Saturday, 26 August 2017

Unsuitable Material for Bonsai

When I first became interested in bonsai (long before I joined my club), it was with the expectation of keeping my trees indoors. This idea seemed perfectly feasible given the fact that one of the first bonsai books I bought was "Indoor Bonsai" by Paul Lesniewicz.

Unfortunately my first attempts soon ended in disaster. I even managed to kill my first Ficus really quickly. But I kept trying. And an idea from that book which seemed like an attractive option was propagating my own trees from the seeds of some of the fruit I ate.

My first attempt was planting citrus seeds. I soon had two little lemon trees growing on my bedroom windowsill. However after the more attractive one died, I aborted that experiment and planted the surviving one in the garden where it lived happily for several years before the bugs attacked it. Seeing it shrinking due to die back, my idea of turning it into a bonsai tree was revived and a couple of years ago I asked our garden service to dig it up so that I could move it into a training pot. Sadly it didn't survive the transplant and I now have a dead stump for which I'd like to find a creative use.

Dead lemon tree

I still have a couple of smaller citrus trees living in my bonsai area, but I don't have much hope of ever turning those into decent bonsai either and have made no serious attempt at styling them. They're over a decade old now, so sentiment prevents me from giving them away.

My next attempt was propagating a litchi tree. It didn't take me long to realise that the foliage was totally unsuited to bonsai, but I've kept the tree in the hope that it will give me fruit one day.

I also tried guavas, but I gave those away a long time ago.

I still have a couple of apple saplings which were another bad choice. I've since bought a couple of crab apple trees which I'm working on, but I've yet to see any fruit or even flowers on those. But I know that they're decent bonsai material so styling is my first priority for now. And I really hope they will get fruit when the time is right.

By the time I decided to plant a mango seed I had no delusions that it would ever make bonsai, but I couldn't resist the temptation to grow my own mangoes. I've actually got two trees now because a couple of years later I found a seed which had already rooted inside the mango and I didn't have the heart to throw it away if it wanted to live that badly.

My older mango tree

My older tree is approximately seven years old now and I was delighted to see that it's starting to flower for the first time.

Mango flower buds

Sadly I've read that it's best to remove the first season's flowers. I'm reluctant to do so, but the health of the tree must be my first priority, so I guess I'll be waiting for fruit for a little while longer.

Meanwhile I do have one fruit tree which I'm hoping will eventually make decent bonsai - a cherry tree.

Cherry tree

This was one of my most difficult attempts at propagating trees from fruit - of nine seeds I planted only two grew and one was an albino (with white leaves) which died as soon as I moved it into the sun.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Styling a Juniper

Last week was another BRAT meeting - a meeting at which all the bonsai clubs in my province get together.

Among the speakers was Stefann Pretorius, a member of Suikerbos Bonsai Kai and winner of last year's national new talent competition. For that competition participants work on nursery stock - totally untrained Juniper Procumbens Nana. For this demonstration he used far better material, an older Juniper which had been propagated specially for bonsai use. This is what it looked like from Stefann's chosen front.

Before styling

Stefann had taken some time to study this tree and had done several sketches of potential styles, before settling on this one:

With a slight change of slant required, the first thing Stefann did was tie the tree firmly to the turntable.

Then it was time for a little pruning.

Nothing too major as Stefann says it's best not to remove more than 40% of the foliage in one go. I guess that explains why the Juniper I attempted to style at our club's new talent competition a few months ago seems to be dying. Well that and the fact that I decided to move it from the nursery bag into a pot at the wrong time of year!

The biggest job was wiring all those branches. Luckily Stefann had a very able assistant for that - Hannes Fritz, also from Suikerbos Bonsai Kai, is an experienced grower who recently represented Africa on stage at the 8th World Bonsai Convention in Japan, styling a tree belonging to Masahiko Kimura.

Stefann and Hannes wiring the tree

After wiring the tree looked like this:

After styling

It will take a while to develop the pads, but the structure is in place for a very nice bonsai.

When I see trees like this I wish I had the skill and patience to style a good Juniper bonsai, but they're really prickly and they require far too much wiring for my liking.