World Bonsai Day Festival


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I spent a good chunk of the past weekend at a bonsai festival but haven’t written about it. I hate to think I have disappointed all three of my loyal followers. 

First and foremost, the setting was stellar. We were at the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum at the National Arboretum in Washington DC. We were literally in the shadow of great trees, including Goshin, above, which is claimed to be the most famous bonsai in the world. 

(Ok, I don’t like when people misuse the word ‘literally,’ so I will qualify the “literally in the shadow” thing. It was cloudy and rainy for most of the weekend, so there weren’t a lot of shadows… and even when the sun was out on Sunday… Well, you might have to bend down to be LITERALLY in the shadow. I mean, they are bonsai!)

Here are a couple shots of the Potomac Bonsai Association trees displayed in the China Pavillion. 

A nice showing. We also had a formal display challenge (apologies, no photos), a great bunch of vendors, and much more. 

Thanks to all those who worked so hard to make it all happen, including dozens of volunteers. This is an event to look forward to each year!

Plans for after the show


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I come from an art background. When an artist submits an artwork for exhibition, it is bad form to change the artwork from what was shown to the juror. 

I don’t really know the “rules” when living, growing things are selected for exhibition. I did some refinement pruning on this tree in advance of showing this coming weekend, but there is a little part of me that says I should not make any further changes before the show… even though there is obviously a branch that has to go. 

Do you see it? Just below the apex the trunk splits in three directions. One of those three has to go. I’m going to remove the one on the right. The question is, when? It can definitely wait. The real question is, do I have the patience to grow it out as a sacrifice branch to thicken the trunk. Maybe get a graft out of it and get a branch down lower on the trunk. 

I guess we’ll have to wait and see. 

Just a haircut

I collected this Autumn Olive, Elaeagnus umbellata, one year ago and it is growing well. 

I’m not sure what the final design of this tree will be, but there is no hurry to decide. Today, just a quick clip to encourage some branching and back budding. More branches closer in will give more choices when I do start making decisions.  Here is what it looks like after the trim. 

Mountain Laurel


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Because there is such an abundance of Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia) in the woods near my home, I decided to collect this small specimen to see how it would respond to bonsai techniques. I dug it last spring (2016) and it did absolutely nothing all summer. 

A push of new leaves this spring led me to remove all of the old and damaged leaves in favor of the fresh, and more numerous ones. Below is what some of those old leaves looked like:

So, one year into this experiment here’s what I know:

  • I can keep them alive.
  • Recovery from digging may be very slow. Be patient!
  • Backbudding will occur. This will require patience as well as the backbudding is very small and will take time to develop growing strength. 

I will watch and learn over this growing season to see how this plant continues to grow and develop. I have a feeling this is going to be a very slow experiment. 

Raft Style


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I came across this on a hike today. In bonsai, this is referred to as a raft — when a tree falls and branches of the fallen tree grow to mature trees in their own right.

In most rafts, as I am sure is true for this example, roots emerge along the fallen trunk to support the new trees. An interesting phenomenon to be sure. 

Suburban Yamadori, Boxwood


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One of the many perks of membership in a bonsai organization is that one of the club members may learn about unwanted shrubs that can be collected, and share the opportunity. The suburbs are a fantastic collection area with many old shrubs and hedgerows, and homeowners who are regularly making changes. In this case, the homeowner had recently moved into a home with many boxwood bushes throughout the yard. Chuck shared the availability with the club, and today he and I went to dig two large specimens.

That pile of branches is what we removed to make digging, moving, and future styling easier. 

I claimed a big single trunk tree for myself. The second bush had multiple trunks, but we soon discovered it was two plants placed too close together. We separated the two and they will go to other club members who expressed interest. 

I brought mine home and plopped it back into the ground to recover and gradually be pruned back. 

Look at that mass of leaves! It’s still 4 feet tall plus. Here’s a different angle. 

Remember that pile of branches? Now you know where a bunch of them came from!

You can see this is going to be a long term project. Over the next couple of years I expect back budding down the trunk and I will gradually remove the foliage that is furthest from that lovely trunk. I mean… look at that thing!

Isn’t she lovely?! Thanks for all your help, Chuck! I’d dig trees with you any day. 

NVBS Spring Show


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The Northern Virginia Bonsai Society has the spring show on display this weekend at the Fairfax location of Merrifield Garden Center. 

I love that members of the society can show any tree. It’s a great opportunity to see what friends are working on, including works in progress. The chance to see trees in training is also a great way to share the process and art form with the visiting public. 

I entered two trees — for all their flaws — the ficus and boxwood below. 

There were many other (more) fine examples. I couldn’t get great shots of them all, but please enjoy the images below. And if you can stop by to see it in person, so much the better. 

Kicking the Habit


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I’m trying to quit tropicals. They were for me, and are for many, a great way into bonsai, but I just don’t have appropriate indoor space for very many tropicals to overwinter. 

Trying to quit really means I am just trying not to get any more. I have seven ficus (of a few different varieties) and don’t want more than that. This also means resisting the urge to root any large cuttings. Because ficus are so easy to propagate, this is sometimes challenging to resist. 

Ok, I’ve said my piece, now let me get onto today’s tree. 

I started this tree from a cutting all the way back in the beginning of my bonsai journey, over 20 years ago. It’s been on that rock for years, and I just put into this new pot which fits it much better than the oversized blue pot it has been in. 

Now for some wire. 

I look forward to when the weather is warmer and I can put this outside to enjoy our summer humidity. 

Group Wiring


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It was great to spend the morning at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens with a few folks from NVBS: Xuan, Nick, and Sundar. A few of the bonsai there needed some attention. A bit of wiring and a couple of repots on a few small trees were completed quickly and we all turned our attention to this Juniper. 

We wired the whole thing. At times it was almost comical when all four of us were wiring different parts, but it made for quick work. 

Xuan was our expert of the morning, and with his guidance a new front was selected and the branches set into position. 

I look forward to watching this tree develop further.