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"And the LORD God made ... trees that were pleasing to the eye ..." Gen. 2:9, New International Version.

"Bonsai isn't just something I do; it's part of what I am." Remark to my wife and daughter.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Pedestals and Hot Dogs

     Almost two years ago, the Fort Wayne Bonsai Club took a tour of Michael Himes's bonsai garden. Mr. Himes is CEO of one of the USA's largest gasoline and diesel fuel wholesalers, and his collection is housed on a specially-built deck on the second floor of his company's office building. I wrote about that visit in this post. (The link will open in a new window; when you close that window, you'll be returned to this page.) At that time Mr. Himes's trees rested on temporary bases made of stacked concrete blocks surrounded by narrow bamboo matting. 

One of our members, Ryan Wilmer, has a small concrete business. Some months ago, he and his crew replaced the trees' temporary bases with permanent concrete pedestals. Last weekend we paid a return visit to Mr. Himes's collection to see the results of Ryan's efforts, as well as to visit the bonsai again.

For any who don't know, a bonsai is customarily displayed on a stand. These pedestals function as all-weather outdoor stands. Each one is designed to harmonize with the bonsai it supports, just as a stand is chosen to complement the tree it holds.

In my opinion, Ryan Wilmer and his crew did a very good job. Congratulations, gentlemen!

A yamadori ponderosa pine on its new pedestal.
"Littlefoot," a Ficus microcarpa var retusa and Michael Himes' first bonsai.
The low, wide stand matches the low, wide design of the tree.

No pedestal was made for "Bigfoot," another F. microcarpa var retusa and perhaps the pride of Mr. Himes's collection. That's because, at roughly 5 feet high from the soil surface and weighing hundreds of pounds, "Bigfoot" sits permanently on a wheeled metal cart that is also a humidity tray. No other arrangement would allow it to be taken out to the deck in spring and back inside in the fall, given the layout of the building.

"Bigfoot," easily the most eye-catching tree in Mr. Himes's collection.
Bigfoot was putting out a flush of new leaves when we were there, and I got a close-up.

The bronze-yellow of the new leaves is set off nicely by the green of the mature foliage.

After this stop, we were invited to the home of Cody Harris, our club vice-president. Cody is fairly new to bonsai; very enthusiastic but also quite serious about the art and eager to learn. Cody's father George already uses Japanese esthetic principles when pruning in-ground trees, and it won't surprise me if he too jumps into bonsai in the near future. The Harris family's hospitality left nothing to be desired: opening their spacious garage for a place out of the sun where we could gather, and grilling hot dogs for the mob that had descended on them!

Cody's hand-built bench. Some of his selections show a good eye and some careful thought.
This bougainvillea particularly caught my eye. When it's finished, I expect we will see a great deal of character in something not much taller than my handspan! I'm looking forward to it.

Forgive the cluttered background, please. I think you can still see the bougie clearly enough.

At the April meeting of the Fort Wayne Bonsai Club, we played in the dirt - or, to put it in more dignified terms, we made clay pots and trays, many free-form, under the guidance of an experienced member, Mark Sturtzenberger. Once I have mine back (I made three) I'll write another post about the whole process, and the fun it was!

Until then!

:-)  :-)  :-)

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Fort Wayne Bonsai Club Spring 2017 Workshop

     Spring is a good time for bonsai workshops. To borrow an expression from my friend Dave Burke, a workshop "gets the bonsai juices flowing" after the winter. What better way?

This year the guest teacher for our Spring B.Y.O.T. workshop was Scott Yelich, current president of the Indianapolis Bonsai Club and owner of Eagle Creek Bonsai in that city. (B.Y.O.T. stands for "Bring Your Own Tree," for any who don't know.) Scott specializes in tropical species, but he's experienced and knowledgeable when it comes to temperate-zone trees as well. Which is a good thing, because as best I recall, none of the trees brought in for his attention on April 22nd were tropicals!

Jerry and Darlene Kittle hosted us once again, and a carry-in lunch made sure no one was distracted by a discontented stomach. Before the workshop itself started, there was a soil-mixing session; the club maintains a supply of bonsai soil which is available to members at low cost.

Jerry Kittle loads another bag into the cement mixer. 
Susan and her daughter Sophie bag the finished mix.

Young people are the future of any bonsai club, and several of our teenage members were on hand. One young man, Elias, brought in his urban-yamadori boxwood. (For internet security reasons, I'm not going to include the last names of any minors.)

Scott offers some thoughts about the design of Elias' tree -
- and Elias ponders what Scott has to say.

Al McMillan brought a nursery-purchased Boulevard cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Boulevard') that had obviously had its leader chopped 8-10 inches above the soil when it was younger. Several shoots had broken just below the chop, resulting in an almost artificial-looking tree (to my eye) with four rather spindly-looking trunks.

I think Scott's solution is best described as elegant. He removed two of the trunks, leaving jin and shari behind, and transformed Al's tree into a very natural-looking twin-trunk bunjin. I look forward to seeing it on display once Al gets it moved into a bonsai pot!

Right to left: Al, Scott, Shay (sp?) and Deanna (partially hidden).
Scott does some detail work near the apex of the "daughter" trunk.

I found myself in a dilemma as the workshop approached. The best candidate for a B.Y.O.T. workshop, in my judgment, is a tree which is ready for some serious styling work but which has me stumped (word-play intended) as to what to do with it. And I had no tree available that fit that description! Every tree I had either was not yet ready for styling or was one for which I already had a definite design in mind.

Scott had offered to bring along some specimens for people to buy. One of them was this collected common privet (Ligustrum vulgare.) When I saw it, I thought it would provide some interesting challenges, so I bought it and went to work. (I apologize for the fact that some branches don't show up well against the background.)

Multi-trunk common privet I bought from Scott, before work was begun.

This tree was collected, Scott told me, from a private nature preserve near Bloomington, Indiana. Privet is an introduced species here in the US, so the preserve owners gave Scott and his companions permission to remove as many as they liked!

Scott moved this clump specimen into a 12-inch plastic pot, mulched it heavily, and kept it long enough to be sure it was healthy before offering it for sale. Ligustrum roots readily, and when I started probing to find the natural nebari, I discovered almost 2 inches of fibrous roots, all through the mulch, above what were presumably once the surface roots!

I used a hose to clean the root system enough to find the nebari. At this point I still hadn't found it.

Picking a front was the next step, and Scott gave me a good suggestion on that point, which I accepted. The original main trunk is dead down to the orange line in the next picture. I plan to hollow that portion out, if the wood isn't too weakened to stand up to the Dremel. The blue arrow indicates the new primary trunk, and there will be four auxiliary trunks, for a total of five living trunks.

Pruned, wired and repotted in my own mix after I got home. This is the provisional front.

Some of my readers may have seen a multi-trunk privet bonsai that was owned for many years by the late Jack Fried (pronounced Freed) of Highland Park, Illinois. Jack would enter the tree in the Mid-America Bonsai Exhibit every 2-3 years, and it just kept getting better and better! In 2010, that bonsai was accepted into the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection in Washington, D.C., where it may be seen today.

To my frustration, I could find none of my own pictures of Jack Fried's privet. The picture below was posted on Pinterest by someone with the username "Constant Gardener." I could find no copyright information, but hereby acknowledge the source of this image.

Jack Fried's Ligustrum vulgare bonsai, now in the National Collection.

I don't know if my privet bonsai will ever be as magnificent as Jack's. But Jack's tree sure gives me something to strive for!

:-)  :-)  :-)


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Call it "Validation of Concept."

     In April 2010 I bought a yamadori ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) from Andy Smith of Golden Arrow Bonsai. It also seemed like a good idea, a few months later, to buy a small nursery-grown ponderosa pine for a few dollars as a "learning tree." I had lost my first yamadori ponderosa through a series of mistakes of ignorance, and preferred, if possible, to make any further learning mistakes on a tree I could better afford to lose.

To develop a shallow, compact rootpad on the "learning tree," I moved it into a homemade training box in the spring of 2011. Because Pinus ponderosa is native to a fairly dry climate, I decided to take a chance and use 1/8-inch-mesh hardware cloth for the entire floor of the box. (For any who don't know, "hardware cloth" is a galvanized steel mesh - think of it as window screen on steroids.) The purpose was to promote air-pruning: roots that grew downward and out through the mesh would dry out at the tips once in the open air, and the tips would die. The roots would seal off the dead tips, thereby blocking out pathogens and preventing moisture loss; and would branch further back along their length, within the soil mass.

Here's a picture of the box before use:

The interior dimensions of the box were 10 inches by 12-1/2 inches by 3-1/2 inches
(25-1/2 cm by 30-1/2 cm by almost 9 cm).

Also because ponderosa is a dryland pine, I used a coarse mix, with a low percentage of organic material and particles more than 3 mm across. The mix drained so well, in fact, that I was always a little extra-careful to water this tree adequately. Here's the tree in the box about a year later, after some pruning:

The lower trunk was about as thick as my thumb. April 29, 2012.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I left the tree un-repotted for six years (to the day, by the way.) (Six years - fifty lashes with a wet noodle!) By this spring it was clearly high time to repot. I did the job this past weekend.

And the rootpad turned out be everything I could have hoped for! It had filled the box in those six years, but was only about 2-1/2 inches thick (almost 6-1/2 cm,) and quite compact. I'll let the next pictures tell you more:

Rootpad filling the box. April 8, 2017
The rootpad freed. A nebari had begun to develop as well.
The rootpad cleaned up.
You can see that the rootpad, besides being compact, is dense, with plenty of small roots ready to throw out more feeders. If the above-ground part of the tree hadn't needed more development, I could have moved this pine straight into a bonsai pot! I think I can safely say that the full mesh bottom in the training box proved its worth.

I do want the upper part of this tree to grow a good deal more before I start serious training of the branches, so I moved it into a growing pot with more room for the roots. I know I'll lose some of the compactness of the root system, but I'll just have to re-develop that later.

This picture is taken from about the same angle as the two immediately above.
The box is rather dilapidated - even pressure-treated wood succumbs to moisture eventually. I doubt it would stand up to holding another tree for even a couple of years.  But it served its purpose well! 👍

:-)  :-)  :-)

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Dog Dishes As Training Pots

(With apologies to Snoopy.)

     I'm like most bonsaiists who work with a limited budget, I think: I'm always on the lookout for new ideas for inexpensive training pots. A year or so ago I found another kind of container that fills the bill quite nicely: rigid plastic dog dishes.

The dishes I found at a major chain discount store are round, 9 inches (almost 23 cm) in internal diameter and just over 3 inches (7-1/2 cm) deep; a perfect size for many small-to-medium bonsai-in-training. I got them for around $10 apiece, and they'll last thru years of repeated use.

The dark material in the center is glue from the label; I couldn't get all of it off.

The plastic is not as rigid as metal, but it is rigid enough to not flex with ordinary handling. For any who don't know, that's important because if the walls of a container flex very much, the soil inside flexes and shifts. When the soil flexes, the roots are flexed as well. And - here's the reason it matters - roots, unlike branches, aren't made to take much bending. Finer, not-yet-lignified roots in particular - including the all-important feeder roots - break easily with any motion of the soil.

(I used to use flexible plastic containers, such as dishpans and oil drain pans, as growing and training containers because they're inexpensive. At a workshop with Kathy Shaner in 2006, I realized that a training container with flexible walls and bottom is not a good idea, and why it's not. No more plastic dishpans!)

A homeowner's cordless drill works fine for creating the holes. I used a 3/32-inch bit for the small holes, and a 1-inch wood bit for the drain holes.

(Yes, I need to clean the rust off the bit. It still did its job.)

Three 1-inch drainage holes should be fine.
The small holes in clusters of three, running around the circumference of the pot roughly an inch below the rim, are there to encourage air-pruning. Any small root that grows into one of those holes will emerge into the open air, and its tip will dry out and die. The rootlet will respond in two ways: it will seal off the dead tip, which will keep out pathogens; and it will branch further back along its length, within the soil. The more that happens, the more of a compact root system the tree will have.

Its marks don't show in the picture, but I also used a rotating wire brush to rough up the inner surface of the walls. A rougher surface will both give the roots something more to grip, and encourage them to branch a little more.

Inexpensive stick-on plastic "bumpers" do a very adequate job as feet, to keep too much water from collecting under the pot. They cost under $3 at a local DIY store.

You can also see the holes for tie-in wires, which don't show up well in the previous picture.

I leave you with a picture of this training container with its new (as of yesterday) occupant: a shohin-sized yew bonsai-in-training!

Taxus x media 'Densiformis'. After two years in this container, it should ready for a permanent pot.

:-)  :-)  :-)