By Angela Jones Tillman (Silk Hope School, Siler City, North Carolina)
and David W. Fukumoto (Fuku-Bonsai, Kurtistown, Hawaii)

                Since the first series of classes, both of us have been very busy.  Angela had her second child and Fuku-Bonsai was almost ready to introduce an entirely new Living Lovable line of smaller potted prepared bonsai stock (which would be ideal for workshops) and the introductory prototypes of The Amazing Hawaiian Micro-Lobsters!™  Angela was amongst the first to test these items.  We both had some ideas of how we could improve the course and this report incorporates the various changes made.

                Somehow amidst our hectic schedules, we put together a condensed version of the first series of classes and this was published in Bonsai Clubs International's Bonsai Magazine and its reproduced below (as submitted):

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Angela's article was published in Bonsai Clubs International's BONSAI MAGAZINE;  September-October 2003;  Volume 42, Number 5
© Bonsai Clubs International 2003
The "Back To School" issue honored America's premier master bonsai teacher John Yoshio Naka on the cover and in a feature photo-article.
For more information about BCI, go to their website at:

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By Angela Jones Tillman
Silk Hope School, Siler City, North Carolina

      In May of 2001 with my goal to integrate science with some type of art, I embarked on my most enriching endeavor. Bonsai immediately came to mind and my search on the Internet discovered Fuku-Bonsai and their True Indoor Bonsaiš . My principal recommended seeking a Chatham Education Foundation creative teaching grant; and because of the uniqueness of a houseplant bonsai lesson, the foundation funded the entire project!

      WHAT IS BONSAI? While waiting for our 60 kits to arrive, I asked the eighth graders (in two classes) what they thought of when they heard the word "bonsai"? "Tiny trees!" exclaimed one student. "Takes a lot of patience", replied another. Our lively discussion addressed several myths and facts. Articles from magazines, books from our library, and the Fuku-Bonsai website were indispensable parts of our knowledge base.

      THEY'RE HERE! Once the plants were unpacked, there were minutes of OOHING and AAAHHHing, over how "COOL" their Keiki Bonsai looked. Using one of the kits I demonstrated. First we placed the tie-down wire through the openings in the planter and poured in pre-measured coarse bottom media, followed by some of the potting media. The rock planting was then positioned and securely tied into the container and additional potting media was added and firmed. Fine body media provided a beautiful black finish. Everyone was impressed with how the water from the tray was absorbed through the bottom drain holes. We allowed the water to thoroughly saturate the media.

      TROPICALS DON'T PLAY IN THE SNOW! In the third week handbooks were reviewed for proper care. We used the saturation method to water plants and discussed the effect of over and under watering. I asked: "Where's the best place to keep an indoor bonsai?" Obviously everyone knew about the importance of sunlight . . . the more, the better! Staying clear of strong fertilizers is a must! A weak or diluted liquid fertilizer is acceptable but too much will burn roots and kill bonsai.

      DEVELOPING THE FORM! The following week, the eighth graders entered the classroom with a burst of energy unlike anything I'd seen in my previous eight years of teaching. "Has my plant grown any?" "I see some new growth on this branch!" Students were scurrying to view their bonsai; and after watering them again via the saturation method, we discussed the techniques for making a sketch before pruning. Using a water soluble graphite pencil, they each made a sketch and a wash to create a soft, black and white painting. They surpassed my highest expectations!

      "HOW-TO-PRUNE" sketching the following week was quite easy. Students then began to create a future growth plan and envisioning the future shape of their trees. With their "How-to-Prune" sketches in hand they carefully removed leaf stems and branches that were not part of the future design plan. I reminded them of the statement in the Dwarf Schefflera Keiki Bonsai Handbook that said, "Branches can be removed at any time but are impossible to glue back. In all pruning, don't be in a hurry!" Some were quite timid and only removed a few leggy branches here and there while others confidently removed all branches that would not benefit their future design.

      THE VISION OF THE FUTURE! The students noticed changes in the direction of growth (due to positioning in sunlight) and new growth emerging from areas pruned. Magnifying lenses were passed around to see exactly where tiny new growth begins. The "Future Vision" sketch was again made with water soluble graphite pencil. "Do you want a taller form with a thick canopy?" "Are you visualizing a compact, bushy tree?" "Or do you see a tree with one or two main branches which diagonally lean to one side?" From day to day the plants could vary from their "plan". Sometimes changes or mistakes are "fortunate accidents" that improve initial plans. As time passed, we compared technique and thought processes (on paper) to the actual plant and learned what worked or didn't work!

      HAIKU; CAPTURING THE MOMENT! While plants were receiving their weekly watering, we discussed traditional Japanese haiku and decided upon simply using three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables. I stressed the importance of "capturing" an instant in time and said, "As you look at your plant, think about what it means to you. Its' living presence and ability to grow and mature . . . much like yourself!" Many of the students realized their role as nurturer and caretaker for the first time and it was quite evident in their haiku.

            Miniscule bonsai
            Reaching for the rising sun
            I feel your presence!
            Stunning Schefflera
            It's shiny green leaves glowing
            Warmly in the sun!
            Such inner beauty
            Reaching to the starry sky,
            My beautiful Schefflera!

      After, I asked students to write a brief note to David Fukumoto concerning what this project has meant to them. The notes, as well as the haiku, were an excellent means of evaluation. Students spoke with their heart on a level I had never before witnessed. Here are excerpts of three:

" . . . At first I didn't think that I would like this project because I'm not a "plant" person. But since we've started I've really begun to enjoy it. My plant is progressing very smoothly. It's started new growth and is the shape that I want it to be. This has been a great experience . . . "   

" I have never been a good artist but since we have been working with the Dwarf Schefflera plants you sent us, art class has been much more enjoyable for me. Even after we finish this unit I wish to continue growing bonsai plants on my own. "     ~Jeremy

" . . . I have enjoyed working with the bonsai plants. This is the most exciting and challenging art project that I have done. The bonsai plants are as if they are little children . . . I hope that other children across the country will experience the enjoyment as I have."     ~Ashley

      PEACE, FRIENDSHIP & BONSAI! This portion was based on "The Spirit and Philosophy of Bonsai (Bonsai no kokoro) " address of Saburo Kato of Japan. We broke into small groups of four to five and began discussing how a plant can become a symbol of friendship and peace. Questions were tossed back and forth between members. "How do you feel about your bonsai representing those ideas?" "Have any of your views changed concerning peace and international friendship as a result of this bonsai unit?"

      After a few minutes, the group turned in a paragraph describing what they felt about the issues. I was pleased to see that the assignment was taken seriously and next it was my turn. I shared with the classes how it has broadened my horizons during this school year. Over the past nine months through various forms of correspondence, I've come to know David, learn about bonsai, Hawaiian and Japanese culture, and gained a new appreciation for how all of us in the world have connections of some kind . . . and therefore, need friendly and peaceful ties to sustain us.

      Bonsai has extremely strong ties to the concepts of friendship and peace and this unit has changed my way of thinking. Bonsai, like friendships, need things. The caretaker of the plant must nurture, care for, and encourage growth. Friendships are much the same. Without care and interest from both parties, one and eventually both, will suffer.



By Jessie, Stephanie, Clare & Mathew
      Bonsai represent peace and friendship because you have to take care of them and nurture them like you do a friendship.  Like friends, you have to encourage it and keep it bright instead of dreary. You get a sense of calm and peace when you look at it. Your plant needs water and sun; and friendship nees these gifts too. A friendship needs pruning, just like a bonsai. Bad things and arguments need to be cut out, but good things can come from them!
By Tara, Jessica, Frank, Spencer & Michael
      Friendships grow just like plants.  You have to care for both to help them to grow. They only die when you put them to the side. If you ignored your friends they wouldn't be a big part of your life anymore. If you ignore plants they get unhealthy and die. Plants and friendships bring up people's hopes.  Friendships and plants are beautiful!

      CONTINUING THE BONSAI JOURNEY! I have personally discovered a truly beautiful artform, one that I see continuing to grow throughout the years. My students have been supportive and enthusiastic from beginning to end. That's not always an easy task when dealing with students who do not consider themselves "artistic". Much has happened since I began my bonsai journey. I took a sabbatical to have my second child and as I write this, a new school year begins. Soon the order goes in to Fuku-Bonsai for the coming year's classes. Bonsai reaches across so many different levels of seeing, creating, and emotion that it touches everyone on some level or another and it's enriched my art program and my life!


       Editor's note. This version was condensed by David Fukumoto for BONSAI Magazine. The original is posted on the Fuku-Bonsai website at and copyright 2002 by Fuku-Bonsai Inc. and Angela Jones Tillman.


       Submitted to Donna Banting, editor, Bonsai Clubs International August 10, 2003 by email.     ~~~David W. Fukumoto


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Angela Tillman with her first 2001 Premium Keiki Bonsai Workshop Package result.
(Photo August 2003)
            Hello to Readers:

            If you have a love of plants, Art, and philosophy, then Bonsai is definitely for you.  I have learned more than I could have imagined throughout the past two years working with David Fukumoto and his staff at Fuku-Bonsai.  

            What started out as an idea while browsing the internet for "bonsai", has flourished into a core unit of my Art curriculum,  several wonderful friendships, and an article being published in Bonsai Clubs International magazine.   Not to mention an ever increasing collection of bonsai in my home.  There is no doubt in my mind that without David's sincere and in-depth feedback from day one, we would not have been as successful with our Bonsai endeavor. 

              I am truly looking forward to years of collaboration with David and his staff as we continue our tradition here at Silk Hope of  Bonsai  in  eighth grade.   I encourage everyone to explore this wonderful art form.  You never know in which direction it will take you!

                 Angela Tillman


© Fuku-Bonsai Inc. & Angela Jones Tillman, 2003    All rights reserved
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