Have you ever taken a bonsai to a club meeting or a workshop just to get everyone’s unsolicited advice about how you should style it? We have an often repeated joke in our local club that if you ask ten different people you’ll get twelve different answers. That’s especially true when you have an unkempt tree that is in desperate need of styling. And apparently also true if you don’t even ask.
This is exactly what happened when I brought a pine to a club meeting last weekend. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the tree I have been calling the ugly pine…
It’s a Virginia pine, Pinus virginiana, that I collected a few years ago. It recovered well and has been a vigorous tree. Obviously I have made some decisions like removing the large trunk that is now a jin. I even started to work on styling it a while back and wired the trunk and primary branches at a workshop where the attending professional artist obviously didn’t think much of the tree. (So we didn’t get very far.)
And that brings me to the first major point I want to make here. Not everyone takes the same attitudes into this art form. If you have been doing bonsai for long, you’ve probably heard some version of “This tree isn’t worth your time,” or, “If this we’re mine I’d get rid of it.” I’m sure the bonsai artist at that workshop said something like this when we worked on this tree.
Well, some of us don’t think that way. I’m a hobbyist who does bonsai strictly for the joy of it. I have no requirement to maximize the outcome of my efforts. I don’t need to save space on my benches or reduce my collection. And I don’t care if every tree I have lacks the potential to ever be an award winning tree. I do bonsai because I enjoy it. I love the process. I love the challenge, and that includes the challenge of developing an ugly tree over the long term if need be.
I have plenty of ugly trees. Would you like to see some?
If you want to read more of my thoughts on the variety of philosophies we bring to bonsai, check out Why do you bonsai? Let me get back to the ugly pine…
Since my not-so-positive workshop experience, this tree has just been sitting on the benches continuing to grow while I continued to analyze it. The reason I decided to take it to a recent club meeting (just a work session, not a workshop) was because I had decided what I wanted to do with it.
I decided to wire this lower branch into a new trunk line and remove the trunk on the left in the photo. I was so certain this was my direction that I went ahead and removed a couple of branches from the left trunk that were shading the right side. I planned to decide, when I did the styling, whether to remove the rest from the right at that time or perhaps leave some part of the trunk and foliage to be removed later to maintain strength in the tree.
I found it really ironic, then, that after removing branches from the current trunk line in a move I thought effectively “ruined” that trunk, the first suggestion I received upon my arrival at the club meeting was to remove the lower branches and us that current trunk to make a literati style pine.
And that was just the first! Out of a great deal of respect for the person offering this advice, I put the pine aside to consider the suggestion and worked on other trees. By the end of the session six or seven possible designs had been discussed, unsolicited, by four people. (See how that works?!)
I didn’t touch the tree. I brought it home, seriously considered the various possibilities, and decided that my original plan was the right one for me. And then I grabbed some cutters and made a move with confidence I was doing the right thing.
After wiring, I took a good long time to contort and position the trunk and branches.
Me thinks it’s not so ugly any more. I have some jin work to do – jinning the new cut and reducing the existing jin, but I am really happy with the direction this is going. Others may not agree. And that should be ok.