A Punishing Urban Environment

Finding worthy trees to collect in urban environments is just as difficult (if not more so) than finding worthy trees in the wild.  The criteria is the same though – you are looking for trees which have been growing for a long time in an environment where they are repeatedly punished such that they develop the characteristics we are looking for in bonsai. It is therefore often helpful to first look for the environment. Once you’ve found that, finding the tree is easy (or easier).

I’ve noticed one particularly tough urban environment that is common in snowy climates: the perimeters of parking lots where massive piles of snow and ice accumulate after the snow plows come through. Any plants (particularly conifers) unlucky enough to be in a place where it is convenient to pile snow have a good chance of developing the characteristics we look for in yamadori.

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After a few decades of this, most woody plants will either be dead or extremely damaged.

Common species planted on these borders are tough, low-growing conifers like yews, junipers, and mugo pines. If you see something you like, act fast to get permission and dig. Often these parking lots are managed by contract landscapers who will rip out these ugly plants during the spring cleanup. I learned that the hard way this spring when a patch of mangled junipers I wanted to get at was replaced by some lilies as I procrastinated over approaching the landlord.

I was inspired to write this post because recently I dug a mugo pine from a very similar situation.

The trees on the outside of the planting are the most likely to get punished. This simplifies finding and digging potential bonsai material.

The trees on the outside of the planting get the most punishment. This simplifies finding and digging potential bonsai material.

Much easier than digging a tree out of a pile of fist-sized rocks!

Much easier than digging a tree out of a pile of fist-sized rocks!

Large single trunk mugos like this are very hard to find on this side of the Atlantic ocean.

Large single trunk mugos like this are very hard to find on this side of the Atlantic ocean.

As this is probably not the ideal time of the year to be collecting a mugo, the tree was treated as a balled-and-burlapped nursery tree and planted in a raised bed with minimal root disturbance. If all goes well it will be planted in a container in Spring 2016.

As this is probably not the ideal time of the year to be collecting a mugo, the tree was treated as a balled-and-burlapped nursery tree and planted in a raised bed with minimal root disturbance. If it doesn’t die, it will be planted in a container in Spring 2016.

Trunk detail

Trunk detail. Nice job, snow plow operator! In my experience mugos backbud well so I’m not worried about the leggy growth. This is certainly a 10+ year project though. 

2 Responses

  1. Nigel Saunders

    A very nice find, I’ll keep my fingers crossed to help it along!

    October 8, 2014 at 9:21 am

  2. Sylvia Le Roy

    I loved this post, so descriptive and informative.

    October 8, 2014 at 12:17 pm

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