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.
The tree developed quickly in Reiner’s hands – here it is in 2004:
In 2006 it was potted into an outstanding Horst Heinzlreiter pot. At this point the tree was near its prime, with dense ramification.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Previous posts about this tree:
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 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.
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.
If you follow the traditional guidelines, the best time to wire and repot Larix laricina is when the spring buds are just starting to open. This is usually the most practical time to unwire larches too, because around here it is the only time they are without needles and not frozen in the ground. This “spring buds just starting to open” window can be very short – often just two weeks in mid to late April. Needless to say, if you have a good number of larches like I do, spring gets pretty busy. Add to that repotting a couple dozen more trees, building a new bench set up in my yard, and a couple of collecting trips, and you have an insanely busy last few weeks.
Here is one larch that I recently worked on. This tree changed hands a couple times in the last few years, and I snatched it up almost exactly one year ago as soon as I had the opportunity. I was collected about 20 years ago yet has spent most of that time in bonsai limbo, without a coherent design. Most of the finer tertiary branches used to create this structure were grown last year.The tree was also gently repotted into a simple Yamaaki container that suits the semi-cascade style pretty well.
After a few more years of ramification development, this will be a killer chuhin sized larch, and I am proud to be its new caretaker.
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.
Collected Spring 2011, about 30 cm to the tip of the dead spire. The deadwood of this tree was sandblasted last year which helped preserve the lovely little jins. The pot is by Shibakatsu.
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!
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:
- Trunk, main branch, and apex all move in the same direction. This creates a calm, feminine bonsai.
- Trunk goes one way, but the apex and main branch go in the opposite direction. This creates tension.
- 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thanks for reading. Don’t acquire too many forests if you value your sanity!
This Potentilla is as fragile as a stained glass window and parts of it literally crumble away every time I work on it. It has undergone some pretty radical changes since I acquired it in 2011, and certainly does not look like the tree I initially envisioned it would become when I bought it. If I could give one piece of advice to anyone who wants to work with Potentilla – especially a deadwood specimen – I would say keep the trunk as clean and dry as possible. They are extremely susceptible to rot. Brush it, lime sulfur it, treat it with wood hardener, remove dead bark… all that good stuff is essential.
The main things I did this year were to remove the last of the rotting parts, soak every piece of deadwood in lime sulfur then wood hardener, and compact the crown. I also completely redesigned the branch structure such that it is much more simple and “bonsai like”. This is contrary to the wayward, random nature in which Potentilla grow. I’m not saying the current image is better than some of the earlier ones. Certainly some incredible deadwood features have been lost.
Next step is to find the right pot, which certainly won’t be easy. I figure this tree still has a couple years of life before it returns to the dust from whence it came.
Also known as Dwarf Jade, Elephant Bush, and many other names. This is my only tropical at the moment (I killed my lemon last year… good riddance). It was wired the other day, and the downward growing leaves were removed in an attempt to make it look more like a species I actually like 🙂 The pot is a “meh” quality piece by Sankyou of Tokoname (pretty sure its a poured pot), but I love it for its simplicity.
Worked on over the last couple of days.
When I saw this tree at the TBS show and sale I was amazed (and somewhat frustrated) that it hadn’t been bought yet. What does it say about the state of bonsai in the GTA when people aren’t fighting over a tree like this, especially when the owner was practically giving it away? I walked away, came back an hour or so later, and the tree was still there. So I had to step up and buy the damned thing 🙂
This tree is awesome material for many reasons. It is collected so it has character. The movement and branch placement is practically textbook perfect for an informal upright. It is planted in the correct position in a good pot and, perhaps most importantly, the previous owner knew exactly how to maintain Thuja foliage, so it had an abundance of fine twigs which could be used to build foliage pads.
In short, all the hard work was already done by the previous owner over the last 7+ years. I just had to put some wire on it and make it look pretty!
The work involved thinning the foliage and simplifying the branching, wiring everything, focusing the movement of the tree to the right, and shortening the apex. The deadwood was also cleaned and bleached.
This slender Juniperus scorpularum was collected in the Kootenay region of British Columbia in 2009 by a friend. The last 3+ years leading up to today were all spent developing the pre-bonsai. The tree was probably strong enough for work in 2010, but lacked the foliage density. So, after three years of pondering, branch selection, and cutting, I felt today was the day for the first real work.
About a month ago I featured this tree on my blog where it was prepped for todays work. That cutting one month ago paid off as it produced backbudding which gave me lots of new fine branches to work with.
This is a Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Alps’. It is a very vigorous variety of juniper and has developed quickly since its first styling last spring. Junipers are a ton of work… I spread the wiring of this guy out over three evenings.
Today and yesterday I worked on this dwarf japanese yew. Lots of detail wiring was done but not every single branchlet was wired – only those that really needed redirection. Wiring every little twig may sound good but it is often not necessary. Still, this took awhile but that`s probably because I like to drink wine and watch movies while I wire 🙂
With lots of fertilizer and cutting, this tree should fill out nicely by the fall. The last major task this tree needs is fixing the first branch on the right. It is emerging at the wrong angle and is too long. Practically every branch on this tree (except the first on the right) has been hollowed from below and pulled down. The same task needs to be applied to the first branch, although the tree is not established enough right now for heavy work since it was repotted this spring. Maybe next year.
This little thuja (~30cm to top of jin) was collected in spring 2011. It’s not exactly a jaw-dropper, but it has some nice movement, natural jins and it reminds me of the big old thuja I see with dead tops.
Preserving the old flaky bark while extending the deadwood was difficult, and some was inevitably lost. Some was actually intentionally removed as it was giving an illusion of inverse taper.
This tree probably won’t be touched for the rest of the year except for some light trimming if the foliage bounces back strongly.
Marco has been coming to Toronto pretty regularly for a number of years. This year he did a demo on a less-than-stellar collected Thuja, but as usually he was able to come up with something pretty impressive. His discussion focused on preparing material to become bonsai material, with an emphasis on Thuja.
During my short stay at Aichi-en last December one of the pines I worked on lead to a hierarchical styling session. First I gave the tree my best shot, then apprentice Peter Tea tweaked it, and finally the resident master Junichiro Tanaka offered his improvements. This was an incredible learning experience that started (for me) in the morning and went well into the night in the smoke-filled workshop.
While this was the best I could do, I was still not happy. I thought the lowest branch was too lanky and needed to be brought forward. Also, the branch on the right needed to be embracing the trunk more. However, I was not confident enough to make these bends as I felt I had already brought those brittle young branches to their limit. In the process of shaping this tree, I had already cracked several branches. So, I called over Peter.
Working on this tree was one of the most challenging and fun bonsai experiences I have had. Reminiscing on this work session really got me thinking… I hope I get the chance to go back to Nagoya some day soon!