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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, November 13, 2016

A Grafting Tip

(Readers who receive the Fort Wayne Bonsai Club newsletter will see this in the current issue in slightly different form.)

     During the Exhibit Critique at the 2016 Mid-America show, Colin Lewis described a grafting technique that gets around one of the common difficulties encountered in grafting. That difficulty is making sure that the cambium of the scion and the cambium of the stock line up with each other at all (or almost all) points. Until your eye has been trained by some experience, making sure that the cambium layers line up all around can be a very frustrating affair.

The technique Lewis shared abandons any attempt to make the cambium line up all around in exchange for eight guaranteed points of cambium-to-cambium contact. Let me try to explain the method, using some twigs cut from the ash tree in our front yard for the purpose. (In case anyone wonders, the intent of this post is to explain and illustrate the concept, not record an actual graft.) 

Step 1. The first step is to trim the scion flat on one side. The cut needs to be as smooth as possible. Then turn the scion over and trim the opposite side in the same way. The surfaces of the trimmed areas need to be as close to parallel as possible.

The green arrows point to the cambium, the thin green layer between the brown of the bark and the off-white of the sapwood.
The chartreuse arrow points to the foliage end of the scion.

This technique, by the way, can be used equally well when a seedling or rooted cutting is being grafted in and its own roots are being retained until the graft takes. You just trim down into the sapwood on opposite sides, as illustrated, at the point on the scion where you want it to contact the stock. Make the trimmed-down area just slightly wider than the flap bed (the exposed area of cambium and sapwood on the stock; see picture 2.)

Step 2. Cut the flap in the stock.

Again, the green arrows point to the cambium, the chartreuse toward the foliage.

Step 3. If the scion is thin enough after trimming, you can skip step 3. But if the scion is thick enough that you won’t be able to close the flap properly, you need a notch, no wider than the scion and just deep enough that the upper surface of the scion lies flush, or nearly flush, with the top of the notch. Note the red arrow! If I had actually been making a graft, rather than simply trying to illustrate a technique, I would not have left the floor of the notch so rough. For an actual graft, it needs to be smooth and flat.

Do not leave the floor of the notch rough like this.

By the way, you can make the notch at any angle you choose, depending on the angle of growth you want the new branch to take. Handy, huh?


Step 4. When you lay the scion in the notch, the line of cambium on each side is going to cross each of the lines of cambium in the stock. That gives you four firm points of cambium-to-cambium contact, two on each side of the scion on its underside. 

Each of the green circles sits above a point of cambium-to-cambium contact on the underside of the scion.

Step 5. The underside of the flap also has two longitudinal lines of cambium, and when you close the flap, each of them is going to come into contact with each of the two cambium lines on the upper side of the scion. This gives you four more points of cambium-to-cambium contact.

You now have four cambium-to-cambium points of contact on the underside of the scion, and four on the upper side, for a total of eight. This is enough for a good join.

Again, each green circle sits above a cambium-to-cambium contact point on the upper side of the scion,
as well as one on the underside.
It's important that the flap lie flat or nearly so, so that cambium-to-cambium contact can be re-established between the flap and its bed. Otherwise, you risk some dieback and an unsightly wound.

(Don't forget that when you make an actual graft, there are other things to consider as well: a very sharp knife and good aftercare, to name just two.)

Lewis pointed out another benefit of this technique: Sometimes the stock branch is intended to be cut off after the graft takes, and the scion is intended to take over. In that event, you’ve introduced some movement into the eventual finished branch in the process of making your graft!

:-)  :-)  :-)

Friday, September 30, 2016

Fort Wayne Bonsai Club Fall Show, 2016

     The Fall Show that I invited all and sundry to visit, held last Saturday, went very well. We had a very good turnout, due in part to the fact that another Japanese-themed event was held in another part of the Foellinger-Freimann Conservatory that same day. Undoubtedly some people on their way to the "Japanese Family Event" stopped on the way to take a look at our bonsai, and some who came to our show then decided to proceed down the hall to the Japanese Family Event. Win-win!

As I've mentioned before, I'm not nearly the almost-instinctive photographer my wife is. On top of that, my camera's battery died early on. Still, I did get a few pictures worth posting.

Club members were enthusiastic about bringing their trees; we may have had the biggest display yet.
Jeff and Bruce appear to be deciding whether to break my camera or just make me pay a ransom! (Just kidding.)
Ed discussing a point with one of our newer members, while Becky takes a turn at the sale table.
The next two pictures were taken with my smartphone camera after my regular camera was electrically dead. Please forgive the picture quality.

A yamadori ponderosa (Pinus ponderosa,) and a crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) in eye-catching bloom. 
Larry Benjamin's splendid trident maple (Acer buergerianum.) I know I posted a picture of it after the Spring Show,
but this tree is worth showing again. And the smartphone's picture produces something of a silhouette effect.

As at the last several shows, I spent most of the time at the work table in the Conservatory lobby. Any work I got done was, in a sense, a bonus: my primary reason for being there was to pique visitors' curiosity and encourage them to stop at the display. That often involved answering questions about bonsai, which I am never loath to do. (Just ask my lovely wife.) One man in particular, altho he has no bonsai experience, had a number of very perceptive questions.

My demo tree, an Austrian pine (a.k.a. European black pine,) before work started. Pinus nigra.
The demo tree after the day's work. As one wit said, "If you're not appalled at what you've done, you haven't pruned enough!"
I've been shaping this tree a little at a time over a number of years, aiming for a semi-cascade (one of my favorite styles) without constraining its own quirks too much. This season it was allowed to grow wild until the Show. In this work session I cut it back to encourage compactness and ramification, thinned the foliage, and repositioned the first branch and the "lion's tail." Next spring it will be repotted and then allowed to grow untouched for the rest of the season. Major wiring will follow in 2018, and I hope to have it into a display pot within a couple of years after that.

I bought this and a few other Austrian pines when I was looking for a tough, esthetically pleasing and readily available species to recommend to bonsai beginners in this part of the USA. I have since decided that yews fit my criteria better, and have switched much of my focus to them. (See this page to read more.) But I'm still working with this Austrian and a few others, just to see how they'll turn out. 

:-)  :-)  :-)

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Bonsai Display Coming Up in Fort Wayne

     If you are:
          - a bonsai practitioner;
          - a bonsai enthusiast;
          - interested in bonsai;
          - just curious about bonsai;
          - or just curious, period --
     -- we'd love to see you at the Fort Wayne Bonsai Club's 2016 Fall Show next weekend! If you live in northeastern or north-central Indiana, northwest Ohio, or southeastern lower Michigan, you're within easy driving distance.

Date: Saturday, September 24, 2016.

Time: 10 AM to 3 PM, Eastern time.

Venue: Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Members' trees, of many species and sizes, will be on display. You may well see species that you never thought of in connection with bonsai - such as a tree-like succulent from Madagascar, just to name one. Club members will be ready to answer your questions about the art or about individual trees.

A sale table will offer starter plants and pre-bonsai, accent plants, pots and probably a few random bonsai-related items. In addition, Scott Yelich of Indianapolis, owner of Eagle Creek Bonsai, will be with us. Scott will offer partially shaped trees, pots, and (I think) some accessories. And some of his ribbon-winning trees may be included in the display.

And there will be ongoing live demonstrations of bonsai techniques in the Conservatory lobby. You may be able to watch as the answer to one of your questions is demonstrated. Please note: Interruption of the demonstrators to ask questions is emphatically permitted!

Here are a few pictures from past Fort Wayne Bonsai Club shows.

This Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) belongs to the club, and might be considered the club's "signature tree."
Spring 2016 Show.
A member's Ficus microcarpa at the 2014 Fall Show.
A young show-goer considers where to cast his "people's choice" ballot.
Fall 2012 Show.
Ed Hake mans the sale table. Besides being one of our most knowledgeable members when it comes to plant care,
Ed is a retired bank official. So he's good with plants and money. Fall 2014 Show.

Ben McHugh works on a shimpaku juniper in a styling demonstration. To his right is the tree he styled
in the Joshua Roth New Talent Competition at the ABS Symposium a week before. Spring 2016 Show.

The Club's display is being held in conjunction with the Conservatory's "Our Japanese Sister" family event. This will include a replica of a Japanese garden in the first Exhibition House, demonstrations of the tea ceremony at 12 and 2 PM, ikebana, Japanese food, and more! For more information on this event, go here.

The Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory is located at 1100 South Calhoun Street, Fort Wayne, IN 46802. There is a special admission price that day of $3 for adults, $2 for children; kids under 2 get in free. Parking meters are free on the weekends.

Hope to see you there!

:-)  :-)  :-) 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Spruce, Unconventional Bonsai Design and "Chef's Pants." M-ABE 2016, Headliner's Demonstration.

     This is the raw stock Colin Lewis used in his headliner's demonstration on August 20 at the Mid-America Bonsai Exhibition: a yamadori Black Hills spruce, Picea glauca densata, collected by Andy Smith. I don't remember hearing its estimated age, but if I were asked to guess, I'd start at 80 years. (And that's probably 'way too low.)

Demo tree for the headliner, Colin Lewis, at the 2016 Mid-America. Yamadori Black Hills spruce,
Picea glauca densata, collected by Andy Smith of Golden Arrow Bonsai.
The headliner's demonstration is a regular part of the Mid-America show, and is always worth attending. Usually it involves creation styling: taking raw stock and performing the first major shaping that sets the design and future shape of the bonsai-to-be. In the case of this spruce, that design to turned out be a bit out-of-the-box; more on that a little later.

The auditorium was still filling at the appointed starting time, so Colin Lewis came out and made a few introductory remarks; including, as best I can remember his words, "And I'm sure you're all wondering 'What's this idiot doing up there in his pajamas?'"

What he was wearing did look like pajama pants at first glance. I was thinking, one, that they reminded me of the medieval character Harlequin; and two, that at Lewis' age he can pretty much wear whatever he pleases! Lewis explained that they're "chef's pants," and superbly comfortable. They certainly looked comfortable, enough so that I'm considering getting some myself.

Colin Lewis listening to a question, wearing his chef's pants.
 Lewis apprentice, Maliea Chiem, was also wearing chef's pants as she assisted with the demo. It was obviously his idea, but she was a good sport about it.

Colin pauses his work on one jin to listen to another question,
as Maliea Chiem considers the next step on the jinned top.

Maliea Chiem has been Lewis' apprentice for three years, she said, having been his student for two years before that. She clearly knew what she was doing; it won't surprise me if I see her out on her own as a bonsai teacher in a few more years.

Lewis uses copper wire exclusively on conifers.
At one point I asked Lewis what he saw as the life story of the tree that this bonsai-in-the-making represents. He thought a moment, then said, "I'll tell you when it becomes clear to me." (Approximate quote.)

This next picture isn't all that good, and I apologize for its quality. But it lets me tell you this little story: Maliea Chiem was using the sprayer to keep the deadwood wet while she worked on it. When someone in the audience observed in a voce that that was deliberately not sotto enough that she could always give Colin Lewis a squirt with the sprayer, she took the hint! Maybe it was payback for making her wear the chef's pants. (How do I know the hint was "deliberately" loud enough for her to hear? Take a guess.)

Wielding wire and sprayer.
In an earlier post I mentioned Colin's assessment of Scott Yelich's F. burtt-davyi in the Critique the evening before: "It's a shambles! But it works." Lewis's final design for this tree wasn't "a shambles," but like Scott's Ficus it stepped outside the established norms of bonsai design. Specifically, a major branch on this tree crosses the trunkline; that is not supposed to happen because it usually doesn't work well visually. (The only accepted exception (say that five times really fast!) is when the tree is styled as a windswept, and this is not.)

Colin Lewis said essentially the same thing about  a few other bonsai during the Critique: they bent or broke an accepted design rule or two, but they worked anyway. The same is true of his design for this spruce: it works anyway. My next picture isn't as good as I'd like, but I think it will help you imagine this tree growing on a harsh mountainside, unconquered by the rain, wind, snow, rockslides, and you-name-it.

The finished design. You can see the major branch crossing the trunkline just below the bend.
Convention is broken on that point, but this design works.
A silhouette view.

Imagine it at sunset, positioned against the sky.
The finished product from the headliner's demo is usually auctioned off at the banquet that evening. I haven't heard who bought this tree, but I look forward to seeing it on display in a few years.

Let me stop to point out one thing. The bonsai that broke major rules but still worked were the exceptions; most designs that break major design rules don't work. Every now and then, bending or breaking a rule is actually necessary to achieve the image the artist wants to bring out. But only now and then. And you must develop a clear and in-depth understanding of the bonsai design rules, and the standards behind them, before you can recognize those uncommon occasions when you should break one to preserve something deeper.

Next post: a few nuggets of learning. (Unless something else comes up and seems more compelling.)

:-)  :-)  :-)