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Its always difficult watching or listening to recordings of yourself and it is no different when I watch the below video of myself working a juniper and saying ‘um’ way too many times. (something to work on…..)

Back In August, the Bimer bonsai club invited me to fly up to Brisbane to run workshops and conduct a demonstration for their members.

While demonstrations are always a rush for time, I was quite happy with the transformation of this tree and think it shows what can be achieved with stock that is fairly well available at nurseries around the country.

The full video of the demo and a final image of the result is posted below.  Enjoy!

 

 

The result of the hour or thereabouts work.

The result of the hour or so demonstration.

 

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This post is about another red pine I worked for a good friend. It’s a tree i had previously styled a year ago that was in need of some further work. The previous work was documented HERE.

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This was where I left off last time I worked the tree. 

The tree it was ready for a re-pot and I was therefore presented with the opportunity to re-think the front. I decided to stand the tree up slightly and work the foliage around this new angle.

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Post styling.

The photo that is missing between the two above photos is that of a tree that had grown very well and had turned into a solid foliage mass. Unfortunately i forgot to get a before pic.

The styling this time around removed a number of branches to re-introduce a sense of openness and lightness into the canopy while the new  planting angle introduces some interesting movement into the lower trunk and provides a more dynamic foliage form.

I like how the canopy has been stretched vertically and how the apex is straining to lean over the trunk. I cant wait to see it now that the owner has re-potted it at the new angle. I think it is a good change for the tree.

For those wondering, the arm holding the tree is attached to the ever handsome Evan Marsh. He runs a great blog (much better written than mine) that is well worth a look and chronicles his exploits studying in Japan and else where. It can be found HERE.

Life as always is busy but lately things have been flat-out. I have been juggling a two-year old,  full-time work, managing our house’s extension, working customer trees, digging/collecting material and also travelling Australia (Perth, Sydney, Canberra, Bendigo, Geelong and Brisbane) as an AABC tutor giving lectures, demonstrations and workshops. As a result the blog has suffered.

Hopefully I can kick start the blog in the coming months. I have a number of posts lined up and I am sure there will be things of interest to share as the growing season heats up.

Today’s post is a small red pine that I worked for a good friend towards the start of winter.

It is rare to see red pines in Australia and particularly rare to see ones as good as this one. It underwent a fairly major transformation during the styling which in my opinion has set it up to be one of the best red pines of this size in the country (at least from those I have seen). It still needs a little filling out but it’s bones are set for it to grow into a really nice tree into the future.

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The material prior to beginning. Nice colour and full growth which left a lot to work with.

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The material prior to beginning. Nice colour and full growth which left a lot to work with.

Most of the work during the styling involved dividing the few branches up into multiple smaller pads that were in better scale and harmony to the size of the tree. Those were then used to accentuate the movement and direction of the trunk line.

There is still a number of areas that need to fill in with further ramification but I think it is certainly off to a great start.

After saying that red pines are rare in Australia my next post will be about another taller tree that is also of very high quality. Until then……..

Just a quick post for today. I was going through some old holiday photos (mainly bonsai pics) and came across a small Japanese White Pine I had worked on in Japan.

I am really getting more and more into shohin sized trees. They are really challenging to grow well yet are easy to handle and take up much less bench space, which is a plus.

The challenge with this tree was to create enough detail in the foliage by means of multiple layers to give the illusion that it was in fact a much larger tree.

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Before

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After

Of course half the battle is starting with good stock which this little tree certainly falls into the category of.

Hopefully I can start producing some stock similar to this in the coming years.

One of the trees I worked on last year was an informal upright Mugo Pine. I think that it was originally received by its owner as essentially a piece of topiary. He then worked it over a few years into a bonsai form.

I was asked to wire the tree and refine its image.

The tree had a few issues that this round of work has tried to iron out but it will certainly benefit from further refinement as it progresses.

The trees branching was incredibly dense in part due to its previous life as topiary which had lead to a large mass of ramification. It was also compounded by the tendency of Mugo pines to have multiple shoots at each branch tip which further compounded the dense look.

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Multiple growing tips on a typical shoot.

My first action was to remove unnecessary sub-branches and take many of the branches back to a much simpler structure which in turn reduced the foliage density. I also reduced the remaining shoots on the tips to two shoots which further reduced the density and allowed for light and air to reach into the inner structure to aid back budding.

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Some of the sub-branches removed from the first branch.

After the pruning work the aim of the styling was to break the large pads and masses of foliage into smaller pads to create a higher level of detail and structure.

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The tree before the work.

I ended up removing close to 50% of the foliage which lead me to go a little bit easily on any heavy bending. Ultimately i would like to bend the thick first and second branches down a little more than they are currently and work on some of the dead stubs that were left long to die back slowly.

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The tree after.

All in all the tree has been improved and is growing nicely into its new form. Perhaps this coming winter it will be ready for a re-visit.

Both my bonsai and personal life have been busy of late. I am fortunate that this year I have been invited to demonstrate and run workshops across Australia for local club, groups and the AABC National Convention.  On top of this travel I just begun winter styling of clients trees. It looks like I will have a fairly full book of client trees, workshops and demonstrations that combined with a young child, a house half way through renovations and a full-time job doesn’t leave a lot of time to work my own collections.

Today’s post is actually about a tree I worked on a year ago whilst in japan.

It was a small shimpaku juniper that Oyakata asked me to wire and style prior to taking it to auction the following day to be sold.

Prior to the work

Prior to the work

I initially wanted to tilt the tree to the right so that the first bend would come in contact with the soil giving the appearance of a much larger trunk but Oyakata didn’t want to re-pot as the auction was so close and as a result we utilised the existing angle and front.

It turned out to be a fairly straight forward re-style and Oyakata told me it sold well at the auction.

Post work.

Post work.

Looking back on trees like this it really gives me the incentive to start growing my own material to this standard. I now have a backyard big enough to experiment with a whole lot more stock so I am looking forward to starting this process off this year. Who knows, in ten years time I might have a whole lot of these ready for display………..

During my last trip to Japan I worked on what might be a very special maple. Oyakata brought it to me to cut back and wire in preparation for the following springs growth.

He said it was a very famous tree that had been sold, miss-treated, had gone backwards and was now back at the nursery to be re made under Oyakata’s care.

The tree in question.

The tree in question.

The tree had supposedly featured in the Gafu-ten special tree album “Miyabi” that recognised important shohin bonsai masterpieces and pots.

Of course, I quickly dug out the album and tried to locate the tree. But, it was not so easy.

The best match I could find was the tree below.

The same tree?

The same tree?

I am fairly sure this is the same tree although it has obviously changed a lot since that picture was taken. I am guessing it’s been about 10 years between the two pictures and many aspects are similar although many are also very different.

The base has obviously thickened considerably totally changing the proportions but you can just make out the link to the original form. Some of the original branches have also been lost, have thickened and or have seemed to have moved as the trunk has spread. all this make recognising the tree difficult. I am 90% sure its the same tree but of course there is a good chance I am wrong.

Any forensic bonsai detectives out there? Can you see the similarities? Is this the same tree?

After some work.

After some work.

The work itself was fairly straight forward. I tried to remove thick branch tips, pruned out other unnecessary branching and wired a rough structure. The usual work for a deciduous tree in this stage.

From the back.

From the back.

It’s nice to know that the tree is back on the path to one day being a great little shohin tree again. Looking over the above pics really makes you appreciate how much trees change over time and how you are forced to forever re-imagine them and adapt to mishaps as they develop and change. The nice thing about working with living things is their ability to be reworked and recovered which i think this tree is a good example of.

A year later.

A year later. Thanks for the pic Kelvin!

A friend sent me some photos of this tree during his recent trip that shows another year of ramification and a change in pot. The trunk looks thicker again! It’s amazing what a year can do and only makes you think of how great this tree could have  looked if it hadn’t gone backwards for a period of years after appearing in miyabi.

In today’s post I am hoping to explain one of the more difficult concepts of bonsai and or any art or design for that matter.  It is the concept of seeing.

But doesn’t everyone see? Well not exactly. I like to think that everyone ‘looks’ (except the blind) but not everyone ‘sees’.

What do I mean by that? Well, I like to think that seeing involves interpreting what it is that you are looking at in a meaningful way. For example; if you were to look at a truck, you mind would see the shape and tell your brain you were looking at a truck. But really what you are looking at is a combination of shapes and forms that are all put together to form what we know as a truck. Does it have four wheels, six, eight? Twin cab, single cab? Flat tray, refrigerated? Trucks come in a range of styles and shapes and to just write it off as a ‘truck’ is missing a lot of information.

Clear as mud?

I was going through my photos from my last trip to japan (almost a year ago today) and noticed a good example of me not being able to really see what was right in front of me.

While i was in japan I worked on the below white pine while studying at Taisho-en.

The original front

The original front

Firstly, I decided that from this aspect the larger root formed a very straight line which was much less obvious from the tree’s back side. So I decided on a front change.

The original back (new front)

The original back (new front)

So far the styling was going to plan. New front decided, check.

I then addressed the old first branch (which was now a back branch) by cutting it off.

Branch removed

Branch removed

This achieved a couple of things. Firstly it removed a large heavy branch which took away from the trunks size and secondly it compacted the tree which highlighted the trunk further.

Following the cut, I cleaned the foliage and branches, worked on the jin that the cut off branch had created and also introduced some shari to the new front of the tree. I added a bunch of wire and finally came up with an image I was happy with.

Where i thought the tree was finished.

Finished?

At which stage Oyakata strolled past and gave his review of the tree. I sat and listened and took on board what he was saying, nodding and agreeing with everything he was saying. Every point he made was spot on and I could see the issues the minute he mentioned them. I felt a little embarrassed I hadn’t picked them up myself as I had been staring at this tree for the best part of a day and hadn’t actually seen the errors that were right in front of my nose. My eye had got lazy and my work had suffered as a result.

After adjustments

After adjustments

Oyakata had made a couple of small changes that made big difference. He slightly adjusted the front angle which moved the back branch (between apex and first branch) into a position that gave some indentation to the outer silhouette. This broke up the rigid silhouette and made the canopy outline more interesting.

He also broke up the large mass of the apex by bringing some negative space into the apex foliage, exposing a section of trunk. This added layers of detail and changed the appearance and perceived scale of the tree.

He then slightly separated the bottom edges of the two pads on either side of the apex. Looking at the above image with this in mind, the separation could be enhanced to create some more dynamism in the future.

Now nothing that Oyakata did was earth shattering. All his adjustments were quite simple design changes that I already should have known. The issue was that I had stopped looking at the tree analytically and rather had got caught up in the over all form.

It probably had something to do with it being the end of the day and perhaps i might have picked up these changes had I come back to the workshop fresh in the morning but it is an important reminder to not just look at your trees. You should look analytically so that you really ‘see’ what is going on.

I am sure you all have trees on your benches that you look at every day, who’s form and structure you have become accustomed to and have stopped looking for improvement in. We all do it and it is one of the major contributing factors as to why an artists bonsai stagnate.

Small changes can have big effects, so get out there and really try to ‘see’ what you are looking at. Challenge what is in front of you and always look for improvement.

Most skills in bonsai can be learnt in a short time frame but developing your eye and keeping it active and critical, especially in regards to your own work, and this requires constant work over a long time frame.

The trident maple below is this years project. I spotted this tree in a friends garden and loved the big gnarly base.  I like the base so much that I have just realised that I don’t have a picture of the whole tree, just photos of the base!

Lumpy flared base.

Lumpy flared base.

After removing one root, can you see where it came from?

After removing one root, can you see where it came from?

The base has great character but the rest of the tree is tall and directs the eye away from the nebari so I felt I could work on that to improve the tree overall. The other challenge with this trident is that it is a variety with large leaves and long internodes which makes it difficult to make a good canopy, especially on small trees.

I have noticed that other tridents with this growth habit also develop nice bases easily. The down side is that their ramification is course and thick. How can you make use of the base and also have a good foliage canopy?

Approach grafting new foliage.

Approach grafting new foliage.

The answer is to change the foliage. I decided to graft a finer foliage onto the lower section of the trunk so that I can make a shohin sized small tree with a huge powerful base and fine delicate branching.

Seedling planted in the same pot.

Seedling being planted in the same pot.

I chose a seedling from a batch that showed good foliage characteristics. That is smaller internodes and compact growth. I planted the seedling into the same pot as the main tree for ease of watering and then grafted the young whip into the main trunk.

I actually grafted it twice into the trunk, once on each side. I bent the seedling into a ‘u’ shape and simple cut a channel in either side of the trunk for the seedling to fit into. One side will become the apex, the other will become the first branch. This way I will have the same foliage on the whole tree once I cut off the main trunk in a year or two.

Even though i am changing the foliage I also wanted to keep the old foliage so i can experiment with it in regards to its base thickening properties. To save the foliage I decided to air layer off the top and the first branch.

The cut made and scraped clean.

The cut made and scraped clean. I actually used some branch cutters to cut a small amount of wood from around the layer site to ensure I got all of the cambian layer.

Spagnum moss soaked in seasol all wrapped in strong plastic.

Sphagnum moss soaked in seaweed extract, all wrapped in strong plastic.

If these layers work, I will probably grow them in pots for a year or two before ground growing them to see if the base flaring/thickening is a genetic trait or just a result of how this tree was grown.

I have noticed that there are tridents that grow good bases and poor ramification and then tridents that do the opposite. Has anyone else noticed this?

I am hoping that I can use cuttings from this tree to grow great bases then graft a good foliage variety on top to finish up the process. Time will tell if this works out or not. If this doesn’t work out I have another seed grown trident that shows similar properties. Fingers crossed.

 

Every one needs a project or two in their collection. I really enjoy project trees, that is tree that are undergoing various processes to transform them into a new style, shape or form.  The problem is that each year project trees undergo their transformation and then move into ramification/maintenance phases leaving me to find new projects.

Trident maples are one of my favorite species to work on and I really enjoy having one as a project. I always have my eye out for something that has plenty of room for improvement. The tree below is one such tree.

The tree as I recieved it

The tree as I received it

The tree was an imported trident maple. It had been brought into the country back in the 90’s when Australia’s border protection was much more flexible in regards to bringing bonsai in.

When I got the tree it had been left to grow out for the last 2 years and as a result there was a fair amount of work required to bring it back to its former glory.

After first cutback.

After first cutback.

The first thing I did was cut it back hard to stimulate some back budding. It’s branches were quite old so it didn’t bud out how I had hoped. This lead me to go down the path of approach grafting rather than risk cutting off branches and not get any buds pop. I decided to graft on a new set of branches at the base of all the old branches. In total I grafted 5 branches and left the tree to grow.

The grafted branches have taken.

The grafted branches have taken.

I also re-potted the tree and found a lump of old akadama in the center of the root ball. I bare rooted and picked all the old soil out of the root-ball. Almost immediately after the re-potting the vigour of the tree improved and I was rewarded with strong growth which helped the approach grafts to take. In the above image you can see the grafts emerging from the underside of each branch.

The large branches removed.

The large branches removed.

This spring I cut off all the large branches as the grafts were now strong enough to take over the sap flow.  When I made the cuts I cleaned the wounds up with a knife and then applied cut paste which in my experience helps things heal.

A wound and a grafted branch.

A wound and a grafted branch.

I have left the grafted shoots long and I will let them grow until I am sure that they are strong and well connected to the host trunk. Once I am sure of that (probably in a month or so) I will cut them back to the first internode and then begin growing the branch structure.

Unfortunately the back branch’s graft didn’t take but as luck would have it this spring a bud has popped right at the base of the branch right where I wanted it. Sometime trees do what you want.

The two leaves are the new bud at the bas of the back branch.

The two leaves are the new bud at the base of the back branch.

Once this shoot is strong enough I will also cut off the old thick back branch above.

This spring I also placed the last graft I need, just below the apex. This should allow me to cut off the last heavy branch on the tree without having to chance whether or not I get a bud where I want.

The shoot on the bottom left is bent up to under the apex where it has been approach grafted into the trunk.

The shoot on the bottom left is bent up to under the apex where it has been approach grafted into the trunk.

Its been fun replacing the branches on this tree and i am looking forward to this season of growth where i can start to grow the branch structure and form the outline of the bonsai. Hopefully in 5 more years this will be a highly ramified and ready to show bonsai. Time will tell.

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