Archive for April, 2012

Ginkgo Frost Damage

I featured this Ginkgo biloba ‘Mariken’ in a recent post where I began the air layering process on it.

As expected, the unseasonably warm March we had has been countered by some freezing temperatures. Last week on a clear night it went down to -2 celsius. I brought most of my smaller trees in the garage, but this ginkgo was left outside to weather it. The damage is clear, but the tree is already starting to throw a new crop of spring growth.

I am not concerned about losing the tree (I’ve seen ginkgo bounce back from worse frost damage than this) but am wondering what effect this may have on the layering process. Time will tell, I guess.

Centennial Root from Yesterdays Work

I took a closer look at a piece of root I sawed off of my big Thuja yesterday. Low and behold, it has exactly 100 rings! And just to be a total nerd, I’d like to also point out that the phloem is nicely visible in this picture (the layer of little dots just below the bark).

Repotting my largest Thuja

Its not so much the tree that is huge, but rather the ‘coffin’ that it is planted in. When it is a bonsai, it will be an easy one-person tree… but its still my biggest Thuja (actually, I think its my biggest tree period).

I collected this in the fall of 2010 and did not want to disturb the huge flat root system, so I just built a box around it. It took two people to lift it, but the main issue is that I was stupid enough to build it out of plywood so it was starting to fall apart after a few months.

The purpose of this repotting was simply to put it in a more sturdy box that is about 1/3rd the size, and to wash some of the mucky soil away from the inner rootball.



(Another) Unique Composition: Penelope by Nick Lenz

This tree must be one of the great American bonsai masterpieces…. although some may not call it bonsai.

This is ‘Penelope’ by Nick Lenz. Some decades ago, Nick got the idea to plant a young larch (Larix laricina) on a cheap concrete garden statue, and ended up producing something truly amazing.

She is named after the faithful wife of Odysseus who patiently waited many years for the return of her husband in Homer’s Odyssey. Here she is lounging under the semi-shade of early spring larch foliage.

Penelope was recently on display at a bonsai exhibition at the McMichael Gallery in Toronto.I posted a picture of her in a recent post, although I feel she is deserving of a little more attention.

I know that this is a composition loved (and hated) by many, and I am fortunate that I get to see her pretty often since she was deported to a private collection in Toronto some years ago. This post is for everyone who has not seen her since she was published in Nick Lenz’s book Bonsai from the Wild (get the book if you don’t have it). She certainly has grown since then. If you can’t see her in person, hopefully this video is the next best thing.

Don’t forget to change the viewing resolution to 720p.

A Unique Composition

This is a very interesting trident maple that I did some winter cutting on at Aichi-en back in December. I think Mr. Tanaka’s father started this tree something like 30 years ago. The development of branching and ramification has begun relatively recently, but with the rate at which tridents grow in Nagoya and techniques of the Aichi-en crew, this tree should progress rapidly.

What makes it interesting is that it is planted on (not in) a natural crescent stone. I like this planting because it shows the variety of bonsai that you can find in Japan. I’ve heard the term cookie-cutter used to describe Japanese tree before, but I really don’t think it makes sense. Definitely not for this tree, and not even for the rows of black pines I saw in Japan and in Kokufu albums. Once trees develop age and bonsai maturity, they seem to develop their own character that could not be duplicated if you tried.

I like how the curve of the stone is continued in the curve of the trunk. The dropping branch is a recurring motif on tridents at Aichi-en.

The stone acts as a basin that fills with water. There are roots growing in there, and an entire ecosystem it seems.

Run free, Forsythia!

This forsythia was collected two years ago from a school that wanted to replace all their landscaping with native species as their feeble contribution to the Green Wave. Its not a great piece of material (lacks taper) but forsythia with thick single trunks are rare so I was happy to dig it up.

I stuck the thing in a small pot last spring and I’m surprised it didn’t break it with the root growth. To thicken the new apex branch, I planted it in the ground today. It will probably take a while to get the desired taper transition (read: forever) but I am mainly growing this tree for the flowers so it doesn’t have to be perfect.

On another note, did anyone else notice this was an incredible year for forsythia flowers? Maybe it had something to do with the mild winter…

Pretty gnarly trunk, but lacking taper.

Forsythia are incredibly prolific root growers. I had this tree half submerged in a basin of water all last summer because I couldn't keep up with the watering. It loved it.

The roots were coarsely raked out and some thick roots cut back.

This pic shows the new apext that I want to thicken up a bit. Thrice its current thickness would probably suffice for a decent image. That branch was grown in 1 year, so who knows what might be possible this year in the ground...

You're free.. now go! The soil was enriched with a bit of turface and some bone meal.

Toronto Bonsai Exhibition at Canadian Art Gallery

This weekend marked an important event for bonsai in Canada. The Toronto Bonsai Society was asked to present a display of bonsai at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection as part of The McMichael Tree Project Exhibition. The seed for this exhibition was planted several years ago, and the Tree Project provided the perfect venue.

The McMichael Gallery houses a number of important Canadian artworks, including several pieces by members of The Group of Seven. It was therefore an honour for TBS to have been asked to share their bonsai alongside these great works. For their contribution to furthering the art of bonsai through this event, members of the TBS Executive were granted the BCI Award of Excellence.

I spent most of the day there and tried to get some decent pictures. Unfortunately the lighting and backdrops were not ideal for bonsai photography, but hopefully you can get an idea of some of the trees that were exhibited.

Yamadori Rehabilitation Area

Providing good conditions for newly collected material is always tricky when you don’t have a greenhouse. The goal is to protect from wind and intense sun, but the trees still need some sun to recover (especially spruce and larch). I have my trees up against a fence, and a double layer of shade cloth protecting the southern exposure. As trees gain some strength, I will remove one layer. The strongest trees may be moved into direct sun later in the season. I am also misting them as frequently as possible. It has been very windy the last few days, which is not a good thing.

This year, I also gave my newly collected trees a sprinkling of systemic imidacloprid granules. This is mainly to help the larches fight off any borers they may have brought home with them. I suspect that borers contributed to the decimation of last years crop of collected larch.

Something else new I’ve tried this year with my larch is screwing the tree into the wooden box instead of wiring them in. I got this idea from Sandev Bonsai. It can be very tricky to securely wire yamadori into pots. Since larch usually come out of rocky soil with few feeder roots but a number of thick stubs where large roots were cut, it is much easier to drill in a few brass wood screws to lock them into the box. It is imperative that these trees don’t wobble to protect the fragile roots.

Passing Along a Japanese Black Pine at Aichi-en

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.

Japanese Black Pine (Pinus thunbergii). Probably purchased as inexpensive material from an auction. Mr. Tanaka thought it was collected as a tree with a nice base but a scraggly and bare top that was compressed by a bonsai artist several years ago.

After needle plucking. The contorted nature of the upper trunk is much more clear now. Branch selection had already been completed a couple of years ago. The tree was planted at a good angle, and all it needed was some wire and branch placement. Easy, right? Well, the task became much more challenging when I knew my work would be critiqued by two bonsai professionals!

Wiring this tree was quite the experience. First of all, my wiring skill is still very amateur. Secondly, I was using #10 Japanese copper in very tight spots on this incredibly contorted tree. Thirdly, I often underestimated the required wire diameter for many of these branches. Young, vigorous branches are very hard to bend compared to old branches. As a result, I probably ended up rewiring many parts of this tree 2-3 times!

All wired and ready for further manipulations.

To make the tree more compact, a guy wire was used to further compress the contorted trunkline.

This is as far as I took the tree. There is a small branch under the paper towel that I wanted to remove, but would not unless I got permission. I knew that Mr. Tanaka likes to use every available branch to increase the fullness of the tree. This is important when you are a bonsai professional. (He ended up keeping the branch :P)

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.

Enter Peter Tea. Here is is fixing some of my shoddy wiring :)

The result of Peter's adjustments. The improvement is quite remarkable. Two things really stand out. (1) For the first branch, he combined what I had separated into two pads into one pad. The resulting pad is much more full with a nice round top. (2) He managed to bring in that branch on the right for a much nicer and more compact image. Peter is MUCH more confident and capable at setting pine branches than I am! I was really blown away with Peter's improvements, and thought that the work was definitely done.

Enter Mr. Tanaka. "Hmmmmm...."

When he picked up the branch cutters, Peter and I were like "seriously?"

Here is the final result, after three people taking their shots at the tree. Mr. Tanaka cut off one of the main branches and opened up the 'window' to the interesting upper portion of the trunk. The resulting branch is not as full, but it has excellent basic structure. While the the branch may looks sparse now, the value of the tree will definitely increase down the road because it has good basic structure in the primary branch.


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!