The Bonsai News of Houston
A Monthly Newsletter of the Houston Bonsai Society, Inc.
Volume 42 Number 2
February 2013
Upcoming Events
Soils and Growing Media
Showcase of the Month
Vietnamese Bonsai of
Yesterday and Today
A Vietnamese Hòn Non Bộ (Water and Land ) tray (photo: The Internet).
HBS Monthly Meeting
February Bonsai Care
John Miller
The President’s Message
HBS Board Meeting
January 2013
Chronicle of LSBF 2013
Mercer Arboretum &
Botanic Garden
Study Group
Vietnamese Bonsai
& Hòn Non Bô
The next meeting of the Houston Bonsai Society will be on Wednesday, February 6th, 2013 at
7:30pm, at the Houston Garden Center in Hermann Park, 1500 Hermann Drive. Refreshments
at 7pm.
Wednesday, February 6th, Bonsai Soil and Growing Mixtures presented by Scott Barboza
and Ken Credeur. For Ray Gonzalez’ Show & Tell, please bring trees with beautiful silhouette,
flowers and fruit.
Upcoming Events
We are starting a busy season with a lot of events and workshops. It’s the season to do major
work on pines, junipers and deciduous trees. Some Saturdays will have morning and afternoon
workshops taught by bonsai experts: Ken Credeur, Ray Gonzalez, Alex Leong, Eldon Branham,
and Michael McCluskey. No workshop in April. Let’s plan on attending the Tree Ring Circus.
Saturday, February 2nd, Azalea Workshop, Michael McCluskey and Ken Credeur, 9am –
1pm. Cost depends on medium or large Wakaebisu, a pink blooming variety. 5 spots.
Saturday, February 9th, HBS Saturday Study Group at Timeless Trees, 9am – Noon. No
charge. Refreshments provided…
or Houston Bonsai Society Annual Dig with Ray Gonzalez, 9am– Noon at George Bush
Park. More details and map at the meeting.
Saturday, February 16th, Large Elm raft/ forest repotting demo, 9 am – Noon, artist: Ken
Credeur. The repotted forest will be raffled at the end. $20 per person, 15 spots.
and Juniper Workshop, 1 pm – 4 pm, artist: Michael McCluskey. $35.00 per person including
tree, plastic pot, soil and wire. Literati style, using Procumbens Nana, Chinensis or Prostrata.
Great yet inexpensive workshop for 8, 7 spots available.
Saturday, February 23rd, Montezuma Cypress Workshop, 9am – Noon. Cost $75 includes
tree, ceramic pot, soil and wire -10 spots, 9 available
April 11-14, 2013: Tree Ring Circus: LSBF 2013 hosted by the San Antonio and Austin
Bonsai Societies at the New Braunfels Convention Center (off I-35 between Austin and San
Antonio) in New Braunfels, TX, USA - Featuring Walter Pall, Colin Lewis and Erik Wigert.
Register early for discounted rate and the best workshops.
February Bonsai Care
The big event we are looking forward to is coming up: The Repotting Season.
Normally the best time to repot is when the sap starts to flow and buds swell. In
the real world, we usually need to fudge this a little because of constraints on our
time, so we need to do it earlier. But never after the buds open! Deciduous trees
repotted in January will need their new roots protected by setting on the ground
and good mulching (think about the nursery trade planting yard trees in early
Vietnamese bonsai & famous
Hòn Non Bộ landscapes
Preparing a group of basic soil mixes can save time at the actual repotting.Mix
your favorite recipes in 3 sizes, for small medium and large pots, and then modify
them by adding some extra of one material or other to suit the particular tree you
are repotting. There is no perfect mix. You must decide based on your backyard.
The basics of good mixes:
 Permit free drainage: Use granular material like decomposed granite, lava
gravel, pumice, haydite, Turface, etc.
 Provide water retention: Material like akadama, ground or decomposed bark
(organic, should not break down too quickly)
 Provide air space: Use appropriately sized particles.
Moisture retention is controlled by the type of material (e.g. akadama - good vs.
granite - poor) and by particle size (finer particles retain more residual water).
A good general mix for this part of the world is equal parts of akadama, lava
gravel and pumice.
Akadama is not magic. It is merely a soil native to Japan which is a volcanic
island. After lava is broken down, it’s dug up and fire at low temperature to dry.
Later on, it’s broken up and passed through a sieve to retain uniform size and
used as part of bonsai soil. We do not have anything native comparable on the
market in the USA. The advantages of akadama are the fact that it holds water
uniformly and is soft enough for roots to penetrate easily. Having this source of
moisture close to the trunk results in short fibrous roots. So I have started using it
on my bonsai but I feel the pinch of dollars too much to utilize it on the pre-bonsai
material, even though I am sure it would speed up their development.
Check wire applied last year. During dormancy, the woody portions tend to lignify
and swell. Remove any tight wire. Severe wire marks can occur.
Early February is the end of the season for major pruning. You may be able to
continue for a while on some late sprouting species such as the oaks. After the
onset of sap flow, you should not try to make big cuts. Cut paste or pruning
sealer cannot withstand the hydraulic pressure created by the urge to grow.
If there is a significant warm streak, you could get some activity from overwintering pests. A dormant spray (horticultural oil or a very weak lime sulphur)
should be used on outside plants. The lime sulphur should not be used on any
green growth or after buds begin to swell. The lime sulphur will also serve to kill
fungal spores and help control bacterial diseases. For the greenhouse, use the
original organic spray mixture. I get good control of mites, aphids and even scale
with it when used on a weekly basis.
My original organic spray is 1 tablespoon each of Fish emulsion, liquid kelp,
molasses, and apple cider vinegar to a gallon of water. Using organic fertilizer
cakes on top of the soil is a better way to fertilize. You may make your own or
buy one of the commercial versions from your local bonsai vendor.
I would suggest that you also repot azaleas at this time. The
roots will be reestablished by blooming time. This is much
easier on the tree than waiting until after bloom when the
temperature will be hot. An aside note: Later on, before
blooming starts, you will be removing a lot of excess buds
anyway which will reduce the stress on the tree at that time.
If new growth appears, keep it pinched so you keep the
internodes short and develop a compact set of twigs on the
branches. On alternate leaved species (e.g. elms) pinch when
the shoot gets 4 or 5 leaves. Fingernails or shears can be
used. If the twig gets too long, it will be tough and you have to
use shears. On opposite leaved trees (maples) pinch the
central shoot as soon as it can be distinguished from the two
leaves. To do this really right you need to use pointed
Spring flowering plants will have their buds set on last year’s
growth, so pruning them will remove some flowers. Those that
bloom later in the year will generally bloom on this year’s
growth. Pruning them will reduce the amount of flowers. In
some cases such as crepe myrtle, tip pruning of the branch will
result in no flower at all. In these cases, you must decide which
is most important, ramification or flowers. A compromise would
be to prune the branch shorter than you normally would and
then let it bloom on new growth which will be at the proper
When the growth starts the tree will need fertilizer. However,
use one that has only a small amount of nitrogen (the first
number). The tree is naturally programmed to grow rapidly at
this time, so you don’t need to encourage it further. Feed lightly
to maintain healthy green foliage. Trace minerals should be
added to help with both the foliage color and the color of
John Miller
John Miller, who writes a monthly column for the Bonsai Society of Dallas
and Fort Worth Bonsai Society, has agreed to share his column with us. We
need to make adjustments for our warmer and damper climate, with earlier
springs, longer summers, late fall and erratic winters.
President’s Message
The New Year has started with a bang. Our Saturday Study
Group met the first time at Mercer Arboretum and Botanic
Garden and was well attended. We plan to rotate the Saturday
Study Group between three facilities in an effort to make it
more accessible to more members:
 Mercer Arboretum and Botanic Garden (January,
April, July and October)
 Timeless Trees (February, May, August and
 Maas Garden Center (March, June, September and
This month’s stated meeting (February 6th) will be a
presentation by Scott Barboza and Ken Credeur about soils
and components. You will be amazed at some of the
experiments presented in the program.
Also in February we will offer members a choice of activities
on February 9th. Ray Gonzalez has a club dig planned near
George Bush Park in west Houston, and at the same time,
Timeless Trees will host a Saturday Study group meeting.
The LSBF State Convention of 2013, “Tree Ring Circus” will
be held April 11-14, 2013 in New Braunfels, Texas. The
internationally recognized artists are Colin Lewis (England /
Maine), Walter Pall (Germany) and Erik Wigert (Florida).
A state convention is a great way to learn many new aspects of
our hobby. Attend great workshops and meet many new
friends. We always have a large contingent from Houston to
share the fun.
It’s time to get those registrations in to get the Early Bird
Discount. Hope to see you there. HBS will also sponsor an
entrant for the Texas Emerging Talent Contest, with details
coming soon.
For more details check out their website.
Hope to see you at the meeting on February 6th!
Happy Re-potting!
Hurley Johnson
Houston Bonsai Society
Board Meeting Minutes
January 2, 2013, 6:30 pm
I. Call to order
Meeting was called to order by Hurley Johnson at 6:30 pm.
II. Roll Call
A. Present: Hurley Johnson, Keith Mc Nay, Raymond Gonzalez,
John Edmonson, Pete Parker, Barbara Adams, Eldon Branham,
A Hòn Non Bộ with ficus on a palatial terrace
Donald Green, Jim Stone, Anthony Cutola, Craig Boone and
Sandra Knight.
B. Quorum present: Yes.
III. Read and Approve Meeting Minutes
Minutes for the meeting of December 5, 2012 were read. Raymond
Gonzalez made a motion to accept the minutes, seconded by Pete Parker
and approved.
IV. Treasurer’s Report
Anthony Cutola presented the December 2012 Treasurer’s Report. There
was no payment and no deposit during the month. Pete Parker made a
motion to accept the report, seconded by Ray Gonzalez and approved.
Balance as of December 31, 2012
Expenses incurred during December will be paid and the December
Treasurer’s Report revised.
V. Routine Business
a. Outreach Committee – Upcoming lecture/demos to outside
organizations: Dean Laumen
Dean was not present to discuss
b. Publicity Strategy Update: Eldon Branham
No new business
c. General HBS Budget: Committee chairs should finalize their
budgets by February meeting.
VI. LSBF Activities
A. 2014 State Convention in Houston: Donald Green
1. Hurley handed out a list of committees for the 2014
convention. Everyone on the Board will participate as a chair
or committee member. Volunteers from the general
membership are urged to participate in a committee of their
2. Committee chairs will have a meeting early in February for an
in depth discussion on the convention budget.
3. The theme has been chosen. It is “East Meets West”. The
convention will be held at the Marriott West Houston on April
10-14, 2014.
4. A logo is needed for the convention and a contest will be held
for the design of the logo. A $50.00 gift certificate for vendors
at the convention will be awarded for the winning entry.
Entries should be submitted before the March 6, 2013
5. There will be nine (9) workshops. Four (4) sets of trees have
been purchased.
B. LSBF State Meeting
6. Next meeting is January 19th in Wimberley.
7. Spring Tour Artists being considered are Cheryl Manning,
Peter Warren and Owen Wright. The Texas Tour workshops
will be held a little earlier than usual this year.
8. Eligible Emerging Talent contestants may have the
experience extended to 7 years of experience from the
current 5 year limit.
VII. New Business
Schedule Conflict: 2013 LSBF State Convention in New
Braunfels being held April 11-13 conflicts with the Japanese
Festival. Voted and approved cancellation of our participation in
Japan Fest.
HBS has been offered a free booth at the Houston Home Show
at the George R. Brown Convention Center.
The Houston Garden Shows group has invited HBS to
participate in their Spring show. They will provide us with free
booth. We will furnish the signage, tables, etc. for our display.
The February Study Group will be held at Timeless Trees.
Maas Nursery will host a bonsai seminar/study group with our
instructors at their nursery. Clyde, Anthony and Terry will handle
the study group.
VIII. Adjournment
Motion was made to adjourn the meeting, seconded, and carried. The
meeting adjourned at 7:30 pm.
Minutes submitted by Sandra Knight.
Convention Chronicle #8
Tree Ring Circus – April 11-14, 2013
New Braunfels TX
One of the workshops we're holding will be Texas Natives.
This will actually be a variety, a smorgasbord if you like, of
different trees native to the state. We will have species
represented from the other native tree workshops as well as
some species that will only appear in this one. Some of the
material includes: Bald Cypress, Cedar Elm, Mustang Grape,
Netleaf Hackberry, Mulberry, Fragrant Mimosa, Oaks, Texas
Baccharis, Yaupon Holly, Texas Persimmon and more. Plant
material will vary wildly in type and size. Everyone will choose
their own material, but the order in which they choose will be
by random drawing. We cannot guarantee the availability of a
certain species, so come to this workshop with an open mind
and a sense of adventure!
The Vendor Room at this show is going to be huge. We will
have sellers from Texas and other parts of the nation with a
large selection of hand-made products (Bonsai, pottery,
handmade stands and more). On Thursday evening, join us for
the Early Bird Reception which will allow those who come early
to get the first jump on the Vendors' tables. We will be hosting
the Emerging Talent Competition at the same time, which
should be a fun demonstration of our local skills.
Early registration of only $125 runs until March 15th, so be sure
to send your registration in early (when choosing, checks don't
cost the convention, while credit cards always charge us a fee).
Some workshops are already half full and others are going
quickly. We hope you come to stay for the weekend, but there
is also a daily registration available for $30, as well as a daily
general admission of $5 (which will get you into the Exhibit,
Raffle and the Vendor Room only). This is a time when our
state Bonsai community comes together for the biggest party
of the year, I hope to see everyone there!
Joey McCoy
Convention Chair
Mercer Arboretum and Botanic Garden
Saturday Study Group
Buddy Allen and
Alan Raymond
held the first class
at Mercer.
The Saturday
Study Group at
Arboretum on
January 5th
started off
slowly. The
weather was cold and rainy, but one of the Mercer staff members
unlocked the Volunteer Cottage so we could work indoors. At 9 am, I
was the only one there, concerned that no one else would attend! But
folks started to trickle in and before long, we had 10 people sharing,
mentoring, learning and working on their trees. Several of the
attendees were new members of HBS.
Thanks to Buddy Allen for traveling all the way north to Mercer to
provide very wise advice to the newbies among us on styling and
care of our trees.
Alan Raymond
Logo Design Contest for 2014 State Convention
The Houston Bonsai Society (HBS) will host the Lone Star Bonsai
Federation (LSBF) 2014 state convention at the Marriott
Westchase, April 10-13, 2014. In preparation for the convention,
HBS will sponsor a contest for the design of a logo. The logo will
be a graphic or symbol that represents the convention on its
letterhead, flyers, posters, shirts, pin, etc. Members are invited to
submit one or more suggestions for the logo design. Each
submission (description and drawing) should be on separate cards.
Submit drawing/graphics on a 4” by 6” cards containing any
combinations of the convention theme (East Meets West), Bonsai,
LSBF, HBS, 2014, etc. All submitted logo designs suggestions will
remain the sole property of HBS.
All suggestions should be given or sent to the Convention Chair
(Donald Green) on or before our March 6, 2013 club meeting. The
contest winner will receive a $50 gift certificate for use at any of
the convention vendors.
Vietnamese Bonsai and
Hòn Non Bộ
According to the Chinese philosophy, everything and
everyone is influenced by The Five Elements: Metal, Water,
Wood, Fire and Earth that make up all matter. As modifiers,
they alter the quality of nature. Held in balance, they bring
order and harmony to the universe. Understanding each year’s
influence can help us adapt to changing circumstances.
Legend goes that before The Buddha left this world, he invited
all the animals to join him around his table for a feast. Of all
the creatures in the land, only 12 arrived. For their loyalty,
they were rewarded in perpetuity by having a year named after
each of them, in the order of their arrival. The steadfast Ox led
the way but at the last minute, the Rat, opportunistic and fleet
of foot, hopped on the Ox’s back for an easy ride. So the 12-
year cycle governed by a Zodiac animal begins with the Rat.
Coupled with the Element that governs the year, each of these
animals influences the worldly events of that year.
Besides the sequence of the Five Elements and the 12 Animal
Rulers, each year is also assigned a negative (Yin) or positive
(Yang) polarity, which puts a subtle spin on the characteristics
of that year.
This coming Chinese or Lunar New Year of the Water Snake
will start on February 10, 2013. The snake is a shy, cautious
and low-key animal in the horoscope. The element Water is
characterized by the color black represents Yin, mobility,
fluidity, dynamism and changeability.
Snake contains mainly Fire but may also contain some Metal
and Earth. A Water Snake is Fire under Water. Water of 2013
and Fire of Snake are opposite elements, hence the Black
Snake will bring people unexpected changes and instability.
Most will experience mix of good and bad fortune.
Snakes won't attack unless disturbed or starving, so feed your
opponents well yet keep a watchful eye on them in case they
get disturbed. It is important this year to plan everything
beforehand and re-evaluate often before taking any action. Be
more cautious than ever! Just don’t go digging for bonsai
material in the swamp or along river banks (like my buddy
Joey McCoy who invited them to come out and play). Our
warm winter is confusing the snakes as well as alligators.
Without adequate sleep and rest, hungry and cranky, they
might not adhere to their normal habits and behavioral
Happy New 2013 and Happy New Year of the Snake, the
Water Snake or Black Water Snake!
Just about
this time
last year,
when my
for the Tết
of the
Dragon, I
received a
from Ron
by a giant
bonsai in a
giant pot
on the
terrace of pagoda in Viet Nam. Can such a mammoth tree be
classified as bonsai? The duo planned a trip to my motherland,
from the Northern mountain ranges all the way South of the
Mekong Delta, stopping by Hà Nội, Hạ Long Bay, Hội An, Đà
Nẵng and Sài Gòn. (Yes, to me and millions of displaced
Vietnamese around the world, my home town will forever be
called Sài Gòn!) At the last minute, due health conditions, Ron
was unable to accompany John who embarked on this month
long excursion solo, for the exception of 4 days, during which
his son Jeff joined him.
Our Big Day
I met up with John midway between our homes, in the ChinaVina town, over a lavish Vietnamese 7-course beef feast to
hear him reminisce about his journey to Viet Nam. It’s been
almost 38 years since I’ve left my motherland, just a few
hours before the Fall of Saigon. Clinging to the tiny window
in the plane that took half of family away to unknown
destinations, I caught my first glimpse of the Vietnamese
countryside. I never did have a chance to visit the beautiful
historical sites and the poetic landscapes John spoke of.
Born during the war and escaping the tragic end in the nick of
time ( just barely an hour before the airport was bombed), I
spent my 19 years in relative safety in Saigon, except during
the Tet Offensive of 1968, when both sides exchanged fire
right in front our gate.
While our food was getting cold, John showed me endless
photographs taken during his life changing trip to my beloved
homeland, still impoverished by the war, although the war
scars have healed in the heart of the people. Dodging tours and
avoiding tourist traps, John chose to trek up the red dirt
mountains of the North and traveled down the muddy roads of
the South. Most of those he spent time with were the common
people, living off of the land and waterways. They possess
almost nothing yet they were most generous with everything
they got. Even his cyclo driver took him home to meet his
family at their modest hut, and share the meager vegetable and
fish meal.
As John relived his adventures, his eyes lit up and a smile
brightened his face. He came away from this experience of a
life time, filled with the utmost respect and affection for the
people. Nowhere was he greeted with the animosity for the
American who caused us to lose the war. In contrary, the
simple, dirt poor yet kind-hearted folks spoke to him in a
language of peace and love. John is already planning for a
return trip. I couldn’t help but wish that someday, I would
have a chance to write a book about this American in Viet
Nam. What a fantastic project to add to my Bucket List!
A Buddhist monk tending to a Bodhi Tree (Ficus Religiosa)at a
pagoda in the city of Huế. After meditating for 49 days under a Bodhi
tree, Buddha reached enlightenment.
Our climate is either dry or wet, with minimal fluctuations in
temperature. It rarely gets cold or snows, for the exception of
the highest peaks of the Trường Sơn mountain range. The
rainy or Monsoon season lasts approximately 6 to 7 months.
Every morning, the sky turns grey as the clouds form. In early
afternoon, Ông Trời (God) pulls the plug on the heavy black
clouds and the torrential rain falls on the sizzling hot asphalt
of paved streets, steaming up the landscape. By the time the
sun peaks through the thinning rain clouds, the heat has
dissipated and everything green perks up with joy.
John saw some average sized bonsai but the most memorable
ones he classified as large, extra large and even gigantic.
Some reach the height of 8 to 12 feet. The trees are shaped in
many styles. Some reflect Chinese influence but the majority
was left to Nature’s blue print. Since there is no kiln large
enough to fire such large pots or trays, and since no heavy
equipment could climb hundreds of crumbling steps to reach
those elevated terraces, most of the enormous vessels were
molded out of concrete or carved out of marble on location.
Bonsai in Viet Nam
Most of the bonsai in Viet Nam John saw displayed were in
public places like pagodas, imperial palaces and mausoleums,
not in private collections.
Cây Cảnh ( tree and landscape), also pronounced Cây Kiểng
in certain regions, have been very popular in Viet Nam. Most
of the bonsai in a tropical land near the Equator are indigenous
tropical plants that remain outdoors to enjoy an abundance of
rain, heat and sunshine.
Forests of evergreens in vessels of concrete filled with granite chips
Hòn Non Bộ, miniature mountainous landscapes often depict
island and mountain scenes in shallow containers surrounded
by water, representing the lake or the sea. Hòn means island,
Non means mountains and Bộ a combination of water,
mountain range, plants and flowers. Miniature landscapes
share the same origin as bonsai. In times of war, kings and
generals had miniature replicas of trees or landscapes made to
bring with them as a piece of home when away for extended
periods. Over time, miniatures were kept by emperors, kings
and the literati elite as mementos of their birth origins and
cultural icons of their great dynasties.
The inspiration for Hòn Non Bộ comes from either real vista
or Chinese mythology. Carefully chosen rocks such as marble,
granite and petrified wood are arranged to form spectacular
mountain ranges and islands, adorned with miniature mud
men, boats, birds, pagodas and huts. Lush green plants and
tiny fish bring life to otherwise static rock formations.
Continuous changes of the foliage and flowers add life to the
sceneries and also remind us of the Buddhist concept of
impermanence. Since the 18th century, along with the
introduction of Industrial Revolution under the French
colonization, a mass exodus from the rural regions to the
metropolises brought bonsai and Hòn Non Bộ with them.
They become the focal point of their courtyard homes.
As the art Hòn Non Bộ or Tiểu Cảnh (miniature sceneries)
evolves, certain calculated guidelines ensure that rock
formations would look good from all angles, all sides and even
from above. The three points, Heaven, Mankind and Earth,
must form a triangle that confines rock and plant
arrangements. Over millennia, this art form reaches such
sophistication and perfection that the hobbyists pour most of
their time, wealth and energy, heart and soul into lifelong
projects to pass on to many generations of offspring. Some of
these works were given utmost importance that the task of
planning, executing and maintaining them is the patriarch’s
honor and duty.
John could not help but notice that most of the ancient bonsai
are held in pots with Chinese calligraphy. Why are they so
similar those made in China? He also observed in those with
visible silhouettes that the number of branches was either 7, 9
or 11. Why such odd numbers?
We all have read that the primary source of inspiration for
bonsai is Nature. When in doubt whether a bonsai looks
correct or not, the bonsai artist just returns to the very roots of
this art. Nature tends to be imperfect and asymmetrical rather
than even and symmetrical. Besides the number two (2) in
twin trunked mother and daughter or father and son bonsai,
odd numbers are recommended by bonsai masters as number
of branches and number of trees in forests. In particular, the
number four (4) which pronunciation may be confused with
the word death in Chinese, should be avoided.
Until the intervention of the Information Age, powered by the
Internet, Vietnamese bonsai don’t seem to follow clear cut
principles. This fact is very apparent to John in the hundred
year old trees he observed. On the other hand, few of them
comply with Chinese aesthetic rules. Why 2 different schools?
One of the 1,500 bonsai displayed at the Year of the Snake bonsai
exhibit in Hà Nội on January 23, 2013. This coiling snake bonsai has
its own poem attached on the identification card with the author’s
name in bold print. This new Vietnamese trend is gaining popularity
amongst the artists who desire to make a big name for themselves.
Chinese Influence and the Eternal Resistance
From time immemorial, the long strip of land now called Viet
Nam was fragmented and dominated by external threat of
foreign attacks or colonization. Five thousands of years ago,
the Viet tribes, which originated from the Yangtze River
valley in middle China, migrated to the South (Nam means
South) in search of independence from warring nomad tribes.
They settled in the narrow plain in the valley of the Red River,
protected on one side by high mountains, the other by thick
forests. Their independence was short lived as the Chinese
troops from the North soon discovered their hide-out.
After over a millennium under the Chinese colonization, there
is no longer a distinction between Vietnamese and Chinese
cultures. The Chinese colonizers ruled Viet Nam, just like a
state of their vast kingdom. Their calligraphic characters as
well as religious beliefs, philosophies, organizational skills,
literature and arts, as well as the teachings of Confucius, Tao
and Zen Buddhism impregnated the soul of Viet Nam till this
Although the Vietnamese fought the Chinese to preserve their
national identity and independence, the scholars quietly study
their enemies to find their strengths and weaknesses. A few
millennia later, the elite intellects have assimilated the best the
colonizers had to offer, yet kept that knowledge out of the
reach of the common people for selfish gain. Unaware of
guidelines or rules, the farmers and hunters continue to shape
their bonsai and landscapes as Nature intended.
John’s most fascinating day was in the mountain range, where
he spent the day tagging along with the tribe of Hmong.
Hiding in the remote regions in the mountains and forests,
over 54 tribes of montagnards (French for mountain people)
seem to have escaped the devastation inflicted on the South
Vietnamese people by the Chinese, French, Japanese or
An agglomeration of a thousand snakes greeting the New Year and
bonsai lovers at the Thăng Long citadel in Hà Nội (1/23/2013)
westerners. For millennia, they respect Nature, honor and
worship all forces as deities and gods. They are the first true
environmentalists before such name was coined.
Au Naturel vs. Chinese rules
Common were the people John prefers to study in his
exploration. As he traveled the unbeaten paths, he discovered
that they are uncommonly gentle, friendly and trusting. They
spend their life growing food or catching game for the family,
rather than keeping up with the latest artistic trends. Keeping
trees alive and thriving, in the ground or in pots, was
considered a huge agricultural and horticultural success. To
the natives and ethnic groups, those of diverse races who for
many centuries of intermingling became the Vietnamese race,
an aesthetically pleasing tree in pot would be a healthy living
one, with bright green foliage or loaded with fruit. The
spiritual ascetics and Buddhist clergy are content to see their
plants grow freely, untouched by human hands, like they
would in the wilderness. Unrestricted by aggressive pruning, a
lot of those potted trees end up developing into huge trees in
courtyards and terraces.
Bonsai and Feng Shui
So, is a bonsai tree or landscape in tray good Feng Shui or bad
Feng Shui? Most of us believe that plants are great decoration
for homes or businesses because they bring vibrant Chi
(energy). As long as the plants are healthy, happy and
displayed in beautiful pots, they are good Feng Shui, right?
Not always! Most love to care for their plants so they can
bring joy, good health and good fortune, right? Not really, said
the Feng Shui experts.
For centuries, Asian cultures are still undecided whether to
hate or love bonsai. Some Feng Shui authorities call them the
mutilated and tortured plants. To others, they are clever
miniature replicas of Nature that need clipping once in a
while, no different than periodic grooming of hair. No crime is
committed! When branches are wired to redirect growth, it’s
no different than Geomancers redirecting the flow of Chi
through spaces, creating harmony between the elements of
nature and re-establishing peace as well as positive energy.
In fact, plants and rocks are wood, earth and metal elements.
Bonsai follows the same Five Elements theory as Feng Shui.
A water feature added to a grove of trees (wood) grown in soil
(earth) may generate energy (Chi) and serendipity at the same
time. Geomancers or Feng Shui masters believe that
landscapes in trays, just like the placement of homes, doors,
gates or buildings can affect the family’s health, wealth and
happiness. Correct positioning of these plants in certain
correct Bagua’s corners, in certain years, depending on the
stars that govern the astrology of the family’s patriarch is
crucial. Built in the correct direction for the owners, these
landscapes may bring on multi-generational good luck, power
and wealth. If installed in the wrong places, bad luck may
ensue, or in drastic cases, dynasties may suddenly come to an
end. To err on the safe side, those unwilling or unable to seek
the advice of Feng Shui masters can minimize possible
adverse consequences by positioning the trays in their back
yard, a far distance from the family home.
The foremost virtues required of bonsai lovers are patience,
wisdom, a deep understanding of each species of plants. It’s
imperative that they love and respect Nature as they would
their own body. That’s the only way to find serendipity
through the connection of their soul to living plants that
surround them.
The Vietnamese poet Sơn Nam wrote: Like a
gem that
glows in darkness, a bonsai satisfies men’s hunger
to harmonize with all beings. It’s a living poem, an
intimate connection of the soul to the divine!
A Medusa like oversized ficus In this Hà Nội exhibit 2013, the trend
is indeed smaller. Surprisingly, only 10% of the bonsai are large,
20% average but 70% of bonsai was Mini (Shohin or smaller).
Close to Đà Nẵng, John was taken through the rice paddies
and the woods to pay a visit to a self-proclaimed Bonsai
Queen whose name he couldn’t catch. On a post of her arbor,
a poster with her photograph advertises her skills. John was
amused by her insistence on giving him an impromptu demo
on a ficus without him understanding a single word.
A decade ago, when the Communist government could no
longer prohibit access to the Internet, Bonsai in Viet Nam
experienced an overwhelming Renaissance. With unrestricted
access to the teachings of Bonsai masters of the free world
beyond the communist walls, deprived bonsai artists embrace
foreign styles and techniques. Still, the majority favors the
Chinese style over Japanese which require more frequent
rewiring or trimming. The low maintenance Lingnan Clip and
Grow is certainly more fitting for trees that grow year round in
abundant sunlight, rain and heat.
A dancing fairy or coiling snake? (Hà Nội exhibit 1/23/2013)
Kính lão đắc thọ (Revere the old, gain a long life) is the motto
of the nation that worships ancestors. Age in people (the
ancestors and elderly), monuments and plants, is revered as
the most significant auspice. Many bonsai trees have been the
heart of family homes for so long, they are believed to be the
auspicious refuge of deceased ancestors’ spirits. More reasons
for offspring to take good care of the family bonsai, talk to
them and pray for the protection of the clan. It’s ironic that
bonsai artists would turn many tricks to age their trees, carve
shari or glue on thick bark on gnarled trunks, while their wives
spend time with scheming plastic surgeons and spend a
fortune on cosmetics to maintain a youthful and flawless skin.
(To be continued in the March issue)
Shawn Nguyen
Calendar of Events
Azalea Workshop, Michael McCluskey and Ken
Credeur, 9am – 1pm. Cost $80-100, 5 spots.
HBS monthly meeting - Bonsai Soil and Growing
Mixtures with Scott Barboza and Ken Credeur
HBS Saturday Study Group at Timeless Trees,
9am – Noon. Free. Refreshments provided…
Houston Bonsai Society Annual Dig , 9am–
Noon at George Bush Park.
FEB 16 Large Elm raft/ forest repotting demo, 9 am –
Noon, Artist: Ken Credeur - $20, 15 spots.
and Juniper Workshop, 1 pm – 4 pm. Artist: Michael
McCluskey. $35 including tree, plastic pot, soil
and wire. 7 spots available.
FEB 23 Montezuma Cypress Workshop, 9am –Noon,
Cost $75 includes tree, ceramic pot, soil and wire
9 spots available
APR11-14 Tree Ring Circus: LSBF 2013 hosted by the
San Antonio and Austin Bonsai Societies at the
New Braunfels Convention Center