Tuesday, 8 March 2016

A Celtis from the Raffle Table

This is a tree I won on a club raffle in August 2015, right at the start of the South African spring. It's the Celtis Africana (White Stinkwood) which put in a brief appearance in my post Drowning in Seedlings in early October. At that stage it looked like this:

White stinkwood bonsai in training

My main emphasis in that post was on the weeds that accompanied the tree, many of which turned out to be Trident Maple seedlings. I'm happy to say that my rescue job was successful and I now have 23 baby maple trees growing in repurposed plastic cups.

But back to the Celtis. Though it's by no means my fattest tree, it's about 50 cm high, making it one of my tallest.  I actually prefer short, fat trees, but sometimes I'm forced to work with what I've got. It's already a little shorter than it was when I got it because the apex was really heavy and was growing off to one side.

I pruned it hard in early summer and it's been growing quite vigorously since then. This is what it looked like before its latest haircut:

Before pruning - March 2016

Today I decided to tidy it up a bit, removing branches that were growing straight up or down and shortening some others. However I've left some branches long as I need those to fatten up a bit before I prune them.

This is how it looks after pruning:

After pruning - current front

I'm not particularly happy with this tree though. Despite the fact that several people told me I'd won a nice tree, I've got a couple of issues with it.

For starters I'm not too happy with the big gap between the two lowest branches on the left. The previous owner had tried to force another branch into that space but it had been pulled across the front of the trunk and didn't look right that way. In any case it was very close to the remaining branch, so the gap wasn't that much smaller.

Aside from that I'm not convinced that this is the correct front for the tree. The base looks really narrow and misshapen from this side:

Current front

There are two angles from which it appears to have a much better base. Unfortunately neither really fits in with the current styling of the tree.

The first option that presented itself to me was this one:

Second option for front

It's wider, but imperfect because there is a big bulge just above the roots. Although this angle works well with the direction in which the apex is growing, the first branch points directly to the front and I'd be forced to remove it leaving no low branches at all.

After pruning - second option for front

Probably the best option if you consider the base in isolation, this one has a nice spread without the bulge:

Third option for front

Once again it presents problems though. The first branch is now pointing to the back, which isn't ideal. To make matters worse, from this angle the apex is growing towards the back too.

After pruning - third option for front

I took this tree to a workshop a couple of months ago and was advised to live with the current front, but I'm not sure I want to. I think I'll take it to my bonsai club's next meeting and see if I can find someone who has a creative way to solve my problem.

I'm even prepared to do an air layer and turn it into two trees if need be.

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