All posts by Paul Masterson

Serissa Bonsai

Serissas make excellent bonsai with the right care and shaping. They are an evergreen shrub native to China, Japan, and Indochina (Southeast Asia) where it may be found growing in the woods and wet fields.

The serissa foetida has small oval leaves which are slightly larger than the serissa japonica’s. It may erupt with small white flowers several times per year giving it the nickname the “thousand star” serissa. Additionally, it naturally grows surface roots and an interesting bark pattern on the trunk which give them the desirable appearance of age.

Along with junipers this is one of the most common bonsai trees for beginners. Unfortunately this has also led to them getting a bad reputation for being easy to picky and easy to kill. With the right care this is not the case.

Serissa care

The most important thing learn about serissa bonsai is that they do not like change. They also do not like extremes. If a serissa bonsai is unhappy it lets you know by dropping its leaves and flowers.


Keeping your serissa watered properly is the most important part of its care. If you over or underwater your serissa it will lose its leaves. Serissas do not tolerate drying out and the shock may kill them. You should keep the soil moist but not wet or soggy. They also like a humid environment. We recommend that you place a humidity tray under its pot to create an area of humidity around the tree. Occasionally misting the leaves when the tree is not in bloom will also help. If you purchased the bonsai tree from a store that does not specialize in bonsai it may not be potted in the correct soil. Repotting your serissa in a well draining bonsai soil bonsai soil will help make it harder to overwater your serissa bonsai.


Serissa can be grown indoors or outdoors. (Outdoor in warmer climates) If kept outdoors a mix of full and partial sun in most zones will be fine. If kept indoors it can do well under fluorescent lighting, but keeping it in a room where it can get indirect light from an open window and supplementary fluorescent lighting tends to work best. If the serissa does not get enough light its growth may not be compact enough to give it a nice bonsai appearance.

Special care should be taken when bringing the plant indoors after it has been living outside or outside if it has been growing indoors. As noted earlier, serissa do not like change. If it had been growing in a sunny area try gradually moving it into a shadier location before bringing it indoors. Additionally, make sure the indoor location receives a good amount of light. If you use a grow light it may need to be left on for 12 hours per day. If the tree was indoors move it into a shadier outdoor area before moving it to a very sunny spot.


Serissa should be repotted during their growing season which is in spring. You should do this every 1-2 years when the tree is younger. Use a bonsai soil that holds moisture, but drains easily without remaining soggy. The leaves and roots tend to smell pretty bad when you prune them. This is normal.


Serissa tend to be pretty flexible on styles they can be trained into. They can be grown into informal upright, informal broom, oak style, and semi-cascade. They do not work very well as formal upright and formal broom. You can use the clip and grow method or wire on these trees. Wiring allows for more intricate designs. Serissa are often used in Chinese Penjing landscapes.

Japanese tea and its benefits

The history of Japanese tea began when it was first introduced by a Buddhist Monk to Japan in early 6’th century. By 1200, the famous Japanese priest Eisai, wrote a detailed book on this tea (Kissa Yojoki), meaning a “Book of the Tea”.

Aside from telling all about the plant from which this tea originates, he further explained ways to process its leaves. He also informed about its various health benefits for various body organs such as the brain and the heart.

Today, around 56 percent of Japanese green tea is produced in world famous Shizuoka prefecture, situated south of Tokyo. Other regions where this tea is grown are Kagoshima and Uji.

Types of Japanese tea

Various types of Japanese green tea originates from Japan, such as Sehcha green tea, and Gyokuro green tea which is grown in shade. With 4-5 harvest periods in a year, the tea leaves that are pluck in the first round have the highest quality. Sencha is the most common type of Japanese green tea and its leaves are plucked in the first and second round.

Sencha is prepared by first steaming it for preserving its aroma, color and taste. Its  leaves are dried using hot air and are then rolled tightly into a long needle like leaves. Once they dry, they are fried to increase their shelf life and also to add some flavor to the leaves.

It has a fresh grassy, and refreshing aroma. Aside from taste, it is loaded with vitamins and can be easily recognized due to its needle like shiny leaves that have strong fragrance and aroma.

Another high quality Japanese green tea is Matcha, which has many medicinal properties as well. Although other teas are produced around the world, Matcha is unique to the Japan where it is grown by local farmers using traditional farming processes. This tea is primarily used in tea ceremonies. These days this tea is also used for flavoring and dying foods.

Health benefits

Japanese green tea has several benefits due to its high antioxidant levels. It helps in preventing acne, cancer, boosts your metabolism rate helping you in reducing weight, also lowers your blood pressure, and reduces kidney stones, helps in fighting depression, constipation. It also helps in increasing fertility, reduces risk of alcohol and smoking and helps people suffering due to the diabetes.

Japanese poets in the garden

For centuries Japanese poets have been influenced by the beauty, magnitude and mysterious quality of gardens from their country. Their is an evocative yet subtle quality to Japanese gardens, that are usually depicted in an ideal landscape with a very stylized aesthetic and a precise perspective. Both in terms of the form and beauty, one can see the influence of these gardens on poets from Japan.

In general, nature has been a profound influence on Japanese poetry. Particularly, the rich and delicate landscape of Japan mixed with their ever changing climate. However, in a Japanese garden, nature is depicted in a highly stylized way without the intention of being artificial. On the contrary, a Japanese garden is supposed to appear real and an authentic landscape, as if it has grown there, organically on its own. The Zen monk, Kokan Shiren wrote about Japanese gardens. Most of Shiren’s writing depicted the connection and relationship man had with nature and the landscape. Further, Shiren was interested in how the garden could actually purify or cleanse the senses and soul of a man. So, in this sense, the effect the garden produced on this poet was of a spiritual quality which evokes a more imaginative and mysterious quality of influence.

One form of poetry that has been linked to the work of gardens is Haiku. Haiku’s specific structural form and precise historical context makes it an easy target for comparison with the Japanese garden. Many Japanese poets have used the influence of Japanese gardens within the realm of the poetic form of the Haiku. The 20th Century Japanese Haiku poet, Shuoshi Mizuhara was preoccupied with gardens and their effects to man. It is obvious how much Japanese gardens played a role in the poetical works of the past few centuries. Like sculpture or painting, Japanese gardens became a type of natural artwork that become an influential source of inspiration for many poets, architects, musicians, and teachers.

Japanese gardens not only influenced the poets of Japan but poets from other countries as well. The influence was international and widespread. It has also dominated in the works of architecture and other art forms both in Western and Asian cultures. Above all, Japanese garden making is a tradition built on centuries of knowledge and wisdom that has been passed down from generation to generation, very much like Japanese poetry.



Lazy Sunday morning bonsai

That lazy Sunday morning, just me and the trees chillin. Especially good is that lazy Sunday morning with the bright sunshine, dappled breeze, no rain when your feeling kinda of wrecked from the busy Saturday weeding the driveway or what ever other vigorous activity you enjoy doing. I kinda like it, as the Monday blues are taking a break, thoughts of that long commute are sunk deep in my head.

So on that lazy Sunday morning, chillin with the bonsai, what do you like to do? Me I like to potter, picking out that young ambitious weed that got missed, you know the type with great aspirations of fulfilling the pot! Then spending some time checking to see that ER is not needed and no panics.

A number of years ago when I lived in the city, I went away for a number of weeks only to find when I got back an invasion of cannibal bugs, scale insects sucking the sap out of my elms. These required isolation and treatment with menthylated spirits, and then a soft wash to make them feel slightly better, unfortunately some didn’t make it. So this cannibal bug was my number one Sunday morning chillin with the trees target. I say was my target, as I am no longer live in the city, a townie (living in the city) you’ll find this expression from the natives in the country, much the same way as we Dublin people have tags for our country cousins.

Living in the country with has its advantages when it comes to insects, yeah more variety, but not many invasive ones that I have seen yet. Where I am located is windy, a constant breeze, it makes growing trees more challenging for different reasons and the cannibal bugs that haunted my city garden many years ago, I guess these guys may visit but only for a rest bite (excuse the pun) before travelling on to a more sheltered haven.

So on that lazy Sunday morning when you are chillin with your trees, what is it, that you like to do? Send us your short story and the most liked one on social networks will get a copy of that perfect lazy Sunday morning book. ‘The Complete Book of Bonsai’ by Harry Tomlinson. 

Send your short story copy to [email protected]
















The Art of Creative Pruning

Decorative tree pruning brings innovation and artistry to gardens. It has something for all tastes, including sophisticated sculptural trees, modernist bumpy hedges, boxwood balls and lollipops.

Author Jake Hobson outlines an approach to topiary that is more creative than traditional and positively encourages out-of-the box thinking. Instead of peacocks and rabbits, you will see boxwood shaped to reveal Russian dolls, trees snipped to resemble the top tiers of a wedding cake, and hedges carved with graffiti. All the practical considerations are here as well, including pruning to improve a view, remedial pruning to fix problems, and pruning fruit trees to increase yield.

Nothing brings a touch of artistry to the garden like ornamental pruning, and a series of deliberate cuts can create landscapes and evoke faraway places. All that’s needed to recreate the effect in the garden are a sharp pair of pruners, some imagination, and the instruction found in The Art of Creative Pruning. Drawing on both eastern and western styles, author Jake Hobson moves beyond the traditional, and teaches a whole new approach to ornamental pruning which will appeal to modern sensibilities.

Complete with spectacular photographs and well-illustrated step-by-step projects, this book will have everyone reaching for their secateurs!

Jake Hobson worked in a traditional Japanese nursery in the outskirts of Osaka, Japan, after completing a degree in Sculpture at London’s Slade School of Fine Arts. A keen observer of the artistry of gardens, Jake now runs his own pruning equipment and consultancy business, and experiments with mixing pruning styles from the East and the West.


The Art of Creative Pruning

Inventive Ideas for Training and Shaping Trees and Shrubs

By Jake Hobson

ISBN: 978-1-60469-114-6

Published: November 2011, £25

Published by: Timber Press



Shohin Bonsai has gone mobile!

Morten Albek, the Shohin Bonsai master has just launched the first ever Shohin Bonsai application on Android. 

So what does the application offer?

You get access to the Shohin Blog with useful information on guiding you on developing and creating Shohin Bonsai, the Shohin gallery with some beautiful trees that have been created by Morten, access to Mortens personal blog and Mortens studio.

Why are mobile apps so handy?

Your out in your greenhouse and get stuck on a method and what to do next. You reach for the mobile and get a visual or text reminder on what you can do. Very straight forward.

Check out the application yourself and tell us what you think.

To find the application go to the Android marketplace by clicking here or scan the QR code on the left.shohin qr code






What is Penjing

Penjing gets its name from the Chinese word penzai which means tray plant. This art is also known in other terms such as potted landscapes, tray landscapes and potted scenery. It is an age old Chinese craft of growing miniature trees and plants. By skilled pruning these trees are then shaped to depict landscapes and beautiful scenery.

Penjing has been there for thousands of years much before the advent of Japanese Bonsai. It is divided in to three broad categories.

  • The first category is Tree Penjing (also known as Shumu), which is very similar to the Japanese Bonsai and depicts images of trees.
  • The second is Landscape Penjing (also known as Shansui) depicts distant landscapes of mountains using trees and rocks.
  • The third category is Water and Land Penjing, where trees, water and rocks are used to recreate a natural landscape.

The history of Penjing is a mix of myth and facts. Penjing was invented by Buddhist monks travelling from India. In fact a legend even says that Daoist persons possessed power to shrink landscapes and seal it in a vessel. The very first literature on Penjing was a scroll which was written 1200 years ago. During the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD), the practice of Penjing art, was at its peak. Also many scrolls and Penjing manuals were found during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911 AD). The container which holds the tree is called pen (an earthen dish with a foot) and its origins can be traced to the Yangshao culture.
Many cultural and religious ideas have been brought from China to Japan. And it is widely believed that travelling Buddhist monks introduced the art of miniature plants to the Japanese people. So in a way Penjing gave birth to Bonsai. For many years, this art was known as hachi-no-ki (meaning tree in pot) in Japan. Only during the 19th century the word Bonsai was used in the famous Bonsai centre of “Azakusa Park”. Though the Chinese found the art of growing miniature plants it was the Japanese who spread this to the rest of the world.
The initial trees used for Penjing were age old, got from the wild and full of twists and knots and were considered sacred and believed to possess special energies. Later even younger plants were used but even to them special horticultural techniques were employed to increase the age.
The Penjing art is said to be influenced by the principles of Taoism and tries to depict natural beauty through contrasts. It specifically depends on the popular theory of Yin and Yang (two opposing yet complementary forces). The Chinese artists try to capture in Penjing the contrasting variations inherent in nature like upright and curved, dense and sparse etc. Initially the Chinese considered Penjing as an art of the scholar. The Penjing was believed to depict the taste, emotion and education of the creator. Penjing tries to recapture the spirit and moods of natural landscapes.

Since Penjing is practiced in China from time unknown there are various regional styles and schools. These styles vary based on climatic conditions, trees availability and appearance and regional practices. Also the style is dependent on the artist’s skill, philosophy and education.

The northern Yangzhou style in Penjing uses neat, distinctive foliage layers. The Guangdong style is known for its natural appeal. The Sichuan style is simple and well-knit. The Sichuan style is known for its flowering curves and upward spirals. The Liaoning style uses petrified wood and depicts steep mountain sceneries. The Shandong style uses tortoise vein rock and green Laoshan rock. The Shanghai style is based on traditional Chinese painting and this style gave birth to Bonsai. In the Beijing style the branches are horizontal and the crowns of the trees resemble a folding fan. The Zhejiang style is a little contemporary. It is inspired by the Shanghai style but with foliage shaped into, distinctly shaped layers.

You cannot find any classical Chinese garden without Penjing. In fact these are considered as a three dimensional poetry. The artistic value in Penjing is equivalent to poetry, painting and garden art. This art is in fact an innovation in gardening and uses miniature plants to portray landscapes. In fact it is beautiful tribute to mother nature and an excellent example for the Chinese artistic skills.


penjing-bookAnyone interested in reading more about Penjing should take a look at the forthcoming book by the Penjing master Zhao Qingquan. Penjing, The Chinese art of Bonsai. (A Pictorial Exploration of Its History, Aesthetics, Styles and Preservation)

This book is due to be released in April 2012 and will be published by Shanghai Press (ISBN-13 9781602200098)

Satsuki Flower Trophy, France

Initiated by Jerome Hay, President of Satsuki Flower and organized with the support of the FFB and kyookaï, this unique event in France aims to reveal to the public, amateurs and professionals, the most beautiful Satsuki in Europe. Nearly a hundred satsuki will be displayed. Through this initiative, we want to support the work of the various federations and also anonymous persons giving them the opportunity to have their Satsuki come to public attention.

The event will be held at 

Le Jardin du levant
St Germain du Pinel, Brittany, France on May 19′ and 20′ 2012.

During this first, important personalities are expected such as Master Hiromi Tsukada, who will honor us with his presence. Applicants wishing to participate at the Satsuki Flower Trophy 2012 can register for free until April 15th, 2012. 


Completely free to enter, participation in the contest will also allow three people to be rewarded by a grand jury composed of members of the FFB, professionals and personalities from the world of bonsai such as Master Hiromi Tsukada.

General class (three honors)

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  • 1st Prize: € 500 euros gift voucher and a trophy,
  • 2nd Prize: € 300 gift voucher,
  • 3rd Prize: € 200 gift voucher.


In addition, all satsuki will appear in the book of the event with the picture and the name of its owner.


Professional category

In the category dedicated to bonsai professionals, three trees will be distinguished, no price, nor trophy, but the professional acknowledgment and reputation of the event.
After the event, all the Satsuki presented will be displayed on the Satsuki Flower Trophy website in a virtual gallery, with free access, to serve as an efficient link between amateurs, professionals and the public.


Event Information:

Badge: 2 badges will be provided to each selected participant

Opening hours for the public:
Saturday 19th of May: from 9.30am to 6.30pm
Sunday 20th of May: from 9.30am to 6pm

Installation opening hours:
Friday 18th of May: from 2pm to 8pm
Saturday 19th of May : from 6am to 9am

Packing hours:
Sunday 20th of May : from 6pm

With Highway N157 (E50) : Paris-Rennes, “Piquet” exit, in the direction of La Guerche de
Bretagne (Latitude : 48.002253 & Longitude : -1.1548890000000256)

Hotel Le Cheval Blanc- 1 rue d’Anjou – 35370 Argentré-du-Plessis – Tel: 00
Citôtel Le Petit Billot 5a Place Du General Leclerc, 35500 Vitré- Tel: 0033 2 99 75 02 10
Balladins Vitré / Erbrée – Tel: 0033 2 99 49 49 99

Visitors € 5 : exhibition, conferences and demonstrations (for spectators).
Workshops: €90 per day, € 150 for 2 days with Master Hiromi Tsukada (reservations required)
Free for children under 18
Half price: € 3 for FFB members on presentation of your member card
Free entrance for: The park, the Garden and the Exhibitors Village.

Hay Jérôme
SARL Le jardin du levant – Les Haies – 35370 St Germain du Pinel – France
Tel : 00 33 2 99 96 69 51 / e-mail : [email protected]
All the information is available on the website :


Bonsai Learner Permit

Someone once told me a long time ago to get a ‘Learner Permit’ for a Bonsai. I wasn’t too sure at that stage of my early Bonsai life what they meant. After all it is only a tree that just happens to live in a pot!

How wrong could I be. You see Bonsai or as I used to say ‘bon-sigh’ (Its still alive) is more than just a tree in a pot. Every aspect of the wee tree can be trained. From the root structure below ground, the root structure above ground, the trunk, dead branches hanging off the tree, if its windswept, cascade, upright like a broom, indoor, outdoor, Mame (the baby bonsai 3″ tall), shohin (slightly larger) or even three foot tall. Many things to learn old wise one!

So where do you start with your ‘Learner Bonsai Permit’?

The Single Bonsai Tree Lover.

Okay, lets look at it this way, you can have a Bonsai as a beautiful decoration with one tree that you can pay alot of attention to, even give it a name. I have never named my trees. I wonder what you would name your Bonsai as? (be clean)  

Having a single tree is the easy path to learn. In that way you can name your tree ‘Bert the Bonsai’, learn how the balance of the tree works. Watering at the right time at the right temperature, keeping the roots and leaf growth balanced, keeping a pleasing shape and when Bert the Bonsai gets too big for his boots, eh pot then having the confidence to repot your tree. 

Learner Permit Bonsai Tree

My first Bonsai was a Serissa also known as the ‘Tree of a Thousand Stars’ or the ‘Snow Rose’ for its tiny white flowers. Its the typical tree that most of the planet starts with. Other trees would be the Ligustrum also called a Privet.

Any indoor Bonsai in temperate climates can be difficult to maintain. For the first couple of weeks you have to make sure your little Bert has enough light, not direct but enough. Also that his soil doesn’t dry out too quickly. Bert is not too fond of direct heat. The soil will dry out too quickly and become very flaky and not retain water. There is a difference between water clogged soil and good water retention. If you see small pools on top of the soil or the water is not draining enough on what has gone in, then change the soil.

My first Bonsai back in 96′ was gift bought in a supermarket. If you bought your Bonsai (Bert) from a supermarket give it a once over health check and beauty treatment. You see Bonsai bought in supermarkets have a short shelf life 9excuse the pun) after spending too much time in a box, been cared for by people who are not gardeners. They dont have the best of starts. If you do happen to buy a tree from a supermarket here are some quick tips to ensure your little Bert will stand some sort of a chance.

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  • Before buying, check that leaves and branches are not damaged. 
  • Check that it is not pot bound. a pot bound tree is sure to be drained of nutrients
  • That the soil is not too flaky. It can retain water but drain properly.
  • Dont buy a tree in a cardboard box. If you must, buy one in a transparent container.
  • Make sure the Bonsai comes with a drip tray. this will ensure that the water will drain clearly and it has not been sitting in a damp container.


Try to buy your first Bonsai from a specialist dealer or garden center, at least you have some come back and professional advice.

Three Months on and Graduation!

If your tree has survived its first three months, you can kiss your beginners indoor learner permit goodbye and look at more interesting Bonsai challenges. By now you have a strong appreciation of Bonsai although it does seem difficult it is not. Your first three months is learning about balance, the yin and yang and that patience in growing a tree educates.

Whats next? You could join a club, read copious amount of Bonsai books, spent hours reading and researching, writing articles for your favourite Bonsai website (me) about your Bonsai journey or discover the other aspects of Japanese gardening and art. 

Perhaps after a couple of years when you become a Bonsai teacher you too can tell people how you started with your ‘Bonsai Learner Permit’.


Over the next few weeks I will be bringing you more articles from ‘Bert the Bonsai’ and the ‘Bonsai Learner Permit’ series.


Other articles for the Bonsai Learner Permit!

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If there are any topics that you would like to see covered on please email me or leave a comment at the bottom of this article. 


Snow Rose Bonsai image courtesy of LinuxArtist.





Ikebana, the art of Japanese flower arranging

A Tokonoma is a time-honored architectural detail of many older Japanese homes. These alcoves occupy a corner in a room, and often hold a scroll, an ikebana flower arrangement or other artwork. More than a display area, a tokonoma is seen as a sacred space that is not to be invaded, and the seat closest to it is often reserved for the most honored guests.

Ikebana is an important part of such a display. First developed by Chinese monks in the 1500s, its principles were a closely guarded secret for many centuries. When the art arrived in Japan, this method of floral arranging was practiced only by Japanese royalty and samurai families. Much later, it became better known to more people, spreading eventually to the West.

The word itself means “the way of the flower.” Its purpose is to create a harmonious balance between flowers and the environment. Where Western flower arrangements are often a profusion of wide-open blossoms, ikebana’s art is based on the idea that less is more. Arrangements are spare, and emphasize the linear rather than the circular. An arrangement consists of three main parts, each with its own spiritual meaning. The center section is the tallest, and represents Heaven. The second section on one side represents Mankind, and the third section on the opposite side represents Earth.

Proportion is also very important. “Mankind” is designed to be three-quarters the height of Heaven, and “Earth” is meant to be three-quarters the size of Mankind. Thus, a beautiful proportion of descending height is created, bringing the spiritual into balance with the corporeal and human worlds. After the three main stems are established in their proper proportion and place, a few carefully selected, smaller stems may be added, but it is always a good idea to add as little as possible so as not to overwhelm the eye. Also of great importance is the choice of container as an added artistic element. Containers may be wide and shallow, such as the type used in bonsai arrangements. They may also be tall and slender. The base of the container should hold a heavy piece of metal with closely-set prongs called a kenzan, to hold the stems in place.Ikebana-Yoshiko_Nakamura

There are three main styles of ikebana: Rikka, which is upright and vertical, Nageire, which has a natural form that can be upright or cascading, and the lower Moribana, which means “piled flowers.”

Much like the art of bonsai, this type of floral arranging can take many enjoyable, meditative hours. The life of the arrangement can be extended by various methods such as charring the ends of stems, crushing them and adding salt, vinegar or even rubbing alcohol, however, it is best to research the best method for each particular type of flower before applying one of these methods.

To learn “the way of the flower,” begin simply. There is no limit to the type of arrangements that can be made if the basic philosophy of heaven, mankind and earth in proportion is observed.




  • Shiko Ikebana image with permission from Junko. Ikebana training school and shop.
  • Image on right side. Photo taken by Joe Mabel. Artwork created by Yoshiko Nakamura.
  • If you are interested in antique Ikebana pots see the Craig Coussins Tokonoma page.