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Developing and correcting a Shohin bonsai

Patience with bonsai is a well known subject. Developing a Shohin bonsai through 14 years pays off when the plan is right. I always lowed the rough bark at the Cork bark elm, Ulmus parvifolia Corticosa.  It was mainly because of this feature I back in 2005 bought this small tree. Since then I carefully developed it.

Originally I just wanted to make a better ramification and add a more interesting feature to the tree. Changing it from a mass produced broom style tree, to a tree with its own characteristics.

2005. The pre-bonsai material as it looked when I purchased it.

Changing style and opinion

The first long time project was to thicken up some of the lower branches especially. To add the aged appearance of a tree with thick lower branches, tapering towards the top of the tree. As well as tapering at each branch. Always having in mind that a branch is thickest at the base and slowly tapers towards the end. Adding a natural appearance.

In 2006. One year after the first initial styling.

Correcting a fault

At the first stages I created the tree as informal upright tree. At that time a lower first branch was right and an important feature of the tree.

After some time I decided to change the tree into a more leaning positing, giving it more interest. Keeping the lower branch in the new position proved to be a mistake. I fell in love with the lower branch dropping down created at the earlier stages of the training. I always fancied this feature at another three. At a Juniperus chinensis where I developed the same key feature. Working very well at that specimen.


2010. After five years training, developing the main branch at the left.

The fault at the Cork bark elm, is that it simply isn’t a realistic feature. A low branch beneath the canopy will be shaded out and die eventually. Maybe not at a bonsai where the light reaches the inside, but we have to keep in mind that it is resembling a large tree in nature. In nature such a branch will rarely survive. Therefore its doesnt work and I decided to remove it after some considerations.

2018. Ulmus parvifolia `Corticosa` with the lower branch still in place.

Achieving a simplified and much more harmonic result. Shohin bonsai is, due to their small size, always presenting the tree in a more simplified and suggestive manner, than when designing larger bonsai. Still it is of importance to keep the natural large tree in mind when styling the bonsai.

Bonsai is an ongoing learning experience, and trees develops and changes constantly. Mostly for the better. 🙂


Shohin bonsai preparations and Vlog 17

Slowly the autumn moves forward. Temperatures drops and it is time to stop feeding the trees. I remove all used organic fertilizers at this time to let the trees slowly slow down and get ready for dormancy.

Japanese maple in autumn clothes.

Deciduous trees will slowly turn their leaves into brilliant autumn colors when it gets colder. Autumn is  great pleasure for me. I enjoy the silence and fresh air.

Bonsai Radio Show

Less silent was Monday morning. This week I went to a national Radio broadcaster to record three episodes for a Japanese culture show running 3 hours every Sunday morning. In Danish only, so i am sorry I can’t share it with you. But we talked about bonsai as culture, how to care for a bonsai, exhibitions and much more. Although  48 minutes seems very short. I had so much more to say 😀  For Danish readers it is available live from Sunday 13th between 09:00-10:00 or as podcast at

Morten Albek (left) with Radio presenter Kristian Ditlev Jensen. Official photo: Radio24syv


Finally the newest Vlog 17. Watch it here 🙂


New bonsai book. Shohin – Through the seasons.

The English and french version of the new book “Shohin – Through the Seasons” is now ready for preorders for the English and French language. The book is launched in February 2020.

It has been a great pleasure writing a new book, after my first Shohin – Majesty in miniature was sold out a long time ago.

Four chapters

The book has four main chapters, each dealing with the seasons; spring, summer, winter and autumn. Taking care of the trees, techniques and styling. Each chapter ends with the the display of the season, and how to display Shohin bonsai.

The book is now ready for pre orders in English and French language. 

Order your book today and save 30%

English edition can be ordered here: 

French language – Language francaise:


New Shohin bonsai book on its way

It’s a great pleasure to announce that I have e new Shohin bonsai book on the desk soon. At the Trophy in Genk last year the publishers of the Esprit Bonsai asked me if we could do a reprint of my first book. Originally published by Stone Lantern in 2008. I was really not in the mood for a reprise. So many new things to tell, and is was though more than ten years ago it was published. There would be a need for some updates.

Shohin bonsai seasons

After one day of thinking I returned and asked if we could do a totally new book instead. And Michéle from Esprit Bonsai agreed immediately. Therefore I have used most of the time since then to write a lot of new material and some rewriting of the parts needed to be covered again.

The book follows the four seasons and in each chapter there is a lot of basic and advanced growing advices and examples. As well as each chapter finishes with explanations on displaying Shohin bonsai.

I will keep you updated as soon as preorders, prices and so on are in place. That will be soon. I look so much forward to see it in print.

The book will be released February 2020 and available at the Trophy too.

Here a few photos that (maybe) will be included.

Have a great Sunday.


Shohin Bonsai talk at the Trophy

At the Trophy in Genk, Belgium, I made a talk about Shohin Bonsai. Invited by Bonsai Empire who set up a fine event with several bonsai artists. Please enjoy. If you want to sign up for the Shohin course at Bonsai Empire you can do it here: Bonsai Empire Shohin lectures.

Larrys bonsai visit

Yesterday we had visitors from over there. Larry and Rose Benjamin made a stop at Kisetsu-en, making a bonsai visit before continuing their Scandinavian round tour. Always a great pleasure having people around and making new friends.

Larry Benjamin talking with Johnny Eslykke.

Larry and Rose

We had a great time strolling around the garden talking bonsai. Rose joined my wife and talked gardening and art. Meanwhile Larry and I videotaped a presentation of the garden for the local bonsai club.

As usual I make a presentation at the garden Tokonoma, as well as in the house. Respecting and celebrating guests.

Trident maple, Acer buergerianum.

Afterwards we moved on making a visit at my friend Johnny Eslykkes garden.

In the afternoon Rose and Larry returned for dinner and much more talking. Until they both were too tired and needed a nap before they continued their holiday tour. Maybe we will meet again in the US later on. A nice day with some great people.

Kisetsu-en garden, Morten Albek.

Two galleries below. First one is from my garden, Kisetsu-en. Second gallery is from the garden of Johnny Eslykke.

Gallery – Kisetsu-en, Morten Albek

Gallery – Johnny Eslykke

Annual bonsai event in Denmark

The annual bonsai event at the Danish Bonsai Society took place with Samba rhythms outside. More quit inside among bonsai in a rustique environment, at the cultural center Nordkraft in Aalborg. A great event with a lot of enthusiasm.

Yannick Kiggen

Yannick Kiggen from Belgium, giving lectures and a workshop with a lot of valuable information for the participants. Great value for everybody. A big thank you to Yannick for friendly and supporting spirit.

The exhibition improves every year, and showed a lot of new great bonsai.

Morten Albek confirmed as new Chairman

I was elected as the new Chairman of the Danish Bonsai Society, and I will do my very best to bring us forward. There are a lot of things to do, and I believe we, the board and I, can improve and serve our dedicated members improving the association. I hope we will receive more new members and recognition for the long time dedicated work on which we are founded.

Bonsai has a long tradition in our country. In 2021 we will celebrate our 40 year jubilee, and I look forward to prepare this and much more. Although in Danish, you might want to check out our website at

Age pays off

Bonsai is age, and long time dedicated work. One of our local long time members have grown a small leafed Elm for thirty years. Started from a small cutting Johan Bentsen have grow a beautiful bonsai with love and care. Well deserved first prize and public prize for this majestic bonsai.



Burning bonsai

Kill your darlings is an old saying, when you have to discard something you love.

I had to kill my old established award-winning Juniper, Juniperus procumbens. I have grown it from an ordinary nursery stock for more than 17 years.

It became heavily infected by the Cedar-Hawthorn Rust Gall fungus years ago. Unfortunately impossible to cure when first infected as much as this tree. You might be lucky at very early stages removing the infected branches. Cleaning the tools with spirit and destroying the branches by burning them, is essential to avoid spreading the fungus further.

Fatal fungal attack

The Juniper do not suffer much from the fungal attack, but branches do swell up around the area where the fungus grows. It is hidden most of the year underneath the bark, and shows up when spring temperatures increases and in rainy weather. If removed quickly the damages can be reduced some, but not fully. It might even not be visible for a long period if foliage can hide the attacked area. Or it might ruin the design totally.

I tried to remove all possible attacked branches last year and jinned those. A new design was necessary to develop a future bonsai.

What happened was, that the fungus, obviously at sleep at other part of the tree, just popped up at new places.

It smashed all my plans of recovery and a new design. Only one way to go now for more reasons.

I also didn’t want to risk the fungus spreading to my other Juniper bonsai. And I most certainly did not want to spread the fungus to other peoples bonsai. The risk is minimal when the fungus is asleep, but you might carry on some spores. One or the other way. Having workshops in my garden also would endanger students trees getting infected.

The bon(sai)fire

The design and future of the tree was ruined, so I decided to burn the tree to get rid of the problem. A necessary sacrifice.

Burning is the only way to be one hundred percent sure, that the fungus is gone. Putting the tree at the compost is no go. The fungus can be asleep for years and turn up again, spreading it spores, finding new hosts for its life. Also do not put it in the garbage bin, or at the junkyard. It doesn’t remove the fungus, just relocates it.

Well. Shit happens. Kill your darlings, and move on. Other trees are now safe and sound.

I used the rest of the fire, to put in two fresh rolls of copper wire needing to be annealed. Making use of what was gone.


Private bonsai visits

One of my favourite things to do, is paying private bonsai visits at friends. Without needing to do anything else than relax and do some bonsai talk among other things.

Crataegus, Hawthorn.

Yesterday I had two hours spare time in between actions, and called Martin Nielsen who lived nearby. I am not that often in the area, but luckily he was home and had a little time. I enjoy these private conversations and strolling around the garden, picking up tips and stories about trees. Martin has a great collection of trees, and a lot of good material in development. He enjoys bringing simple garden and Yamadori material to a high quality. With long termed planning and patient steady work stunning results are achieved.

The only thing that stopped the talk after two hours time, was a car with new summer tires and me going back to an art exhibition where my wife have a vernissage (today). Here some snapshots from the short but very nice visit.


Mistakes are the key to success

The past weekend I enjoyed doing Shohin workshops and a bonsai demo in Poland.

Teaching brings great joy when students are engaged and wants to learn. Bringing forward the level of bonsai relies on good students asking lots of questions. I have now gathered knowledge through 25 years of mistakes growing bonsai. And mistakes are one of the keys to learn.

Without mistakes no progress.

And I am still eager to learn more. Every year adds new layers of knowledge and new directions. With time errors are less.

Mistakes are the key to success

If we don’t fail we do not know the limits. Growing bonsai very much has to do with knowing the limitations of techniques different species can take, and when to apply them. How hard can a branch be bent on a Junipers or a Hawthorn? When to do it?What time of the year is it appropriate to repot? And so on.

Some of this is learned through books, videos or by teachers at workshops. At the end of the day there is only one way of learning the last bit. By practising by trial and error. Naturally always trying to limit failures as much as possible.

Keep on trying and learning brings joy when I see the results of my efforts improving my trees. Little by little.


The most valuable lesson I have learned up till now is patience. Throughout the past 25 years I have learned all kinds of styling and growing techniques. But time is what really builds a beautiful bonsai. The obvious part of time is of course the slow development of branches over the years, finally reaching a stage where detailed ramification is the result of patient work and techniques applied. But time also matters in other aspects of bonsai growing.

The aging of bark at trunks, and even at thinner branches, is part of time just passing by. Aged surface roots making these look old and sturdy takes time. Same with the aging of deadwood. No matter how clever one is with powertools or carving by hand, the last detailed aging and naturalness is only created by time passing. The fine fissures and cracks developed by deadwood heated up by the sun, frozen wood during winter, wetted by rain, and drying up again is what really matters. And here you can only wait. Letting time do its work.

Marek Gajda (left) and Mark Moreland at the studio of Ogrody Bonsai.

At the workshop a lot of new material was started, and established trees improved. As with the demonstration trees, they have all just started their journey. Many years of reworking and changes will happen. Thank you all who took part, asked and listened. It was a great joy being with you.

Below some very nice pictures from the demo and workshop in Ogrody Green Day´s in Poland. Send to me by the very kind Ming and Mark Moreland from the UK, who visited the event. 

Photos: Ming and Mark Moreland.


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