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. ūüôā

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

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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

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

Return of the Larix

As you might remember from Arrival of a Larix we received this larch some time ago. I finally decided to set out to work on it this Saturday as it was a nice day out and this guy was just looking like he needed some attention.

A quick review of how the tree looked before work began.

The first order of business was to begin working on the deadwood that is on the tree. The current state of the deadwood was a little spiky and out of place. I began by reducing the height of the main deadwood section. As I began sculpting the deadwood I discovered that parts of it had become punky and moisture was beginning to eat away at the base. This is of course a major concern when there is deadwood that reaches to the soil surface. The punky wood was removed using the die grinder and the rest of the initial carving was completed. The wood will be preserved using lime sulfur that has been diluted and had ink added to it in an effort to reduce any stark contrast in color.

After the initial carving was complete I was able to begin working on changing the structure  of the tree. As you can see in the above image the initial image was that of a young tree with strong apical growth and the foliage pads were very linear and flat. These were two of the most important aspects that needed changing to help portray the look of an ancient conifer. The good news is that larches in particular are very flexible and forgiving offering the artist a great deal of latitude in the placement of the branches.

The tree was heavily thinned and compacted to help create a tighter more masculine image and to evoke more of the alpine shape that would be natural to this tree in many surroundings.

The image after styling. A different front was found that showed off the deadwood better and provided a much more interesting focal point.

With the initial styling complete the tree will be allowed to recover. The next steps are to create more definition and interest in the deadwood as well as to create more ramification in the branches. Refinement of the overall image will take probably the next 2 to 3 years.

The Taming of the Hornbeam

How fitting that the last image in the previous post be of the tree in this one. We didn’t plan it that way… I promise!¬†

Creating that essence of age that we strive for in deciduous material is a combination of several tasks over the course of many years. In the early years it is important to impose interesting movement into trunks or sub-trunks and secondary branching with the use of several wiring techniques. I won’t cover those here however our friend and “bonsai bum” Will Hiltz has written an excellent article on a technique that Daniel Robinson calls “baby bending”. You can read the article here . This technique was applied to the tree you see below for many years developing the sub-trunking and secondary branching that is evident. It has been detail wired at the tertiary level on several occasions and the time came for it to be done again.

After re-wiring two of the other hornbeams in the garden Daniel asked me to take on this tree. Of course doing so meant I would have to take the tree home with me. It is one of a batch of trees purchased in the early 90s at Brussels’ and is the largest in the collection. I accepted the challenge to work on the tree as I have a somewhat personal relationship with it. This tree is one that for me stands out amongst the crowd. I can’t help but be in awe of it every time I spend time with it. The aged bark and gnarled branching give me the feeling of a tree that has seen the great passage of time. In wiring it I didn’t want to lose this feeling however I wanted to create the limited sense of order in the branching that inevitably helps frame the rest of the story.

It is important to impose a sense of age to the tertiary branching that is¬†commensurate¬†with the rest of the tree. To do this one of the most important elements is to add a sense of wandering to the branching. We see in ancient trees that the tertiary branching has movement toward the outer edges but that it is not entirely linear this is the “wandering” that I am talking about. Many events have¬†occurred¬†in the life of the tree and a slowed growth habit along with recovering from these events will shape every part of the tree including the fine branching.

Since one of the goals of the wiring was to add not only movement into the branch settings but a sense of age, this meant that the branches needed to have a downward overall movement to them. Forcing all the branches to just move downward however would not create the layering effect that gives life to the foliage. To create the sense of depth and layering in the foliage it is important that we realize that even in the sections of a branch there are additional apices.

As you look at the completed work one thing you will notice is that with the organization of the branching it has become more clear that each subtrunk has on it several apices. These multiple crowns add to the sense of age as opposed to the youthfulness we might see in a delicate thin trunked mountain maple image. This is part of what makes trees like this one feel so natural.

(before getting started on the job of wiring out the tree)

Wiring a tree this large can be a daunting task, but the joy in completion is certainly worth the effort. The key of course is to just start. You will find that once you start that you quickly get the hang of it. On this particular tree I mostly used size 1 and super fine copper wire (#24 salvaged from some twisted electrical line)


(close up of the lower right hand branch wiring)


(the branch from the side.. you can see some of the layering discussed above)


(another shot showing the outward “wandering” movement of a branch)

What is hard to see in the above image is that not all the movement is on a single plane. To give volume and shape to the foliage it needs to have movement in all directions. In the lower sections of the tree this is less pronounced but still visible.


(the final result after about 20+ hours or wiring… I go slow and just enjoy the process)

The final image reminds me of a wild and natural ancient tree while still having a sense of balance between chaos and order. Of course the pot here lends some information to the ideals behind part of the styling as well. A beautiful antique Chinese pot, the planting may seem odd for many people however the deeper aged pot helps lend an aesthetic feeling of timelessness to the tree. An overall image that , at least to me, is pleasing.

The tree has since been returned to Daniel at Elandan Gardens, where it lives and can be seen on display.

questions and comments are always welcome….. please feel free to join in!