1500 year old olives – now THAT’s what I call yamadori!

Back in April, I was invited by my good friend and fellow bonsai artist Ami Yehizkiyahu (winner of the 2012 Botanical Gardens Award) to join him on a yamadori trip in the north of Israel, where an old olive grove was being pulled out to make way for new construction. When we arrived, the local contractor told us that the grove was rumored to be about 1500 years old!

As we pulled into the work site, we could see that the massive trees had already been pulled out, and were just about to be loaded on to trucks. The trees had left behind massive craters, which were still full of pieces of trunk, which were to be gathered and sold as firewood. After securing permission, we proceeded to load an entire van with pieces of the old trunks. The memory and the story of these old trees would live on and serve as inspiration for the future bonsai.

For my help, Ami generously gave me 11 choice pieces. I am happy to say that most of these pieces are already growing and starting their journey toward bonsai.

The other pieces remained in Ami’s garden, where they are sure to have a very bright future!


Step by step – grafting a juniper at the JBG

One of the most powerful and versatile tools in bonsai is grafting. It gets a bit of a bad rap as an ‘advanced technique’, but it’s surprisingly simple! True, compared to the random process of back-budding, in grafting you are assuming full control over the placement of the future branch, so you really need to think ahead carefully of what and where you’ll be going with it. But grafting adds so much flexibility and options when styling a tree, that it really is a good technique to have under your belt. Continue reading

Up Close and Personal with British Bonsai – Burrs 2012

Forgive me reader, for I have sinned. I enjoyed myself WAY too much on my Burrs weekend. Between the great people, the spectacular lectures, and – oh yeah – working with more than 30 other people in a 2-day bonsai marathon, I didn’t take as many or as good pictures as I should have. For example, believe it or not, but I have absolutely NO photos from Tony’s garden, or of the work we did there!

But allow me to start with a bit of background Continue reading

Extreme repotting – Rebuilding the collection from the ground up at the JBG

As I’ve mentioned before in the introductory video to this blog, one of the things that really fascinates me in working on the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens bonsai collection, is just how complex the project is, and how it really requires you to go back to the fundamentals of botany-before-bonsai. You can’t work a tree if it’s not in tip-top shape, and it’s our responsibility to make sure it stays there. As a wiser man than I has said before – we don’t want our trees ‘alive’. We want them ‘thriving’. Continue reading

What to do when your signature bonsai almost dies. Twice.

Our story begins seven years and three computers ago. Now, since my computers tend to meet violent and non-backed-up ends, most of the pictures in this post have been reconstituted from various dubious sources, and are somewhat lacking in quality. I hope they shall make up for it in the story that they tell.

The story is that of one of my first and earliest trees. My signature tree. Which has gone from humble nursery-material beginnings to the top of a national exhibition, and right to death’s door. Twice. Continue reading

The effects of proper soil in bonsai – example from the JBG collection

One of the greatest challenges in managing the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens’ bonsai collection, and in re-styling the trees, is the poor condition of the soil and the root mass in virtually all the trees in the collection. This literally affects all aspects of working with these trees, from watering and fertilizing routines, and through to options for re-growing and re-working the trees. If the foundations are shaky, the whole building will be affected.

Therefore, one of the first orders of business in the collection is slowly repotting all the trees into better, more aerated, substrate. A particularly striking case in point came from one of the trees in the collection, which was slowly (and then quickly) deteriorating, clearly due to root problems. When the leaves had turned from a pale yellow to white, branches were dying back, and washing out the soil with water and humic acid were having less and less effect each time, it was clear that a complete, bare-root repotting was necessary to save the tree.

The tree was bare-rooted and repotted into very well-draining soil at the end of August. This is the result less than six weeks later:

A hidden gem – the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens Collection

Wow! Let me say that again – WOW! Yesterday I went to see the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens‘ bonsai collection, and nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to see.

I was met at the entrance to the Gardens by Julian Velasco, the curator for the past four years, who would walk me through the BBG’s collection. The tour started in the BBG’s Bonsai Museum – the display area for the collection. The museum houses between 20 and 30 trees at any given moment, and is very well designed.

A traditional three-point display in the BBG Bonsai Museum.

From there, Julian took me to see the rest of the collection, and my jaw just DROPPED. The collection comprises more than 300 trees, virtually each of which has a history going back dozens of years, and many having a history of more than 100 years as a bonsai. The collection is full of unique specimens who played an important part in the history of bonsai. To give a sense of just how unique the trees in the collection are, you enter the display area after paying your respects to Fudo, one of the spiritual pillars of modern bonsai. You can read about the history of this tree – here.

Fudo, as displayed today.

Over the past four years, Julian has been carefully nursing the trees back to perfect health, always preferring the slower and surer path, thinking to the future, and with the utmost respect for the trees and their history. He has been rewarded by a spectacular collection of amazing trees, which are now all ready for styling to resume. The sheer potential of the collection, coupled with the history of each and every tree, make for an exhilarating and exciting experience. I was jumping from one tree to the next, looking, admiring, and more than anything – hungry to get to work!

Julian is a great guy, and through his hard, methodical work, he is sitting on a hidden gem of a collection. If I were living anywhere within a reasonable radius of the BBG, I would, without a doubt, be volunteering to help him. The collection is a masterpiece in waiting, and in two years’ time I expect it will be one of the more important collections on the East Coast. And I would definitely want in on that action.