Category Archives: General

Book Review: The Best Bonsai in Europe 4

I thought I would pick up where I left off last month, by doing a book review on The Best Bonsai in Europe #4. This is a hard copy edition with nothing but pictures of some of the best bonsai in Europe, and certainly in the world also. This book rivals the famous Kokufu and Taikanten books, but with a price tag that makes it affordable for almost any bonsai enthusiast.

The picture quality is supreme. By that I mean each picture seems to reach out and grab the viewer in an almost fluorescent manner.

Let me show you a few examples of some of the quality of the trees used in this picture book. Take for example these two pictures of the same species of tree known as Chamaecyparis obtusa found on pages 16 and 53.

In my opinion these two pictures show the epotime of a miniature tree.

Notice the root flare on the one, and the huge branch spread and trunk, all in proportion with each other, on the second one. Sort of takes your breath away doesn’t it?

On page 22 you’ll see a picture of a Pinus Sylvestris matched up with the perfect pot to compliment it. But what I would also like to point out is the jin protruding out from the left side. To me this is the perfect highlight to the whole tree, as it counter balances the tree perfectly from its rightward leaning position.

Page 32 shows what appears to be a classic picture of the chinese penjing style of bonsai. Now whether the artist is calling it that style, I’m not sure, but it has the classic look of the clip and grow method which is highly taught in chinese penjing, and of course the very radical movement of the twisted trunk also.

And how’s this for a forest in miniature. It almost makes you want to go out and start work on your own forest. Again the perfect pot was used for this bonsai. Since a slab was not used, the artist knew that a very shallow pot would be the perfect choice for this bonsai.

And finally, the last few pages are filled with many thumbnail sized pictures of bonsai, some shohin bonsai, and even some great pictures of suiseki. A great finale to a great bonsai picture book.

Something else to make note of, is that each page has the artists name and country beside each picture, and in most cases, the origin of the pot also.

Dallas Bonsai Gardens now carries this wonderful bonsai picture book in volumes 1 thru 4.

Book Review: Bonsai Europe

This month I thought I would do a book review, or maybe I should say a magazine review, instead of something physically pertaining to bonsai. The magazine I chose was something I haven’t been acquainted with really. I believe I heard it mentioned every so often on various bonsai forums, but have never really seen a copy up close or thumbed through the pages to see just what all was there.

The magazine I’m referring to is Bonsai Europe, a very high quality magazine that highlights all the best of what Europe has to offer the bonsai enthusiast.

A quick glance at the cover will make you think you are holding a copy of “Bonsai Today”, since the cover format is pretty close to that of “bonsai today”, and even the inside has somewhat the same appearance as its rival.

Actually the biggest distinguishing factor between the two is the advertising. Unless your from Europe, none of the advertisers will look familiar to you. But to be truthful with you, I enjoyed looking at many of the advertising pieces almost as much as the articles.

The copies that I used for this review were July/ August, or number 75, and Sept./Oct. or number 76 2005. I’ll do a quick run down of a few of the articles that might be of interest to you.

Number 75 – July / August

The article on Gafu-ten shohin exhibition held each year in Kyoto Japan, had some really nice pictures of shohin bonsai. Two pages wasn’t enough for me though. I wish there could have been a few more.

But as I strolled down the pages to page 60, there was a very good four page article on a shohin master who will give you a class as you read through the four pages, on his style of pine shohin. Very impressive work.

If your into accent plants, the article in this months copy explains quite a bit about the use of, and display of various accent plants.

Other articles included New Talent Contest, Grafting Techniques, How To Improve A Root Base, and Sites For Collecting Suitable Material. Seems there’s something there for everyone in this issue.

Robert Stevens from Indonesia has an article also on his recently published book Vision of My Soul, about his style of bonsai which some people refer to as ” Indonesian style”. Robert is of course from Indonesia, and in my opinion, some of the best bonsai in the world comes from those parts. Strictly my own opinion of course.

Number 76 – Sept./ Oct.

Again I was thrilled to see so many articles that were very well written and put together for this months issue.

The first one that really interested me was on pg. 18 and had to do with a bonsai pot maker from the U.K.

Just seeing some of the steps a pot goes through from mold to finishing was a learning experience.

Many times on the bonsai forums I hear of people interested in the plant known as Ligustrum. This issue has a very informative article on this much sought after bonsai species.

I think the article that impressed me the most, was the one on a back yard bonsai garden created by a European enthusiast and his wife. For bonsai lovers, it looks to be a little bit of heaven on earth.

There are two stunning pages (wish there were more) of pictures of bonsai in an article called Bonsai Splendour in France.

And what better way to end this months issue, by having sixteen pages devoted to the 2005 World Bonsai Contest held in May of this year.

To sum it all up, again I would have to say that “bonsai Europe” is a first class magazine catering to those who like the look and feel of a high quality reading experience, pertaining to the wonderful world of bonsai.

Note: Dallas Bonsai Gardens is now carrying this fine magazine for those of you who might be interested.

Let’s Talk Bonsai Soil

One of the biggest discussions in the world of bonsai, is the one concerning the soil mix that we use to grow our trees in. Seems everyone has their own special mix, and the next guys just isn’t good enough. This could be awful confusing to the beginner who is wanting to do everything right so as not to be responsible for too many dead trees if he can help it.

So many articles have been written for bonsai publications and online forum discussions, that there really isn’t anything more I could add to make a difference. I know what works for my trees and I won’t try and convince anyone that mine is the mix that everyone should be using. Rather than that, I would like to just say a few words about the basics of soil composition for the beginners out there.

One thing most bonsai growers will agree on, is that whatever type of mix you use, it needs to be well draining. And of course the reason for this is to eliminate the possibility of root rot. For this reason you should be using a soil mixture which most people would call coarse or gritty. Some of the ingredients for this type of soil mix might consist of sand, which will need to be a specific size and not your playbox type. Here’s a picture of the correct type sand to use, which should be grit#00 or #0. This picture shows #00 on the left and #1 on the right, which would be too small a grit to use because it will probably compact on you, and that’s not what you want to have happen.

Crushed lava is another componet that people like to use.

Calcined clay, pumice, a patented item known as Turface, or another highly acclaimed product from Japan known as Akadama, are all used by bonsai enthusiasts.

Now which of these materials is used together is where a lot of the controversy begins. I’ve talked to a few highly respected bonsai artists, and most of them like to use the Akadama- pumice mix with nothing more addded except maybe a little crushed lava thrown in. When I say nothing more added, I mean no organics added to the mixture. Organics in this case is referred to as landscapers mix, which usually consists of pine bark mulch with a bit of sphagum moss and maybe a touch of perlite. Some people don’t like to spend the extra money on Akadama since it is an imported item, and for this reason will not use this type of mix. Others say they can see no difference from that and the standard clay-sand-organic mix.

The landscapers mix should be sifted to get out both the very fine parts which has a consistency of powder almost, and the very large pieces which are of no use in the mix.

Large pieces have been sifted out
Sifted material ready to be mixed in with the other components of choice

A good set of sifting screens should be purchased which will make the job a lot easier and enjoyable.

Soil sieves/sifting

The health of your trees, excluding insect infestation, will really come down to the type of soil mix you have and whether or not your trees are taking up sufficient water, or whether they are drowning in water. The soil mix should also be helpful when you fertilize. There is a purpose for using these specific ingredients, and this link will point you to an article that should really be helpful to you in explaining this.

[ This article no longer available – 🙁 sorry ]

Well after reading all that, I would just like to sum this article up by saying this: since your bonsai soil mix will not really be a soil but will actually be soiless, it is imperative that you fertilize, and that you do it often.

Fertilization is another aspect of bonsai where many people will have differing opinions on which fertilizer to use and which is best. Again, I won’t give my opinion on this, only a few facts to help you decide.

Many people, myself included, like to use mainly organic fertilizers. Organic fertilizers are slow release and allow the plant somewhat of a continual feeding this way. Just like the soil ingredients that have a specific purpose, so do the different types of organic fertilizers. For instance bone meal would be to help the root system. Fish emulsion is a good source of nitrogen. The only thing wrong with using these components by themselves, is that they have no trace minerals to dispense to the plant. All plants need trace minerals for optimum health, kind of like taking a multi vitamin pill.

One mineral that a good healthy plant will need and won’t be found in your basic bonsai soil mix is Magnesium. This minerals function in plants is in the manufacture of chlorophyll. I’m sure everyone knows the necessity of chlorophyll in the life of a plant. For this reason it is a good idea to give your trees a shot of chemical fertilizer every once in a while if your doing mainly organic fertilizing, because chemical fertilizers come with these trace minerals.

Now that’s not to say that there aren’t any organic fertilizers out there with these trace minerals added also. A good brand that many bonsai enthusiasts use is a product called Bio-Gold which is a fertilizer made in Japan. This is a product which can be ordered right here at Dallas Bonsai Gardens and should meet all of the needs any bonsai tree should need.

Note: Dallas Bonsai Gardens will soon be listing all the elements in English on a new fertilizer product from Japan. As most fertilizers from Japan are in Japanese, including the Bio Gold, this new product will be translated in English so that you will know exactly what you are getting.

If your working with any type of junipers in your collection, the trace minerals are a must. As I noted in my article on “Having Fun With The Juniper Procumbens” , if your starting to get yellow foliage even though your tree is in full sun, it’s probably because it’s lacking the needed trace minerals.

Showing the kind of rich and green foliage you should be getting if you have the right kind of soil mix and are applying fertilizer often.

You may decide to use only chemical fertilizers on your trees, and that’s okay too. Most chemical fertilizers come with an even proportion of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium to meet the plants basic requirements, plus added minerals.

Well I hope you’ll take some time and really read the article I’ve linked for you because repotting time is right around the corner. Many beginners dread repotting time when actually it should be something you look forward to. What better way of seeing what your many months of laboring by watering and fertilizing has accomplished, than by getting right in there and seeing for yourself. For those of you who feel unsure about your soil mix, or are hesitant to do your first repotting, maybe you could ask a fellow club member for help. All in all though, repotting is a necessary task in bonsai and your trees will love it also. Good luck with your soil mixes, and above all, have fun doing Bonsai.

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