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Review: Bonsai School, Coussins

 Book of the Month: Bonsai School – The Complete Course in Care, Training & Maintenance – by Craig Coussins

Craig Coussins has three book, a beginner’s book, this one and Master class; of them I like this one best.  This book was copyrighted in 2002.  As some of you may know, Craig Coussins started the Bonsai Club of Scotland but because his family business has him traveling a great deal and his interests have shifted from caring for trees to painting and restoring scrolls.  As a result I saw that he was offering his tree collection for sale – Europe only.  Which makes sense, as he wouldn’t have to deal with quarantine.  

I will try to provide an overview but this book covers an extensive amount of information; most good, some subjective.  Bonsai School has 256 pages and is 11” X 9”.  I have worked with and taken workshops from Craig Coussins several times; as a result I have a desire to refer to him as Craig.  Craig organized this book into four parts; Part 1 has 2 chapters, Part 2 has 4 chapters, Part 3 has 6 chapters and Part 4 is a catch all covering pots, tools and Suiseki.

Part 1 covers frequently asked questions and the origins of bonsai.  Unlike other books, Craig’s book covers pre- Japanese roots in China and its links to Buddhism and bonsai in Vietnam. 

Part 2 begins with trees suitable for bonsai beginning with indoor trees and illustrating each with a photo and a few paragraphs of description.  Outdoor trees are presented in a chart that provides more information and would serve as a handy reference for the 16 genus presented.  However, I would say that in Ohio Crepe Myrtle and Stewartia are not outdoor hardy.  In the soil section he reminded me of a flaw in my soil – he says not to use grit/limestone in lime hating plants such as Azaleas.  He note North Americans use Haydite.   His organic list includes rotted pine bark, leaf mold, peat moss and soil-less compost.   Grit can also include sand. 

Potting or repotting is presented as a 17point checklist with photographs.  Watering follows, then Feeding.  Pages 84-86 is a chart that covers common pests.  This is followed by a Seasonal care chart which divides the various care activities you should be doing in each season; for example a Spring chore includes planting moss on your outdoor trees.  His personal note is that he doesn’t like late fall and winter wiring.  Under Watering he notes that trees with thick canopies may need to be watered even if it rained.  Next is a section on propagation from seeds and air layering and cutting. 

Starting on page 109 Craig presents “Bonsai Techniques”.  There are a great many illustrations of wiring. Pruning and “Aging” techniques are presented next.  Aging includes Jin and Shari.  This section is very detailed and deserves your close review. 

Part 3 is titled “Styling from nature”.  The first study presents a bald cypress.  I liked the illustrations on how to deal with a sawed off top.  It appeared that the trick is to wait a couple of years after branching occurs below the cut.  The tree used started out 46’ tall and was cut to 35”; it had a 13” nabari.  Then several other Genuses are presented and forest plantings too. Forests using elms and hawthorns are featured.  Under Saikei Tony and Frank Mihalic are featured.  Also featured are several root-over-rock styled trees at Wildwood Gardens.  Now that I think about it, Craig’s pictures at Wildwood may have been taken when Linda and I were there for a workshop with him.  Chinese, South African and Vietnamese landscapes are also presented.

I know you all are ready for me to be done, but the last chapter of Part 3 is worth buying tis book for the material presented here (pages 202-224).  First is a ‘San Jose’ styling by Michael Persiano then a different one by Bill Valvanis.  The third is a J. prostrate by Salvatore Liporace.  The 4th is a Taxus by Craig Coussins; then an American larch by Reiner Goebel concluding with a Euonymus also styled by Goebel. 

 As I mentioned way back at the beginning Part 4 is about pots, custom made and then tools, including power carving bits and finally suiseki.