All posts by Paul Masterson

Beginner Bonsai – Juniper

A Juniper bonsai is one type of bonsai trees that is suitable for beginners because it is quite easy to be taken care of.

Their are many types of juniper that can be turned into bonsai, such as Shimpaku, Japanese Garden, Green Mound, Chinese Juniper, Sargents, and Needle. These trees are also adaptive as they can be placed outdoors or even indoors. This means that they are great for bringing a little greenery to a room where you might spend a lot of time reading, or spending some free time playing on websites like On the other hand, they can thrive just as well in an outdoor space, like a garden rockery. So you have plenty of options available to locate your Juniper and by following some basic rules in growing juniper bonsai, the plant will flourish without giving too many problems.

One of important characteristics of juniper bonsai is that it need a dormancy period. This period can be considered as hibernation or resting, which is required by the tree to revitalize during spring and summer.

Like other bonsai, proper watering is important for juniper bonsai. Although it prefers a dry period between each watering, you should never leave the plant dry for a long period of time as it will stress and kill it. The proper way to water the bonsai is to soak it in a tray full of water up to its trunk for five to ten minutes. Then you should allow the plant to drain properly because waterlogged soil can rot the roots of the bonsai.

On the other hand, if you use a tap water, you should repeat the process several times. You can water the juniper bonsai, wait for several minutes, and then start watering again. This repetition is to make sure that the soil and the bonsai has stored enough water to grow.

Maintain the right humidity is important for your juniper bonsai. To create the preferable environment, you can place the plant on top of tray filled with small stones and water. The stones prevent the pot to be soaked with water, while the water will evaporate and create humid environment around the plant. Another good strategy in this regard is to use moss on the trunk of the juniper bonsai. Moss will improve moisture retention and additionally it also gives a more natural look.

Sufficient amount of sunlight is another factor that you should pay attention at to take care of your juniper bonsai. Low intensity sunlight, such as in the early morning and late afternoon, is enough for the plant. If you put the juniper indoors, you can place it near a window to get the essential sunlight. Fluorescent lamps can be used as an alternative if there is no enough sunlight available. You need to expose the plant around twelve hours a day if you use this artificial light.

Every two weeks, you should fertilize the juniper bonsai so it will receive important nutrients. Organic fertilizer is the most suitable type for this purpose. Repotting the plant should be done once every year or two years. During this repotting, you should also prune the roots to keep the plant small and to reduce the pressure experienced by the roots as it is contained in a small pot.


Written by Cindy Heller

Japanese Stroll Garden, a silent place!

Imagine gliding across bamboo, around the centerpiece of a water fountain, surrounded by classical greenery, evergreens and symbolic stones, being embraced by Japan to find two bamboo seating chairs on either side of a center table holding the ever patience bonsai tree, all in the back garden. This is the stroll garden.

There are several different garden types from flat gardens to hill gardens; all of which are achievable by anyone with the desire to produce a quiet stillness, as well as an appreciation for nature. The design and existence of gardens has been a very important art in Japan for centuries. The stroll garden was developed between the 17th and 19th century, after the medieval period, due to the lack of travel. This garden has a specific purpose, the path is the importance. The path in the stroll garden has symbolic references and memories of destinations. This creates the desired transportation to those far away places. This garden succeeds at a rare accomplishment, getting away without leaving.

In earlier gardens, with artificial hills and ornaments, were dictated by belief of myth and legend. Between 1185-1392, the Kamakura period, the Zen Buddhist priests developed the gardens for meditation. Though royal gardens did flourish again, seemingly as a result of Zen gardens, the newly vivacious gardens consisted of waterfalls, hills and a variety of plants, while the tea garden still adheres to meditative qualities rather than decorative. Close attention to symbolic features and the arrangement of elements is necessary.

Creating a Japanese garden can be an inspiration. Gratification is awaiting you at the conclusion of the garden’s uprising, beyond the serenity that is created, the patience that is taught, the perseverance that is achieved… there is an invitation of peace. Remembering this is not an English garden, it is not to be extravagant and overwhelming. The garden is simple and natural and invokes the spirit of the surroundings. The ultimate objective to a Japanese garden is to solicit harmony and pursue peace.

New Orleans Japanese Haven

City Park in New Orleans has nestled in its midst the New Orleans Japanese Gardens, known formally as Yakumo Nihon Teien. Yakumo is the assumed Japanese name of the prominent New Orleans writer, Lafcadio Hearn. Lafcadio was deeply stirred and inspired by the Japanese culture in his visits to Japan, and brought much of what he saw and learned back to Louisiana through his prose and poetry. Nihon Teien translates to Japanese Garden. For beauty and the opportunity to enjoy quiet meditation in a natural setting, this is a place to visit when in New Orleans.

Japanese gardens date as far back as 500 A.D. when they were designed to replicate mountainous landscapes of China. Around 700 A.D. they began to be used as places for ceremonies and meditation. Tea houses were introduced to the gardens around the 1500’s. Tea houses are used as a place to teach the culture of Japanese and Confucian virtues.

The garden design acknowledges the importance of stones in Japanese gardens. Robin Tanner, a landscape architectural expert, and Vaughn Banting, a bonsai and horticultural expert, drove to Crossville, Tennessee to personally select stones for this garden, loaded them on their own truck and delivered them. They installed them in the garden where they became a permanent and central part of the landscape design. The garden was conceptualized in 1985 and realized in 2005, the year of Hurricane Katrina. Many plants suffered or were lost completely in the flood, but the core landscape of the garden survived. In its restoration a tea house was added.

Upon entering the garden, the attention is drawn to the bamboo fence surrounding it. The garden design uses trees, bushes, and flowers native to Louisiana and incorporates them into the Garden with Asian plants, stone lanterns, and bamboo. The use of Stone lanterns in the Japanese garden dates back to the 1600’s when they were first used to light the pathways in Buddhist tea gardens.

The garden lends itself as a natural setting for bonsai, ikebana, and sado. Bonsai is the ancient art of growing miniature trees in trays and pots. Ikebana is a high art form of floral arrangement involving shape, line, and form and incorporating leaf and stem into the arrangement. It uses a technique called minimalism, which is the minimal use of blooms dispersed among the leaves and stalks of the arrangement. Sado is Japanese tea ceremony.

Words and pictures will never describe accurately the beauty of the garden. It simply must be experienced personally. The quiet time for meditation is a much needed commodity in any city, large or small, and the New Orleans Japanese Garden offers residents and visitors just such a place.

Ireland Japan Association – Earthquake Appeal

We have all seen the images and felt the pain. As lovers of Japanese Gardens and one of the original homes of Bonsai, we are asking for your help in ‘Helping Japan’.

The Ireland Japan Association has set up a special fund for those anxious to contribute
in a practical way to help those made homeless. The fund is called the “Ireland Japan Association – Earthquake Appeal”.

Bank Name: Bank of Ireland
Bank Address: St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2
Account Name: Ireland Japan Association – Earthquake Appeal
Account Number: 81235601
Sort Code: 900084
Swift Code: BOFIIE2D
IBAN: IE52 BOFI 9000 8481 2356 01

Life and works of Dan Robinson

Two months ago I was asked to review a book ‘Gnarly Branches, Ancient Trees’ about the life and works of a great American Bonsai pioneer, ‘Dan Robinson’. Normally I can write copy fairly quickly, but this book stumped me (excuse the pun).

Dan Robinson is not just a Bonsai master, he is in the world of Bonsai an icon. A man who introduced many new techniques in styling and collecting Yamadori. He is also known for moving from eastern natural styling to the artistic form of tree manipulation, to put it bluntly. It would not be my style of Bonsai as I am a tree hugger I prefer the natural flow of a tree gently pruned into a desired shape, but this review is not about my opinion of modern Bonsai art, it is about a man, a book, that paints a portrait of an artist.
With this book you will find styling techniques and a biography that leads you, the reader, on a journey as a man as a tree. It is clever, different and not like any other Bonsai book that I have read. Not that I read many books from page one to index. Normally I am the hands on dude who uses a book as a reference tool so reading this was initially difficult.
The book starts out with a forward by Walter Pall, that describes the man who is seen by some of his fellow growers, as just another bonsai stylist and not a bonsai artist. Pretty unfair. The lead image shows how close Walter Pall and Dan Robinson are and the forward describes this in detail.
“In my eyes, Dan Robinson is a truly American bonsai artist. … His art is authentic, coming from nature, American nature…” by Walter Pall
Elandan Gardens, Kitsop peninsula, Washington state. You know the place, Washington state  were ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ happened. I diverse! Elandan Gardens is the home of Don and Diana Robinson. It is described as a tranquil place beside a lake surrounded by embankments that create that perfect place were an artist can think without distraction. It is close to were Dan as a child saw this tree, “A tree I’ve never seen before”.
We have all seen that tree, our own tree that inspires and creates that spark as it did with Dan. This chapter tells the story of Dan from an early childhood were he was moulded, shaped into what he is now. It is a literary description that gives you an introduction to what is behind Dan Robinson, his childhood, his family and friends. From a kid in short pants back in 42′, describing his pondering touches, a sort of early love affair with trees. You could say a very early tree hugger.
Dan in some ways is anti-establishment (my kind of dude). In the ‘Demo Years’ he describes many techniques including, how Yamadori are collected. One such technique credited to him by George Heffilinger is the ‘Papoose Wrap’. This technique increased the survival rate of Yamadori by a large percentage. Dan, being the gentleman, says that this technique originates from Vickie and Bruce Valentine, who used plastic bags to store their fresh Yamadori, as in growing boxes they would surely die. Dan describes how he uses chicken wire and plastic sheeting to wrap the root structure. It is an interesting chapter that has many stories on famous names in Bonsai and the journey. GnarlyBranches
On one such journey, Dan found that now famous celebrity tree ‘Jackie’, a tree named after ‘Jackie’s Gleason Dancing’. It took Dan four years to train Jackie before ‘he’ was presented to the American National Forestry Service in 1980. Jackie is a Ponderosa Pine or Western Yellow Pine and he is approximately 150 years old. Jackie is now permanently dancing at the American National Bonsai Foundation.
This book goes through the many stages of Dan’s life written in some ways like a ‘Mills and Boon’ novel, describing the love affair with trees and how one man has dedicated his life to his art form. Their are many great Bonsai artists, but not many who have achieved so much as Dan. To these non-Bonsai artisthobbyist this book ‘Gnarly Branches, Ancient Trees’ would make a great read and occasional book. Yes you can put it on your coffee table and all who read it will enjoy, but to the Bonsai budding artist it is inspirational, full of stories and technique. In someways it does tell you how one man has tried to break the mould and carve a ‘truly American bonsai’.
Gnarly Branches, Ancient Trees: The Life and Works of Dan Robinson – Bonsai Pioneer
by Will Hiltz
ISBN: 978-0-615-37850-3
Nara Press 2010, 292pp, Hardcover with dust jacket.
Photographed published with kind permission from Jason Gamby.

Anyone interested in ordering the book may do so through the Elandan Gardens web site.

Disclosure: I agreed to write this review and received the book free of charge. Anything I write is honest and upfront.

Keisho Ohno & Samurai Spirit

As part of their European Tour, Keisho Ohno and Samurai Spirit make their first Irish debut at the magnificent Royal Hibernian Academy. The Ireland Japan Association are delighted to invite its members and friends to come and experience an evening of traditional Japanese music with a unique contemporary twist!

Keisho Ohno

Born in Niigata-shi, Niigata Prefecture.

By the age of eight, Keisho had became a pupil of Chikuei Takahashi, who is the authority and founder of Tsugaru Shamisen, and at the age of just twelve, he became a, Natori, and was permitted to use part of his master’s name for his own stage name. At the age of fourteen, Keisho gained the acceptance of the founder, Chikuzan, and became one of the Mainstream Chikuzan Bushi Successors. In the year 2000, Keisho relocated his base to Osaka.

In 2004, Keisho formed, “Keisho Ohno with Tsugaru Shamisen SOUL,” and began to launch its music activities. “Keisho Ohno with Tsugaru Shamisen SOUL” is a Tsugaru Shamisen band with the inclusion of assisting keyboard and drum players. As a Tsugaru Shamisen player, based on the traditional paying techniques, Keisho takes over the spirit of a challenger from his master, Chikuzan, and creates a present-progressive traditional music, which will bring about a fresh breeze into the upcoming era. Keisho, as a Chikuzan-style Tsugaru shamisen player, plays a role of preserving classics while pursuing his original style, outside the mold of traditional art, via collaborations with artists from differenf musical fields. Keisho’s unorthodox performance style is now gaining great public attention

Date: Saturday, March 5th
Time: 6-8pm
Venue: Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA), 15 Ely Place, Dublin 2
In Association with: IJA, Japanese Embassy & RHA

Keisho Ohno: Shamisen
Yoichiro Suzuki: Shakuhachi Flute,Trombone.
Toshihiro Yuta:Taiko drum

This event is open to existing IJA MEMBERS with no charge.
Non-Members are also welcome but note that members will be given priority booking.
This is a private IJA, Embassy and RHA Event – advance booking is essential so please email info(at) .

RSVP by February 25th at 5pm:

Jennifer Condon
Ireland Japan Association

Article originally published on Keisho Ohno MySpace page

Bonsai Inspiration

When it comes to bonsai books I am a great fan of practicalities and inspiring ideas. Their is nothing as bad as buying a book that you don’t feel like lifting up, one that gathers dust and ends up in the collection of possible recyclables. Yes I have bought those books… and no I won’t name them, well not yet! As a bonsai freakcollector in these recessionary times money well spent is a must, so having come across Harry Harrington’s book ‘Bonsai Inspiration’ was refreshing at a practical level.

The book starts out as most books with an introduction to Bonsai, its history and growing challenges for the beginner. This section is only two pages and then it gets into the good stuff.

Developing your own Bonsai.

The book explains in a series of chapters called the ‘Progression Series’, how a tree is designed, cared for and styled into a finished product. This is different from most bonsai books in that it explains from day one ‘How to Bonsai’.

bonsai privet
(c) Harry Harrington

Take the example…’Using material from the garden for bonsai’. The elements of this section explain that over-time your garden shrubs or trees (if your a good gardener) have been pruned every year or so and now exist with the desired height that you require. So transforming these from the ground to a pot is easier to achieve. Yes their are challenges in this transformation, but these are well explained by Harry. Take the example of the Common Privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium) progression series. In this, Harry explains from day one in August 2004, how this garden hedge tree was plucked from the ground, trained in its staging area for a number of years, how the deadwood was treated and like the inevitable masterpiece you come to expect it was transformed into beautiful piece of art. This is explained in a stage by stage practical and is photo documented to make it easier to understand.

Another example of this practical application can be found in ‘Developing Bonsai from Airlayering’. Airlayering is a great technique for growing your collection. It is a technique that has been used for generations by gardeners. With Bonsai their is a degree of difficulty as you are dealing with not just propagation, but styling. Where is the best place to make your cut, what is the best type of tree to use and how to develop your little stump, eh tree. Harry gives an excellent instruction in the pre and post creation phases, thereby guiding you into great possibilities.

(c) Harry Harrington

Is this book aimed at the beginner, possibly not the absolute beginner, but more the advanced one. It does not go into detail for anyone starting out as most beginners can be afraid to touch their prized tree. It does offer great advice if you want to make that transition from advanced beginner to an inspiring artist.

Other sections:

  • Creating Bonsai from field grown material.
  • Developing ready grown or ‘Finished’ Bonsai.
  • Developing Bonsai from nursery stock.
  • Developing Bonsai from air-layering.
  • Creating Bonsai from trees collected in the wild

Book Name: Bonsai Inspiration

Author: Harry Harrington

ISBN: 978-953-56515-0-5

Number of Pages: 272 (Full Colour)

Price: £24.95

Link to purchase. Click here.

Thinking of Spring!

When it comes time to plan a spring garden, there are many designs from which to choose. One of the serenest and most enjoyable garden designs is a Japanese garden design. A Japanese garden is a simple garden design that creates a space that fosters calm and is perfect for meditation. The following is a guide to the elementary principles to understand to make your Japanese garden a reality.

One idea that is hard to understand at first is that everything in this style of garden needs to emulate nature to the best of its ability. That means no sharp angles can be used. You cannot use things that wouldn’t exist in nature, like a fountain for instance. Another idea essential to the design of a Japanese meditation garden is a sense of balance. These gardens are essentially efforts to recreate a natural landscape in a small space. Therefore, everything is magnified. Rocks, for instance, take on the role of mountains. Therefore, you need to take care in the size of the elements that become a part of your garden design. Perhaps the hardest element for the Western mind to grasp when designing Japanese gardens is the emptiness that they require. This empty space is known as ma. Ma defines all of the elements that surround it, and is defined by all of the things around it. Ma is one of the most important elements in this kind of Zen garden, and it is one of the most important elements to include in your design in order to create a space that encourages meditation.

A final key to the design of this style of garden is to create a sense of enclosure. This garden is meant to be a separate space that is an oasis from the hustle and bustle of the modern world. Therefore, it is necessary to surround it with something that shelters it. This is often a bamboo fence, but it doesn’t have to be. It could be surrounded by pine trees or other natural elements that will give it a feeling of enclosure. The most important elements to include in a Japanese garden design are rocks, sand, and water. The plants are secondary. Remember, you want this space to be minimalist with harmony and balance. Decide where to place your rocks first, and then layout the sand and water around them. This is the best way to create the most harmonious space. Everything else is secondary.

Inspiring Winter Bonsai

Bonsai artists the world over look to nature’s more spectacular trees for inspiration. A tree variety is studied year-round to understand how quickly it grows in height and width as well as what changes occur on a seasonal basis. Especially important is to see the Autumn changes.

There are some exquisite displays among the maples, oaks and elms, just to mention a few. Coniferous and most other evergreen trees do not show such profound changes in the fall, but they are striking to witness nevertheless within the context of their natural surroundings.

The sharp contrast of their foliage, trunk and branches against an azure sky and the velvety softness of moss are attributes worthy of artistic emulation. Another factor that bears investigation when looking for a suitable variety of tree to “bonsai” is its exposure. From which direction is the sun coming, and how cool or warm, moist or dry must the air and soil be? Such things as leaf size and shape, as well as capacity for color are assessed. Armed with such knowledge, the bonsai artist knows what to do to manipulate the necessary factors to ensure a brilliant Autumn display in his own miniaturized collection.

Some dramatic examples of well-known trees which inspire bonsai artists are the Lone Cypress of Monterey Peninsula, the Major Oak of Sherwood Forest, and the General Sherman of Sequoia National Park.

The Lone Cypress, with its silvery gray trunk, and deep green boughs, is windswept, salt-sprayed and clings stolidly to bare rock. It is stunted due to the constant buffeting of the elements and the lack of sufficient soil nutrients for over 200 years. Poised solitarily on a cliff jutting into the bay, it is a poor example of a Monterey Cypress; its brothers, nestled further inland are much larger. The twisted limbs and sparse foliage are stark against the backdrop of the sometimes wild ocean. But it endures, testament to a marginal existence.

the-major-oak-sherwoodAnother magnificent example is The Major Oak of Sherwood Forest in England, an amazingly large and very old tree. The folklore surrounding it captures the imagination of people everywhere, not just bonsai artists. The tree that sheltered Robin Hood and his troupe of “merrie men” has an intensely gnarled trunk which is quite thick at ten meters in girth. It never fails to give an Autumn show, although some years it is more colorfully arrayed than in others. Rising from its massive trunk are many angular, finger-like branches that bear heavy masses of leaves. The bark is scaly and rough; its trunk is split open in a gaping maw. There is speculation that the tree is really comprised of several small oaks which grew together over centuries.

Lastly, the stately General Sherman, largest of all the Sequoias, continues its inexorable climb to the heavens. Its breath-taking tonnage and sheer height are awe-inspiring. The reddish-brown, deeply-seamed trunk appears to diminish in circumference as it ascends, almost to the point of infinity, as you gaze upwards. Its birth dates back twenty-three hundred years or more. The needled branches sprout thinly in relation to the immensity of this tree, as they compete for space to grow in this forest of giants.

These famous trees are just a few favorites, the characters of which are captured within the deft manicuring, delicate pruning and careful wrapping of their elfin counterparts. In a small way, the essential experience of beholding these and other revered trees can be perennially enjoyed, through the artistry of bonsai.

Photograph by Ken Thomas.

Great Bonsai, part one

Bonsai that mysterious tree that has intrigued and inspired many great artists has been around for many centuries.

One great example is a famous tree known as the  ‘Hiroshima Survivor’, a 400 year old Japanese White Pine (Pinus parviflora ‘Miyajima’) that survived the bombing of Hiroshima by the infamous bomber ‘Enola Gay’ in 1945.

Ironically in 1976 the tree was donated to the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum at the United States National Arboretum, as a gift to celebrate the American Bicentennial. The tree was presented by the Japanese Bonsai master Masaru Yamaki.

Image copyright by Ragesoss [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons