Eisei-en

Last weekend was the first session of Bjorn’s intensive course. I cannot remember the last time I spent three days working on trees, and it was good to have enough time to get into a groove again. I don’t know about you, but sometimes it’s hard to do bonsai in 30-minute increments when it’s anything more involved than removing wire or performing a quick trim.

Here are a few shots from around his nursery, Eisei-en near Nashville, TN. It is a tranquil place with lots of nice trees, mostly comprised of large, domestically collected junipers and pines, with plenty of other gems tucked in and around.

Japanese Beech:

One-seed juniper:

One-seed juniper:

Trident maple:

Ume:

Trident maple:

Chojubai quince:

Trident maple:

One-seed juniper:

Massive One-seed junipers (that’s an 8′ high fence):

Scots Pine:

One-seed (or Rocky Mountain?) juniper:

Looking back toward the gate, workshop is on the right:

Trident maples:

Chinese Quince:

We discussed fall cleanup, some design aesthetics and horticulture, but mostly we worked on trees. Reps.

…….

Bjorn and I have worked on this Kishu Shimpaku juniper together for several years now, culminating in an appearance in the 4th US National Bonsai Exhibition in 2016. It seemed fitting to bring it to his nursery for the next phase in its development; committing to a direction. It is pretty balanced left to right, but the trunk definitely has movement: in your eye, does it move left or right?

The main section of trunk suggests right, but overall I feel the foliage wants to move back to the left. Mainly because of how the live vein exits the soil, and how the branch structure suggests everything moves up and then sweeps back to the left. The first branch is on the right, and the trunk moving to the right could work, but then I think that movement fights with the base, and the whole tree would need to be taller and thinner to move right. And I have a different vision for the tree than a tall, right-moving juniper with what would be an S-curve trunk.

Here is the starting point.

First step was to remove weak, inner growth, and the spindly stuff that would likely die over the winter anyway. That’s my new friend Jesse in the background, a fellow student who is from Michigan and brand-new to Bonsai. Nothing like jumping in with both feet! He was very gracious and watched some of the Bama LSU game on Saturday. I didn’t realize he’d be in the next few shots in a row, hope he doesn’t mind…

Next step was to prune to create (or leave) a bifurcated branch structure. Word of the weekend.

Then wiring…for about 10 hours when you’re slow or rusty. But I got there!

And the “after” shot. We are committing to the foliage and movement of the tree to the left, so it will take a little time to grow into the look, but the branches are set, pads are defined, and plan is in place.

So, for fun, here are the results after each of the last 3 styling efforts.

2015, first full wiring since purchased:

2016, tidied up in preparation for the National Show:

And 2018, advancing the design by shifting the movement more to the left:

Next spring, the left side will be allowed to elongate, while the right side will be kept tighter. It will also be repotted, tilting the tree slightly more forward, and rotated just a bit counter-clockwise. Finally, we’ll address that scar in the middle live vein. That will be the topic for another post for sure.

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Shimpaku Styling 5

This tree goes in fits and starts. I thought it had been a long time since it was updated, but it is here, and is a sprint through nearly 3 years of time, ending in April 2017. This first 2 shots below are July 2017 photos. The graft failed, unfortunately leaving the left vein supporting no foliage, meaning it was destined to dry up and wither, and with it, a very sinuous curving line moving along the left side of the tree. Bummer.

On a positive note, the back side had become an interesting option, and this angle isn’t quite as dependent on the second live vein:

When Bjorn visited in December, it was in the midst of 6″ of snow falling in Birmingham. So I moved the workshop trees into the shower to thaw and drain, and knew if anyone would understand bonsai trees draining in the guest shower, it was probably him!

I shared my idea of changing the front, but was talked out of it for now, because the base is so much wider on the original front. I also shared my disappointment with my efforts to do justice to this tree so far. I’d nearly killed it once, and lost the graft keeping the left side live vein alive, not to mention that my carving efforts were significantly less than Kimura-esque. Bjorn, being the optimist, assured me we’d make something that would make it in the Nationals one day.

And by the time we finished pruning and wiring it, I began to believe it:

Buoyed by the new direction, I decided to give my Foredom another chance on the deadwood. Stars aligned, and the results were much better.

The two biggest challenges to carving were to try and keep the left live vein’s movement visible in the carving, and to join the left Jin to the rest of the tree so it all looks like a single event caused the death of the left side, and it was all subjected to the same weathering effects of time. Later, with a diluted application of lime sulfur, the tones will even out, and the depth of the carving will be accentuated. When I found a line I liked, I tried to follow it along as far as the tree would allow, and then deepen it as much as the carving bits would allow. I used a tri-cut bit, a much smaller bur bit, and followed up with a brass wheel to knock all the fuzz off.

For January 2018, here it sits. It will need a smaller pot, but I’m going to take my time. Each time I’ve worked on this tree, it’s resulted in a significant setback, so I need to break that cycle. But I can live with this for another season, and let the branches start to thicken up and lengthen out. It needs to fill in some of the space between canopy and base, but that will come with another growing season…if I don’t jinx it!

Fast-forward a few months to June 2018, and the tree is growing well.

A little trimming back of some strong runners should encourage more back-budding. Still going slow…

Rinse and repeat a month later in August…

Still not 100% sure about the front, because this is interesting too…

Next spring, a new pot…probably a round one!

A shohin Shimpaku cleanup

This was air-layered about 4 years ago, and has been wired out for the last 2. It’s growing strong, and it’s time to get the wires off, prune to back a little, and clean up the dead wood.

Before:

Wires removed:

Pruned back, about 1/3 of the foliage removed. Sucker growth, strong tips, and weak growth was all removed:

Finally, trunks scrubbed up and deadwood treated with lime-sulfur:

Should be all set for the rest of the growing season. Pot? Shinobu.