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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Demo for the San Diego Bonsai Club part 1

  On this past Sunday I had the privilege of doing a demo for the San Diego Bonsai society.
I think The San Diego club is one of the best in the state, they really promote the learning of bonsai., and are a fun and very active club. They are a large club with I believe over 300 members many of whom are very active in club affairs. They really try hard to provide learning opportunities for both  the novice and more advanced bonsai hobbyist's, through hands-on workshops, educational demo's, club digs and nursery trips and many other events. I wish I lived closer I'd be a member. For more info on the San Diego bonsai club click here
 When it comes to demonstrations I personally believe that they should be educational, and portray realistic  and timely bonsai techniques. Too often demo's are more show than anything and too much work is done at one time so as to put on a good show and to generate dollars through raffling off the demo material. Many clubs get most of their operating funds by conducting raffles. While entertaining I think this kind of demo gives people, especially one's new to bonsai, the mistaken idea that it's ok to take a piece of raw stock, shape, wire, create jins and shari's and sometimes even repot all in the course of a couple of hours. Without expert aftercare a tree subjected to that kind of treatment usually winds up extremely stressed and very often dead. That's too bad because not only is a good piece of material wasted but people are given the idea that it is ok to subject a tree to all that work at one time. This is not to say that given the proper timing, material and skill level that it can't be done successfully, because it can, but it takes knowledge, skill and sometimes a little luck to pull off .
 I think its better to take a slower , safer approach. One that reflects the work that would normally be done at one time, not trying to create an instant bonsai. The work done on todays trees, while slightly stressful to the tree, will not negatively impact the trees health at all. What I did was to do only the initial design work on the trees, while not doing any root work at this time. Both trees have been worked on before with the idea of them becoming bonsai at some time in the future. They have both had their roots and upper foliage reduced several times in the past, so it was pretty much risk free to do the work on them.  Doing it this way reinforces the idea that making bonsai takes time. The new owners now have a tree with a good foundation that they will be able to continue the work on at the proper time with minimal risk to the tree.
 The first tree worked on is a Tamarisk. It is a tree that is native to Eurasia and was brought to this country for use as windbreaks on the prairie. Now they have naturalized throughout the mid-west and west and are consider nuisance trees in a lot of places. Also know as Salt Cedar, Tamarisk are really tough trees that lend themselves well to a weeping style of bonsai. They also have very hard wood so deadwood is often a part of the design. They have rough bark and tender foliage and become filled with tiny pink flowers in the spring. The contrast between the rough bark, deadwood and the delicate foliage makes for a beautiful and dramatic bonsai. Here is the material at the start of the demo.

 The first objective is to find the front of the tree. Usually this is determined by the widest spot at the base of the tree. After determining where that is, we check the inclination and movement of the trunk to see if they will work with that view. In this case they really didn't . The trunk was leaning away from me, so I turned the tree just a bit.  Now the view of the base is slightly less wide but the movement and inclination of the trunk is much better.
 Next I need to determine which branches I'm going to keep and which one's to get rid of. The lower branches are all too low especially since this is going to be a weeping style tree. They are also very straight at the base. I'm going to split and tear the branches off the tree creating shari on the trunk. I also decided that the tree was too tall so I cut the top off and will create a jin in its place.

Next I will determine the rest of the branching and cut off anything I don't need to shape the tree. After choosing branches they all need to be wired and carefully put in place. Tamarisk branches can be a challenge to wire. They bend to a certain point then they want to break.

After carefully placing all the branches we have the foundation of a future bonsai. Most of  the major branches are in place, there are a couple of places that we need to wait for a branch to grow in but that will happen in time. Tamarisk bud back easily on old wood and a hard pruning like this will stimulate that. After that its just a matter of further branch development and potting into an appropriate pot. One note about this style, it is a rather high maintenance style since after awhile the wire needs to come off so it doesn't scar but then shortly after the branches start to lose their shape and need to be re-wired. But the image of the fragile foliage and flower against the rough bark and deadwood makes the work worth it.
 Here is the tree after todays work. I'm pleased with the result and so was the person who won it in the raffle.
I hope you enjoyed todays post. As always I welcome any questions or comments. Stay tuned for part two of this demo later on.
 Don't forget classes start here at the nursery on the first Sunday in October click here for more info

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