Board to Bonsai Tray

To convert the old surfboard, I used:

  1. Fiberglass repair kit
  2. Builders bog
  3. Sandstone paint
  4. Casting resin
  5. Stain/tint for resin

As mentioned in the June 2020 newsletter, I wanted to convert an old surfboard for use as a base for the landscape. I did this for several reasons. First, I have seen this done before and liked the idea. Second, I found an old surfboard in a Council Clean-up. Third, I wanted to evoke the coast and thought a surfboard appropriate. I began by laying out the landscape to get an idea of where everything would be placed. This allowed me to determine the final shape and size of the base I wanted.

Initial layout

On laying things out, I noticed that the centre ridge of the surfboard made the surface uneven and prevented my ceramic rocks from sitting flat therefore it needed to be filled in. While recognisable, I didn’t want the base to just look like a covered surfboard as that would take away from the landscape aesthetic so I decided to remove both board ends. This broke the surfboard shape, allowed for removal of the most curved parts of the board and removed one of the fins. I then cut down the two remaining fins to provide a stable base.

Surfboard after cutting down and roughing up

Next, I roughed up the surface of the board to get a better adhesion. I resealed the cut ends with fiberglass to keep it waterproof. After allowing it to dry overnight, I started filling in the hollows with builder’s bog. I needed 2 large tins of bog to flatten the top surface and cover over the sharp cut ends.

Side cut and initial fill with builders bog

I applied the bog in several layers, plaining and sanding back, to level and smooth. At the same time, I left a depression at the front corner of the deck to eventually fill with transparent blue resin evoking a bay. 

Once I had the base suitably flat, I started applying sandstone paint (largely sand mixed with a fixer). It took several coats and a couple of tins of paint to get the coverage and smoothness I was after.

The last thing I tried was the resin casting to create the illusion of the water’s edge. To do this I built up a temporary wall around the edge of the board where I wanted the water to go. I then created a sealed area to cast by lining the wall and hollowed out depression in corner of the board with plastic wrap. I mixed the casting resin with a bit of blue colour and then added the hardener. Finally, I poured the cast. I apparently added too little hardener as what was supposed to harden in a couple of hours took about a week.

Once hardened, I lifted the plastic wrap from the board, checked that it was fully dry and peeled off as much of the plastic film mould as possible. As my mould wasn’t perfect and a bit of the casting solution leaked through my mould, I needed to clean up the edge of the board with a bit more sandstone paint. I am also planning on trimming back and sanding the edge of the casting to give it a more finished look. As the water draining from the planter has left a stain, I am planning to recoat and reseal the board one more time before more permanently affixing the resin ‘bay’. 

Bonsai Landscape – South Coast Dreaming 

Melaleuca Bonsai – Rags to Riches

I have written this story to encourage others to give natives a go because in a relatively short space of time you can convert a nursery stock plant to a tree worth putting on the bench and in a competition.

I purchased a Melaleuca Styphiloides stock plant in May 2017 from Bonsai World in Jilliby. I could see potential in the tree because it already had a good sized trunk with a strong bend in it a few centimetres from the base.

Melaleuca Styphiloides Bonsai
Melaleuca Styphiloides – May 2017

I cut the tree a couple of centimetres above the bend of the trunk leaving only a couple of shoots below. I also shortened the root system by about half using a knife the slice across the root ball. Although melaleuca species a generally very robust, I always develop my natives in stages not doing too much to them sat any one time. I then planted the tree in a generous training pot using a good native bonsai soil mix. The mix I used was that recommended by the Victorian Native Bonsai Club (2 parts diatomite, 1 part mini pine bark, ¾ choir peat, ½ perlite).

The plant responded well over the next year I began shaping the branches and cut back the foliage.

Melaleuca Bonsai October 2018
Melaleuca – October 2018

When I went to repot the tree, I found that the whole pot was full of tiny roots but basically none of the tree had developed any decent nebari. I changed the potting mix – replacing the diatomite with pumice and the
perlite with vermiculite and let the tree grow on.

By March of 2019, two years after purchase, the tree was now ready to be put into a bonsai pot and I found “just the one” at the Auburn AusMarket sales.

Though the tree was now sitting better in the right sized pot, the soil area near the base of the tree still looked like a “lump.” I excavated the soil and fine roots hoping to find some larger roots to expose.

Despite this, I decided to enter the tree in the Royal Easter Show in the section natives (other than fig) over 400mm. I managed a second and I was really stoked.

Melaleuca Bonsai - April 2019
April 2019, Two years after styling, my Melaleuca is
now bench-able.

The tree is still very young and has a way to go. It needs to have the nebari further developed and its foliage needs to be refined and cut a little closer in. So give a native a go – they grow fast; the can get results in a relatively short time and are really rewarding.

Azalea carving starts

Azalea – carving by Lee

In our October newsletter, Lee has provided an excellent article on the principles of good carving and how to get started. Follow the amazing transformation of her subject, an azalea, where one side of the trunk and branches had died and badly needed to be naturalized.

An ability to carve realistically can serve a bonsai artist well. It can also become an interesting facet to working with bonsai by utilising carving skills on different media to enhance an appearance of age or minimise an unsightly part of the tree.

Major reasons to carve, beyond the sheer fun of it, would be to:

  • Minimise or beautify damaged areas on the tree
  • Minimise or beautify branch stubs
  • Increase the character of a tree
  • Eliminate a fault, such as reverse taper
  • Moderate the direction of jin so it flows with the tree.

Three rules for carving

  • Rule one – the work must be natural. It must never look man-made
  • Rule two – It must tell a story. You don’t carve to carve but to enhance some aspect of the tree and that aspect must be in line with the individual tree as well as the natural environment it would live in and possible damages it would incur.
  • Rule three – You must remove all traces of your work so the carved areas look weathered by wind, rain and other elements. Any trace of man’s hand and it is wrong. This includes round holes, straight lines, symmetry and other aspects that simply would not happen in nature. Read full article here
azalea - carving
Azalea – The trunk of this azalea has been carved to naturalise two large branch stumps left when large branches died.
Nakajima tilting pot

Shinichi Nakajima restyles Juniper at 2014 AABC/BCI Conference – Gold Coast

Shinichi-san was born in 1948. He is the second Nakajima generation of Bonsai Masters and operates his own bonsai nursery in Tokyo. He has travelled all around the world to share his bonsai knowledge as the official representative of the Nippon Bonsai Association. He is the former President of “The Nippon Bonsai Growers Group.”

This type of tree is not upright, it normally grows horizontally. Therefore it can become an umbrella shape with a lot of die-back on the inside. With a juniper it is easy to develop branches but getting a good trunk is not easy.

Advanced Juniper at commencement of restyle
Advanced Juniper at commencement of restyle

This tree must be raised up. The front part of the tree the trunk is a bit curvy but it would be nice if it had more curves.

Mr Nakajima’s image is a windswept style. In dealing with this type of tree instead of removing all the unwanted branches I can leave some to be used as jin. This will give a very strong impression and age the tree. The tree has a lot of dead branchlets so these are being removed.

I cut a lot of long branches but some I have left for jin. If the branch is alive it is easy to strip off the bark. If it is dead it is much harder. With jinning pliers squeeze around the branch to loosen the bark and then strip it off.

Mr Nakajima prefers to use only a little wire so if the branch is thick or well set he will not wire. He wraps the wire gently around the branch, always gentle so as not to damage the tree.

tilting Juniper to sow trunk potential
The potential for a windswept style and beautiful trunk is shown by raising up the tree.

If you try to make one branch as a big item it can become like a fan. It is better to make a big branch of overlapping small fans. The way of thinking that there is a big branch with small branches inside is wrong. The correct philosophy is that a bunch of small branches make up a big branch. Make small fans and the combination of small fans will make a big fan and many of these will make a branch.

Junipers tend to have downward growing branches so they are to be raised.

In Japan the wire would be left on for one year so the tree would go through the four seasons. In Australia maybe more than one year for wire is better. It depends on the tree. If the branch goes down it takes longer for the wire to be effective.

This Juniper restyling is now almost finished.
This Juniper restyling is now almost finished.

This is the tree after its first styling in this new concept. It needs to recover and fill out and then more refinement will be done.

Mr Nakajima approach to restyling this juniper was beautiful to behold and once again great care was taken not to over reduce the foliage so the tree will survive. In its next styling more refinement will be achieved and in two or so years it will be a fine bonsai.

Melaleuca linariifolia

Successfully growing Australian native bonsai

“There is a question that continually crops up in bonsai talks…. Can you bonsai Australian natives?

The answer is a big, fat YES. Aussie natives make fantastic, rewarding bonsai as long as they are treated the way Aussie natives like to be treated”. Lee has been successfully growing Australian native bonsai for many years and spoke at a recent SCBC meeting. The featured image above, a Coastal Tea Tree (Leptospermum laevigatum)is one of Lee’s Australian native bonsai.

Yes, they grow in a sunburned country but a lot of them like a LOT of water and it is often necessary to keep some species in water trays, especially in the summer. Yes, you can go to a nursery and see a native that is in very dry soil and growing. But the question is:-how well is it growing and how well do you want it to grow? If you want the tree to put out a lot of foliage to give you styling options and develop ramification it is preferable to treat it well and that treatment includes very moist soil for a lot of the varieties.

Coastal tee tree, Leptospermum laevigatum
Coastal tee tree, Leptospermum laevigatum

Melaleucas, banksias, callistemon, leptospermum, water gums (Tristaniopsis laurina), baeckea, casuarinas, ficus, and kunzea all like moist soil. Most grow their roots down to the water table and while the area they grow in may appear dry they aren’t.

I keep my melaleucas, baeckea, banksia and water gums in water trays 24/7, only taking them out in periods of heavy rain. The water trays are low so the water just comes above the base of the pot. This has never been detrimental to these species. It can cause moss to develop on the trunk and this has to be removed – which can be a problem in paperbark or heavily fissured bark. It is a delicate balancing act to keep the water up and the moss down but natives as bonsai are worth the effort.

Styling, well Japanese styling is pretty much out for natives. Happily the bonsai world is moving to a more natural styling rather than the seriously stylized shapes that have been popular. It is important to see how the tree grows in its natural habitat and refine the growth so it is artistically realistic. Creating a bonsai ‘a la naturelle’ is not on as our trees tend to have a raggedy growth pattern. Judicious branch selection and pruning can bring that into line with bonsai ideals and the tree’s growth preferences.

It is important to keep in mind when styling that a lot of Australia species have a very fine growth style with open spaces and a sparsity of foliage due to the nature of their environment. When trees are being developed to benching status a more open foliage canopy is the way to go rather than having tightly packed foliage.

Melaleuca linariifolia "Snow in Summer"
Melaleuca linariifolia “Snow in Summer”

Speaking personally, it is very easy to get a solid crown on melaleucas, baeckeas, banksias and leptospermums but lightening and opening up the crown brings a greater feeling of the Australian bush to the tree.

Check out the SCBC July 2014 newsletter for more information on how to care for Australian Native bonsai as well as some common pests and diseases.

Bonsai expert, Brenda Parker, talks on how to grow and care for azalea bonsai


Azalea bonsai expert, Brenda ParkerThe June SCBC newsletter features azalea bonsai expert, Brenda Parker.

The word ‘rhododendron’, loosely translated means ‘rose tree. Azaleas, rhododendrons and vireyas (tropical types) are all classed and known under the one family name – rhododendrons, and botanically there is no difference between them.  They originated in China, the Himalayan Mountains and the cooler parts of south Asia and the first noted record of these plants dates back to 400 BC.

Cultivating Azalea Bonsai by Brenda Parker

These cultural notes have been prepared based on what I do in my situation, but there may be some adjustments you may have to do in your space, and only by trial and error and understanding how they grow and their simple requirements.

SOIL – Bonsai potting mix broken down with sharp river sand to make it very porous to allow oxygen to reach the roots.  Forget using potting mixes with added peat moss if you have a watering system as the peat stays too moist and the soil then becomes rancid causing root rot.  If you do use peat-based mixes in bonsai pots and forget to water a few days, the peat becomes very hard and will not allow water to penetrate to reach the roots and when the fine azalea roots dry out it means trouble.  Maybe in a large garden pot it could be alright, but I am a bit wary in small pots.  Remember they grow in well drained soil on mountain slopes in the wild only protected by decaying leaf litter.

FERTILIZER – Azaleas require an acid soil and after they have settled down after repotting. See the SCBC June Newsletter for detailed information on the types of fertiliser successfully used by Brenda in the Sydney region of Australia.

PEST AND DISEASES – I am still of the belief that if the soil is perfect the tree is healthy, but there is always that chance that these bugs come along to spoil your day.

When the weather starts to warm up (about mid September), I spray the underside and top of the leaves with Confidor or Sharp Shooter and continue to do this again in about mid October and then again in late December. This is a systemic spray to abate the red spider and lace bug that like to gnaw at the under surface of the leaves resulting in the leaves getting a ‘silver’ appearance.  It looks unsightly but it will not harm the tree.  When the new growth appears these old leaves usually are shed and are renewed all over again, but for displaying purposes, you would not display a tree in this condition.

Once the flowers emerge there is a fungal disease that makes the flowers wilt and turn very mushy.  It is called petal blight and spraying with Bayleton at the time you start to see colour in the buds is a good time to stop or reduce it.  This fungus attacks the base of the flower where the petals join the calyx and it is advisable to remove these damaged flowers and dispose of in the garbage bin, not in the compost bin, otherwise the problem will be compounded next year.  When azaleas are in flower it is advisable only to water the soil level only and not the flowers, and usually when they are in flower my watering system is usually turned off.

Chlorosis is a condition where the leaves usually turn yellow with very defined green veins which indicate a lack of iron and/or magnesium.  As the deficiency of iron or magnesium is hard to detect, mix 1oz. of iron sulphate (or iron chelates) and 1 oz. of magnesium sulphate (Epsom salts) in 5 litres of water and apply over foliage and soil surface.


IMG_4476 Brenda's talk cropped 222x300
Only wire on flexible branches as azalea branches are brittle



STYLING – Azalea branches are very brittle and snap very easily.  I only put wire on very flexible branches and then I put it on very loosely as they mark very easily.  If a branch does snap (not completely off), use it to your advantage and tape over with sealant and then grafting tape – they heal really well. This is a unique way to make bends in a somewhat straight branch.





IMG_4472 Brenda repotting azalea cropped 297x300
Azaleas can be repotted any time of the year because of their fibrous root system


REPOTTING – You can repot an azalea at any time of the year even in full flower because of the fibrous root system.  After repotting place the tree in a cool position and keep moist but not wet.  A dose of Seasol helps with the disturbance of the roots.  Ideally the best time to repot is after flowering in spring.  I never add fertilizer when repotting only after when I can see new growth appearing.  Only apply Osmocote on the soil surface and not under the tree in the pot.  Azaleas are surface rooted and surface feeders and it will be only wasted out of the drainage holes.


PRUNING – Pruning is always carried out after flowering as with all other trees.  If pruning is not carried out after every flowering, the natural growth habit of azaleas is that they get very leggy with foliage mainly at the tips.  Tip pruning is continually carried out right up until Christmas and no later than to the end of January, as this is the time when buds are starting to form for the next flowering season.  Remember to also remove any seed heads as this will weaken your tree.

PROPAGATION – The usual applies to azaleas, seeds (not common), cuttings, aerial layers, ground layering and of course dig-ups from old gardens or demolition sites, grafting etc.  Cuttings are easy to strike and usually are taken in late December  to early February, about 6-10cms long with only the leaves left at the tip, placed in a mix of very sandy soil and lots crammed into a 10cm pot, watered and kept in a very damp and semi shaded spot in a fern or shade house.  I don’t usually cover the cuttings with a plastic bag as my shade house is always damp and humid and my success rate is very high.

POTSThese are usually deeper than most and coloured to compliment the flowers.  Remember that deep pots drain better than shallow pots.

I hope that my experience with azaleas will entice you to try some for yourselves and I am sure with great success.  They are such a diverse group of plants that you will be enthralled with them for many years.





Lots of interest and questions at SCBC Easter Show bonsai stand

IMG_4457 Phil at RAS
Phil in action at Royal Easter Show

Thanks to Vice-President Sue’s organisation and effort, the Sydney City Bonsai stand at the RAS was a great success. Each day SCBC club volunteers and some volunteers from the Bonsai Society of Australia ensured that members of the public showing an interest in bonsai could stop, look, have a chat and ask questions about the art of bonsai.

 Generally people were fascinated and impressed by the beauty and age of the trees. This year we had a bonsai “workshop” section and “jaws did drop” when Lee cut off a main branch of a tea tree (about 1/3 of the tree) demonstrating the importance of creating a plausible natural “story” in the bonsai styling process. We continued to be amazed by the questions people asked. Questions like: Do you have to water it?| Can you grow bonsai under water? Why do you do wire therapy? Do you have to water them all of the time? I was told you can revive a dead bonsai- Is that true? I thought bonsai, being small delicate plants should be kept indoors all of the time – Is that right? Bonsai clubs certainly do have a role to play in educating people about how to develop and care for bonsai trees.