Friday, 15 January 2016

The Benefit of Experience

I know that I've still got a lot to learn about styling bonsai, but I like to believe that my skills have improved in the eight years since I joined my bonsai club.

One of the lessons I've learnt along the way is that trying to do too much too soon can actually slow down the process in the long run. The tree I wrote about in a HubPages article several years ago is a case in point.

It was one of my first creations, started from a cutting shortly before I joined my club in 2007. With the over-enthusiasm of a newbie I started styling it as soon as it had formed roots, thus limiting its ability to fatten up and condemning it to being rather slim for its height.

Being new to bonsai, I believed that following the rules was essential, so I tried to use the correct branch placement for an informal upright tree but made a very basic error in not growing the base of the trunk at a slant, resulting in a rather unsatisfactory first bend. By the time I realised my error, however, it was too late to do anything about it.

In 2010 I decided that it was ready for a bonsai pot and I proudly put it on display at my club's show that spring.

Once in a bonsai pot its growth slowed down drastically and the branches have never filled in as much as I'd have liked them to.

In bonsai pot - November 2015

In November 2015 I finally decided it was time to do something about that so I moved the tree back into a training pot in the hope that the extra root space would help it to regain some of the vigour of its youth.

Moved to training pot - November 2015

After that I left it to grow freely and it the last couple of months it produced a fair amount of new growth.

Before pruning - January 2016

Today I planned to give it a slight trim to encourage the branches to ramify. However as soon as I got started I realised that most of the new growth was in the wrong place - at the tips of the branches, though on the lowest branch much of the foliage was growing back towards the trunk, disguising an unattractive straight section before the branch first divided in two. There are similar flaws at the top of the tree.

Once I realised that all that growth was doing nothing to help with those flaws I decided to cut back hard in the hope of getting some back-budding to fill in those gaps. For now, after pruning, all those flaws are very noticeable.

After pruning - January 2016

Hopefully the fact that they are now getting a lot more light will help to encourage growth where I really want it. If not, I may need to prune even harder.

At times I've contemplated giving this tree a whole new look but a part of me feels I should stick to the original plan to show how my sense of style has evolved over the years.

In 2010, when I first put it into its bonsai pot, I propagated a new tree from one of its roots. By then I'd learnt to take my time, so I let the new tree grow freely for a couple of years before I cut back the trunk and started developing branches. It is one of the two ficuses I discussed in an earlier post.

Here is a photo of parent and child standing side by side.

Parent and child - January 2016. Child is on the right

The child may be a lot smaller than its parent, but I far prefer its structure, though I sometimes wonder if it isn't a little too tall. But thanks to the experience I gained along the way, the child is much closer to becoming a decent bonsai than the parent is.

No comments yet, but I'd love to hear your view.

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