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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.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Mid-America Bonsai Show 2013, Part II. Notes from the Exhibit Critique.

Bjorn Bjorholm discussing one of the bonsai during the Exhibit Critique.
     It bears repeating: an Exhibit Critique by the headliner, at a bonsai show or symposium, usually gives you the most bang for your buck when it comes to learning more about bonsai. (It also is the event that usually sells out first, too, which says something.) I was fortunate enough to get a spot in the Critique with Bjorn Bjorholm on Friday evening, the 16th.

(For any who don't know:  an exhibit critique is concentrated teaching time, in which the master takes a small group thru the bonsai exhibit and discusses strengths and weaknesses of various trees.) 

It's impossible to deal with all the bonsai in the exhibit in 90 minutes, so the teacher typically picks one or two themes and discusses trees that illustrate points in those areas. Bjorn said he would focus on principles that could be applied to any tree or in any exhibit, and most of his comments fell into the areas of horticulture and display.

Here are some things that he had to say and that stood out to me.
  • Deadwood helps tell a tree's story; so show it off. (The point he was making in the picture above.)
  • The viewer should be able to discern the directionality of a bonsai. A tree that lacks directionality looks unfinished or confused.
  • Don't let a cascading branch -- whether semi- or full -- look as if it's just hanging. That makes it look weak, and often leads to weakening in fact, if the foliage gets less light in that position.
  • Generally speaking, a wide and shallow pot gives the impression of a tree with room to spread out.
  • Bonsai artists in the US tend to make a tree's "neck" too long; the neck is the part of the trunk above the highest major branch. A shorter neck gives more of an impression of maturity and power. (Bunjin trees are an exception to this rule, as to so many others.)
  • An offset of as little as 1 millimeter (less than 1/16 of an inch) in the levels of foliage masses, branches, whatever, will be noticed by the human eye and will increase visual interest. The same is true of vertical planes in a bonsai.
  • Another reason why inner buds should be kept alive: they give you something to cut back to when the tree must be cut back for any reason. In this connection, the next day Bjorn described what could be called the cycle of a bonsai: 5-10 years of development and refinement; up to 3 years of exhibition, at the end of which the tree has overgrown its design; cut back severely and start the process over.
  • "Partial canopy defoliation" can be used to let more light and air into the interior of a trident maple (Acer burguerianum.) Cut off all the outer layer of leaves. They will grow back smaller (and ramification will increase at the same time.) This can be done up to four times in one growing season, depending on the individual tree's vigor.
  • The same technique can be used on hornbeams, but only once or twice per growing season.
  • Do not use "partial canopy defoliation" on Japanese maples (Acer palmatum.) They will respond with either dead branches or balls of swollen tissue at the branch ends. Instead, remove one leaf in each pair, all over the outer canopy. If that doesn't let in enough light, fold the remaining leaves in half lengthwise (petiole to central tip) and cut them in half across (remember, across) their length. The tree's normal growth patterns won't be disrupted. (I wish I had thought to ask him about hedge maple, Acer campestre.)
  • An accent plant should be on the side toward which the bonsai's directionality flows; and its highest point should be below the top of the tree's stand.
  • Last in this post but far from least, clean up a tree before a show. Bjorn emphasized this more than once. The method he recommends for a smooth-barked tree: wet down the trunk, nebari, and major branches with plain water; then take a soft brush (an old toothbrush will do) and scrub downward gently. Rinse off the crud, and repeat as often as necessary until the bark is clean. It can make a tremendous difference, he said, in how good a bonsai looks. (And I intend to do this before I show any trees, from now on.)
For any who are interested: Paul Stokes recorded the entire critique, and I expect that his video will be posted on ofBonsai within a few days.

Next post:  Bjorn Bjorholm's styling demonstration.

:-)  :-)  :-)

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