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As promised, I’ve been working my way through the seasonal needle work on my black pines. Its a busy time of year for pines (as the title’s poor taste pun suggests) and can become a bit monotonous.

Endless thinning out, cutting back and de-wiring in preparation for next season growth and future styling is the order of the season. It’s not particularly glamorous work but necessary much like the bulk of bonsai care, the dramatic styling we all know and love really are a minor part of growing bonsai.

Of the two trees in this post, one was de-candled last season, the other was not. Can you guess which is which?

Not a whole lot to say that the pictures cant do on their own so I might leave this update brief. I have a bunch more to get through so expect some more updates in the coming weeks.

I was hoping to have a few more done but as is often the way, I got side tracked and began to re-wire on of the trees I was working (possibly a subject of a future post). As a result, it pushed back the other trees I need to clean up but we should be back on track shortly.

Trees below:

I have begun (slightly late) my pine work and tonight I had the chance to select buds, pluck some needles and de-wire this little Japanese red pine.

The first tree in this clip is the red pine in question as per the 2018 Australian Association of Bonsai clubs national convention.

The process itself essentially involves assessing the new growth that developed after de-candling, balancing strength and density of old and new needles and reducing shoots back to pairs of two where more than two have developed.

Its a fairly straight forward process but certainly can take some time. Luckily on small trees the amount of time required is conveniently shortened while the frustration of not enough room to work is increased.

As part of the work I de-wired the tree. Most branches stayed in place but I decided to remove a front branch that was getting long and leggy which has created a hole that I plan to fill with some upper foliage next time I fully wire the tree. (perhaps next summer after de-candling)

For those interested, I did dig up a very early shot of the tree that I am guessing is from around 2012 or there about. Its come a long way and endured many an insult and mistake along the way!

2012, interesting to see how far it’s come.

Do you ever look at a tree and wonder what you were thinking when you made a previous decision about it?

Pretty sure (according to my detailed and hazy recollection) that this tree was re-potted some time in the last two to three years. It hazards a guess then as to why I chose to pot it with this front at the time?

The tree in question is another English Elm (brother of THIS tree) that I have been slowly growing branches on. I tracked down the gnarled trunk a number of years ago along with some other weird and wonderful stock which are also in similar stages of branch building.

I brought this particular tree into the workshop the other day and removed some old Autumn leaves along with the weeds that were thriving under my care.

As is often the case when performing routine maintenance, you really get a good chance to look at a tree from all angles, inspect features and generally get reacquainted with it, which is exactly what happened here.

Having turned the front 15 degrees I realised that it was a much better front (the square hole of negative space disappears, the canopy is more even, movement is more directional and it flows better).

After making this discovery, it had me questioning why I had chosen the original front in the first place?

Had the tree developed in such a way that the front had gone from a good decisions to a poor choice? Had I not been paying enough attention last time I potted the tree? Has my eye developed so I am now seeing something I previously couldn’t?

There must have been an answer at one point, unfortunately it seems to be lost to my immaculate mental record keeping and the rigors of time.

This is another tree ready for a change of pot (to something more suitable than its current grow pot) and hopefully in the coming months I can rectify these past miscarriages of bonsai artistry and who knows, i might also get around to re-wiring the branching (particularly the lower left branch).

This constant update and change that happens with bonsai is one of the points that keeps me engaged and interested in growing them. As I develop as a grower (heaven forbid I brand myself an artist, (more on bonsai and art in a future post) my eye and tastes have shifted which has often seen previous good decisions become bad choices that need to be remodeled and remade.

It brings me back to the idea of self reflection and looking at your bonsai objectively with fresh eyes each time you work on them. Never accept what you are presented with, and always look to push past where you last left off.

Maybe to be able to do this well you need to forget the decisions that came before…………..

Looking back at the date of the last blog post (2017), it kind of feels like i have abandoned this blog!

A lot has happened since the last post with life squarely getting in the way of bonsai on a regular basis.

I now have 2 kids and getting through their young years has certainly taken away from the amount of time I have had to work my own trees.

My motivation has had it’s ups and downs, with it hard some days to look at trees that are screaming out for time to be spent on them, time that I simply don’t have. It’s been hard seeing some trees go backwards while i focus the limited time i have on my better trees.

I will likely be selling off a few trees to get back to a number that I can spend the right amount of time upon.

I have managed to keep the teaching side of my bonsai practice going which has been really good as it is always exciting to help students get the best out of their trees.

I have also recently been announced as one of the Australian Demonstrators at the World bonsai Convention in Perth next year (more on that in a future post) which is very exciting and daunting all at once!

On the home front my trees have been getting some attention but never as much as they need. To rectify that I have built a small shed/ workshop which has allowed me to get some bonsai work done once the kids are asleep. It looks like I will turn into a nocturnal bonsai grower!

I will probably do a shed tour post at some stage if its something people are interested in. One of the things the recent covid19 lockdown has allowed me to do in the shed has been installing an old blind that now serves as my new photo background. Its a warm beige (or perhaps bone, off white, cream, light brown, or any other number of versions of that colour).

It was chosen to be close to the colour that Taisho-en uses for its photo background in my good friend Asunma San’s workshop (some pics of the colour can be seen in the post Quiet Reflection). You can let me know if you think the colour is a good match below….

Anyway, enough excuses, its been over 3 years since my last post and I figured that it is about time I got back into the swing of updating the blog on at least a semi regular basis.

I’ll jump straight in with a small unusual English Elm.  

I wont go into too much detail around the work, in essence it was a gentle rewire but i like the direction it is heading. I guess i will have to start looking for a pot……. Probably a good excuse to go through all the boxes of pots I have stashed away. (more potential future post content)

I am a big fan of weird, lumpy and strange material, so this tree is right up my alley and perhaps the perfect restart to the blog. I hope you enjoy the tree. What pot would you choose?

See you in the next post!

Joe.

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.

 

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……..

For those interested i have been invited to participate in a short discussion about my thoughts on Bonsai, my experiences in Japan and the up coming workshops I am running in conjunction with my close friend Natasha.

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An interesting tree I stumbled across recently.

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A synergy?

I am assuming the show will be download-able at some stage and I will supply a link if and when it becomes available via a future post. For those wanting to catch the show live, It will be broadcast on ABC local radio Central and Western Victoria at around 7am this Saturday.

Audio is available HERE

For those interested in the workshops, they will be aimed at teaching people to see and interpret the world through bonsai as an artistic medium rather than via a set of rigid rules. It will guide you through the process of reflecting on how we see the world, how we might become comfortable within this and how we might communicate this to others; An awakening through bonsai if you like which can and will be applied widely outside of bonsai.

Recently featured in Country Style magazine, her property, skirted by forest, will provide the perfect backdrop for learning and sharing ideas.

Another highlight of collaborating with Natasha is that the workshop will be teamed up with a beautiful 2 course kitchen garden lunch cooked from locally sourced, grown and foraged ingredients set in her stunning garden.  Natasha is an incredibly passionate, talented and welcoming host who is sure to make the day a very special one.

Further details can be found at her site: http://www.natashamorgan.com.au/

While this tree has had a couple of mishaps since I last posted about it, Project Trident 02 has been slowly progressing.

You can read about its beginning HERE.

Since that post, I removed the air layers and have been trying to get as much growth in the grafts I could to help them fuse with the parent trunk. I did have a small failure with the first branch’s graft as i knocked it when moving the tree and broke it.

I re-did that graft and it seems both grafts are growing well now. So well in fact I have decided to go into the next phase of this material’s development.

As I am looking to make a smaller tree I will at some stage have to make a fairly large cut to shorten the main trunk.

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The newly taken graft on the left side of the trunk and the re-grafted branch lower on the right.

When making large cuts on bonsai, you should always have some sort of plan as to how you will heal/deal with the resulting wound. My plan with this tree is to heal the cut in phases.

What I plan to do with this tree is make half the cut now, use the growth on the main trunk above the cut to heal it and then sever the remaining half of the trunk. This should leave me with half the scar I would have otherwise .

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The first cut.

So I cut through half the trunk with a small saw and then cleaned up this cut with a sharp knife and sealed it all with cut paste.

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Cut paste applied.

The idea is that with the main trunk still attached, it will draw sap past the cut site and speed up the healing process. The more growth and sap that moves past a scar, the faster the scar rolls over the wound.

Once this is healed I will cut the other half and heal that side by growing out the branches and new apex of the remaining tree. For the rest of the season I will let the branches grow freely and feed the tree accordingly.

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A new back branch.

While I had the tools out I also grafted on a new back branch. With this branch in place the tree will be well on its way towards having its foliage changed to that with much better internode/ leaf quality. I will probably look to graft on one more branch onto and or around the scar that is created when I remove the rest of the main trunk. This should speed up the healing of the final scar.

I will be sure to post some updates as the scar heals.

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.

 

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