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While in Japan I worked on a number of trees which might make it to future posts.

One such tree was a bunjin style white pine that had been bought by the nursery as part of a larger collection. It had been styled by the previous owner but with far too thin wire so it was up to me to re-wire and find a new style for the tree. Oyakata gave me free rein on the tree and so I set about working.


As the tree began, styled by its previous owner.

As the tree began, styled by its previous owner.

So I stripped the old wire, pruned some branches and wired what was left. I then started to place branches and reached a stage where i wanted to cut off some branches that would take the tree past a point of no-return. So I called Oyakata from the garden to make sure he was going to be happy with my decisions.

My styling of the tree.

My styling of the tree.

It turns out what I had done was not to his liking and he proceeded to remake the branches and form a more upright tree.

The tree after Oyakata re-re-styled it.

The tree after Oyakata re-re-styled it.

And so that is how the tree stayed. After all it was not my tree and I certainly did the right thing by asking when I did.

That being said, did I like the end product? No, not really but I wasnt really happy with my version either. I can see why Oyakata styled it the way he did.

It is a little more regular and perhaps in that form is more easily sold (which is the name of the nursery game) and being of fairly low quality comparatively with the rest of the nursery Oyakata was probably hoping to get it sold quickly to make room for something more interesting.

Having said all that what was interesting about the exercise was to see a piece of material transformed into three totally different stylings by three different pairs of hands over the course of the day. Each person who styled it, from the previous owner, to me, finally to Oyakata saw something different in the material and I think it is that difference in how each of us treats our trees that keeps this art interesting and keeps me turning up to demonstrations, shows and events.

Perhaps this material much like all others has no one perfect way to be styled but instead many different forms that play to different tastes.

Things have been pretty busy since I got back from Japan. A new job, a pregnant wife and Autumn’s bonsai work just beginning haven’t left a lot of time for the blog.

On top of this, I have also been doing a fair amount of work on customer’s bonsai and their collections. Some of this work is routine seasonal maintenance, some of it teaching and then some of it is re-styling.

Before any work

Before any work

One such re-styling I completed recently was the black pine pictured above.  For Australia, the black pine had some good age to it and was starting to develop nice bark textures, but it’s canopy had grown into a solid blob over the years. My job was to find the tree within the blob. I had to prune a large number of branches out and define a better branch structure to set the tree up for it’s future. As a result a fair amount was cut off the tree but now the bones have been formed to grow a better structure upon.

After pruning and wiring.

After pruning and wiring.

One of the main changes, apart from separating the foliage into layers was to enhance the movement of the tree. This involved shortening the right side and lowering the head to accentuate the left movement of the main branch which made a huge difference to the appearance of the tree.

I think a re-pot into something more suitable and a year or two of candle pruning should see this tree fill into a very nice tree.

As you may or may not be aware, I have recently undergone surgery on my right wrist. Being right-handed, this has put a fair dent in my bonsai plans of late.

A few nights ago after work I decided to do something about it and tried wiring up a small juniper.

Before the work

Before the work

I have been working on this tree for a few years now, slowly chasing the foliage in closer to the trunk and replacing leggy growth with tighter growth. I decided that it was about due for its first styling so that I could create the bones to grow and fill in the foliage upon.

Considering that my right arm was in a cast I think the wiring went ok. It’s not show ready but it never was going to be. It has a few more years before it is going to be anywhere near presentable.

I really wanted to get some fine sand paper into the bark to reveal the orange / red texture below the outer layers but the cast proved too clumsy. Something to look forward to once the pins from the wrist are removed after the next operation.

The little shimpaku from the front.

The little shimpaku from the front.

I find that when wiring junipers and particularly shimpaku, that preparation is key to a good result. Pruning unwanted growth and thinning what remains so that you end up with an evenly dense canopy not only makes the end result look better but it also makes for more balanced growth and an easier job while wiring.

As seen from the right

As seen from the right

and from the back side

and from the back side

All in all I am pretty happy with the results considering that most of the wiring was done one-handed. I guess it just goes to show that interesting trunk movement is half the battle. That being said, the tree is only just beginning its journey as bonsai and should see many future wirings to come.


This post follows the progression of 6 months in the life of a Procumbens juniper. Last June i did a demonstration for a local club, Bonsai Northwest Inc. As most of my trees had been worked and I had very little left to do on them it was decided that we purchased some stock for the demo. While digging through all the stock at ‘Baloc Bonsai’ I came across this juniper.

The Juniper before the demonstration

The Juniper before the demonstration but after a bit of a cleanup.

Having looked over the tree for a day or so before hand while it was in my garden I came up with a plan for improvement. From the tree’s original front the foliage mass was not close to the trunk, I thought with  a little work I could compact the foliage mass into a denser crown.

The foliage from the original front.

The foliage from the original front.

I also thought I could change the front and make use of a more interesting trunk and jin line. This plan created a few issues that I had to deal with in order to complete the re-styling. First was the trunk angle. From the original the trunk needed to be stood up around 30 degrees, which in turn placed most of the foliage pointing out towards the back of the tree.

Most of the bending of the larger branches was completed with the help of a bending jack as seen in the photo.

Jack in place prior to bending.

Jack in place prior to bending.

The other issue was that from the new front the jin did not compliment the movement of the tree so this was bent by means of what is essentially steam bending. I wrapped the jin in wet towels and plastic sandwich film over night to moisten the jin and then used a small gas torch to heat up and soften the wood fibres so that it could be bent into a new direction.

After the jin was re-possitioned and main branch bent into possition.

After the jin was repositioned and main branch bent into position.

The next step was compacting the foliage to form the crown and subsequaint branches. This was done with a combination of guy-wires and heavy wiring. The below picture shows the result. A small towel covered some branching that was to be removed once the tree had back budded in that area.

The result at the end of the demo.

The result at the end of the demo.

If you look from the original front you can see how the foliage has been moved from its original positions to compliment the new front.

The re-styling from the original front.

The re-styling from the original front.

Since the demo I re-potted the tree into a new container at the new planting angle. It grew out well in early spring with plenty of back-bedding and fresh growth. It was time to work on the foliage.

After some strong spring growth.

After some strong spring growth.

All this new growth provided me with the chance to cut out some of the leggy old growth and replace it with more compact fresh shoots.

A leggy branch with tired looking foliage.

A leggy branch with tired looking foliage.

The branch cut back so the fresh shoot at its base can replace it.

The branch cut back so the fresh shoot at its base can replace it.

In this way I was able to improve and remove some of the poorer condition and leggy foliage. I cut more out of the strong areas and left a little more in the weaker areas to balance the growth of the tree.

After the cut back.

After the cut back.

I was also able to remove one of the branches on the right side and hopefully in a few months I will be also able to cut back the other right hand branches.

There are a few other thing I want to do, such as lowering the planting position, define the live veins, and work on the shari texture, but for the time being those things can wait.

What the tree desperately needs now is a full wiring, I want to further compact the apex and better form up the crown and branches but unfortunately that will have to wait until my wrist heals. Hopefully I will be able to do it in a few more months.  In the mean time I will keep feeding it heavily and keep replacing old growth with new healthy growth so when it does come time to wire, the tree is ready.

Prior to the recent AABC convention, I was asked to style an established Japanese white pine that had reached a stage where it needed some work to get it back on track.

It had been worked on a number of years ago during a workshop held by Hirotoshi Saito where the second trunk was bent upwards from what was a heavy first branch. Since then the tree has grown out with the occasional branch guyed down from time to time and with some trimming to keep the growth somewhat compact. What the tree was desperately needing was a full wiring and styling.

As the tree arrived in my garden.

I cut a good amount of branches off and had to do some heavy bending to move the apex from leaning towards the back to leaning forward. Most of the work was sorting out branch structure and setting basic branch positions to prevent thickening in areas that you might not want it in the future and providing structure for the tree to grow into.

Some of the removed branches.

After a couple of days wiring.

The tree will really benefit from a couple of years growth to fill out some areas such as the apex, but it now has a solid base structure to build upon further in the future.

The graft in this trees case is quite noticeable at the moment but I think that once the white pines park begins to crackle it should start to blend in much more. How long will that take? Who knows. I think 10 years would start to see the process beginning.

You don’t see many White pines in Australia and particularly of this size. It will be a good tree to keep an eye on as it progresses in the coming years.

I had some time this weekend to work on one of my pines. This time i chose to re-wire a small Japanese black pine (Pinus thunbergii).

The tree in question had belonged to a member of one of the clubs I belong to. When i received the tree it was estimated to be around 30 years old. It had been a nice little tree, but the last few years before I received the tree it had become leggy and some wire had also been left in the apex which had caused some large swelling and scarring. As a result, I had to prune most of the branches back quite hard and also remove the damaged section of the apex and upper trunk which essentially shortened the tree by a third.

The first wiring happened in March 2009.

One of the first wirings. Before and after, March 2009.

The little pine responded well to heavy feeding and was re-potted into a better mix. It budded back quite well and was ready for another light wiring by April of 2010.

After wiring the tips out. April, 2010.

As you can see the apex still needs a lot of developement. After cutting the damaged upper trunk off in 2009, I had then had to re-build the apex from a single branch. It is a slow process to rebuild a crown but this little pine responded well and produced a number of buds where i needed them.

The tree slowly coming to shape. Pre-wire, first branch and then secondary branches wired.

Every year the ramification increases and I am able to remove problem branches and replace them with better growth. The apex has now taken shape and now needs to increase its ramification to fill out its silhouette.

After the latest wiring.

Looking at the above picture the shape of the tree becomes clearer, but i think it still has a way to go. I like the long first branch, but am still toying up whether or not to break the foliage mass up into a couple of pads or keep it as a single mass. This years wiring was not the final wiring the tree will see and was done to achieve two things. The first was to start to set the form of the branches a little closer to how I imagine their final positions and also to let more light into the interiors of the structure. By letting more light into the interior I should be able to strengthen weak inner buds and also encourage further back budding.

I hope that in a couple more seasons I should be able to even out the foliage density and have the tree ready for show.

The longer I am involved with bonsai the more my tastes change and develop.

Below is a Japanese black pine that I have been growing for a couple of years. It’s not a classic beauty but I was drawn to its strangeness and the challenges it presented in regards to styling it. I enjoy the challenge of difficult material. Quite often you have to think outside the square a little in order to get a pleasing result and often the bonsai that are transformed from this unusual material often posses something that makes you look twice at them and linger to explore their curves, movement and styling.

Before the work.

Now this tree had been styled once before, but I had never been entirely happy with the result. I had styled the first branch as just that, a branch. initially this branch was a sacrifice branch, grown to thicken the trunk and when I came to style the tree there was something about it that appealed to me. I had spent all the time since then looking at the tree on my benches trying to work out why it didn’t quite sit right with my eye. I realised this was a simple question for most people because I had many people suggest to just cut it off. I thought about that this time around but decided that I could have another shot at things and try to make the bonsai work with the large first branch.

My new approach was to style the branch more like a trunk. I guess the idea is that the main branch got so strong that it started to turn up and form a trunk in its own right.

After a quick wire and the addition of a couple of guy wires.

Now as you are probably aware by looking at the above photo that this bonsai has a long way to go but at least now I feel this new structure is something that the tree can grow into and fill out to form an interesting, convincing bonsai.

Now I am sure that I will get suggestions for the rest of this trees life to cut off the first branch. As this tree is, it doesn’t fit the normal image of bonsai.

I have often found that the bonsai that are a little out of the ordinary are the ones that I end up remembering and that I return to at shows to have a second look at.

Just for interest purposes I photoshopped the branch off.

The offending branch virtually removed.

Looking at the above comparison it becomes obvious that this is not the right direction to take this pine in at the moment. The removed branch would reveal a straight trunk and leave behind a mediocre branch and canopy structure. If I was to cut off the branch I cannot see the tree staying in my collection for long.


The tree below is one I worked on a couple of years ago. It is a large Shimpaku Juniper that had some great deadwood. When I was working on it, it was in the process of having some new roots grafted onto it. Because of this the styling was kept to just main branches, leaving the tips somewhat free so as not to stress the tree too much.

The tree before any work May 2009. There is a foam box that is holding soil for the grafts at the base. The layer was on the tree so that the deadwood would be brought closer to the soil surface and give the tree a more solid base.

After several hours wiring.

On my latest trip to Japan I re-visited Taisho-en and was reaquainted with this tree. The grafts had been a success and the tree had found a new home in a new bonsai pot.

It’s always nice to see trees you have worked on after some time apart. I get a similar feeling to that of  seeing an old friend. When I saw this tree in the nursery I took my time looking over it and revisiting the familiar curves and lines of the trunk and branches.

The tree as of January 2011. The angle of the tree is a little more upright now and the base appears much more solid now it is lower in the pot. If you look closely you can see a tuft of foliage at the base that is still attached to the root graft.

I wonder if we will cross paths again.

The following bonsai is one of the first trees I collected a number of years ago.

It is a radiata or Monterey pine (Pinus radiata). I quite like the species to work with but i am still trying to really get a grip on how to best grow and refine them. Perhaps i should make a future post on this subject.

Before it began its life as a bonsai it was located on the edge of a pine plantation where it had grown on a road batter. It had a very interesting curve in the trunk which was either from machinery running it over at some stage of its life or from it trying to seek the light through the long, tangled grass in which it was growing.

After collecting it took a couple of seasons for it to recover and become strong enough to be styled.

The tree before is life as a bonsai. It was needle plucked and readied for its first styling.

I styled is initially at a club night as part of a demonstration. At this time i wrapped the trunk in electrical tape as a substitute for raffia and put a second large bend in the trunk. The bend seemed quite severe to those watching at the time but the little pine bent easily. I then wired it fully and placed the foliage.

The first branch bent into position before the major bend was made.

A top view taken some time after the first styling. The dotted line shows the trunk line. The second bend is the one made during the first styling.

The tree recovered well and I lived with its style for some years while working on ramifying the branches. I didn’t mind the style but, I always thought there was something not quite right about it.

The bonsai was growing well after its first styling. It was un-wired and soon needed work.

The back side. I had often looked at it from this side and thought about a possible front.

The front after a re-wire. It was around this time that the shari seen in the next images started to develop.

Even after a re-wire the style still was not sitting well with me so, i decided to take it to a critique session by a visiting Japanese Professional, Hirotoshi saito. He suggested that we do re-style and stand the tree up roughly 90 degrees. So, a few days later the tree was styled. It was quite a dramatic change but definitely one for the better.

The results after the second re-style.

That was back in July. The tree was very healthy and had grown strongly,  as a result there were multiple places where wire was cutting in.

The pine after its spring growth.

A side view.

The back. From this view you can get an idea of the extent of the shari that naturally developed. Hopefully i can extend this over time to the front of the lower trunk.

It was time for some work. I plucked and cut needles to allow more light and air into the interior of the tree and also removed most of the wire. I was happy to see that most of the branches had set in position.

The tree after the work.

The tree is far from finished and i will need to re-wire it again this winter. Pines with movement such as this are common in collected pines in europe but you rarely see them in Australia.

Hopefully if everything goes to plan it will have a bright future in its new upright style.

I just thought I would add a quick before and after of a large white pine I styled while at Taisho-en.

It one of the largest trees i have worked on to date. It had quite a good canopy of foliage to work with and some nice features such as the shari on the lower trunk and the interesting kink in the first branch.

It was a big undertaking and took the best part of two days to fully wire. The planting angle was changed and the foliage was adjusted to suit. Some heavy bending was needed to compact the first branch as can be seen from the reenforcing bar next to the trunk.


Working on large trees is a little bit strange. You have to work very closely to the tree in order to apply wire and position branches but due to their size you cannot get a true understanding of how it looks in connection with the rest of the tree. When working on smaller sized trees often all it takes to see the tree in the whole is just leaning back in your chair.
When working on larger material you end up regularly walking a few paces away to look at what you have done in conjunction with the rest of the tree’s form.

After the work

You can get an idea of the size of this tree by looking at my fingers at the top of the blue screen. I was holding the screen above my head with arms close to full stretch.

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