Bonsai Workshop: 
Roaring Brook Lake Garden Club, 
Putnam Valley, New York
January 9th 2005 by Barry H. Grayson DDS
A typical 4LL-8-R (Roots Living Lovable) plant at the start of the workshops
Dr. Grayson's trial pre-planting with the tree planted root-over-rock into an 8" pot

          Members of The Roaring Brook Lake Garden Club of Putnam Valley New York, participated in a bonsai workshop, held on January 9th, 2005 at the Mohegan Lake Florist. The site of the workshop was generously provided by Pat Mercer, the owner of the Florist and a member of the Garden Club. 

          The workshop was presented by Barry Grayson DDS, a Craniofacial Orthodontist, who treats children and adults, born with "craniofacial anomalies" or severe abnormalities of the head, face and jaws, at New York University Medical Center. Barry started his training in Bonsai in 1972 and has taken courses at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden of New York as well as at the Japan Bonsai Society in Tokyo, Japan.

          Work stations were prepared for each participant one hour before they arrived at the Mohegan Lake Florist Shop. The workstations were set up with precut annealed copper wires, mesh screens, muck, three screen sizes of bonsai soil, plastic sheets to separate drainage layer from body medium, wooden sticks, Vaseline, Root-over-rock Pre-Bonsai provided by Fuku-Bonsai and a Bonsai Pot.

          The participants were asked to bring with them moss from their garden, pliers, wire cutter, water bowl for dipping trees during removal of soil from roots and a plastic bag to use in transporting their bonsai to their homes (the outside temperature was about 30įF on the day of the workshop).

          Each participant was provided with the Bonsai Workshop Manual and supplemental written materials that were generously provided by David Fukumoto, for this root-over-rock workshop.

          We began the workshop with a brief (10-minute) PowerPoint presentation on Bonsai: types, forms and an overview of the objectives and specific steps of this workshop.


          The workshop began with the placement of precut plastic mesh screens on the bottom of the bonsai pot. Each student bent two wire staples that were used to secure the wire mesh screens in place.

          The next step was placement of the long tie down wires through the drainage holes. These wires will be used in securing and stabilizing the rock and tree in the bonsai pot.

          The drainage layer of lava pebbles was placed into the pot and distributed evenly. Next, plastic sheeting was placed over the drainage layer, to prevent clogging of the drainage layer with the finer grains of the growing medium that would be placed over it.


         Attention was turned to the pre-bonsai trees. The students were asked to identify the front of their plant. They were guided to look for the side that showed the most interesting view of trunks, branches and roots. They were asked to examine the plant from all sides. 

          The students that were having difficulty in finding the "front" were advised to then look for the "back". The back was defined as the side which was least suitable for the "front", having branches growing directly out from the truck towards the viewer, or having the least interesting roots, trunk and branching.

          Once front and back of the trees were established, the students picked up their stones and examined them for qualities that made them interesting and dramatic. The rocks were evaluated in the context of their relationship to the tree. They looked for natural contours that would allow for a harmonious and interesting connection of roots and rock. 

          The creative inspiration of each student was called upon to decide exactly how best to position the tree on their particular rock. In some instances the trees were positioned on top of the rock, sitting as if on a mountain top. Others chose to position the tree on the side of their rocks, evoking the image of a tree, clinging to the side of a cliff. One student noted that the roots of his tree looked remarkably like a seated human figure. This rootage was exposed to highlight the figure.


        Muck, premixed for the workshop, was applied to the rocks, in the areas on which the roots were to be secured. The muck was covered with a thin layer of sphagnum moss. Next the roots were placed on the muck and moss covered rocks. Additional moss was applied to the roots, to protect them from the annealed copper wires which were used to secure them to the rock.

        (Ed.note:  go to 
          for the formula for the rock planting muck.)

           Just a word about "annealed copper wire" and why this was used in the tie down of these trees. The copper wire was annealed by placing it into a fire, until it was red hot. At this point the cherry red wire was submerged in a container of cool water. This process, called annealing, caused the otherwise springy wire to become "dead soft". In addition, the process changes the wire from a shiny copper color to a brown, which looks better on the rocks and among the roots. 

          The annealed wire regains its original "hardness" only after it is manipulated and bent several times. This bending of the wires occurs naturally when it is wound around the roots and rocks. Thus, it transforms from a soft gentle wire to a rigid, strong wire as it is worked around the rock (this phenomenon is known as "work hardening" of the annealed copper wire).

          The students were encouraged to wrap the wires in an esthetic pattern around the rock, so as to follow the direction of the roots, emanating from the tree trunk. This would secure the tree firmly to the rock and at the same time add interest to the composition. The copper wire will eventually oxidize and turn green, blending very naturally with the moss and stone.

          Once all trees were well secured to the rocks, we turned our attention to finding the "best" position for the tree and rock in the Bonsai container. The students were advised to position the longest horizontal branch over the center of the pot. This would place the trunk either to the left or right of center and provided for both asymmetry and balance to the composition. 


          The rock was then secured to the pot by use of the long "tie down" wires that earlier were placed through the drainage holes. These tie down wires crossed over the rock and were positioned in a way that contributed to the esthetics and served the function of securing the rock to the pot. We added "shimming" stones under the rock, to increase stability of the newly positioned rock and tree. The shimming stones were wedged under the rock to prevent movement. The tie down wires became tighter as the shimming stones caused a slight elevation in the rock.

          Once the tree and rock were firmly secured to the bottom of the pot, we placed the growing medium into the pot. The growing medium was carefully arranged to provide a smooth surface, descending gently from its highest point around the rock, down toward the rim of the pot. This was covered by the top most layer of fine grain lava medium. 

          Some students covered this layer with live moss that was taken from their gardens in the late fall and stored in the freezer, just for this winter workshop. The recently thawed moss was emerald green and for those who applied it, provided a reminder of the spring garden which is several months in the future.


         Once the bonsai were potted, we turned our attention to trimming the branches and leaves, so as to complete the composition of the root-over-rock bonsai. The leaf and branch pruning served two purposes. First to set into action, a plan for the future growth and development of this young bonsai tree. Secondly, to reduce the leaf canopy and allow the roots to recover from the stress of transplantation and mounting on the rock. 

          The reduction in leaf surface area, reduces the amount of water that is lost through the leaves. Thus the roots are under decreased demand for water to supply the tree with moisture. This allows the roots to recover and grow into the rock and soil. Once the roots are well established and functioning, there will be signs of new leaf growth and lots of opportunity to fulfill the design concept for the bonsaiís "canopy" of leaves and branches.


          At the end of this workshop, we indulged in tea, coffee and cakes, provided by several of the talented bakers among us. The participants were challenged and stimulated by their first experience with the art of "True Indoor Bonsai". Everyone acknowledged that the pre-bonsai root-over-rock specimens, provided by Fuku-Bonsai were exceptional and an inspiration for this workshop and how they used the bonsai material to create a unique root-over-rock composition.

          I offered to view these first bonsai trees, approximately six months from now, to provide feedback for their training and care. There was an expression of interest in doing another Bonsai Workshop later in the year, in which we explore another aspect of this challenging and rewarding practice.

          Thank you David for providing us with the guidance, materials and encouragement to make this a challenging, fun and inspiring experience for all the participants.

                                    Barry Grayson

            A NOTE FROM DAVID:   Mahalo Dr. Grayson and members of the Roaring Brook Lake Garden Club for allowing the workshop to be photographed and published in the Fuku-Bonsai website.  In the late 1960's when I began teaching bonsai, there simply wasn't any source of suitable bonsai material and we struggled to teach and worked on plants that had very little potential.  In those hobby days, I brought a lot of my own trees to class to allow students to work on to gain some experience and bonsai clubs were formed for those who wanted to continue.

            Fuku-Bonsai was originally formed as a backyard nursery in 1972 primarily to supply suitable workshop materials for my classes and the success rate and enthusiasm soared! Dwarf Schefflera is ideal plant material as it grows quickly and has a history of being very successful in all parts of the United States when grown as houseplant bonsai.  As our specialty, we plant millions of seeds each year,  culling out the generically inferior stock, and pre-training trees suitable for workshops in various styling concepts.

             By starting with suitable plants that already have character, a high success rate is possible even when the group is led by a person who recently completed a Fuku-Bonsai workshop package!  But when a group is led by an experienced enthusiastic teacher like Barry Grayson, the class produces memorable results!

             I invite those who already conduct bonsai classes or those interested and willing to teach others to contact me for introductory and on-going information and quantity rates.

          ~~~David W. Fukumoto (

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