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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, December 13, 2017

"The Queen of Trees"

     That is the title of a fascinating documentary on the sycamore fig, Ficus sycomorus. One thing that astounded me was the sheer number of different animal species that a sycamore fig will support, literally from ants and (sometimes sozzled) butterflies to elephants!

Ficus sycomorus is native to a large swath of tropical and subtropical Africa, as well as some other adjacent areas. It may be the oldest species of Ficus in cultivation: there is archeological evidence that it was cultivated in Egypt as early as 3000 B.C. It's mentioned a number of times in the Bible; it was a sycamore fig (or just sycomore - note the different spelling) that Zacchaeus climbed in order to see Jesus over the heads of the crowd in Jericho. (Luke 19:1-9.)

Here's a photo of a sycamore fig growing in Ethiopia. The three human figures in the foreground give a sense of scale. Photo credit to Bernard Gagnon.

Ficus sycomorus has long been valued for fruit and shade. The figs are used for animal fodder, as well as being eaten
by wildlife. They are edible for humans, but not as palatable as the figs of Ficus carica.
And here is a link to the documentary: "The Queen of Trees."


:-)  :-)  :-)

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Larch Fall Color

     If you didn't know that there are conifers that shed their foliage every year and grow a full new set in the spring, just like a maple or an elm, don't feel too bad. You're not alone. Perhaps the best known deciduous conifer is the bald cypress (Taxodium distichum.) The larches are also deciduous conifers, known for their clear yellow fall color. That color is one of the features which make them popular for bonsai in areas where conditions are suitable for their growth.

Larch, species unknown, two blocks from my house. Some of the foliage is still turning.
The cones are smaller than a table grape, too small to show in the picture.

There are 10-12 recognized species of larch, depending on the source you consult, as well as a few hybrids; they make up the genus Larix in the family Pinaceae. Besides pines and larches, the Pinaceae family includes spruces, firs, hemlocks, true cedars (Cedrus), and a few other genera.

Three species of larch are commonly used for bonsai: Larix decidua, European larch; Larix kaempferi, a.k.a. Larix leptolepis, Japanese larch; and Larix laricina, American larch or tamarack. American larch is native to Canada and parts of the eastern USA. My location in Indiana is just within its native range. It's very adaptable, fairly fast-growing when young, and shrugs off cold like a musk ox.

I picked up a pre-bonsai Larix laricina at MABA 2017; my lovely wife bought it for me as an early Christmas present. And it's turning color too.

My larch bonsai-in-the-making. The trunk just above the nebari is a little more than 1 inch in diameter.
This is my first real try with a larch, so I've been reading up on its care and am thankful that I live within its native range. Once the needles fall I will finish styling the uppermost branches. I have a Sara Rayner pot that I think will suit it, come next spring. If all goes well, it should be on display within a couple of years. Wish me the best!

:-)  :-)  :-)

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.

:-)  :-)  :-)

Saturday, July 29, 2017

"I'm a bonsaiist, Jim, not a photographer!"

     I have a confession to make: I am not a shutterbug.

My wife can be counted on to get plenty of pictures almost anywhere she goes. I, on the other hand, often have to be reminded to take a camera at all! And when I do take one, I don't always remember to use it. That last is especially true when I go not to see something (as at a bonsai display) but to participate (as at a picnic.)

Which explains why I didn't remember to get many pictures at the Fort Wayne Bonsai Club's annual picnic-and-auction on July 15th. And that is rather a shame, because the picnic was as good as ever, and the auction had more to offer, I think, than it ever had before.

Jerry and Darlene Kittle hosted us, to everyone's appreciation and as they always do. Jerry is also the chef responsible for preparing the meat, and the pork ribs were falling-off-the-bone tender. The rest of the food was carry-in, and most of it measured up, I'd say, to the standard set by the ribs. (Some things about this part of Indiana are not widely known, and the general level of cooking skill is one of them.)

But, photographically-challenged or not, I did get a few pictures.

Eating and talking under the sun shelters. You can see a few of the silent auction offerings to the right. 
Always get a banker as your club treasurer if you can. Ed Hake has been handling the club's money competently and
faithfully for many years. To his own left is Cody Harris, club VP and volunteer live auctioneer.
Yes, all those plants on the tables are for sale in the silent auction. And there's a fixed-price table for the smallest items,
as well as a dozen or so trees on the live-auction table. I don't think we've ever had so many before.
Ed answers a question for Deanna as Maria, Shay and David consider all the possibilities on the silent-auction tables.
We gave up live auctions several years ago: none of us had auctioneering experience, and the result was dragged-out proceedings, sometimes excruciatingly slow. (I'm not pointing fingers at anyone else; I'm a terrible auctioneer myself.) Finally we went to silent auctions, which have worked well.

But this year Cody Harris, club VP, wanted to try a live auction, for just a limited number of items. Cody had been inspired by Jim Doyle's performance a week before as auctioneer at the MABA 2017 convention. Jim not only knows how to keep an auction moving right along, he also has a knack for making an auction fun. (Which, I admit, I would once have thought to be a contradiction in terms.) I suspect Cody hoped to make our Ft. Wayne auction fun as well; if so, I think he succeeded. No dragged-out bidding, and people enjoyed it. Jim would be proud to have him for an understudy, I think.

And this is where I really regret my tendency to forget to take pictures, because I have none of Cody as auctioneer! I apologize for that. But you don't have to take just my word for it that he did a good job - ask anyone else who was there.

I bought one item myself: a small Siberian elm stump, Ulmus pumila, that Ed Hake collected from his own yard. (Ed's mother tree is extremely prolific.) It looks like it will be challenging, and will probably teach me some things. I'm aiming for an eventual upright shohin, featuring a heavy and probably hollowed trunk. A recent blog post by Juan Antonio Pérez, of Cádiz, Spain, inspired my thinking (and inspired the purchase). Gracias, Juan Antonio! Que mi árbol queda tan formidable como el tuyo! (May my tree be as impressive as yours.)

(If you know Spanish, you can read his blog post here. If not, I hope to translate it in the not-too-distant future and post the translation on my blog, with his permission.)

My silent-auction acquisition: Siberian elm, Ulmus pumila, perhaps 8 years old.
And next year - more pictures!

(-:  (-:  (-:

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Making Pinch Pots

(Alternative title: "We play with clay!")

     For our March 2017 meeting, the Fort Wayne Bonsai Club got together to make pinch pots. One of our members, Pat Guido, kindly opened her home so we would have plenty of space for our creative efforts. Thanks, Pat!

As many of you may be right now, I was wondering just what a "pinch pot" is. A pair of videos on YouTube were very helpful. A pinch pot is simply a pot you make with your fingers, rather than on a potter's wheel or by pouring slip into a mold. You can - and many of us did - literally pinch the clay into the desired shape. Frankly, it's almost as much fun as making mud pies was in childhood! 😄 

Another of our members, Mark Sturtzenberger, has considerable amateur experience with ceramics. He led the session, sharing his knowledge with anyone who asked for his assistance, and also took care of the firing afterward. Thanks, Mark!

Forming one of my creations.

Glazing, if desired, had to be done after the first firing, and any pots that were glazed had to be fired a second time. The glazed pots were delivered at the club's annual picnic-and-auction this past Saturday.

Here are my three efforts, with a standard DVD for a size reference. I decided to glaze just one of mine.

The lighting is a bit off in this picture, but I don't know why. My apologies.

We had two kinds of stoneware clay available. I used the finer-textured one for my tray, which I expect to use for a small bonsai or, more likely, a kusamono.

The texture on the outside of the rim is there just to avoid monotony, but I think almost suggests stone.

The other two pots were made from the other clay. I made the walls of this next one so thin I was a little concerned that they might collapse under their own weight. They held up, tho. I can see a fairly wild-looking kusamono in this pot, or a very informal small bonsai. 

You can see the coarser texture of the clay. I'm not sure what the black dots are, but I think they add interest.

I wanted to try for a muted glaze on my last pot, and I'm very pleased with how it turned out! This will hold an accent plant or - just possibly - a mame-sized black pine. I think the latter could work.

The glaze turned out even better than I had hoped: muted overall, with darker variegations. ☺

Some of Ian Young's pictures on his "Bonsai Eejit" blog gave me the idea for the next two pictures. I leave you with these two views.

Until next time, keep having fun!

:-)  :-)  :-)

Friday, June 30, 2017

"A Heat-Tolerant Leafy Green Vegetable Disguised as a Flower"

     That is how a writer at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange described "Jewels of Opar," Talinum paniculatum, also known as "fame flower" and "pink baby's-breath". The blossoms certainly bring jewels to mind: they are a deep carmine-pink, less than 3/8 inch across (.8 cm or less), and carried on panicles so delicate that the slightest breeze makes them dance in the air! 😊

This picture doesn't do the blossom color full justice, but it's about the best my small camera can do.
The strand of spider silk in the picture was left when I removed a small web.
Talinum paniculatum is a member of the purslane family, Portulacaceae; it is native from the Gulf states of the USA well into South America. Sources I checked differed widely in regard to its cold-hardiness, giving minimum survivable temperatures from 35° to 20° F. (I'm going to keep mine with my serissas in winter.) The plant is apparently tough, tolerating heat and fairly dry soil. The leaves are said to be a good substitute for spinach, especially since they don't wilt in hot weather.

Darlene Kittle, current president of the Fort Wayne Bonsai Club, gave me a seedling after the club's Fall Show last September. (She had sold several and didn't want to take the last one home.) I have it in a small pot for now, but it will need a larger one sooner or later; the species grows to 18-24 inches (45-60 cm). 

Here's a picture taken a few days after I got it and after I potted it up.

Talinum paniculatum, September 27, 2016.
When Darlene gave me this plant, I thought the yellow-bronze globes were the flowers. Now I'm sure they are seed pods. (You can see one peeking out from behind and below the blossoms in my first picture.) That conclusion is supported by the seedlings that can be seen coming up in the substrate in the next picture, taken nine months later. (Five days ago.)

"Jewels of Opar" with new growth, a new panicle developing, and babies around the base!
I'm sure I'll try a leaf or two sooner or later, maybe in a salad. But for me this plant will always be a "leafy green vegetable disguised as an accent!"

:-)  :-)  :-)

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Pedestals and Hot Dogs

     Almost two years ago, the Fort Wayne Bonsai Club took a tour of Michael Himes's bonsai garden. Mr. Himes is CEO of one of the USA's largest gasoline and diesel fuel wholesalers, and his collection is housed on a specially-built deck on the second floor of his company's office building. I wrote about that visit in this post. (The link will open in a new window; when you close that window, you'll be returned to this page.) At that time Mr. Himes's trees rested on temporary bases made of stacked concrete blocks surrounded by narrow bamboo matting. 

One of our members, Ryan Wilmer, has a small concrete business. Some months ago, he and his crew replaced the trees' temporary bases with permanent concrete pedestals. Last weekend we paid a return visit to Mr. Himes's collection to see the results of Ryan's efforts, as well as to visit the bonsai again.

For any who don't know, a bonsai is customarily displayed on a stand. These pedestals function as all-weather outdoor stands. Each one is designed to harmonize with the bonsai it supports, just as a stand is chosen to complement the tree it holds.

In my opinion, Ryan Wilmer and his crew did a very good job. Congratulations, gentlemen!

A yamadori ponderosa pine on its new pedestal.
"Littlefoot," a Ficus microcarpa var retusa and Michael Himes' first bonsai.
The low, wide stand matches the low, wide design of the tree.

No pedestal was made for "Bigfoot," another F. microcarpa var retusa and perhaps the pride of Mr. Himes's collection. That's because, at roughly 5 feet high from the soil surface and weighing hundreds of pounds, "Bigfoot" sits permanently on a wheeled metal cart that is also a humidity tray. No other arrangement would allow it to be taken out to the deck in spring and back inside in the fall, given the layout of the building.

"Bigfoot," easily the most eye-catching tree in Mr. Himes's collection.
Bigfoot was putting out a flush of new leaves when we were there, and I got a close-up.

The bronze-yellow of the new leaves is set off nicely by the green of the mature foliage.

After this stop, we were invited to the home of Cody Harris, our club vice-president. Cody is fairly new to bonsai; very enthusiastic but also quite serious about the art and eager to learn. Cody's father George already uses Japanese esthetic principles when pruning in-ground trees, and it won't surprise me if he too jumps into bonsai in the near future. The Harris family's hospitality left nothing to be desired: opening their spacious garage for a place out of the sun where we could gather, and grilling hot dogs for the mob that had descended on them!

Cody's hand-built bench. Some of his selections show a good eye and some careful thought.
This bougainvillea particularly caught my eye. When it's finished, I expect we will see a great deal of character in something not much taller than my handspan! I'm looking forward to it.

Forgive the cluttered background, please. I think you can still see the bougie clearly enough.

At the April meeting of the Fort Wayne Bonsai Club, we played in the dirt - or, to put it in more dignified terms, we made clay pots and trays, many free-form, under the guidance of an experienced member, Mark Sturtzenberger. Once I have mine back (I made three) I'll write another post about the whole process, and the fun it was!

Until then!

:-)  :-)  :-)

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Fort Wayne Bonsai Club Spring 2017 Workshop

     Spring is a good time for bonsai workshops. To borrow an expression from my friend Dave Burke, a workshop "gets the bonsai juices flowing" after the winter. What better way?

This year the guest teacher for our Spring B.Y.O.T. workshop was Scott Yelich, current president of the Indianapolis Bonsai Club and owner of Eagle Creek Bonsai in that city. (B.Y.O.T. stands for "Bring Your Own Tree," for any who don't know.) Scott specializes in tropical species, but he's experienced and knowledgeable when it comes to temperate-zone trees as well. Which is a good thing, because as best I recall, none of the trees brought in for his attention on April 22nd were tropicals!

Jerry and Darlene Kittle hosted us once again, and a carry-in lunch made sure no one was distracted by a discontented stomach. Before the workshop itself started, there was a soil-mixing session; the club maintains a supply of bonsai soil which is available to members at low cost.

Jerry Kittle loads another bag into the cement mixer. 
Susan and her daughter Sophie bag the finished mix.

Young people are the future of any bonsai club, and several of our teenage members were on hand. One young man, Elias, brought in his urban-yamadori boxwood. (For internet security reasons, I'm not going to include the last names of any minors.)

Scott offers some thoughts about the design of Elias' tree -
- and Elias ponders what Scott has to say.

Al McMillan brought a nursery-purchased Boulevard cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Boulevard') that had obviously had its leader chopped 8-10 inches above the soil when it was younger. Several shoots had broken just below the chop, resulting in an almost artificial-looking tree (to my eye) with four rather spindly-looking trunks.

I think Scott's solution is best described as elegant. He removed two of the trunks, leaving jin and shari behind, and transformed Al's tree into a very natural-looking twin-trunk bunjin. I look forward to seeing it on display once Al gets it moved into a bonsai pot!

Right to left: Al, Scott, Shay (sp?) and Deanna (partially hidden).
Scott does some detail work near the apex of the "daughter" trunk.

I found myself in a dilemma as the workshop approached. The best candidate for a B.Y.O.T. workshop, in my judgment, is a tree which is ready for some serious styling work but which has me stumped (word-play intended) as to what to do with it. And I had no tree available that fit that description! Every tree I had either was not yet ready for styling or was one for which I already had a definite design in mind.

Scott had offered to bring along some specimens for people to buy. One of them was this collected common privet (Ligustrum vulgare.) When I saw it, I thought it would provide some interesting challenges, so I bought it and went to work. (I apologize for the fact that some branches don't show up well against the background.)

Multi-trunk common privet I bought from Scott, before work was begun.

This tree was collected, Scott told me, from a private nature preserve near Bloomington, Indiana. Privet is an introduced species here in the US, so the preserve owners gave Scott and his companions permission to remove as many as they liked!

Scott moved this clump specimen into a 12-inch plastic pot, mulched it heavily, and kept it long enough to be sure it was healthy before offering it for sale. Ligustrum roots readily, and when I started probing to find the natural nebari, I discovered almost 2 inches of fibrous roots, all through the mulch, above what were presumably once the surface roots!

I used a hose to clean the root system enough to find the nebari. At this point I still hadn't found it.

Picking a front was the next step, and Scott gave me a good suggestion on that point, which I accepted. The original main trunk is dead down to the orange line in the next picture. I plan to hollow that portion out, if the wood isn't too weakened to stand up to the Dremel. The blue arrow indicates the new primary trunk, and there will be four auxiliary trunks, for a total of five living trunks.

Pruned, wired and repotted in my own mix after I got home. This is the provisional front.

Some of my readers may have seen a multi-trunk privet bonsai that was owned for many years by the late Jack Fried (pronounced Freed) of Highland Park, Illinois. Jack would enter the tree in the Mid-America Bonsai Exhibit every 2-3 years, and it just kept getting better and better! In 2010, that bonsai was accepted into the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection in Washington, D.C., where it may be seen today.

To my frustration, I could find none of my own pictures of Jack Fried's privet. The picture below was posted on Pinterest by someone with the username "Constant Gardener." I could find no copyright information, but hereby acknowledge the source of this image.

Jack Fried's Ligustrum vulgare bonsai, now in the National Collection.

I don't know if my privet bonsai will ever be as magnificent as Jack's. But Jack's tree sure gives me something to strive for!

:-)  :-)  :-)