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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…