Archive for August, 2013

Portulacaria afra

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.

Today

Today

Sankyou rectangle, starting to develop a subtle haze.

Sankyou rectangle, starting to develop a subtle haze.

Yesterday

Yesterday

2007

2007

 

 

 


New Old Keizan Pot

I recently got this Keizan pot from Matt Ouwinga of Kaede Bonsai-en, Chicago. I’m not sure exactly how old it is but the patina definitely suggests a few decades of heavy use. I’m not a hardcore pot collector therefore the chip in one of the feet doesn’t bother me much. As far as I’m concerned, it made the pot a bit more affordable. While I didn’t buy this pot for a specific tree, it is extremely versatile and I’m sure I won’t have a problem pairing a tree with it, mostly likely a Thuja.

I have Peter Tea to thank (blame?) for getting me into aged pots. Before I went to Aichi-en I had never really seen old pots in person but once I got my hands on some I was hooked. While I can’t necessarily afford the higher end antique Chinese pots, I have come to appreciate the subdued look of a heavily used pot over a brand new one.

I think it is important to recognize that in order to continue to raise the level of bonsai display in North America, we not only need better trees but better pots as well. Peter Tea and Matt Ouwinga are each a driving force in bringing old Chinese and Japanese pots into North America, and I am grateful for that. My wallet, on the other hand, is perhaps not so enthusiastic.

Apparently this is “Post Your Keizan Pot Week”. Jonas at Bonsai Tonight also posted a beautiful Keizan pot earlier today, which motivated me to post mine.

    13.5" x 10" x 3.75"

13.5″ x 10″ x 3.75″ with chip

The patina is probably the most valuable aspect of this pot.

The patina is probably the most valuable aspect of this pot.

Keizan branded pots are made in the Tokoname region by Shizuo Hisada.

Keizan branded pots are made in the Tokoname region by Shizuo Hisada.


It’s Time to Prune Your Eastern White Cedars

Rather than try and tell you how it is, I will instead quote Toronto bonsai veteran Reiner Goebel, who has several decades more experience with Thuja occidentalis than I do.

“As all trees, cedars shed old foliage in fall. Some time in September, part of the foliage, usually in the interior of the tree, will turn rusty brown and slowly fall off. If you’re not sure whether your tree is shedding or dying, pulling at the brown foliage is a reliable test, because the foliage about to be shed comes off easily, while the foliage about to die requires a lot of force to come off. I believe to have noticed that this natural shedding can be reduced by timing one of the heavy pruning sessions to occur around the middle of August.” -from Reiner’s article about Eastern White Cedar at RGBonsai.com

One of my bonsai teachers also puts it well: “Decide which foliage the cedar will lose, or it will decide for you”.

As Reiner says, it is usually the older interior foliage which is shed – yet this is probably the foliage you want to keep. So pruning generally involves shortening the strong fronds at the tips of branches and those strong ones jutting off the sides. Strong “runner shoots” that often appear sticking straight up at the crotches of branches should also be removed.

This is especially important on collected cedars that are early in their training, since interior foliage is usually sparse and weak (if it exists at all). Late summer cutting helps the tree hang on to that stuff so it has a better chance of gaining interior strength the next year.

This tree serves as an example, a small Thuja collected in Spring 2012. It has been slow to find its legs and is still not at full throttle, but this pruning is necessary to maintain the precious interior growth. Last year it was not pruned at all. Only Thuja that show exceptional growth following spring collection should be summer pruned during their first year of captivity.

Before pruning:

 

After pruning:

In the first few years post-collection, August pruning may be the only cutting that a Thuja will get, while the rest of the year is spent developing a foliage mass. Healthy cedars, like junipers, grow all year and require several pruning sessions.


Juniperus chinensis ‘Blaauw’ Raft

Blaauw’s juniper is a variety of J. chinensis that has foliage very similar to Shimpaku, except it is a deeper blue-green when healthy. Blaauw’s (often called “Blaauwi” around here) used to be very popular in Toronto as a shimpaku substitute because they were readily available in nurseries as single trunked specimens. This was well before my time. I have never seen a nice single trunked Blaauw in a nursery. Blaauw in general is quite rare to see in nurseries these days, presumably having gone out of fashion in the landscape trade. Nevertheless, some impressive Blaauw’s juniper bonsai survive today as reminders of “the old days” of Toronto bonsai, the most highly regarded one being this Blaauw forest by retired-from-bonsai-artist Bob Wilcox.

This raft style Blaauw was gifted to me this spring by a good friend who is one of the matriarch’s of bonsai in Ontario. She created it something like 20 years ago from a discarded workshop tree after the student had cut all the branches off one side in an effort to make a bonsai. Raft plantings, like Blaauw’s juniper, are another thing that used to be very popular with the previous generation of bonsai artists, but have seemingly gone out of fashion.

Anyone who has a juniper knows that they are a lot of work. When you have eleven trunks growing in one pot, it is about eleven times more work. The amount of work involved in cutting and wiring this tree is the main reason it was passed on to me.

When I received it back in May, it was obvious there were some health issues. The trunks on the right were turning that grey-yellow colour that you never want to see in a juniper. I decided the problem was related to the poorly draining soil the tree was in, so I immediately bare rooted it with the garden hose and planted it in a coarse inorganic mix of lava rock and haydite.

The tree as I received it, showing the weak right side and the mucky soil mix.

The tree as I received it, showing the weak right side and the mucky soil mix.

By August, the group had regained quite a bit of strength and the colour had returned to the trunks on the right. So it was ready for some desperately needed thinning.

Early August, before thinning.

Early August, before thinning.

This juniper was not paid much attention over the last few years except for the occasional pinching. As a result, there were masses of foliage growing from the crotches and in some cases 4-5 branches emerging from the same point. I went over the whole tree, removing all the foliage from the crotches and simplifying the ramification to two branches at each branch point. This process took approximately 3 hours. One of the trunks on the right was still recovering, so I hardly touched it. Removing foliage is probably the worst thing you can do to a weak juniper.

After thinning.

After thinning.

I will let the branches elongate more because to my eye they are too short and stubby. I anticipate that next summer it will be thinned again, then detail wired.

The design of this group is quite unique, with the largest trunk being almost on the outside of the planting. It is certainly unorthodox as far as forest planting design goes, but I like the directionality of the trunks, as well as the gentle movement that was wired into them many years ago. I would also like to restore the original planting position which was lost when I did the horticultural repot this spring. I think with the right container (ideally a stone slab) and lots of wire, this retro bonsai will one day shine again.

I’d just like to point out that last year at this time I had zero forest plantings. Now I have four! I will probably have to quit my day job to maintain them all…


Azalea Cut Back Again

One month ago I bought this azalea and thinned it out heavily. The backbudding response was very good, so the other day I took out the concave pruners and cut back hard to the new buds. Some branches still need to go further back, but overall I have been happy with its progress such a short time. What an amazing species!

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Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Alps’

Worked on over the last couple of days.

edited

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Spring 2011

Spring 2011


Rocky Mountain Juniper Cleanup

This RMJ was collected spring 2012 in the Canadian Rockies. While it has been growing very well, it probably won’t be ready for styling work until next year.

In the meantime, I cleaned the tree up, removing dead bark and highlighting the live vein. Probably the most frustrating task is removing old dead bark that is fused to the deadwood. I have found two tools to be particularly useful for this. Use as sparingly as possible to minimize toolmarks.

After several hours of work, the tree is nice and tidy, and ready for further examination. It has some outstanding features, but some challenges as well (as with all yamadori). One of the main challenges will be how to approach the three “trunks” that emerge. Should drastic measures be taken to hide their awkwardness? Or should they be highlighted as a feature which makes this tree unique?

One problem was identified as I was studying the live vein. When the tree was collected, a relatively large branch (thumb thickness) was cut at the top of the tree. The corresponding live vein (which is lovely and could be a focal point of the design) is weakening. I am expecting the live vein to thin out significantly, but I hope it doesn’t die back completely. It will probably take a few years to know the result.

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