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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.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Mid-America Bonsai Show 2014, Part 3. The Year of the Yew.

("Year of the Yew" for me, anyway.)

When I was around 12 years old, I discovered the stories of Robin Hood. I was fascinated by his adventures, but I wondered what a "yew bow" was. At first I didn't even know that "yew" referred to the wood used to make the bow! Yews don't grow in Ecuador.

About 8 years later, I had a summer job on my university's grounds crew. One day, I noticed some small shrubs (about 18 inches high, or 45 cm,) whose appearance I liked, and asked what they were. "Yews" was the answer. My first two thoughts were, "So there really is a plant called 'yew' after all;" and, "I wonder how many of those branches it takes, end to end, to make a bow?"

I've learned better. I've now seen plenty of yews here in the USA that could yield bow staves, even if only a few. I had to go Ireland, tho, to see yews of what I consider "full tree size," such as this one in the FOTA arboretum outside Cork.

My daughter took this picture of her mother and me. Notice the moss and lichens on the yew's trunk.
And I've become a yew lover. The deep green of the foliage, the color of the inner bark, and their unobtrusive elegance all appeal greatly to my eye. Besides that, they're tough, adaptable, long-lived - there's a lot to like about yews, in my opinion.

So when I knew that Mark Fields (of Indianapolis) would use a yew in a styling demonstration at MABS 2014, I made sure I was there!

Mark's demo tree was a Japanese yew, Taxus cuspidata. It was growing as a natural upright, with a smaller secondary trunk (on the left in the picture below.) As Mark said, it would make a good candidate for a "mother-daughter" informal upright. (Forgive the gold-tan false color, please. My camera still doesn't always play nicely in that auditorium.)

Mark Field's demo tree, Taxus cuspidata. August 16, 2014.

But. Mark told us that when he picked this tree out, he did so because he saw another possibility in it. And he proceeded to flip it on its side!

Getting things ready to turn this yew into a semi-cascade. August 16, 2014.
A two-line semi-cascade is what he has in mind. When I saw the tree in this position, I had to agree with his choice. Besides the flow of both trunks - which in this position is almost ideal for a semi-cascade - there is the fact that one side had noticeably less growth than the rest of the tree. By making that side the bottom, Mark turned that partial one-sided-ness from a defect into something that will actually further his design!

Mark welcomed questions as he worked, and made comments of his own. Here, along with a few more pictures, are some of the things he had to say.

- In this part of the USA, yews are used so ubiquitously for landscaping that people tend to overlook them for bonsai. That's too bad, because they make great material. (Hear, hear!)

- When wiring, place the anchoring part of the wire below the branch if you will bend it down and above the branch if you will bend up. That way, the first wrap that is actually on the branch will be in position to support the first bend.

Cutting wire to length. August 16, 2014.

- English yew (a.k.a. European yew,) Taxus baccata, is not as cold-hardy as T. cuspidata. Mark has one T. baccata in his collection in Indianapolis, and it suffers foliage burn every winter. The "Anglojap" hybrids, Taxus x media, happily, have the cold-hardiness of T. cuspidata.

- All yews have rather fleshy roots; that fact makes them quite vulnerable to damage from alternating freeze-and-thaw. I believe I now know why I lost two yews last winter!

The design is beginning to emerge. August 16, 2014.
- Mark has had the cambium separate from the sapwood when a yew branch was worked while frozen, or during the spring burst of growth. Best to wait until the first flush of foliage hardens off, he said. (This confirmed something I had heard from another source.)

- Mark has successfully dug and potted yews into mid-summer. Good aftercare is the indispensable key to survival in summer digging.

After 2½ hours, he was done for the time being. The work will continue for several years, but the basic design is established. 

Finished for now, with some jins already started. When this tree goes on display in the future,
I expect it to be a bonsai worth waiting to see!  August 16, 2014.

Within a day or less, he planned to cut off what is now the top of the container, and cover the exposed soil of what was the top with mesh to hold it in place. When he repots this tree next spring, he will start exposing the roots that are now above the base of the trunk, a little at a time, covering them with sphagnum at first to let them adapt. He expects it to take as much as 5 years for the root system to fully "re-route."

Besides his comments and answers about yews, Mark shared a couple of more general things that he has learned from his mentor, Danny Use of Gingko Bonsai in Belgium.

- Never pinch a juniper. (Cries of "heresy!") When a juniper shoot is pinched, tho, several more segments below the pinch point are stretched and thereby damaged. Better to cut back to an appropriate point. Don't worry, good twigging results.

- After a branch is first wired on a thick-barked tree, Danny leaves the wire in place until it has sunk in to half its own diameter. (Then, he says, there will be no need for a second wiring.) Mark now does the same. But how, I asked, does one get rid of the wire scars? Cut paste on the scars helps, Mark said, but the most important thing is generous fertilizing.

Besides watching Mark's demonstration (and learning a good deal in the process,) I devoted some time at this year's show specifically to studying (and enjoying) the yew bonsai in the Exhibit. Let me leave you with two pictures of one of the best of them.

Owner and artist, Carl Woolridge. I think the award is well deserved! 
A closer view of the same tree. The pot appears to be made by Sara Rayner.

To see a picture of the oldest - and the largest - yew that I have seen "up close and personal," please click here.

If you wish to visit Mark Fields' professional website, please click here.

Next post: 'Kingsville' boxwood on "lace rock;" Rodney's Clemons' demonstration.

:-)  :-)  :-)

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