Monday, 30 July 2012

A not so common Juniper

This Juniper Communis was collected 7 years ago from the Swiss Alps, about 50 yards from the Italian border. It has now been patiently established and repotted twice into steadily smaller pots by Steve Tolley, and following the move to this pot two years ago the tree has started pushing new growth and buds this summer.

I have been after a good common juniper for about 10 years now but have always been wary as so many have been collected and died in the past, so for me this tree was such a great find........and all because I was a car park attendant !!!!

The story goes like this - I was a helper at the Magical Accents show near Bristol and was doing my car parking rota. I had sent some pictures of potential trees for the BOB show 2013 to Steve and had enquired about a few trees that were sale on his web site, so spotting him walking across the car park I introduced myself and asked about a suitable material tree to take to my workshop with Ryan Neil at Willowbog in January 2013. We knew it had to be a good tree.......the pride of England is at stake here ! :-), it had to be an interesting tree, and more importantly I wanted material that would get the most from the workshop - so juniper & plenty of deadwood scored highly as a man who spent 6 years working in Kimura's garden would have so much experience with both.....

A few pictures were sent through - a great twin trunk itiogawa and the communis - and this week I dropped in to collect the tree

Straight out of the car - 1 meter wide, about the same top to bottom. and probably been on the mountain 300-500 years. Just having material this old and rare on the bench is exciting. The older needles are dropping as they do mid summer so I cleaned out the dead twigs and yellow / brown needles - while doing this many new buds were seen all along the older branches.

I cleaned out the tree a bit and removed some moss and really spongy bark that was holding a lot of water and keeping the wood damp. Then a foliar feed was mixed up and applied (aqualabs powdered fish emulsion and kelp concentrates), followed by a pot drench feed (chempak high nitrogen) and the strongest terminal buds were pinched off the send strength to the inner shoots.


A few simple angles were explored with wooden blocks to get a feel for the potential tree hiding in the material - I often do this, take a few pictures then spend a day or two flicking through various books and exhibition albums - normally you can find trees with similar trunk lines, angles, proportions etc and can get a feel for the material and get a few clues what finished images will look right, and which ones will look wrong.

As this tree will just be fed and encouraged to grow more shoots until the workshop I may do a few photoshop play abouts to virtually create possible trees. This was a first attempt using a fairly upright design -
but i am drawn to a 45 degree trunkline too, this is such a cool tree as the options are many, and it has the potential to become something amazing......... 

Over the first week I've pinched all the strong tips out and continued feeding. Then some huge ants were spotted in the trunk carrying eggs about so they were pressure washed out and the hollow trunk dusted with ant powder - this will kill off all the creatures living in the wood, and it was while doing this a fantastic spiralling hollow was found going up the center, this will be opened up with carving at the workshop to add depth and interest I think. Within 6 days of pinching the tips new buds are appearing on older wood.
I have found a picture from kimuras garden of a rigida taken by Owen Reich and 'borrowed' here from his facebook album - hope you don't mind :-) but I see it as inspiration for this material.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

An ebay black Pine

Browsing ebay (as you do now and again ) I spotted this black pine and thought it would wire up ok - .This was basically the picture and angle I bid on the tree from:

I could see there was plenty of shoots, this years candles were in place and growing well, along with all the old needles as well, and the tree was bursting out of the pot !

When I got it home all angles were explored and after cleaning off all the crud and thick moss from the top the nebari at the current back was excelent, so I did a quick jet wash to clean the upper roots off and assessed the branches.

Its funny but I didn't have a 'pine shaped pine' and really wanted to make one. As this tree had all the branches needed I started by pruning out the ones that hid the lower and mid trunk, then angled all the branches down a bit with guy wires. As it was mid July I decided to only decandle the strong shoots that were going to be used - many of the very strong shoots had 6-7" of bare twig and one bunch of needles at the end so I cut most of these off.

The 3 year old needles were pulled off and every single part of the tree wired with 1.2mm and 1.8mm copper wire, guy wires were 0.6mm copper. I guess it took about 5 or 6 hours of  wiring with a few beers in the garden.

For a first wiring I think it turned out well - it is exactly the shape I was aiming for - A classic informal upright.( To make a bit of space on the benches this tree is available for sale if anyone is interested. )
 There is a reasonable few months growing left this year so buds will certainly form and come winter i'll thin the needles, reduce any crowded areas of buds that may form, and then repot the tree next spring. I'm getting quite a liking for Black Pines - they love Cornwall for sure !

Sunday, 15 July 2012

making a root stand MK1

It is getting to the stage where some of my trees need stands so they can be included in displays and shows properly. At Chelsea flower show this year I was scouting the displays as you do for any interesting bits that would be given away at the end and spotted some ancient vines in the African tourist Board stand in the pavillion. Asking if they would be available at the end we were told yes so at the end I bundled 4 large south African grape vine trunks together and carried them the mile or so back to the car.......they were getting quite heavy half way back and by the time I got to the car I was totally knackered.

I used one as a tanuki trunk for a juniper and have used about one and a half to make this stand. The vines were screwed together to make a rough stand shape then totally burnt with a blow torch. 2 hours of sandblasting cleaned it up beautifully and removed any soft rotten wood. Following the sandblasting random sections were lightly burnt again to add colour. I 'dismantled' an oak side table that had come from my gran and used the top to finish off the stand. All the sections were properly screwed together and leveled up, then the carving bit was bolted onto the grinder and the top shaped to go smoothly with the legs.

5 coats of satin varnish and here is my first bespoke stand - made for the slanting driftwood juniper - the pot is a 17"  drum so you can get a rough idea of the size of the finished stand,

I kept working the top until it was a perfect fit for the Walsal Ceramics drum pot and tried to balance the stand and pot where ever possible - the feet of the pot are centered above two thick strong root sections while the gap between the feet is mirrored with a hollow and cutback in the stand top. I feel the power from the pot now flows down into the stand so hopefully it comes across in show as a pleasing combination as I've just gone with instinct making it really.

Here we go - tree, pot and stand all together and I'm really happy with MK1 stand. Now to plan the entire display - the accent will need a different style of stand so no roots, burrs or wooden jitta can be used really. I think a very neat formal wooden stand if I use a small tree as the accent or a slate maybe if I use a traditional grass or flower.........??

Saturday, 14 July 2012

2 weeks in the life of a Scotts pine

Over the last 2 weeks its been an hour or two of fine wiring each evening after work. The main branches have had the one foliage mass split into 3 or 4 smaller sections and these will be refined a lot more into shaped pads as the tree makes more inner buds.

Every branch is wired to the tip, ending in an open loose coil of wire that brings the needles together without squashing them. All the upward growing branches are wired down a bit and just the tips eased up, this has lowered the apex of the tree a few inches, made the whole tree wider and broken the few large needle masses into many smaller branches.

For the first detail wiring I'm pleased with the way it's going and already the weaker buds are growing stronger from where the outer candles were pruned off or shortened. Next year some of the branches will be pruned back to inner growth - this will improve the outline of the right hand side of the tree. 

Working with this tree over the last few weeks I have really come to appreciate how much better than white pines these trees are - similar needle size but makes buds like a black pine....and more importantly it is a native species so a lot less worry with climate, rainfall, winter frosts etc.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

The Beauty of a little history...

This is the ongoing story of a quite unusual tree -  A UK native tree with a documented and pictured  history going back to 1998 that has been worked on by two of Britains early bonsai professionals. The tree is a Scotts Pine, either Bouvonensis or Watterii, that started as a garden center landscape plant belonging to Mr Len Gilbert. The first pictures show the tree undergoing the first styling at a workshop with Craig Cousins back in 98/99.

2 years later there are sketches and a print done by Peter Adams so at a guess he saw the tree, or a photo of it at least, and this lead to a workshop with Peter Adams in 2003. After this workshop the design we see today is quite clear.

Now the portfolio jumps to 2008 when we see the tree planted on a fibreglass slab made by Len, still the trees owner. Just looking back from the huge red pot in '98 to the drum in 2003 to the great shallow slab shows how in 10 years the roots were reduced so much without setting the tree back.

These days virtually the only way to find unique material that has maturity and the established growth to form a refined bonsai is on the rare occassions that a collection is put up for sale. It almost starts a chain reaction that keeps trees and material moving to new owners who want to add their mark to projects started by this case I was making some space on the benches and had 7 trees ready to sell - several of them have gone to pastures new and I was on the hunt for a single replacement. I'd seen the pictures of this tree and the rest of the collection for sale on the Willowbog Web Shop and just like all pictures the trees look so much better in real life....this is certainly one of my shopping benchmarks  - if it looks good in a pic it is excelent for real, and that goes for all the trees - the cascade cedar really should be snapped up quickly as its the best one available for sale in the UK at present - I'd say there probably isn't another mature one of this size at any UK bonsai nursery for sale today

I didn't actually go to Willowbog to buy the tree but for a nice social day tacking onto the end of a Saturday workshop while enjoying the extensive selection of trees on site. During the day the pine was displayed in the classroom and it was only after the event while chatting to Peter I started to appreciate the tree for what it was - a unique chance to get a mature native tree. It's funny too - one attendant was very interested in the tree and I was sat there saying "buy it, decide now, shake hands and buy it, or it will be gone when you finally decide to get it :-)" . ...While I was at the Saturday workshop 4 trees had sold online so I left it on Sunday incase the other buyer had decided to get the tree but Monday morning I sent a message through to the nursery that I'd have the pine if it hadn't sold the day before.
This was an exciting driver over as I didn't have a clue if the tree was mine or not....until arriving !

Now we are right up to date and can carry on the trees' history in Cornwall. First job with any newcomer to my garden is to spray it - I'd spotted a pine saw moth lavae and a few other bugs and beasties so made that a priority. If a tree comes home to be totally restyled I tend to just leave it on the bench for 6 months or more, letting it catch my eye from many angles until the new style is spotted, but with this one I like the totally natural overall style and just want to refine it further. With this in mind a look over the tree showed all the needles in place going back 3 years and all of this years candles in the process of opening. Being one of the 'witches broom' varieties there were inner buds everywhere, but they remain dormant due to the auxins produced from the terminal shoots so the very strong shoots in the top were decandled just like a black pine and all other new shoots had the candle shortened so the tip was removed leaving a few pairs of new needles in place.

Here is a section of branch with the outer candle centers pruned, just leaving a ring of new needles

Now the auxin production is upset while the tree forms new buds on all the cuts so the inner weak shoots and back buds will get a growth spurt. The tree is very settled, has not been repotted and was growing strongly all over so perfectly safe to carry on with the thing to sort out was some light and space on the inner twigs as the new buds that will be forced to develop from the candle work need somewhere to form and room to grow, otherwise the initial effects of the candle pruning will be wasted

This picture below shows the overall density of the variety with all the needles in place, and this is after 3/4 of the new candle is removed.

And a few hours ! later the old needles have been clipped off - leaving more on the weaker areas and less on stronger upper and outer shoots. I clipped all the needles rather than pulled - I think there is less chance of damaging the shoot and more buds are produced.

Next stage was to remove some old wire and decide what to do with all the algae encrusting the trunk. It was easy to see the far northern location the tree had come from was much wetter than here - I've never had such lush moss on a tree.....ever !! The tree had been very dense for a while and in a moist location so the trunk and branches were thick in powdery green algae. The bark on these does get flaky but often in thin paper like sheets


This section of trunk was only partially covered in algae where bark flakes had naturrally dropped off, but the branches were thickly covered and I do plan to wire them all so out came the electric toothbrush and another hour was spent cleaning. The final stage was to use the brass brush along the tops of the branches and scrub them quite firmly - this makes even more new buds pop on the branch tops, right where you want them.

So far its sprayed, cleaned, candle pruned, needle thinned & dewired. Even with over 50% of the needles removed the tree is still very dense - this keeps the tree looking nice while work continues rather than a black pine that looks like a plucked chicken at times

Next all the branches will be wired and the pads defined a bit more. The last time I had one of these within 3 years the needles were really small so the plan is to make tiny needles, then gradually split the initially larger pads into layers of 2, 3 or 4 - this will take the image from a medium sized tree to a much larger one. Funny enough I've just loaded the Peter Adams sketches and it shows the foliage in many layers so we'll have to see if we can move in the direction that was seen 12 years ago.