Last Two

A few days back I shared a few pines that had been left with me to wire and style and I said I had two left to go. When given the work to complete its human nature to jump in and grab the trees that excite you the most and leave the tricky ones to the end. Well these are the end ones.

This little Mugo Pine is an oversized pot was a challenge. Humble material with a lot of the branches coming from the same spot high up in the tree. How to make an interesting image and at the same time reduce the branches at the top to stop it becoming an unsightly swelling.

Above is the result. An angle change to add more trunk movement and to bring the apex over to the left to be harmonious with the character branch. A heavy apex branch at the back was removed and a few other weaker ones to start the reduction. This trees image will change massively when the pot is changed.

I keep telling my bonsai friends to practice. We don’t have an endless stream of trees to work nor are all those trees going to be high end. However taking a simple tree like this with a few issues and going through the design process can be beneficial. This took 30 minutes.

This second tree, a Scots Pine grown from seed by the owner, was also a tricky proposition. It’s always been leggy branch wise for as long as I remember it. It seems to cycle between periods of extreme growth with back budding and then shuts down. As its not in my care I can’t say for sure what the cause is. Perhaps as a seed grown tree it could just be genetic.

One of issues currently is drainage. When you see all of this crap on the surface you know that it’s way too wet for a pine to thrive. The mix was good but has broken down to the point where a repot in the spring is required.

Above shows the tree after being worked. Where I could safely chase back branches, I did. This tree left me with a few interesting dilemmas. I was styling the tree with a free hand from the owner but I wanted to give him a few options for his own tastes. The branch/second trunk bottom right adds character and yet has very poor structural branching. I have made the best of it but there’s actually a great tree there without it. It’s now his choice to keep or remove or even Jin and has no impact on the rest of the tree. There’s another bit of weirdness going on down there with the freaky little low branch at the bottom rear. I love leaving funky things on trees that make them different from the usual fare we see. I think a possible option on this tree is to Jin the bottom trunk but leave the freaky bottom back branch and swing it slightly to the right.

Anyway, a few options to discuss with the owner when he sees it in person. After 30+ years in his care I think it’s only right to let him have a say.

Hawthorn Adjustments

This hawthorn has been knocking around my garden for probably 15 years and can be seen here as part of a case study on air layering.

It had a major repot in 2019 and sulked in a big way all that year. 2020 has been a shitty year for most of us but this hawthorn made a come back. I decided that although I like my hawthorn to have a natural angular appearance and to not over wired, this tree needed adjustments. The branches had sprung a bit and a slight angle change at the repot meant things weren’t quite in place.

After adjustments
Brake detail
But of a spin
Slightly different angle which a like.
Moody Noir

Even after all this time the tree has plenty of ramification still to be added. And some branch fattening here and there. If I knew back then what I know now this tree would be further on and branches in better proportion. Bonsai is a journey that’s for sure.

Multitrunk Shore Pine

Another piece of collected material into the workshop for a basic first design. With Shore Pine I find you have to hedge your bets. It can take 4-5 years from collection and a first post collection repot before you can be certain what branches are going to be retained by the tree. Good health doesn’t mean the tree won’t drop branches, in fact with vigour they can shed lower branches as a result. If you over fertilise or over pot they can also fatten too fast and shed the old bark that has taken many years in hard growing conditions to create. Keeping on top of stronger upper areas in the first few years is critical in maintaining as many lower branches as possible. All that said they are a fantastic tree with bark and character to die for.

Tree before work
After

Thinned out that strong upper growth, thinning needle mass, opening out structure by wiring primary lines, retaining and wiring up tips of all lower branches, all steps taken for health and to aid budding next year. The design has made the three trunk lines work together and shows off the wonderful bark. However at this stage with too many branches and a need for ramification, it’s far from the finished article. A long term project for someone to take forward and in the meantime I’ll help it on it’s path as best I can.

Chuhin Chamaecyparis

This Chamaecyparis Pisifera plumosa dumosa attracts algae to the bark and was in for yet another clean up. My little Japanese power washer was one of the best purchases I ever made and made short work of it.

It’s also a tree that creeps along growth wise and needs work several times a year to keep definition in the foliage mass. Cleaning the underside of branches and keeping subtle space is important or it reverts to a green helmet very fast. It was dewired in the Spring and over the year the bottom pads had crept up a little. I applied some structural wire to reinstate the spacing.

After work
The infamous bottle of Guinness for scale
Foliage detail

Windswept Hawthorn

Had this Hawthorn for quite a few years now but 2020 saw it repotted at a more acute angle giving it more of a windswept feel.

A few reasons for doing it. 1. I love windswept Hawthorn in nature. I think they are one of the most “Irish” representative tree images and are a common sight along our coastline. 2. After several repots and root workings I’m just not able to deal with the heavy root running along the front of the tree right to left. Normally they chase back and allow for a more compact root system. This one is connected to one of the main feeder paths running up the tree and has yet to product any significant backrooting after 15 plus years. On this tree the more acute lean right to left has allowed me to drop that root deeper in the pot and hide its ugliness.

I still need to deal with the ever creeping moss running up the trunk, but while working the tree I noticed tiny little mushrooms popping out of the little ecosystem along the upper trunk line. I think laying it over has helped create it’s own little world on top.

Running along the top centre of the trunkline is the beginnings of a natural Shari. The tree is pretty much split into two main live veins with the dead patch in the middle. Instead of going in there and clearing it out, I’m just going to let it decay at it’s own rate for now and enjoy watching it change year to year.

Scots Pine Next Step

This Scots Pine, recently arrived into Northern Ireland, hade been featured in Peter Warren’s book, ‘Bonsai’ published by DK. This showed its first styling by Peter.

When it arrived here it was obvious that in the interim it had undergone further changes and refinement.

The tree was ready for the next step and the new owner asked if I would do a little work on it. I was going to wait a little longer to allow the new foliage time to harden but it was surprisingly resistant to a tug on new needles. So with a soft touch I set about following the framework already set in place before. I discussed the tree with Adam the new owner and we agreed on a front but knew the tree had been set up for either side to look the part. My reason for the left lean being the front was the added depth the foliage created and the better base to the tree.

This is the back but styled to give the tree a great look all around.

There’s a few little bits of deadwood that might be distracting but I’m leaving them to see how the tree matures, they can be removed later by the owner if he feels the need.

Kimura Masterclass Course

Once again I’m honoured to get a chance to preview and review the latest online Course from Bonsai Empire.  Oscar has done well to keep this one quiet for so long. Back in November he filmed two long format case studies with Master Kimura in Japan, and from today you are able to access this content on Bonsai Empire.

The beauty of the Covid lockdown, if you can find any beauty in it, is the spare time many of us have to soak up more bonsai knowledge from online sources. I should really add the ‘trusted’ to that as we know that there is a lot of poor content online as well. The thing about Bonsai Empire’s content is you know what you are going to get for your money. Namely, lifetime access to top quality, well edited, factual video content. The Kimura Masterclass is no different.

I sat down to watch all four hours of the content last week. Normally time is tight and I skim over the content to get a feel of what the course is like for review, but this time I put the feet up and sat back.

What you first see from scanning the lectures column is that you are getting two demonstrations by Mr Kimura, something that I think will rarely be seen these days. As he says himself in the course, his students do all the world travelling now so he doesn’t have too. Therefore this is a great opportunity for those new to bonsai to sit and learn from a master who in all likelihood you have heard of but most likely will never have the change to seen in action.

The first demo is a yamadori Japanese White Pine that Mr Kimura transforms into a windswept image in his own style. It’s an educational process and gives some insight into his design process as he progresses with the tree. Techniques are discussed and used throughout.

The second demonstration is the creation of a rock planting using six Itiogawa junipers. These have become one of Mr Kimura’s mainstays with many being seen in Europe at exhibitions. We get to see a rock he created by carving being transformed into a really stunning image that many now try and emulate. Lots to learn from his step by step process starting with how to prepare and attach trees, their placement to give depth, the mossing and then styling of the trees to give us the finished image.

Foe me one of the most interesting elements was watching how his apprentices worked for him trying to anticipate his every move and be one step a head.

Bonus video content takes you on a walk around his public and private gardens and we get to hear him speaking about some of his most famous trees featured in his books.

In all you get 4 hours of content to watch again whenever you want. The open demo format gives this course a different feel to the previous Bonsai Empire courses, perhaps not as concise and loaded with carefully thought out dialogue from the like s of Michael Hagedorn or Bjorn Bjorholm, but I don’t think anyone buying this corse would have expected that same format. We get to watch Mr Kimura preform and we can follow along with clear subtitles and enjoy seeing his decision making.

The course is available from today for $79.99 for lifetime access.

Here is a short trailer to give you a feel of the content.

Well done Oscar, I look forward to seeing where Bonsai Empire can take us after this 🙂

 

 

Shine Bright Like A Diamond

In an attempt to get into a routine of posting on the blog again I thought I’d share this Rhododendron Blue Diamond here.

This years peak bloom.

You’ll notice the one branch at the front without flowers. It’s a weak branch which gets weaker every year. There is a very thin live vein on it and I had removed the flowers from it for the last few years to try and strengthen it with no joy. Enough was enough. It had its chance so time to remove and redesign.

And then past peak with dead flowers showing.

The ideal time to remove the flowers and more importantly the little seed pods at their centre.

I’m sure we missed some late openers.
After deflowering before pruning.
Structural pruning
After pruning and set for the post flowering flush. You’d hardly notice the front branch at the main apex gone. A few bits wired to fill the gap.

Below is how the tree came to me in 2002.

Repotting Theory & Practical

On Saturday I took a day out of one to one workshops to do a Theory and Practical Repotting Day with Munster Bonsai Club at Bruree in Limerick.

I had been asked to focus on this in a session to aid newer members in getting the fundamentals right and gain some new skills.

We had a run through of the why what when and how via PowerPoint and Q&A before a Practical session with club members repotting their own trees and helping others.

I think this was one of the best feel good club days I’ve ever experienced from the outside. A great club. A massive thank you to all those who yet again came out to support a club event. They have been coming thick and fast for a club pushing their learning hard.

Here’s some photos from the day some mine some stolen.

Busy Week on the Road

It’s been a busy week down in the South of Ireland doing some one to one sessions with friends from Cobh, Cork, to Limerick then Dublin. Some good times had and great trees played with. A little styling and refinement and, as you’d expect, some repotting.

Here’s some photos from the trip. snow on the way home as usual in Dublin. Thank you to all who supported the road trip. Back again images weeks for another round.