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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.

Monday, August 22, 2016

39th Mid-America Bonsai Exhibition: Bests of Show

     Again, "Bests" is not a typo; I meant to write it that way. Two "Best of Show" awards are given at the Mid-America, one for Open class and one for Professional.

This year the "Best of Show" (Open) went to this stunning Sierra juniper (Juniperus occidentalis var. australis,) owned and styled by Tim Priest of Michigan.

"Best of Show," Open class, 2016 Mid-America Bonsai Exhibition. Sierra juniper, Juniperus occidentalis var. australis.
Owner and artist, Tim Priest.
Colin Lewis, this year's Visiting Master, couldn't seem to find enough good things to say about it during the Friday evening Critique! The tree is in superb health. The balance of deadwood to live bark is excellent. In styling, the artist worked with the natural movement of tree, rather than trying to force the tree into a stylistic "box." The incidental details of design and of grooming were not neglected: for example, the undersides of the pads are all clean, with no shoots hanging down. (No "droopies," in Roy Nagatoshi's term.) In Colin's judgment, no better pot could have been found for the tree, and while the pot was well-oiled, it wasn't at all shiny. The mossing was very well done. I think I heard a note of awe in Colin Lewis' voice as he discussed this bonsai!

The only thing he might suggest, Colin said, if he were asked how the tree could be improved, would be that it wouldn't hurt if the jin and shari were just a little bit lighter. But he hesitated audibly to even say that much on the negative side!

The tree is a yamadori, collected in the Sierra Nevada of California. I didn't hear the collector's name. It's estimated to be 300 years old, and has been in bonsai training for six years, I believe.

Prior to winning "Best of Show" in Chicago this past weekend, this tree won second place in the Artisans Cup competition in Portland, OR, last year. And it came within a fraction of a point (literally) of taking "Best of Show" at the Michigan All-State Bonsai Show in May. I think it is going to keep winning major awards for a while. (Ya think?) If I heard correctly, Tim Priest plans to enter it in the National Bonsai Exhibition, hosted by William Valavanis, in September.

And speaking of Valavanis: what can I say about an artist who may well have won more awards than any other bonsai practitioner in North America? Once again Bill took the "Best of Show Professional" award, and once again the tree fully deserved it!

"Best of Show Professional," 2016 Mid-America Bonsai Exhibition.
Dwarf Scots pine, Pinus sylvestris 'Beuvronensis.'
Owner and artist, William N. Valavanis.
This tree, Colin Lewis said, shows the effects of meticulous care and painstaking work over many years. (That might confirm a report I heard that Bill grew the tree from seed.) When you work with a tree for many years, Lewis pointed out, you get to know it well - not just the species, but that individual tree. After a while, he said, it's as if the tree and the artist are working together.

Besides the skillful styling and the excellent taper, Colin pointed out that, as with Tim Priest's Sierra juniper, the tree was clean and well detailed. The pot and the tree are a perfect match, he said, and once again the mossing was superbly done.

But what Colin Lewis particularly praised on this pine was the nebari. "You will not find," he stated flatly, "a better nebari on a pine anywhere." The nebari also showed the result of good long-term planning, he said. When the pine was a seedling, the roots were spread out (as is common practice) to develop an eventual nebari. But the grower (I presume Valavanis) thought ahead, and spread them out enough that the eventual nebari wasn't swallowed by the expanding trunk. What good does it do, Colin asked, to spread the roots out four inches if the trunk eventually engulfs the first three?

After listening to all Colin Lewis had to say about this pine's nebari, I went back the next day and got a close-up.

Nebari of William Valavanis' Scots pine. Besides the root structure, notice the different varieties of moss
that add visual interest, and the lichens here and there.

Bonsai like these prompt me to think, Here's what can be done. And while I may not be able to match what these artists have done, I'll be the better for trying. And my trees will be better too.

:-)  :-)  :-)

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

An Upside-Down Aquarium -

     - can make a very effective humidity cover for new cuttings.

I took a few cuttings today, two each from four different species of Ficus: Ficus microcarpa 'Tigerbark,' F. buxifolia, F. salicaria and F. burtt-davyi. Because all these species are tropical and our temperatures are still doing some crazy swings (we had frost this past weekend,) I'm keeping the cuttings in the Crate for at least the first several weeks.

Even the high humidity I can maintain in the Crate isn't enough for fresh cuttings. They need a humidity cover to keep the air around them (almost literally) dripping wet. We have two aquaria  that aren't in use for anything else; so I took the smaller one, cleaned it up, flipped it upside down, and voilĂ - instant humidity cover!

Pampering the new cuttings until they root. May 17, 2016.

An inverted aquarium works well for the purpose for several reasons. The glass lets in plenty of light; the joins between the panels are watertight; it's heavy enough that accidentally brushing it with the hand won't knock anything askew; and while there's enough space for the two RMP Rootmakers® holding the cuttings, there's not a lot of extra space where I must try to keep the air saturated.

If all goes well, within two to three months I'll be able to pot up the new tree-lets in individual pots. I plan to graft one of the 'Tigerbark' cuttings into its own parent plant at a point where a new branch is needed. As for the rest, we shall see.

:-)  :-)  :-) 

Friday, May 13, 2016

Continuing to Repot - with Care

     A little over a month ago I wrote about the dilemma facing many of us in this part of the USA: with our weather patterns so weird, should we repot in response the normal indicators (swelling buds, etc) or wait - maybe even forego repotting for a year? (If you want to refresh your memory, click here, then come back.)

As I indicated in that post, I decided to proceed with repotting but take some extra precautions.

Two trees I've recently worked on are hybrid yews, Taxus x media 'Densiformis.' I acquired them both almost two years ago from the "Clearance" section of a local DIY's garden center. Both had been allowed to dry out too far and were in serious distress; their survival was uncertain for a number of months. I babied them with frequent mistings and extra attention all last season, and I'm thankful to say that it paid off. Both trees came out of dormancy this spring in vigorous health and breaking new buds all over the place!

Unfortunately, by the time I could get to their repotting, buds on both trees weren't just breaking, but bursting. As many readers will know, you take a risk with yews if you repot them after the buds are already opening. So I handled the roots as gently as possible and did almost no root pruning on either.

Since these yews came from a general-purpose garden center, it was anyone's guess how much of the trunk of each was buried, where the nebaris would be found, and how they would be angled. That's just something you deal with when you buy from a general purpose source; I actually often enjoy the added bit of challenge.

Fortunately, the first one was not especially root bound. The angle of the nebari (once I found it) was such that the tree will most likely end up a semi-cascade, tho it will be several years before it is ready for creating styling.

Taxus x media 'Densifomis' B190, April 24; cleaned up and ready for repotting.
Some live roots ended up sticking into the air after I got the nebari leveled - they'd all been growing at a different angle for several years, after all! There were enough such that - again, wanting to save as many roots as possible - I covered them with sphagnum to keep them moist while the tree adjusts. I also mulched the rest of the surface of the substrate with sphagnum.

Please forgive the quality of the next two pictures. I'm afraid I don't have any other "after" photos.

Probable front, altho that could change. The lower trunk looks best from this side.
Probable back.
The second tree was rootbound, and badly; the rootball was full of small roots that had been killed by overcrowding. Most of the live and viable roots were near the bottom of the rootball. Again, I couldn't afford to lose any live roots if I could help it, so reduction of the roots' depth will be done in stages over several repottings.

Taxus x media 'Densiformis' B191, May 11. You can see the new shoots opening.
With the rootball cleaned as much as I dared under the circumstances. 
A closer look at the root mass. That's my left hand at the side of the picture.
You can see in the last two pictures that most of the original trunk was buried; what look like multiple trunks in my first picture of this tree are actually the primary branches. But you can also see that there is a significant reverse taper just below the point where the branches emerge. Because of that, and because I think the design idea will work, I plan to make this yew a 5-trunk clump.

To develop a new nebari, I punched a series of wounds all the way around the trunk, one-half inch to one inch below where the primary branches initiate. (A few of them show as light spots a little above the soil line, in the picture below.) Rooting hormone was applied to the wounds, and that area was packed with sphagnum as the last stage in the repotting.

With substrate filled in to just below the circle of wounds. Rather than run the tie-downs over the area
where I want to see a new nebari, I looped them around branch bases. This is the most likely front.
The picture doesn't show it, but the sphagnum is packed higher right around the trunk, covering the hormone-treated wounds.
I finished this job in the rain, which is why everything - including me - was wet!
(I have no idea what caused the lighter area on the picture's right.)
The wound-then-apply-rooting-hormone-and-pack-with-sphagnum technique is one that works with many species, especially many tropicals. One of the characteristics of 'Densiformis' is an unusual readiness to break new buds, be they foliage buds or root initiations, so I think there's good reason to expect the approach to work on this tree.

(That readiness is another reason I was willing to take a chance on repotting these two yews after the optimum window was well past.)

This tree is a long-term project; I expect it to take at least five years to develop a new nebari to the point where it can support the tree on its own. But if I can do it justice, I think this yew will turn out to be a bonsai "not without merit."

:-)  :-)  :-)

Sunday, May 8, 2016

... And Other Visual Treats of Spring

     Another thing I enjoy about spring is the look of the new foliage on the broad-leaf trees and shrubs. Often colors will show that are later masked by the chlorophyll. Here are a few more pictures.

Trident maple, Acer buergerianum.
Korean hornbeam, Carpinus coreana. No other color, but variations of hue and texture.
Japanese maple, Acer palmatum.
Chinese quince, Pseudocydonia sinensis. Just a tinge of rust-orange in the new foliage.
Chinese quince flowers, about 1/2-inch across. This double variety makes it very obvious
that the plant is part of the Rose family (Rosaceae.)
As I said before - it still feels like a bonus to have a time of year when all this sort of natural beauty is coming out at once! To me, it's one more reason to appreciate the Creator.

:-)  :-)  :-)