Volunteering at the Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection

So I was emailing back and fourth with Dave Degroot some time ago – he is the curator of the Rim, and told him I’d love to volunteer sometime… he kindly accepted my offer. Today was my first day. I had a GREAT time!!! Fun crew to hang out with, especially our own Dick Benbow who is a SUPER nice guy! David showed us a bunch of stuff that was in need of attention. Between shows and vacations, there were some trees that needed some loving that had been allowed to grow out.

I had a wealth of things to choose from, and David just wanted us to work on whatever we were drawn to. I picked a monster of a Chinese Elm penjing that I’ve always been fond of. Dick hung out with me and gave me a hand getting it mowed down enough so that I could actually get into it before moving on to some other awesome trees. I ended up spending the entire 7 hour shift on this one tree.

Two months of re-growth on a previously defoliated Chinese Elm penjing.

I decided I wanted to open it up a bit and let the light deep into the canopy, so I was somewhat agressive with it, without being disrespectful. We were largely left to work on our own as there were multipul tours at the garden today. When he came back down, I think Dave was a little surprised with how hard I was getting after it… (cuz he sort of skidded to a stop and said WHOA when he saw it…lol) after getting past the surprise, he started getting into detail with me about his vision for the branch structure and the philosophy behind the penjing practiced in the south of China, where this tree would have come from.

I went back at it with a different appreciation of his goal, which was a little different than where I had been heading, but was not out of line… so no harm no foul. I later apologized to him and explained I should have slowed my roll and made sure I was heading in the direction he wanted. He was nothing but gracious and appreciative of the work that had been done. It was fascinating to get an close up explanation of some of the seemingly ‘wild and unorganized’ nature of penjing. What is closer to the truth is that in many ways it is more exacting than many aspects of bonsai practice in foliage arrangement…. as I said, just fascinating!

I only wish I could have had more time, my detail oriented nature felt frustrated by having to leave it incomplete (which you’d notice if you saw the back)…. But the day was done, and it was time to go home.

Chinese Elm after seven hours of pruning.

I must have done alright though… David told me he’d add me to the regular roster, and Scarlett (his beautiful assistant) gave me the compliment of the day…..

“Wow we could almost put that back out on display now!”

Chinese Elm - other view.

What an awesome day! I’ll keep you posted on my adventures there with David, Scarlett, Dick, and the gang. 🙂

Front view. Unfortunately could not get far enough back to get it perfect.

The only thing which would have been more awesome is if David could do what Daniel does… throw it in the back of my truck and send it home with me to finish….lol

Enjoy!

Kindest regards,

Victrinia

Rocky Mountain Juniper: No Guts No Glory

(Ok… so I know I was supposed to put up part two of Bonsaication next… but have you ever been so gripped with inspiration you could not resist the impulse to create?? That’s where I found myself on the evening when I was supposed to be finishing the other story – vacations are almost as hectic when you return as from before you left – and I could not ignore the creative fire that had been lit. So I hope you’ll enjoy this as I leave you hanging on the other for a little bit longer. BUT the good thing is that you’ll find, when I get to that section – which is all about our collecting trip – that having read this will inspire your mind when you look at the trees we collected. Sometimes the obvious isn’t always the best, learn the skills to make trees do ballet and all the world suddenedly has infinite possibilities. Don’t close your mind to an idea just because it seems impossible.)

The other day Eric and I bartered with our friend Will Hiltz for several NICE antique pots in exchange for a raft planting Siberian Elm that Eric had. Being a very generous kind of guy, he threw in a RMJ he had collected several years ago. This tree originally had two crowns, but the one which had inspired it’s collection had died back, leaving a long trunk horizontal to the soil line.

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Part of the reason we entered into the barter was that when Will had seen the elm during a visit he had such a strong and clear vision for what he would do with it. I found myself feeling much the same thing when I saw this RMJ. I knew exactly what I would do with it. I asked Eric if I could have it… and he gave it to me, not having any strong feelings about it for himself. We often will negotiate trees between us… I recently found a gorgeous collected Korean Hornbeam, which I gave over to him, because he’d been seeking one for some time.

Anyway… I got home this evening and decided it was a great time to work on the juniper. Essentially my plan was to excavate the heavy deadwood to the live vein and move the limb over the center of the trunkline.

To accomplish this, I used the new Terrier bit we got from Dale to remove the wood…

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The heartwood was removed just to the point of being along the vascular tissue to the inner side of the vein. You want to be careful not to remove too much.

After the channel was excavated, a section of the deadwood in the main trunkline was also excavated so the moved branch would have a space to move into. Then the channel had several pieces of aluminum wire measured to fit and was fixed into place with some electrical tape.

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I then began the process of tight wrapping the limb with hay bail twine, which we often talk about but haven’t documented all that well. As the twine is being laid firmly against the limb, it’s being unwound so that it lays flat. Eric assisted me with the wrapping, as it’s always easier with two people than one… though it can certainly be done alone.

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Once the whole branch was covered tightly to close up the channel, a spine of heavier wire was laid against the outside of the limb, and the twine was laid against that back to the base of the limb. Heavy gauge wire was then applied to the branch, and the bend was very easily accomplished. The prep work took longer than any other aspect of this evenings work, but it’s essential to a successful bend of what would otherwise be an impossible move. De-lamination of wood is only prevented when great care is taken to evenly spread the force and tension over the whole length of the limb.

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The tree was slip potted into a container which would be able to be it’s home for the next few years, and was covered with sphagnum to help keep the soil evenly moist as we head into our drier season. The tree will be kept in mostly shade for the next few weeks… I’ll let you know how it does. I would have preferred not to have to move it, but the basket was shattering whenever you touched it.

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I’m very happy with the resulting image, and will work on foliage placement if it exhibits strong growth next year. To give a sense of how it was bent and twisted, I’ll leave you with this last photo for the moment… and will definitely get a better photo of it when I get a chance in general.

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Kindest regards,

Victrinia

Bonsaication: Part One

Some people take vacations… we tend to take bonsaications. A bonsaication by definition is a period of time when you run away from your normal life and immerse yourself in as much bonsai as possible. Some people have to drag their significant others on such trips, promising tempting rewards somewhere along the way. But being one of those rare couples whose passion is equally steeped in a love of bonsai, it can make for a particularly enjoyable time away. Our bonsaication involved getting off the beaten path and traveling through the high country of the Rocky Mountains to go to the ABS/BCI annual convention in Denver, Colorado… followed by a languorous visit with family and a collecting trip in Wyoming. This first installment covers some of our journey through the Rockies, and our time at the convention being assistants to Daniel Robinson, who was among the headliners for the convention. We got to embrace old friends, make many new ones, and share our passion with so many wonderful people.

3085 miles, or 4965 km… 12 days… 1 bonsai… 9 collected trees… 6 Sara Rayner pots… and other odds and ends later, and I can only conclude it was one magnificent trip.

The great thing about a bonsaication is that you want to find yourself in the middle of wild and rugged country. After leaving Washington we eventually found ourselves in northern Utah going through the Logan Canyon Scenic Byway… We were able to get a few photos… but really it was so tight and narrow you often missed pullouts going through it. It was even amusing, when using a super telephoto lens on my Canon, to have someone ask me if I had spotted critters… only to be met with disappointment when I told him I had spotted trees…. lol

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Eventually we found ourselves in Garden City, Utah… where we took the usual vista images and the obligatory portraits… (well of Eric at least).

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Eventually we made our way through beautiful country in Wyoming… and to Denver. I’m skipping the country in Wyoming for now… you’ll get enough of that in the next portion of the trip.

We had a wonderful time poking around the vendor area… and I was most intrigued with getting to meet Sara Rayner and see her amazing work. That we only got away with 6 pots was an amazing act of discipline. lol

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Eric and I lent a hand to the folks participating in Daniel’s Black Pine workshop… as well as Eric assisting with the Demo Tree. We had originally all thought to work on it… but it was really a two-man tree… a third would have slowed things down. Which wasn’t a great disappointment for me… I went off and hung out with friends instead. I would have helped with the Alaskan Yellow Cedar workshop the next day, except I wasn’t fit for it (too much hanging out with friends lol)… so Eric stepped up and assisted with that workshop. Sadly, I do have a photo gap… in that I don’t have a finished photo of the demo tree or the cedar workshop.

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(Alaskan Yellow Cedar – Daniel Robinson’s demo tree)

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Last but not least… from this leg of the trip… I wanted to post a few of the trees/stones which were shown. Mostly there were conifers, and being a conifer-girl, I realized later that I largely missed all the deciduous trees. Sorry about that… lol

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(No idea what this was actually paired with… I was so charmed by the accent I forgot to take a photo of the tree. o_O)

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We hope you have enjoyed this glimpse into the first half of our bonsaication!

Warmly,

Victrinia

Sneak Peek of a USNBE Entry…

This is a sneak peek of a Chamaecyparis pisiferaTsukumo‘ that I am entering into the 3rd US National Bonsai Exhibition in NY next month. I’m still working on tweeking it, but I got the custom table today, which was made by Jerry Braswell. I finally settled on which accent planting and jita I would use to accompany it. A little more tweeking and it’ll be really sweet… so this is just a sneak peek for you all. I’ll be sure to get better photos before it actually goes.

Eric will be giving his own sneak peek of the tree he had accepted later in the week (when I can get a good photo).

Enjoy! And if you love the stand look forward to seeing a more detailed look at how it was built by Jerry.

Warmly,

Victrinia

US National Bonsai Exhibition Entry by Victrinia Ridgeway

A couple little cuties…

In an effort to share something that ISN’T a larch… I thought I would share a few photos of some of my shohin trees.

First up… a sweet little imported Zelkova from Japan. I picked this up from Lisa Kirk of Telperion Farms. I’d been long admiring it, and had to have it. I don’t have many truly deciduous trees of my own, those tend of be Eric’s purview… but this is a great favorite of mine.

I picked this zelkova up last fall, and have since trimmed and repotted it. It is leafing out now, and I look forward to sharing it again in better leaf.

Next up… A shohin Shimpaku juniper I got from a Golden State Bonsai Federation (CA) convention a few years ago. I have been growing it out to get a denser crown, and I repotted it into a 3.5 inch Sara Raynor pot. It’s ready to get some detail wiring to give some interest to the foliage… but I thought I would show it anyway as a kind of preview.

Hope you enjoyed seeing my little treasures!

Kindest regards,

Victrinia

Clearly it’s Larch fest…

I adore Larches… the first time I found out a conifer could blow it’s needles and enjoy a winter silhouette I was hooked. Then I saw the Nick Lenz Larches at the Pacific Rim… one of which ranks as one of my favorite bonsai of all time. There’s something so perfect in being able to appreciate the chartreuse glow of new foliage on a early spring evening that I find captivating.

Nick Lenz Larch at Pacific Rim, Taken with Canon 40D, EF 70-200 f/2.8 L
Eastern American Larch by Nick Lenz on display at the Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection

So needless to say we have a few in our collection, and one that I’ve always enjoyed having was one I picked up a few years ago. It was started from seed to be bonsai, and was originally a workshop tree that apparently Daniel had helped style initially… then much later it came to me in 2009. I liked it because the lines reminded me vaguely of the Lenz Larch at the Rim.

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Japanese Larch in 2010.

I ended up working on this larch the same day Eric was working on his new larch shown in the post before this one. I was enjoying the April sunshine watching Eric work, and I kept looking at this larch. I had some heavy copper wire that had to come off of it that had been there since we got it. It had been loosely applied, but it was now time to come off. I actually had to buy a pair of mini-bolt cutters to get it off, since traditional wire cutters just weren’t going to cut it. After I got it off, I had an opportunity to evaluate the tree in a whole new way, because I could move major branches. I looked at Eric and told him not to get any ideas about it, because I saw what I wanted to do with it. He suggested I just get on with it… and so I did.

So three years of development and a half dozen guy wires later, and we have this……

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Needless to say I am deeply delighted with how it looks, and when I dug up that older photo, I was surprised at how much it had developed in that time. We’re so close to our trees sometimes, it’s hard to really grasp how much they change under our care in so short a time.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do… and the moral of the story is, in whatever way you can… photograph your trees even if you don’t think they look like much, you’ll be glad you did later.

Warmly,

Victrinia

Gnarly Branches Ancient Trees – by Will Hiltz

It occurred to me, after I sent diane Robinson a link to the blog, that I had not yet mentioned the book I contributed to. First off… diane is not a typo. I like to make sure people understand that… she is ‘little d’. In fact, someday when I grow up, I hope to be just like her. If you ever come by the garden, you’ll get to meet her too… and a lovelier lady you could not hope to meet.

Mostly I haven’t said lot about the book, because I’ve been worried it might come off as self-promoting, and I’m not a big fan of that – which seems like an oxymoron when I have a blog, but it’s true. But in the end, I think about what the experience of working with Daniel has done for my own exploration of the art, and I have to hope that someone may catch some of that from the book for themselves.

Written by Will Hiltz, I contributed to the photography in the book along with a forward. Eric designed the cover – with a little touch from diane, and provided more support than he’ll ever get credit for. Daniel – well he talked a lot… which he loves to do. For someone interested in a deeply personal journey through the formative years in American bonsai, it’s a very interesting read. For those who want to see some beautiful trees, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

I have mentioned before that Daniel has the habit of giving me a bad time when he thinks he has a reason, mostly because it amuses him. He’ll question a choice I might make, but he never stops me from being true to what calls to me stylistically, even when it’s on his own trees, which is more faith and trust than one has a right to hope for. I have always been deeply grateful for that faith and trust. When I read/hear about students speaking of their teachers/masters in hushed tones of reverence… I get it… I really do, but likely not for the same reasons. Daniel has my love and devotion because he granted me the respect of an equal from the first day we met. He’s never called me a student, just a fellow sojourner in the art. Getting to help capture his work in the context of this book is honestly one of the proudest accomplishments of my life thus far.

The book can be picked up in a few different places, but if you want an autographed one – for the same price, you can only get those from Elandan.

Victrinia

The Seven States of Bonsai – Part Four

(Yes, bless it all… this is the end.)

Continued from Part Three…

Recovery: The period of time between activities in which the tree is expending energy on healing and sealing wounds, or on regaining strength post damage.

Once a tree has been worked over (especially its roots) leave it alone for several weeks. Water it of course, and protect it from weather… but don’t feed it, and try not to move it around too much. Just let it be. There is such a thing as loving a tree to death, and fussing around with a tree after it’s been through the equivalent of internal surgery is a very good way to bring that about. If you decide the next day that you don’t like the new position of a tree in its pot… you’ll need to fix it in a couple of years, so be sure before you set the tree into its new position.

The Golden Rule of Pines: Do only one major process in a given year. Either style it – or work on the roots – but not both in the same year.

This rule can be a safe guideline to follow for most any tree, especially if you know little of the tree’s past. Certain species of elms (Zelkova) when in good health can handle having their roots as well as their foliar mass savaged in the same sitting. Trees like those are tough as nails, but again it’s all about knowing your tree well.



(This is a Japanese Grey Bark Elm that was hard pruned, root worked, and had the lowest part of the trunk mass carved away so it could settle into it’s grow flat. The last photo is it a few months later, pushing beautiful new growth without missing a beat.)

There are those for whom a lot of the rules of recovery don’t apply… and they tend to be professional bonsai growers. Mostly that is because they have available the facilities to very carefully manage a tree’s environment and thereby it’s recovery.

(A photo from Telperion Farms in Oregon)

Dormancy: The period of time when all activities of growth are slowed or stopped. Most pronounced in cooler climate species which drop their leaves; even tropical’s have slow periods of activity before they enter another growth period. This period of rest is very important in helping trees prepare for the next active growth season. Meeting dormancy requirements often means northern tree species will not long tolerate being in a warm southern climate, where the dormancy period is short or non-existent. Larch (Larix) is an excellent example of a northern tree which is difficult to keep from the Mid-Atlantic States south. Dormancy is entirely related to regional weather patterns. Being aware of , and working with, the species which grow well in your area will help you meet this basic but important need, and have greater success in keeping trees alive and healthy where you live.


(Korean Hornbeam)

When a northern climate tree is dormant, do not feed it, and watering is generally kept to a minimum. Protection from wind and deep freezing beyond the tolerance of the species you are working with, are the only things which you really need to worry about. Packing your trees with snow around the base of the tree and around the pot is a great way to keep the temperature of the pot from dipping below 32, and will keep your soil evenly moist.

To help trees prepare for dormancy feeding 0-10-10 fertilizers will help harden off branches and strengthen roots for its winter rest. This should be done in the late summer when you have stopped feeding nitrogen rich fertilizers to slow down foliage growth.

Dead: The most important thing to know about “dead” is that dead does not always mean dead. Even trees can have near death experiences only to pop back unexpectedly. More than one tree has been added to the debris pile when its pot is being reclaimed only to have the owner find that the tree decided to sprout again with no intervention from them. Beyond loss of foliage, generally you’ll know death or dieback has occurred when branches are no longer turgid but rather get a puckered appearance, similar to a grape turning into a raisin. Or when you scratch test the tree, there bark resists or is difficult to scratch and has no green under the cork or thin skin of the bark.

When “dead” happens the thing to do is assess why it might have happened. Look back over the care and environmental conditions along with inspecting the tree itself. Check for disease, or environmental damage. See if there was a lack of rootage, or obvious root rot, and use that information to help you prevent it in the future. If you isolate that a pest or fungal disease may be the cause of death, immediately (after sanitizing all tools and your hands) inspect any other trees in proximity to the affected tree. If you are not sure how to handle a disease/pest, get experienced advice as soon as possible, as cross contamination happens very easily. Though often challenging to deal with, fungal and inspect damage is easiest cured in the early stages.

In closing… Knowing your tree well, as a species and an individual tree, before ever doing any heavy work is often a key to success. Rare is the tree which we will perform heavy work on that we have not had for at least a few seasons. That time lets you know how the tree reacts to your regional environment and set-up, and gives you a better chance at understanding the reactions the tree will go through as a result of that work. Though I admit it can be very hard to wait! That pain is lessened by having enough trees to keep you occupied until you feel confident about the tree(s) which were recently added to your garden. One nice thing to know though is that experiance with a species will tell you when you can speed things up. And finally, be mindful not to be SO careful that you let fear hold you back from doing the work that needs to be done. That will halt your progress faster than anything.

The omission of specific pests, diseases, fertilizers, soil composition and other hyper detailed information has been intentionally left out as it would not be possible to explore those things in the context of an essay.

Most of all enjoy your trees… the more time you spend with them, the more attuned you will become to their subtle changes and needs.

Victrinia

Yah… it’s time to take a temperature.

Blogging is a new thing for us, and it would mean a lot to us if you would take a second to let us know if we’re being useful to you as a reader, or if you wish we were doing something else. Of course there’s a lot of ground we haven’t covered… it’s still winter… style and design is something we’ll hit more heavily as the season warms up. But I thought I would play with a poll to see if people would tell us if they like what they’ve gotten out of it so far. Stats are nice, feedback is awesome. Thanks!