Wednesday, 13 April 2016

In Search of the Perfect Tree

My search began as the result of a visit to Reddit's bonsai group which recently announced that they would be holding a Nursery Stock Contest. During the course of the contest, a period of approximately six months, participants are required to transform an ordinary nursery tree into bonsai.

By rights I should have ignored this contest and got on with reading other discussions of interest. I'm by no means the most skilled in the art of bonsai, so I know that I stand no chance of winning. What's more, last year's winning tree was a Juniper and as a rule I try to avoid working with conifers. And perhaps worst of all, I live in the Southern hemisphere, so the contest runs over my winter - not the ideal time for developing the branch structure of a tree.

So, did good sense prevail? Not a bit. I want to be part of the fun, so I went out looking for a suitable tree.

I soon came across this guy:

Ficus Nitida as purchased, April 2016

It's a Ficus, one of my favourite species. That's a big plus. By my standards it's quite a big tree, one I'm barely able to lift. Unfortunately the low branches are very thin and that thicker upward-pointing branch half way up the trunk was dead. The taper's not great either, but hopefully thickening up those lower branches will help. That's certainly not going to happen within six months though, so this certainly isn't competition material. I bought it anyway.

The next candidate came from my bonsai club which recently held what is known as a New Talent Competition. To be eligible for this competition you must have been a member for less than ten years. I've been a member for just over eight. Each participant is randomly allocated a tiny Juniper Procumbens Nana and given about two and a half hours to style it. Instant bonsai isn't my thing and as I said, nor are Junipers, but I felt I should challenge myself.

This is the tree I received:

Juniper Procumbens Nana unstyled, April 2016

On such a small tree, the branches were rather thin and not very well positioned so I decided to go for a literati. I ended up with this:

Juniper Procumbens Nana after styling, April 2016

Rather late in the day I realised that I should have left more foliage higher up and made the tail a bit shorter, but I was scared to remove any more right now so it looks rather unbalanced. In time I hope to improve on that.

Before the competition I had considered using this tree for Reddit's contest. However it's far too small and insignificant.

I knew I needed to look elsewhere.

Monday I visited another nursery, where I saw a couple of trees that interested me but they didn't feel right for the contest either, mainly due to the fact that I felt I'd want to do air layers before I started styling them. Obviously that isn't possible during the time allowed. I left with nothing.

Tuesday I found a tree I liked somewhere else:

Feijoa Sellowiana as purchased, April 2016

This one's a Feijoa Sellowiana. Not a tree I've often seen as bonsai, but I already have a thicker one which I rather like and I'd been considering buying another for some time.

Once again I'm not really sure this is contest material. Although I'm prepared to cut back hard, I don't see the prospect of much new growth over winter. But I'll start work and see what happens.

After buying this tree I still felt the urge to go back for one of the trees I'd seen on Monday, so this afternoon I went and bought this guy:

Euonymus as purchased, April 2016

It's a rather slender Euonymus which could probably do with a couple of years' unrestricted growth before I start work on it, so I probably shouldn't even consider it for the contest. Thankfully it was really cheap, but it's yet another tree to take space in my overcrowded bonsai area.

And so, while I'm really trying to reduce the size of my collection of pre-bonsai, cuttings and seedlings, over the course of the last couple of weeks I've acquired four new trees. And I'm still not sure I'm even going to enter the contest.

Update: 17 July 2016

In the end I didn't enter the contest because I knew that none of my material was really suitable, but I enjoyed the hunt.

I've started work on the Ficus and the Feijoa, but if I don't lose patience I'm still hoping to fatten up the Euonymus before I even consider styling it.

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

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