Sunday, 10 December 2017

My New Chinese Elm

Ever since Kathy Steyn did her carving demonstration at my club in July, I've been wanting to see her nursery, Bonsai Magic, which is about an hour and a half's drive from where I live. So I was delighted when the club arranged to pay her a visit on the day of our December meeting.

That visit took place yesterday.

Although I'm trying to reduce the number of trees in my collection, it was always my intention to buy something provided I could find a tree of some substance that was a manageable size. She had hundreds of little trees for sale, but most of those weren't very different to those I already own. And at the other end of the scale there was some wonderful material which I'd happily have given a home if only I was capable of lifting one of them.

And then I spotted this elm:


It's not massive but the trunk is a nice size - just to give a sense of scale, the marker on the side is a plastic knife. Sure it's got a couple of problems but I wasn't looking for a perfect tree that's ready to go on show. The gap low down on the left doesn't look great, but Kathy assured me that in a couple of years in will close up, resulting in a much better trunk. And the first branch on the left bothers me because there's a bulge just below it causing some serious reverse taper.

The gap isn't so visible from the back, but the roots curve inwards, so I don't think making that the front is really an option. And the first branch looks even worse from that side because it's now pointing towards the back.


I discussed that branch with Kathy and said I was tempted to remove it. She didn't seem to feel it was a bad idea, though at least one member of my club felt I should keep it.

As was the case with the tree in my previous post, I'm not rushing into any decisions I may regret. Instead I did another virtual pruning, extending the lowest remaining branch on the left side, to give an idea of what the tree may look like in a few months' time.

Virtual pruning

It was suggested I bring the tree to the January meeting so I'll probably take it along to get the opinion of some senior members who weren't at yesterday's outing. But at the end of the day it's my decision and right now I'm seriously considering removing that branch.

Monday, 4 December 2017

A New Option for an Old Ficus

When I joined my club in late 2007 I got rather bogged down by the rules for branch placement and for a while it seemed that I was trying to turn every tree into the "perfect" informal upright. It was only a couple of years later when I was looking for candidate trees to put on the club show that I realised that my more developed trees all looked very similar. That didn't make me very happy.

Over the years I've slowly learned to do things differently and some of the trees from my early days are now undergoing radical transformations. However the Ficus Natalensis I started as a cutting shortly before I joined the club is still very much on the path I first set out for it.

After time spent in a bonsai pot I moved it back into a training pot in November 2015 but all the new growth hasn't made a great difference and I'm still not happy with its overall appearance:

November 2017

During a routine haircut a new idea came to me. I'm contemplating removing the first branch, changing the slant ever so slightly and flattening the knob at the first bend. I'm not going to rush into making any drastic changes that I may come to regret though. That's why for now the only restyling was done in Photoshop.

Virtual pruning in Photoshop

What would you do if this was your tree?

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Lonicera's First Styling

As I'm trying to reduce the number of trees in my collection, I shouldn't really be buying more, but sometimes I find the temptation impossible to resist. It doesn't help that one of my favourite places to have lunch is a little restaurant inside a nearby nursery. And when I'm there I always wander around to see if they have any suitable bonsai material.

I had lunch there last Saturday and I came away with this Lonicera Nitida - a small shrub with tiny leaves.

As purchased - November 2017

My only previous experience with this species was over a decade ago, a while before I joined my club. I don't remember too much about that tree except that it died unexpectedly shortly after what I believe was the second time I pruned it. It had been doing really well until then and I'm not sure what went wrong, a fact which makes me nervous about trying the species again. But at a little over $3, this one was hard to resist.

The fact that the tree was so small meant that all the branches were clumped really close together, making branch selection quite difficult. I decided to keep all the low branches, removing only the secondary branches that were growing straight up. I then had to make a decision about the thin straight trunk growing close to one branch. I didn't feel I could keep both so I had to chose one as the main trunk line.

Two possible trunk lines

As the branch was thicker and already had a secondary branch coming off it, I decided my best option was to see whether I could successfully wire it upwards. Once I'd established that it was flexible enough to reposition where I wanted it, I removed the straight trunk.

November 2017 - after first styling

At this stage I started to wonder whether I should have kept one of the secondary branches I'd removed from the new leader, but what's done is done. Seeing how many little branches the tree has everywhere, I'm optimistic that some of them will soon thicken enough to give me the structure I need. Once I see what useful options present themselves, I'll cut the top back to make an even smaller tree.

For now, however, I'll probably just leave it to grow. I also want to read up on Lonicera care to ensure that I'm able to keep this one alive.

Friday, 27 October 2017

To Graft or Not to Graft, that is the Question

I've never been too keen on the idea of grafting bits onto my trees. I like to work with the options they offer me, though sometimes it's a struggle.

A few months ago I was contemplating moving my best trident maple into a bonsai pot in time for this month's show, but my plans were changed when it was suggested that I graft some extra roots to improve on the rather unimpressive nebari. Reluctantly I agreed.

October 2017

I planned to take the tree to a workshop for assistance in early spring but due to unforeseen circumstances the job was never done though the tree was marked with lines where six of my trident maple seedlings should be attached to the trunk.

Trunk marked with blue lines where seedlings should be attached

My next opportunity to get the help I needed was at a workshop at the club show, but I wasn't happy for this major operation to be performed in such a busy environment so I postponed the "surgery" until next month.

Now I'm having second thoughts. For one thing I'm not happy to do root work on one of my best trees so late in the season. For another I'm still not totally convinced that I want to do the root graft at all. To me trees with a perfect spread of roots look unnatural.

A few days ago I brought the tree inside for a quick haircut and while I was at it I had a look at the roots. One thing was glaringly obvious - the soil level was too low. After I'd added soil one side looked better though the root on the other side was barely visible.

Soil level raised - one root is barely visible

Fortunately that problem can be dealt with quite easily by making a slight adjustment to the planting angle next time I repot the tree.

Soil level raised and slant altered

I may still change my mind again, but for now I'm not planning to do any root work this summer. Perhaps the extra soil will encourage more roots to grow naturally, and if I'm not happy with how it looks next spring, the root graft can be done then. But for now I'm hoping to let my tree live with its naturally imperfect nebari.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Taking My Succulents Back to Basics

So things didn't quite go as planned. Although I managed to  sell some trees at last weekend's show (my two best Junipers among them), none of my succulents sold. I think the lack of interest was due to the fact that they're so easy to propagate.

I briefly contemplated putting them on my club's raffle table next month, but I've decided not to give up that easily. Instead I cut them all back to a basic framework, leaving all but one totally devoid of foliage. One will need to be repotted at a different angle and the two in the last photo should probably be separated, but I'm not doing any of that right now.





It will be interesting to see what develops over the next 12 months. Maybe they'll be more desirable by then. Maybe a year from now I'll even want to keep some of them.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Unusual Displays from Last Year's Bonsai Show

With my bonsai club's show only days away, I realised that I still have a bunch of photos from last year's show that I was planning to write about.

Most of the trees weren't quirky, but the manner in which some of them were displayed was unusual.

Ficus with hippopotamus mother and child

Acacia forest with small hut and origami giraffe

Framed juniper procumbens nana rock planting

Junipers growing on a "mountain" - water feature

Juniper procumbens nana in a bathtub

There was also a Juniper in a rusty shovel which I wrote about at the time.

I can't wait to see what our members come up with this year.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Succulent cuttings - two years later

In November 2015 I wrote about the succulent cuttings I was trying to propagate from some broken branches I found in the garden. I should have written an update a long time ago, but with so many trees to take care of I've never given them much attention. Despite that, they're all growing well.

Cutting 1

November 2015

This was intended to be a windswept tree. Unfortunately all the thin branches have broken off and all new growth is going upwards. Clearly a lot of wiring would be needed to make a windswept tree out of this one. Given the brittle nature of this species, a better option would probably be to chop the major branches back and develop a smaller tree.

October 2017

Cutting 2

November 2015

The side branch died, but the rest is growing strongly. It's time to pick a leader.

October 2017

Cutting 3

November 2015

Lots of healthy growth, also going upwards. Another one which would probably need a lot of wiring in its existing form.

October 2017

Cutting 4

November 2015

This was two cuttings in one pot. It seems I picked a leader on the right hand cutting at some stage, but for the rest nature has taken its course.

November 2017

With our club show coming up this weekend, this is my one opportunity to sell some trees this year, and, given the fact that I haven't found time for them over the last two years, I'm probably going to sell all of these. They're all larger than I like to grow my trees and I have some smaller cuttings of the same species which I'm happier to work with.