Back at Daijuen

I have returned to Daijuen and will be continuing my training for another 3 months here in Japan. I am looking forward to learning as much as possible and taking my bonsai skills and understanding to a new level.

It was an eventful few months back in Maryland since I left Daijuen last April. The Potomac Bonsai Association kicked things off with its annual Spring Festival in early May. This festival is held at the National Arboretum in Washington D.C..The Arboretum is a great venue and is home to the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum. The museum has three amazing pavilions, with bonsai from Japan, China and North America. This tremendous collection is truly a national treasure!






In early June I went up to the National Bonsai Exhibition in Rochester New York for the first time. I was very impressed with the quality of the trees in the show. There were tree entries from all across the country with a wide range of trees species and styles. There was a vending area and Marc Noelanders did a demo the afternoon I was there. It was a great time, Bill Valvanis and his staff put on a first class event. We also got a chance to visit Bill’s nursery, which was a real treat.

Shortly after the National Show I had the opportunity to give a talk/demo on tropical bonsai at Valley View Farms Nursery in Maryland. The talk went well, and the crowd was eager to learn. After discussing the tropical bonsai that Valley View Farms sells and how to care for each of them I created a 13 tree forest using Ficus solicifolia trees.  The forest turned out nicely, everyone seemed to learn a lot and had a fun doing it. Thanks to Valley View for the opportunity to teach there.

In late June I attended the Rocky Mountain Bonsai Convention in Denver Colorado, one of my favorite places. I was there not only to attend the conference but to compete in the Joshua Roth New Talent Competition. This completion is for people with 10years or less experience in bonsai. You are given a piece of stock material and 8hrs to complete your tree. It was a great event, with nice material. Though I did not win the completion I was very pleased with the tree a created and received some good feedback from the judges. The conference had some fantastic speakers and amazing collected Rocky Mountain material for the workshops. It was great to see a mix of International bonsai artists Ryan Neal and Marc Noelanders, as well as prominent local bonsai figures Harold Sasaki and Larry Jackel teaching. John Kirby also had a great workshop/lecture on black pines, his specialty. It was one of the best conferences I have ever attended.

While I was there the Denver Botanic Gardens also had a grand opening of its new bonsai collection.  Done in true Colorado fashion the display is a great combination of the beauty of the Rocky Mountains and the amazing art of bonsai. Larry Jackel, curator of the collection and the team at the botanic gardens had the collection and the grounds looking awesome for the event.















In addition to these events there was still plenty of bonsai learning to be done. I continued my training with my weekly trips to the National Arboretum bonsai collection to volunteer as well as many Baltimore Bonsai Club events, and my study group.  I even had some time to work on my own trees.

Please follow along with me the next three months as I share my experiences and what I’m learning here in Japan. Thanks for reading.

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My Philosophy on Bonsai

My philosophy on bonsai is that bonsai is more than just roots, nabari, trunk, branches, and foliage. Obviously all those things make up a bonsai tree but there is more. Bonsai is a feeling, a feeling you get when you see a tree that moves you. The feeling you get from creating a piece of living art and seeing it thrive. It’s seeing the positive features in a tree and accentuating them. It’s not about evaluating every tree to death. It takes more than knowing what a tree shouldn’t be, to make one what it could be. Finding faults in trees as means of evaluating them or showing off you knowledge doesn’t mean you understand bonsai. Actually I think it’s quite the contrary. The rules are in place for a reason and give you a guideline for shape, proportion and scale. Though these things are all very important in producing quality trees, it’s not the end all be all. I am partial to natural trees and tree styles, though I can appreciate any quality material. I am drawn to things you would see out in the real world. Trees that remind me of places I’ve been, like the battered conifers of the Rocky Mountains, the Bald Cypress swamps of the south or the massive Coastal Redwoods in the North West. For me bonsai is about appreciating nature, having a connection with ancient old trees, and centuries old traditions of capturing a little slice of the natural world in a container. That’s what the Chinese had in mind when this whole thing started long ago, and the Japanese have perfected. That’s what I hope to continue in my own collection and to those I have the opportunity to teach.

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About Me

Welcome to my blog

My name is Chris Baker and I will be writing about my experiences as an apprentice at Daijuen Bonsai Nursery, and beyond. I’ll be posting about interesting techniques I learn, bonsai shows and events, selected journal entries and everything that being an apprentice has to offer. I have two weeks left in my first 3 months in Okazaki, Japan and hope to return again to continue my bonsai education later this summer. I am originally from Long Island, NY and before moving to Japan I was living in Baltimore, Maryland with my unbelievably supportive wife Marj, and my dog One Five.

Bonsai Journey

I first got involved in bonsai in 2004, when I purchased a friend a juniper bonsai as a gift. I thought it was a cool tree so I bought myself one…and so it began. I was living in Gainesville, Florida (home of the Mighty Gators) and found that there was a bonsai club in town. I soon joined the club and began learning as much as I could about bonsai. It was a thriving club with a lot of knowledgeable members. The state convention was held in Gainesville a year later and I had a chance to see people like Colin Lewis, Jim Smith, Joe Day and other talented bonsai artist at work. I also got to participate in and watch a number of workshops and demonstrations all week-end. It was an eye-opening experience and served to fuel my fire.

Two years later I moved to Baltimore, Maryland to work at the National Aquarium as a veterinary technician. I promptly joined the Baltimore Bonsai Club and continued learning as much as I could. I soon sought out new avenues for learning and landed a part-time job at Meehan’s Miniatures, a commercial bonsai grower about 70 miles west of Baltimore. On my day off from the Aquarium I would ride out and work. This gave me the opportunity to work on many trees in the same day and get far more hands on experience that I could with my own collection. I learned a lot from Martha and Hugh Meehan and I will always be grateful for the opportunity to work at their nursery. Working at Meehan’s also gave me some insight as to how a bonsai nursery is run, and just how much work it was. All information that might come in handy one day.

In the next couple of years I became more and more active in the Baltimore Bonsai Club, holding a board member position, helping out with workshops, demonstrations and many of the outreach events the club put on. I was also attending as many bonsai conventions and events as I could outside the club. I then took a new position at the National Aquarium of Senior Horticulturist of the Rainforest Exhibit, and my horticulture passion continued to grow. It was at this point I realized I needed to make horticulture and bonsai a bigger part of my life. Soon after the Baltimore Bonsai Club was participating in an event at the National Arboretum, Penjing Museum in Washington, D.C.. I introduced myself to the Curator, Jack Sustic. I said “Hi my name is Chris Baker; I have aspirations of working at a bonsai collection one day and would love to volunteer here.” That sentence has altered to course of my life. I started volunteering a few months later and began learning all I could from Jack. One day I was asking Jack if the Arboretum ever took on people for internships or apprenticeships. He said that they did not but if I was serious he might be able to get me an opportunity at a nursery in Japan…..Thanks to Jack; my mentor and friend, 5 months later I arrived at Daijuen in the dark of night and bitter cold knowing my education had reached a whole new level. I hope you follow along in my journey, learn some good tips and enjoy the ride with me.

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Why Bonsai?

Why I am so driven to create bonsai is a question I am often asked. There are a number of reasons,bonsai appeals to me on many levels. First I love the outdoors; I am inspired by giant old trees, and twisted battered trees on mountain sides that struggle each year to just stay alive. Bonsai is a way of recreating those trees I admire so much. I enjoy what I think are four major aspects of creating bonsai. There is an artistic or style component to creating good bonsai which as an artist appeals to me. There is also the horticultural aspect of bonsai. Fertilizing, watering, pruning, root pruning, pest management, etc… the science of bonsai I call it. My last career was as a horticulturist so I enjoy the “science of bonsai” very much. There can be quite a physical nature to bonsai, depending on the size of the trees you like and how you get them. I enjoy bending big branches with rebar, or digging up some trees from a mountain side, or someone’s back yard. I like to get my hands dirty and be a part of creating theses trees. Lastly it’s the maintenance; I enjoy checking on the trees daily, picking foliage, spending time around them. It’s a very peaceful time tending to my trees, a nice quiet escape from the often to chaotic world.

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