Larch Fest Continues — Patience Pays Off

A few years ago , three to be precise, I took a workshop with renowned Canadian collector David Easterbrook at the PNBCA convention in Vancouver, BC. He was working with some American Larch (larix larcinia) that he had collected in the wilds of Canada and I took the opportunity to acquire one of these special trees. Trees for the workshop were selected by way of raffle and as anyone who knows me knows I don’t generally do so well. [my wife on the other hand does great, go figure]

The tree I landed on wasn’t the largest trunked of the bunch and was more literati in its configuration. It seemed it was going to be a challenge to work with in creating a decent design, in other words it was right up my alley. For a moment I was a little concerned until I realized what was there. As the workshop began David walked around helping people to find the tree in the material, but I knew right away what I wanted to do. By the time he got to me I was well prepared to show him what I had found and after looking over the tree and turning it and looking from many angles David concluded I had indeed found the best image for the tree.

I didn’t work on the tree too much in the workshop. I had found its image and I was happy. I did perform a major bend using the bright orange bailing twine that is so iconic of work at Elandan. In the picture below you can see me and David discussing the bend I was going to perform, to tell the truth I don’t think he thought I could do it. The branch needed to be bent severely to bring the foliage at the end around to the front of the tree. While wrapping the tree and applying that large gauge wire required for the bend I continued to listen to David giving advice to the other workshop members. This advice turned out to be great and was well worth the workshop alone.


Larch at PNBCA workshop before any work began. photo by John Conn

I’ve taken my time with the larch and enjoyed keeping it healthy and lush. As we know from the seven stages of bonsai it is extremely important to work on healthy trees to get the most out of them each year. The first year with this tree was spent letting it grow strongly to set the few major movements that I added and to heal the large bend I made in the side branch. Being larch is extremely flexible and with the tree growing well that year it healed and had set by the next spring. It was then moved and potted into the pot you see it in the below pictures. After collecting the tree David had placed it in a large tub with pumice surrounding the original soil. Having let the tree grow strong for an additional year before potting it allowed me to remove almost all the original soil. It was potted into this pot not for show but as a suitable solution for the time being as it was the best size to allow the tree to grow freely for an additional year. The tree was potted into free draining bonsai soil and watered and fed well to encourage more growth. No additional design work was performed.  The tree grew marvelously and has filled the pot with roots. Last fall some carving work was done on the large deadwood section at the base (you can see it under David’s elbow in the above picture) more detailed work will continue.

A few days ago, as spring was getting all sprung, this guy started to leaf out. It comes out a little later than its Asian counter parts but that blue green foliage is so very much worth the wait. I took the next step in wiring this tree and placed some more of the large foliage areas while reducing some of the unneeded extensions as well. I’ve been back and forth on which side I like the best, but for now this is the front. I will be removing the left section of the tree sometime this year, it however is currently being left on to encourage a little more strength in the tree. This winter will see the fine wiring and next step to that final refined image.


Larch after three years of patient slow work. Left side will probably be removed.

As always comments, questions and discussion are always welcome and encouraged.

– Eric

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!

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.

A silver lining for a yellow cedar

(This story is a re-post of a thread from several years ago [2009]. I believe it is still relevant and hope you all find some value in it.) 

Since my friend grouper52 suggested that I post some pictures of the AYC (Alaskan Yellow Cedar – Chamaecyparis nootkatensis) I have been working on I decided I would take him up on that.

I got my wife to take some pictures of its current state. These are such wonderful trees to work with. They are extremely flexible and can be wired very easily. Long branches can be shortened and gnarled to create the ancient image of a tortured tree.

This particular tree is still in the process of being created so many of the jins haven’t been carved and some of the branches need to be removed. Foliage needs to be reduced and developed as well to support the image. I thought however you might enjoy to see a before picture and a few afters of its current state. The carved sections are best viewed from above but due to the angle we had the tree setting the best views of it aren’t entirely represented here. Some of the sections need more attention/ smoothing to reduce some of the burrs etc. Detail work may be done at a later date to complete the design of the deadwood. I also have plans to create another deadwood section higher in the tree to continue this ancient look. For those that may be wondering I did not kill most of this area instead it died back from sunscald and thus presented this great opportunity. Which of course turn out to a wonderful silver lining, giving this tree an undeniable focal point.

I hope you all enjoy.

Before

After

Details