If you are wondering what to expect from Peter Tea in the upcoming BSSF Master Series workshops, check out the work he did during our July 2015 General Meeting.

It was late on July 9th when Peter Tea put the finishing touches on the Itoigawa Juniper provided for his demo. At 9:30 pm, when we typically wrap up our meetings, Peter was really just getting started working on the tree. What preceded this work was what Peter does best and what he treats as his highest purpose; teaching. Peter brought hand-outs for everyone about the care of Junipers which he reviewed during the meeting. Peter brought his signature whiteboard which he uses during lectures to step through techniques visually. He presented his own simple process for developing material from the bottom up and the inside out while referring to the tree beside him to illustrate his points.

There is no way to impart all of the information presented, but here are a few tidbits.
In his quest to find inexpensive alternatives to Japanese bonsai materials, Peter suggests we can use duct-seal available at Home Depot in the electrical department instead of the putty-like cut paste that comes in a small screw top plastic container from Japan. The stuff at Home Depot resembles a flat package of taffy.

Juvenile growth on a juniper is typically a sign of stress and it is recommended to leave it alone to grow until it gets stronger. But San Jose junipers will always have some juvenile foliage and Itoigawa will put out juvenile growth more easily than Kishu. So, be sure to know the type of juniper you have so you can read the tree’s symptoms appropriately.

To achieve desired branch thickness in lower branches and also close to the trunk, you have to let the branch grow out. Cutting slows down growth. Once a branch reaches desired diameter it is time to cut it back. The tendency would be to cut back to the desired silhouette, but this would be a problem later as you develop more refined branches. Your tree will lose its shape. So cut back the main branch so it doesn’t quite reach the outer boundary of your desired silhouette. To achieve taper, you need to cut back to lower branch in conifers or a bud in deciduous trees and allow that side branch to resume the lead.

Peter works to thin some of the foliage.

Peter works to thin some of the foliage.

The tree from Ken Wassum of Washington State that Peter worked on during the evening was already mature and well developed. Peter focused on those smaller adjustments that we can apply to take a mature tree and make it just that much better. He chose to keep essentially the same front, because the tree had already been developed for so long with that as the front. Unless another front presents a significant improvement, keep the front you have.

Peter removed two low branches growing out from the front center of the trunk. This immediately improved the visibility of the very attractive and twisting trunk. It also made the front more evident and inviting. At this stage in a tree’s development, branch removal is less necessary. Most pruning will concentrate on strategic cutting back. Cutting back removes the terminal end of a branch so energy is redirected to grow side branches. In the growing season, Peter is comfortable cutting back close to the side branches. In winter, Peter will leave a small stub between the point of the cut and the side branches so those branches do not die back.

Peter added a juniper he brought to the meeting to the other raffle prizes available. And of course Ken Wassum’s tree was the coveted prize of the night. Brian Schindler won the tree Peter Tea brought and Dan Casey won Ken Wassum’s tree. Once Dan knew it was his tree, he stood protectively over Peter’s shoulder closely monitoring Peter’s work.

Peter and Dan, the lucky winner of the tree.

Peter and Dan, the lucky winner of the tree.

The tree after Peter finished. Note that he has leaned it to the left and rotated slightly to make the trunk look as good as possible.

The tree after Peter finished. Note that he has leaned it to the left and rotated slightly to bring out the best in the trunk line.

Peter returned a couple of days later to give a full-day workshop to six members. Peter had worked in the past on at least five trees at the workshop, and this is the great benefit of full-day workshops with returning bonsai professionals. Working with the same person on the same tree over time gives benefit to both the learner and the tree. Peter helped Robert Smith add considerable new shari to a juniper to emphasize age and twisting in the trunk. Peter worked with June Graham on an elegant tall juniper that is being developed as a Bunjin and a juniper root over rock. Daryl Quijano brought two challenging but promising projects; an urban yamadori juniper and a five-needle pine grafted to a black pine trunk. Arturo Encabo brought a variety of junipers that are just beginning development as bonsai. Carl Levinson takes advantage of any opportunity to work with Peter by joining a multitude of clubs in the Bay Area. Peter worked with Carl on a juniper root over rock and a pyracantha. I also brought a few deciduous trees. Peter sawed the top off of both my trident maple and my silverberry; a sign that the trunks are now the desired size and it is time to focus on the lowest branches.

What differentiates Peter from many other bonsai professionals is the priority he gives to helping us understand the what, how and why of bonsai. Peter applies considerable attention to how he can impart these lessons most effectively ensuring any time with him is packed with absorbable lessons for the experienced and novice alike.