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Eighteen Year Larch Progression

This tree was collected ca. 1995 by John Biel in preparation for the IBC ’97 convention in Toronto. Dozens of cedars and larches were collected to be used as workshop material for that event, and afterwards they were dispersed around North America with their new owners. If you’ve seen or heard of a thuja or larix in the USA that was “collected in Canada some time ago”, there is a fair chance that it was collected by Reiner Goebel or John Biel in the early ’90s in preparation for the convention. John and Reiner are two of the old guard of the Toronto bonsai scene.

Marc Noelanders styled this larch during a workshop at IBC ’97 and the new owner took it home. Unfortunately the owner passed away a year later and Reiner Goebel inherited the tree.

Here is the oldest picture I have of the tree in 1998.

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1998

The tree developed quickly in Reiner’s hands – here it is in 2004:

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2004

In 2006 it was potted into an outstanding Horst Heinzlreiter pot. At this point the tree was near its prime, with dense ramification.

2006

2006

Reiner is doing well, but as of this year is completely retired from bonsai. I bought this tree from him in 2015 and it was in a state of decline. It had not been pruned for a few years and most of the interior growth was dead. The tree was also quite weak – I don’t think it had been repotted since the previous image in 2006 (9 years prior).

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May 2015

The best features of this tree are the stunning old bark and the exceptional nebari (collected larches with good nebari are very rare). To highlight the elegant trunk and delicate bark, I removed the majority of the old low branches which had gotten too thick. This was a difficult decision as the branches had incredible character and old bark all the way out to the secondary branches. However, major changes were necessary in order to come up with a design that brings out the key features of the tree and is sustainable for many years into the future.

2015 Summer

July 2015

A few weeks ago I sat down with this tree and did some rough wiring. This is the best solution I could come up with. I’m pretty sure it isn’t better than the original design, but the important thing is this tree can be maintained in this image for a long time. I would really like to add a secondary trunk on the left side to make it a twin trunk, however it will be difficult to find a small larch which has comparable bark characteristics. Next year it will be planted either in a nanban-style container or on a flat stone.

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July 2016

Nebari and bark detail

Nebari and bark detail

Delicate old larch bark

Delicate old larch bark

August 2016

August 2016

Only 15 Days Until The Finest Exhibition Of Bonsai In The United States — Valavanis Bonsai Blog

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 […]

via Only 15 Days Until The Finest Exhibition Of Bonsai In The United States — Valavanis Bonsai Blog

Stolen Bonsai in the Montréal Area

These three trees were stolen from a member of the Société de bonsaï et de penjing de Montréal.

If you see these trees for sale, call 514-233-3538.

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Bending a Heavy Jin and Initial Styling of a Cascade Thuja

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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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.

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 no even show signs of cracking or tearing. When flush with the trunk, it was secured with two stainless steel screws.

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 bend jin.

A better look at the bent jin.

The bent jin from the back.

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.

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 will probably be 30% larger in the future.

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.

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.

Some Images from the Royal Botanical Gardens Bonsai Show

The Bonsai Society @ RBG put on a show this past weekend that was both well-executed and well-attended. Here are just a few of the many excellent trees that were on display.

Bonsai Society at Royal Botanical Gardens Summer Show

The Bonsai Society @ RBG‘s summer show is coming up fast. Come and see some outstanding bonsai at a great venue.

Click here to see a gallery of Bonsai @ RBG’s last show.

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Blauuw Juniper Raft Planted on Limestone Slab

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Larches…

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 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 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.

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.

The same larch from another intriguing (but still challenging) angle.

This stout little shohin was divided from the root system of the previous 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.

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 tree was styled for the first time last spring and is developing quickly. This year the wire was checked and the branches were trimmed.

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?

Last year this tree only produced one cone. Fortunately it happened to be in an ideal position and has reached maturity.

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 is notoriously difficult to photograph. Besides pruning, this tree has never been styled. It has been set back due to falling off the bench twice (once my fault, the second because of racoons). 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 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. I am trying bud grafting on some larches, and (fingers crossed) seem to be having some success.

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.

Pruning and wire removal were the normal spring chores for this little forest.

This 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.

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. 

Old larch bark.

Old larch bark.

Toronto Bonsai Society Fall Show Gallery

The gallery of the recent TBS show has just been posted. Follow this link to see it, or click the image below.

As mentioned in a previous post, this show was professionally photographed by member Mike Pochwat. I am still in awe of the quality of his work. Check out the gallery to see for yourself!

Acer palmatum

Acer palmatum

Professional Image of Thuja occidentalis

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.

Thuja occidentalis

Thuja occidentalis