Friday, 23 March 2018

New Ideas for an Old Olive Tree

When Rob Kempinski did the initial styling on one of my olive trees in late 2013 his plan for its future was to create a tree with short, tight pads of foliage. It never even crossed my mind to question his design at the time. But as the tree developed I've always felt something wasn't quite right.

It was only after I wrote my first post about it, however, that I started to see a different way forward. It all started with an illustration I received from one of my Reddit readers, -music_maker-:

Sketch ©-music_maker-

He envisaged a much fuller tree, an idea which really excited me. There was only one problem - two dimensional photos tend to misrepresent trees and as a result he'd put a branch on top of a small jin. I figured his design would need a little tweaking but I was up for the challenge.

With my new plan in mind I allowed the branches to grow, doing only minimal pruning to get rid of misdirected growth, shortening the bottom branch once it had fattened up, and getting rid of the new buds that continue to sprout all over the trunk. But the top remained unchanged.

The next breakthrough came in July 2017 when Kathy Steyn did a demonstration on a much bigger olive at our club. I took my tree along to that meeting for a critique and Kathy also felt that the tree needed a live apex. At the time she suggested I allow a bud coming off one of the back branches to grow and I kept that one for a while. Fortunately the tree produced a better bud coming straight off the trunk, enabling me to remove the poorly positioned one.

My new leader is now growing strongly and I'm really looking forward to the day that I can shorten it and start developing a proper apex. This photo was taken a few days ago:

March 2018

I'm still not too happy with the cluster of branches high up on the main trunk though. They seem rather cluttered and poorly arranged to me and perhaps in time one or two will have to go. Photos from all four sides may give a clearer idea of the true situation:

View from all four sides

And while rotating the tree to get these photos, I started to wonder whether I've been working with the right front. The current one was chosen by a senior member of my bonsai club and is slightly different from Rob Kempinski's original front.

I find myself drawn to this option:

Potential new front

Some will argue that it has less movement than the current front and that the base appears narrower from that side, but I'm not too happy with the appearance of the wide gap between the main trunk and the big jin when viewed from the current front. I find my attention pulled in two opposing directions with no real focal point.

Of course a change of front would mean that the branches will need some tweaking, but I can live with that. I'd rather spend a bit more time regrowing branches if it means developing a better tree.

More photos (and future updates) can be found here.


  1. Would rather work with the current front and carve the big jin to not draw the attention in an opposing direction...

    1. Thanks. I'm really undecided but I'm not rushing into a decision.

    2. Always better to wait until you are sure....