By George Haas
BGLM Marketing Manager
Ryan Neil performed a great re-styling and re-potting of the Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt’s Rocky Mountain Juniper (BGLM No. 401) at the Lake Merritt Sailboat Boathouse on Saturday, March 4, 2017.
Ryan’s demonstration was a special fundraising event in support of the Garden Revitalization Opportunity (GRO) project. BGLM is raising $100,000 to replace worn out display and seating benches, upgrade water systems, install new pathways, and more.
Ryan’s first appearance as a headliner was at the 2010 GSBF Convention in Santa Clara. The tree he styled was the same Rocky Mountain Juniper, which was placed in the auction and purchased by BGLM board member Andrea Burhoe. Subsequently, Andrea donated the bonsai to the BGLM. In 2012, at the Lakeside Park Garden Center, 666 Bellevue Ave., Oakland, Ryan did a first re-potting demonstration, placing the Rocky Mountain Juniper from a wooden crate into a old Chinese pot. For the period of 2010 to 2015, Ryan cared for the bonsai at his studio in Oregon, when it was moved to the Garden and placed on permanent display.
Ryan was a headliner in the most recent 2016 GSBF Convention in Sacramento. He was born and raised in Colorado, where he became interested in bonsai at an early age. He studied horticulture at the California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. Upon graduation, he spent six years under the apprenticeship of Mr. Masahiko Kimura (“The Magician”), Japan master of contemporary bonsai. In 2010, Ryan settled in Oregon to pursue the creation of Mirai – a prime bonsai school
and nursery. In 2015, Ryan and his wife, Chelsea, hosted the first Artisans Cup at the Portland Art Museum, a one of a kind exhibition of fine bonsai. Ryan travels throughout the United States and around the world to perform demonstrations, lectures, and to judge and critique exhibits.
The Rocky Mountain Juniper (BGLM No. 401) shown above was photographed on December 2, 2016 at BGLM. This was the look while on display at the Garden from 2015 to March 2017. On Friday afternoon, March 3, 2017, Ryan spent some time pruning and wiring the branches. He wanted a new and different pot and to change the angle of the bonsai.
The attendees were treated to some stories of life in Japan as a bonsai apprentice under Kimura. Ryan spoke about the three spheres of bonsai: 1) the science of bonsai, 2) the techniques of bonsai and 3) the art of bonsai, all having critical claim to being successful at creating great bonsai.
Ryan made introductory remarks about the history of the Rocky Mountain Juniper, being collected from the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. One of the early steps Ryan took in the demonstration was to show the new angle by placing wooden wedges under the legs of the bonsai pot. He described in detail as he worked on re-potting the bonsai. Ryan has a different approach to bonsai than what you see and learn from other instructors. For example, Ryan did not cut the tie down wires underneath the pot right away. Instead, he waited and worked the soil around the edges of the pot with saw teeth bonsai sickles. He said by cutting the tie down wires first it was possible the tree and root system could fall out prematurely. He used copper tie down wire for the demonstration, but prefers to use galvanized steel for its strength and non-stretch ability.
Ryan used a couple of different size bonsai sickles to cut along the sides of the pot and loosen the soil and root system. He took his time in doing so, cutting deeper and deeper into the soil and roots on all four sides of the pot. He tested a couple of times to determine if the soil and root system were ready to be pulled from its container. When he was sure they were ready, Ryan cut the tie down wires holding bonsai in the pot. He then removed the soil and root ball from the pot. Because the last re-potting occurred five years ago, the soil and root system were compacted. After removing the bonsai from its pot, Ryan showed where little or no disturbance was made to the root ball.
Ryan’s next step was to re-create the angle he had chosen for the new potting. He worked to lower one corner, removing soil and roots from the bottom, but keeping in mind that the bottom would be flat against the bottom of the new pot. He would remove some soil and roots from the top as well. Everything was technique at the time. Steps were taken in methodical order to ensure a successful re-potting.
Ryan would remove the roots growing around the outer edges. He emphasized having a flat bottom for a stable fit in the pot. Ryan pointed out how much roots were being removed from the sides and bottom. He showed everyone how much length remained on cut roots. The cut roots were just curling up, and that was the size or length he wanted to keep for the bottom roots. Ryan pointed out the heart or Shin (Sheen) of the root system, especially important to a healthy root system. Reference to conifers and junipers, not deciduous trees. Lies directly under the trunk. It is the heart beating for the roots. Is the farthest from warmth, water and air.
Ryan treated the bottom soil by removing a lot of large materials, that is Akadama soil mix, where the roots did not grow well. He carved out these spaces from the bottom and making holes through the top of soil. He placed short pieces of bamboo or chopsticks in the holes to remind him where he made the empty spaces underneath. Later, when filling in all the air spaces with new Akadama soil mix Ryan would easily access these spaces through marked holes. While Ryan worked on the bottom soil and roots, Gordon Deeg held the bonsai at a right angle for support.
Ryan would remove the roots growing around the outer edges. He emphasized having a flat bottom for a stable fit in the pot. Ryan pointed out how much roots were being removed from the sides and bottom. He showed everyone how much length remained on cut roots. The cut roots were just curling up, and that was the size or length he wanted to keep for the bottom roots.
Ryan pointed out the heart or Shin (Sheen) of the root system, especially important to a healthy root system. Reference to conifers and junipers, not deciduous trees. Lies directly under the trunk. It is the heart beating for the roots. Is the farthest from warmth, water and air. The longer time between re pots allows the Shin to develop. A healthy Shin will result in a healthier bonsai that can better fight off fungus and other diseases as well as allow more refined and balanced growth pattern and resist bursting or large growth. Never fully bare root conifers and junipers. Instead, preserve and nurture the Shin.
Ryan moved on to selecting a new pot. He brought three round pots and placed the bonsai in each, asking for audience participation. The bonsai would barely fit in each pot, but there was work still needed. Ryan said with a round pot and three typical legs you always want one leg to be located under the trunk’s flow or direction for the appearance of stability. In this case, Ryan selected the smooth sided, more ornate and definitely show quality pot in terms of elegance over the round large lip and nanban pots.
Ryan placed the bonsai in its new pot and began to work in filling all air spaces using a chopstick and by adding more Akadama soil mix. He worked the sides, sliding the chop- stick in and moving the soil towards the center. Using this technique, he moved roots down and into the pot and soil mix. Preserve the roots on the sides when possible. Look at how well the bonsai fits in the new pot. Stop removing roots when you reach the structural root mass. When ready to stop, go over your work with a sharp scissors and clip the roots. Crushed roots will rot. Sharply cut roots will regenerated with in 10 days. Ryan recommended using a top dressing like sieved sphagnum moss mixed with other moss to keep the surface roots moist. Sprinkle a very thin layer of the sieved moss as a top dressing. Do this to all conifers and deciduous. Every two years resurface to a friable mix and top dress with the moss again. Watering the newly potted Rocky Mountain Juniper would be next and the final step.