Posts tagged “Bonsai

Eighteen Year Larch Progression

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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.

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1998

The tree developed quickly in Reiner’s hands – here it is in 2004:

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2004

In 2006 it was potted into an outstanding Horst Heinzlreiter pot. At this point the tree was near its prime, with dense ramification.

2006

2006

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).

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May 2015

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.

2015 Summer

July 2015

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.

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July 2016

Nebari and bark detail

Nebari and bark detail

Delicate old larch bark

Delicate old larch bark

August 2016

August 2016


Bending a Heavy Jin and Initial Styling of a Cascade Thuja

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.

The cascade style is often a solution for a tree that emerges from the soil with a sharp bend.

The cascade style is often a solution for a tree that emerges from the soil with a sharp bend.

Before bending the jin. This image also better shows the reverse taper of the trunk.

Before bending the jin. This image also better shows the reverse taper of the trunk.

Some of the jin had to be shortened so it could clear the soil surface when bent in.

Some of the jin had to be shortened so it could clear the soil surface when bent in. I hate removing ancient deadwood from collected trees, but sometimes it is necessary to realize the design. 

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The elbow of the jin was notched and some wood removed from the back. It was also wrapped in a wet rag several days before the operation.

Strategic parts of the jin were protected with aluminum foil then steamed with a torch to facilitate the bending. Two clamps were used to crank the jin in.

Strategic parts of the jin were protected with aluminum foil then steamed with a torch to facilitate the bending. Two clamps were used to crank the jin in.

We were amazed that the jin did no even show signs of cracking or tearing. When flush with the trunk, it was secured with two stainless steel screws.

We were amazed that the jin did not show signs of cracking or tearing. When flush with the trunk, it was secured with two stainless steel screws.

A better look at the bend jin.

A better look at the bent jin.

The bent jin from the back.

The bent jin from the back.

After setting the basic structure. The two unnecessary branches will be kept for a year or two until the main foliage mass gains more vigour. Hopefully this will help minimize dieback of the two live veins, both of which are visible from the front.

After setting the basic structure. The two unnecessary branches will be kept for a year or two until the main foliage mass gains more vigour. Hopefully this will help minimize dieback of the two live veins, both of which are visible from the front.

Photoshop without sacrifice branches. The crown will probably be 30% larger in the future.

Photoshop without sacrifice branches. The crown needs to be about 30% larger to better balance out the massive trunk. 

Image from May 2015 repotting. This tree has a surprisingly compact root ball and while it will not be easy to get this into a cascade pot, I think it will be possible without any major operations.

Image from May 2015 repotting. This tree has a surprisingly compact root ball and while it will not be easy to get this into a cascade pot, I think it will be possible without any major operations.


Some Images from the Royal Botanical Gardens Bonsai Show

The Bonsai Society @ RBG put on a show this past weekend that was both well-executed and well-attended. Here are just a few of the many excellent trees that were on display.


Blauuw Juniper Raft Planted on Limestone Slab

I’ve been working on this tree since 2013 and some of that work is documented here. Recently a friend helped me plant it on a natural limestone slab which I collected from a lakeshore. We decided to make some modifications to the slab, one thing lead to another, and it turned out to be a much larger project than I expected.

The photos below tell the story.

First, the final product.

First, the final product. The soil surface was top dressed with shredded sphagnum.

First we drilled holes for wire ties. Initially, this was all we planned to do to the slab.

First we drilled holes for wire ties. Initially, this was all we planned to do to the slab.

We then decided it would be a good idea to use a belt sander (with a grinding belt) to flatten some parts of the bottom so it would sit properly on a flat surface.

We then decided it would be a good idea to use a belt sander (with a grinding belt) to flatten some parts of the bottom so it would sit properly on a flat surface.

This stone has a very narrow section which I knew would be problemmatic when planting time came. The solution? Extend it using another piece of limestone. Here we are rough-fitting the best stone we could find lying around.

This stone has a very narrow section which I knew would be problemmatic when planting time came. The solution? Extend it using another piece of limestone. Here we are rough-fitting the best stone we could find lying around.

We used a tile saw to reduce the thickness of the new piece of limestone.

We used a tile saw to reduce the thickness of the new piece of limestone.

Two galvanized nails (heads removed) were used as rebar to support the new piece.

Two galvanized nails (heads removed) were used as rebar to support the new piece.

Concrete adhesive was used to permanently affix the two pieces together.

Concrete adhesive was used to permanently affix the two pieces together.

The final slab ready to accept the juniper forest. The new piece is pretty obvious, but it is in the back and will blend in better after the stone builds up some patina.

The final slab ready to accept the juniper forest. The new piece is pretty obvious, but it is in the back and will blend in better after the stone builds up some patina.

A muck retaining wall was used. The muck was an eyeballed mix of clay, akadama, sphagnum, peat, and water.

A muck retaining wall was used. The muck was an eyeballed mix of clay, akadama, sphagnum, peat, and water.

Still not done. After planting, we used a grinder to improve some of the edges, particularly the extending left side which is a focal point of the stone.

Still not done. After planting, we used a grinder to improve some of the edges, particularly the extending left side which is a focal point of the stone.


Professional Image of Thuja occidentalis

This twin trunk thuja has progressed well since it was collected in Spring 2013. It was styled in the summer for the first time. While the foliage is still quite immature and lacking density, I am happy with where the image is going and it is becoming hard to imagine this tree without the lovely pot by Erick Križovenský’

It was shown for the first time last weekend at the Toronto Bonsai Society Fall Show and Sale. The entire show was photographed by one of our members Mike Pochwat, who is a professional photographer. When the full album is available, I will share the link here.

We are extremely fortunate to have such a talented photographer in our show, and that he was generous enough to take his time to photograph our trees. Meeting great people like this is just one of the many reasons why I always encourage bonsai enthusiasts to join a local club.

Happy autumn to everyone! A busy time of year for us cold-climate bonsai nuts.

Thuja occidentalis

Thuja occidentalis


Sandblasting Some Large Eastern White Cedars

Prior to last week I had only tried sandblasting on one small cedar. The results were excellent, but I was limited to using my friend’s small parts sandblasting cabinet which could only handle a shohin sized tree. Recently, however, a member of our club got a full sized sandblasting tank and offered to let me try it out on some larger trees. Often sandblasting is done in an enclosed tent or room, but we just did it out on his lawn.

This tree was collected in spring 2013. Last year I did a rough initial cleaning on it using hand tools, but with a craggy old thing like this, sandblasting is the most efficient way to clean away all the old dead bark while preserving the details of the deadwood. Many of the cracks and crevices are impossible to access with hand tools. Sandblasting should be a once-in-a-lifetime event for a tree. Once it is done, the deadwood can be maintained over the years with gentle brushing (water and toothbrush) and lime sulfur application (although this is often unnecessary on thuja as their deadwood will naturally bleach in the sun as long as it is clean).

We used aluminum oxide media at 50-90 psi.

The tree before sandblasting. The trunk was wet at this point as it had been raining, so it is much darker looking than it actually is.

The tree before sandblasting. The trunk was wet at this point as it had been raining, so it is much darker looking than it actually is.

Preparation is important. Covering the soil prevents it from getting blown away. Covering the foliage is absolutely necessary. We chose to cover the live vein with modelling clay as insurance, although this is not strictly necessary if you are careful. The bark is surprisingly resistant to sandblasting. I've seen pictures from Takeo Kawabe's book (Kimura's student) who seems to sandblast junipers with no live vein protection.

Preparation is important. Covering the soil prevents it from getting blown away. Covering the foliage is absolutely necessary – it will die if it is hit by the media. We chose to cover the live vein with modelling clay as insurance, although this is not strictly necessary if you are careful -the bark is surprisingly resistant to sandblasting. I’ve seen pictures from Takeo Kawabe’s book (Kimura’s student) who seems to sandblast junipers with no live vein protection.

After about two hours of sandblasting. 90% of that time was waiting for the tank to repressurize. Sandblasting requires a high CFM compressor and the one we were using was unable to keep up for more than a minute or two.

After about two hours of sandblasting. 90% of that time was spent drinking beer and waiting for the tank to re-pressurize. Sandblasting requires a high CFM compressor and the one we were using was unable to keep up for more than a minute or two.

Unwrapped.

Unwrapped.

Very happy with the results.

The medium we used left a slight texture behind on the deadwood but it is all we had to work with. I am still very happy with the results. The live veins will be further defined over the coming years.

This heavy break will unfortunately be hidden in the back of the tree. It is gorgeous but there are always compromises with yamadori.

This heavy break will unfortunately be hidden in the back of the tree. It is gorgeous but there are always compromises with yamadori.

Another candidate for sandblasting. This tree was probably collected in the 80s and was once a bonsai, but  had been growing as a garden plant for 10-15 years. Most of the branches are unusable and it will be a challenge to bring this one back.

Another candidate for sandblasting. This tree was probably collected in the 80s and was once a bonsai, but had been growing as a garden shrub for 10-15 years. Most of the branches are unusable and it will be a challenge to bring this one back. I’ve been rehabilitating it for two years, but you can only expect so much backbudding from a thuja.

After blasting. No trunk protection was used to sandblast this one.

After blasting. No trunk protection was used to sandblast this one.

You can see where some of the bark was blasted away, but nothing too major.

You can see where some of the bark was blasted away, but nothing too major. I will likely polish the bark on this one anyway.

Original front of the tree 20 years ago. Likely the new back as the deadwood is quite flat and the inverse taper more pronounced.

Original front of the tree 20 or so years ago. It is likely to become the new back as the deadwood is quite flat and the inverse taper more pronounced.

An old picture of the tree.

An old picture of the tree from the Toronto Bonsai Society website.

This tree was also sandblasted then a basic structure was set. Sorry, no before picture. It was collected in the 90s by a senior club member and is very overgrown, therefore it will be a few years before it is presentable.

This tree was also sandblasted then a basic structure was set. Sorry, no before picture. It was collected in the 90s by a senior club member and is also quite overgrown, but not as bad as the previous one. It could be presentable in two years.

 


Detailed Wiring of Big Eastern White Cedar Complete

Previous posts about this tree:

http://lakeshorebonsai.com/?p=2331

http://lakeshorebonsai.com/?p=2172

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 tree is big, about 65 cm tall from the lip of the pot, and weighs about 100 lbs.

This tree is big, about 65 cm tall from the lip of the pot, and weighs about 75 lbs. The two top jins are of equal height – a problem which I will address the next time I work on the tree.

This is a photoshop adjusted picture showing how I would like to reduce the top jin on the right, and bend the on on the left to emphasize movement to the right.

This is a photoshop adjusted picture showing how I would like to reduce the top jin on the right, and bend the jin on the left so that it better matches the overall movement of the tree.

Rights side

Right side. I’ve always struggled with the flatness of the main trunk, but yamadori always have their faults.

Back

Back

Left side

Left side


Larch Thread Grafting Woes

Most of the old crusty larches I collect need grafting. It seems the older they are, the farther the living foliage is from the interesting part of the trunk. Three thread grafts were started on this larch in spring 2014 and all three of them failed this summer (despite not yet being separated from the donor branch).

Three dead grafts. The middle one was the most important as that was to become the new leader of the tree. The one above that... well it was too high i.e. a mistake.

Three dead grafts. The middle one was the most important as that was to become the new leader of the tree. The one above that… well it was too high i.e. a mistake.

 

I’m not sure why they failed, but I think it might have had something to do with long period of time elapsed. Ideally, once started, a thread graft will grow rapidly and then take within a few months. Unfortunately, these grafts hardly elongated last year therefore they had no change of reaching the thickness required for fusion until they really started to take off this year. But in July of this year when they should have been fusing, they were instead girdled and died. This is purely anecdotal, but I believe that the callus that formed around the edges of the drilled hole was somehow too hardened-off or otherwise too old to readily form a graft union with the threaded branches by the time they were thick enough to do so. Or maybe the drilled hole didn’t form a callus at all.

Anyway, they failed and I needed to re-graft. Late summer is not a good time for thread grafting larch, so I tried a traditional approach graft instead.

I'm not sure what these nails are really meant for, but in Japan they are commonly used for grafting. Here they are not going through the branch, but are just adjacent to it. With thicker branches it is OK to hammer them right through the branch.

I’m not sure what these nails are really designed for, but in Japan they are commonly used for grafting. With this graft they are not going through the branch, but are just adjacent to it. With thicker branches it is OK to hammer them right through the branch. They do an outstanding job of creating a very snug graft junction.

And now we wait...

And now we wait…


First Styling of Small Thuja

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.

One year after collection, still in an untouched state.

One year after collection, still in an untouched state.

Healthy and ready for work.

Healthy and ready for work.

After recent work.

After recent work. Growing a new apex is the priority for the rest of this season. This tree has some excellent deadwood which is still obscured under dirt and dead bark. 


Blaauw Juniper Raft

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.

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Juniperus chinensis “Blaauw” raft

Last week before work began

Last week before work began. Can you find the trunk that was removed?

As acquired in 2013. The trunks on the right side were extremely weak.

As acquired in 2013. The trunks on the right side were extremely weak and discoloured.

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Eastern white pines on Georgian Bay


Twisty Twin Trunk Thuja in Erik Križovenský Pot

This serpentine tree was collected in the spring of 2013. I’ve always admired Erik Križovenský’s bonsai containers and thought this tree would be a great candidate for his unique style so, in 2014, I commissioned him to make one for this tree. Many people have tried to imitate Erik’s style of containers, but I’ve never seen anyone get it quite right. Furthermore, Erik has an incredible eye and designs containers to specifically match the style of each tree.

Erik is based in Slovakia and his work can be seen on his website Atelier Bonsai Element.

I hope you enjoy the following photo essay.

Spring 2014, still in an untouched state one year after collection.

Spring 2014, still in an untouched state one year after collection.

This tree recovered faster than most, so received a rough initial styling in June 2014. This was the picture I sent to Erik for his design input.

This tree recovered faster than most, so received a rough initial styling in June 2014. This was the picture I sent to Erik for his design input.

Erik's initial design. After some minor revisions, I gave him the OK to make the pot.

Erik’s initial design. After some minor revisions, I gave him the OK to make the pot.

As of last week it had recovered from the repotting and was ready for work.

As of last week it had recovered from the repotting and was ready for work.

After deadwood work, thinning, and detail wiring. If it grows as planned it could potentially be displayed this fall.

After deadwood work, thinning, and detail wiring. If it fills out as planned it could potentially be displayed this fall.


Thuja occidentalis cleanup

This tree was looking pretty good last August but I am hoping it will be looking even better by the end of this year. But before that it will have to look like crap.

It was finally repotted this spring into its first bonsai pot, some five years after collection. I am not completely happy with the planting angle nor the positioning in the pot, but that was the best I could do given the placement of the roots. The quality of the pot is not ideal either, but a comparable high quality container would be very, very expensive. If I could even find one. I am thinking about ideas for a custom made container in the future.

Much of the wire from last year was already biting in severely so the tree was completely de-wired. When I remove wire I always try to unwrap it instead of cutting it off. As far as I can see, there are three benefits to unwrapping the wire instead of cutting it off:

  • it is much faster to unwrap it than cut it off bit by bit
  • you are less likely to miss little loops of wire which could girdle branches in the future
  • it is impossible to cut off wire that is biting into a branch without severely damaging that branch. You have to unwrap it.

The exception is very thick work-hardened copper wire which can be very difficult to unwrap without twisting the branches. I usually cut that off if possible.

The tree was also thinned quite drastically. This will simplify the upcoming wiring process and also improve the branch structure. And for the first time, the deadwood was properly cleaned and some old dead stumps were refined. It was also treated with a 50% dilution of lime sulfur.

It is now resting for a couple of weeks then it will be wired.

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Satsuki Work and New Photography Backdrop

I acquired this “Kinsai” satsuki azalea in March 2014 from the Kennett Collection Reduction Sale. This event was the most significant bonsai sale in North American history and probably one of the most significant outside of Asia. According to a Facebook post by Doug Paul, owner of the Kennett Collection, “all the Satsuki’s were purchased from Kobayashi San in Kanuma City”. At first I thought this was referring to contemporary bonsai master Kunio Kobayashi, but I’ve since learned it is referring to Kobayashi Sangyo Co. Ltd. which is a wholesaler, producer, and exporter of satsuki azaleas.

While this tree has an awesome trunk and nebari, it still needs years of work before it reaches its peak. It has a number of significant wounds that, while not overly large, had not been treated with much care – probably because it was grown for wholesale purposes. Also, it seems that detailed branch thinning hasn’t been done for years. As a result, the ramification was overly dense in need of major work. Last year it was only repotted, watered, fertilized, and flower buds were removed in order to build up strength. The wounds were also carved back and sealed so they can continue to heal over. This year it was lightly repotted again and after seeing that it was extremely vigorous, I set about drastically thinning the tree and doing some structural wiring. I am relatively new to satsuki bonsai, but I know by now that they are incredibly dense growers and it seems that drastic thinning work like this will be necessary every 10 or so years, as is the case with most trees.

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Before any work. Even though I plucked the flower buds last summer I still missed a couple dozen.

None of the satsuki at the sale had labels therefore I was delighted to learn it was a kinsai when it first flowered some 3 months after purchase.

None of the satsuki at the sale had labels therefore I was delighted to learn it was a kinsai when it first flowered some 3 months after purchase. The spidery scarlet flowers are certainly unique. Kinsai is also known for small leaves and a slightly reddish bark colour and winter foliage.

A main branch after thinning and wiring. New growth should explode all along these branches in a few weeks.

A main branch after thinning and wiring. New growth should explode all along these branches in a few weeks. Then it can be maintained for a few years with diligent thinning and much less wiring. At least that is the plan.

About halfway done.

About halfway done. The idea is to make tiers of foliage which will produce tiers of flowers.

All done and photographed in front of my new backdrop. This certainly highlights the faults of the tree. Clearly the first branch on the right needs to be shortened but that will happen after the new buds appear.

All done and photographed in front of my new backdrop. This certainly makes it hard to hide any faults of the tree. Clearly the first branch on the left needs to be shortened but that will happen after the new buds appear. I am also considering removing or layering that lowest back branch poking out on the right.

The backdrop is just a roll up projector screen which I can hang on my fence. This makes it much easier for me to photograph my larger trees (of which I have more every year, it seems).

The backdrop is just a roll up projector screen which I can hang on my fence. This makes it much easier for me to photograph my larger trees (of which I have more every year, it seems). Having it mounted outside also allows me to take advantage of natural light which I find makes taking decent pictures much easier, especially since I have a pretty crappy camera.

March 2014, as purchased and in front of my old backdrop aka the wall in my kitchen.

March 2014, as purchased and in front of my old backdrop aka the wall in my kitchen.

 


Strong Canadian Presence in the 2014 US National Bonsai Exhibition

I recently received my Fourth US National Bonsai Exhibition Commemorative Album and have thoroughly enjoyed studying the over 200 top quality bonsai displays in what is widely agreed upon to be the best US National Exhibition to date. As you probably know, this exhibition and commemorative album is the product of the tireless efforts of William N. Valavanis. As I have come to expect, the album is expertly photographed by Joe Noga and professionally designed and annotated by Bill and his staff. However, what truly makes this year’s album special to me is the strong representation of Canadian bonsai art.

For decades, bonsai enthusiasts from Ontario and Quebec have traveled to Bill’s International Bonsai Arboretum  and other venues in Rochester to receive a world-class bonsai education. For many of us, this education culminated in an invitation to share some of our best bonsai in the 2014 USNBE. Members of the Karamatsu Bonsai Study Group in Montreal have exhibited their stunning bonsai at past US National Exhibitions, but 2014 marked the first time that special exhibits from both Quebec and Ontario bonsai societies were invited, making for a stronger Canadian presence than ever.

I counted fourteen displays from private collections in Ontario and Quebec and almost all of them were collected native specimens. Those who know me know that I firmly believe that our native species, especially Thuja occidentalis and Larix laricina, have the potential to be absolutely world class bonsai, even next to the mind-exploding yamadori of the west coast. It makes me extremely proud to see them well represented in this album and I hope that the Canadian presence at this important exhibition will continue to grow.

Bill was kind enough to allow me to reproduce some of the images from the album here and I have decided to focus on the Canadian trees. To fully appreciate the beauty of this exhibition and see more of the outstanding Canadian trees (not to mention the award-winning American masterpieces), you can easily purchase your own copy from Bill.

 

 


Yew and Ginkgo Spring Images

Taxus cuspidata 'nana', 10 years from nursery stock. This year it will be thinned and wired again.

Taxus cuspidata ‘nana’, 10 years from nursery stock. This year it will be thinned and wired again.

Ginkgo biloba "chi-chi", 7 years in development from imported raw material. Probably started as an air layer in Japan.

Ginkgo biloba ‘chi-chi’, 7 years in development from imported raw material. Probably started as an air layer in Japan.

 


Preparing Displays for Toronto Bonsai Society Show and Sale

Here is one display I will have at the Toronto Bonsai Society Show and Sale this weekend. I hope to see you there!

Collected Thuja occidentalis with moss accent.

Collected Thuja occidentalis with moss accent.

tbs

 

 


Bonsai is (Usually) Not a Rescue Mission

The phrase “bonsai is not a rescue mission” is sometimes used to discourage eager bonsai enthusiasts from trying to make a bonsai from every plant they find. Instead, we should focus on the best material we can possibly get our hands on, thus increasing our chances of making something we can be proud of.

Sometimes, however, bonsai really is a rescue mission. Story time!

Last August I responded to an online ad where someone was selling their collection. Not knowing what to expect from the vague description and two blurry pictures of some tropicals, I arrived surprised to see a very old and once impressive bonsai collection in its final death throes. This elderly gentleman had been doing bonsai quietly in his backyard for 30-40 years, away from the clubs and shows, and now was in the predicament of having to sell everything due to failing health.

He had (understandably) put off selling them for years, but in those last few years the trees suffered greatly. To make matters worse, everything was planted in pretty much pure topsoil and was weak to begin with, therefore many were unable to handle the stresses of erratic watering.

Some of the tougher species were still hanging in there, but other more finicky ones like this impressive Japanese white pine had no chance.

Imported Japanese white pine.

Imported Japanese white pine.

After much haggling I went home with two larches, a ginkgo, and a Japanese maple – three very tough species that had managed to survive but were now in serious need of rehabilitation. This was August 2014 and some of the trees were already showing fall colours- A sign of definite stress.

I’m happy to report that all four trees survived the winter and were completely barerooted and repotted this spring. They seem to be doing well and I anticipate that they will have recovered their strength by the end of this growing season.


Larch Madness

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.

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Larixi laricina, approximately 25 cm from soil line. April 18 2015.

Winter 2013 as acquired.

Winter 2013 as acquired.


New Pot for Japanese Maple

This fancy pot is branded Ejiri Taizan, which I learned thanks to Ryan Bell’s very comprehensive Chop, Seal, and Signature Resource.

I overwinter this tree in my insulated garage. It can handle the cold, but keeping it in the garage allows me to appreciate it throughout the winter. The disadvantage is it breaks dormancy about one month early meaning it has to be run in and out of the house throughout most of April, which is probably the most unpredictable month in the Toronto area, weather-wise.

Daily bud-pinching has been underway on this tree for about three days, even though the ground outside is still pretty much frozen.

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Japanese Maple Root Arrangement

Way back in 2011 I remember seeing this Bonsai Tonight post of a Boon Manikitivipart workshop where a participant tried out a root arranging technique of the deciduous bonsai genius Ebihara. What a great idea, right?

Last summer I acquired a maple that turned out to be perfect to try this technique on. It already had several years of root training therefore a good number of flexible lateral roots were present. Still, a fair amount of prep work was needed. The base of the rootball needed to be completely flat and all unnecessary roots removed. Hopefully this will improve the nebari as I rebuild the branch structure of this tree over the next several years.

As a side note, Boon posted an update about the tree in the Bonsai Tonight post on Facebook. Apparently using plywood was a mistake as it rotted quickly. Keeping that in mind, I used pine.

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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?