(Fairfax, Virginia)
             Dean got hooked after received a 8LS8-Sumo!  He's a young man in a rush with a lot of energy, enthusiasm and confidence. He called soon after he received the plant and I could feel his excitement as he described his plans and it was over-whelming like when I got started 50 years ago.  Since we first made contact in mid-November, in about a month and a half,  I've received a total of over 40 emails and over 100 photos!  Dean is an intense young man and I'm encouraging him, but requiring him to develop discipline.
             He's a rapid decision-maker type who very quickly picked up on Fuku-Bonsai's "FAST-TRACK BONSAI" concepts which includes starting with several Introductory Workshop Packages (IWP --- small two to four year old pre-trained prepared bonsai stock plants) to learn the basics of potting and the cultural requirements in a very practical, prudent, and economical manner.  He quickly grasped that in a very short time and with a high probability of success,  he could compress his learning curve and begin work with older more developed plants.
             He was impressed with the Sumo, but quickly understood that outstanding trees were the result of disciplined pruning over a long period of time and at this stage, he really wanted to produce rapid results.  So clearly Roots and Dragons were more exciting challenges.  Dean has a dynamic Korean fire-cracker personality and anxious to get into training in spite of this being the season for caution.  He just didn't want to bother with the small, young stuff and wanted to start learning with an intermediate workshop II, an advanced workshop III, and and an entry-level Custom Collection.


             He's hooked on "dragons" and it took a bit of effort to slow him down so he could understand how these trees were trained over a number of years. Doing all three continuously without reflection time in between doesn't do justice to the quality of trees being sent him. I impressed upon him that the Asian Dragons were powerful dynamic creatures with a lot of symbolism, activity, and unpredictability and that creating Fuku-Bonsai Hawaiian Dragon Bonsai was the most difficult challenge.  I think he sensed that and that may be why he's drawn to dragon styling.  He sort of slowed down and promised to hold off, to study the plant carefully and to do that promising Custom Collection dragon in spring!   Here's his first report of his first two dragons:

 DRAGON STYLING I       (Workshop II:  4LL8-Roots and #8 Conversion Kit)

              I tried growing bonsai many times before and failed every time.  I had a huge collection but after I purchased my first Fuku-Bonsai, I started to liquidate all of them and now I only have Dwarf Schefflera from Fuku-Bonsai.  My introduction to bonsai was by my father, my best friend, and my mentor who passed away last year.  I still have a hard time dealing with everyday tasks. So I started back into horticulture because my father and mother always made beautiful gardens. I find it peaceful and relaxing.

             My first Fuku-Bonsai was a 8LS8 Sumo and this second project will be three Dragons.  Two are being immediately potted and trained as seen in these photos.  The third is a larger older Custom Collection and I'll wait until spring to repot and style the roots with my vision.  I absolutely love coming home and looking at my creations and tending to them and inspecting them.

           DAVID'S NOTE:  This really was a 4LL8-Roots and Dean is moving it into a swirling soaring dragon. See it as part of the last photo in this article.

Workshop III (8LS8-Dragon & #17 Conversion Kit)

             This set-up has been changing every day as I inspect it.  I wanted to portray a very extreme style that I've seen in only a few photos.  It curves back from the soil upwards, then bends to the back, and bends back forward. 

             I am training the tree to grow upwards and about six inches higher than the planting mix in the pot. I used foil, Hawaiian sphagnum moss, potting material and bonsai wire to hold it all together.  Since the roots will not hold up the tree, I had to make a wire structure to be the bones in the roots to give it the height and strength to be a bonsai dragon. 

             I've started to curve the roots that are in training to lean towards its left,  Now it is almost parallel to the soil.  I love this bonsai the most because it will have the most bold bends, curving roots, and best of all, roots over rocks.  The red color in the middle is a red lava rock that I added.

            Since the last photo was taken I have it bending sideways, almost parallel to the soil, then it bends forward towards the foliage.  This is the most challenging "Dragon" that I have done so far and my favorite plant.

            These are my first two dragons but will absolutely no be my last.  I plan to do many more unique stylings and planning a trip to Hawaii to meet David personally and learn as much as possible and soak up information like a wet sponge!       

               In this photo, from left to right:  1)  Large Custom Collection,  2) #8LS8-Sumo, 3) a "moss ball" bonsai,  4) the #8 size dragon from a 4LL8, and 5) the #17 size dragon with curving roots over red lava rock --- my favorite bonsai in training. 

               I made this bonsai stand on a whim to adjust the height levels of each tree to keep them the same distance from the light.  They are growing vigorously and I am now a believer and fellow hobbyist / horticulturalist of True Indoor Bonsai.  I hope you'll be seeing more crazy bonsai styling from me soon and thank you all for reading!  Yours truly,  Dean Lee



             SOME COMMENTS FROM DAVID:  It's not often that I come across such a dynamic individual and right now I see the challenge to develop his growing skills and effectiveness to maximize the exceptional potential of the plant stock.  In a very short time, Dean has improved his lighting and growing set-up to get better growth and is talking about building a larger growing area.  Getting the plants to grow vigorously is initially more important that creating artistic masterpieces that die!  But Dean is in a rush and I'm concerned as the glory of great initial success becomes devastating when those trees die and irregardless of all good intentions and confidence,  it's hard to argue with a dead bonsai!  So Dean needs to learn to read the trees, to understand when the trees show symptoms of problems, and modify his actions to avoid problems.

          Although it is exciting and satisfying to jump right into training, too often a short time later, a more exciting idea develops and the plant suffers from having to go through a second restyling session while it is still recovering from the stresses of the initial training session.  This also was a part of my original problems as my bonsai excitement meant I wanted to always "work on a tree!"  Having so few trees,  each one was "over-worked,"  "reversed-worked," or simply killed by bending repeatedly first in one direction, then another, another until it died shortly after I became satisfied that it was finally "perfect!" 

          This is part of learning and it is sobering and eventually easier to develop "patience" by developing the ability to visualize the changes contemplated, reducing those changes into graphic presentations,  and comparing those sketches while creating more alternatives.  I think Dean needs to develop the ability to sketch first, develop more alternatives, be able to dissect the good and bad of each alternative,  and come up with the best compromise THEN STOP AND DON'T DO ANYTHING!

         I find that initially this was very difficult.  But after ruining a lot of good trees, I came to the realization that really good trees are the foundation for success, are difficult to obtain, and the higher the potential, the more it deserves to have a solid strategic gameplan.  Its important to work on as many trees as possible to develop the ability to create exciting visions as well as the training skills and techniques to make those visions come alive!  This is the area that will separate the advanced hobbyist from a future great master and Dean's current challenge. 

        He is limited by the area he can devote to his passion, the years he is willing to wait,  and by the size of his wallet. So it will be frustrating for him and I strongly recommend that he does as much mental preparation as possible so when he does start the training of his tree,  that he quickly and professionally executes in a well-planned training session.  It can only be considered a success if the results are what was planned and that no changes are needed for a long time.  That's the ideal situation for plant and trainer.

         But the reality is that almost always, the strategy changes in the actual training session as a pattern in the roots or other discovered feature may inspire a design modification.  When the planned design is almost complete, a radical new idea bursts forward! I've come to accept that this may happen and when it results in a superior bonsai, I consider this an example of "MAN AND NATURE IN HARMONY!"  These usually are my best bonsai.

         In the old days, I did my best work without distractions or anyone around.  Now I know when a tree has special potential and although it may be lying around for years, really I have a complex gameplan in mind and continuously making plant adjustments to create more potential.  So part of improving as a bonsai trainer is to have the ability to make small cultural tweaks to more properly prepare the plant for that major well planned initial major training session and Dean has not yet gotten to that stage.

        At Fuku-Bonsai, there are scores of such plants waiting for their initial major training session which are now part of staff or public presentations.  I use them to teach the staff the finer points of being a professional and addressing the negatives before the actual training session.  Many experienced bonsai growers arrive at Fuku-Bonsai and get excited about the potential of the trees lying around and are quick to point out the potential and what they would do to train it.  That's the way it should be and every collection must be built to have great promise and potential.  THAT'S "BONSAI-DO; THE WAY OF BONSAI!"

        SO WHAT TO DO?

        A second set of three 4LL8 dragons have been sent to Dean and I'm really looking forward to how he handles it.  I hope he'll take more time and sketch and design before he starts training!  Good quality plant material is a real bonsai blessing as it makes all things possible!  But to get maximum benefit, there's need for good planning, sound technique and preparation.  BUT THERE ALSO MUST BE ENERGY AND ENTHUSIASM!

        I'm very excited for Dean as he unleashes his creativity!  I'll help him as much as I can and delighted that he'll share his progress with everyone!  Stay tuned!  ~~~David


The Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation Journal of Tropical and True Indoor Bonsai is published monthly by email and is a benefit of Foundation membership. Annual dues are just $12 per year. For more information about becoming a member, go to