Today’s workshop-mugo.


On todays workshop it was very busy. There were a couple of complicated stylings, for example this yamadori mugo Pine. This tree was 8 years on my nursery and is now 3 years in this pot. Originally he comes from the German Alps.


I started to remove all the unnecessary small and dead branches in between.


As usual we discussed all the options. There were two trunks that we could use for different styles such as windswept or cascade or even bunjin. There was a 3rd small tree that was growing between the 2 long branches. It seems to be a separate tree. After discussing with the owner he took the same option that I had in mind.


Our main style will be a full cascade. We have to deal here with very old, not so thick trunks but they are really hard to bend and break easily. We have to bend the main cascade branch completely down. Before we are using our normal raffia technique I decided to lay straight raffia completely around the trunk, because this has to stay at least for 2 years. If we should start immediately with wrapping the raffia around and tie real hard he will snap in the bark and leave unremovable marks.


Than we start with a heavy wiring over the trunk and also a heavy wiring for all the other branches. We want to make some interesting caracter branches for the future.


This styling has nothing to do with the final image. Because I am always counting on more movement and  to achieve this I have to bend more than necessary. When we unwire a little part comes back in another position.


The smaller tree that was growing in between the 2 main trunks is now in our way. We changed the positions and moved the smaller tree behind the main trunk. It looks easy but 50 year old trunks are not so easy to move without breaking.


When an old branch is not wrapped in with raffia you can feel the tension when you start to bend. Were I point my right finger  this is the bending point of the branch, there I have less tension.


We could bend the 2nd main branch without wrapping him in raffia and keep it in place with tension wires. Protecting the old bark, because all this has to stay at least for 2 years. We created some more caracter branches in the apex.


Every branch that we had to put in position was a dangerous one to break, sometimes it took more than 5 minutes to create the right movement for one branch.


To achieve the right angle I had to break some branches on purpose. For this you have to be very concentrated that it doesn’t snap completely. We open the branch just half and do this slowely, than the branch opens in the line of the veins, so it never dies off. 


Today I was very happy with my assistent Bruno. For this kind of “heavy duty” work a good assistent is necessary because there is always work for 4 hands.


We do not need the smaller tree anymore in this creation. There was an option to separate this tree next spring during a repotting, but our main tree needs than a recovery after repotting so we decided not to take any risk for the main creation and cut off the  branches of the small tree.


I never say after a 1st styling this is our finished product. This is just how far I want to go in one step. The next step will be at least after 1 growing season. I do not care about the foliage or the pads that everybody wants to see immediately after creation. Next summer is going to give more foliage and the sap will  find his way from the roots to all the branches after the heavy bendings. From then on the work can be continued.

This styling proves again that your original material does not  always look the same as your end product. These are for me the most interesting trees to work with, those were it is not so obvious what the result will be.

I want to thank also Buno’s wife Sriske  for the delicious sandwich.

Bunjin part 2.

Scots Pine_1.jpg

Bunjin from the highlands in Scotland. Middle the 90’s I swapped these two Scots pines with Craig Cousins for a Trident maple. They were planted in a Derek Aspinall hand made pot. Derek was at that time a good friend who made a lot of pots for me. He didn’t produce big quantities but still the best pots ever. When he died it was a great loss for the whole bonsai world. The trees were only one day in the pot and were used for a demonstration by Craig and the day after we made our deal. I decided to repot the trees the same day in another pot and another position and with the new position I was breaking the “Bonsai rules”.

Scots Pine_repot.jpg

Both trees had not such a strong root systrem as we are used to work with. I knew I was taking some risks here. But the time of the year, beginning of Mai, was worth to take the risk. I selected a round hand made tokoname pot, the flattest one I could find. I brought the trees together as close as I could. The image of parent and child was born. My soil mix in that time was pure akadama, no pumice in between, the pot was too flat. There was no mycorrhiza so I used some from another tree to put under the akadama.

Scots Pine_2.jpg

The way I planted those two trees together gave me a lot of options. If like on this photo this would be my front side, we can not see the biggest tree coming out of the ground (pot). This photo was taken in spring two years later. That was the time both the trees needed to make a strong rootsystem. Now the 1st important wiring could start. The 1st wiring is always the one were we create our caracter branches; they go with the movement of the truncs.  It was after 5 complete wirings that, over a period of seven years, the caracter and the image of the tree became older.


A closer look from underneath to one of the main branches. This is what I mean with caracter branches inside; you can see on one branch different thicknesses (ages). That means there is build on the tree at least 8 years or longer.


I am lying on my back under a big tree and looking upwards. The ramification is perfect, not too close, nice distance and very natural. The bark looks a lot older. This photo is taken recently.


This could be a possible front side because I love the crossing trunks. This is breaking the rules of Bonsai, but it will never break the rules of nature and beauty.


Another possibility of front is the “dancing child” under his parent, but the tree doesn’t show his full caracter. As I said in the beginning, Bunjin from the Highlands are another type of trees than Bunjin from the high mountains.  They have more dense foliage, more branches and volume and not such a strong caracter in the trunks. This was the perfect variety to express this, because it comes from the area were those beautiful trees are standing  in nature.


This is the actual front side I choose were the trunk of the smallest tree dissapears behind the bigger one. Again against the rules, but remember the striptease of yesterday. Of course if you turn the pot a little bit to one or the other side , you have another view. Love it when the tree is on an exhibition and enthousiasts try to photograph him from his best side. This was another example of the Bunjin style; yesterday we were at the border were a tree can just survive in the mountains and this tree just stands in a rough climate about 500m above see level.

Understanding the art of Bonsai means more than creativity. Look to the movie “Karate Kid”; bring the tree back to nature and make it believable. I am teaching my students always everything step by step. We start botanical and keep the tree healty. Than we go to the artistic programm and finally the expression.


Recently I decided to sell all the big trees out of my private collection, including this one. If you are  interested you can only negociate in my nursery with me. I want my trees to have an owner that deserves them. Price will be interesting.




This Juniper Yamadori is already a long time a bonsai. I know the tree for more than 25 years. I restyled him 2 times. The owner before me did the same and now the tree needs another styling again.


The procedere is for all Juniper bonsai the same; remove a part of the older needles, thin out the branches and prune back the long growth were necessary. The tree is now ready for wiring. Knowing that we are going to do a restyling; that means changing the whole image of the tree, we need a heavy wiring.


Now we come to the part were style and caracter of the tree is very important. First I have to explain what BUNJINGI, also known as LITERATI, means. In the early days in Japan caligrafic artists went up high in the mountains to paint those kind of trees that had been suffering from the harch mountain climate. It seems easy because we talk about trees with not so many branches but those few branches and the elegant trunc have to tell you about the extreme climate condition they are standing in. On photo above, the tree is wired and branches are positioned, but it doesn’t give me this high in the mountain feeling.


Turning around the tree several times shows me a lot of possible new front sides. But for the thickness of the elegant trunk there are still too many branches. I start to remove the biggest ones that are not going in the direction from were the wind blows. Repositioning the branches in the same direction is no option, because “less is always more”.


Also in the apex I thinned out some branches. A heavy apex with lots of foliage is not the expression of a high mountain tree.


This is all the material that has been removed to reach more open area’s between the caracter branches.


In the early 90’s I started with “Kei Bonsai Kai”, which was the name for a group of bonsai enthousiasts who were studying the bunjin style. We were all sitting in front of a tokonoma with a Bunjin tree in it and discussing all the possibilities about front side, caracter branches, foliage directions etc… It was amazing how many options a good tree could offer. From that point as an artist you are on your own with your tree. It is like a painting, you have to follow what is in your mind. You see the tree in nature and want to place him as a miniature living example. With some expressions you can feel the wind blowing through the branches. That doesn’t mean with Bunjin that everybody feels the same. If you have to explain than you don’t understand. The photo above is one possible frontside, with falling caracter branch and middleaged apex.


By bringing the branches from the apex down we are expressing an older caracter. But still that didn’t give me enough satisfaction.


By this photo we are coming closer to a clear style, what means that a bunjin is like a good striptease act; you have to see all the beauty but not all at once. Now I am still confused when I look at the apex. Keep turning the tree around and try to find better options. The meaning with this front was trying to bring the foliage close to the trunk, but still no high mountain feeling.


The original front of the tree has always been that one and it will stay like that. This is what the tree tells me by showing all his beauty. For maintaince and further trimming we have to be carefullwith the amount of foliage that the branches have to carry. In one growing season the weeker branches now will be strong and I have to thin out once a year. With the green also I will have to create a certain caracter that follows the caracter of the branches. In about 2 years time this tree will be ready for exhibition. This bunjin style has a windswept caracter, which is always a good thing when you can add a style to your main style.




I am always interested in not so common varieties for Bonsai. Also when I visited exhibitions and when I selected trees for the “Ginkgo Awards” I was always looking for special varieties that could give a lot of colour or flowers. It would be boring when we do only Pines, Taxus and Juniperus. We have so many different kinds of garden plants were we can work with. It is not because they are not growing as a tree, most of them are big schrubs, that they are not good for Bonsai. Even most of the Maple varieties are not trees. The example here above is a “Cotinus Royal Purple” that was standing in a garden for about 30 years. The whole plant was 3m high and 4m wide. I cutted the whole plant down and kept just the lowest branch. I potted it up in a container, a big part of the trunk was rotten. The 1st photo shows the tree after 1 year in the pot, this was in 1998. Schrubs are growing strong and make a lot of roots. I could start directly after a year with the carving work on the saw mark and the rotten piece, see 2nd photo. Than I let the tree recover for another summer, in that time he gave me some more branches, see photo 3 & 4. There I realised that even the youngest branches were breaking like glass. I decide to start wiring immediately, because it was not possible to put 2 – 3 year old branches in shape without breaking them.


I wired the tree 4 times, added always new material on it, until I got enough branches inside and the right proportion that goes with the trunk. Repotted in a Bonsai pot in 2000. This photo shows the tree in 2006. Now I have already a good refined ramification for the variety. On our workshops a lot of participants are working with european garden plants; they can see a lot of examples, like this one, in my private collection. That doesn’t mean that every garden plant is good for bonsai. Here we talk about a 30 year old thick trunk which had a good potential. If there is no movement in a trunk and no interesting lower branches or the variety doesn’t react good on drastic pruning, you better do not start with it because than it is a waste of time. To be sure that it is a variety that react well on pruning you can try it out on a garden plant, of the same variety, in the garden. If you can bring the internodes close to each other, than it should be no problem.