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

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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 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!

The Seven States of Bonsai – Part Two

(This post is rated PG… seedlings should not read this without parental guidence… Yah I know, keep my day job.)

Continued from Part One in this series…

Reproduction: The development of fruit, seed pods, or cones on a tree. This usually happens during periods of active growth through to fall. Reproduction for a tree early in its development is mostly a negative thing. It is very important not to allow a tree in active development to come into a state of mature seed as the entire process robs the tree of significant energy. Less active growth will occur in a tree which has gone heavily into producing seed. Enjoy your flowers on a tree, but if it is in development – remove most of them, and be sure to remove the full flower head when it is spent. The only trees which should be allowed to fruit are ones which are mature and not in active development, and even then it is good to give them occasional years of non-fruiting seasons to maintain their health. Fruit and flowers are also the only things which will not reduce over time with bonsai horticulture. If you are working with a pear… no matter how small you can get your leaves, you will have a large piece of fruit on your tree. If you enjoy fruits, select species like crabapples (Malus) and Japanese winterberry (Illex serata) which are known for their smaller fruits/berries.


(Satsuki Azalea ‘Kaho’)

Trees allowed to flower or fruit should be well fed in order to help offset the energy being taken up in that process. This is often species specific and should be researched for the tree in question.

Stasis: The period of time between active growth and dormancy; or the state of a tree so far in its development that fine ramification has occurred which results in slow and/or minimal change in the tree. The first kind of stasis occurs when the active growing period is completed for the season and the tree is no longer putting on vigorous new growth. During this time it is building up reserves for dormancy and the next period of active growth. Some trees don’t have a period of stasis, tropical species or other vigorous trees like elms will continually put on new foliage if you continually prune it. The very nature of pruning a tree can negate stasis as many species will continually put on growth to try and build up its reserves for its dormant period.

(Scots Pine, by Dan Robinson. The foliage on this tree is less than 1/2 in.)

For a mature bonsai, stasis is the goal because the smallest possible ramification has been achieved. Since root pruning provides room for many new roots to be developed, thereby stimulating juvenile growth, the repotting of mature trees is done less often in order to slow the active growth period and prevent bursts of new growth. However, a mature bonsai kept in stasis too long can become weakened by not having new higher functioning roots, so even a mature tree needs to be reinvigorated from time to time by radical pruning of both roots and branches, necessitating the redevelopment of the tree’s structure.

(In the next segment, we going to get all stressed out… and its a long one, so bring some popcorn, I just can’t break it down more and make sense.)

The Seven States of Bonsai – Part One

If you are reading this you want to learn something about bonsai… sometimes we don’t even know what we are searching for… just something, anything really, which will help us be more successful in keeping our trees alive. Originally this was going to be one huge post, and then my husband rightly pointed out that I was literally (without accounting for the photos at all) posting a ten page paper as a blog post, which is of course laughable in the blogging world.

So here’s what we’re going to do… We’re breaking up the essay into more digestible chunks, but please know that it was intended to be a single presentation on how to become more aware of your trees in a way not often talked about. Every couple of days a new part will be posted.

Eric has his various soap boxes, and horticulture is mine. If you serious about being successful in bonsai, the first thing you need to do is pay attention to your trees while armed with enough knowledge to know what they are trying to tell you. So here we go… I hope you enjoy the journey of this kind of long-winded but useful digest of a year in the life of a bonsai tree.

The Seven States of Bonsai – Part One

The following is a series of observations based on real world experience and study under the guidance of our teacher (Daniel Robinson) and others. Consider it, in a fashion, as an Intro to Bonsai Horticulture 101/102. This will not reveal anything earth shattering to those long in the art… but to those who do not have easy access to advanced practitioners or still find it all a bit mysterious, it may be the beginnings of an understanding that will grow with your own experience.

In fact… though we are advanced students, we make no claim to having all the answers, and acknowledge that none of these concepts we are about to put forward are all encompassing to all bonsai. So we invite exploration and conversation about any and all of it… even disagreement… as it will lead to clarity all the way around. I may not explain something well… and will even venture to say there are likely important omissions – the specific needs of bonsai are as varied as the species we grow. But when we engage in the exchange of ideas and experience, we all tend to be better for it. Our hope is to encourage all of our growth by thinking of how our trees grow in a way that is more holistic… and how the things which we do (both intentional or not) effect the whole tree.

Please also note… this essay was written from the perspective of our experience, which is focused on outdoor species. It should be read through that understanding.


(Ponderosa Pine collected and styled by Dan Robinson)

Sometimes we can get caught up in all the esoteric and lofty bits of bonsai… the art at the soul of it. We see images of trees in pots that take us to faraway places, or show us expressions of incredible age and perseverance, and we are captivated. It’s often easy to connect with these trees… they are a deeply visceral experience for those who become devotees – but it can sometimes be difficult to understand how to recognize the needs of our own humble efforts, or how to provide for them, especially for one new to the practice.


(Kingsville Boxwood)

It is in those times, when you hold a tree in your hands with the nervous itch of a parent with a new born babe, that it can be very good to keep in mind what can be thought of as the seven states of bonsai. By states I mean their physical condition/activity in any given time: Active growth, Reproduction, Stasis, Stress, Recovery, Dormancy, and Dead.

It is important to know that more than one state can be in play at any given time. It might even seem ridiculous to some to think of bonsai in such simplified terms – but knowing where you are at, can lead you down the path to know what to do, or better… what questions to ask. You might have even thought it was amusing to read the last state of dead… except that if you understood the consequences and interplay of all the rest, you can make great headway in staving off the last. They don’t even run in any particular order – excepting the last. They are, through the consistent practice of the art, the ever changing dance you will experience over the seasons and years with each and every tree you take into your care.

Active Growth: Of them all, active growth is generally the easiest to recognize. A majority of the tree exhibits new and hopefully vigorous growth. When in active growth many different things are occurring simultaneously. Leaves and branches are extending, roots are also extending and multiplying, and in the case of deciduous trees wood is being added over the whole structure of the tree equal to the mass of the extensions of growth. So the more growth added on, the more size the trunk and branches gain. Conifers will tend to add that extra wood at the end of their active growth period, though they can actually add wood in the early stages of growth on particularly strong trees pushing a lot of growth.


(American Larch, originally collected by Nick Lenz, developed by Dan Robinson.)

For most regions early spring to fall is when you can expect this activity to be going on; unless you are talking about tropical species, which can have several active growth periods during a given year. Forcing trees to go outside of that normal period is possible with experience and the ability to provide the right environment, but there can be serious risk of stressing the tree and it should not be attempted without serious consideration and preparation. (For example, it’s not unusual for masters to force a tree to bloom earlier or later than normal in order to have blossoms on the tree timed for a particular show.)

It is also during active growth that most of the “fun” occurs for many people, as that’s when you get to watch the tree change noticeably and there tends to be a lot of opportunities to interact with the tree in terms of pruning/wiring it.
(Same tree later the same day after I gave it a haircut and adjusted the crown.)

For a tree young in its development, a good season of active growth is very important as it creates the structural development needed to form the image you are attempting. Active growth can also be a downright nuisance though when working with a more mature tree. Too much active growth can reverse years of careful attention to the structure of a tree as easily as it can build it in another. Hence controlled growth on a mature tree is a must, where on a young tree radical growth is encouraged to speed up the development of trunk and main branches by unrestricted root growth (planting a tree out in a grow bed or oversized pot)and/or a vigorous feeding program. Note that the development of ramification (both in the sub-branches and roots) is a task completed only with time, and controlled growth. To create a “final” image utilizing juvenile active growth will mean there is little to no taper in the length of the branch, and in creating a refined image, taper is everything.


(Collected Korean Hornbeam acquired from Brussel’s Bonsai, developed by Dan Robinson.)

Feeding trees in active growth is a very important part of the season. As fertilizers and regimens vary by species, its best to research the specific needs of your plant keeping in mind its stage of overall development.

(In the next segment… It’s all about sex and meditation… well not really, but it sounds kinda catchy doesn’t it???)

Arrival of a Larix

Today our good friend John Conn delivered a tree to us that we had recently purchased. It happened by chance that he would be at the nursery where the tree was and he was kind enough to offer to bring it with him upon his return. Just today the tree was dropped off and we got our first chance to see it in person. A delightful tree with great potential!

A small cell phone picture taken of the tree by me. Vic took some much better images with the big guns but I wanted to share this early image with you all. No work as of yet, but soon.

Bonsai Photography

So when I am not playing with trees… frankly, I’m photographing them. So here’s some photos for you to enjoy. 🙂 These are a selection of trees from our 2010 regional convention that our club hosted. This first one is a Bougainvillea that Daniel gave to Eric and I as an engagement present. It was a raw stump when he gave it to us…

This last one took home the prize for best of show…