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The below picture is of a branch I wired in Japan. It was actually the first piece of material i was allowed to place wire on.

When I first arrived at Taisho-en my duties were watering, sweeping/ cleaning and preparing hot water for the days tea. I did this for a few days as well as helping move the odd tree or other general task around the nursery. I also watched a lot. I watched people styling, pruning and working on a range of different tasks. I was actually enjoying the whole process even though i hadn’t really touched a bonsai yet.

One day Oyakata (Mr. Urushibata) brought me a branch that had just been cut off a white pine that was undergoing a re-styling and instructed me to ‘do wiring’. I was given a small space in the studio and was given some aluminium wire. I proceeded to wire that branch as well as i could. At the time it was the most advanced branch i had ever wired. Previously i had only seen pine ramification like that in books. Looking back at it now all i can see is errors in my wiring but at the time i was pretty happy with the result.

Oyakata was a little surprised.  He seemed pleased with what I had achieved, although he said i had wired the branch too flatly. He then proceeded to adjust my work and explained how important volume within a branch was. I learnt a lot from that one cut off branch.

The first branch i was allowed to wire.

I passed my first test and that afternoon i was given my first tree to wire. A small Ezo spruce. It was a tree that was hidden up the back of the nursery. It didn’t look like much to start with but i was excited.

The Ezo Spruce before the work.

The apex was pruned out and a lower branch was wrapped in cloth (we couldn’t find rafia) with the intention of bringing it up to form a new crown.

The Ezo Spruce after the work

The tree was wired to the tips and I positioned all the branches and foliage. I then showed the results to Oyakata.

He again adjusted my work and explained why he was doing so. This was how my learning was to progress through out my stay. I would work on a tree without much help and then Oyakata would adjust my work and explain why. I learnt a lot over the course of my stay and every new tree I worked on had less and less adjustments made by Mr. Urushibata. Sometimes he would lower a branch a little or adjust some foliage, sometimes he would cut off some branches and sometimes he would make me cut off wire and re-apply it. Some trees had a lot of adjustments made others had none.

This process of working taught me a huge amount and I am very grateful that I was able to do it.

The Spruce and branch above were the beginnings of a very steep learning curve. I look back at them now and see a few things that I would do differently now as I am sure i will do when looking back at my current collecting sometime in the future. Although i may not be on as steep a learning curve as i was on my first visit, i am constantly learning from those around me and from my observations of my own bonsai. Hopefully i can spend some more time at taisho-en in the future and continue to improve.


The tree in this post was another i worked on while in Japan. It arrived at the nursery one day and was in need of a re-think and re-style.

The major change was to stand it up.


Juniper Before

Before the work.


I first wired the tree, keeping the small second trunk and then re-potted it into its new upright position.


Juniper After

After the work


As the tree had its angle changed so dramatically it needed time to re-establish a new rootball that could support it in its new position. In the mean time a bamboo prop was used to take the weight of the tree while the rootball became stable enough to support itself.

Unfortunately some of the lower shari had been buried in the previous potting angle and as a result had rotted. I feel that the base would have appeared much more impressive had it still had deadwood at its base.

It was a nice tree to work on, but at the time i guess it got lost amongst all the other high quality trees in the nursery.

This was by no means a top tree but looking back at it now I would kill to work on material such as this in Australia.

I guess I will have to sharpen the shovel and keep an eye open for urban junipers in friends gardens.

Although there are many forestry species of pine planted around Australia, Pinus radiata is by far the most prolific. Known as radiata in Australia it is also known as the Monterey pine in places such as America where it is indigenous to.

As it has been planted on mass it is one of the few coniferous species that you can find to dig. They produce seed well and generally anywhere you find a plantation you will also find feral seedlings. This is so much of a problem in some areas that they are declared weed species.

The up side of all this is there are many opportunities to dig and grow these pine as bonsai.

The below pine is a radiata that i obtained  through a friend. He had sourced it from an old grower who had no longer been able to care for it.

When i received it, it had a lot going for it; old bark, nice nebari and a trunk with some movement and age. These were all factors that encouraged me to pursue its future.

That said it also had a whole host of problems.

It was quite sick and all the needles were yellow. It had lost most of the lower branches and those that remained all were angled upwards and had foliage mainly at the tips. When I cut the tie wires in the pot it fell over because it had barely any roots.

I re-potted and fed the tree back to health over the corse of a year and then began to think about styling.

The beginning

This was the tree before styling began

As the branches were all old with quite old bark i was reluctant to bend them into their future downward position in one go as i was pretty sure they were going to be brittle.

Early days

After the first round of bending

After bending the branches into the above positions almost every branch had began to crack. It was now a matter of letting the tree grow out and recover before completing the bending.

A year later the tree had been growing strongly and was ready for round two. I had slowly increased the downward angle of some of the branches over the course of the growing season but they had not yet reached their final possitions.

Next step

The tree had recovered well and it was time to make some decisions.

I had decided that the first branch would be removed and i would fill this visual position with a ‘Nozoki no eda’ or peeping branch. This type of branch is basically a first or main branch that originates from behind the tree but occupies the space a first branch would. This style of branch is often seen is junipers.

The branch removed

The branch removed

I removed the branch and began to wire the tree. You can see the result of this first real styling in the image below.

the first styling

After the first styling

The tree was fully wired into shape and some jin was created at the base of the removed branch. I left it long for future use as a guy wire attachment point and still have not removed it. I will probably get around to shortening it and refining it this winter.

Since the above photo the tree has grown strongly and has had one re-wiring. It was starting to take shape and was ready to be un-wired.

before wiring

After some strong growth.

I un-wired the tree and did a small amount of re-wiring mainly to the tips of the branches.

It is nice to reach a stage with a tree where you no longer have to wire every main branch.

After a basic wiring.

After a basic wiring.

Above is how the tree ended up after a basic wiring. It really needs a full wiring which i plan to do this coming winter. Hopefully this seasons growth will fill a couple of gaps in the apex and generally give some more weight to some of the foliage and at the same time strengthen some of the weaker buds so i can reduce the branches to them.

The tree is really only beginning its journey to become a refined bonsai but most of the structure is there. Unfortunately the day that i took the above photo it was raining so the bark is dark and it is hard to see just how nice and crackily the bark is.

Radiata’s are a tree that i am still really trying to work out how to grow well. Last year i tried to treat them like a black pine and cut all new growth off around christmas time. It did not respond very well and didn’t really produce any back-budding. This year i am going to grow them a little more like some of the other growers in my area. That is they pinch out strong growth as it appears and continue to do so throughout the growing season.

I was kind of hoping that there would be a calendar bases technique i could use to remove the new growth but at this time it doesn’t seem like there is. Perhaps overtime i will understand them more and then will be able to develop a better method. In the mean time i will just enjoy watching them grow and the work associated with those phases.

If anyone has any techniques that work with these pines, please share them in the comments.

I like growing and working on shohin sized bonsai. This Shimpaku was another that I was lucky enough to style while at Taisho-en, Japan.

It had all the makings of a good bonsai, but had become overgrown and needed to be styled.

Shohin Shimpaku Before

This is the small Shimpaku before the work began.

The trunk line had an interesting twist and the shari and live vein had started to contrast with one another nicely.

Shohin Shimpaku After

And this is the tree after styling

This work was really just a wiring exercise. I was able to position most of the foliage into good positions but it really needed a year or twos growth to fill out some of the weaker branches. The foliage was positioned in a way to allow the viewer to see the nice twists in the trunk and shari.

All in all it is a very nice tree that can only improve as it ages. This was definitely a tree I wished I could have put in my suitcase before I left.

The following tree was a large Shimpaku (Juniperus chinensis) I worked on towards the end of my first stay at Taisho-en, Japan.

Before the majority of the work (first branch wired)

Before the majority of the work (first branch wired)

It is a tanuki (or phoenix graft) which had a couple of issues.

The first problem was that the grafted foliage was of a very large and coarse variety which at the time of styling was not particularly popular with buyers in Japan. They were more interested in the fine dense foliage of the itoigawa shimpaku from the Niagata region and similar fine shimpaku varieties.

The other problem was that the live veins were not entirely convincing in how they were attached to the deadwood.

Having said that I still feel that the tree ended up an impressive bonsai and I am proud that I was allowed to have an imput into the tree future.


After many hours wiring

After many hours wiring




This is a tree I styled on during my second stay at Taisho-en, Shizuoka, Japan. It is a Tosho (Needle Juniper) that was most likely collected.

I had seen it during my previous stay and had helped graft shimpaku foliage onto the live vein via the process of approach grafting.  Subsequently, for what ever reason the shimpaku whip died and the tree grew out to a shaggy silhouette.  Mr. Urushibata had decided that instead of trying to graft the foliage a second time that he would instead have me re-style it utilizing the original foliage.

Needle Juniper Before

The tree before the work

As tree had grown out so much it had to be pruned quite severely but enough remained to establish a good structure upon which future ramification could be built.

Tosho are an interesting species to work with. They display an ancient image (especially if you are lucky enough to have material such as this) and the contrasts between deadwood, live vein and the blueish hue of the foliage make them quite unique.

They are not the easiest species to style as they can be quite uncomfortable to work with.  As their name suggests, their foliage is needle sharp and pierces your skin with almost every touch. This negative is countered by so many of the good features of this species. Even the dry heart wood rewards those who endure the sting with a magical sweet scent.

Personally I do like the fact that the tree leaves a mark on you.  Days later while my hands were stinging while washing up under a cold tap I would find my mind drifting back to the tree that left the marks.

Sometimes things are worth a bit of a struggle.

Needle Juniper After

The Needle Juniper after the work

I hope that this tree is at the nursery when i next find the time to get back there as i would love to see how it is progressing and possible have a opportunity to feel its sting again.


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