Saturday, March 31, 2012

Bonsai tree: Mountain Hemlock On Levitated Nylon Board

Yes, that is the correct headline… bonsai on plastic. I wasn’t too sure of it myself.

In the late summer of 2010 I collected this Mountain Hemlock, Tsuga mertensiana, with my friend Anton Nijhuis in Canada, and potted it in a strange box that was sort of cantilevered up because the tree had been prostrate, growing through the mosses on bedrock. Digging through the moss uncovered a rather curious twin-trunk base that seemed like it would have to be styled in an unorthodox way, so naturally I wanted it. A year and a half later the box was full of roots, and the time seemed right to complete this weird idea of mine.

I’ve always wondered about alternatives to stone and prefab slabs. They tend to crack or break just when a show is just being set up; their timing is truly impeccable. Also, a bit ironic given that I used to be a potter, I’ve been drawn to the idea of making nearly invisible platforms, in place of a ceramic container. In other words, something supporting the tree that is really not an element in its presentation. So the idea of an inconspicuous, impervious, strong support had me pondering for a while.

Like many of my creative endeavors, I quiz everyone I know. ‘So, I have this idea… how would you do this if you wanted to do that?’ And you end up with a collage of ideas that you edit and orchestrate into a complete vision, sort of like an orchestra conductor or movie director must do I suppose. With an assortment of weird tools, bolts and ideas the March Seasonal students and I spent more than a day cobbling the thing together, and it was great fun—- Thanks Roger, Gary, John and Konnor!

Mountain Hemlock before styling.

Styled, but before the potting experiment...

Right side view---tree swoops far to the rear before coming forward.

A full box of roots in 100% pumice, one and a half years from collection.

Tree out of the box in position on the nylon board, with a sketch of the platform design in ink. The fragile rootball is held together with cheesecloth. Lots of moving around at this point with an unwrapped rootball would have destroyed it. Gary or Roger's legs, I think... sorry guys, I am not attentive enough to identify your boots or belts. Thanks to both of you, though! There was a fair bit of holding things in position that day.

Konnor Jenson, my intrepid periodic apprentice, filing the edges of the board. Sporting a knit hat, he looks like a diehard Portlander!

The plan to hold the leaning muck wall in place. We did not take a shot of the twine that we wove between the chopsticks, offering a bit more support. The bolt heads you see are the top side of our levitation idea, with round end caps underneath serving as inset 'legs'.

Mossing the surface; disembodied nose courtesy John Kahlie. He passed the mossing test with flying colors and will be relieved to move on to lichen in the next Seasonal... Just kidding, John!

The final design. The small accent plants near the base are heather and a curious evergreen penstemon, for those interested in the smaller elements. The moss may eventually grow over the edge of the platform, hiding it, at least that is the hope. This tree had an odd bend in the right smaller trunk, and I thought the addition of a cantilevered wall on the right side would marry well with that, sort of like a second bad note hit in a jazz piece that you think, 'Well, that guy must have intended that, so maybe it works.' In any event, this tree needs filling out a bit. The buds are swelling well in my greenhouse and it will be in there another month under a periodic misting apparatus. Just like it got naturally on Vancouver Island...

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Friday, March 30, 2012

Bonsai tree: A root over rock maple is born

Source: Bonsai Tonight

I see some amazing trees in Bay Island Bonsai workshops. I also see some amazing projects. The root over rock Japanese maple planting below is clearly one of the latter.

Amazing root over rock maple

Root over rock maple planting in training

Young maples were planted on a large stone a year or two ago. This year, the tree’s owner exposed the roots to make sure they were fusing to the rock. Some roots were trimmed, others were guided into channels in the stone. Blue plastic ties were added to hold the composition together. Once the last knot was tightened, the stone was buried in a large pot so the roots could continue to develop.

Amazing root over rock maple

All tied up

Amazing root over rock maple

Blocks and chopsticks keep the ties tight

It’s not much to look at, but time and the blue ties will help the roots fuse to the stone.

The trees could just have easily been planted in the ground. Keeping them in a pot, however, will make it easier to work on the roots during the next repotting. Apart from some minor pruning, the trunks and branches were left alone to encourage root development.

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Bonsai tree: Two Bonsai Firsts (at least)

A formal upright collected European olive? I’ve seen a lot of magnificent collected European olives, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen any as perfectly shaped and stupendously gnarled at the same time. The artist is Gabriel Romero Aguade.

Noelanders Trophy 2012

The four trees shown here are all from the 13th Noelanders Trophy Exhibition, which was held in Heusden-Zolder, Belgium, way back in January. I borrowed the images from Bonsai – Living Art, the English version of the Slovenski blog (I recommend a visit, it’s a great bonsai blog, one of the best).

A couple firsts

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a formal-upright collected European olive (see above). I’m not even sure that everyone would agree that it’s a formal-upright because of the trunk’s uneven base, but if it isn’t, it’s pretty close, and either way, it’s an exceptional bonsai.

The other first (for me at least) is using a piece of driftwood as a companion. I’ve seen all kinds of plants and plantings, stones, figurines and even what looks like a human skull, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a simple piece of driftwood serving as a companion (it’s the second photo down).

I don’t think there’s anything more compelling in our wonderful world of bonsai, than a well done Bunjin (Literati style bonsai). This elegantly meandering beauty, that ends up almost where it started, is by Vaclav Novak. It’s a Sabina juniper.

The tree is powerful and wonderful, but it’s the companion that really caught my eye. Have you ever seen a piece of deadwood used as a bonsai companion? This Taxus (yew) and charming little piece of deadwood are by Mauro Stemberger.

Raw, rugged and very sweet. Another excellent naturally dwarfed, collected Norway spruce, with its small needles and ancient bark. It belongs to Nicola Crivelli.

Thanks to Bonsai – Living Art for all the photos in this post.

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Bonsai tree: Burning Bush—Seasonal Styling and Potting

When I bought this tree from Telperion Farms I was told it had been growing on the grounds of Oregon State University, probably for fifty years or so. I don’t know if that qualifies it as an ‘academic yamadori’. Maybe we need to create a new category of yamadori?

Euonymus is a popular genus for bonsai. The burning bush, Euonymus alata, is not a commonly used species, however, and I was excited to give it a whirl. This photo essay was taken in the creation of this bonsai during the Winter Seasonal of 2012, in February.

The Euonymus after growing in an Anderson Flat for a few years. This photo was taken the day of styling, in February 2012.

The stalwart Howard Griesler of Chicago working with the flex-shaft grinder to bring down the large pruning cuts. (Howard is a foodie and loves our eclectic Portland restaurants...)

The redoubtable John Denny from Iowa working on the rootball. (John is a master brewer, and typically makes sage comments about the local micros).

Both gentlemen washing the rootball of some mucky old soil. I stood far away.

The prepared rootball drying a bit before potting.

Pot prepared... for this tree we used a simple mix of 50% akadama/50% pumice. This is not a perfect pot for the tree, but at least it fits. I'm sure there is a colorful glazed pot in its future, perhaps a dark blue or green.

Right about this time Howard's glasses broke. This was our solution---toothpicks from the kitchen deftly wired into place. It is rare to find an opportunity to wire outside of bonsai! One must take them eagerly whenever they arise.

The final result. It needs a stupendous amount of development, but it's an unusual species for bonsai and I'm curious to see where it goes. Certainly it will give the Japanese maples a run for their money in the fall with its vermillion foliage.

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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Bonsai tree: Weekly Wire: Back On His Feet, Nature’s Deadwood & Keeping Things Up to Date

Remember Isao Omachi? Isao’s house and bonsai nursery were swept away in the tsunami. That’s the tough news. The good news is that hundreds, maybe thousands of people in our international bonsai community donated to help Isao and his family get back on thier feet. As a result of this effort (and Isao’s and his family’s determination) Isao is back doing what he loves. This is our good fortune; Isao is one of the featured bonsai artists at the Mid Atlantic Bonsai Societies 2012 Spring Festival.  This sweet colorful bonsai is from Isao facebook page. It looks like a Japanese winterberry.

Planning ahead. Like to take photos of bonsai? This is your chance.

Better hurry if you’re going to make this 2007 Ginkgo show. This photo may be ancient history by now, but I couldn’t resist. It’s not just the blazingly beautiful blooms and the thick thick trunk, though those are surely enough to warrant a look. But how about that pot? Have you ever seen one quite like it?

Sea of pines. From Jonas Dupuich’s six week apprentice experience at Aichi-en nursery (that’s where Peter Tea is serving his much longer sentence apprenticeship).

Nature’s deadwoood. I don’t think anyone could carve and age deadwood quite like this (not even Fracois Jeker). The photo is from the California Bonsai Society Exhibit at The Huntington Botanical Gardens. It was posted on the Internet Bonsai Club by alonsou. The photo is identified as QAkh61. Is the QA Quercus agrifolia (California live oak)?

The whole tree (from above) with companion. The leaves are too fuzzy to tell what it is (for me at least).

Today is the last day. Another tree from the CBS annual exhibition at the Huntington. This one belongs to David Nguy. The exhibit is going on right now (today, Sunday, is the last day).

While we’re on the West Coast. It’s always great to see bonsai clubs with up-to-date websites (I’d say less than half are, with some a year or two behind). Here’s your link.

Another one that’s up to date. Listed events include the Michigan All-State Bonsai Show (May 12 & 13), the Chicago Botanical Garden Spring Show (May 19 & 20) and Milwaukee’s own 42nd Annual Bonsai Show (Sept 15, 16 & 17). .

Barber pole bonsai. I found this unusual tree here. I’ll let you be the judge.

Mark the date. From the Columbus Bonsai Societies Newsletter. If you can’t make this workshop, you can learn a lot from Andy’s DVDs: Finding the Bonsai Within and How to Collect Wild Trees.

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