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Witches Broom   Leave a comment

A term in the nursery trade to mean a “genetic mutation’. This is a mutation that occurs from environmental factors, chemical triggers and health factors in the plant that stimulates a mutation of the parent plant. It is how many new varieties of plants are found. These “witches brooms are grafted back onto parent stock and many times the genetic mutation takes on the mutation and grows on to become a new plant.

This year in the garden I had the surprise to find one of my trees exhibit witches brooms on several branches. Not all of them but three of them. The tree is a normal acer buergerianum “trifidum”. A common trident maple.

So this is the plant. It is a trident maple that I dug at Steve DaSilva’s field. I have had the tree for a decade and never did anything to it. This past year. 2019, I took the top off as a layer. I cut the layers free a couple months ago and they leafed out. Suddenly, this one developed three witches brooms.

I have circled the three exhibitions of the broom.

On closer inspection it is easy to see the much different shape of the emerging leaves.

The leaves exhibit all the traits of the Mino Yatsubusa maple with it’s long middle lobe looking like a hand flipping the bird.

Check out this close up and compare it to one of the normal leaves on the same tree.

I will keep an eye on it and see how it develops thru the next couple weeks. It could be gone by May?

Updates 2020   Leave a comment

So far this spring has been a roller coaster ride. Warm, then cool again, late rains, wind, chill, warm then cold. Leaves have come out on some things, and been slow on others, even of the same species. I have had some trident maples open leaves on half the tree and the other half’s buds are swollen but stopped when it got cold. I know it will all even out soon as the heat is ready to swoop in and begin the real Spring soon. The three large layers I took off almost two months ago are beginning to open now. The third one had the most roots of the three and seems to have opened much larger. The elm is opening but seems to be sputtering in the cold. I need heat right now for root growth and building new roots to help keep it alive till it is running on it’s own.

The little beauty berry that I bought seems to be leafing out well. I will begin to wire some in a month or so as I get more extension.

This maple underwent some massive surgery 6 weeks ago by removing a branch and cutting it way back. I did some carving on the trunk and wired out the small shoots before the leaves.  It seems to be pushing well in spite of the weather.

Three new pines entered the fold. These come by way of Ed Clark. They are all Shohin size and are to be developed over the next five years. I already have one I got five years ago and so these are numbered II, III, IV.




This pomegranate is also a recent addition


Posted March 15, 2020 by California Bonsai Art in Uncategorized

The Bunjin Form   Leave a comment

My Thoughts on Bunjin.

By Jim Osborne

“Bunjin is probably the most miss-understood of all the bonsai styles. Actually, it is not really a style at all but more of a feeling. All good bonsai should evoke some feeling in the viewer, and this is especially true with Bunjin. In most other styles, you look at the roots first, then the trunk. In Bunjin, you look at the trunk, the branches and roots come second. Bunjin is all about the trunk, in other words, the line of the tree.

Bunjin can trace its beginnings back to China, over 1,300 years ago. One can easily see a kind of abstract shape in Bunjin, which brings to mind the art of calligraphy and landscape paintings of the Southern School of China. I learned that the men, who painted in this way, were from the ruling class and turned their backs on the government and courts in order to dedicate their lives to things like poetry, philosophy, calligraphy and painting. They sought freedom for the individual man of culture. These men became known as the “Literati,” meaning educated ones. The literati felt that in their wild landscapes the entire man was revealed, even more than the mountains he painted.

Bunjin bonsai reflects this freedom. In other bonsai styles crossing branches or trunks would be considered incorrect. In the Bunjin style, such crossings are not only permitted, but it can give a powerful tension and drama to the design of the tree. Look at the landscape paintings of the literati. Crossing branches, and odd twists and turns of the trunk are prominent features of their work.

According to Frank Nagata, former dean of the Southern California bonsai masters, “Bunjin is the last of the bonsai styles for the student to appreciate.” As I’ve stated, Bunjin is not really a bonsai “style”. There are few rules, and everyone makes what they feel is right. However, if it’s not done correctly, the tree just looks funny. Therefore Bunjin is very difficult to do.

It is even hard to describe what makes a Bunjin bonsai, because it is more of a sprit that invests the tree than some thing physical. There are some rules however. The most important of which is that the trunk is tall and slender with little or no taper, and it is never straight. The trunk should have interesting twists and turns. In some Bunjin, the apex can be a 180 degree turn in the trunk itself. The branches on Bunjin are asymmetrically arranged and few in number. The first branch being, in most cases, two thirds up the trunk and sparsely greened. Most Bunjin have very little or no surface roots at all.

My bonsai friends and people who know me know that Bunjin has long been my favorite style. I do not really know why this is. Perhaps, it is because of the true freedom that one can enjoy when creating a Bunjin bonsai. I do not have to concern myself with all the rules of the more conventional styles. With Bunjin, I am free to create as I see fit, as long as I take into mind the sprit of the tree. I have found that with Bunjin, you either love it or are indifferent to it. Most people look at a Bunjin and don’t see too much. They think that it must be easy to create, because of the simplicity of the design. Whatever the reason for my love of the style, it gives me great pleasure to create and enjoy them.

People often ask me what is the difference between a Bunjin bonsai and a literati bonsai. Nothing, they are one and the same. New-comers to the art of bonsai learn about the heaven, earth, and man triangle and the arrangement of the branches; first branch second branch, back branch, ect. Then, just when they are beginning to feel sure of themselves, they see a tree that breaks all the rules, and they feel uncomfortable. They don’t like it. When the novice no longer has to think about the rules in bonsai, then maybe they will at some point develop a taste for Bunjin. It has been said that Bunjin or literati bonsai is the most sophisticated of all the bonsai styles and sometimes the uninitiated may see them as artificial.

The great John Naka says this about Bunjin. “The Bunjin style of bonsai is so free that it seems to violate all the principles of bonsai form. The indefinite style has no specific form and is difficult to describe, however, it’s conformation is simple, yet expressive. No doubt it’s most obvious characteristics are those shapes formed by old age and extreme weather conditions.”

What type of pot can be used for Bunjin? As with the style itself, less is more. A round, drum, or a nail head pot could be a good choice for the Bunjin bonsai. Another good selection would be a natural-looking crescent or boat shaped pot. In most cases, the pot will seem somewhat undersized. As in any bonsai, the tree and pot must harmonize with each other. The same rules for color and glaze apply to Bunjin as in any other design.

Thinking about trying to create your own Bunjin bonsai? What type of plant material can be used? Just like other bonsai, you have many choices. The most often used material is some type of pine, because they can be found growing in nature in a Bunjin style. Juniper would be another good choice, but really you are only limited by your own imagination. Whatever you choose, it should be a material that will allow the harsh pruning and sparse foliage that is the hallmark of Bunjin. It should also be something that does well in our Western climate. Bunjin are mostly grown in small pots, which is something to consider in the heat of our summers.

I love this style. It is a challenge to create, and I find that it epitomizes the very sprit of what we as bonsai artist try to create. Bunjin is about the struggle for survival against great odds. It has great age, and displays fantastic movement, and as such, great drama. It tells a story. It surely evokes a feeling in the viewer. It clings to life, year after year, despite itself, in the most adverse conditions. What is not to love about this wonderful style? What more could one want from a bonsai?”

I have found the form very intriguing and began dabbling with Bunjin in about 2012. It is rather difficult to perfect the form and it takes the perfect material to be successful.

I few of my own.


A Peek into the Life of a Fanatic   2 comments

Part of this story started 4 years ago in 2016. I decided to make a few stands. I was going to make them all the same, two larger ones and two smaller. One each for me and one each to sell off. They were going to be simple and bare bones. Mostly functional, with nothing fancy. All The alder wood is cut and ripped into the correct widths.

Again, very simple and just functional as far as displaying a tree.

Here is where it begins to slide off the rails. My wife was getting pretty sick by now with the cancer and I did not finish one of the stands for a year. In that year I began putting together the components of my display for the Kazari. I had this pink pot by Bunzan that I bought specifically to plant black mondo grass in. I thought the pink and black would really pop. In my head I thought wouldn’t it be interesting if I introduced a colored stand to the world. Something not seen before. A pop of color rarely seen outside of the accent plant. Yes, this is going to be something not yet seen before.

I assembled my components at the Kazari. I chose the pyracantha because of the pot. The stark white pot would be the perfect foil for the stand. The subtle turquoise in the border of the scroll played well with the color of the table. A seasonal moon with Ume. Black mondo grass in a pink pot. The playful splash of color is just what the season calls for, waking up from Winter, in a display not often seen in bonsai circles. I didn’t place, but I think Mike Saul was the judge. Maybe he has some insight as to feelings of the display from a judging POV.

So now three years later and I decide that for this year at the club show it might be nice to finish the other smaller stand. The stand was done except for the finish. I thought the open space between the top and the bottom stretcher was too boring. I found these laser cut wood cutouts and fitted them in. Continued with finishing the stand with a custom Rosewood dye I make myself with denatured alcohol as the base. Little did I know, California in it’s infinite wisdom has decided that denatured alcohol should become a controlled substance and is no longer sold in California in anything larger than a pint. I guess drunks are drinking it to get high, and go blind in the process! I only drink it on special occasions, and my cape keeps me from going blind!

The Boss asked me to bring extra stands so one more is in the fold. I think that makes 21 or 22. I thought it might be fun to take some cheap procumbens and wire them up and sell them. I purchased four. This town is really juniper proof. If you want junipers for your garden your going to have to go someplace other than Fresno to buy them. If you do find one they will be scrawny little plants with a pencil trunk and barely out of 4 inch liner pot. Pathetic really. These were pretty robust and I bought all they had with any future as bonsai. Ther are a few left , but good luck making a tree out of them.

I wired the four and made two upright and two semi cascade. Nothing fancy, just starter plants for the people interested in starting with bonsai. Not very often does one find stuff at a bonsai show that is ready for a show pot, and frankly could be shown right now. I’ve seen worse at shows. It takes me a couple hours and some wire to turn these out.

I left some of the dead wood long and it can be cut back by the new owner.

In my email from the “Boss”, I was asked to bring along any accents I might have as well as the stands. I thought I would touch up a few today as some of the plants were looking pretty tattered. You already seen the mondo grass in pink pot earlier from 2017, and I still have it!

Pot by Dick Ryerson

Pot by Gary Wood

Pot by Bunzan

Pot by Pauline Muth

Pot by April Grigsby

Pot by Yozan

Pot by Bunzan

Pot by Yozan

Pot by Yamaaki -Toshio

Pot by Big Dave Rochester

Pot by Gary Wood

This has been the last two weeks. Fifty to go!

If there would be any interest in seeing the tree displays from the 2018 Kazari and given the opportunity to judge it for yourself, please comment and ask for the trees. I can post them up if the interest is there.


Making Room   4 comments

This year has been a problem. It actually is a problem that is good to have. I have too many plants in training. I ditch them where ever I can, in between larger plants, on top of the soil of larger plants, on the ground, where ever. Today I built 16 feet of shelving on the fence and over the next few days will continue to build an even larger shelf for larger plants in training. All the stuff on the ground will move out for the new larger shelf. Seed trays will be stored under the larger shelf.

Posted February 16, 2020 by California Bonsai Art in Repotting, Trees from Seed

Got an Extra Week!   2 comments

The weather turned cold again and everything slowed down. Many things that were already on the move stopped completely allowing Al to have a little more time. Most of the stuff I have done this week were things that could make it another year before repotting. Some of them were junipers that I always repot last. This week I intensified my work on cuttings, taking literally hundreds this year.

I have a couple miniature privets that I picked up at House of Bonsai. They have been very good and producing lots of shoots during the year. As it gets to fall I always let some go for cuttings in late winter ready for Spring. The plants slowed down this year, and a little later I needed to repot them on inspection. The small pots were packed with roots and absolutely no soil. I took cuttings two years ago and they rooted well. Last year I transferred them to individual pots and they filled the pots with roots.

I gave away so many I didn’t have that many left. I have eight to grow on this year, but I have a whole batch of new cuttings already pushing leaves and ready for roots this year. This is how they filled a four inch liner pot full of roots.

I cut the bottom pad off and spread the roots and replant taking the time to wire while they are bare rooted. It’s so much easier to do when bare root.

Most of these are being trained in semi cascade style, and a few will grow to be in the neagari semi cascade style.

Most of these were already pushing leaves, but their tough and can take the repotting while pushing leaves.

I did the same things with trident cuttings. even though I have a million seeds growing, cuttings are fun because you can get the “head start” aspect of the growing experience.

Oh I don’t know maybe 40 or so in here?

This pot from April Grigsby is a pot I robbed from her at Shohin in 2018. I don’t think she wanted to give it up but I kept pulling out twenty dollar bills until she said yes. I had the pot, I bought that early in the day, but didn’t really have a tree in mind for the pot when I purchased it. It just looked good, and I wanted it. Now to fill it.

Like a few years ago, as the day winds down and I’m ready to go, if I haven’t spent my money I get all antsy and start panicking looking for something to spend my money on. I’ve done this before, like in 2016 when I bought this thing…what was I thinking.

I found this small fat trunked little green mountain maple, and since I don’t have a lot of those I felt it necessary to get this one. To this day I don’t know why I bought this. It is without a doubt the most butt ugly piece of material I have ever purchased. The trunk is terrible and there is a huge scar right in the middle of the top of the trunk where someone cut the top out to make a smaller fatter piece of material out of it. After it was cut, everything that sprouted at that point was saved and allowed to grow big. Ugly. I don’t have a lot of before pictures of this thing due to the fact that after I got home and really looked at it, and realized my shame, I didn’t take any pictures, I was just too embarrassed.

So what do I do, pot it up in the neat cool pot I bought, that will make it better.

No matter how you turn it, It doesn’t get better. Just ugly after ugly….

It really does get good red color in the fall.

So this is it. This is the whole enchilada.  This is the shot after taking it out of the pretty pot and putting it into a grow container. My intention was to take it to the FBS exhibit next month and put it on the sale table. I would hope to get about ten cents on the dollar back. This view shows the huge stub in the top, and all the branches that pushed out around the edge. Why these were all kept is beyond me, but I saw something in it and now what do I do with it?

The tree had four large branches that came off the trunk about half way around. One half of the trunk has no branches. I looked at this as a challenge. What would I do if asked by a new member with something like this? Could I use this as a challenge to myself to find some good in this tree? Being there were four branches, I knew that I needed to reduce to three. Always try to keep to an odd number. The brain some how accesses odd and finds it interesting, even numbers are found to be monotonous. The big one was the one I chose to remove based on a couple factors, most of which it would provide separation between the others and it was large and ugly. That about covers it.

I cut it out with large knob cutters and cleaned up the end. I decided I would try it as a cutting as the timing is perfect.

I dipped it into some new rooting gel I am trying and have done lots of cuttings this year. I have done bare trunk, powdered hormone and this gel. I have already used a whole jar in making cuttings this week.

I wired it up a little before planting just to give it a head start. I didn’t spend a lot of time, I don’t know if it will even take.

Planted it into a small four inch cup and wired the plant in to keep the squirrels at bay.

With the tree replanted and secure I get to work with the arbor tech and start carving the trunk.

Just taking away some of the wood in an effort to lighten the image.

As I continue to work I decide to scar the front much like the other maple I did last weekend. Going to go for that spooky tree look.

I begin to wire all the shoots on this one. I feel that this foundation setting while growing material is paramount. Too many people do not start soon enough with foundation wire, or wire at all! I’m happy with the look just not the middle shoot.

The small cutting in the pot with it, is a cutting Rosie did last year, and it struck roots….beginners luck. No hormone! I repotted it and was able to pull it up about 1.5 inches in the pot. Mame Literati coming!

I wire it over with a turnbuckle and get some movement to the left. Now the whole tree leans left. At least now I am not so embarrassed and I will keep it around for another season just to see what it can become. Don’t ask me what I paid for it, my lips are sealed. If it grows well and I can mange it, maybe I can get my money back someday.

Posted February 15, 2020 by California Bonsai Art in Uncategorized

How Many Pots?   3 comments

Trident Maple, Kims Bonsai, Phelan Ca.


This was a replacement tree from a tree I bought at the 2001 convention from Benny. The tree died, essentially a cutting and they were not supposed to be sold. They were taken to the convention and he replaced the dead tree with my choice. I chose this Trident maple. My first trident larger than 1/2 inch. It was growing in a large plastic bonsai pot.


This was the first ceramic pot for the tree. Some of the branches were elongating and making progress. The pot had a small bamboo trim around the middle of the pot. Unglazed and a rather cheap pot. What I was amazed to see was this picture of this stand. I purchased the stand in an antique store in Santa Cruz. It was full of asian antiques and I picked up this stand for about 100.00 dollars . I know it wasn’t more than that because that’s about what my budget was for this sort of stuff then.


My son made this pot in Ceramics class at Central High School. The dimensions of this pot was about 16  x 12 x 1.5 inches tall.


Same pot , but branches really getting better. Roots are really in bad shape and need work.


In the winter of 2008 I took the bad roots off. Above on the right side of the trunk at ground level one can see a root growing straight down as well as some knots of roots growing on the soil surface. I took all these off. Just cut them off with a saw. The big scar on the lower front is from the big ball of roots I took off. The tree is now planted about two inches higher in the pot.  The pot, By Jim Barrett, was purchased at a Shohin Seminar in 2008. It was during this time that I started using the pot as plywood and tied in the tree with no soil under and just planted on the bottom of the pot. This gave me a flatter root ball and forced the roots upward and began the flare process. Like tree in Japan with enough age, maybe 30 or 40 years the root ball will fuse into a large plate of roots. It’s already starting to do that. Make a note of the flare on the tree as it enters the soil, there is none. Lets check in a few years.






I purchased this pot from Robert Pressler at Kimura Bonsai in 2017 going down for the Bonsai a Thon. Its a Chinese blue bag pot. The dimensions of this pot are 18 x 15 x 2. This was a deeper pot and the tree was staring to need the larger reserve of soil due to the size of the canopy. Take a look at the flare the tree grew in just a couple years tied into the bottom of the pot.




The tree is now in this large Kakuzan pot from Garrett Ryan. The pot measures 19 x 15 x 4 inches. The glaze is Oribi and small cream crystals run throughout the glaze. The scar still visible on the front of the tree is now four inches above the soil. The canopy is, soil to apex 24 x 24 inches.

Posted February 11, 2020 by California Bonsai Art in Uncategorized

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