Shimpaku Workshop Tree Revisited

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to spend a few hours at a Kathy Shaner workshop, and brought a shimpaku back for the third year to continue its journey toward becoming a bonsai. The first two workshops are chronicled here.

This is a shot from before the workshop, after being allowed to grow most of last year.

Some initial comments by Kathy:

1. The foliage, while healthy, is getting Pom-Pom-like. In very heavy areas, pinch some of the growth. In more finished areas, prune strong shoots to keep the growth tight.

2. The back of the tree was void of foliage. This was partly due to branch structure, but not helped by its position on the bench…facing East, with a fence behind it. This year it is on a new stand, more in the open, facing West.

3. The ovals carved in the ’10 and ’11 workshops were showing good calluses around the edges. But, some of the cambium was trapping the bark, creating a ridge instead of a nice smooth roll. More on that later.

4. The lowest left branch was lacking taper, movement, and foliage. From above, the branch runs left, splits about 4″ out, forming the first pad (which extends toward the front), then extends out and up another 3″ before more foliage appears. She presented a few choices, including:

a. Jinning back the outer foliage, and working with the first pad.
b. Splitting the branch vertically, and pushing the top part back, and the lower part further forward.
c. Splitting the branch horizontally, and rolling the top section forward to bring foliage into the void.

I chose option c, without hesitation. Why? First, any opportunity to properly introduce dramatic movement, or advance the storyline of the tree, will improve the tree, especially when it also solves a design problem. Second, the branch had been a distraction for a few years. I’ve done several virts, playing with the idea of removing the branch entirely, and puzzled over how Kathy would eventually address the branch. Finally, it was pretty apparent that the branch was a problem, because the lower section has been split, wired, moved, and pruned twice. The upper part had been jinned back twice, and we had introduced several wounds into the branch to try developing some character.

The option changes the branch, adds movement, dead wood, and places foliage back into the void near the trunk. It was a great solution, and the kind of creative problem solving that only comes with working thousands of trees.


Here is the split:


Raffia is wrapped at the bottom to stop the split from running any further. The lower part (that John’s hand is on) will be wired and later jinned. Upper part is “rolled” forward, and guy wired into position. Here it is, from above. It would be nice to move it more forward, maybe next year.


After I moved the branch, I went through the tree and chased back the foliage. Kathy said it was to the point in its development that I should trim back shoots back regularly to keep the foliage pads tighter. Finally, the apex was changed by rolling the top branch toward the back, moving a forward-facing branch up to continue the trunk line.

This is a shot from after the workshop.


Also notice the difference between the lower left shari and the oval above it in the center of the photo. The lower shari (by the black mark) has a nice callus rolling on the left side, the oval above shows some callous pushing up the bark, it needs to be reduced it so it rolls cleanly like the left side of the one below it. Use a knife and gently scrape away the bark that is getting pushed up and/or trapped under the cambium. Here is a close-up of the upper oval after the area was cleaned up.


So, what are the black marks? Black marker indicates where to continue the carving. Doing carving in stages like this creates the life lines, and the muscular deadwood often seen on older junipers. Bonsai is so often seen as an art of subtraction, that it’s easy to forget the importance of adding first. Carving small ovals, a little at a time allows these calluses to grow more wood around the cuts, that can be exposed later, creating different layers of deadwood over time.

What will the work be for this tree over the ’12 growing season?

1. Getting the split branch to grow well, setting the rolled part this year, and setting the lower part up to create an interesting jin with next year.

2. Chasing the growth back to create tight pads instead of Pom poms.

3. Getting growth on the back of the tree.

4. Building some density with new shoots in the upper third of the tree.

5. Moving the apex to the right, getting it over the center of the tree.

Thanks for reading!


3 thoughts on “Shimpaku Workshop Tree Revisited

  1. I don’t work with junis so to me this is a really startling solution, but it makes total sense now that I see it applied. Working with a pro really expands your options, and mind, it is clear…
    Nice work.

  2. Pingback: ABS Club Tree Project - Shimpaku Junipers | Alabama Bonsai Society

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