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Styling a Corkbark Black Pine, ‘Taihei’ part 2

About the cultivar:

Part 1 is here:

Which covered the time of purchase in 2009, through the first couple styling attempts through 2012. During that time, I learned that this Taihei despises summer candle-cutting. Here is what happened:

So Part 2 picks up here, after pruning and wiring in fall 2012:

Repotted in 2013:

Frustrated with a styling effort in late 2013, it was planted in the ground to be forgotten for the next 18 months. Neither of us minded the break at all.

it’s a love/hate tree. I love the bark, it hates the work. We’ve battled it out several times over the years, pruning and wiring one year, resulting in the tree sulking for the next two years. Summer decandling resulted in no new candles, only buds setting for the next year.

March 2015, the last time we fought to a draw, it ended up potted in this 13″ round pot, only because we were moving, and I had extra soil. Potted in March 2015, and ignored for the rest of the year:

Ignored it in 2016:

Continued to ignore it for a 3rd year in 2017. Have you heard that saying about freshly potted trees? Year 1 they sleep, year 2 they creep, year 3 they leap.

This was year 4, and it bulked up noticeably in 2018, through little more than my neglect:

But I could ignore it no longer in that 13″ pot. And after 4 years in that pot, it was time to repot. It took a few minutes to get it loose…

…but I managed, and the pot survived:

Armed with my new training strategy, I am preparing to neglect it in this pot for at least another 5 years. I used pumice, lava, and medium akadama, 2:1:2. Pumice and lava don’t break down, so this should allow for good watering and air movement for many years. The pot is also 17″ wide. Spacious.

Since I’m planning to neglect it for a while, it needed to be pruned back. I pruned conservatively, by removing last year’s strong candles, back to buds which were set at the base of last year’s candles. Here:

to here:

which, by May, looks like this:

But, back to March…the pruning resulted in this tidier look:

Some light wiring closed a bit of the gap between the first and the rest of the branches:

Late May 2019:

A fun shot of 10 years gone by, 2009 and 2019:

And a late summer 2019 shot:

I think we have found a good arrangement of neglect and response…


Erodium accent in a Tofukuji pot

Erodium has long been a favorite accent plant of mine. Especially when they start to show a little trunk. This one has been in a pot for a few years now

A visit to Chikugo-En and the Elusive Kiyozuro

Gary Ishii’s Chikugo-en nursery is in Gardena, CA. He and his late father, Mas were featured in Bonsai Today #75 for their skilled grafting of Itoigawa and Kishu onto San Jose and Prostrata junipers. The large cascade juniper in the article is still prominently displayed, perfectly-manicured, in the front of the nursery.

When I arrived, he was on a ladder performing ‘mikiri’ (summer candle-cutting) on the entrance’s iconic Black Pine. He later showed me a photo of the tree when his father planted it 30 years ago, when the trunk was the size of a “half-dollar piece”:

Readers of this site are familiar with this series of posts that discuss characteristics of different types of Shimpaku junipers. They are always the most-frequently visited posts in the short history of this site.

During my research for those posts, I stumbled on another type of Shimpaku, ‘Kiyoruzo’. When it appears in searches, this elusive strain is always linked back to origins at Chikugo-En, and really nowhere else, that I have found. So when our family was on vacation in LA in late July, I had the opportunity to visit the nursery and began my hunt for the Kiyozuro Shimpaku.

Here are a few photos from yelp to give an idea of the nursery.

They do not allow photography inside the nursery, but Gary was very friendly, patient, and helpful. The nursery is compact, and packed with well-grown, and well-groomed trees; with the large majority comprised of junipers, olives, and black pines. Many of which were not for sale, or priced to not sell. He was rightly attached to several of the trees I inquired about, and we had light-hearted discussion about many of them.

But the search was on for this Kiyozuro. Gary did say it was becoming difficult to distinguish them from Itoigawa, as he had sold or lost track of most of them. From initial observation, the foliage was denser than Itoigawa, finer in texture, possibly “droopier”, and slightly lighter/paler in color. I also couldn’t find any juvenile foliage on them, which may prove to be the winning differentiator between it and Itoigawa. This will be a trait to watch.

I hadn’t come to the nursery planning to spend much on a tree, but had hoped to pick up a smaller Kiyozuro to grow out. However, he really only showed my 2 that were definitely Kiyozuro; a semi-cascade that he had plans for, and the one I ultimately paid an absolute fool’s ransom to acquire. he told me it was grafted to San Jose 20-25 years ago and showed me the graft union, which you can see is at the first bend just above the soil line. The San Jose bark is warty and darker and paler than the Kiyozuro, which appears to have a redder bark color than Itoigawa, closer in color to Shimpaku.

When I took it to the counter, Gary’s mother(?) immediately recognized it, and called it by name. This was impressive, since, save for the repotting date, it was unmarked!

Here is a shot I was permitted to take in the nursery of the Kiyozuro I bought. Gary’s daughter(?) was kind enough to set up a quick backdrop for the photos:

I was torn, because I’m not at all enamored with the trunk of this tree, or the price, but since I really wanted the cultivar, I went for it; and rationalized that I could layer off the top and make cuttings to do some dollar-cost averaging over time.

By contrast, here is an Itoigawa which was priced 10% less, with a larger and better-shaped trunk. I did carry it around for a while until I convinced myself I would be disappointed later if I didn’t end up with the Kiyozuru cultivar I went after from the beginning. An unsolicited peek into my psyche…my poor wife…who wisely chose to not join me on this little excursion.

While showing him photos of some of my trees, he made me go back to this Itoigawa, and told me he started this one! He also told me he buries the trunk up to that first curve until it roots, and that provides a better flared base. Walking through the nursery, it was clear he had done that. Hmmm….that solves several problems…I’ll return to that nugget later, no doubt.

Here are a few other Kiyozuru from the internet, all tracing back to Chikugo-en; 2 from BonsaiNut:

One from a vendor:

And one more Gary offered me back in 2014. Wish I would have jumped on this one back then!

And finally, a few shots of the Itoigawa (right) next to the Kiyozuru (left):

I’ll continue to evaluate this kiyozuro and update over time, along with some better comparison shots. It was dark last night when the tree finally arrived.