Designing Dwarfs in the Desert

up through the first thirty-five years of the Phoenix Bonsai Society

by  Robert J. Baran

(1997, 82 pages, 8-1/2 x 11", 53 b&w illustrations, ISBN 0-9659913-3-4, $12.95 list , $7.50 selling,)

P.O. Box 31244  Colorado Springs, CO   80931
Voice:  719.201.5332

This is the official history of the club, its five hundred plus members to date, and

its three teachers, where they came from, how they became involved in horticulture and bonsai:

Paul Matsusaki  (1906-70), the founder (1962) and a champion of traditional Japanese values,

Leroy Fujii  (1925-98), the co-founding member who filled Paul's shoes as teacher for most of the club's existence, and

John Yoshio Naka   (b. 1914), now recognized worldwide as a grand master of the art, he was befriended by Paul and taught here before this club was started;

the histories of the world-reknown  Heard Museum   and  Desert Botanical Garden , and the Valley Garden Center (where the Phoenix Bonsai Society has met and now meets);

the Japanese-American and Chinese-American communities here;

the Tucson Bonsai Society, sister club (1972) and host of the American Bonsai Society's 1999 Symposium;

contemporary events and other teachers in the world of bonsai who have interacted with and taught our club members;

the only book available which gives information specifically about growing bonsai in a desert environment.  (Note: in the interest of truth in advertising, please be aware that desert bonsai care information can now be found in greater detail on the Phoenix Bonsai Society web site.  The history portion of Designing Dwarfs remains exclusive to that publication.)

     "The amount of research that went into this comprehensive report on bonsai growth must be applauded.  This reviewer was intrigued by the formatting of the text.  The short paragraph on each development reminded this reviewer of Walter Winchell's staccato reporting of the news on his Sunday radio broadcast - succinct, lively and interesting.

       "This book is highly recommended for those interested in the history of bonsai, not only in Phoenix, but in the United States."

(Jane Nelson, ABS Bonsai Journal, Summer 1998, pg. 61)

  Only available through Pyramid Dancer Publications:  Order

Overseas, please contact us for shipping & handling pricing at

* * * * *

     In the interest of historical accuracy, the following are errors now known to exist in this book.  A handful of typographical errors, verbs not agreeing with the noun number, multiple use of the same descriptive word on a single page, etc. are also in there but do not require further comment.  In the maroon braces below can be found the word or passage in question.  If you are aware of any other significant discrepencies, please e-mail .

pg. ii, bottom :  PayBS       Pa r son Bonsai Society            The group should, or course, be "Payson."  Spell-check software is only good up to a point.  (If this were an edition of the Bible, it could be knicknamed the "Parson Version.")

pp. 14-15 : bottom margins should be a little smaller so that three more lines of text would be on each of these pages.

pg. 23, top :  These [two bonsai] were " smuggled " into the state...  }            The quotes should be around the verb to better reflect the gently kidding manner with which Mr. Jacobson related this anecdote.

pg. 28, top :   {   Listed as supplying labor for the garden pool which was built there: Paul Matsusaki of Toyo Nurseries.  }      Per a conversation with Elsie Andrade, Feb. 26, 2000 at the Matsuri display, Paul would never have used the black volcanic rock which makes up the sides of the pond.  The sentence in question is derived from the Oct. 27, 1963 Arizona Republic article "'Here's How' Gardens."  Did Paul just do the labor with other-specified materials?  Would he have used materials in a design he did not agree with?  According to Elsie, no.

pg. 30, top :   {    Afterwards [Rex Tsutsumida] moved to Cleveland, Ohio and then New York where he learned English by watching the motion pictures which were changed weekly.   }       Per a conversation with Rex, Feb. 26, 2000 at the Matsuri display -- the first chance RJB had to speak with Mr. Tsutsumida since the latter's move from the Valley in 1989 -- the subject knew English quite well before moving to Cleveland.  I have not found the specific reference in my book notes, but I believe the information came from a conversation with Leroy.  I apologize if I misunderstood.

pg. 82, top left :  Matusaki, Paul  index listing for Paul !  I did get Matsusaki, Edna (née Tani)  } right above him correct.

* * * * *

     Four additions to the text could be as follows:

pg. 5 :   Meanwhile to the south, a complex of canals and fields dating back to 1200 B.C. outside Tucson is the oldest documented irrigation system in North America.  The Las Capas waterworks tapped the nearby Santa Cruz River to irrigate as many as 100 acres for crops such as corn.
(Per "Archaeology's top 10 finds of 2009, Early irrigation in the desert southwest U.S.," msnbc, Dec 30, 2009)

pg. 62, bottom photo caption :   Sam Lew, Jr. (right of center) models a club jacket.

pg. 75, bottom photo caption :    The height from base to top is approximately 15 inches.

A chart showing the length of daylight throughout the year in the Phoenix area was cut due to space considerations.  It can now be found on our Seasonal Care page.

* * * * *

In honor of the tenth anniversary of Designing Dwarfs, we presented these color versions of some of the pictures in it, along with their respective captions:

"Assorted ceramic bonsai pots and carved wooden display stands, all made by Charles Schneck."  (pg. 50, bottom)

"Leroy Fuji [sic!], Workshop Chairman, 1970-95, designing a small juniper, Spring 1975"  (pg. 51, middle)

"PhxBS members erecting the redwood Japanese gazebo at the VGC in early 1982.
Many wedding ceremonies have taken place here.
Paul Matsusaki-built koi pond is perhaps ten feet beyond the rear of this structure."  (pg. 60, top)

NOTE: Elise Andrade clarified this during a Board meeting 06/24/17 and in a general email on 06/27: Ann Connor presented the idea to Elsie, who pushed to build a Tea House as Elsie was then president of the Valley Garden Center.  The [small, at the time] Phoenix club was not able to pay for this structure.  So we went around to the other clubs soliciting funds.  The [large, at the time] Washington Club provided about half the cost and the VGC basically took care of the balance.  Also, the area behind and to the east was a big dirt lot which was made into an herb garden.  The "bricks" on the ground was a new process that was colored cement stamped to look like bricks.  The Garden Center had an open house to celebrate the grand opening, and the news channel came and covered the event.   The first event at the structure was a dog wedding with the canines in tuxedo and white dress.  Subsequent ceremonies had vows recited up in the Tea House.  Now in its 35th year, the structure is aging and starting to look shabby, and it is time to do significant repair.  Some work has been recently done at this point.

"Max Miller, Ernie Kuo (seated) and Doug Acker at a Tucson workshop, October 1993.  Ernie began with bonsai in 1979 when his wife urged him to take up a hobby.  Studying under John Naka, he began teaching this at the college level in 1987, and studied further in Japan in 1991."  (pg. 73, bottom)

"The most common tools of the trade, courtesy of Ernie Hasan.
Top Row: copper-anodized aluminum wire.
Middle Row: assorted cutters, scissors, and shears.
Bottom Row: drainage screen and dense root rake."  (pg. 74, bottom)

"Elsie's suiseki, a viewing stone.  This animal-shaped stone measures 11"x5"x4-1/2" and rests on a black painted base ofr formed Bondo®.  It is now a part of the National Bonsai Collection in Washington. D.C."  (pg. 75, middle)
(Color image from Bonsai Journal, ABS, Vol. 31, No. 4, Winter 1997, pg. 170

"One final Phoenix-bonsai connection (whose name was not originated here):
The Phoenix Graft, a method by which an interesting piece of deadwood is resurrected as a "bonsai."  In Japanese this style is called tanuki, the term for a mythical creature that deceives by changing its appearance.  There is some disagreement in bonsai circles as to whether or not these oftimes beautiful creations should really be accepted as a form of bonsai.
The main tree shown here is a California juniper, from the club's first Laughlin area dig, that didn't survive.  Preserved with lime sulfur, it was then slightly carved to accept the one-gallon Hollywood juniper which was placed up against the back of the deadwood.
(Designer: Raheem Hasan)"  (pg. 75, bottom)

"Over 160 years of combined experience:
Leroy Fujii, Joan McCarter, Edna Matsusaki, and Elsie Andrade, February 1997 at the VGC."  (pg. 76, top)
[Leroy passed away in 1998 and Edna in 2012.  The total is now over 215 years.]

     Finally, to respond to the two old negative reviews on for Designing Dwarfs, the relative lack of information "on techniques for growing Bonsai in a desert climate" is now a moot issue because of the abundance of useful material elsewhere on our website.  Please see here, here, and here, for example.  Yes, this is definitely more information than could be cross-referenced from Designing Dwarfs' index (11 separate page listings at the bottom of page 82 under "Successful Bonsai in Phoenix"), but because of Amazon's policy of not allowing linkage to external sites, we never were able to add a simple reference to the Designing Dwarfs book page so readers could very easily find much more and updated help.  Yes, the book was published as a stand-alone before any thought of content on a club website was considered -- or the website itself was even conceived of.  As a historical one-off, the book stands as a guide to early club details.  From a larger perspective, it is the start of an archive about this club and what we do.  (Many copies of Designing Dwarfs have since had a sticker added to the bottom of the Table of Contents page which references our website's URL address.)

For the continuation of the Phoenix Bonsai Society's story, see History Highlights.  For the current club year activities, see Calendar.

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