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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, December 27, 2015

"Oh, the weather outside is" - WEIRD!

(With apologies to Messrs. Cahn and Styne.)

   On Christmas Eve, the daytime temperature here in Warsaw set a new record high of 61° F (16° C.) On Christmas Day, the temperature got up to 55° F. The normal high this time of year in this part of the USA is 33° F, just above freezing.

Temperatures have been above average all autumn. I couldn't find certain confirmation, but I think both October and November were the warmest on record here, and December may well turn out to set a record average, too. Our first frost didn't arrive until the first half of November, a month later than usual. So far we've had exactly one - count it, one - snowfall that required me to get out the snow shovel. (It did give me a chance for a nice picture.)

Japanese maples branches flocked with snow, beside the church we attend.

There is at least one obvious and major reason for the unusual weather. There is a well-established correlation between the presence of a strong El Niño phenomenon in the eastern Pacific and milder-than-average winters across much of the USA. The present El Niño is unusually strong in many regards, which goes a long way to explain why, in spite of the calendar, we've been running around in shirtsleeves more often than jackets!

(I consider the jury to still be out on the question of atypical global warming. I'm waiting for more conclusive evidence, one way or the other.)

The unusual warmth has of course affected my trees. Buds on several of my hardy trees started to swell in early December, as if spring had arrived, and swelled enough that I became concerned! The danger, for any who don't know, was that the trees would start to actually push new growth - and then the weather would return to normal and the tender new growth be killed by freezing temperatures. If that happens, a tree has expended some of its stored reserves for nothing.

Buds swelling on a hybrid yew (Taxus x media 'Densiformis',) December 13, 2015.

I'm thankful that concern hasn't turned into reality. Most likely, I think, because of the shorter days as the winter solstice approached, the buds have stopped swelling and the trees appear to have gone into dormancy. I was glad to see the needles on my yamadori ponderosa turn to their normal winter shade.

This lighter green is normal for ponderosa needles in winter.
Normally, my tropical trees are settled in the Crate by mid-to-late October. This year, I moved them into their winter quarters on November 28th. (With some incredulous shaking of my head at the late date.) I had been doing the "tropical two-step" with them for a couple of weeks by then, moving them indoors overnite when the lows fell into the upper 30's F, then back outside during the day. With daytime temperatures often in the 50's F, I wanted to give them the advantages of natural sunlight for as long as I could. But by the 28th, enough was enough.

And sometime in the next couple of weeks my half-hardy trees will be moved into the mudroom, and the hardy trees will go under their rack in the side yard.

The long-term forecasts call for above-average temperatures for the rest of the winter. In view of that, I've considered leaving my hardy trees out and just making sure they were protected from hungry and inquisitive critters. But a recent blog post by Michael Hagedorn on winter chilling requirements led me to change my mind.

The gist of what Hagedorn says is this (unless I missed something.)

  1. Plants that are native to the earth's temperate and cold zones need a certain amount of winter chilling, measured in hours at temperatures between 33° and 50° F (.5° and 10° C.) Winter-chill requirements vary by species.
  2. If a plant doesn't get the hours of chilling that it needs, its growth the next season will be affected; some species won't break dormancy until their chill requirements are met.
  3. Temperatures below freezing don't count on the plant's internal chill clock. (I have no idea why that might be.)

Once my hardy trees are  under the rack, they won't be as much affected by temporary temperature spikes that would interrupt their chilling requirements. So when spring does come, they'll be more likely to break dormancy on something approaching a normal schedule, and then grow well next season. The fabric that covers the rack will also serve to break the wind, and will hold in the fumes of the mothballs I use to discourage chipmunks, squirrels, and other cute-but-destructive little scoundrels.

To see Michael Hagedorn's post on hardiness and winter chilling for yourself, please click here. The post is thoughtful and well-written, and I recommend it.

:-)  :-)  :-)

Monday, November 30, 2015

Trunk-Fusion Project: A Progress Report

     One of our club activities last winter was a mini-workshop on trunk fusion. For any who don't know, this technique involves binding together some young and thin whips - however many you like - and forcing them to grow together to form a single thicker trunk. It's used primarily with vigorous, fast-growing species like trident maple (Acer buergeranum,) schefflera, and many species of Ficus.

For our mini-workshop, I used four rooted cuttings of Ficus microcarpa 'Tigerbark ,' of various thicknesses; the thickest was about the girth of a standard pencil. Some people use plastic wrap to bind the component trees together; I prefer zip ties. One bonsai master I know uses both, with the ties over the plastic. Whatever you use, the important properties of a binding material are, first, that it allow the bark to breathe; and, second, that it not stretch: the idea is to force the trunks together so they fuse.

The brown represents the trunks, the black the wire.
I enclosed something else within the bundle of trunks: a length of aluminum wire with a loop at one end, longer than all but the largest of the rooted cuttings. This sketch gives you the basic idea:

This is an experiment. The idea is that an anchor wire can be threaded thru the loop from below, and hold the tree in the pot without showing on the soil surface. It remains to be seen whether such a setup will adequately keep the tree from wobbling in the pot once its roots are re-established.

The upper length of the wire, starting from where it emerged from the bundle of trunks, was used to give some shape to the upper part of the primary trunk.

I meant for the wire to be in the center of the bundle, but the shapes of the trunks were such that it was forced to one side and partly exposed. However, given the vigor with which F. microcarpa grows, I expect the wire to be hidden within a couple of years.

And this tree has lived up to its variety's reputation: I had to replace the ties twice during the summer, when they began to bite too deeply into the bark! I replaced them a third time tonite, and decided to take some pictures.

Before work began. You can see how much the primary trunk has outstripped the other three.
I picked up the green ties at a garden center outside Suí an Róin, Co. Offaly.
The tree has been trimmed, and one of the old ties has been cut. You can see
the wire showing here and there along the left side of the partly-fused trunk.
Usually I try to have a new tie in place before I cut the ones above and below it. Ties are pulled snug.
The wire was cut off the upper part of the main trunk earlier this year.
Tonite I removed most of  the wire visible in this picture. 
A new set of zip ties is in place. The blue arrows indicate the length of wire that was removed tonite.
The rest will remain permanently embedded in the tree.
Trimmed, re-zipped, and settled in the Crate for the winter. Please forgive the somewhat blurry area near the base
of the trunk: a drop of water may have gotten on the lens. But of my "after" pictures, this gives the best view of the work.
As you've seen, the ties have left rings of obvious constriction on the trunk. But given the speed with which this fig grows, I expect those to grow out and disappear within a few years. By the beginning of next summer I expect the trunks to have fused together enough that ties will no longer be needed.

My provisional long-term plan for this tree is a modified broom with a broad, spreading canopy, probably with aerial roots dropping to the soil.

Sooner of later, I want to try this technique with another fast-growing species, this one temperate: bald cypress. I'll be sure to take pictures when I do.

:-)  :-)  :-)

Monday, November 2, 2015

Club Visit to Michael Himes' Collection

     A gentleman named Michael Himes is the CEO of one of the largest wholesale dealers of gasoline and diesel fuel in the USA. He is also a bonsai enthusiast, with enough disposable income to invest in high-quality trees and to build a second-floor "bonsai deck" at his company's headquarters. Last August 8th, he invited any interested members of the Fort Wayne Bonsai Club to enjoy a visit to his collection.

Let me take you on a photo tour.

There is a door at either end of the deck; this is the view as you step thru the south door.
The whole bonsai garden is tastefully designed.
Moving forward, you pass this bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) and shimpaku juniper (Juniperus chinensis 'Shimpaku',)
with the Fort Wayne skyline behind them.

A closer look at the bald cypress, designed in the "flat-top" style developed in the southern US. I think it's a collected tree.
Can't you imagine it standing tall in the Okefenokee swamp?
This podocarpus (Podocarpus spp.) has an excellent base.
A collected Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scoplulorum,) purchased, I believe, from Golden Arrow Bonsai;
 and Guy Guidry's replica of John Naka's famous composition "Goshin." 
The design of the RMJ is still being developed. It could be stunning in a decade or two!
Like the original, Guidry's replica of "Goshin" uses feomina juniper (Juniperus chinensis 'Foemina'.)
A ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) collected in Colorado.
Back under the pergola and looking toward the north door, which is hidden by "Bigfoot."
What is the other tree called? "Littlefoot" - what else? <grin>
"Bigfoot," easily the most spectacular of Michael Himes' bonsai, is a Ficus microcarpa  and stands
a few inches over 6 feet high (approximately 190 cm.) including the pot and tray. Every spring it has to be trimmed
before it will fit thru the door to summer on the deck.
"Littlefoot," another F. microcarpa, was Michael Himes' first bonsai.
Both "-foot" Ficus were purchased from Miami Tropicals.
Not all Himes' trees are necessarily spectacular. This very decent mid-sized schefflera sits across from "Bigfoot."
From the north door, with "Bigfoot's" foliage visible to the left.
Michael Himes is an enthusiast who collects bonsai and enjoys them, but leaves their care and styling to others more knowledgeable in those areas. From time to time he hires a recognized master (Guy Guidry being the latest) to work on his trees. And for their everyday care, Darlene Kittle, the Fort Wayne Bonsai Club's current president, serves as paid curator of the collection.

Two of Michael Himes' bonsai are not on the deck, but sited beside an outdoor pond-and-rock feature. Darlene took us around to see them as well.
Darlene beside Himes' second Podocarpus, with a bald cypress behind her and to her left.
The top of this tree died after it was wired, and the tree will have to be re-styled.
I tried to get a camera angle that would avoid having the tree's foliage almost lost in the background,
but with the rocks and pond that proved impossible. You can still get an idea of the tree's design.
I hope you enjoyed the little "tour." And with this post, I have caught up when it comes to sharing recent bonsai events. Now, forward on the blogging.

:-)  :-)  :-)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

38th Annual Mid-America Bonsai Exhibit, Chicago; Part I

     When I'm late with a birthday or anniversary greeting, I just say that I'm trying to extend the celebration. Can I get away with that excuse now? The Mid-America was in August!

But, as always, it was well worth the time to attend. Here are some visual highlights.

"Best-of-Show" went to this 3-point display exhibited by Gary Andes of Tennessee. The main tree is a trident maple and
the secondary bonsai is a 'Kokonoe' Japanese white pine. At first glance I thought the secondary tree too big in relation to
the primary one, but after looking again (a few times) I can accept the judge's decision.
Close-up of the primary bonsai. Two features I especially appreciate: the very natural look of the root-to-rock
interface, and the superb match of the pot color to the bark!
Bill Valavanis makes a habit of going home with the "Best-of-Show-Professional" award from the Mid-America. But
he earns it. This larch raft planting has been in training since sometime before 1983.
Mark Fields' award-winning Rocky Mountain juniper will only get better with time, but it is already an
outstanding example of a bonsai that is balanced without being symmetrical.
I'm not sure whose display of mame this is (my apologies to the artist,) but he or she
has certainly come up with a creative and effective display stand!
Just a nice hornbeam. The judge thought so too, obviously.
This bunjin Black Hills spruce by Andy Smith almost gives the impression of being
windswept while being upright - a combination, by the way, that does occur in nature.
I believe this small neagari tree is an azalea. Whatever it is, it is well-done and the display is creative.
I came back to this quince bonsai several times, just to enjoy the skillful match of the pot color to the tree!
And speaking of pot color, only on my second look did I realize just how brightly colored this Chinese pot is!
Yet, within the composition, it doesn't overpower the other elements or pull the eye away from the pyracantha it holds.
That took a well-trained eye. Another tip-o'-the-hat to Bill Valavanis.
Who says the art of bonsai can't be whimsical? The accent plant at the top of the "slide" is a juniper seedling.

The American Bonsai Society always has a presence at the Mid-America, selling books and other items as well as offering free bonsai information in various ways: such as this demonstration of a raft-planting-in-progress. The tree is a Thuja, probably T. occidentalis.

The original rootball is on the left; you can see the measures that have been taken to keep it intact and easy to water.
The small blue arrows point to the section of lower trunk that still connects the rootball to the developing raft.  Once
the half-buried  upper trunk has enough roots, it will be separated from the original rootball and the branches
developed into the trunks of the new multi-trunk planting
Regrettably, the scheduled headliner for this year's Mid-America had to withdraw a few weeks before the event. Ivan Watters, long-time bonsai artist and teacher and a former curator of the Garden's own bonsai collection, was asked to stand in, almost literally at the last minute. In my opinion, he did an outstanding job, especially under the circumstances. Kudos, Ivan!

Here are a few pictures from the headliner's styling demonstration on Saturday afternoon. Please forgive the quality of some of the pictures; my little camera still doesn't always play nice in the Regenstein Center auditorium.

The demo tree was a collected Rocky Mountain juniper with an estimated age of 125 years. Ivan was particularly taken
by a smaller branch that can't be distinguished in this picture but that itself resembled a tree. He believes in
"Let the tree tell you what it wants to be" (Jokn Naka) and planned his design around that branch.
Detail work.
Ivan explains a point while Tim Priest and Steve Jetzer, two of his former students, assist with wiring.
Finished for the time being. The blue arrow points to the smaller branch that Ivan decided to feature.
I look forward to seeing this tree again as it develops over time.
I'm sure I wasn't the only one surprised when Ivan mentioned in passing that he had just turned 80! I just hope I'm that active, involved, and mentally sharp when I reach that age! (If God wills that I do.)

:-)  :-)  :-)

Sunday, October 11, 2015

MABA 2015 Convention - a fine job!

     I'm writing this post about three months after the event, but late post or not, MABA 2015 was a convention well worth writing about! From choice of headliner to the display to the workshops, critiques, and demos, the Indianapolis Bonsai Club, in partnership with MABA and assisted at times by other bonsai enthusiasts in central Indiana, did an outstanding job. William Valavanis of the International Bonsai Arboretum, renowned bonsai teacher and artist and well-known for his expertise in bonsai display, was outspoken in his praise. Special kudos are due to Paul Weishaar, Mark Fields, and Scott Yelich, who together led the effort.

(For any who don't know, the Mid-America Bonsai Alliance was formed a number of years ago to promote the knowledge and practice of bonsai in the Great Lakes region (loosely defined!) and promote the use of indigenous trees and shrubs for bonsai. The Alliance has struggled in recent years, but if the July convention is any indication, it's coming back!)

The headliner was Suthin Sukosolvisit, originally from Thailand, a bonsai artist and teacher with many awards to his credit. Suthin has a ready sense of humor and makes it a point to get his audience involved during a demonstration.

And he's not afraid to think outside the box, as his design for his first demo tree demonstrates. Please forgive the quality of the first two pictures; I'm afraid I have no better ones from this point in the demo.

Suthin with his Friday night demo tree, a boulevard cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Boulevard.') Looking at the
twin trunks, I completely failed to guess what he would do with it. I wasn't alone.
After getting a number of suggestions from the audience for a design, Suthin showed us what he had in mind.
Suthin was clearly pleased with how the tree turned out. And what a transformation! 
A closer look.

The display was actually somewhat crowded, but that was because the convention planners expected about 135 trees and got about 175! I can think of worse problems.

This magnificent yew, Taxus x media, met you when you first stepped into the display.
Purchased a few years ago from the Kennett Collection by Paul Weishaar.
Of course you can have fun with bonsai! Composition by Paul Weishaar.
MABA, true to its mission, gave an award for the best bonsai created from an indigenous species. This native elm took that award. The label said it was a winged elm, but it must be a wingless variant. It's still an excellent bonsai.
I kept coming back to this composition - it's just so well put together! The main tree, a Portulacaria afra, and the accent are both visibly desert plants, with different but harmonizing forms; and the stand for both is a stone slab with  a complementary color.
This bougainvillea won Best-of-Show at the 2010 Mid-America show in Chicago. Nevertheless Ryan Neil, judge at the show, pointed out that in Japan it wouldn't considered show-ready, because the ramification was not yet very developed. The owner has obviously taken Ryan's remarks to heart since then. I look forward to seeing it again from time to time in coming years.
Jack Wikle remains the master of mame display! He also continues to successfully grow trees under lights year-round.
Jack is also a consummate bonsai artist, as this mame cypress shows.
Another angle on the same tree. Notice the carefully-developed structure.
Jack gave me permission to pick the tree up for this picture.
This veldt fig (Ficus burtt-davyi) reminds me of some of the trees I knew in the Ecuadorian rainforest.
Owner and artists is Scott Yelich.
They don't show well in this picture, but there are rocks on the soil surface that put the finishing touch on
this composition. I felt like I'd been carried to a rocky New England hillside. William Valavanis has been developing this larch forest since sometime before 1983.  
A scoop pot allows a very natural-looking slope in this spruce forest. The branching of the trees is still very undeveloped,
but this could be an outstanding bonsai composition in the future.
Jim Doyle, in his Critique, couldn't say enough good things about this choice of pot color and finish for a trident maple.
I took two Critiques, with Pauline Muth and Jim Doyle. Both of them enthusiastically recommended Thuja occidentalis,
another native of the MABA region. Common names are "American arborvita" and "northern white cedar."
Because of the underground configuration of the roots of this yamadori Rocky Mountain juniper, it will be a few years
before Mark Fields can plant it in a better position in the pot. But I think he's done a fine job of matching this desert juniper
with a desert-looking accent!
Paul Weishaar's willow-leaf fig (Ficus salicaria) on a stand Paul carved from a block of walnut.
He used a chain saw for the first rough work!
Another of Jack Wikle's mame displays. The cartoon is from a past issue of BCI magazine.
I usually buy a few raffle tickets at a convention or show like this; even tho the odds of winning are low, the money helps support the event. This time, tho, I won something I really wanted: this shohin-sized yew. I suspect my grin didn't fade until the next day!

Taxus x media 'Densiformis'; around 25 years old (plus or minus 5 years,) from a cutting.
This tree was one of a group of yews that Mark Fields purchased from Mark Comstock in Connecticut, for his yew workshop. Mark (Fields) bought a few extra trees, to be sure to have plenty for the workshop; after it was over he donated one of the unused trees to the raffle. I'm going to have fun working on this beauty!

:-)  :-)  :-)