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The below pine is one I’ve had for a number of years.

It started it’s life as a much taller formal upright but by the time I took over the care of it, the upper portions had developed severe wire scarring and ugly lumps. It was restyled using only one branch, and so a formal upright became a semi-cascade.

The tree grew in this form for a number of years and slowly developed and filled in. I’d never really been very attached to the tree and I could never really put my finger on quite what it was that annoyed me about it.

I like the bark, the jin up top, and semi-cascades generally, but for what ever reason the tree never spoke to me. (yes I know, trees can’t speak)

At one stage I had Evan Marsh staying with me and I gave him a shot at styling it. He wired it up and did the much needed task of breaking up some large areas of foliage into individual pads.

I didn’t mind Evans styling but as soon as the tree grew out it again began to annoy me. It became a giant pom pom of foliage and had run out of room for additional ramification.

At some point I re-potted it into a lovely pot I was gifted (or perhaps traded for a gyoza dinner?) from Luke at Adelaide Bonsai Pottery (check him out, he does some very nice containers)

The pot suited the tree much more from both a size and style perspective and it made me think a bit more about the tree. The thinking didn’t go on for too long as I cut off a couple of branches to create some space in the canopy and put it back on the benches.

Which basically gets us to the starting off point of its most recent revisit.

While I liked the pot and the removed branches were an improvement, it was still not a tree I really liked.

I had been putting off working the tree for a while and had planned to simply remove the wire that was on it and pull some needles to prevent too much wire scaring. Like what often happens however, when you start working on a tree, (often during standard maintenance procedures), you make new discoveries and or see things from new angles (often literally).

I cut off a couple more branches. As they came off, it revealed some lines and movement in the upper sections that I thought were worth showing off some more. So out came the wire and I begun fully restyle the tree.

I wired it up and sat back and looked at where I had got to. I had compacted the head and brought it lower by bending the branch supporting the apex down somewhat to make the apex jin more prominent.

But there was still something bugging me about the composition.

The lower foliage was all forming one visual lump. I decided to test what it might look like with another branch removed. Out came an oily rag that had been wrapping an old motorbike carburettor and I tested to see how it would look.

I made the cut and a couple of small adjustments and this is where I finished up.

We are still a season or two away from being exhibition ready but at least now the bones (branches?) I will be building upon are ones I am much more happy with.

I think I will stare at this one on the benches for the next little while and decide where to from here. Maybe a trial run on a display stand… ooooh the possibilities!

What do you think? have you had trees that have undergone similar transformations: from unloved bench space occupier to something that might get a run at a show?

In the coming weeks I have a number of other pines that I need to get around to working (tis the season for pulling needles) so they will form the basis of the next few posts.

If it’s pine content you are after or have questions you want answered (life, pine related or otherwise) chuck them in the comments below and I’ll see if I can answer them in coming posts.

Until the net one……….

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.

The idea of using Australian native plants as bonsai has been gaining momentum over the last few years. Bonsai growther in Australia are very excited about developments and experiments with various local species to the point where dedicated native bonsai clubs have been established.

This is all good news in my books. We have a great range of interesting plants and while I personally think that many that are used as bonsai currently are not ideally suited to bonsai there are some species that not only are suited to bonsai cultivation but thrive under it.

Having said that, I haven’t owned any natives in my collection. It’s not that I didn’t want some, it was more to do with the fact that I haven’t come across any stock that grabbed me or that I was willing to collect.

Most stock i see is converted from normal nursery stock and has never really grabbed me although i know of at least one grower that is now putting in the hard yards to grow high quality native stock spefically for bonsai.

I also have mixed thoughts on collecting natives from the “wild” and personally would rather remove the many exotic weeds that are damaging the bush rather than remove the few interesting native bonsai specimens that i might find. I personally have enjoyed stumbling across contorted native material during hikes into the bush and Ithink it is somewhat selfish to remove this opportunity for others just so i can have something in my backyard.

My native  bonsai situation changed however this past winter when a good friend allowed me to dig a plant from her garden. It’s a Baeckea and has some amazing features that should see it becoming a top tree in years to come.

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Twisting deadwood, extreme movement and tight foliage should all work together to form an interesting bonsai in the future. 

It was my first time digging a Baeckea and while it suffered some die-back after collection the remaining growth is now putting out new shoots which is always a comforting sign. I will not be in a hurry to develop this tree as it really needs to recover, put on new growth and develop new roots prior to me doing any work.

I will then be looking to down-size the container it is in and begin working on the structure of the tree. This is probably a number of years off but I am looking forward to the journey from this early starting point. I will keep the blog updated as it progresses.

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.

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.

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