Susquehanna Bonsai Club

The premiere bonsai club of south-central Pennsylvania

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Susquehanna Bonsai Club Annual Picnic 2014

Every year the Susquehanna Bonsai Club puts on an excellent annual picnic for club members. 

Great Picnic! Great Auction!

The Food: Outstanding as usual. Thanks to Bob Findley for coordinating that part of it! 

The Venue: Except for an uneven mow job, Sean’s home, landscape & bonsai collection were fantastic. Thanks for the hospitality Sean!

The Specifics, submitted by Darlene Tyler:

2014 08 10_3891

club members relaxing under the tent having a good time

Sean Smith : Yew demo at club picnic

English yew (Taxus baccata) is slow growing with one flush a year, and has a hard wood which is used to make tool handles. Sean got the yew from a nursery about eight years ago. Some branches were removed earlier to create deadwood and the top was split and wedged with a chopstick to create more movement. 

The deadwood on the front of the tree is interesting but the top of the tree is leaning away from the front. By tilting the back of the pot up so the top of the tree leans slightly forward and repotting the tree in that orientation next spring will correct that problem. In order to save time, Sean will leave the jin and shari formation in the deadwood area for a later time and work on styling and wiring. When wiring yew, go between the leaves to prevent damage to the foliage. The deadwood areas are marked with chalk for future shari and jin carving. 

Yews bud back well and propagate easily and are not susceptible to disease and insect damage, but cannot tolerate drying out. Monitoring water is critical to keeping the yew healthy and alive. Yews grow well in part sun or filtered light and akadama soil. Repot next year and then every three to four years or no more than every two years for young trees. There are many fine roots under the trunk. When the root pad is established in its new orientation, the tree can be planted in a shallower pot. 

Sean donated his yew for raffle. Congratulations to Dave Loeffler for winning it.

 Auction at club picnic

Auctioneers Jim Doyle and Jim Gillespie opened the sale with a dwarf geranium and a bonsai pot which sold for $10. A box of pots sold for $20, a viewing stone and diaza for $40, a Sara Rayner pot for $35, a larch for $55, a black pine for $135, a Japanese wisteria for $65, and Bonsai Today # 1 – 76 sold for $150. 

In total the Auction and Demo raffle brought in $1,384 for the club! Thanks to past SBC presidents, Sara Senft, and Dick Gutherion for donating pots, books, and 

journals for the auction, thanks also to members who brought and bought items. 

And a big thank you to Jim Doyle and Jim Gillespie for, as usual, a very entertaining auction.

Thanks for reading!


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Young Choe – Kusamono – Susquehanna Bonsai Club

The Susquehanna Bonsai Club recently had a demo on the art of kusamono. The club was fortunate enough to have a very well-known and talented Young Choe as the demo speaker.

Kusamono is a Japanese botanical art that developed alongside bonsai. The earliest reference to kusamono that Young has found is 1784 and the earliest pictorial reference she uncovered is a nineteenth century Korean block print.  Kusamono is an arrangement of wild grasses and flowers in unique pots or trays selected to suggest a season or place.  The name is composed of two Japanese characters – “grass” and “thing” – which together suggest humble, everyday plants or even weeds.  Originally, the name referred to the small potted grasses displayed next to bonsai as accent plants.  More recently, kusamono has developed into an art form of its own.  A well designed kusamono reflects the season in which it is displayed and also suggests a specific natural habitat.

 Young Choe 1

There are three basic styles of planting, namely moss ball, out-of-pot, and container.  When creating a kusamono choose one, three or five plants that grow in the same environment (wet or dry, sun or shade, etc.).  The potting mix for a moss ball kusamono is composed of equal parts of muck soil, Kanuma, and Akadama.  Mix all together and make a wet paste mixture.  For the base of the moss ball  use a plastic screen with two tie-down wires or a specially made round tile.

In her moss ball demonstration, Young started with a tall Queen Ann’s Lace plant and stabilized it with the soil-muck mixture.  Next she arranged the supporting switch grass and strawberry plants with more of the soil-muck mixture.  When the plants were arranged, she adjusted the wires, trimmed the plastic mesh to the same size as the moss ball, and applied moss to the surface using a chopstick to push the moss into the soil.  For display, she placed the composition on a round tile.

Young Choe 2

Spring bulbs (snowdrops work well) can be inserted into the moss ball for spring appeal.  Aluminum sulfate will make the moss grow better.  Usually use one type of moss in a composition.  Keep a new planting in the shade for two weeks and then gradually expose it to more sun and grow in part sun.  When not displaying the kusamono, store them in a big tray with crushed granite and place the moss balls on top of the granite.  Create  kusamono before you are ready to display it so it looks professional.  With care the composition can last a long time, when it becomes root bound, recreate in a  different pot.

Native plants, tropicals and sub-tropicals can all be used to create kusamono.  The temperate zone kusamono can be wintered(above freezing) with your bonsai but will dry out more quickly and have to be watered more frequently than the bonsai. During the growing season, water frequently and plants in pots require extra watering, but do not use a finger check before watering.  If you are having trouble getting the soil wet, place the pot in a saucer and water from the bottom.

Young Choe 3


Young’s background includes horticultural studies at the University of Maryland, art-ink painting and calligraphy studies in Korea and kusamono training in Japan with the master kusamono artist, Keiko Yamane.  Young has been associated with the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum for many years.  There is an exhibit of Young’s work on the National Bonsai Foundation’s website at


The Club very much thanks Charles and Jan Herchelroath for providing our guest Young with accommodations  while she was in town for the program.

Young Choe 4

Thanks for reading.


Peter Warren and Minoru Akiyama – bonsai demo – Susquehanna Bonsai Club

A little over a month ago, the Susquehanna Bonsai Club had the honor of receiving an excellent demo/lecture from 2 extremely well-known bonsai professionals. From the UK, Peter Warren teamed up with Minoru Akiyama from Japan and gave our club a great show.

Minoru Akiyama apprenticed for six years under bonsai master Kunio Kobayashi at Shunka-en bonsai nursery. At age 29, Minoru was the youngest person ever to win the Prime Minister’s award at the Sakafu-ten bonsai exhibition, the highest accolade for a professional bonsai artist. He won this award again in 2011, both times using junipers collected by his father, a renowned yamadori collector. He has won many other awards at Sakafu-ten and won the top prize at Koju-ten, the professional Satsuki Azalea exhibition. 

Peter Warren did a 5 year apprenticeship under bonsai master Kunio Kobayashi at Shunka-en as well. It was during this time Peter met Minoru and they became good friends while both were apprentices. Peter has a wealth of bonsai knowledge and travels the world giving bonsai demos/lectures to bonsai clubs. 

Minoru was the Senior apprentice (Senpai) while Peter was the Junior apprentice (Kohari). 

For our club demo, an established root-over-rock shimpaku juniper was chosen for them to work on. Majority of the hands on work to the tree was done by Minoru while Peter did all the translating and assisting when needed. Also while Minoru was working on the tree and Peter had some free time, Peter gave the club some great info on care, styling and techniques for working with junipers. All and all it was a great club meeting! After the photo gallery is more detail about the demo/lecture provided from our club’s newsletter editor Ross Adams.

Please enjoy the photo gallery of the event 🙂

(click on first image to enlarge photo and scroll thru gallery)

Trees with a less than ideal nebari are generally used for root-over rock plantings. It is important to find a good rock to put the tree on since the image and feel of the tree will be influenced by the rock. A deciduous tree can be placed on a rock with soft curves, but if you are working with a conifer, you want a mountainous image of the stone. Stones like trees have a front and back. Since junipers grow in a severe environment, look for a stone with a severe mountainous image. 

The Root-Over-Rock Juniperus chinensis ‘Shimpaku’ has tight foliage and many branches. It suggests a cascade, semi-cascade, or windswept style. Semi-cascade and windswept are similar but made by different forces. Semi-cascade and cascade have the image of clinging on a rock and being pushed down by rocks and snow, whereas windswept is created by winds blowing and forcing the branches to survive on the leeward side of the tree. One of the difficulties of changing the angle of a Root-Over-Rock style of tree is how deep is the rock in the pot? If the rock is shallow, it can sometimes be corrected by creating a stable base for the rock with cement if it will be concealed at ground level at the chosen angle. 

Peter and Minoru decided to create an image of a plant growing in a severe environment, the tree grew up and then got hit with winds that bent it over. Deadwood will be created and the main line of the composition will be determined. To create deadwood, look for branches that are straight and have no character and cut the stub long and use a cutting and tearing technique to simulate how a tree loses branches in nature being careful not to damage tissue below the branch. There are three branches all looking about the same for the main line. Remove the thicker branch, the two remaining branches are thinner and will improve the taper of the top. Leave more foliage on the branches until they are placed and then remove excess. The tips are left uncut, they will continue to grow and the tree will recover more quickly. 

In a month or two the longer shoots can be cut back. Look at the balance of the whole tree as well as the individual branch you are shaping. Re-pot next year if the tree is growing well. When a tree loses foliage, it thinks it is going to die and sends out juvenile foliage. Juvenile foliage has more surface area and synthesizes more and is soft and breathes more easily. Cutting too many roots, pruning back too hard, or taking off too many growth shoots all can cause the growth of juvenile foliage. 

Junipers grow rapidly. Light green tips indicate growing tips, inside the tree needles are waiting in reserve and the tips are darker green, while failing areas turn brown. Clean out the dead and dying foliage from inside the tree to bring in air and light and encourage back budding. Clean off the base of the branches and prune back the terminal growth cut back the growing tip to encourage the secondary branches of the cluster to grow. Cleaning everything out from the crotch is bad and leaving everything is bad, rather encourage adventitious buds to grow so we can cut off  “leggie” branches. Select one juvenile growth to replace “leggie” branches. Rather than cutting off a long shoot, wire the branch and bend it on two planes, bend it up, right, down, left. A pad should look like an upturned hand with fingers extended up creating depth and more movement to the pad. A long shoot can develop a nice pad in one year using this technique. Don’t tie shoots in knots or a pig tail. Prune off all branches that are on the inside of curves. Secondary branches grow on the outside of the curves. It is best to wire and style trees in the fall when the growth is hardened off. The branches are more supple in the spring, but more care is required in the spring to prevent damage to the bark. 

Once we get tight growth and the strength of the areas are relatively equal, maintain the fan shape of the branches. Look for strong areas to cut back by removing the strong central growing tip of bundles and allowing plenty of green tips to grow. It is no longer standard practice to pinch all growing tips which actually causes the tree to go in shock. 

Disease problems with junipers include spider mites, scale, and tip blight (more a problem on the West coast). Preventive spraying of pesticides is good if you are having problems. Spray from the inside out and repeat in a week or follow label directions. Mites mature and are laying eggs in a week. Spider mites like dry conditions spray from a hose will help dislodge mites. We are close to the mountains and have to consider contamination from the wild. Fungal issues are caused by humans not sterilizing hands and tools, rain or spray late in the day, and cedar apple rust from crabapple and rose family and hawthorn, and tip blight. Junipers will not transmit rust to each other but Prunus and Malus are alternate hosts for rust. 


Thanks for viewing! If you liked this post, please feel free to follow the Susquehanna Bonsai Club’s blog to keep up-to-date with all our club events. 

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MidAtlantic Bonsai Societies’ Exhibition – Susquehanna Bonsai Club

This past April was the annual Mid Atlantic Bonsai Societies’ Exhibition. The Susquehanna Bonsai Club had 3 members who displayed bonsai at the exhibition. A job well done to those members who had bonsai on display representing the club! Also a special thanks to club member Sean Smith who supplied the photos of our club members bonsai!


Club member Bob Findley’s Elm


Club member Ken’s Forest


Club member Ron Bates Hinoki Cypress

Thanks for reading the Susquehanna Bonsai Clubs Blog post.

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Corin Tomlinson – Bonsai Demo – Susquehanna Bonsai Club

Corin and his brother Paul are the second generation owners of the Greenwood Bonsai Studio located on the edge of Sherwood Forest.  Their father Harry Tomlinson, who passed away in March, began the business in 1978. 


By the looks of it, we had a good club turn out for the demo!



Corin presented a slide show of the nursery and specimen trees they have styled.  Go to their website, to view some of the specimen trees. 

For the demonstration, Corin chose to work on a dwarf spruce, Picea jezoensis ‘JD’s Dwarf’.  This tree’s history starts in 1984 when Jim Doyle brought a potted specimen of Picea jezoensis back from Japan and planted it in his garden, intending to style it in a few years after its roots developed.  Years later, still in Jim’s garden, the tree caught the attention of nurseryman Greg Gulden.  Greg decided to graft this dwarf exotic specimen from an obscure region of Japan and name it after Jim.  ‘JD’s Dwarf’ characteristically starts out as a low spreader for about six years and then develops a dominant leader and eventually takes on a nearly perfect pyramidal form. 

Corin commented that the spruce has a lot of branches that are long, the trunk is quite straight, a lot of branches are radiating from certain areas and the specimen was grafted low. Corin styled a fairly formal tree.   He chose the front of the tree with the roots going right and left, and cut off a few crossing roots.  Next, he examined the branches and removed a heavy branch from the back and other smaller branches that did not add to the design.  He scored the jin and remove the bark, but left it long and will do the carving and styling of it later when the wood dries out a bit.  Also, some of the jin can be removed later if it does not add to the composition. On the lowest level, Corin kept three branches, 2 opposite and one to the back.  On the next level he kept a left and right branch and one toward us (the front).  Finally, he removed the larger branch of the apex and reduced the length of the top branches. 

Corin said that spruce are quite flexible, so the remaining branches were brought down to fill in the bare spots and disguise the fact that the trunk is quite straight.   He used aluminum wire since it works a bit faster than copper for demonstration purposes. His recommendation is to generally use wire that is ½  the thickness of the branch you want to bend. Corin kept us entertained with anecdotes from his bonsai world while he wired the tree.  He recommended keeping the wire on for a year, but take it off sooner if the wire begins to cut into the bark.  The tree will probably have to be rewired again after the wire is taken off since spruce have poor memory.  At that point he suggested bringing the branches down to make it look like an alpine spruce with a snow weight on the branches.  Also, put movement in the branches, and fan it out some. 

Keep the plant in the pot for this year and re-pot it next Spring.  Since the roots are exposed above ground, he recommended using some rocks to make the base more appealing.  

(click on first image to scroll through gallery)

Also prior to the demo, Corin styled the below 2 bonsai while at Natures Way Bonsai Nursery.



Congratulations to Norma Brandon on winning this beautiful JD Dwarf Spruce that was raffled off after the demo!


Thanks for viewing the Susquehanna Bonsai Clubs blog. If you are relatively close to Harrisburg – York – Lancaster areas, please come out to a club event and if you like what you see please join us!!

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Owen Reich – Susquehanna Bonsai Club

The Susquehanna Bonsai Club was given the pleasure to have Owen Reich as a guest speaker. Owen has vast knowledge about bonsai and kusamono, a lot of which he gained while doing an apprenticeship at bonsai nursery Kouka-en which is owned by famous bonsai master Keiichi Fujikawa. 

Owen’s “twofer” presentation gave us a brief re-potting demo using a beautiful NWS [tree?] but primarily focused on kusamono from the Japanese aesthetic perspective, then treated us to a brief re-potting demo using a beautiful hornbeam. 

Owen shared that kusamono was initiated in the Kyoto area using local native plants and is now practiced as a “side art” and that there are three basic types of kusamono: moss balls as companion plants, or accents, for bonsai display; seasonal arrangements that are put together in recognition of the current or upcoming season, and stand-alone kusamono that are displayed alone in a similar fashion to bonsai. 

Many fine kusamono examples such as these can be seen at Owen’s blog, 

Two major points of difference Owen observes between U.S. and current Japanese kusamono are that Japanese kusamono usually are much longer in training before display and kusamono as companion plants for bonsai are much smaller in Japan than in the US. 

While seasonal arrangements may be put together and dissembled after an event or season has passed, the general approach in Japan is to plant an arrangement and train it via defoliation and allow it to mature for a few years before it is exhibited. 

In the past Japanese kusamono-as-accent plants were at least as large as those most commonly seen in the US but the current Japanese vogue is for them to be no more than an inch or two in size, if not smaller! Owen said that as much plant material as possible is stuffed into a container and that which survives over time creates a very attractive display. 

Owen said that many of the general design considerations of bonsai also apply to kusamono such as considering compliment and contrast between the material and the container. He said it is important to know the environment different plants thrive in so everything in a combined planting is healthy. His final observation was that success will come from studying and learning the Japanese methods first, then stepping out and doing your own thing. 

Owen’s pointers on re-potting focused on root treatment and tree placement. His main emphasis was on the need to make sure large non-feed roots are removed and the remaining feeder roots are groomed to be radiating out from the trunk.

Please enjoy the gallery of photos taken during Owen’s lecture/Demo 🙂

(click on first image to scroll through gallery)

Again thanks for reading!

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Bill Valavanis – Forest Planting – Susquehanna Bonsai Club

On Thursday, February 27, 2014, we had another club meeting with world-renowned bonsai artist Bill Valavanis. Bill gave us an incredible lecture/demo regarding how to make a proper bonsai forest planting. However, prior to the demo a couple of awards were handed out for the clubs display at this past falls Hershey Gardens Exhibit. 

Click on the first image to enlarge and scroll

Bill Valavanis – Bonsai Forest Planting Demonstration


Bill Valavanis took us deep into forest planting but also gave great overview information such as there are five different classifications of group plantings: Classical, Natural, Seasonal, Tray Landscape (Saikei), and Grass

Seasonal and Grass plantings frequently are created for a specific purpose then taken apart. Saikei or tray landscapes are intended to represent a scene in nature and are composed of many different trees as well as natural and/or man-made objects. TheClassical type adheres more closely to the traditional Japanese way of preparing and presenting trees. The Natural style more closely represents how the trees might be viewed in nature. 

Going a bit deeper into the forest, Bill explored the Single Root System and Multiple Root System approaches to Forest Bonsai. The single root system involves taking a single tree and laying it down and training at least five branches to grow as individual trees. After preparing the tree, including making some cuts on the trunk, it is placed in a growing box long enough and deep enough to cover the trunk with two inches of growing medium. New roots will start from the cut areas of the trunk in 1-2 years. The Multiple Root System approach, which Bill used for his demonstration, is a forest planting composed of multiple seedlings or cuttings of different trees. Most frequently all the trees are of the same species in a forest planting but variations in color or growth habit across the trees can add an interesting effect. 

Bill also distinguished two styles of Single Root Forest Bonsai, the Raft Style and the Sinuous Style. The Raft Style is created from a relatively straight tree and does not have much depth of field since the individual trees will be in a straight line. In contrast,the Sinuous Style is created from a trunk which is not straight or is curved for the forest creation and the finished product will have a more natural feel and more depth of field since the trees will not be in a straight line. 

Design Factors to consider when creating a forest Bonsai include Focal Point and Eye Movement – whether the composition “moves” left to right or right to left; Composition and Spacing – plant on irregular lines from front and side views and use of varied spacing between trees; Trunk Thickness and Height – the main tree is highest and thickest and other trees should be irregular in height and smaller in diameter; Trunk Lines — avoid crossing trunks in formal upright plantings; and Silhouette – wide triangular silhouettes create a definitive impression and usually fill most of the container while narrow and one-sided triangle silhouettes create a suggestive impression and usually large areas are left un-planted or filled with flat stones. 

Utilization of the design factors creates an Appearance of Forest Bonsai characterized by the following dichotomies: Near (tall trees in front) or Distant Vies (tall and heavier trees in the middle section); Realistic (use of stones, ferns and ground covers) or Idealistic (trunk placement emphasized by the bare essence of composition) feeling; and Definitive (vanishing point defined) or Suggestive (vanishing point created by the imagination) impression. 


Bill’s slide show and commentary beautifully illustrated the design factors and appearance of Forest Bonsai.


 Bill used 2-3 year old Japanese Larch for his Forest Planting demonstration. The trees were grown in different size containers, causing variation in height and trunk girth. He chose a blue pot to show off the Spring and Fall colors of the Japanese Larch. 

For the assembly of Bill’s forest, the largest trees was placed in the pot first on a hill then two supporting trees were chosen and placed with the main tree. This grouping was placed on the left side of the pot, creating a left to right focal point flow from the heavier to the lighter concentration of trees. Bill then positioned an additional ten trees, starting with larger trees and working to the smaller ones. The placement of the trees resulted in an asymmetrical triangular outline. 

Bill suggested that if you are having trouble with the trees holding their position, use a heavier soil or put some water on the soil. Tie down the trees and remember to finish tightening the wires by adding a Z-twist to the tie down wires on the underside of the pot. Undesirable unneeded branches are removed, generally cut the heavier ones and leave the lighter branches. Do not soak the pot when you water, rather water the composition from the top and allow water to run through the pot. And, finally, if you are going to wire the trees, do it in the summer and wire all the trees.

Please enjoy the following photos of Bill Valavanis’s demo of creating a bonsai forest planting.

Click on the first image to enlarge and scroll

 Thanks for reading.