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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.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Staving Off Winter (As Much As I Can)

     This has been a busy summer and fall, and between one thing and another I (still!) did not have winter quarters ready for my tropicals when our first frost was predicted a week ago. The "tropical bonsai two-step" - taking the trees into the house for the nite and then back outside when things warm up enough the next day - is better than losing trees, but still a cumbersome process when you have more than two dozen tropicals of all sizes. And it does inconvenience my wife.

I've recently subscribed to Ryan Neill's weekly live-stream broadcast from Bonsai Mirai. The evening before the frost warning, in what I consider a little gift from God, Ryan mentioned something that for me was serendipitous. Plant tissues, he said, become endangered by cold at 28° F, not at 32° F (the freezing point of water), as one would expect. That's because water inside a tree's tissues doesn't freeze (creating ice crystals, which do the damage) until the air temperature outside the tree gets down to about 28° F. (For readers accustomed to Celsius, 28° F is equivalent to -2.22° C.)

That's partly because the outermost layers of bark and cuticle slow heat loss, partly because water itself has a high heat retention capacity, and partly because of the sugars, starches and other substances dissolved in the intra-tissue water, which lower its freezing point. (Any substance dissolved in water lowers its freezing point and raises its boiling point, to one degree or another. Anything.)

Overnite lows, while forecast to be at or near freezing, were not forecast to get down to 28° F. So the next day I decided to apply what I'd just learned, along with protection measures I already knew. The earth itself is a good heat reservoir, especially this early in  the season. So I set up a small cold frame that I've had for about 30 years directly on the ground, with just a thin old sheet under it to keep the pots clean. Most of my tropical trees fit into it.

The base of the cold frame is 40 inches square (1.02 m). The frame is aluminum and the glazing is a polycarbonate sandwich which traps a layer of dead air. Austrian manufacture, and it has stood up well!
A few twigs got bent down when I put on the cover and a few leaves stuck thru the cracks, but those were minor considerations.

With the cover in place, heat loss thru radiation to the atmosphere is reduced a great deal.
The white at the top of the picture is not snow, but a vinyl product that I'm using as a ground cover.
For another layer of protection, I threw an equally old blanket over the cold frame and wrapped it against the sides.

The blanket traps another layer of dead air, and covers the gaps in the coldframe's construction, keeping out wind.
It's been a week. When daytime temperatures have allowed, I've taken off the blanket and the frame's cover so the trees could get as much light as possible. That's especially important because, being tropicals, they are not genetically programmed for a dormancy period, and keep metabolizing even when they can't replenish their resources by photosynthesis.

A few of my smaller tropicals didn't fit under the frame. I've been doing the "tropical two-step" with them, but with just a few small trees it's not  a major chore.

After tonite, temperatures are expected to warm up for the next 8-9 days, and the trees won't need this protection. Meanwhile, I've ordered a tent-like greenhouse that I will set up on our side porch, and fit with benches, lights, and other necessities to keep my tropicals happy thru the rest of the winter. Stay tuned.

:-)  :-)  :-)

Friday, August 25, 2017

MABA 2017: Some Other Awards I Would Have Given

     Here are a few more awards I'd have given at MABA 2017, had such categories existed (and had I been the judge.)

Best Three-Point Display by a Nine-Year Old: I don't put minors' last names on the Internet for security reasons, and this young man's first name is distinctive enough that I'm not going to mention it either. He started helping with his dad's trees when he was four, and has been learning right along. His dad told me that he grew the primary bonsai, the Ficus burtt-davyi, from a cutting; trained it on the rock; picked a pot for it and potted it up; picked out the secondary bonsai, the accent plant, and the stands for all three; and set up the 3-point display. All of that by himself. His dad's only contribution was to let him use one of his spare pots. Not bad at all!
3-point display by a 9-year-old artist
Sometimes a child enjoys a certain activity primarily because it is something to do with Mom or Dad. Nothing wrong with that. But this boy's father thinks his son's interest in bonsai may be something that will continue well into the future. If so  - who knows how good he'll be by the time he reaches the age some of the rest of us are now?

Best Hobbit Tree: I made sure to get a picture of this one for my wife. Some years ago I had a mame-sized Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense) with a hollow trunk. It was her favorite among my bonsai; she called it my "hobbit tree!"
"Arborhobbitus hollowtrunkanibus." (Actually, an elm.)

Best Deciduous Runner-up (in my judgment): Actually, had it been up to me, I might well have given this hornbeam the "Best Deciduous" award, not just "runner-up." A powerful trunk with a bit of movement; a healthy canopy that's full but still lets the eye in; a stable nebari (tho it could stand to be more balanced, maybe with some grafts); that uro on the left (that you can't quite see all of, so your eye wants to probe deeper); and a very well-matched pot. I like it!
I'd love to have a tree this good!

Best Double Tanuki (and the only double tanuki I've seen yet): For any who don't know, a tanuki (a.k.a. phoenix graft) is a slender, younger tree attached to the back or side of a larger but dead tree in such a way that the two look like one plant that has a great deal of deadwood. That's the idea, anyway. This shimpaku bonsai, I understand, is composed of two living plants attached to the deadwood. (The award belongs with the Best Accent, out of the picture to the left.)
And here I thought it was simply a full, healthy bonsai with lots of deadwood!
Maybe that's what a tanuki is supposed to look like.

Best Monkeyin' Around Bonsai: I leave you with this composition by Jim Doyle. Little comment is needed - you're probably laughing too hard anyway! Jim had a little sign beside it asking, "Who climbed the tree first - men or apes?"  Nothing wrong with mixing a little whimsy in with your art (and your philosophy)!
California redwood, Sequoia sempervirens, in custom-made container. Plasticopithecus in the branches.
:-)  :-)  :-)

Saturday, August 19, 2017

"We interrupt this programming - " Best-of-Show Awards at the 40th Mid-America Bonsai Exhibition

     "We interrupt the scheduled posts to bring you the following report."

I meant to  write another post soon about MABA 2017, but wasn't able to before coming to Chicago for the 2017 Mid-America. I've decided to give you a quick report on the Best-of-Show awards given today by Guest Master Kathy Shaner.

Best of Show, Open Class went to this pomegranate owned and styled by Gary Andes.

Best of Show, Open Class. Punica granatum, common pomegranate. Owner and artist, Gary Andes.
Best of Show, Open Class; a closer view of the tree itself.
Here's what Kathy Shaner had to say about this tree in the Exhibit Critique this evening, from my notes:

  • Great canopy; full but open enough to let light in to keep the interior healthy. (And open enough to draw the eye in. - Inferred by yours truly from an earlier comment of hers.)
  • The relatively plain pot has a restful effect.
  • The contrasting accent plant harmonizes well with the tree.
  • Pomegranate can be difficult, even impossible to grow in some parts of the USA.
  • "I just like it!"

Best of Show, Professional Class winner was this 'Kashima' Japanese maple, owned and styled by Bill Valavanis.

Best of Show, Professional Class. Acer palmatum 'Kashima,' Japanese maple 'Kashima."
Owner and artist, William N. Valavanis.
Best of Show, Professional; a closer view of the tree.
Kathy Shaner's comments on this tree:

  • The stupendous trunk is this tree's outstanding feature. (Tho I think the nebari runs a close  second.)
  • The pot shape draws the eye to the trunk.
  • The mix of harmonizing colors and shapes in the main bonsai and the crab-apple companion plant is very well done.
  • The fruit on the crab-apple gives a touch of seasonality.
  • Her only negative comment: bumpy moss looks out of scale.

My next post will get back to coverage of MABA 2017. But I don't promise not to break in on that lineup again!

:-)  :-)  :-)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

MABA 2017 I: The "Best" Awards

     In early July the  Indianapolis Bonsai Club hosted the MABA Convention for the second time in two years, and they put together an event that was a worthy sequel to MABA 2015. A big "Well done!" is due to all the IBC members and MABA officers who helped make the weekend a success, with particular recognition going to Mark Fields, Scott Yelich, and Paul Weishaar.

This year's headliner was Matt Reel, a native of Portland, Oregon. Matt Reel returned in 2014 from an eight-year stint with bonsai master Shinji Suzuki in Japan, and is now associated with the Portland Bonsai Village. (I understand that a standard apprenticeship lasts five years, and it is customary for a newly-certified former apprentice to stay on for a time, helping out his or her teacher as a practical expression of gratitude for what he or she has learned.)

And as headliner, he was the judge for the bonsai exhibition, putting into application what he learned in Japan.

Best of Show went to this Scots pine, Pinus sylvestris, owned and trained by William N. Valavanis. This superb tree also won "Best of Show Professional" at the 2013 Mid-America Bonsai Exhibition in Chicago.
Best of Show: Scots pine, Pinus sylvestris dwarf cv. Owner and artist, Wm. Valavanis.
Photo by Larry Benjamin. Used with permission.

Best North American Indigenous (MABA Area)
was awarded to this Thuja occidentalis, known commonly as "northern white cedar" and "American arborvita". I think the visual balance of shari to live bark is excellent.
Best MABA Area Native: Northern white cedar, Thuja occidentalis. Owner and artist, Paul Weishaar.

Best Evergreen
award was given to this Douglas fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii. I particularly like the powerful nebari. Notice also the unbleached shari emerging at the first major angle of the trunk. (A dead branch in such a position would not bleach in nature.)
Best Evergreen: Douglas fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii. Owner and artists, Barbara Bogan.

Best Deciduous
was awarded to a Japanese maple, Acer palmatum, owned and styled by Dr. Zach Denka. This, I understand, was the first time Dr. Denka entered a tree in a major display, and he won an award his first time out of the gate! But this award caused me (and others) some perplexity, because the tree - no offense intended to Zach Denka - reminded me of an Old English sheepdog: there was too much foliage for its structure to be seen! I wondered what steered Matt's decision.

     I failed to get a picture of the tree, so Zach kindly allowed me to capture two pictures of it from his FaceBook page. Here's one that shows how the tree looked in the MABA display:
Best Deciduous: Japanese maple, Acer palmatum. Owner and artist, Zach Denka.
I didn't catch the name of the cultivar, but Zach told me and a few others that the long petiole is natural to it.
Photo by Zach Denka. Used with permission.
     And here's the photo that cleared up the erstwhile mystery. This is the same tree following partial defoliation. Notice the fine nebari, the trunk movement, the taper and the ramification. Evidently Matt Reel decided that those features outweighed the "shaggy dog" look that first met the eye. (And having seen this picture, I'm not going to argue.)
Acer palmatum, defoliated.
Photo by Zach Denka. Used with permission.

Best Tropical was this root-over-rock veldt fig, Ficus burtt-davyi, owned and styled by Mark Fields. You can see the rock showing thru the abundance of roots. And F. burtt-davyi does often grow on rock outcroppings in its native southern Africa. I think the pot color is well chosen, too.
Best Tropical: Veldt fig, Ficus burtt-davyi. Owner and artist, Mark Fields.

Best Shohin Display was awarded to this 7-point display by Neil Dellinger. Notice how the movement of all the trees is either toward the center of the display or straight up. Also, the topmost tree in such a display is traditionally a high-altitude species (think "mountain-top"), altho this one is a shimpaku juniper. That shimpaku's pot is antique Chinese, and I understand it's worth more than many of the trees in the display!
Best Shohin Display: Mixed species. Owner and artist, Neil Dellinger.
Photo by William N. Valavanis. Used with permission.

And finally, the award for Best Accent went to this mixed planting by Dan Turner. You can't have a bonsai display without accent/companion plants, and this one is outstanding. The combination of colors, textures, and surfaces makes it at once restful and a bit fascinating! 
Best Accent: Mixed planting. Owner and artist, Dan Turner.

Next post: some other awards I might have given, had it been up to me.

:-)  :-)  :-)