What I have learned from Mirai Live

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Well, it’s been a good year and a half since Ryan Neil’s Mirai Live launched at BSOP. I had eagerly awaited this development and decided to bite the bullet and sign up for the full, Tier 3 membership. That means that I can go back and view old videos, take part in the Q&A, or whatever they might be offering. I began to think back about all that I have learned in that past year and a half and it is astounding. Not that it should surprise you, as the content is awesome. Ryan has a way of breaking down ideas, principles, and techniques into an easily understood manner.

But, you need a little background into the aforementioned learning. I was fortunate to be in Ryan’s very first Defining Concepts – Pine series. This is where he began to develop his teaching style and curriculum. We used a small white board and met in the tiny original studio in the converted garage. Just three of us and it was awesome. I went on to take a series every other year on Junipers, then elongating species, and finally, special studies. I drank the Kool-Aid, so to speak, and my bonsai have never been the same. 

I had previously taken an entire study course with Boon – ten three-day sessions, which also had a tremendous effect on my bonsai experience, catapulting me upwards to finally grasp bonsai at a high level. So with all of this experience, both with Ryan and Boon, my jaw has just about dropped to the floor over the last 18 months as to what I have learned and assimilated. Lots and lots of loose ends tied together and flagging ideas shored up. 

Then there are the brand-new ideas. I can’t really list them in order of importance, but many of them are just, duh, it was there the whole time. Did I not listen the first time? Or in many instances, it is brand new technology and thought applied to bonsai. Either way, after almost 30 years of very actively pursuing bonsai, I really have some tools to take another leap forward. But be forewarned, that usually means more time and energy spent. Most of these are NOT time saving techniques but rather principles to take design and horticulture to a higher level. I can really only mention the general subject matter. I am making no attempt to explain them. That’s Ryan’s job, and he does it well. This kind of information is not free, but it’s, oh, so worth it.

1.     Always prune leaving at least two buds. Duh. Pruning a Japanese maple makes this automatic, but not alternating species like hornbeam and beech. I kept pruning my beech back to one bud every year to keep it in check, but in the process, I ended up with long and leggy branches, losing ramification. Not anymore.

2.     The purpose of pinching, to redirect strength. Small to medium to weak. Ah, got it.

3.     The continued important of water and oxygen balance. Can’t be understated. I understand why some of my trees were strong and others weak. Now they are stronger than ever. This should probably be number one in importance on this list.

4.     The difference and timing between foliar growth and vascular growth. I knew about this, but now I know how and when it works and use it to my advantage.

5.     How to apply large wire. I have used more 4-gauge copper than just about anyone in BSOP and now it’s a lot easier. I saw old videos of Kimura wiring when I was at Boon’s, and noted what he was doing, but didn’t know why. Now I do. My hands love you Ryan.

6.     Less is more with wire. Already a concept I learned from Ryan on wiring, but it has been so great to be able to zoom in and see exactly how he works his hands. Less wire means 

more time for me and a more natural appearance.

7.     Using foliage mass to power root development when repotting raw stock BEFORE styling the tree.

8.     Detailed application of fertilizer.

9.     Unlocking the secrets of Douglas Fir. I have two buds on every single branch on both my large Dougs, after pruning. And no more die back. STUPENDOUS. Ryan dug this out and developed the technique himself. Won’t get it anywhere else.

10.  Unlocking the subtleties of long and short-needled pines. Too much to go into, but the clarification on timing, fertilization, watering, and purpose has been great.

11.  Timing of late season pruning on multi-flush pines to generate predictable buds.

12.  How to accomplish rock and slab plantings. Just in time for me to perch an Engelmann on a basalt slab I have been carrying around for over 35 years.

13.  Detailed application of raffia – where and when, refining my technique.

14.  When to prune my redwood for great results.

15.  OK, I have to stop somewhere, or I will never finish.

Suffice it to say that most of these that I mention are adding on to my existing knowledge and technique. Mostly, it’s learning how to manipulate the biology of the tree to get what I am after. Now it might seem like this is an article-long advertisement for Mirai Live. That’s not my intent and you can spend your money and time as you wish. But, if you want to take your bonsai to the level of art, this is going to really add to your arsenal of tools. 

If you are like many folks who attended the Rendezvous and don’t have the advantage of having a club like BSOP that offers great basic classes or can’t afford or get into regular classes with folks like Ryan or Mike Hagedorn, this is a must and a steal. So much information for so relatively little price. I had to pay for airfare back and forth to Oakland to study with Boon, along with the study fees and hotel! But this I get it in the comfort of my own home and on my own time. And I can go back and review when needed, which I have done. I never had any concept of knowing it all, but I didn’t realize that there was so much more that I could know. That it didn’t have to be a mystery and it wasn’t just happenstance.

One last word. Q&A’s. Usually once a week, Ryan goes to the white board and answers questions live. He is up to number sixty or so now. That’s over sixty hours of just answering questions. They are indexed by topic in each session, so you can somewhat search for what you are looking for. This is the hidden gem in the whole thing. I have asked a few questions myself. Some questions come up over and over and Ryan handles them adroitly and politely. These Q&A’s really help cover what isn’t addressed in the main streams and allows him to talk about other species, other hemispheres, or differing climates. It also makes him the epicenter for the transfer of bonsai knowledge around the world.

Ok, enough on that. Darn him. Now my trees take even more effort, but they are rocking forward on a fast track and I now have the tools for artistic expression through bonsai. Have fun viewing.

Scott Elser