August 25, 2007

Dog Days of August

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Romano @ 7:21 pm

Sorry I haven’t written much lately - I’ve had other committments that have kept me away from the computer. I’ve moved my youngest son to college in New York City and spent a few days there. I was struck with how little natural space residents had for plants in the city. Most people live in high rise apartments with no yard, some with a little fire escape. I couldn’t imagine living without a space to grow some trees outside! The joy of bonsai for me is the experience of living with trees in the four seasons of nature and interacting with the natural world. In Japan, people also have very little living quarters but you would still see a rooftop bonsai growing area or a little 20′ x 20′ closed in ‘yard’ filled with bonsai and plants! Here is a little picture to keep you inspired. It is a shimpaku Juniper owned and styled by Mario Komsta who is an apprentice of Mr. Urushibata in Japan- a very talented young bonsai artist. Hope to see some of you at the Shohin Symposium in a few weeks!

August 7, 2007

A good place

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Romano @ 6:33 pm

Saw this quote on a site the other day:


It is essential to experience all the times and moods of one good place. (Thomas Merton)

I have lived in my house for 27 years and have cultivated a bonsai collection for about 20 of those years in this same place. The quote resonated in me as I was thinking about my bonsai collection and the responsibility of caring for it. Because bonsai is part of my life and a reflection of my love for nature, they teach me about the rhythmic changes of the seasons, about the responsible caring of life, about beauty, etc. I was reflecting, however, on the how I have often abused that for my selfish pleasure. I have often looked to ‘accumulate’ trees – I want to have this or that tree, I need to have different varieties, etc. at the expense of being able to care for them. I have to admit that I always struggle with what is a good size for my collection – a good manageable size. I have lost some good trees (a few fantastic trees!) that I have lamented and some of these died because of maybe having too many and possibly neglecting one here or there. Hey, we all have to fess up to this. I am not beating myself up but have to admit that I’ve made mistakes in having too large a collection at times.
The Merton quote reminded me to experience the beauty of my trees in all their grandeur and also all the care necessary to maintain this beauty and health. Some of my trees have been in my ‘good place’ for many years and I joyously bring them out of hibernation each spring, put them on the same (or another) pedestal and begin the cycle again – sunshine, water, trimming, feeding, etc.
Right now I am attempting a new pledge – one that is based on Colin Lewis’ statement that ‘when one buys a new tree, it must be at least as good as the top three that you have’ (or something to that effect). I have modified it a bit. First, yes a new tree must be as good as my top five (at least in potential) but also, if I am serious about purchasing this tree, I must give up two in it place. I told this to Hitoshi at New England Bonsai and he sometimes teases me and says that I owe him 2 or 3 trees because of ones that I purchased. I also try to give trees away to my students as gifts. The point is not to simply be a consumer who is simply accumulating ‘things’ of beauty but one who loves and learns from your trees and therefore makes a conscientious, artistically critical and thoughtful decision when considering buying, collecting or trading for a new specimen. Remember they will become part of your ‘good place’ to experience.
A view of a small portion of my bonsai collection (shohin bonsai and chuhin area).

July 26, 2007

shohin bonsai in north america

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Romano @ 6:53 pm

after my last entry on the Shohin Bonsai Symposium in Rochester and mention of an American Shohin Bonsai Society, I was contacted by two shohin bonsai enthusiasts who have become motivated to try and get the organization started again. Bravo! I’ll let you know of any progress. Shohin is very popular in Japan right now and has gained strength in Europe with the good work of Morten Albek. We have some very talented shohin bonsai artists in this part of the world also and it would be great to have a ‘voice’ for our unique appreciation of shohin bonsai. I think the best shohin bonsai artist, by far, in this country is Suthin Sukolsovisit. Amazing talent! I think he has a intrinsic gift for working with plants - almost a physio/spiritual connection with them. I know - this sounds stupid to some - but his work is amazing and I have thought his plants are often beyond the ordinary. Just here in New England, we have Suthin, Colin Lewis, Nick Lenz, etc. who bring a wealth of talent to the area. We’ve also been blessed at New England Bonsai Gardens to have had Kenji Miyata here in residence for 3 previous years before moving on to California as well as visits by Hiromi Tsukada and other Japanese bonsai artists. Also, not so far away, are other great talents - American Shohin bonsai pioneer, Dorie Froning in Pennsylvania (and Bill Valavanis in NY, etc, etc) I do wish these organizers well in their attempt at restarting the ASBS.
I’ve been thinking lately about the curatorial responsibilities of caring for and cultivating a large bonsai collection and will have an entry on that in the near future. Also, I have a small needle juniper that I will be styling for a shohin bunjin cascade in the near future also. Here is a picture of a shimpaku that I worked in at Taisho en in Japan.

July 13, 2007

Shohin bonsai symposium

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Romano @ 9:31 am

This coming Sept in Rochester, NY, Bill Valvanis will be hosting a shohin bonsai convention at his annual symposium. This is quite exciting! I was part of the original American Shohin Bonsai Society that never got off the ground and it was one of our main goals to have a bi-annual shohin bonsai convention to alternate with the Shohin Bonsai convention in California. When the ASBS floundered, Bill stepped in with his symposium - wonderful! I hope many of you will be going to this as Bill always puts on a first rate convention at an affordable price. I have been grooming some trees for the exhibit since the spring. Sometimes you don’t always get what you hoped for and some trees have not behaved as expected so I have to use others. To wet your appetite, this picture is of a bonsai shop outside of Tokyo - every supply imaginable!

July 7, 2007

Nude sunbathing….

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Romano @ 7:14 pm

Early summer is an important time for shohin bonsai work. Black pines are decandled at this time. Deciduous trees are also defoliated. This is an important task for the shohin bonsai grower. With the ‘less is more’ motto, it creates the challenge of keeping what little foliage we have to be compact and with very fine ramification. By defoliating healthy trees, we accomplish a few things: a) allow light into the inner portions of the tree to create some new budding; b) reduce the leaf size of the tree (which is also critical for a smaller sized bonsai) and, c) it allows for a mid-season evaluation of the growth of the tree. Once the leaves are off, you can see where some cutback can be done and even some light wiring can be done at this point. Here in zone 6 B in southern Rhode Island, I use July 4th as my goal for defoliating. I generally defoliate my tridents quite aggressively as they are such strong growers. I also defoliate japanese maples but to a bit lesser degree. I defoliate zelkova and ficus salicaria (the only ficus I work with). I have had buttonwoods and defoliate them later in July/Aug when they finally become relatively happy here in New England. After defoliation, I usually back off on fertilization and also do not over water (as the trees need to push foliage out before they can use it). Also, keep them under shade cloth until buds begin to show. There are certainly no prohibitions to this nude sunbathing among bonsai - as plants don’t have the physical shyness nor moral restrictions about their ‘bodies’ that we have

June 24, 2007

Let’s get small….

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Romano @ 10:31 am

No, it’s not a flashback to a ’60’s drug inspired fantasy I’ll try to stay on (and off topic) regarding Shohin bonsai. The title ‘20 and under’ refers to my feeling that shohin bonsai are those under 20 cm tall. I was a bit surprised when staying at Taisho en in Shizuoka Japan that one of the Japanese Shohin bonsai Associations allows up to 25 cm. Seems a bit big to me. Mr. Urushibata said that some of the old and valuable shohin in Japan just got too big for the ‘20 and under’ classification so the powers that be increased the size limit (to keep them more valuable? There’s that pesky bonsai politics again!) Anyway, to my taste, 20 cm seems the more appropriate limit. Hope you enjoy.

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