In April the board decided to move forward with an idea to encourage members to participate in workshops on a serious level. Creating a bonsai takes a certain amount of persistence and attention to detail. It takes hands-on instruction to really learn the art and the board feels that even the most-experienced members of the organization can benefit from the outside input of trained professionals.

From that came the decision to bring Matt Reel down from Portland for a weekend to teach any members who are interested in styling and bonsai work during what is currently the middle of the growing season.

During the last couple meetings since the workshops were announced I was happy to find that many members were interested and eager to participate. The most frequent question I was asked was : What type of material should I bring to the workshop? My answer to that is meant to give people the best chance to learn from Matt and from future workshops:

  • Bring 3-4 trees and allow the instructor to discuss appropriate times for styling and ideas for each.   At the minimum bring 2 plants so that if one is not suitable for some reason you have the other to use.
  • Allow the instructor to choose among the plants that you brought which would most benefit from the day of work.
  • Plants that you bring should be healthy, full of growth from the spring and ready for work.   If you’ve recently removed many of the branches from a tree or it is weak and sparse then you and the tree will not benefit from the workshop instruction as much as you would with a more full piece of material.   You need growth on your tree to harness for design purposes and your instructor is best prepared to inform which branches are removed and which are kept.
  • Bring plants that are appropriate to work on for the time of the workshop, for early June here is a list of some possible things to do:
    • Thin and wire branches on deciduous and broadleaf evergreen trees.
    • De-candle new shoots on Japanese Black Pine(this is San Francisco specific)
    • Initial Styling or summer cleanup on Junipers, Cedar, Redwood, Spruce, Fir.
    • Light wiring of branching on most conifers.   Heavy bending is best left to fall.

So, what is an example of a tree that should be brought to workshop versus a tree that should not?    Look at your plants and determine which are most in need of work, most healthy and most full. Here are some examples:

A small hackberry.    It's not bad - you could wire the branches, trim others, and generally clean it up.   The tree is growing, but the shoots are short,  so heavy cutting is likely not a good idea.   Expect to spend a one or two hours if you're going to wire the branches.

A small hackberry. It’s not bad – you could wire the branches, trim others, and generally clean it up. The tree is growing, but the shoots are short, so heavy cutting is likely not a good idea. Expect to spend a one or two hours if you’re going to wire the branches.

A small birch tree.   The tree was recently trimmed.   This is not a good tree for workshop because the new shoots are too small to touch and the cutback has already been done.   You could discuss the styling with your teacher, but no work would be done.

A small birch tree. The tree was recently trimmed. This is not a good tree for workshop because the new shoots are too small to touch and the cutback has already been done. You could discuss the styling with your teacher, but no work would be done.

A medium trident maple.   This tree is a good candidate for workshop.   The leaves are too dense, it has vigorous shoots that can be removed and the tree can be defoliated to induce smaller branching.   Expect to spend one or two hours on a tree like this.

A medium trident maple. This tree is a good candidate for workshop. The leaves are too dense, it has vigorous shoots that can be removed and the tree can be defoliated to induce smaller branching. Expect to spend one or two hours on a tree like this.

A J. procumbens 'nana'.  This is a great tree for workshop - it needs thinning, likely some wiring and the style has been lost to the growing foliage.   Expect to spend 2 or 3 hours on this tree.

A J. procumbens ‘nana’. This is a great tree for workshop – it needs thinning, likely some wiring and the style has been lost to the growing foliage. Expect to spend 2 or 3 hours on this tree.

A medium Atlas Cedar.  This tree is overdue for work.   The shoots are vigorous and the tree needs to be thinned.   Expect to spend 4-8 hours on this tree.

A medium Atlas Cedar. This tree is overdue for work. The shoots are vigorous and the tree needs to be thinned. Expect to spend 4-8 hours on this tree.

While the selection of material is likely the most important preparation that you can make for your workshop session, it’s not the only thing that you need to think about and prepare. Don’t forget to bring tools, wire, a turntable, a table covering and any other supplies you might need for your project.

When you arrive for workshop – set up your trees and supplies and be ready for the instructor to arrive. Listen carefully to instruction and communicate your ideas and interests for the tree that you are working on. Be open to the ideas that the instructor offers and use them to build your vision of the tree.

A little preparation and some good work will ensure your trees take a big leap forward in quality. Sign up for workshops as the club schedules them and you’ll find your interest growing along with the beauty of your collection.