AN INTRODUCTION TO THE FUKU-BONSAI STUDY GROUP
Aloha! Since 1962, bonsai has been my passion and hobby. In 1973, Fuku-Bonsai became a business, but it continues to be a passion and a hobby. I'm very fortunate to live a bonsai lifestyle in a beautiful idyllic part of Hawaii. I learned bonsai through academic study, by structured research, and with continuing large scale trials. Very few have the opportunity to do professional research and I feel I have an obligation to share the knowledge that I've gained.
There are many types of fertilizers of different strengths and characteristics. Different plant varieties need different fertilizers at different times of the year. Older plants need less than young plants in training. So how do you learn how much fertilizer to use?
To really understand, you must learn both how much is too little and how much is too much. I learned by killing plants!
You must also pay a heavy price as the only way to find out how much is too much is to systematically kill plants by overfertilizing them with each fertilizer, with all types of plants of different ages, and at different seasons. In training hundreds of thousands of bonsai, I've come to understand. By sharing my knowledge, I hope you can understand the lessons and that you'll not have to kill many plants. But I'm still a student and learn more each year. As a serious student of bonsai, you'll have to accept that you'll kill some plants too to learn.
There are other ways to learn bonsai. In the 1960's, I devoured every available bonsai book and studied borrowed Japanese bonsai magazines even though I couldn't read or speak Japanese. I gained insights from guessing what the sketches were supposed to teach. Unfortunately, I guessed wrong a lot of times and after killing more plants, learned what not to do. During these early years, I learned because Myrt developed a talent to effectively propagate plants. My bonsai skills and her nursery abilities made Fuku-Bonsai possible.
The Japanese are probably the most discipline and meticulous in establishing codified standards for each detailed aspect of bonsai. In the beginning it was overwhelming. At one point I began to recognize that there were a huge number of variations that were applicable to each situation. But it seemed that for every detail that I learned, there were five more that had to be studied in a seemingly endless activity.
In the late 1960's, initially through Yee Sun Wu's book, I was exposed to Chinese penjing and began to recognize a totally different approach. I back-tracked and began to segregate the various Japanese lessons and found that many were horticultural guidelines that were really dictated by the needs of the specific plant variety. There were styling practices that had roots in natural tree forms, universal aesthetic principles, and unique Japanese cultural practices. The third category had to do with training techniques.
Chinese penjing has far less codification but much more philosophical principles with open-ended applications. But the plants still dictated the horticultural rules and training techniques were basically the same as in Japanese bonsai. The only real difference was styling.
In the early 1970's I rebelled against Japanese styling guidelines because most just weren't applicable to tropical trees. I had a wealth of knowledge details of the single-apex tier-branch structure. From the roots, the trunk rises as a single line to a clearly defined apex. Branches leave the trunk in a formula stylistic manner in flattened tiers. There were a huge number of variations for this basic structure and it was so dominantly accepted in Japan that azaleas and elms were trained into "pine tree" shapes.
No tropical tree naturally fitted that structure. My study focused on understanding the principles associated with tropical tree shapes and over time, I began to understand the basic variations associated with a "multiple apex-arched branched" structure. In the late 1970's I began to understand and create bonsai that had the look and feel of the complex trunks and rootage of magnificent banyan bonsai. Each year a new detail is added and over the years, the bonsai have increased grandeur. In the mid-1980's, I began to notice that Michael Imaino had the ability to understand my unique styling concepts.
I began to establish variable codification applicable to houseplants. It was very effective to consistently and cost-efficiently train huge nursery quantities to a high quality that had never previously achieved in tropical bonsai! Essentially, our efforts established a high level of craftsmanship with a new group of plants. Michael took over as nursery manager and trainer while I moved toward bonsai as a artform.
BONSAI RULES FOR SUCCESS!
From our very beginning, we focused on customer success. Even in 1984 when I wrote The Challenge of Bonsai, the guidelines for success were logical. Since then we've tinkered with it and reduced it to three major points. I'm very fortunate to work with a great staff who can handle the day to day care while allowing me to make continuing styling decisions. Once I'm comfortable with the basic styling, Michael takes over to refine and steadily improve the details.
Now, I train a much smaller number of bonsai each year. But each unique effort is preceded by much more research, analysis of alternatives, and a more detailed gameplan. I'm now a bonsai hobbyist again and invite you to be a part of our study group!
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