"The book "Bonsai School" was
in my mailbox two days ago. The best thing I can say about the book is that
after just a couple of pages I started saying to myself, " I didn't know
that". After 23 years of bonsai it was great to see a book that was teaching
me new things page after page. The book is a beautiful book. It is the first
book that I believe that I could use "as is" as a text book to teach a very
complete course on bonsai. I'm not certain how you will produce a "College
of Bonsai" but I want a copy as soon as it's off the press. It is going to
be a very successful book with a long shelf life at the stores."
Bonsai Teacher, Alabama
From Publishers Weekly
With colour photographs on almost
every page, Coussin's guide forms a lovely and thorough introduction to
the ancient art of bonsai gardening. The book covers every aspect of the
art, from choosing a plant and a pot to training a bonsai with wiring
and pruning techniques. In addition to introductory sections on the
evolution of bonsai and the relation between bonsai gardening and
Buddhism, the book contains dozens of short articles by experienced
bonsai gardeners from around the world. Italian Bonsai artist, Patrizia Capellaro, for example, explains how to style a large juniper bonsai,
while American Lit Van Phan analyzes how the miniature landscape style
Hon Non Bo reflects the larger landscapes of Viet Nam. This is an
excellent manual for anyone eager to try his or her hand at a hobby that
just might offer "a lifelong path to enlightenment," as Coussins
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Author - Craig Coussins
SEND THIS PAGE TO A FRIEND
develop twig structure
One of the most important lessons in developing Bonsai is the one
involving branch and twig structure.
The health of the tree depends on your ability to create more and more
twigs which of course hold the leaves that allow the tree to breathe.
The physiological advantages of more twigs and branches mean that more
and more fine root development takes place and the tree has a solid base
to stand on. Roots also help define twigs.
The artistic value of a tree with plenty of fine twigs, buds, branches
and roots advertises your ability as a Bonsai grower or in slightly less
grand terms, as a grower of miniature trees.
Beginners or less experienced growers are concerned in the first year
with either accumulation of material or accumulation of knowledge. The
former gets themselves into a situation where they have too many trees
and subsequently few if any of these trees gets individual attention.
The natural progression of this hobbyist is then to spend loadsamoney on
imported stock which at least looks something like a Bonsai because they
have hundreds of other things in pots, so called 'Potensai', which will
never become Bonsai because they do not have time to look after and turn
all that 'stuff', into Bonsai. This becomes a vicious circle or perhaps
that's a Viscous mess.
The latter enthusiast tries to maintain a small selection of trees of
around 10 to 15 that allows them to try out different techniques read in
books written by experienced Bonsai growers.
On a philosophical level the appearance of a finely twigged deciduous
Bonsai or a dense pine gives you a feeling of peace. Bonsai arose from
the art of meditation and as we all soon come to realise when attending
our Bonsai; time quickly passes when your working on these little trees.
These notes are to enable you to start the process of Ramification and
if anyone wishes to go further into this then please write to me care of
this magazine and I will endeavour to assist you.
What I would like to discuss over the next couple of pages are two
species of tree popular with growers, Pine and Maple. If you don't like
the article then I must recommend an excellent book called 'How to stuff
Lets look at the Scots Pine (pinus Sylvestris) to start with. When these
trees are either collected or bought in garden centres they invariably
have long branches with little or no twig structure. The technique for
back budding to develop twigs is quite straightforward.
From May until June the tree grows candles. Starting at the bottom of
the tree, or the weaker lower branches, pluck out 50% of the candle with
your fingers by holding the bottom of the candle to stop it being broken
of the tree and pull the rest with your other hand...if you have only
one hand then introduce a friend to the delights of plucking.
(Leave all obviously weak buds alone and if the branch has only weak
buds wait until they have swollen but if this has not occurred by the
second week in June or late Spring then get on with the other branches.)
A week later pluck the next layer of branches in the same way and work
your way up to the, by now, vigorous top area.
Using both hands hold base of bud and pluck 50% of balance.
The reason you do this on Scots and indeed all two needle Pines is that
as the stronger growth is at the top of the tree, should you start to
pluck there then all the tree's energy would go to that point to repair
the damage and would therefore bypass the weaker areas which could
result in eventual loss within the weaker areas.
Interestingly enough however is the reverse when pruning five needle
Pines where you start at the top instead of the bottom as the tree is
less likely to abort its weaker, lower branches.
The White Pine pinus parviflora / pentaphyilla has a very specialised
series of auxin channels or flow lines that require the stronger buds to
be trimmed first. The new growth is much softer than the two needle
pines and unlike these, the five needle pines can be pruned back quite
hard after the needles have broken. If you feel the difference between
the needle varieties you will see what I mean.
Back buds created on Pines through this technique.
At this point I will mention a couple of other techniques which can be
considered in Pine Ramification such as Inarch and Approach Grafting. I
will talk about these areas later.
Back to two needle pines. The next thing to look out for is the
formation of twin buds. Pluck the longer bud and wait until the smaller
bud has grown longer than the plucked bud then remove the first bud and
reduce the new bud by half but in the same weekly regime. At no time
leave more than two buds on any growth point.
I am not going to talk about needle plucking in this article but suffice
to say, after you have needle plucked during the following growing
season you will probably get little pockets of Witches Brooms. You must
therefore reduce this multiple growth to the one or two buds that are
important in you overall plan.
Be sure to water well between this plucking as you are looking for
vigour. If you withhold water at this crucial time you will reduce the
needles but at the expense of ramification. Never reduce the needles
until you have structure as the tree will not have enough ability to
photo synthesise or develop root structure. Have patience.
If you pot your Pines in a classic Pine soil, well drained and porous
with no more than 40% organic material you will help the roots develop
correctly. However in some countries such as Scotland we have a lot of
rain and one excellent tip given to me many years ago by that well known
teacher, Ruth Stafford Jones, was to tilt the pot on a small piece of
wood to drain the water away. Always remember to change the direction of
the tilt in severely inclement weather though.
The next thing to be aware of is after these new buds have developed
keep the leader bud at the end of that branch short or the sap will
bypass the new bud to feed the strongest bud.
You can remove the entire leader bud if you have strong back buds but be
very careful if these buds are weak or you will lose the entire branch
or twig if you remove the leader.
To get smaller leaves pluck out the centre of the buds as they start to
If you leave it too late then it will not have that effect.
You can then continue however to pluck out during spring all the centre
buds on the branches you are happy with as far as length is concerned.
This in turn develops fine twigs.
On a future point; should you have established the tree and reduced the
needles, etc., then you can remove 75% of the candles to maintain and
build dense pads. This also applies to White Pine, pinus parviflora.
As the tree starts to shape up over the next three or four years look at
the inner buds on each branch and when bud plucking start the plucking
on the inner buds first and five days later do the outer buds starting
on the next upper layer a week later. Although this does increase the
actual plucking time by 75% you will soon see the difference.
Maintenance pruning of buds is done when the tree has been relatively
completed and although similar in technique goes back to the basic
plucking by doing one layer of branches at a time covering all the buds
at the same time on each layer and progressing each week upwards.
Feed every two weeks with high nitrogen fertiliser from bud break and
then in July feed with a balanced feed and in September with a low
nitrogen or Tomato fertiliser. The high N. feeds the leaves and buds and
the low feeds the twigs, roots, trunk and branches.
Spray with a foliar feed such as Miracle Grow etc. every two weeks in
spring and with water mist the foliage throughout the warm weather to
keep the humidity up.
If Pines are the Kings of Bonsai then surely the glorious Maple must be
In the late Meiji Period when Samurai and Lords turned to the Arts of
Japan, Bonsai were often compared to people.
"The delicate tracery of twigs on an elegant maple in the winter with
the promise of buds ready to burst into lusty growth. Oh but what
growth. Soft tiny leaves glowing with warm colour swelling into full
firm contours until you are overwhelmed with passion for this most
lovely of things and then after her final glorious colour has fallen
away and you are confronted by this magnificent apparition naked and
proud the ramification tracing out the shape of summer passed and
memories of happy and warm days !
WHAT WE WANT IS A MAPLE NOT AN ESSAY BY GIUSEPPE UNGARETTI !
I grow all sorts of maples in all sorts of styles. I get deep and
detailed ramification using reasonably simple techniques.
Species easiest to work on are the green leafed types such as pure
Japanese Maple (acer palmatum), and Trident Maple (a.buergerianum)
I suggest that as the Yastsubusa varieties are more delicate do not leaf
prune these types unless you are sure that they can take it. Varieties
such as acer palm. Atropurpureum, are sometimes weak and not easy to
back bud do not leaf prune this colour group which is deep red to
purple. You develop this variety through Bud pinching.
Kiyohime are by nature very dense but as they are stronger at the sides
keep the side growth down or the upper portion will die back and you
will have a bald tree.
All maples will leaf burn if you put them out into the normal windy
weather of springtime. The time to put them out is when the soft leaf
becomes firm and hard. So keep them in a sheltered area away from wind
if possible. If you can not do this then grow other species or build a
The easiest technique is to remove all last year's growth from the
structure during December getting back to the basic branch and twig
structure. Remove all non essential growth and seal all tips.
Author - Craig Coussins
Author - Craig Coussins
SEND THIS PAGE TO A FRIEND
article quoting Craig
The Maple Year
facilitate readers in other countries I have used seasons as well as UK
months. Please remember that you must take into consideration the
variables found within temperature in your own country.
(February to March)
Although you can repot almost anytime this is the optimum period for the
majority of Maples. Kashima and Kiyohime will have started to move at
this time. Make sure they are protected. / Feed o.10.10. (Zero Nitrogen)
every 7 days to stop lush growth but only after the buds have opened.
Throughout Spring (March to May)
Start plucking out the bud centres
Early Summer (June)
After the first two feeds start feed High Nitrogen feed to build stamina
on young trees. If you want good Autumn colour cut down your High
Nitrogen food. If tree is healthy then consider full or partial
defoliation. This can be followed with selective wiring. Remember that
the tree will have to be looked after as the same as February to May or
Spring. The problem in Summer defoliation is Sun Burn rather than winds.
Wire trees with Cage (not tight) or protected wire and do any major
pruning at this time during summer dormancy. Reduce feeding until mid
August or late mid summer.
Start a weekly feed with low Nitrogen food. Last time for defoliation
Autumn / Fall (September)
Trim all leaves that grow out of the planned shape. Stop feeding if
leaves start to change colour. It should be noted that good fall colour
is achieved with little of no feed....but the question is whether or not
you want to risk the tree's health for a short term benefit.
Complete your feeding with low or Zero Nitrogen Feed
Autumn / Early Winter (November)
Remove any dead leaves and make sure that the trees are protected
against winter frosts and wind.
(December to January)
This is the other time when you can perform major surgery on your
Author - Craig Coussins
Books and Articles
by Craig Coussins
All articles are well illustrated and
feature a great deal of information that should allow you to learn or
understand most of the issues that you need to grow Bonsai and Penjing
Books by Craig Coussins
Bonsai for Beginners
in US Dollars
Amazon.co.uk UK GBP
November 2008: The publishers have brought out a
paperback novel size Handbook on Bonsai. This is not listed in Amazon
articles on Trees Sensing Danger
Do trees recognise danger? Do they hurt?
I heard a broadcaster, Ann Swithenbank on a weekly
gardening programme at the beginning of February talking about her
hatred of Bonsai .Ms Swithenbank felt that bonsai artists were torturing
the trees and that they should be left alone to develop into a full size
tree. Well everyone is entitled to their opinion, and despite many
hundreds of thousands of enthusiasts worldwide, and despite the fact
that growing small trees are part of some people’s national culture. MS
Swithenbank happily ranted against the entire hobby. Ms Swithenbank
then went on to decry Bonsai growers who display their collection on
Benches. I am not sure if this is much different from growing Pot plants
on benches in a greenhouse or outside. Or perhaps growing any plant in a
pot is offensive to some people. I am sure that this is the case. Well
bonsai growers actually have a life and their dedication in the hobby
can be just as interesting as any other part of the human need for
hobbies and pastimes. Not according to Ms Swithenbank who has just
stated that Bonsai growers are cruel. I do not see why this should be a
valid point of view though. To prune and keep the shape is not a great
deal of difference to mowing a lawn, pruning a hedge or any other
technique to keep something in shape and to keep the plant healthy and
full of vigour.
I don’t think that the Japanese art of Bonsai, the
Chinese art of Penjing , never mind the tray landscapes of Vietnam and
the knowledge handed down over thousands of years from father to son and
daughter should be so easily cast aside by someone in such a powerful
position as a television and radio presenter. For Ms Swithenbank to
damage the reputation of growers and enthusiasts all over the world is
less than savoury. Ms Swithenbank is a well known and talented
horticulturist so why she has chosen to attack a large segment of her
admirers and denigrate an entire hobby is somewhat less than pleasant.#
Craig Coussins 2007
A bonsai is grown, created, styled, developed and
made into a stunning miniature representation of a mature tree. A bonsai
can be grown from a seed or shaped from a larger collected tree. The
collected tree is usually struggling as a living plant and ideal
collected trees may have perhaps one or two living branches while the
rest of the tree and perhaps part pf the trunk, being dead. These dead
elements are shaped by a master into shapes that illustrate the struggle
the tree has had in nature. . However, if the tree is not carefully put
into excellent soil, has its buds nipped back, pruned and cut, the tree
will not survive. After all whet is a dead tree but a dead tree.
Shohin and Mame no more than six inches high
The size surprises some people with collected and
grown trees being anywhere from a few inches to over 2 metres. In nature
there re natural Bonsai, where the growth has been subjected to severe
wind, damaging falls of snow, freezing temperatures or blistering sun.
All depends on the country and climate of course. Left there, these
trees would eventually expire. The bonsai grower carefully studies the
tree, checks the root growth and after careful lifting, brings the
ailing tree back to their new home. Without the horticultural knowledge
then the collected tree would inevitably die.
Collecting trees and shrubs has been part of
horticultural knowledge gathering for centuries. Based on that
knowledge horticulturist have gained their extensive experience. Bonsai
growers simply make a tree that they grow a very happy tree and as you
can always see at an exhibition or in their gardens. A note to Ms
Swithenbank: The RHS would not have supported this hobby by allowing the
venerable Bonsai author and grower, Peter Chan to mount a wonderful
permanent exhibition at Wisley if they actually agreed with Ms
Swithenbank point of view. . Yes it is a point of view but some points
of view should be kept very quiet if it offends a huge part of the
society that Ms Swithenbank lives in. I reiterate that she is in a
powerful position and should know better than to alienate her fans and
the programmes fan base.
Bonsai grower, author of five best selling books on
Bonsai and a fan of Anne Swithenbank
Do trees sense danger?
The giant Sequoia Sequoiadendron Gigantium will
have cones on its branches for fifty years and more but only shed the
seed if it feels threatened by fire, A common event in old woodlands.
Indeed most trees when sensing danger in its environment start to
conserve energy and shed seed. Indeed when some species such as Larch,
Larix Decidua, are threatened they will start to put on copious amounts
of cone and the energy expended in that will probably kill it but not
until the seed has a chance to disperse. There is a saying we have in
English called ‘going to seed’. That means that when trees are stressed
they will start to put on their seed making hats and go forth and
In Bonsai it is sometimes the season near that
trees end game that we look for when collecting a tree from the wild,.
The tree may well be very old, have a large trunk and a lot of dead
brunches but with the one or two living branches but covered in cones or
seed pods that we can decide if we can save it or let it go. If we save
it then we have a natural tree with a lot of age and something that we
as artists can work up to make a wonderful old looking tree. Its all
part of the art of Bonsai.
So as a grower of nearly 40 years I can see that
trees do have a sense of danger when threatened and they will protect
their gene pool or species by ‘going to seed’. Is that an instinct? In
fact why should we not consider that trees have feelings? It may not be
feelings that we as animals would recognise perhaps . In most cases
plants that do seed will know when they are being stressed and they will
be able to something about it. Is that instinctive? If it was a animal
that we recognise we would say that was the case but for some reason we
seem less able to accept that a plant can feel danger and do something
Mr Kimura pt this band of Tape on the pot to hold
in the water. The nebari is pretty solid on this huge pine and water
needs to filter through and not roll off the surface of the pot.
Botanists at Rutgers University
infected some tobacco plants with a virus. Within a few days, tobacco
plants that were near the infected ones sensed the danger of the virus
and then produced a chemical in their leaves that would protect
themselves from the virus. The infected tobacco leaves gave off a chemical odour that the healthy leaves sensed, thus triggering their
defensive mechanism. Plants, animals and
humans can sense fear or danger
through a fine sense of smell or odour detection. Some do it through
sensing subtle vibrations. Finely tuned standard senses may explain some
psychic powers certain people seem to have.
John Z. Kiss, Professor of Horticulture and now
at Rutgers says: Plants rely on sophisticated mechanisms to interpret
the constant bombardment of incoming signals so they can adjust their
Kiss J.Z. 2006. Up, down, and all around: how
plants sense and respond to environmental stimuli. Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences (USA) 103: 829–830
Other sources include:
Books such as
"Bonsai School" Bonsai Masterclass, The Bonsai Handbook and "Growing Bonsai" are guides to you learning this
craft. Search on Amazon or any Internet Bookseller
A Critique on Craig
Coussins Recent book: Bonsai School.
To introduce myself: I am one of
South Africa's Bonsai Masters. I recently published a book on the
'Bonsai Styles of the World'. This book is selling well at the moment
and is distributed by Stone Lantern who also publish Bonsai Today
I wished to give a short critique on
Craig Coussins latest book "The Bonsai School", published by
Silverdale books, 2002 and Sterling ,USA in 2003.
I found it a very impressive and
large book which is beautifully illustrated with numerous colour
photos, many taken by the author.
The philosophical approach of the
writer can be found through out the book which make it just that more
The author has asked many famous
Bonsai masters from America, Canada, South Africa, UK, Italy, China,
Vietnam, New Zealand, and many more too numerous to mention, to share
with the reader the benefit of their own experience.
Personally I found the chapter on
the design classes the most interesting,
but the book is full of excellent advice for all levels of bonsai
Craig travels all over the world
teaching Bonsai and he shares his experiences with the reader in a
very enthusiastic way.
A wide range of subjects, from the
origin of bonsai, the evolution over the centuries and much more is
covered. He also explains the fascination of Chinese Penjing (Bonsai)
as practised in China to the reader.
Craig also gives handy guidelines on
basic needs for a number of most popular trees normally used for
He discusses shelving and placing of
trees, the caring of trees, soil mixes
for different trees, repotting, and many more subjects and techniques.
This book is a must for the advanced
Bonsai grower as well as the novice as it not only beautifully
illustrates how to create Bonsai but explains interesting techniques
step by step.
I can definitely recommend the book
to all bonsai lovers.
In the early development of
Bonsai in the West, there was little in the way of information for new
enthusiasts practising bonsai; bonsai had no established base of
practitioners as there was in Japan and China and very little in the
way of written material. The internet was still many years from
For the modern enthusiast however, there are a profusion of books,
magazines and of course the internet, covering every aspect of Bonsai
culture. Unfortunately, along with the good, there have also been an
equal number of poorly written, poorly illustrated publications that
seem to simply serve confusion and conflicting advice amongst
beginners of this Art. Many books aimed at novices, have simply
repeated the basic horticultural guidelines of bonsai without taking
the reader onto the more complex, but far more interesting and
rewarding aspect of bonsai design.
This is where The Bonsai School comes in. Outwardly, a large, glossy
book (with over 250 pages and many pictures), it starts on a gentle
amble through basic horticultural principles for bonsai, species
information, a bonsai calendar and care guidelines. All very
competently written and explained with some truly inspirational trees.
Where this book excels is that it then takes the reader onto the
creation and design of bonsai. There is so much to learn for not only
the novice but also the advanced enthusiast.
The basic premise of The Bonsai School is that rather being written by
just one author, explaining his own personal outlook on bonsai, it
features a large array of articles, demonstrations and trees by a wide
variety of very talented artists. The collation of all this knowledge
results in a far more comprehensive book.
Craig Coussins (a very talented bonsai artist in his own right)
travelled throughout America and Europe to work and photograph bonsai
artists in their own gardens while they designed projects for The
Parts One and Two of The Bonsai School deals with the basics of bonsai
containing sound horticultural advice for both the novice and more
experienced enthusiast alike. It also contains what has to be the most
comprehensive account of Bonsai through history I have seen by both
Craig Coussins and Robert J. Baran
Part Two is a course that deals with the creation of bonsai, including
well illustrated accounts of various methods and techniques necessary
for the care and cultivation, as well as the creation, of Bonsai.
Part Three is where the book really comes into it's own. We are
treated to photo series' of demonstrations by Gary Marchal, Joe Day,
Patrizia Capellaro, John Hanby, Valerio Gianotti, Tony Tickle, Michael
Persiano, William Valavanis to name just a few! Each demonstration is
well photographed, many by Craig Coussins, clearly explaining and
illustrating a wide variety of techniques. Craig has kindly allowed
Bonsai4me to feature one such demonstration by Italian Master,
Salvatore Liporace, styling a Juniper. To see this example of The
Bonsai School's photo series, please visit here.
Finally, part four comprehensively deals with bonsai pots, bonsai
tools and an in-depth look at Suiseki or viewing stones including an
article by renowned collector Felix Rivera.
Altogether, a very inspiring book that warrants repeated reading just
to allow all the new information and techniques to sink in! Craig is
reportedly releasing The Bonsai College in a couple of years, whether
he can improve on this first book in the series, I don't know!
Buying from Nurseries
Insects and Disease
A glossary of tools used in Bonsai
How to Water
Shari and Jin
Tools and use
Mini Bonsai Styles
Making a Larch Group
Making a Group on a Slab
Making a Large Group
Making a Small Group
Planting on Rocks:
Bonsai on Rocks
Making a Chinese Scene
Making Natural Scenes - Grand Canyon
Koos Le Roux
Repotting a medium size tree (Fukien Tea)
Finding the right size and style of pot
Small to Medium Pine
Features of Chinese Gardens
Story of Chinese Garden Design
Plans and Buildings
Stones and Gravel
Water and Bridges
Spain-water and stone
Coolness and Tranquillity
Colour in Oriental Gardens: Berries, Leaves and Flowers