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Ben Oki - Another Legend Lost, Broken pots
March 26, 2018

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Ben Oki, A Legend Lost

It's been almost a month (2-27-18) since he passed, but I would be remiss not to mention Ben Oki.

Ted Matson had this to say:

Sorry to announce the passing of Ben Oki this Friday from a heart attack. We lost a great American bonsai master who faithfully served in the shadow of his sensei, John Naka, but was a top artist in his own right with a sense of style and technical skill that made huge impact in more ways than we all realize. I know that he was very influential in my bonsai career and it’s a personal honor to help carry on his legacy at The Huntington.”

When I heard of Ben's passing, I wanted to include some things in this issue, you may not have known about him. In addition to bonsai, Ben was admired and was in high demand worldwide as a Japanese Garden designer, especially for his use of stones in his compositions.

Every year, when he was on tour, Floridians signed up well in advance for his workshops. In addition to touring the state, he always made time to visit and work with prisoners in Stark, Florida.

A recent post on Facebook by Rob Kempinski:

"In his long and productive life, Ben did so much for bonsai in his own humble way. He was born in the USA when his dad was working here, but moved back to Japan before World War II. Incredibly, he lived in Hiroshima and was fishing on a river away from town and managed to survive the atomic blast. His brother did not."

Ben’s 35-year-old hackberry displayed at the Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection

'Rest in Peace Ben'


Why Do We Repot Bonsai?

Yes, certainly to keep the tree healthy, but also to keep the pot in one piece!

Fast growing trees, such as Ficus have the ability to fill a container quickly and cause them to break easily, especially during repotting. The heavily rooted Magnolia shown here, has cracked the blue pot. You can actually see the roots.

Read Bonsai Pots Article

Something from Nothing

Newcomers to bonsai may have a hard time imagining what to do with a Crabapple 'stump.'

Zack Smith at Bonsai South is an expert at making something from almost nothing. In this case, he had a good trunk and knew just what to do with it.

Whether digging in the wild or shopping at a plant nursery, always look at the trunk first and add your imagination!

Bonsai Myths (More)

The thinking is, supposedly the sunlight is magnified by the water drop on the leaf and causes it to burn.

This is one we only have to think about briefly. Do daytime rains burn leaves? What about "sun shiny showers"?

I put this on my list of more bonsai myths that are hard to imagine how they got started.

According to Robert Cox, Horticulture Agent, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension ... "The root of this notion may have come from the effects of applying poor-quality water high in dissolved salts. As water drops evaporated from leaves, the salts left behind could cause a leaf burn."

It is highly unlikely this will ever be your bonsai problem.

See Favorite Bonsai Myths


BonsaiMary Gets Mail

Graham G. "Probably the best, no nonsense bonsai site I've found. Well done for being informative, simple and proving your objective is to just help people in this hobby. Bravo.

Thanks Graham, kudos like this encourage me to keep going!



Ray M - Missouri, USA Asked about how to develop the trunk of his Royal Poinciana growing in Missouri.

Reply: This will most likely be a disappointing response. The Delonix regina (Royal Poincianna) is a tropical tree. It takes a long time, in its native environment, to develop a large trunk, even in the ground. In a clay pot in Missouri, indoors half a year .... it's unlikely to happen.

The only place I've ever seen this plant as a bonsai, is online from Puerto Rico. In the islands they grow wild and for bonsai they dig up old trees and cut them severely to develop bonsai. Another thing to think about is, what looks like branches are really leaves. Like all leaves, they do not stay green forever. When a leaf drops, it can change the shape of this little tree.

The truth is ... this is not a subject I would recommend for bonsai (unless you move to the islands.) Congratulations on keeping it alive.

Sorry to disappoint you. Here is a conversation about the difficulties of growing poinciana as bonsai.

The Poinciana bonsai project IBC


Until Next Month

Bryan L. - Franklin WI Milwaukee Bonsai Society would like to discuss you coming up and do a talk for us.

Mary R. - Bluffton, SC Do you still lecture?

My Reply:

To Bryan, Mary and many others ... I'm sorry, I no longer travel for bonsai. I'm totally retired from the art, except for my BonsaiMary site ... which does not mean I'm not busy. Retirement has me busier than I ever imagined.

I live in a delightful small town in Central Florida, and have never been happier.

Thank you so much for considering me.

Mary Miller

Contact Bonsai Mary

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