they have room to grow and develop into future bonsai material. 

We talked a little about wiring and Victor gave it a go to put some movement and character into what were a couple of long arced stems. 

It was a pleasure, sir. Welcome to the club!

Old Bonsai Photos


, ,

My wife was going through old photos and left a few out for me. These are from WAY back! A couple have a stamped date on the back and are from 1999, and the others, by my best reckoning are from a little earlier. 

I had practically no money at this time (as has been the case most of my life) and would often try to make something out of nothing. I may have spent a few dollars on what must be a Juniper, toward the left. The center tree is some sort of maple with really large leaves that I probably dig up from somewhere, and who-knows what the plant on the right is!

Im guessing I spent some pretty decent money on the Pine, below, but just like the trees in the first picture… it is long dead. 

That’s right, these are pictures of trees dearly-departed. If what they say is true —that you learn every time you kill a tree —this is just a taste of how much I have learned. 

This next tree is still alive, but it’s not for lack of trying. I came so close to killing it that you couldn’t possibly recognize it today.  

Above is what it looked like in the late nineties, and below is what it looks like on my bench today. 

…Just trying to recover. 

There was just one other photo of a survivor. Here is a spindly Ficus Benjamina from about 19 years ago…

And below is how it looks today. 

Finally! Something that suggests I’m not a total failure. And a Benjamina no less!

Well, there you go. Photographic evidence of my early years that I refer to in my About Page. Here’s to better results in the next iteration. 

A Bonsai Partnership


, , ,

Sunday, October 15, 2017 marked the opening of a very unique and special, permanent bonsai exhibit space. The Northern Virginia Bonsai Society and Meadowlark Botanical Gardens have partnered over the past months to plan and construct a bonsai pavilion on the Meadowlark grounds. 

This public-private partnership was celebrated at a grand opening event attended by the public, members of NVBS, Meadowlark staff, and even a representative from the Japanese embassy. 

Many thanks to Garden Manager, Keith Tomlinson, and NVBS President Gary Reese for sharing the story of how this all came about. And thanks to the NVBS members who loaned their trees to the pavilion display. I look forward to watching this partnership develop and grow. 

NVBS With Larry Jackel


, , , , ,

Larry Jackel is a favorite expert among the members of the Northern Virginia Bonsai Society. He manages the bonsai collection at the Denver Botanic Gardens and collects fantastic bonsai material from the Colorado mountains. 

Larry provided a short program about horticultural mastery, design concepts, and management of new growth especially related to Picea pungens, Colorado Blue Spruce. 

He also provided a wonderful selection of CBS for the workshop participants to purchase. There wasn’t a bad tree in the bunch!

Just another great NVBS meeting and workshop!

Reopening the Japanese Pavilion


, , , , , ,

It was a unique honor and a priveledge to be able to attend a very special event at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum in Washington D.C. yesterday. 

Over forty years have passed since 53 Bonsai trees were gifted to the United States from Japan. The original Japanese Bonsai Pavilion — the first part of what has become the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum — was dedicated in 1976 to hold this collection, and good fortune brought me the opportunity to be there for the reopening ceremonies that revealed the gorgeous and much needed renovation of the Japanese Pavilion. 

Outside the Japanese Pavilion

An impressive guest list included a number of Japanese ambassadors and guests such as Mrs. Naemi Iwasaki who is the current chair of the Nippon Bonsai Association, the same organization that arranged the original gift of Bonsai over 40 years ago. There were also a number of influential American Bonsai experts in the crowd including Bill Valvanis who, as part of this event, was recognized for his contributions by receiving the Bonsai Hall of Fame Award. 

Bill Valvanis after receiving the Bonsai Hall of Fame Award

After a brief program, we moved down to the Pavilion for the ribbon cutting, and got to take a look around. 

The ribbon cutting

Beautiful garden paths lead from the entrance to the Bonsai displays

The bonsai were displayed on these beautiful stone and mahogany stands

I am extremely grateful to have been permitted to participate in this wonderful event and see the Pavilion with so many others just as it reopened. I know I will go back often, and you should too! My photos will never do it justice, and you just won’t appreciate it until you are there in person. 

In fact, there is one image I won’t share for this very reason. You will have to go see it for yourself… 

A famous Japanese White Pine greets you as the first Bonsai inside the Pavilion. This is the tree that was cared for by the Yamaki Family since 1625 and survived the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. If you have been to the museum over the last couple of years while the Japanese Pavilion was being renovated, you have seen this tree out in the main courtyard. Seeing it on its new display stand, at the perfect height for this tree, is a picture worth seeing for yourself!

I hope you get there to see it soon. 

Some Context on Collecting


, , , ,

I sometimes collect trees for bonsai. For my bonsai-curious readers, this means I will sometimes find a perfectly healthy plant and dig it out of the ground so I can keep it in a pot. 

There are folks out there who really don’t like this idea. And on face value, I get it. Why would you take it out of the ground? We need more trees, not less! 

I get it, but I am here to tell you that if you are concerned about preservation of our woody friends, a few tree-loving bonsai enthusiasts are not your problem. Check out this horrific scene!

That hill use to be dotted with small trees including some that had potential for a future as bonsai. I have collected a few young Virginia pines from this site, in fact. In the spirit of protecting the power lines, the power company sent in some big, horrendous machinery which left this carnage in its wake. So many more trees that might have survived, if only I had put them in a pot!

So don’t worry about some bonsai folk digging a few trees. But do hold them to a high standard. There are ethics to digging bonsai material, after all. Just a  few rules I follow are :

  • Always get permission from the landowners!
  • Fill in holes and clean up the collection site. 
  • Collect with preservation in mind by leaving trees for the future. 
  • Leave trees that are sure not to survive collection.

A couple more I would add if you are interested in trying to collect for bonsai. Start small. Start low stakes because some will die. And if you can, start with a friend who has had some experience and some success.