Tag Archives: Santa Cruz Bonsai Kai

29th Annual Santa Cruz Bonsai Kai Exhibit

Once Upon a Time in a place not so far away a group of kids gathered to learn about the art of bonsai. This group of home-schooled kids gather weekly at the old Redwood Elementary School in Boulder Creek on “outdoor day” to hike, craft and learn about nature.

Chris Howe shows kids how to start styling their junipers

On this day, after returning from a morning hike, everyone was ready to get started creating their own bonsai. With the 29th Annual Exhibit of Santa Cruz Bonsai Kai club fast approaching on Saturday and Sunday April 8th & 9th at the Museum of Art & History in Santa Cruz, there was no time to lose and most of the kids wanted their newly created bonsai to be included in the show.

Former president of the Santa Cruz Bonsai Kai, Chris Howe, has been a long time bonsai aficionado dating back to the days when we used to work together at a local nursery. His daughter Gloria is in this class along with 12 of her 3rd to 5th grade classmates. Chris had an attentive audience as he related a short history of bonsai and gave a few tips for the kids to get started styling their own dwarf Japanese garden junipers.

If you’ve ever tried your hand at creating a bonsai yourself but didn’t know where to start, Chris gave us all the perfect “rule” that the sensei masters use. “Imagine you are a tiny bird trying to land in a tree. Make some spaces among the branches and leaves so the little bird can land.”

Gloria Howe adds moss to her bonsai

With this advice the kids got started on their one gallon junipers. All the plants and pots were donated for the class by the Santa Cruz Bonsai Kai club. Each child also received a free bonsai coloring book showing the different styles and techniques which was also donated to the class by the club.

The word bonsai comes from two Japanese words that provide the most basic definition of this living art form. “Bon” means tray or pot, while “sai” means to plant. One of the reasons we all admire bonsai is how old they look -appearing to be veterans of years of struggle against natural forces. Some are actually hundreds of years old and handed down in families while others just look very old and some techniques help further this illusion.

There is a technique called Jin which causes weathered-looking dieback on a branch and is created by stripping a branch of bark. When asked by Chris nearly all the kids wanted to have a branch tip or two crushed by pliers so they could peal off the bark. In nature, deadwood is created when a tree is hit by lightning, exposed to sustained periods of drought or when branches snap due to ice stress, wind or weight of snow. The wood dies off and is bleached by intense sunlight.

Gloria with her finished bonsai and others from classmates.

As living things, bonsai are always growing, leaves and stems being pinched, the branches wired into natural looking shapes, the trunks thickening. Chris showed the class one of his prized bonsai specimens and explained which techniques he used to style it.

Don’t miss the upcoming 29h Annual Santa Cruz Bonsai Kai show Saturday and Sunday, April 8th & 9th at the Museum of Art and History at 705 Front Street in Santa Cruz from 10am -5pm each day. Entry fee is $5 per person to the museum and the show. Kids 12 and under get in free so it’s a great way to spend the day.

Every plant sold or raffled at the show comes with an invitation to the monthly Santa Cruz Bonsai Kai club meetings where new enthusiasts are welcomed and nurtured.

Besides taking in the beautiful bonsai on display you can purchase finished bonsai and starter plants as well as get experienced help with trees purchased. There will be door prizes and refreshments. You might even win the raffle for the demonstration specimen created each day at 2:00 pm by Bonsai Master, Eric Shrader on Saturday or if you come to the show on Sunday created by Sensei Katsumi Kinoshita.

Santa Cruz Bonsai Kai 26th Annual Show

Pete_bonsai_collectionFor the last few years before the Santa Cruz Bonsai Kai club has their annual show I’m honored to visit one of the members for a personal tour of their bonsai collection. Last year I viewed Marc Shaw’s collection in Ben Lomond. Marc is currently serving as president of the club. The year before it was former president, Ron Anderson’s home in Boulder Creek. Both wowed me with their talent creating such awesome specimens.

This year I was most happy to be invited to visit the collection of another member, Pete Logan, at his home in Felton. Over a decade ago I met Pete as he used to come into the nursery where I worked to scour the stock of plants for interesting branching structure. You never know what you might find in the far reaches of a nursery and Pete had a good eye for potential specimens.  Over the years he has honed his skills in creating and nurturing his bonsai collection.

In the back of his home on the San Lorenzo River, Pete has built a pergola to shade his bonsai maple_bonsaicollection of over 100 specimens from afternoon sun. Each tree has a story as interesting as Pete’s own. After returning from combat duty in Vietman, Pete found himself suffering from anxiety but at the time no one knew about post traumatic stress disorder.  “Medication worked for awhile”, Pete said, “but it never went away,”  Developing a passion for bonsai has been a way for him to relieve stress and forget everything as he immerses himself in his art.

His interest in bonsai started after watching the 1984 movie, The Karate Kid. He was always interested in landscaping and plants, he told me, and one day picked up a Sunset magazine that had an article about bonsai. He was hooked. Pete describes his skills in styling bonsai as “self-taught”  but that “being involved with the Santa Cruz Bonsai Kai club for almost 9 years has been very rewarding as far as the knowledge I’ve acquired and the wonderful friends I’ve made”.  He says he would recommend the club to anyone interested in learning the art of bonsai.

boxwood_bonsaiAll the members of the club are busy getting ready for their annual show. Each decides which of their specimens they will offer for sale, to contribute to the raffle or to enter into the show. Moss needs to be collected to be placed over the soil and around the rocks in the pot, the correct base chosen to complement each specimen, training wires removed, pots cleaned and polished. Like many bonsai enthusiasts, Pete’s garage is brimming with shelves of beautiful pots, driftwood, rocks of every color, polished redwood burl slices to be used for bases, soil mix ingredients, tools, wire and soil sieves. He loves all things Asian and has a large collection of artifacts including Chinese cork carvings. I was thrilled when he handed me a tiny cork carving encased in glass to take home.

Pete doesn’t know which of his collection he will take to the bonsai show. Some, like a 15 year old boxwood_bonsai2liquidambar tree, haven’t leafed out yet but might in time for the show. He is training it in the bunjin style. He is also proud of a 2 foot redwood tree in the “root over rock'” or Sekijoju style. The leading branch of the tree died off and from it has created the illusion of age and the struggle to survive or “jin” as the technique is called.

Other favorite bonsai of this remarkable bonsai enthusiast include a Chinese elm and a boxwood, both in the root over rock style. He has three different types of oaks, seven olive specimens, blooming plums, spruce, pomegranate, grapes, yaupon holly, Japanese maples and cotoneaster all in training.

Pete is happy to share his love of bonsai with others and teaches workshops with another enthusiast monthly starting in spring at Scarborough Gardens in Scotts Valley. His next workshop is coming up on the last Sunday of April and will cover creating bonsai from nursery plants.

Santa Cruz Bonsai Kai club meets monthly. You can find out more by attending the 26th Annual Show of Santa Cruz Bonsai Kai which takes place from 10:00 to 5:00 on Saturday, March 22nd and Sunday March 23rd at the Museum of Art and History at 705 Front Street in Santa Cruz. You might even win the coveted specimen created on each day by sensei master, John Thompson. I still have my large dwarf Japanese garden juniper that I won a few years ago and it’s doing well, thank you very much.

The World of Bonsai

I walked through an Asian inspired bamboo gate and entered another world- the world of bonsai.  Some trees were blooming, others just leafing out and some had trunks thick and gnarled like they've been alive 200 years- and they have. Here at the garden of the Santa Cruz Bonsai Kai  president, Ron Anderson, I was treated to a tour of 100 specimens in his personal bonsai collection.

The word bonsai comes from two Japanese words that provide the most basic definition of this living art form. "Bon" is a tray or pot , while "sai' means to plant.

At each turn, I marveled at yet another tree in training. Some already in classic bonsai pots while others were still in cut down nursery pots awaiting their day to be root pruned and given a shallow tray.  As living things, they are always growing, leaves and stems being pinched, the branches wired into natural looking shapes, the trunks thickening and sometimes developing nebari or that most sought after look when the surface roots of the tree or root flare are visible above the growing medium


Ron told me he has always been interested in Asian and Japanese gardening. It was only 5 years ago, however,  that his father-in-law took him to a bonsai show. He was hooked. His first bonsai? A boxwood that someone was going to throw out. He gets a lot of his plant material that way. Craig's List has been a great source of old, gnarled  plants. A giant rosemary shrub awaits dividing in a wooden box. A huge Tam juniper was on it's way to the dump. He also has many old, overgrown boxwoods in various stages of training that have much potential.Although many people new to the art of bonsai start with a little finished juniper or buy starter plants, collecting wild trees ( yamadori ) is one of the best ways of acquiring new material for bonsai. Ron found a Sierra juniper in a crevice in the Lake Tahoe area that is probably about 200 years old from the looks of the trunk. Care was taken to get most of the root system, otherwise the tree would have been doomed. A tree collected from the wild must be treated to the highest standard of care. But the reward or a unique yamadori bonsai is a worthwhile prize for spending days, months or years searching for potential material.

Ron also finds potential bonsai specimens in nurseries, looking mainly for 5 gallon or larger plants with an interesting trunk. That way the tree looks more like one found in nature. The oaks on Hwy 152, are good models for bonsai design, he says. Bonsai enthusiasts strive to evoke the ravages of nature in their trees. Except for young bonsai-in-training, most specimens seem much older than their small size suggests. And they may also appear to be veterans of years of struggle against natural forces. Actual age is of less importance in bonsai than the illusion of age. To that end, Ron will shave, cut and sometimes burn a trunk or branch to create the look of a lightning strike.

In Ron's collection are flowering quince, pear, elm, boxwood, juniper, azalea ( picky, he says ), cotoneaster, crabapple, olive, persimmon, dawn redwood, coast redwood, strawberry guava, Korean hornbeam, peach and "the cadillac" of bonsai- the black pine. Ron has two of these now.

Most bonsai live outdoors like they do in nature. There are very few that thrive inside. For his wife, Ron is training an olive tree that will eventually live indoors. Starting with a 7 ft tree, it's now 6 " tall. He is forcing new limbs to grow out from the trunk and it now has three branches.

What conditions do bonsai like? Ron keeps all of his collection outside year round. Some are under trees while others are out in the open even on frosty nights. During the summer they get morning sun and afternoon shade. He waters all of them every other day during the growing season but cautions that he knows his plants and their requirements and someone else may have to fine tune their own individual watering schedule. There is no soil in his soil mix, preferring a mix of small pumice, red lava and a few other things he's learned about but "can't give his secrets away". The most important thing is for the mix to have perfect drainage or the tree roots will rot.

Ron transplants his deciduous trees every year as they grow so fast. Evergreen trees are repotted every 3 years. A rootbound tree, with circling roots in the pot, won't be healthy and growing new root hairs. This will inhibit the growth of the trunk and it won't be able to increase in girth.

Deciduous bonsai, Ron explained, are grown in unglazed trays usually in soft, dark colors. Colored glazed containers are reserved mainly for shows although flowering and fruiting plants are sometimes grown in them also.

Santa Cruz Bonsai Kai meets every 3rd Saturday at 9am at the Live Oak Grange hall on 17th Ave in Santa Cruz. Workshops are held on the 2nd Wed of each month at 7pm at the Aptos Grange hall. Ron said that the club has increased its membership by 30 due to its presence on Facebook which is good as without new members, the knowledge won't be passed on.
Visit their website at http://www.gsbf-bonsai.org/santacruzbonsaikai/

And don't miss the upcoming Santa Cruz Bonsai Kai show Saturday, March 24th and Sunday, March 25th to be inspired and have all your questions answered about growing bonsai from the experts. Both days will feature a demonstration at 2 pm by the famous bonsai sensei, Katsumi Kinoshita.  In the demonstration, Kinoshita will show where and how much to trim an ordinary piece of plant material, how to wire the branches to set their growth in the desired shape and how to pot the tiny tree. The completed bonsai will be the prize in the raffle afterwards.

At the show every plant sold comes with an invitation to Santa Cruz Bonsai Kai meetings, where new enthusiasts are welcomed and nurtured.