Nashville Bonsai Society Regional Show

Thanks to all the people I’ve met over the last few months for pestering me to continue writing this blog.  It’s been hectic and the focus of this post was one contributing factor.  More posts will be released with far less than 5 month gaps soon : ).

The Show:

Some of the displays and other shots from the weekend.  More shots of displays at the end of the post.


At the end of last month, I had the opportunity to have an exhibition in Nashville, Tennessee   at Cheekwood Botanical Garden that was “my baby”.  While in Japan, the concept of having a bonsai professional run a local club continuously bothered me.  A conflict of interest or perhaps indoctrination of the locals seemed dangerous as I’ve seen it happen elsewhere in the country.  Forgoing payment for the event seemed like the best solution.  Having heard stories of successful “benevolent dictatorships” and the like I decided to give it a shot. So, as the president of the Nashville Bonsai Society I set things in motion to have a show to be proud of within the financial means of the organization’s budget.  Good lighting was a priority as was high back-drops.  Minimal clutter was also important to me so bamboo dividers were not used.  Rodney Clemons and I shared the duties of the workshops, a demonstration, and the oh-so-important critique. Set-up was chaotic as the 50 displays slowly trickled in and Rodney and I had to re-arranged DSC_0822 and quickly before the show opened Saturday morning.  That’s what caffeine is for…..

Variation of species, sizes, styles and a rhythm of deciduous and evergreen main bonsai is crucial.  This kept the display-movers on their toes. Since I’ve returned from Japan for 2013, every exhibition I’ve been to has confirmed my notion that the overall quality of bonsai and bonsai display is steadily increasing.  The same shows where half the bonsai had stands in 2010 are now completely “stood up”.  More kusamono are everywhere and some even match the continent and / or native habitat of the bonsai they support.

DSC_0890 If I see one more lonely hosta sprout in a big pot though I may snap. DSC_0864

My supporting (kusamono?) for the Swamp Rose – Rosa palustris I displayed. An old suiban full of duckweed with a hand-made frog figure from Sakai City.  I did use a weed so I think that qualifies.


Black mondo is not native to the Florida Keys……

Some of the container choices for this show were good although there continues to be a gap between the quality of a tree and the quality level of container chosen everywhere I go.  Excellent trees deserve excellent containers to help convey your message in a display.  The overall show-readiness of the trees was excellent.  This is a wonderful sign. The question then becomes, “Why such a strong positive change so fast?”  The short answer in my opinion is that bonsai practitioners are getting more reliable information and most importantly, actually applying it.  Also, quality begets quality.  Nobody wants to be left behind as other serious club members improve their displays.  Positive critiques of your display at exhibitions = smiles.  Negative critiques at exhibitions = consternation.  Who wants the latter? Below are some of the award winning or honorable mention displays.  County fair ribbons have their place at well, county fairs.  So, I chose to use scroll inserts provided by Sean Smith for the awards save an award to honor Mike and Amy Blanton’s support of the local club.

Best Shohin
Mike Blanton’s Rocky Mountain Juniper was the unanimous vote for the award in his honor for best native tree. However, it was eventually moved to another tree since it seemed a bit off to give it to him.

DSC_0870 DSC_0817 DSC_0818 Critiques and the awards given are not completely objective, so that has to be considered.  However, getting taken down a peg due to horticultural flaws or downright bad aesthetic decisions in another story. DSC_0842An example would be pairing a succulent bonsai with a succulent kusamono or using a blue glazed rectangle and having a rectangular pot for a supporting element.  Worse still, a deciduous tree fresh off the box store shelf with a silhouette of the old nursery container still present in the bonsai pot…..  That wasn’t present at this exhibition but I’ve seen it before. Another factor I consider important to the rise in quality is the availability of great products made or collected in America.  Shipping and potentially horrible handling from Asia can be cost-prohibitive.  People like Randy Knight (collected material), David Knittle of Knittle Studio (tables / slabs), DSC_0891and Lang Bonsai Containers (containers for bonsai and kusamono) continue to supply quality merchandise.  They are the tip of the iceberg but I’m fishing for discounts……



This is a display that won the award for “Best in Show” for the general category.  It’s  a Rocky Mountain Juniper, Pyrossia, and a Chojubai.


Mike Blanton, Rodney Clemons, and I discussing the Western Juniper Mike donated for the demonstration.

Quite possibly the hardest thing I’ve ever done is style a tree with someone else at the same time while on stage.  The fact that the DSC_0952design was to be wind-influenced (a very subjective style) made it a real challenge for Rodney and I.  The tree also had a thin base and moved even when the other person was not applying wire or bending branches.  We saw the tree about 15 minutes before the demo…..


My swamp rose. Trained initially by beavers and collected in three feet of standing water. A wonderful species to work with as it grows like a weed but develops fine ramification quickly. Collected in 2010 in the swamps of Tennessee.  Dr. Ross Clark, author of the new book on native plants for bonsai in America, was stumped as to why mine did not have recurved spines like the species generally has.  I think it’s because it likes the Aoki Blend media. A few other nice bonsai from the show.  

Thanks to all those who jumped in during set-up and takedown.  It was also wonderful to have so many vendors: Mike Fedducia, Bellota Enterprises (Paul Katich), MC Squared Pottery, Bryon Myrick, Brussels Bonsai, Bonsai by Fields, Kusa Farm, The American Bonsai Society, Turnbull Creek Bonsai, Bonsai Unearthed, Lynnewood Gardens, Ellie Reid, and Darryl Bailey.