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1994: First tree. First show. First kid.
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I was first exposed to bonsai in 1991 during a visit to my high school friend’s house about 10 years after we graduated and escaped the Detroit suburbs. The first thing he did (even before getting me a beer) was show me his bonsai collection, which included a San Jose juniper that had recently won a blue ribbon at the Wisconsin State Fair.  I said, “That’s cool…and so where’s the beer?” 

While that was my first exposure to bonsai, my first interest in bonsai was about 6 months later when I was back at home in Boulder, CO when it hit me, “Wait a minute, that was really cool!!” From that point on both me and my wallet were hooked on bonsai, for better and worse, respectively.  Even without the internet I quickly found the Rocky Mountain Bonsai Society (RMBS), After attending their beginner workshop series, I displayed my first tree (procumbens nana) in the 1994 RMBS annual show (see photo). 

Shortly after that show, my personal and professional lives became a bit of an entangled odyssey with jobs in San Luis Obispo, Grenoble (France), Tucson, Boulder (again), Santa Barbara, Boulder (again), and finally Santa Barbara (again) in 2017.  While all that made for something vaguely resembling a career, it wasn’t conducive to building my bonsai collection. As a result, I have started/restarted my collection 4 ½ times, over the last 28 years. Unfortunately, the last ½ time is currently underway as I am finding I can’t keep my alpine yamadori pines and spruces healthy here, even

1994: First tree. First show. First kid.

if I winter them over at higher elevations. 

Over the last 28 years, I have been lucky to study under some great teachers (Larry Jackel (RMBS), the late Stan Thomas (Morro Bay), and now Ryan Neil (Bonsai Mirai), as well as make many friends through clubs like RMBS, Bonsai Club du Gresivaudan, Tucson Bonsai Society, and now the Bonsai Club of Santa Barbara.

I mostly work on junipers, including some Rocky Mountain Junipers that don’t mind their retirement in Santa Barbara.  I also have a few ficuses, which I haven’t been able to kill yet despite trying really hard. I’m still desperately trying to learn how to keep any pine other than a ponderosa alive for more than a few years. 

I look forward to working with Allan, the club officers, and all members to help the club overcome the logistical challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has rudely thrown at us. For starters we are looking into ways to have engaging virtual monthly meetings and demonstrations in 2021 at least until we can all meet safely in the same room. We will also be exploring alternatives (maybe an outdoor show) for safely holding our annual exposition in 2021. Some of the longer-term initiatives I would like to pursue include expanding our list of guest artists and workshop instructors, and growing the club’s membership and participation, as well as its diversity, in all senses of the word.  

Remember, “Bonsai hard! Water soft.”   Jeff


I was aware of bonsai at a young age, probably from the popularity of the Karate Kid movie and the availability of those small “mallsai” juniper bonsai (which I, of course, killed immediately by trying to grow them indoors). Growing up on the Great Plains in Central Kansas certainly didn’t afford me any opportunities to see actual bonsai, but I was always intrigued by its similarity to the cattle-pruned and stunted trees that I would see in the pastures. These trees, especially the elms, had the most amazing branch ramification and tiny leaves after repeated grazings. It wasn’t until 2009 and my first stable, post-college job that I really had the time and resources to start learning about bonsai. Fortunately, by this time there were also starting to be more bonsai resources on the internet. I was also lucky that a bonsai grower had recently relocated to a nearby town and started having workshops. My first class, of which I could only afford 1 day, was actually taught by Boon Manakitivipart at a workshop in the middle of Kansas. I only notched one winter under my belt before we moved from Kansas to the comparative bonsai-mecca of Southern California. Since then I’ve advanced my knowledge and skills with the help of our Club’s members and instructors, online courses, and volunteering at the GSBF/Huntington Garden bonsai collection. Currently, some of my favorite trees to work on and grow are the Coast Redwood, Olive, Japanese Black Pine, Oaks, Ficus, and the Osage Orange (Maclura pomifera). Obviously, our big challenge for 2021 is continuing to keep people engaged and developing their skills despite not being able to meet in person. I believe we can make the most of the situation by using it as an opportunity to use technology and remote video meetings to access bonsai professionals from other parts of the country and possibly even the world. I hope that this Spring and Summer, if it can be done safely, we might be able to set up some outdoor events such as a workshop or field trip to a bonsai nursery. I also look forward to the time when we can safely restart in-person meetings, whenever that time comes.     Allan


Bonsai Club of Santa Barbara turns 50 years old in 2021! Wally Kunimoto, still one of our most active members, is largely responsible for its formation as a result of his efforts in bringing John Naka to Santa Barbara to conduct workshops. The club has always been a remarkable organization: we have a history of presenting interesting programs and attracting many of California’s best bonsai masters as guest instructors, our annual show has always been a very professional event, and our members are always a nice group of people.

2020 has not been a good year on many fronts, but I’m optimistic that 2021 will turn out much better. For starters, we now have a full slate of capable officers for the new year. You may recall that as of last month we did not have a candidate for Club Secretary, but Wally Kunimoto has volunteered for the job. As anticipated, there were no objections to the proposed candidates so now I can say it’s official that club officers for 2021 will be: President Jeff Sczechowski, Vice President Allan Hemmy, Treasurer Carol Hicks, Secretary Wally Kunimoto, Newsletter Editor and Webmaster Ernie Witham, Show Chair Ann Erb, Workshops and Programs Steve Gibson, Librarian Susanne Barrymore (who, by the way, is another charter member). Thanks to all of you. 

Also, thank you to outgoing club officers Tina Hammond, John Bleck, and Anna Baker for your service.

This is my last President’s Message. I have enjoyed being Club President for the last four years, but now I’m looking forward to a smooth and amicable transfer of power (such as it is) on January 1 to the new team of Jeff and Allan.

Happy 50th, BCSB!      Joe


I started this Valley Oak from an acorn in 1992. Over the years the trunk developed a nice base but I was never able to train the upper part of the tree into a pleasing shape, so it was evident that something drastic finally had to be done. After much twisting, turning, and tilting of the tree while trying to envision what it might look like in various configurations I decided to get rid of the whole ugly upper part, keeping only the first branch and rotating the tree about 45 degrees for a new front. I’m not sure what to call the style of the tree, but it now has a nice taper and the one remaining branch has an interesting shape. I didn’t think to take a picture before topping the tree, so I asked my able assistant to hold the severed portion in place for a “before” picture. Now, if I can just find a suitable pot.   Joe


This trident maple was started from a cutting that I got at our Tuesday night club meeting after I retired. So that was 18 years ago. I just kept transplanting into larger and larger nursery containers for a few years. At one of our workshops I asked Susanne if I could defoliate and transplant it. Maybe it was in the July/early Aug. time frame. She said if it was healthy, it should be OK. She also remarked that I could severe the roots at the trunk and most likely will have to do it every year (Feb.) because tridents send out a lot of new rootage. So for several years in Feb., I root pruned and replanted it back into the nursery growing pot. The soil mix was always at least a half inch above the nebari. Eventually it formed a pretty decent nebari. This year, in mid August I defoliated the trident maple. From than on, I used only rain water I had collected. Due to the large amount of foliage, if it was windy and/or hot, I watered twice a day. Upon defoliation, I expected the leaves to decrease in size but it did not. Presently the tree including the pot is 25 inches in height. The white pot was made by Jim Barrett.    Wally