On Friday, February 8, 2013,  I picked up Ryan at Hilo Airport as he flew in from Honolulu for a full day of advanced workshops.  Past Journal reports show his adventurous spirit in facing the challenges of learning bonsai by making mistakes. Such enthusiasm should be encouraged but it makes sense to increase the basic knowledge and skill levels to reduce the amount of work that must be redone and to give the plants a better fighting chance to survive and thrive and become beautiful bonsai!

                In a little over a month, Ryan had gone through three Introductory Workshop Packages (Introductory Workshop I) and redid each one as reported in the first two Journal issues.  He had gone through three others and these await redoing based upon what he learned during his first visit to Fuku-Bonsai.  So he comes to visit having the equivalent of having done nine workshops of which three passed. This trip would add three more,  hopefully with a better percentage passing and being recognized as the point that he learned key practices for success.

               Visitor Larry Sullivan of Oregon was here two days before, heard of Ryan's workshop and asked to join us.  I wanted to expose Ryan to the more difficult 1:10 Project that uses shallow saucer-pots and Larry agreed to give an evaluation too.  Here's Ryan's report with my comments. 


By Ryan Chang (Waipahu, Hawaii)

          David met me at the Hawaii State Visitor Information booth at Hilo Airport as I came down the escalator from the arrival gate.  Normally they have two small Fuku-Bonsai True Indoor Bonsai on display there, but the booth was not staffed as I arrived on the first flight at 5:45 AM.  Besides exhibiting two small bonsai they have color Fuku-Bonsai rack cards with a map for distribution to interested visitors. 

         David with two Dwarf Japanese Hollies with one trained towards Chinese penjing and the other Japanese bonsai concepts.
        David providing me with an introduction to the 1:10 Project with a typical mid-height Roots in a shallow 9"diameter saucer-pot less than 1" deep.  This is the container size to be used in our intermediate 1:10 workshops.
        The components of the 9" size kit for the 1:10 Project's "INTERMEDIATE WORKSHOP." Part of the results of today's workshops were select the specific methods to be recommended for the Workshop Handbook to be written to go with the workshop package and to determine the ideal quantities and components to go with each kit.
        After discussion of drawings and the challenges of the 1:10 Project to secure the plant to the shallow saucer pot Larry and I started.

        The project was modified for us using specially prepared plants that are larger than the smaller standard Fuku-Bonsai Introductory Workshop Package plants. They have tremendous potential and character.   The 9" saucer pots are fitted with the aluminum wire formed with a “U” shaped flat bottom, then turned in using pliers to create loops for the roots to hold onto, permanently binding the plant to the pot.  The plastic separator is to keep the media from clogging the drain holes.

          We used a collar made from cutting down a standard 4" square nursery pot to help hold the media in place until it firmed up.  After roots had filled the media, the plastic collar would be removed and the media contoured.  Using rigid collars was the original concept and we later learned how to use aluminum foil in a superior manner.


             The top quality plant had been specially chosen by a trained eye and  I was eager to see what characteristics made David ooh and ahh at the chosen plants. The plants were a bit younger than the more developed 4LL8 Potted Bonsai he originally envisioned as this would reduce the costs of the workshop package. Both, Larry and I ended up with fantastic SUMOs.   Also modified was the 9" saucer-pot by David as he continues to search for the best "customer-proof" way to accomplish the end goal of keeping the plant alive! David  made it seem easy as he went through the whole project in less than 5 minutes!  

             I struggled with the wiring, but eventually was able to complete the project with a nice looking sumo.  The rootage has an incredible wide base structure and the trunk already looks like a miniature tree bending in the wind.  The foliage is just as wide as the tree with the top in the middle forming a nice triangular, housetop look.  Branch structure is great, David showed us how to pre-prune the tree as being able to see the branch structure is important in visualizing and analyzing the character of the tree. 

            Then we began to complete the SUMO.  First, tease the top media out to expose the top roots. David pointed out I should be  exposing the top of the roots and not going fully down through and loosening all roots.  Then remove some from the middle of the bottom of the root ball to flatten the roots to be placed on a hill formed by the media in the saucer.   At this point there was another good reason for in-person training.  David kept telling me to make the hill bigger, when I thought it was big enough, he said bigger, “like this!”, then showed me by putting a couple of handfuls on top of my not big enough hill. “Oh like that…”, lol.  

            Media is important for the growth of the roots and the more of the right type the better! Luckily being at Fuku-Bonsai, there was no shortage of materials.  After placing the nursery pot collar around the tree, filling with even more media, and tightening the tree down with the provided wire.  It was good to go.  David showed Larry his water nozzle head that produced the softest water output and gave it a good watering.  Then it was onto the next project, ROOTS!

           NOTE:   This SUMO project was also to be re-done at home based upon David's email that he will be recommending the aluminum foil collar for the actual 1:10 Project Workshops.  This made me happy because I get to play with my plants again, another report to follow.



         The crucial challenge of Roots is to create a natural blending flow line of the trunk with roots that are compressed, then lengthened into an elegant shape. It must be thin at the top and wider at the bottom for a tapering effect that will give it visual stability.

          Larry and I with our formed aluminum cones wrapped around training wire to support the plants roots system.  Fuku Bonsai’s body media mix and lava rock was used to fill the cone.    Note, Larry has the nursery pot collar added, while David showed me how to use aluminum foil as the collar instead.


2.                   The final product of the 3 finished ROOTS.  From left to right; Larry’s, mine, and David’s.  David showed us how to manipulate the aluminum to add dramatic turns for the trunk growth, however, I didn’t do much of that on mine in the photos here.   When I brought them back home, I added the twists and turns. 


         My finished Intermediate level 1:10 project SUMO and ROOTS, made for a happy day!


                When I got to Fuku-Bonsai, it was still dark and as it got lighted, David took me around and showed me different types of bonsai in the collection including some trees that were trained by past bonsai masters.  There were many trees that I didn’t get to see, but my favorite was still ROOTS.  We started off with studying the tree and removing leaves that blocked the view of the branch structure.

               We began to work with the body of the roots utilizing an aluminum foil collar and aluminum bonsai training wire as structural support.  Create a “U-shaped" end and bend that end to create a small neck for the plant to rest on.  Do that two times and you will have your support structure.  Secure it to the plant using the bind wire after sectioning off the roots with the bind wire to create a form for your roots to grow.

               Then tie the plant to the support structure and use the aluminum collar to start forming the body.  David showed us o create the aluminum collar, we used the pleated method to create spaces for the roots to follow the pleats when growing, so if I twist and bend the collar, the roots should follow the pleats and also twist and bend.  Make sure to have lots of media and add the nutrient granules to the body. 

               For me the hardest part was marrying the tree to the pot. There was discussion of whether the 1:10 Project should encourage the discipline and make the original saucer-pot the permanent pot.  From time to time, a pie-shaped section of the potting media would be replaced as sections became pot bound.  The 1:10 Project trial plants are being created for display and maintenance with this concept.  But it would also be possible to move the plants to other containers when desirable.  Notice, I didn’t use the nursery pot collar for this one, as David and Larry did on theirs. 

             We placed the Roots on top of a hill formed by the media in the saucer-pot.  Again, I stress that the hill should be a good size hill because after placing it and marrying the plant to the pot, you will be adding more media to firm up the base.   Another important thing is to remember is to create breathing holes in the aluminum foil collar for the roots to grow into the body.  Using a sharp ended tool and create lots of holes so that the air will reach the roots for greater growth. 

             David showed us a plant that didn’t have the breathing holes and roots didn’t grow as expected.  He then explained that air needs to be able to hit the roots in order for it to grow appropriately.  Before, marrying the plant to the pot, I used a 20-22” wide aluminum folded in half, crumpled one side.  I used the crumpled side to wrap around the base of the tree and taking the excess and wrapping over the edge of the saucer pot.  Creating a nice secure base collar, I then use the bind-wire to wrap around the tree and tying to the other end of the bind-wire.  Repeating the same step with two other pieces.  Take this time to shape the future root structure of the plant.  Give the aluminum foil collar some twists and bends where you want, then poke the holes in the foil collar. Then when you notice slack just use a tightened end and go through the slacked wire to pull and tighten. Then tie to complete and add holes in the bottom collar, the more the better.  Lastly, water the plant thoroughly. 


         The afternoon session,  a challenging root-over-rock workshop that kept us so busy that no one shot photos! But we packed and made it to the airport on time!  


              After a nice lunch provided by David’s wife Myrtle, and David providing insight to his style of bonsai, his hopes for the future,  we headed back to the workshop area to learn the ROOTS-OVER-ROCK styling. I was most excited as I would like to especially explore landscaping bonsai.  Used widely in Chinese penjing, landscapes often depict the region of the area.  The Fuku-Bonsai collection includes many landscapes. 

               David started with the run through while Larry and I took notes.  In this workshop, a key ingredient was introduced, and I will have to try and make this on my own.  The ingredient is called "cornstarch keto-tsuchi – Fuku Bonsai’s own mix."  This “muck” is a binding solution to the rock in order for the body media to be able to stay in place when the roots grow. Only put the muck where you want the water to flow or roots to grow. Add thin layers of spaghnum moss,  coarse bottom / body media, and nutrient granules to future root channels.  When finished the rock will be covered in the intended areas. 

               Like with the previous Roots workshop, we teased the media from the top down removing mostly all of the media.  As you go along, keep in mind, you want to create a saddle-like seat for the plant to sit on.  You might have to cut some roots.  Some rocks have natural flowing channels and in other cases you may have to construct your own.  In this workshop, David introduced a "ribbon-plastic-tie" to marry the plant to the rock.  We tightened and re-tightened any loose slack until the plant became one with the rock.  Add the body media and course rock around the base, and create the aluminum collar as before to go around the base and the edges of the pot saucer.  Using filament tape, we secure the base area by taping with a triangular method.  Continue using aluminum all the way up to the top of the rock or where your plant is resting.  Use the aluminum flair out at the top to create a water-catching entrapment form. 


               It was an incredible day and David sent me home with extra coarse bottom and body media.  He reminds me of my grandfather of always being on the move.  I want to thank David and Myrtle for making the trip  very delightful one indeed.  I learned a lot in a short time and I know that the learning never ends. Even David is still learning as well.  There is no wrong or right way and that's why I Iove this Fuku-Bonsai style which is part Japanese bonsai and part Chinese penjing.  David refers to it as Hawaiian-style bonsai.   Now, I have an insight after seeing how David eases through the workshops.  I came away with more confidence and excitement.  The best thing about David’s Hawaiian-style bonsai is that no one competes, everyone shares, and in doing so, we create unique original bonsai.  As you can see from the three projects, each of us was trying to achieve the same end goal whether it was Sumo, Roots, or Roots-over-rock.  Everyone’s completed plant was different, and that is a good thing!

               As, I write this, David mentioned that he made two changes in the workshops, so now I get to go work with the plants again, which is always fun.  I’ve already completed the re-doing of the ROOTS, just need to re-do the SUMO.  Look forward to my reports.  Aloha! ~~~ Ryan


             CONCLUDING COMMENTS BY DAVID:   It was a hectic but very satisfying day and I got to evaluate a lot.  I tried to impress upon Ryan and Larry that although I've been doing bonsai for over 50 years, that I "wasted" well over half of that doing a Hawaiian tropical version of "traditional Japanese temperate climate bonsai" that is great for the Japanese, but not generally applicable to tropical Hawaiians, or less disciplined Americans who really are not interested in traditional outdoor temperate climate bonsai or following a whole bunch of rules, and who really only want to grow a high success form of houseplant bonsai.

            Trying to help these individuals have brought a lot of criticism from those in the traditional bonsai community even though I submit welcomed bonsai articles to the national and international bonsai organizations.  I've come to accept that our TRUE INDOOR BONSAI™ will never be accepted by the traditionalists and have therefore begun to build a community of those who appreciate houseplant and low light tropical bonsai with the monthly email publication of the JOURNAL OF TROPICAL & TRUE INDOOR BONSAI.  The response has been very satisfying and we are building a long-term organizational structure that will insure that it will survive beyond my lifetime into future generations.

           This is very important to me as I have been blessed with strong supporters who made it possible for Fuku-Bonsai to survive the catastrophic $30+ million losses due to defective Benlate contaminated with weed killers that was sprayed in 1989.  Although we started growing Dwarf Schefflera in 1974,  the major breakthroughs have occurred since 2000 and progress is accelerating! 

           Ryan is part of the True Indoor Bonsai Study Group and those who are interested, willing, and able and able are invited to contact me at david.f@fukubonsai.com for more information on how to join this group to have special assistance and access to experimental plant materials and supplies.  To qualify to be a part of the study group,  there is an initial purchase of three workshop packages and a pre-plan is made prior to each workshop.  Execution and report after each.  A redo and/or improvement and pre-plan for the second, etc.  It requires the ability to photograph and write articles to be critiqued with the best to be published in the Journal of Tropical & True Indoor Bonsai.  By this means,  we will try to help everyone and those who are willing and able to share their experiences will also learn the most!  I invite you to build a win-win relationship!     ~~~David  

*** Go to Ryan Chang's redo of Intermediate 1:10 Project Sumo and Roots

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 www.fukubonsai.com/MPBF.html