Toronto

A Couple of Fall Images

Larix laricina

Larix laricina

Acer palmatum

Acer palmatum


Siberian elm shohin

This small Ulmus pumila was displayed at this year’s Toronto Bonsai Society Fall Show and Sale.

Ulmus pumila

Ulmus pumila shohin. Yellow pot by Sugiura Keisen, accent pot by John Pitt.

The tree was developed from a naturally layered low branch from a much larger elm that was collected from a hedge, along with many others.

The shohin elm was a low back branch on this larger tree (circled in red).

The shohin elm was a low back branch on this larger tree (circled in red).

After separating the rooted branch.

After separating the rooted branch in April 2011.

Summer 2011.

Summer 2011.


Thuja occidentalis Foliage Shedding

This is peak season for eastern white cedar foliage shedding. While not at all a health concern, it is somewhat unsightly and can leave your tree looking quite sparse.

To reduce autumn foliage shedding, I’ve been following the advice of Reiner Goebel and making sure I prune my cedars some time around mid-August. This year the results are really showing. Bear in mind that if a tree is early in it’s development or recently collected, it is often better to avoid pruning and just let it shed.

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Pruned August 21st.

Pruned August 15th

Pruned August 15th

Pruned August 20th

Pruned August 20th

Not pruned

Not pruned

Not pruned

Not pruned

Not pruned

Not pruned


Thuja occidentalis progression

This is the first large Eastern White Cedar I collected. After four years of growing, the foliage mass was finally ready for some real work and this year it has gotten a lot of attention. In July it was thinned and roughly wired, and today it received its second and final thinning for the year.

I think this tree is actually two separate trees that have been growing together for a long time. The second trunk on the right is growing towards the back, and I’ve always toyed with the idea of removing it since it seems out of place. David Easterbrook and Marco Invernizzi both advised me not to remove it, and now I am starting to understand why.  That secondary trunk provides much of the depth of the tree and without it I would be left with something very two-dimensional.

It will be difficult to find a traditional bonsai container that works for this tree. I’ve got some ideas for the future planting, but it will not be easy to pull off. The final planting will determine which of the large jins I end up keeping, if any. If I can sort it out next spring, this tree might be ready to be shown in Fall 2015.

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As collected Fall 2010. Note the fist-sized rock lodged in the base of the trunk which had to be cut out with a die grinder.

Late summer 2011 after removing a major foliage mass from the upper left of the tree.

Late summer 2011 after removing a major foliage mass from the upper left of the tree.

Summer 2012, completed barerooted and repotted into a much smaller grow box.

Summer 2012, completely barerooted to remove the toxic muck and repotted into a much smaller grow box.

Summer 2013. Some major pruning and coarse wiring was done this year to open up the foliage and set the basic structure of the secondary branches.

Summer 2013. Some major pruning and coarse wiring was done this year to open up the foliage and set the basic structure of the secondary branches.

July 2014 after thinning and re-wiring.

July 2014 after thinning and re-wiring.

Today after another round of thinning and minor adjustments. There is still a fair amount of floppy foliage but that is gradually being replaced with tighter growth or removed entirely.

Today after another round of thinning and minor adjustments. There is still a fair amount of floppy foliage but that is gradually being replaced with tighter growth or removed entirely.

Future planting angle?

Future planting angle?

 

 


Thuja occidentalis Initial Cleaning

This large Thuja was collected in Spring 2013 and this year has been growing well enough that I have started some basic work. In the first year of collection, I try to do absolutely nothing to a tree – not even move it around the yard. Cleaning work like this invariably involves bumps and vibrations, so I don’t do it until the tree is obviously strong and established in the grow box – typically the second year.

This is not a thorough cleaning – just the removal of bark that come off easily, getting piles of detritus out of cracks and crevices, and cleaning the deadwood with water and a toothbrush to get rid of algae. After this it is easier to study the tree and identify the path of the live veins. As the live veins swell up over the next few years, they will be defined further.

The thin dead bark that is really stubbornly adhered to the deadwood will gradually be picked at over the next few years. Removing it right now would require aggressive scraping or rotary brushes that would ruin the natural texture of the ancient wood. I’m estimating this tree won’t be show ready for around ten years, so there is no point in rushing things. Cycles of wet-dry-freeze-thaw will aid the gentle removal of the bark.

Next spring it will be bare rooted and repotted into a much smaller pot or box. Like most collected Thuja, designing this tree will be a serious challenge. Semi cascade seems like the obvious direction but close examination reveals that there is no easy solution.

Before cleaning, likely front.

Before cleaning, likely front.

Before cleaning, likely back.

Before cleaning, likely back.

Before cleaning.

Before cleaning.

After cleaning, likely front.

After cleaning, likely front.

After cleaning, likely back.

After cleaning, likely back.

The thin layers of dead bark are the hardest to remove. Since there is no rush, I will pick at it bit by bit over the coming years. Cycles of wet-dry-freeze-thaw will aid the gentle removal of the bark.

The thin layers of dead bark are the hardest to remove.


Defoliation of American Hornbeam Forest

This Carpinus caroliniana forest was made in the Spring of 2013 and this year it was defoliated for the first time. Owen Reich told me that American Hornbeam respond well to defoliation (maximum once per year) and indeed the results were positive. One issue I noticed is that as the second flush was coming in, some very vigorous leaves grew back at an accelerated pace and became very large. These were periodically removed to allow the smaller, less vigorous leaves to fill in at a more uniform pace.

The tree was defoliated May 31st, just after the new growth had hardened off. One month later, the second flush had filled in and hardened off.

May 20th, ten days before defoliation. I forgot to take a picture right before defoliating the tree.

May 20th, ten days before defoliation (I forgot to take a picture right before defoliating the tree). The leaves here are not quite hardened off. 

May 31st immediately following defoliation.

May 31st immediately following defoliation.

 

The tree today, just over one month after defoliation. One major effect of defoliation is that the smaller interior shoots were allowed to open up. Many did not open up at all in the spring.

The tree today, just over one month after defoliation. One major effect of defoliation was that the smaller interior shoots were allowed to open up. Many did not open up at all in the spring as all of the vigour went to the shoots of the exterior canopy. After defoliation, the density of the tree is much more uniform. 

 

The new leaves are about 50% the size of the old ones. Very nice!

The new leaves are about 50% the size of the old ones. Very nice!


Canadian Hemlock aka Eastern Hemlock, Tsuga canadensis as Bonsai

This is the first tree I ever collected, over eight years ago now. The development of this tree has been one step forward, two steps back. There is limited information out there on T. canadensis and I’ve only seen two that could be called bonsai (this tree  isn’t one of them). This is probably for two reasons: 1) it is hard to find worthy material, and 2) they are a quirky species to work with.

Eastern Hemlock are unique for a number of reasons:

  • They very, very much prefer a rich and moist organic growing medium. I almost killed mine by transplanting it into a coarse, inorganic medium. Replacing it with topsoil restored the health of the tree.
  • They can tolerate practically any light condition from full shade to full sun. For bonsai development, several hours of direct morning sun is good for promoting backbudding and branch development. Full direct sun tends to cause the foliage to lose it’s rich green colour.
  • Despite their delicate and almost “weak” appearance, they heal over wounds better than any conifer I can think of and better than many deciduous trees. This makes grafting easy on T. canadensis.
  • The branches are very flexible however they are extremely weak at the crotches. They will suddenly and heart-breakingly tear from the trunk with little notice during heavy (or even moderate) bending operations. However, their capacity to rapidly callus over wounds means that a branch will more often than not survive, even if you have torn half of the base away from the trunk.

I have learned and re-learned these points “the hard way” on this poor specimen over the years. The resulting setbacks have probably doubled the time it should have taken me to get to the current stage of development. Now this tree has immense sentimental value to me despite being one of the last trees that draws the attention of any visitors to my yard.

I believe Eastern Hemlock is by far the most delicate and feminine species native to eastern North America, and perhaps even all of North America. This makes it priceless in our catalogue of native species and worthy of greater attention. I just wish material was easier to come across!

My T, candensis today after finally getting the main structure set into place after eight long years.

My T. canadensis today after finally getting the main structure set into place after eight long years. Still a long way to go but I think the hard work is done. 

Last summer I was trying to fully style the tree and had to stop at this point after I tore a major limb that supported two major branches - the first branch on the left, and the back branch,

Last summer I was trying to fully style the tree and had to stop at this point after I tore a major limb that supported two major branches – the first branch on the left, and the back branch.

The tear in the limb last summer. Remarkably, the more important branch (second primary branch) survived despite losing much of the secondary growth. The back branch completely died

The tear in the limb during last summer’s work. Remarkably, the more important branch (second primary branch) survived despite losing much of the secondary growth. The back branch completely died

Growing near a trail in April 2007.

Growing near a trail in April 2007.

Collected and potted up showing the current front.

Collected and potted up showing the current front.

Stolen American Larch Bonsai

This old American larch (tamarack) bonsai, along with two others, was stolen from a private collection in Toronto on June 23rd, 2014.

If you have seen this distinct bonsai, please call your local police department and/or contact the owner Elisabeth Leslie ewleslie[at]icloud.com

The bonsai community is tight not only in Toronto but worldwide. Hopefully we can use this to our advantage to help get this lovely tree back to the owner.

Stolen American larch bonsai.


Exhibition Gallery: Bonsai Society at Royal Botanical Gardens

Click here or the image below to see a gallery of over 60 trees exhibited by the Bonsai Society at Royal Botanical Gardens to honour the 25th anniversary of the twinning of Itabashi, Japan with Burlington, Ontario.

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Blue rug juniper bonsai exhibited at Royal Botanical Gardens.

 


2014 Toronto Bonsai Society Show Photo Gallery

The Toronto Bonsai Society is extremely fortunate to have a member who committed much of his time and energy to professionally photograph every tree at this year’s Spring Show (not to mention updating and maintaining the website). It is amazing the difference a professional quality photograph makes (and also amazing how it highlights the flaws in our trees!). Thank you Dan… even if you photographed my Potentilla from the back… doh! 🙂

Click here for the full gallery, or the image below.

Collected Thuja occidentalis by TBS member Mike M.

Collected Thuja occidentalis by TBS member Mike M.


The Feels of Bonsai

According to Ryan Neil (see this video starting around 26 minutes, courtesy of the most excellent and prolific Bonsai Eejit), the overall feeling of a bonsai is determined by the combined directions of the trunk, main branch, and apex.

Three common scenarios are:

  1. Trunk, main branch, and apex all move in the same direction. This creates a calm, feminine bonsai.
  2. Trunk goes one way, but the apex and main branch go in the opposite direction. This creates tension.
  3. Trunk and apex the same way, but the main branch goes in the opposite direction. This creates dynamism and is rarely seen in Japanese bonsai.

Of course there are other scenarios such as the trunk and main branch going the same way while the apex goes off in the opposite direction. My guess would be that this creates imbalance thus it is difficult to design an attractive bonsai with this layout.

Ryan’s comments really stuck with me when I first saw this video. This is a simplified but useful approach to bonsai design. Of course, there are exceptions to the above scenarios just as there are exceptions to everything in bonsai.

When I was doing the initial wiring on this Thuja this weekend, I was aiming to create scenario #2 – Tension. Two trunks which strongly move to the left and apices/branches which strongly move to the right. This made a fun and compact design.

As a side note, my initial plan for this tree was to have everything moving to the left… trunks, branches, apices. It seemed like the most logical design. However, doing this would cover up the best feature of this tree – the two “kinks” in the trunks that boast some very nice deadwood.  The current design makes it possible to emphasize those kinks and, importantly, makes a more compact tree.

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Devilishly Sinuous Twin-Trunk Thuja

Trunk lines like this are what keep me trekking into the wild each year to scour for nature’s freaks. This tree was collected Spring 2013 and is gaining strength quickly. I am excited to do the initial work this summer.


Korean Hornbeam

I have been working on this korean hornbeam since 2006. A major mistake I have been making over the last four or five years has been overfertilizing in the spring. This has limited the development of fine ramification and as a result the growth is still somewhat coarse.

This spring it was thinned and wired. Owen Reich visited my garden last week and he made some adjustments to the positioning of the finer branches, adding more movement and natural lines to the branching.

Late April before cutting and wiring.

Late April before cutting and wiring.

After cutting and wiring, before Owen Reich.

After cutting and wiring, before Owen Reich.

After Owen Reich's adjustments. The details are a bit difficult to see as the tree is leafing out.

After Owen Reich’s adjustments. The details are a bit difficult to see as the tree is leafing out.

An early picture, as purchased.

An early picture, as purchased.


Major Changes for Big Larch Forest

I bought this tree in December 2012. Being an established forest, it had some nice character but also some major challenges. Besides the unsuitable pot, the forest had far too much symmetry and the branches were too “stubby”, for lack of a better word. The variation in the trunks (diameter and height) is limited,  Some of these things would be easy to correct, but others more difficult or impossible. The year 2013 was spent just growing it out and lightly pruning to develop a more elegant branch structure.

As a side note, this tree spend the entire winter out on a bench completely unprotected. This was the coldest winter in southern Ontario in over 20 years with many days in the -20 Celsius range and a few in the -30s. Fortunately there was a lot of snow and this larch was right at home.

The tree as purchased.

The tree in Spring 2013, as purchased. Some trunks are not fully visible from the original front.

The first step for this year was to wire everything. This probably took 12 hours, spread out over several days. Conifer forests just take so much wiring, it can be overwhelming.

After wiring. No branches have been placed yet.

After wiring. No branches have been placed yet. Note the number of new branches compared to the Spring 2013 image.

The next step was to plant it in a more suitable container. This slab was custom made for the forest by local potter Geoff Lloyd. One thing we neglected to think about was the front of the slab. The slab was designed for a forest pointing to the right, yet this forest obviously points to the left. As a result I ended up using the “back” of the slab as the front. It is still an attractive side, but has a slightly less interesting profile than the other side.

Intended front of the slab.

Intended front of the slab, best suited for a tree moving strongly to the right.

Back of the slab, which will actually be my front since my forest moves from left to right.

Back of the slab, which will actually be my front since my forest moves to the left.

The next step was removing the tree from the old pot and raking out the perimeter of the root ball. The bottom of the rootball was not touched at all. The perimeter needed to be raked out quite a bit so it would fit within the boundaries of the narrower new slab.

Removed from the old pot, before raking. Sorry, no post-raking pics.

Removed from the old pot, before raking. Sorry, no post-raking pics.

A muck mixture was made to mold the rootball within the contours of the new slab. The mixture was something like 2/3rds humus, 1/3rd chopped sphagnum, and a cup or two of akadama dust, plus water as needed.

Muck mix.

Dry muck mix.

After mucking the perimeter, the rootball was completely mossed. The purpose of this was mainly to prevent erosion of the freshly worked rootball, but of course there is an aesthetic benefit as well. Besides the muck, no new bonsai soil was added. The roots still have plenty of room to grow in the original root mass. Larches are perfectly happy with dense matted root balls with scant amounts of soil. It will be a long time before I need to refresh the soil again.

This picture shows the mucked perimeter (left) and the slowly progressing moss job.

This picture shows the mucked perimeter (left) and the slowly progressing moss job.

 

After repotting. Still no branch placement.

After repotting. Still no branch placement.

Now that the tree was in its new container, the branches could be placed. Many guy wires were used to reposition the trunks. Again, the goal was to give this tree a definite leftward movement. This was accomplished by pulling most of the trunks to the left and extending out the leftward growing branches while compacting those growing to the right side. I find forests to be immensely challenging as there are so many design considerations. The branches and trunks were adjusted again, and again over several sessions. I am still not 100% happy with the design but I think it is the best I could do without removing or adding trunks. That is still a future option, but for now the work is done.

Final image of the front. The farthest trunk on the right really bothers me. At one point I was very close to ripping it out. But I will take some more time to think about that.

Final image of the front. The farthest trunk on the right really bothers me. At one point I was very close to ripping it out. But I will take some more time to think about that. The tallest tree is 74 cm and the slab is 80 cm long.

View of the left side.

View of the left side.

Back.

Back.

Spring 2013 vs. Spring 2014

Spring 2013 vs. Spring 2014

 

Thanks for reading. Don’t acquire too many forests if you value your sanity!

 

 


Perlite is good (but that doesn’t make it pretty).

I’ll keep this brief because soil discussions are not exactly exciting.

This is the first tree I’ve repotted since I started putting all my collected trees in 100% perlite two years ago. The root growth has been excellent and I was glad to see that there has been no noticeable decomposition of the perlite after two winters.

There are probably a million other substrates that larches grow equally well in, but you would be hard pressed to find one that is as inexpensive and lightweight as perlite.

So perlite is good. Not exactly revolutionary.

/end of soil discussion.

Collected with a weak root system in 2012.

Collected with a weak root system in 2012.

Now it has a strong root system.

Now it has a strong root system.

The red stuff you are seeing all over my trees is coloured mulch. I got it for really cheap last autumn but now the damned stuff is everywhere!


Small Larch Forest Wired

This is a busy time of year. Once the ground thaws the larches start to move almost immediately. Then, you only have a few of weeks to get all the wiring done. This is a main disadvantage of wintering larches in the ground.

This small forest and a much larger one have taken up a lot of my free time over the last week or so.

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Ice Storm

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Japanese Black Pine Seedlings Available

A limited quantity of Japanese Black Pine (Pinus thunbergii) seedlings are now available for online purchase in my For Sale section. They are available in bare root bundles of ten seedlings.

Canadians only, and shipping is free!

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My Small Garden is Ready for Winter

My yard is all cleaned up and the trees are tucked away for winter. I thought some of my readers might be interested in seeing what my tiny yard looks like when the trees are packed away.

I wrote about my overwintering strategy last year, if you are interested.

Every plant in my little backyard (except the grass) is a bonsai or bonsai in training. They are all in pots, too, except two which are growing in the ground for a short time.

Every plant in my little backyard (except the grass) is a bonsai or bonsai in training. They are all in pots, too. I just don’t have the space to grow anything in the ground since I need to reserve space for overwintering. If it wasn’t for my lovely wife the grass would be gone too 🙂

This is where I overwinter most of my smaller trees.

This is where I overwinter most of my smaller trees. There are 24 trees tucked away in there in this picture. A 1/4″ hardware cloth fence has since gone up. Most are buried to the rim of the pot, but many are just sitting on the soil with mulch tossed on top. As you can probably tell, this year I got a sweet deal on clearance red cedar mulch. Not pretty but effective.

This is where most of my large collected stuff goes that are still in their big boxes.

This side is where most of my large collected stuff goes. Cedar, larch, and rocky mountain juniper, all of which are just fine sitting on the ground for the winter. Burying the big training boxes would be impractical. I cover the soil surface in mulch mostly for moisture retention. Off to the right are some trees that were collected this fall. They are in a somewhat protected corner and are more heavily mulched in around all sides of the boxes.

Here are some Japanese Black Pines and an Azalea which will be spending the winter in the garage when it gets really cold. They can tolerate some heavy frosts no problem. The larch forest will sit right there all winter. I'm always telling people how winter hardy larch are but I've never actually left one out on the bench all winter. First time for everything!

Here are some Japanese Black Pines and an Azalea which will be spending the winter in the garage when it gets really cold. They can tolerate some heavy frosts no problem. In fact, this azalea saw -12 Celsius in its cold frame one year according to its previous owner! The larch forest will sit right there all winter. I’m always telling people how winter hardy larch are but I’ve never actually left one out on the bench all winter. First time for everything!

 

 

 


Some More Fall and Winter Images

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Tamarack

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American Beech (Fagus grandifolia). This species has stunning white-silver bark but it certainly isn’t the best beech for bonsai cultivation. This trio was thrown together for a demo in the spring. Not exactly a showstopper buy it is somewhat of a novelty in my garden. Needs a couple more trees and some adjustments.

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Tamarack

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Siberian Elm

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Potentilla. Not exactly known for their fall colour but this caught my eye as I was getting it ready for winter storage.

 

 


Larches Cutting Through A Dreary Autumn Day

The other deciduous trees have already lost their leaves, but the tamaracks are just reaching their peak. They produce the most incredible golden yellow, which my cell phone camera cannot even come close to reproducing.

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Fall is for Pine Work

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Japanese Black Pine after needle plucking.

I love pines but only have two, one of them being the Japanese Black Pine pictured above. Being a relatively new addition to my collection, I touched its foliage for the first time last week, plucking the needles down to about a dozen pairs over the majority of the tree, with some more aggressive plucking near the apex.

Some bud selection/thinning was done as well – but not too much. I want the weak inner buds to gain strength in preparation for the hard cutback this tree will be getting in a year or two as a step towards my ultimate goal to make it a shohin. If you want weak inner buds to strengthen, it is best to keep some strong foliage on the ends of the branches to keep sap flowing heavily through the branch. Cutting back all the outer foliage as soon as inner buds appear is counter productive. This comes from my friend who is a student of Boon Manakitivipart.

In keeping with the season, below are some outstanding videos of Ryan Neil talking about pines. If you haven’t seen them yet, they are really worth a watch. The first is a shorter “crash course” while the second is a more in depth two part video.

Ryan Neil “Crash Course” on Japanese Pines

Ryan Neil on Pines (Detailed) Part 1

 

Ryan Neil on Pines (Detailed) Part 2

 


Bonsai Society at Royal Botanical Gardens Exhibition

My local club, the Bonsai Society at Royal Botanical Gardens, had our first club exhibition this weekend. Bonsai@RBG was founded almost exactly 4 years ago in October 2009, and we were all proud of the exhibition our young club was able to produce.

Approximately 60 tree were displayed, all on stands and most with accompanying accent plants. We had no backdrops for many of the trees and we thought this would be an issue, but were pleasantly surprised with the feeling of openness that it gave the show. It was nice to be able to walk into the room and gaze across the entire exhibit. Of course, backgrounds are always more desirable in a formal display setting, and this is something we will work towards for future shows.

One of the amazing things about our show was how we all pooled our resources to make the best possible displays. Many of our members do not have stands, so we pooled together everything we had and paired the best stand with the tree, regardless of owner. Similarly, members provided accent plants and scrolls to elevate the display. Without this mutual support, the show certainly would not have come together as well as it did.

Enjoy the pics below of some of the trees I was able to photograph. Most are blurry because of the low light, I had to turn down the shutter speed and of course forgot my tripod.

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A panoramic view of the back wall where some of the larger bonsai were displayed alongside some nice antique scrolls. None of us are experts in displaying bonsai with scrolls, but I think it is safe to say that they added to the beauty of the display.


Fall 2013 Bonsai Events in the Greater Toronto Area

Bonsai Society @ RBG Fall Exhibition

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Over 40 bonsai well displayed, including some rarely seen trees by American Bonsai Artist Nick Lenz.

When: 10:00 – 5:00 pm, October 12-13

Where: Royal Botanical Gardens, Burlington ON

Cost: Free with garden admission.

Toronto Bonsai Society Show & Sale

qd12One of North America’s oldest clubs. Always some great trees and often great deals to be had at the sales table.

When: Saturday October 19, 11:00 -6:00 & Sunday October 20, 10:00 – 5:00

Where: Toronto Botanical Garden, Toronto, ON

Cost: Typically around $5.00 with discounted rates for seniors and children.

 

Chrysanthemum Show

While not strictly bonsai. the Japanese Garden Club will be hosting a Special Demonstration Day on Sunday November 3rd which will include bonsai lecture(s) and demonstration(s).

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