2017 Regular Meeting Notes

Please find links below to the PDF notes for our regular meetings. This page will be updated as new documents are prepared by our 2017 club president, Gordon Van Wechel. Thanks Gordon!

January 2017 Albuquerque Bonsai Club Notes
Bonsai Soil & Substrate, Pot Cleaning, Learning Opportunities

February 2017 Albuquerque Bonsai Regular Meeting Notes


March 2017 Albuquerque Bonsai Club Regular Meeting Notes
“Un-wintering” Bonsai, Preparing Show Trees, Kusamono

April 2017 Bonsai Club Regular Meeting Notes
Bill Wawrychuk’s Useless Bonsai Tips

May 2017 Bonsai Club Regular Meeting Notes
Mother’s Day Weekend Exhibition Preparation

Bonsai Links


American Bonsai Society http://www.absbonsai.org/

Bonsai Clubs International http://www.bonsai-bci.com/

US National Bonsai and Penjing Museum http://www.usna.usda.gov/

Golden State Bonsai Federation (GSBF) http://www.gsbf-bonsai.org/

National Bonsai Foundation http://www.bonsai-nbf.org/


Internet Bonsai Club http://ibonsaiclub.forumotion.com/

Art of Bonsai Project http://www.artofbonsai.org/


Bonsai Focus (English edition) http://bonsaifocus.com/

International Bonsai http://www.internationalbonsai.com/


Dallas Bonsai Garden (Al wire, tools) http://www.dallasbonsai.com/

Adams Bonsai (Cu wire) http://www.adamsbonsai.com/

Deer Meadow Bonsai (Cu wire, plants) http://www.jimgremel.com/bonsaihomepage.html

Bonsai Northwest (Seattle) (plants, pots) http://www.bonsainw.com/



Recommendations for Beginners

Those of you who are completely new to the art have a distinct advantage—you don’t have to unlearn any of the B.S. that floats through the bonsai world all too often. Enjoy your Beginner’s Mind while you can.

First, get a book or two and try to absorb the most basic ideas. The book I like is by Yuji Yoshimura and Giovanna Halford, now called “The Art of Bonsai”. You can get it cheaply used thru Amazon— Unless you’re a collector, why not buy used books that you can beat up??. Note that it used to be called “The Japanese Art of Miniature Trees and Landscapes”— same book. The other great book is John Naka’s “Bonsai Techniques, Vols. 1&2”. These are wonderful books, but are relatively expensive, especially when autographed. If you’re working on the cheap, the Sunset and Ortho paper bounds are very decent, and are almost free on the used mkt. Remember that the club has an extensive library, which Burt quixotically brings to each regular meeting.

The internet is a vast mixed bag. I like a Brit named Graham Potter, who has numerous lessons on many topics. He works on especially good material, which will give you a sense of our main problem, which is the lack of good bonsai material UNLESS you are willing/able to collect. The other guy, who is a part of a New Wave of young hakajin who have been well-trained, is Ryan Neal. We will give you other suggestions as we go.

In terms of supplies, keep it simple at first, unless you are rolling in $$ and have a need to go ape-crap to disguise your insecurities. A decent pointed-nose trimmer, a wire cutter, and maybe a heavier pruning shears will get you going—all available at Wal-Mart. Check and see what the old fools are using at the workshop— we’ll spend some time this Sat on the subject.

Wire for training is important, and not many el cheapo alternatives are available, unless you are among those fine citizens of our State who steal copper, Years ago, copper was the standard, but in the 70’s, anodized aluminum almost totally replaced it. Annealed copper is still the best, but is a lot harder to work with unless you have King Kong hands. Many of us buy aluminum wire from Dallas Bonsai Gardens, who always seem to have the best prices. It’s a helluva lot cheaper in bulk, so maybe we’ll try to make a buy and share. I have a lot of wire, if you need some to do your workshop material.

Remember that most any woody trunked, small leaved material is usable as bonsai stock. Junipers are best to start, though some of you will want to use tropicals that you can keep indoors. I’m not a tropical fan, but the principles are about the same. We’ll teach you what to look for in material— a matter of primary importance.

In NM, it is of paramount significance that you work to provide an environment favorable to the cultivation of your trees. Just about everything that bonsai don’t like is the weather norm here— dry air, strong winds, intense sun, abrupt temperature change, lousy water, etc., etc., etc. If you are unable to negate most of these problems, you will lose interest and go back to your old hobby of psycho-active drugs. There are NO bonsai prodigies— everyone is a geek for a year-or-two, at least. But if you can’t keep plants alive and happy, you’ll have to settle for being a viewer/appreciator, rather than a participant.


Bonsai Tools

If you are rolling in the dough, consider going to the top of the heap and buying the venerable Masakuni brand. You will need an 8″ branch cutter, an 8″ wire cutter, and #002 shears. The best source is direct from Japan at Bonsai Network Japan. Each tool is 8,800 yen, which means about $300 for all three, and they will last forever.

Don’t get involved in any “specially made” stuff, though Dr. Martin did go a little above the basic line and bought the coated Masakuni’s, which seem beautiful. There are a number of mid-range Japanese-made brands that are somewhat less, such as Kaneshin and Fujiyama (sold by Dallas Bonsai) that are very good.

My strong recommendation is that you go to Tian Bonsai either on Amazon or on Ebay, and if you can pony-up the $160, buy either set # JTTK-02, JTTK-04, or JTTK 05 (though you will have to add a shears to #5, which has all other cutters you will need for awhile).

If money’s tight, buy any or all of the basic three individuals: Master’s 8″ wire cutter@ $40.00; Master’s 8″ shears @ 38.00; and/or Master’s 8″ Branch cutter@ 38.00. I’d start with a shears, then wire cutter, then branch cutter. The reviews from our Clubbies have been good on these Tian’s, and the Amazon reviews are also good—with a couple of stupid exceptions. “Paul”at Tian is a great guy to deal with, and very fast shipper, as is “Maki-san” at Bonsai Network Japan, BTW.


Remembering Harry Hirao

This great Bonsai Man was the living embodiment of the blessings and pleasures that our little art can bring into one’s life.

Harry was among the last living members of the group of Southern California  artists who shared bonsai, at first as their own cultural fellowship, and ultimately as teachers who, much to their surprise, became revered sensei to hundreds of students. Most of them were kibei—US born Japanese who were sent to Japan for their educations—and many of them shared the internment experience during WWII. Many of them became iconic “Japanese Gardeners” and/or nurserymen in the booming world of post-war SoCal. Virtually all of them came under the influence of John Naka, who combined his artistic talents with an obsessive desire to learn bonsai, and together they brought the standards of  American bonsai to a new level of possibility.

Harry fit all the above criteria, and really came into his own when the group began to collect California Junipers in the Mojave/High Desert. He fell in love with the desert and spent virtually every cool season weekend of his life out in the sticks looking for trees and rocks. These junipers were a real shot in the arm to US bonsai since they were at least comparable to the fabulous shimpaku junipers of Japan, and existed in the wild by the millions whereas shimpaku had been largely depleted. He soon became known as “the mountain goat,” and it was an apt title.

I met him in 1974, when my teacher, Khan Komai, thought that his advanced students should be exposed to Harry’s skills which were brought to bear on BIG junipers, especially. Khan didn’t care for large bonsai, nor much for junipers , so Harry really blew us away. I hit it off with him from the beginning, for still unknown reasons.

Like most of the kibei, Harry thought in Japanese and his English was very limited. The fact that he was not much into talking, even in Japanese, made every word precious. He never gave a lecture, or even a brief talk. He wanted to wade right in to the trees, and make the rounds at the tables. I did some commentary on his demos, and he seemed to like what I did. Several times he insisted that I narrate his work, and it caused all kinds of political troubles with clubs who didn’t want some huge interloper horning-in on their act. This led to an infamous scuffle over the microphone at a Descanso show—a strange and ugly scene.

You could define a “Master” as someone who, given the student’s lack of experience and his/her self-obsession, can point out a course of action that the student would not otherwise contemplate. By this standard, Harry was a true Master. His ability to find fronts and angles of composition was legendary. He would invariably come up with a viewing point that had never occurred to us. I once saw him take a student’s little one gallon juniper and hold it upside down while he studied it for a long moment. I was never sure what he had in mind there.

He would come up to Khan’s nursery from his home in Huntington Beach one Monday night a month, accompanied by his wife Alice, who taught school in Orange County. She was the archetypal Japanese wife, quiet and unassuming, appearing to be deferential to her husband, but who we knew ran the Harry Traveling Show with an iron hand. At first, she would sit and grade papers or knit, but later my ex, and some other wives and friends, would come along just to shoot the breeze with Alice. She was a rock.

In 1977, Harry decided to start a bonsai club in Orange County to accommodate his ever-enlarging classes. Thus was born Kofu Kai Bonsai, and it took off like a rocket. It almost immediately had a hundred members, and they were a Wild Bunch. For those of you who want to think of bonsai as quiet and sedate, you might not have wanted to mess around with Kofu Kai. That group went everywhere and did everything with a gusto that bordered on the insane. We all got nice, round, embroidered logo patches which I immediately sewed onto my old football jersey. Later, they wore bright blue Hapi coats with the patch, and would descend by the multi-busload on shows and programs all over the west. I was at John Naka’s house one day, and he was clearly upset by the amazing activity of these Kofu Kai’s who outnumbered and out-partied his smaller clubs of West LA. He kept hissing “those damn bluecoats.”

The great sacrament of Kofu Kai was beer. I never went anywhere with Harry and his Tribe that did not offer dozens of coolers well stocked with the sacramental brew. Quiet as Harry was, I can still hear him calling “John! Beer!” about every 30 seconds. He would persist in opening a can and handing it to me when I had just opened one. In 1985, I was more-or-less forced into “A well-known program of recovery” from alcoholism, and in some distorted fashion, I have Harry and Kofu Kai to thank for my new life.

I didn’t see him much when I left California, but George and I made it to his 90th Birthday in 2007—a splended bash in characteristic high style. I saw him and got some visiting time at a Baikoen show in ’08—that was the last time.

Harry Hirao lived the bonsai life at its best. He had no practical ego, yet he was a natural leader. His students would have done anything for him; and with him, nothing seemed impossible. He cared nothing about eminence. He wanted better bonsai and more fun doing it. When you were up in that desert, scouring the Eel River for stones, or sitting with him at a show, you were walking with the king. It was a hell of a feeling. If I can impart to my students even a slice of that confidence and joy that he brimmed-with, I will not have wasted my time on this planet. Get a dose of that Hirao Spirit and go out there and raise all manner of bonsai hell!


DeGroot’s Book

Roger Case sends this from the Pacific NorthWET: Dave DeGroot, former curator of the Pacific Rim Collection, and now happily retired, has finally had his follow-on book on bonsai design published by ABS. It’s the best book I have seen on the principles of bonsai design and covers most everything that one would want to know about design and related topics. It’s not a horticultural book (no discussion of soil, etc.), but for all other aspects it is truly superb. I strongly recommend that the club get at least one copy for the library and individuals get one for themselves.

Available here: http://www.stonelantern.com/Principles_of_Bonsai_Tree_Design_p/b1prin.htm


Club Captain: John Egert

I first became aware of bonsai when I saw a display at the Pasadena Art Museum when I was a kid taking art classes there,” explains John Egert. That accidental exposure to bonsai turned into a lifelong avocation and he shares his knowledge every month for ABC members.

On the third Saturday of most months, John gathers a group of bonsai enthusiasts at a local venue and works through a example (or two or three).  The location varies, so club members eagerly await the monthly announcement of the topic and the place.

John began by teaching himself about the trees and visiting the California Bonsai Society’s shows at the California Museum of Science and Industry. “I tried different plants, but couldn’t get the look I wanted until I began making artificial trees from clay, wire, and some woodcarvings.” He continued to work with the trees while in high school and college.

I became obsessed with this goofy art,” John continues. In the 1960s there were few bonsai nurseries in the Los Angeles area, notably San Gabriel, Yamaguchi, Shig Nagatoshi’s, and the closest one to his home, Komai Bonsai Nursery in Temple City. Almost every day, while also attending graduate school, John found himself at Khan Komai’s. “I pestered poor Khan mercilessly, finally pleading with him to give me a job, which, with great reluctance, he did.

It was also at this time, 1972, John began to take classes from Komai. “I was living the bonsai apprentice life, and I loved it,” John exclaims. Not only was he learning from Komai, but he was exposed to all the teachers who used Khan’s classroom, like Jim Barrett, Melba Tucker, Masakuni Kawasumi, Tom Yamamoto, Yuji Yoshimura, and many others who pioneered bonsai in the United States.

He also got to know Khan’s father-in-law Frank Nagata, the dean of American bonsai teachers. “We sat for hours working on trees and listening to the LA Dodgers, with whom ‘Dad” had a passionate love/hate relationship. I called him dad and he called me Johnny, which no one else ever did,” John recalls.

I was making peanuts, of course, but whenever I had a tree worthy of showing, a beautiful pot would magically appear anonymously, which was Dad’s way of eliminating the Japanese gift ritual,” John says. “Whenever I had the dough, I would get him a bottle of Sho Chiku Bia Sake, which I would give him anonymously.

The relationship between John and Khan continued until his passing. He is still in close relations with Kay Komai, his wife. “When my son was born in 1988, his middle name became Komai, on the theory that if I croaked or went crazy, he would have a place to start looking for his other family.” Kay and Khan became godparents to John’s son, and Kay “still rules his life with an iron hand.”

Another friend John made during this time is Harry Hirao, who remains a close friend. He would come twice a month to Khan’s nursery, and they would go to the Mojave to dig California Junipers. “I loved going to his house in Huntington Beach, and wandering through his collection.”

I also got to spend a good amount of time with John Naka, and would periodically take him a load of decomposed granite from the mountains above my house in exchange for some teaching,” John says.

John became a member of Khan’s Baikoen Kenkyukia, Santa Anita Bonsai Society, the California Bonsai Society, and a charter member of Hirao’s Kofu Kai.

His apprenticeship cumulated into a year spent in Japan, working at Kyuka-en, a famous bonsai garden and nursery. John says while there, he got a “worm’s eye view of the work of Japanese bonsai and a large dose of Zen from the rituals in the nursery.

Due to frequent moves, work demands, and other factors, there have been many times in John’s life when it has not been possible to keep bonsai and as a result John says he is always starting over, which is the part he likes best. “I probably enjoy having trees in the ground or in boxes, developing away, more than ‘finished’ trees in pots.

The Albuquerque Bonsai Club came as a surprise blessing,” John notes. “There is nothing better than spending a fine desert Saturday living bonsai with this gang of bizzarros and raving individualists.