Monday, 25 April 2016

A Vigorous Olive Tree

In October 2013 my bonsai club hosted a convention attended by members of the bonsai community from all parts of South Africa. The headliners at this convention were three foreign guests, among them an American called Rob Kempinski.

In addition to hearing the speeches, I was fortunate enough to attend one of Rob Kempinski's workshops.

In the build-up to the convention I realised that most of my trees weren't worthy of a workshop of this calibre, and luckily I was able to buy an old olive tree which had been collected from the wild a year or two earlier. This is what it looked like just before the workshop:

October 2013 - before initial styling

At the workshop the best possible branches were selected and Rob Kempinski also did a bit of carving for me, as well as refining the jin at the top with a blowtorch. After the workshop it looked like this:

October 2013 - after initial styling

I then left it to grow for a while so that the lower branches could develop, but did the odd bit of tidying up work as this tree has a tendency to put out lots of buds on old wood.

New buds forming on trunk

I have to remove these regularly, otherwise the entire design of the tree will be lost.

By August 2015 those lower branches had thickened up a fair amount and had been trimmed back so that the tree was starting to resemble a proper bonsai. In addition, a little more carving had been done at my club's workshops.

August 2015

However the tree had one major issue which was really worrying me. As the tree had originally had very one-sided growth, the lowest branch on the left was actually a back branch which had been pulled to the side. It looks okay in the picture above, but from the back it looked really ugly:

Rear branch pulled to side

This is where the tree's tendency to produce lots of buds helped me out. Within weeks after this photo was taken, a new bud had appeared exactly where I wanted it.

New branch forming in front of old one

Once that branch had grown long and strong enough for me to be sure of its survival, I removed the old branch and wired the new one into position, with the tip pointed upwards to encourage it to grow vigorously and fatten up.

After removing old side branch

At the same time I repotted the tree, changing the angle slightly to make the top jin a more dominant apex.

December 2015, after repotting

In February I took it to a workshop where I was persuaded to remove the lowest branch, a decision I still sometimes question.

Lowest branch removed

Hopefully by the time the new branch has fattened up I'll be able to convince myself that it was the right decision.

Repotting the tree in fresh soil seems to have increased its vigour. Despite removing the new buds in both February and March, a month of neglect meant that the whole structure of the tree had disappeared behind a sea of new growth.

Olive tree, overgrown after one month of neglect

After a quick tidy up this week, it now looks like this:

April 2016

Aside from developing the new branch, there is still quite a lot of refining to do. Those pads look quite unbalanced to me, and I can't help feeling that the lower jin is too heavy. As I don't do my own carving it will need another workshop soon.

Updated photos can be found here.

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