What Happened On This Day in "Recent" Bonsai History?


Days 11 - 20
Days 21 - 31 +

 1 1915 -- Peter Mutsumi Sugawara was born in Salinas, CA.  [He would serve as a sergeant in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the all Japanese-American unit of the US Army, during World War II, and would be honorably discharged in November, 1945.  He would then settle in Los Altos, CA in 1954 with his first wife, Kiyo (d. 1968), and four children.  Pete would be the sole proprietor of the Monte Bello Nursery until his retirement in 1980.  In addition to the usual fare, the nursery would carry rare and unusual, plants, many of which Pete propagated himself.  Monte Bello would often be mentioned as a prime source in Sunset Magazine.  The nursery would be among the first to carry fine Japanese bonsai pots.  These would be sold in the Monte Bello gift shop presided over by his second wife, Amy (d. 2000).  A well-respected nurseryman and bonsai enthusiast, Pete would be active in the California Nurserymen's Association, the Kusamura Bonsai Club (he'd be elected in 1961 as the group's first president), the Golden State Bonsai Federation (Pete and Amy were at the founding meeting), and the San Francisco chapter of Ikebana International.  A 48"H formal upright Coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) was created about 1954 by Peter Sugawara. Purchased in 1972, it was trained with the advice of Sugawara and donated by June M. Chambers of Woodside, CA to the North American Collection of the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum.  It resides in a Japanese container of Tokoname ware.  Pete would pass away in 2003.  He would have bequeathed his entire collection of bonsai, pots, and tools to the GSBF and several of his bonsai would be on display at the GSBF Collection North.]

(Bonsai, BCI, October 1969, pg. 11)

(Obituaries, Los Altos Town Crier, ; "In Memoriam," Kusamura Bonsai Club, ; "The National Collection of North American Bonsai," )    SEE ALSO:  Feb 25, Mar 10, Nov 6

2011 -- Alice Toshiko Mizunaga Naka died.  (Long-time wife and companion of Grandmaster John Naka, Alice edited his books Bonsai Techniques I and II, and distributed tens of thousands of copies of these important and influential works. Additionally, she cared for the priceless bonsai collection in their backyard when John was on the road worldwide teaching the art of bonsai.  And lovingly raised sons Gene, Bob, and Dick, eleven grandchildren, and twelve great-grandchildren.)  (Manning, Cheryl  "Alice Naka, September 19, 1917-August 1, 2011," National Bonsai Foundation, Fall/Winter 2011 newsletter, pg. 1.)
 3 1903 -- George Sherman Avery, Jr. was born.  [He would go on to become a botanical researcher with a Ph.D. in plant physiology from the University of Wisconsin, director of the Connecticut Arboretum in New London, and professor of botany at Connecticut College.  In 1944 he would be named director of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and the following year establish the quarterly Plants & Gardens journal.  Special editions of these would be reprinted as a handbook series for which the Garden would be recognized and acclaimed.  In the first handbook he would identifiy his intent "to make available to people everywhere the horticultural experience gained in this institution."  By 1948 Dr. Avery would have hired Japanese gardener Frank Okamura to begin work on the surviving trees from Ernest F. Coe's 1925 gift of bonsai to the BBG.  (Okamura would also have rejuvenated the BBG's Japanese Garden, which would be cautiously called the "Oriental Garden" during the second world war.) 
        [After WWII and during the Occupation Period through the Korean Conflict, there would be increasing numbers of letters to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden from U.S. Army personnel in Japan inquiring how they could arrange to bring bonsai back into the States.  Plant quarantine rules would make it practically impossible, though a few servicemen would manage to smuggle small bonsai in their rucksacks.  Once back, there would be many inquiries on how to take care of these.  (By the way, some of these "rucksack bonsai," including a Chinese juniper, would end up on display at the BBG.)
        [When these letters grew to several a week, the director of the Garden, Dr. Avery, would realize there was a need for a handbook on the subject.  He would send a circumspect letter out to six well-known and highly respected horticulturists at different public gardens around the country, mentioning the growing interest as measured by BBG plant information correspondence.  Did they think such a handbook was warranted or that there might be a demand for it?   All of them would advise against the idea.
        [Avery would ignore them, and invite Japanese horticulturist Kanichiro Yashiroda to be the guest editor.  A one-time student gardener at the Royal Botanic garden at Kew in London, Yashiroda would invite amateur and professional Japanese bonsaimen to write for the handbook-to-be and laboriously translate their articles into English.  (Although he would have spent a year at Kew, during the war years his English would go unused.)  The typed manuscript and photographs would arrive at the BBG late in 1952, and after a bit of editorial work by Frances Miner and Dr. Avery, Bonsai -- Dwarf Potted Trees was published as the Autumn 1953 issue of Plants & Gardens.  It would be practically an overnight success and for a few years the only English-language guide to the subject readily available in this country.
        [The BBG Instruction Department then would set up a learn-by-doing bonsai class in 1954 with Dr. Avery and Frank Okamura presenting the 3-session beginners' course.  Nearly a hundred people from all walks of life would initially attend.
        [In 1958 Dr. Avery would invite Japanese teacher Yuji Yoshimura to come to the BBG.  Two years later Dr. and Mrs. Avery would go to Japan with instructions and gift funds (from 1958) in hand to purchase "distinguished" older bonsai for the BBG's expanding collection.   He would head the BBG until 1969.  And by the following year, some five thousand students would have graduated from the Garden's series of bonsai classes.  Additionally, Dr. Avery would serve as secretary of the Botanical Society of America 1937-39, vice-president in 1943, and president in 1957.  He would be recipient of the American Horticultural Society Professional Award in 1970, and receive the Scott Arboretum's Arthur Hoyt Scott Medal and Award in 1974.  (Bonsai -- Dwarf Potted Trees would see thirty-eight printings through Nov. 1988 alone.  Handbook on Bonsai: Special Techniques, a companion volume released in 1956 and also edited by Yashiroda, would see its twentieth printing by that date as well.)] 
(Mae Pan, BBG Archivist, in correspondence to RJB Feb. 20, 2002, including Dr. Avery's obituary in Plants & Gardens, Vol. 50, No. 3, 1994; Scholtz, Elizabeth "Japanese Beginnings at Brooklyn Botanic Garden," Journal, ABS, Vol. 13, No. 1, Spring 1979, pp. 4, 6, 7; Hobbs, Mary M. "Wind Governs Gardening," Bonsai Magazine, BCI, Vol. XII, No. 1, January/February 1973, pg. 17;  O'Connell, Jean "The Art of Bonsai," Science Digest, March 1970, pg. 38; "Bonsai in Brooklyn," Life, May 23, 1955, pp. 84, 87-88; Elvin McDonald's Foreword in Tomlinson, Harry The Complete Book of Bonsai (New York: Abbeville Press, Inc.; 1990), pg. 6; "Past and Present Officers of the Botanical Society of America," ; "Scott Arboretum: A. Hoyt Scott Award Recipients," ; "Past American Horticultural Society National Award Winners,"  SEE ALSO: Jan 1, Jan 12, Jul 13, Aug 6.

1992 -- The alt.bonsai newsgroup began today as the Bonsai Discussion List (BONSAI@WAYNEST1.BITNET).  [During its first calendar month it would see 100 postings by 15 persons from the U.S. and Canada on such topics as art vs. nature, Azalea forest, Japanese Black Pines, collecting trees, suggestions for indoor bonsai specimens, mugo pines, suggested soil mixes, cold frames, moss, aerial roots, rock plantings, penjing plantings, and watering.  Keith Sedgwick would post 37 times and serve as a moderator of sorts.]

  ("IBC Bonsai on the Internet history," e-mail from Chris Cochrane to the IBC, BONSAI@HOME.EASE.LSOFT.COM on 3 Feb 2006; scan from printout which RJB made on 21 Apr 1995 of just over a hundred pages for the postings for the month of Aug 92)    SEE ALSO:  Apr 9, Jan 26
 4 2014 - Shohin bonsai expert Doris W. Froning died in New Wilmington, PA at age 93.  (She was preceded in death by her husband of 61 years in 2001; and by her two sons, Peter (2002) and Michael (2013).  Dorie is survived by her daughters, Anne (Mark) Laboe of Monroe, MI and Mary (Ron Ballard) Froning of Washington, D.C.; her son, Andrew (Susan) Froning of Kennett Square, PA; her daughter-in-law, Lyn of Birmingham, AL; 11 grandchildren; 16 great grandchildren; and her beloved caretakers for the last years of her life, Thomas and Victoria Jeker.)
("Doris W. Froning (1921 - 2014)" obituary, published in The News Journal on Aug. 7, 2014,    SEE ALSO:  Mar 26
 6 1945 -- At 8:15 a.m., an American B-29 bomber dropped a 12 to 15 mega-ton-yield atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, a designated miltary target.  The bomb exploded 1900 feet above the city, flattened all buildings within a 3 to 4 square mile area, and initiated a firestorm which burned nearly everything that had not already been destroyed by the blast in a roughly circular area of 4.4 square miles around the point directly under the explosion.  A hundred thousand Japanese died outright.  [Close to that number again would die from burns and radiation sickness.  Hundreds would be disfigured.]  (The 16-day Potsdam Conference involving U.S. Pres. Harry S Truman, Soviet Gen. Josef Stalin, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had ended Aug. 2 with Tokyo rejecting a call upon Japan to surrender.  Two days later U.S. planes dropped leaflets over Hiroshima warning "Your city will be obliterated unless your Government surrenders.")  [On Aug. 9 a 20 to 25 mega-ton-yield plutonium-core bomb would be dropped on Nagasaki, killing 75,000 outright and close to that number again from lingering effects.  Imperial Japan would sue for peace the next day, and accept the Allied surrender terms on Aug. 14.  Signing those terms on Sept. 2, Japan would end its eight year long war and prevent what potentially could have been a drawn-out invasion by Allied troops of the Japanese islands.]
     One reason why this is important to us: Three kilometers [sic] from ground zero was the Yamaki family compound.  All the members were inside at the time and each was cut by flying glass fragments.  Miraculously, however, none of them suffered any permanent injury.  An old Japanese white pine ( Pinus parviflora 'Miyajima') and a large number of other bonsai were sitting on benches in the garden behind the house, which was also a commercial nursery.  Amazingly, none of these bonsai were harmed by the blast either, because the nursery was protected by a tall wall.  [The Japanese Broadcasting Cooperation would later film the bonsai garden and report on how the wall had saved the bonsai.  That old bonsai, approximately 375 years old entering the 21st century, would be the largest specimen (41-1/4" or 105 cm tall) in the Japanese gift to the United States for the latter's Bicentennial some thirty-one years later.  It would be donated by bonsai master Masaru Yamaki, who had been a very influential member of the Japanese bonsai community and who would live to the age of 89 years.  Yamaki-san had learned the art and science of bonsai from his father and, following the close of WWII, would be one of the leaders of the effort to revive bonsai as a commercial enterprise in Japan.  He would be well-known for both his masterpiece Japanese black as well as Japanese white pines, including some of the very unusual Nishiki (corky bark) Japanese white pines.  The aforementioned large old tree originally came from Miyajima (literally "Shrine Island"), a 19 mile-in-circumference body south of the city a short distance across Hiroshima Bay, whose white pines are rare and therefore considered very valuable.]
[P.S.  The close call of this particular bonsai would not become known to the U.S. until the year 2001 when two young men came to the National Arboretum to see their grandfather 's gift, which had been given before they were born.  On a return trip to Washington, Shigeru Yamaki brought documentation with him of his grandfather's illustrious career.]
      To recap: a rare Japanese white pine was born in the south of an Asian island-nation approximately a decade after the Pilgrims' ship Mayflower landed off of Cape Cod on the northeast shores of North America.  In a few years the tree would be grafted and made into a hachi-no-ki, the deep-bowl predecessor to bonsai.  The containerized tree would be aged about a century and a half and the leaders of its homeland would continue to be isolated from most of the rest of the world when a people, many traceable back to those Pilgrims, declared and fought for their independence as a new country.  Their descendents, almost a hundred and seventy years later, would use a new weapon to stop the imperialistic expansion of the descendents of the group to which the tree's original caretakers belonged.  The white pine was fortuitously protected by a wall although it was near the center of the weapon's blast.  The devastated latter people initially feared the victorious former would behave in a traditional post-war manner with rape and pillage, but the vanquishers instead helped rebuild the ruin and raise the nation to a higher standard of living than it had ever known.  The assistance included having some of the briefly occupying troops and/or their families learn some of the native arts, including bonsai.  When the younger nation celebrated its two hundredth birthday, a number of trees and stones were gifted by the older country as a living green sign of continuing peace, acknowledging that at least a few in the younger nation could truly appreciate and care for the islands' representatives.  The largest and oldest member of the gifts was, of course, that special Japanese white pine, a truly unique specimen in the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum.  ("Hiroshima Survivor" by Felix B. Laughlin, NBF Bulletin, Vol. XII, Number 2, Winter 2001, pp. 1, 5, 6 (the web site link to this article has additional wonderful pictures, some in color); The People's Chronology by James Trager, New York: Henry Holt and Company, revised 1994 edition, pp.225, 893; International Bonsai Digest Bicentennial Edition, ed. by Juyne M. Tayson, M.D., Los Angeles: IBD, 1976, pg. 27; The National Bonsai Collection Guidebook, ed. by John Naka and Yuji Yoshimura, Atlanta, GA: Symmes Systems, 1977, pp. 4, 13;  Kucan, JO Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Review of the Consequences, Implications in the Post 9/11 World. J Burns & Surg Wound Care [serial online] 2004;3(1):8. Available from: , which includes the paragraph "In both cities the blast completely destroyed everything within a radius of 1 mile from the center of explosion [emphasis added] .  Hiroshima lost its identity as a city.  Over one quarter of the population was killed almost instantly and an equal number was seriously injured, so that even if there had been no damage to structures and installations the normal city life would still have been completely shattered.  Nearly everything was heavily damaged up to a radius of 3 miles from the blast, and beyond this distance damage, although comparatively light, extended for several more miles.  Glass was broken up to 12 miles away."  The statement that the family compound was 3 kilometers away from ground zero means that it was thus less than two miles from the center of explosion.  The various articles seen -- including some not cited here -- give a range of bomb yields, casualties, areas of destruction, etc.,  so that true discrepencies between the tale of the survival of the family and trees and the "official" blast summaries are difficult to easily discern.)  SEE ALSO:  Mar 20, Jul 9 -- and this.

1994 -- Dr. George Sherman Avery, Jr., who headed the Brooklyn Botanic Garden from 1944 to 1969 and built up its bonsai collection while popularizing the hobby, died a few days after his 91st birthday at his home in Connecticut. ( "In Memorium," Plants & Gardens, Vol. 50, No. 3, 1994;  The New York Times obituary contained a few errors which were then corrected.)   SEE ALSO: Aug 3.

2015 -- Thorhammer Nicholas Beowulf died -- and struck out on his next great adventure.  (Though hopeful of finalising his doctorate thesis in the months remaining to him, the effects of the chemotherapy and the advance of the Stage 4 liver and pancreatic cancer forced him to accept this would not be possible.  After chemotherapy was finished in May, the young bonsai artist was moved into hospice during the second half of July in Canberra, Australian Capital Territory where Thor spent his final days.)  [His widow, Melissa, and sons hope to publish his work eventually, and have plans for a memorial research library.)  (Facebook postings by his wife Melissa on Aug. 4 and Aug. 7; Thorhammer Nicholas Beowulf Memorial Research Library", © 2016 The Beauseant Project.)   SEE ALSO: Oct 26.
 7 2009 -- Dr. John L. Creech died at age 89 in Columbus, NC.  (Born in Woonsocket, RI, he was a graduate of the University of Rhode Island with a BS in Horticulture in 1941.  He served in the U.S. Army during WWII, where as a first lieutenant in the "Big Red One," the 1st Infantry Division, he was captured by Erwin Rommel's Africa Corps.  He and other POWs were flown to Germany where they were sent to camp OFLAG 64 (Offizier Lager = Officers' Camp) in Schubin, Poland from 1943 until 1945.  While there, he was one of the men who raised plants in the 60-foot greenhouse to supplement the food for over 1,500 prisoners.  The following March "we spaded that 2-1/2 acres.  I started 6,000 tomato plants and talked the Germans into giving us three cold frames, which I filled with beet and lettuce seeds.  Since we needed the food desperately, I tried to remember the schemes my brother used back in Rhode Island, in the tiny greenhouse that produced so much each year."  Creech received both the Silver Star, for gallantry in battle for his efforts during the mission in Africa, and the Bronze Star, for his efforts in charge of gardening activities in the camp.  Creech's military career ended in 1946, though he remained a reservist until 1953.  He would become a member of OFLAG 64 Prisoner of War Association.
        He received his MS Degree from the University of Massachusetts in 1947 and then his PhD from the University of Maryland in 1953 for "Compatability and embryological studies among azaleas."  From 30 Sept to 20 Dec, 1956, Dr. Creech, as horticulturist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service, led an exploration organized under the collaborative agreement between Longwood Gardens and the USDA to southern Japan.  (Creech had collected ornamental plants in Japan a year earlier.  Kaname Kato, "a quiet Japanese gentleman, a scholar, and horticulturist," was the one who introduced Dr. Creech to bonsai that year.)  Dr. Hideo Takeda, botanist with the Military Geology Section of the U.S. Army, acted as an outstanding interpreter, guide, and photographer during the entire 1956 period.  From this exploration, 668 plants were introduced, half being from the wild.  Among them were 219 cultivars of chrysanthemums.  An exhibit of these chrysanthemums was shown for the first time at Longwood Gardens during the fall of 1957.  Soon Dr. Creech's chrysanthemums were distributed to major growers in the United States.  He led a second expedition to Japan for Longwood from 22 April to 23 July 1961.  A total of 347 collections of plants, cuttings, and seeds were shipped during the course of that trip.  In addition, arrangements were made for the collection of seed from important localities when the seed matured.  "I believe that I have brought to America the greatest collection of breeding stocks of important Japanese plants than any-one previous," wrote Creech to Dr. Walter H. Hodge, Longwood's head of education and research.  "This is with all due respect to my own earlier trips and other collectors.  We now have all the wild camellia, holly, azalea, and similar materials to do some really fine breeding and developmental work with these plants."

Creech and Collecting Team
Yakushima, Japan, 1956
(Creech The Bonsai Saga, pg. 8)

Kaname Kato.

(Creech The Bonsai Saga, pg. 13)

        During 1972, bonsai grand master Yuji Yoshimura delivered a lecture in which he spoke of the "dream of American bonsaists for a place where they could give or will their treasures, knowing that the trees would be cared for and viewed by visitors for years to come."  Newly appointed third Director of the U.S. National Arboretum Dr. John L. Creech was in attendance.  (He had been a frequent visitor to Yoshimura's Tokyo garden in the early 1950s and was actually the one who had recommended the bonsai authority to Dr. Avery of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden [see Aug 3 above], who then brought Yoshimura over to the U.S. on the 1959 C. Stuart Gager fellowship grant.)  Impressed by his old friend's thoughts and the fledgling Potomac Bonsai Association's first show at the National Arboretum, Dr. Creech then approached his departmental heads with the suggestion that acquiring a major bonsai collection might play a roll in the Department of Agriculture's bicentennial plans.  Receiving encouragement, Dr. Creech sought the help of longtime friends in the world of Japanese horticulture.  Kaname Kato served as an intermediary between Dr. Creech and the Japan Bonsai Society.  In March 1975, fifty-three trees that would become the permanent National Arboretum Bonsai Collection were accepted by Arboretum Director Dr. Creech in ceremonies in Tokyo, Japan.  In July he was one of the lecturers at the American Bonsai Society symposium in Kansas City, MO.  Bonsai Grand Masters John Naka and Yuji Yoshimura authored The National Bonsai Collection Guidebook in 1977 for which Dr. Creech wrote the Welcome.  In 1979, Janet Lanman discussed with Dr. Creech the possibility of acquiring American bonsai for the National Arboretum's National Bonsai & Penjing Museum.  Shortly thereafter Dr. Creech pursued this idea in a proposal to Marion Gyllenswan, a well-known bonsai teacher.  He called for an independent body of bonsai authorities to review private bonsai collections of distinction and to develop a plan for their preservation, possibly as part of a national collection.  Acting on this suggestion, a group of Arboretum volunteers and students of Yuji Yoshimura organized the National Bonsai Committee.  This was then incorporated in 1982 as the National Bonsai Foundation, a non-profit section 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to support the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum.  NBF recruited directors from all sections of the country.  John Naka, Yuji Yoshimura, and former Arboretum Director Dr. John L. Creech (retired in 1980 before moving from New Carrollton, MD to Hendersonville, North Carolina) were elected as honorary advisors to the Foundation.
        A Brocade Pillow: Azaleas of Old Japan was a 1984 English translation by Dr. Creech and Kaname Kato of a 1976 reprint supervised by Yotaro Tsukamoto and sponsored by the Satsuki Society of Japan.  The original classic 1692 work by nurseryman Ibei Itō was the first monograph on azaleas either in Japan or elsewhere.  Dr. Creech then served in 1986 as interim director of the North Carolina Arboretum and remained active as a member of their Board of Directors until his death.  He had been the 1972 recipient of the American Horticultural Society Professional Award and 1989 recipient of the AHS Liberty Hyde Bailey Award.  His memoir, The Bonsai Saga: How the Bicentennial Collection Came to America, was published by the U.S. National Arboretum in April 2001.  He was a member of several international scientific organizations and he authored or co-authored numerous papers on crop husbandry and forestry production, plant taxonomy, and plant genetics.  He was first married to Amy Wentzel Creech who died in 1984 and was the widower of Elaine Innis Creech who died in 2003.  He is survived by his fiancée, two daughters, one son, three grandchildren, and two great grandsons.)

Dr. John Creech
("'Architect' of National Collection Retires," ABS Bonsai Journal, Vol. 14, No. 3, Fall 1980, pg. 52)

John and Elaine Creech
(Creech The Bonsai Saga, pg. 47)

   ("John L. Creech" obituary in The Washington Post,; "Oflag 64,"; Anisko, Tomasz  Plant Exploration For Longwood Gardens, Timber Press, excerpts,, pp. 50-60 (pdf pp. 3-13) and 61-68 (pdf pp. 14-21); "Proceedings of the Fourth Plant Propagators Society Annual Meeting," where Dr. Creech was both the moderator and a presenter,, esp. pp. 135; "How It All Began," Bonsai Magazine, BCI, Vol. XXXV, No. 4; July/August 1996, pg. 26;"National Bonsai Foundation History & Milestones,"; personal e-mail from Dr. Creech to RJB on Nov. 26, 1999; "'Architect' of National Collection Retires," ABS Bonsai Journal, Vol. 14, No. 3, Fall 1980, pg. 52;;; search for "JL Creech" on 10 Aug 2009)   SEE ALSO: Mar 20, Jul 21, Sep 24
 9 2002 -- Lalbagh Botanical Garden in Bangalore inaugurated a bonsai park, probably the first of its kind in India, during the bi-annual flower show opening which opened today.  (The January Republic Day Flower Show, organised since 1922 by the Mysore Horticultural Society at the Glass House of the two hundred-year old 250-acre Lalbagh, might be compared to London's Chelsea Show and has had bonsai displays previously.  Bangalore, the fifth largest metropolitan area in that country, is known as the Garden City of India.)  [The bonsai garden -- to be called Rathnamma -- will be developed on 2.5 acres at a cost of Rs 1.08 crore.  A collection of some 700 private specimens said to be worth Rs 2.5 crore are being donated by expert collector, Mr. S. "Bonsai" Srinivas, who will also be the principal adviser for a bonsai training institute which will also be opened up in Lalbagh. The Japanese-style garden will be developed in phases and will include waterfalls, a stream, hillock, lawns and a serpentine walk, a pagoda, a Japanese bridge and a lotus pond.  It opened to the public by the end of 2003.]   (" Bonsai park at Lalbagh," The Hindu Business Line, Aug. 6, 2002, ; "In Brief," Deccan Herald, July 2, 2005, ; "Lalbagh entry fee may be doubled," Deccan Herald, Oct. 29, 2003, ; "Lalbagh to bloom with flowers" The Hindu, Jan,. 17, 2002, )   SEE ALSO: Apr 8.

Days 11 - 20
Days 21 - 31 +



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