The 5th US National Bonsai Exhibition is just over two weeks away. I’ve been to every USNBE so far, and I can say with confidence that they keep getting better.
And of course I have to mention – a small number of trees from Québec and Ontario will be exhibited under the categories of “Special Exhibitors”, including two of my own and five other outstanding trees from my local club (The Bonsai Society at Royal Botanical Gardens).
Come out and support North American Bonsai! And if you can find the time to attend the awards banquet, I highly recommend it. It is a great time.
Hope to see you there.
Plans are finalizing to display over 300 bonsai in the 2016 5th US National Bonsai Exhibition on September 10-11, 2016, in Rochester, New York. We have truck loads of fine bonsai from the Pacific Northwest, Bay Area of California, Texas and Florida. They will all be carefully transported to Rochester where each specimen will […]
I collected this cedar in 2013 and only this year decided to style it as a full cascade. The big character jin jutting towards the lower left is amazing, but presents a practical challenge for getting the tree into a classic cascade pot. Instead of removing it, I thought it would be interesting to try to bend it flush to the trunk. In addition to solving the pot problem, it would also add some thickness to the base of the trunk, which has some distracting reverse taper.
The cascade style is often a solution for a tree that emerges from the soil with a sharp bend.
Before bending the jin. This image also better shows the reverse taper of the trunk.
Some of the jin had to be shortened so it could clear the soil surface when bent in. I hate removing ancient deadwood from collected trees, but sometimes it is necessary to realize the design.
The elbow of the jin was notched and some wood removed from the back. It was also wrapped in a wet rag several days before the operation.
Strategic parts of the jin were protected with aluminum foil then steamed with a torch to facilitate the bending. Two clamps were used to crank the jin in.
We were amazed that the jin did not show signs of cracking or tearing. When flush with the trunk, it was secured with two stainless steel screws.
A better look at the bent jin.
The bent jin from the back.
After setting the basic structure. The two unnecessary branches will be kept for a year or two until the main foliage mass gains more vigour. Hopefully this will help minimize dieback of the two live veins, both of which are visible from the front.
Photoshop without sacrifice branches. The crown needs to be about 30% larger to better balance out the massive trunk.
Image from May 2015 repotting. This tree has a surprisingly compact root ball and while it will not be easy to get this into a cascade pot, I think it will be possible without any major operations.
I’ve been working on this tree since 2013 and some of that work is documented here. Recently a friend helped me plant it on a natural limestone slab which I collected from a lakeshore. We decided to make some modifications to the slab, one thing lead to another, and it turned out to be a much larger project than I expected.
The photos below tell the story.
First, the final product. The soil surface was top dressed with shredded sphagnum.
First we drilled holes for wire ties. Initially, this was all we planned to do to the slab.
We then decided it would be a good idea to use a belt sander (with a grinding belt) to flatten some parts of the bottom so it would sit properly on a flat surface.
This stone has a very narrow section which I knew would be problemmatic when planting time came. The solution? Extend it using another piece of limestone. Here we are rough-fitting the best stone we could find lying around.
We used a tile saw to reduce the thickness of the new piece of limestone.
Two galvanized nails (heads removed) were used as rebar to support the new piece.
Concrete adhesive was used to permanently affix the two pieces together.
The final slab ready to accept the juniper forest. The new piece is pretty obvious, but it is in the back and will blend in better after the stone builds up some patina.
A muck retaining wall was used. The muck was an eyeballed mix of clay, akadama, sphagnum, peat, and water.
Still not done. After planting, we used a grinder to improve some of the edges, particularly the extending left side which is a focal point of the stone.
When you have a lot of larches spring can be somewhat of a disaster. Pruning, wiring, unwiring, and collecting more larches (glutton for punishment) all tend to fall within a fairly short window.
That being said, here are some larches at various stages of development that I have been working on over the past few weeks of this very strange spring (weather-wise).
This sinuous larch was collected in 2014 and styled a couple of weeks ago. A massive root was further reduced and it was planted in its first bonsai pot. Collected larches usually come with one or more massive root(s) which fortunately can be reduced over successive transplants. This will need one more big root operation in a couple of years.
This big larch was collected in 2014 and transplanted this year. It also had a massive root cut back closer to the trunk. It has a wild character and will take some pondering to find the best front and planting angle.
The same larch from another intriguing (but still challenging) angle.
This stout little shohin was divided from the root system of the previous big larch. After a year or two for root development, it will be planted at the correct angle and will be pretty easy to make into a nice little tree. Without the old bark, this would not be worth much, but it is old and therefore has some good potential.
This chuhin-sized larch was styled for the first time last spring and is developing quickly. This year the wire was checked and the branches were trimmed with the aim of further developing the ramification. Can you see the single cone on this tree?
The one cone this tree produced last year happened to be in an ideal position and managed to hang on over the winter. The cone is about 1 cm tall.
This tiny larch (collected 2013) is notoriously difficult to photograph. Besides pruning, this tree has never been styled. Its development has been set back due to falling off the bench twice (once my fault, the second because of raccoons ). The bark, taper, and trunk movement are ideal. Next spring it will likely be wired. This year I just transferred it into a Nick Lenz pot.
This tree has taught me that larch are not as easy to thread graft as I would have thought. Nick Lenz estimates a 33% success rate. I have a 0% success rate. This year I am trying bud grafting on some larches, and (fingers crossed) seem to be having some success. I will also give summer thread grafting a try.
Pruning and wire removal were the normal spring chores for this little forest.
This craggy tree was collected in 2012 and had major root operations in 2014 and again in 2016. Finally, it fits into a bonsai pot. Last year some rough structural work was done. This year will focus on pruning and developing branching so it can be styled next spring. One thing I’ve learned with collected trees is that not rushing them will often help you achieve your goals faster.
This twin trunk thuja has progressed well since it was collected in Spring 2013. It was styled in the summer for the first time. While the foliage is still quite immature and lacking density, I am happy with where the image is going and it is becoming hard to imagine this tree without the lovely pot by Erick Križovenský’.
It was shown for the first time last weekend at the Toronto Bonsai Society Fall Show and Sale. The entire show was photographed by one of our members Mike Pochwat, who is a professional photographer. When the full album is available, I will share the link here.
We are extremely fortunate to have such a talented photographer in our show, and that he was generous enough to take his time to photograph our trees. Meeting great people like this is just one of the many reasons why I always encourage bonsai enthusiasts to join a local club.
Happy autumn to everyone! A busy time of year for us cold-climate bonsai nuts.
Prior to last week I had only tried sandblasting on one small cedar. The results were excellent, but I was limited to using my friend’s small parts sandblasting cabinet which could only handle a shohin sized tree. Recently, however, a member of our club got a full sized sandblasting tank and offered to let me try it out on some larger trees. Often sandblasting is done in an enclosed tent or room, but we just did it out on his lawn.
This tree was collected in spring 2013. Last year I did a rough initial cleaning on it using hand tools, but with a craggy old thing like this, sandblasting is the most efficient way to clean away all the old dead bark while preserving the details of the deadwood. Many of the cracks and crevices are impossible to access with hand tools. Sandblasting should be a once-in-a-lifetime event for a tree. Once it is done, the deadwood can be maintained over the years with gentle brushing (water and toothbrush) and lime sulfur application (although this is often unnecessary on thuja as their deadwood will naturally bleach in the sun as long as it is clean).
We used aluminum oxide media at 50-90 psi.
The tree before sandblasting. The trunk was wet at this point as it had been raining, so it is much darker looking than it actually is.
Preparation is important. Covering the soil prevents it from getting blown away. Covering the foliage is absolutely necessary – it will die if it is hit by the media. We chose to cover the live vein with modelling clay as insurance, although this is not strictly necessary if you are careful -the bark is surprisingly resistant to sandblasting. I’ve seen pictures from Takeo Kawabe’s book (Kimura’s student) who seems to sandblast junipers with no live vein protection.
After about two hours of sandblasting. 90% of that time was spent drinking beer and waiting for the tank to re-pressurize. Sandblasting requires a high CFM compressor and the one we were using was unable to keep up for more than a minute or two.
The medium we used left a slight texture behind on the deadwood but it is all we had to work with. I am still very happy with the results. The live veins will be further defined over the coming years.
This heavy break will unfortunately be hidden in the back of the tree. It is gorgeous but there are always compromises with yamadori.
Another candidate for sandblasting. This tree was probably collected in the 80s and was once a bonsai, but had been growing as a garden shrub for 10-15 years. Most of the branches are unusable and it will be a challenge to bring this one back. I’ve been rehabilitating it for two years, but you can only expect so much backbudding from a thuja.
After blasting. No trunk protection was used to sandblast this one.
You can see where some of the bark was blasted away, but nothing too major. I will likely polish the bark on this one anyway.
Original front of the tree 20 or so years ago. It is likely to become the new back as the deadwood is quite flat and the inverse taper more pronounced.
An old picture of the tree from the Toronto Bonsai Society website.
This tree was also sandblasted then a basic structure was set. Sorry, no before picture. It was collected in the 90s by a senior club member and is also quite overgrown, but not as bad as the previous one. It could be presentable in two years.