Welcome to the Saruyama Blog, intermittent and generally off topic. Occasionally you might see some trees...and weird ones at that.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Books and learning....

On my recent trip to the United States I made some trees and did some demonstrations and all that. Here are some of those trees in case you don't stalk me on social media.

A limber pine done by Akiyama and myself (Mainly Akiyama). We considered buying it between us and then entering it into a major show one day...however seeing as there is a big possibility I would be the judge and also we have nowhere to keep it, we decided against it. It was a shockingly good piece of material. I went all a bit hipster instagramtastic on the filter there. Makes things look that little bit more wabi-sabi.

We got through a few trees at Natures Way during our two days there. Perhaps we did too much. We did lots more but I am not here to blow my own trumpet. Lets leave that kind of activity to the FBM* crowd.

What I am here to do is that unpleasant thing and talk about important things rather than show pictures of overly wired badly styled trees that all look the same and get lots of attention. (Can you tell I have spent the last week with Akiyama talking about what makes good bonsai and a good bonsai professional, mainly from the exasperated point of view that FBM's seem to be directing the dialogue on what is quality or true and what is not?)

What I am here to do is point out the fact that I did some book learning. Flicking through a lot of old books at Nature's Way, I learnt some ground breaking stuff...made me realise what an absolute gamble it is when you pick up a book. For instance, I learned from some random book that...

That for me was an eye opening piece of information as I had been going around telling people for the last ten years that the root system on a bonsai was the foundation for a strong, healthy, well ramified and generally lovely looking tree. Turns out I was wrong. Apparently the roots don't matter that much.

*** in case you don't realise, I am making fun of this nonsense that was published ****

After having a chuckle at how little they knew back then, for the book was published in the 80's, I picked up a book entitled "American Bonsai" published in the sixties, I forget the author, which is a crime I know. I didnt take a picture of the cover. I will admit, I opened it expecting to have regressed even further back in time. As it happened, I should have had a plate, with a knife and fork, ready to eat my words...

The section on soils just amazed me. Why hadn't I read this before? Why hadn't this knowledge been repeated in other books? Who stopped this important and essential information from being disseminated? This knowledge is lacking in most people's understanding in the 2010's and this dude was talking about it 50 years ago. 50 years. Things have advanced a little, but not that much. The soil mix bit with peat moss can be ignored but otherwise, this is essential reading. By breaking copyright laws I hope I don't upset anyone, and if Bill Valavanis could tell us what/who the title/author is, that would be great...but as a starter to soil science for bonsai, you can't get much better than this


There is absolutely no excuse for not knowing this stuff now, it was knowledge around in English fifty years ago. Next time you have a workshop or watch a demonstration with a FBM then ask them about the three forces acting on water in the soil. Next time your teacher uses Akadama straight from the bag without sifting it ask them why. "Because it doesn't make a difference" is not an answer that should be accepted.

Apologies for the rant but this is fundamental knowledge that should be understood and practiced. Sometimes it is better to get off the unedited and irresponsible internet and get back to more traditional ways of learning. Even better, get off the internet and work on trees, it is so much more enjoyable.


* In case you didn't figure it out, FBM = Facebook bonsai master...and yes, I have started posting pictures there. In order to change society, you must first be part of it. It won't last though...

Edit **** So I was being a little bit over enthusiastic on the dates....turns out I was like 20 years off...but that still means that goddamn it I was mostly right. Thank you Bill and Frank Kelly. As Morrissey once sand..."There is always someone, somewhere, with a big nose who knows, and trips you up and laughs when you fall". ****


  1. Hi Peter, the book you have referred to is "The Beginners Guide to American Bonsai" written by Jerald P. Stowell with a foreword by Kyuzo Murata. First printed1978 by Kodansha. LCC 77-15372, ISBN 0-87011-326-7 and ISBN (Japan) 4-7700-0630-1. 140 pages 26cm x 19cm Hardcover with DJ Cost then Yen 3,600. Jerald was the first President of the American Bonsai Society and cofounder and first President of the Bonsai society of Greater New York.
    We met at ASPAC Takamatasu way back in 2011 - glad you haven't lost your sense of bonsai humour :-) regards, Frank Kelly, Canberra Australia.

  2. Thanks for posting this Peter, this is indeed fantastic information. Breaks it down in a very thorough but understandable fashion. Looks like I need to get some sieves.

  3. How is the Limber Pine doing in this blog?

  4. Anonymous is right on. I have this book and it was one of my first bonsai books since I began in 1975-6. There were not many good books out there then. I ran into "The Japanese Art of Miniature Trees and Landscapes", By Yoshimura and Halford; and "Bonsai Miniature Potted Trees" by Murata and I was on my way.

  5. glad you haven't lost your sense of bonsai humour :-)


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