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.
It is looking very sparse right now due to the removal of old foliage and unnecessary branches, but hopefully it will fill in before the end of this growing season. Its current sparseness gives an opportunity to see the strange relationship between the two trunks. As the foliage fills in, the pads and the spaces between them will become more well defined.
This tree is big, about 65 cm tall from the lip of the pot, and weighs about 75 lbs. The two top jins are of equal height – a problem which I will address the next time I work on the tree.
This is a photoshop adjusted picture showing how I would like to reduce the top jin on the right, and bend the jin on the left so that it better matches the overall movement of the tree.
Right side. I’ve always struggled with the flatness of the main trunk, but yamadori always have their faults.
Most of the old crusty larches I collect need grafting. It seems the older they are, the farther the living foliage is from the interesting part of the trunk. Three thread grafts were started on this larch in spring 2014 and all three of them failed this summer (despite not yet being separated from the donor branch).
Three dead grafts. The middle one was the most important as that was to become the new leader of the tree. The one above that… well it was too high i.e. a mistake.
I’m not sure why they failed, but I think it might have had something to do with long period of time elapsed. Ideally, once started, a thread graft will grow rapidly and then take within a few months. Unfortunately, these grafts hardly elongated last year therefore they had no change of reaching the thickness required for fusion until they really started to take off this year. But in July of this year when they should have been fusing, they were instead girdled and died. This is purely anecdotal, but I believe that the callus that formed around the edges of the drilled hole was somehow too hardened-off or otherwise too old to readily form a graft union with the threaded branches by the time they were thick enough to do so. Or maybe the drilled hole didn’t form a callus at all.
Anyway, they failed and I needed to re-graft. Late summer is not a good time for thread grafting larch, so I tried a traditional approach graft instead.
I’m not sure what these nails are really designed for, but in Japan they are commonly used for grafting. With this graft they are not going through the branch, but are just adjacent to it. With thicker branches it is OK to hammer them right through the branch. They do an outstanding job of creating a very snug graft junction.
This is one of my smallest eastern white cedars, collected in the spring of 2012. It took longer than it should have to reach peak health following collection because quite a bit of mucky field soil remained in the root ball until spring 2014 when it was completely bare rooted. This year it was healthy enough for a rough initial styling. Next year it will be planted in a new pot at the correct angle and the deadwood will be cleaned. It could be show ready by fall 2016.
One year after collection, still in an untouched state.
Healthy and ready for work.
After recent work. Growing a new apex is the priority for the rest of this season. This tree has some excellent deadwood which is still obscured under dirt and dead bark.
This raft style Juniperus chinensis ‘Blaauw’ was started 10-15 years ago. I acquired it in 2013 and after two years of preparation (thinning, gaining strength) it received its initial styling over the last few days. A lot of raft style Blaauw junipers were created in the Toronto area 10-20 years ago, when upright single trunk Blaauw junipers were readily available at garden centers. As the Blaauw juniper has fallen out of fashion in garden centers, so has creating Blaauw rafts.
I find multiple trunk bonsai the hardest style to work on and photograph since there are so many variables to consider. Parts of this group are still too crowded for my taste, despite having removed one of the trunks. For now though it will relax for another year.Currently we are undergoing somewhat of a heat wave in the Toronto area, so this planting will be under shade cloth with the occasional misting for a couple of weeks to help recover from the work.
As far as forest designs are concerned, this one is unusual, with the largest trunk being near the outside of the group. I think this unusual design makes it unique and very reminiscent of a Georgian Bay vista. To further emphasize this connection, I would like to plant it on a flat natural stone next spring.
Juniperus chinensis “Blaauw” raft
Last week before work began. Can you find the trunk that was removed?
As acquired in 2013. The trunks on the right side were extremely weak and discoloured.
This serpentine tree was collected in the spring of 2013. I’ve always admired Erik Križovenský’s bonsai containers and thought this tree would be a great candidate for his unique style so, in 2014, I commissioned him to make one for this tree. Many people have tried to imitate Erik’s style of containers, but I’ve never seen anyone get it quite right. Furthermore, Erik has an incredible eye and designs containers to specifically match the style of each tree.
This tree was looking pretty good last August but I am hoping it will be looking even better by the end of this year. But before that it will have to look like crap.
It was finally repotted this spring into its first bonsai pot, some five years after collection. I am not completely happy with the planting angle nor the positioning in the pot, but that was the best I could do given the placement of the roots. The quality of the pot is not ideal either, but a comparable high quality container would be very, very expensive. If I could even find one. I am thinking about ideas for a custom made container in the future.
Much of the wire from last year was already biting in severely so the tree was completely de-wired. When I remove wire I always try to unwrap it instead of cutting it off. As far as I can see, there are three benefits to unwrapping the wire instead of cutting it off:
it is much faster to unwrap it than cut it off bit by bit
you are less likely to miss little loops of wire which could girdle branches in the future
it is impossible to cut off wire that is biting into a branch without severely damaging that branch. You have to unwrap it.
The exception is very thick work-hardened copper wire which can be very difficult to unwrap without twisting the branches. I usually cut that off if possible.
The tree was also thinned quite drastically. This will simplify the upcoming wiring process and also improve the branch structure. And for the first time, the deadwood was properly cleaned and some old dead stumps were refined. It was also treated with a 50% dilution of lime sulfur.
It is now resting for a couple of weeks then it will be wired.
I acquired this “Kinsai” satsuki azalea in March 2014 from the Kennett Collection Reduction Sale. This event was the most significant bonsai sale in North American history and probably one of the most significant outside of Asia. According to a Facebook post by Doug Paul, owner of the Kennett Collection, “all the Satsuki’s were purchased from Kobayashi San in Kanuma City”. At first I thought this was referring to contemporary bonsai master Kunio Kobayashi, but I’ve since learned it is referring to Kobayashi Sangyo Co. Ltd. which is a wholesaler, producer, and exporter of satsuki azaleas.
While this tree has an awesome trunk and nebari, it still needs years of work before it reaches its peak. It has a number of significant wounds that, while not overly large, had not been treated with much care – probably because it was grown for wholesale purposes. Also, it seems that detailed branch thinning hasn’t been done for years. As a result, the ramification was overly dense in need of major work. Last year it was only repotted, watered, fertilized, and flower buds were removed in order to build up strength. The wounds were also carved back and sealed so they can continue to heal over. This year it was lightly repotted again and after seeing that it was extremely vigorous, I set about drastically thinning the tree and doing some structural wiring. I am relatively new to satsuki bonsai, but I know by now that they are incredibly dense growers and it seems that drastic thinning work like this will be necessary every 10 or so years, as is the case with most trees.
Before any work. Even though I plucked the flower buds last summer I still missed a couple dozen.
None of the satsuki at the sale had labels therefore I was delighted to learn it was a kinsai when it first flowered some 3 months after purchase. The spidery scarlet flowers are certainly unique. Kinsai is also known for small leaves and a slightly reddish bark colour and winter foliage.
A main branch after thinning and wiring. New growth should explode all along these branches in a few weeks. Then it can be maintained for a few years with diligent thinning and much less wiring. At least that is the plan.
About halfway done. The idea is to make tiers of foliage which will produce tiers of flowers.
All done and photographed in front of my new backdrop. This certainly makes it hard to hide any faults of the tree. Clearly the first branch on the left needs to be shortened but that will happen after the new buds appear. I am also considering removing or layering that lowest back branch poking out on the right.
The backdrop is just a roll up projector screen which I can hang on my fence. This makes it much easier for me to photograph my larger trees (of which I have more every year, it seems). Having it mounted outside also allows me to take advantage of natural light which I find makes taking decent pictures much easier, especially since I have a pretty crappy camera.
March 2014, as purchased and in front of my old backdrop aka the wall in my kitchen.
I recently received my Fourth US National Bonsai Exhibition Commemorative Album and have thoroughly enjoyed studying the over 200 top quality bonsai displays in what is widely agreed upon to be the best US National Exhibition to date. As you probably know, this exhibition and commemorative album is the product of the tireless efforts of William N. Valavanis. As I have come to expect, the album is expertly photographed by Joe Noga and professionally designed and annotated by Bill and his staff. However, what truly makes this year’s album special to me is the strong representation of Canadian bonsai art.
For decades, bonsai enthusiasts from Ontario and Quebec have traveled to Bill’s International Bonsai Arboretum and other venues in Rochester to receive a world-class bonsai education. For many of us, this education culminated in an invitation to share some of our best bonsai in the 2014 USNBE. Members of the Karamatsu Bonsai Study Group in Montreal have exhibited their stunning bonsai at past US National Exhibitions, but 2014 marked the first time that special exhibits from both Quebec and Ontario bonsai societies were invited, making for a stronger Canadian presence than ever.
I counted fourteen displays from private collections in Ontario and Quebec and almost all of them were collected native specimens. Those who know me know that I firmly believe that our native species, especially Thuja occidentalis and Larix laricina, have the potential to be absolutely world class bonsai, even next to the mind-exploding yamadori of the west coast. It makes me extremely proud to see them well represented in this album and I hope that the Canadian presence at this important exhibition will continue to grow.
Bill was kind enough to allow me to reproduce some of the images from the album here and I have decided to focus on the Canadian trees. To fully appreciate the beauty of this exhibition and see more of the outstanding Canadian trees (not to mention the award-winning American masterpieces), you can easily purchase your own copy from Bill.
Incredible Thuja occidentalis by David J. of the Toronto Bonsai Society. David custom made a support system to safely transport this tree to Rochester.
Larix laricina, originally by Nick Lenz and affectionately named “Penelope”. This was the first time this famous tree has been exhibited at such a large venue and she certainly attracted a lot of attention.
Larix laricina by David Easterbrook, frontman of the Karamatsu Bonsai Study Group. This tree was absolutely enormous – definitely one of the largest in the show.
My potentilla fruiticosa. This is the last picture I have of this tree in my possession as I ended up selling it during the show. I definitely miss it!
‘Crimson Frost’ Red Birch by Mike, president of the Bonsai Society at Royal Botanical Gardens. This tree also didn’t make it home from the exhibition, as it is now a permanent resident of Doug Paul’s prestigious Kennett Collection, often cited as the best bonsai collection outside of Japan.
Thuja occidentalis by Brian Donnelley, Karamatsu Bonsai Study Group. Brian is a master of managing Thuja foliage and I was fortunate to have a chance to pick his brain when I bumped into him during the show.
Larix laricina by Brian Donnelley. An elegant tree which really gives the viewer a “sense of place”.
Pinus banksiana by David J of the Toronto Bonsai Society. Perhaps the finest example of a Jack Pine bonsai, and one of my personal favourite trees.