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Monday, September 19, 2011

San Diego demo part two

For the second part of my demo for the San Diego Bonsai Society ( I worked on a Ficus Nerofolia or Narrow leafed fig.
This was a tree I had grown from a cutting and was developing for use in a workshop. About 5 or 6 years ago we had a deep freeze ( deep for Southern California) and the trees froze down to the base. Many got thrown out but a few were saved by my assistant and they recovered and sprouted out with multiple branches. That left us with trees that had a very large base with multiple trunks. They're now excellent materials for a clump style which I will create the foundation of today. Ficus will develop large nebari or root bases when planted in shallow containers, which is why they were planted in these nursery flats. Here is the tree before starting work.
The first order of business is to thin the tree out a little so I can see the structure of it. I cut out branches growing up through other ones,  and where multiple branches grow from one place I reduced them to one or possibly two branches. I also removed any growth growing in the crotch of the branches and any branches growing inwards towards the trunk. We want all the branches to be growing outward and slightly up.

Finally I've got all the unnecessary branches removed and am left with what I will use to create the framework of the future bonsai. I know it looks a little bare now but remember - we're not trying to create an instant bonsai, but the foundation of a future bonsai
Now I'll use various sizes of wire to put movement in each trunk and to place them in the desired position. I'll also wire the primary branches to get them in place.
My goal for this tree is to create an image that is reminiscent of a large multi trunk fig tree like ones you might see in a tropical climate such as Florida or Hawaii. Even though there are multiple trunks they are not treated as individual trees but rather as part of the whole. The tree eventually will have a large rounded canopy, kind of umbrella shaped, formed by the branches on all the trunks.
I was a little pressed for time at this point so I didn't quite finish as much wiring as I would've liked, but I'm still satisfied that the foundation of the tree is in place. Here is the tree after the work. It is far from finished but bonsai is a process and we've got all the primary elements in place. A couple of years of developing the crown of the tree and I think we'll have a nice bonsai.
I hope you all enjoyed this post. As usual I welcome any comments or suggestions for future projects.
If any of you are in the San Diego area over the weekend of September 24th and 25th you should try to check out the fall bonsai exhibit presented by the San Diego Bonsai Club in Balboa Park in the Casa Del Prado. Check out their website for more info.

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

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

9-11 Memorial Bonsai Forest

This is the story behind the giant forest planting I created in memory of 9-11 with the help of a bunch of  my bonsai students.
 On the night of September 11th, 2001 I like most of the rest of the country was in shock.
That night I dreamed that I made a giant forest planting as a memorial for those that died.
 The next morning I got up and started to build the slab the forest is planted on. Unfortunately I don't have an photo's of that process. Basically I built a frame from galvanized steel pipe, rebar and chicken wire. Over this I laid multiple layers of fiberglass fabric and resin. I added some resin colors and dirt and gravel for texture. I didn't plan this but looked at from above the slab has the same basic shape as Manhattan from about 38th St. down to the tip.
That weekend I went through the nursery and gathered together 110 Foemina Junipers. One for each floor of the World Trade Center. Together with a group of my students over the next couple of weekends, we trimmed,  shaped and wire all of the junipers. They range is size from more than three feet tall to about six inches tall. I also took the trunks of two Foemina bonsai that had died previously and burned and charred them. These were to represent the twin towers.
 A little more than a month after the tragedy the trees were ready to be planted on the slab. A group of us spent that Saturday doing the necessary root work on all the trees. We left the trees overnight soaking in a tubs of water and in their cans. Then on Sunday we planted it on the slab.
 My original idea was to give this to the city of New York as a gift in memory of the events of 9-11. After several years of being bounced around from one city agency to other and being told there was a place for it, then being told there wasn't, I got frustrated with trying to find a home in NYC. At one point people from the Parks Department said they would take it and display it at the park headquarters near Central Park. Then they said sorry we can only take it on a temporary basis. Another city agency told me I'd have to have a $50,000.00 endowment fund to maintain it before they would consider accepting it.
Over the years I kind of gave up on the idea of finding it a home in NYC and its been here at Kimura Nursery since putting it together. There are a couple of public places in Southern California that have expressed a desire to have it a their facilities. I have to replace a few trees this fall but than I'm thinking about having it put on display here in Southern California in a place that get a lot of public traffic.
The following photos will show the process from beginning to end, except for making the slab.
The slab.
110 Foemina Junipers
Working on the trees

The trees ready for the root work

Working on the roots

Ready for planting

The burned dead trunks were put in place first.

Placing the trees.

The planting right after putting it all together.

The planting today ten years later. A few of the large trees died and will be replaced this fall or spring. Other than that that planting is growing strongly and as you can see is in need of a good trimming. Overall the planting is almost eight feet long, three feet wide and contains a 110 Foemina Junipers. Its quite heavy considering we used about 10-15 gallon containers of bonsai soil.

As you read this post take a moment to remember what happened and how it brought the country together. I hope we can find that kind of unity again.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Long term Juniper project-part two

Hello all its been a busy summer. I can't believe that it's over already, it went by so fast.
 Today's post is going to be part two of the Juniper project. If you want to read part one click here.
 Here is the tree before any of the work.

 Other then water and fertilizing since the work done in the first post the tree has been left on its own. It has recovered nicely from the first drastic pruning and transplanting in March and is now ready for the next step.
 Here is the tree prior to todays work.
Left side-
 Front side-
 Right side-
 Today I will determine the branching I want to use and the areas I want to turn into deadwood. There are several reasons for creating deadwood on this tree. Some are aesthetic and others are practical.  John Naka once said "A juniper without jin is like a dog without fleas." Besides the fact that deadwood adds drama and the illusion of age, one of the main reasons to add deadwood to this trunk is to reduce the area of reverse taper about halfway up the trunk. It looks like at some time in the past a branch was cut off which created the right angle in the trunk. Several branches grew in it's place creating an area of reverse taper right in the center of the trunk.
You can see where the trunk is larger right at the right angle turn then it is below there. There were at least six branches growing from that area. The way I'm going to reduce this is by removing some of the wood in that area. The trick is to make it look like something that has occurred naturally . I'll start out by using a trunk splitter to splint off sections and then I'll pull and tear them off with pliers.

After the tearing and stripping it looks like this.
This has gone a long way in reducing the reverse taper  and the severe right angle in the trunk. The angle is still there but with the deadwood on both sides it is much less obvious now. But it will need more before it gets rid of it totally and looks natural. Looking natural is vital . If not then this great material becomes wasted.

The areas marked in black and red are where I'll be doing some additional deadwood work. I'll be using a variety of power and hand tools of create what I hope will turn into a believable deadwood feature.
I also removed all the branches that I decided were not going to be needed for the final design.
I've been undecided about keeping it a double trunk or removing the smaller trunk. So my decision was at least for now to keep both. On some of the branches that I cut off  I left a part of them to turn into jins. On Junipers I'll very often leave more jins in the beginning of styling then I intend to use. They can always be removed later. The series of photo's below show the process of creating a jin from a branch that is alive at the time of jinning it. This will not work on branches that are already dried out.
Using a pair of concave cutters I score the bark around the entire base of the tree cutting through the bark but being careful not to cut into the branch.
 Then using a pair of pliers I squeeze the branch all around from top to bottom with the pliers. On larger branches like this one I use regular Channel lock pliers. I'll squeeze the bark all around several times as hard as I can. The more you do this  the easier it is to remove the bark.
 After squeezing the bark just comes off cleanly with ease.
After todays work the tree looks like this.

That's it for the work today. The next phase will consist of wiring and placing the branches and carving and refining the deadwood. I'm starting to lean towards styling with the idea of the second trunk remaining.
 I'll probably do that work sometime in November then work on the branching  until the spring of 2013 before putting it in its final pot, much smaller than this one.
 I hope you enjoyed reading todays post and look forward to any comments you may have.
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