Larry Jackel is a favorite expert among the members of the Northern Virginia Bonsai Society. He manages the bonsai collection at the Denver Botanic Gardens and collects fantastic bonsai material from the Colorado mountains.
The fall show for my bonsai club is coming up in a couple of weeks. Our fall show is open to any member who would like to bring trees to show, and it is not judged. It’s just a great opportunity to share bonsai with the public.
I know several of our most experienced members will have trees unavailable for the show because of another exhibition, so I really would like to show at least two bonsai. Looking over my trees though, I felt like there was only one in “showable” condition. Maybe I could get this San Jose Juniper (Juniperus chinensis ‘San Jose’) cleaned up and ready to show.
It’s a bit sloppy at the moment. Let’s see what I can do. First, I need to get the moss off the trunk. I want to get as much moss off the bark as possible without damaging the bark texture, so it’s careful tweezers work.
Then it’s really all about wiring the branches so I can position them and clean up the shape of the tree. I’d like to do this while removing as little foliage as possible. The tree is doing well, but I don’t want it to lose any strength for this.
I wire the lowest branch first.
For this Juniper, I went with a pale, bluish lichen and moss mix. I think it looks nice.
What kind of trees do you bring to a workshop? I struggle with this frequently and usually opt not to stay for the “BYOT” (bring your own tree) portions of the local bonsai club meetings.
My trees fall into three broad categories.
- Many (MANY!) are not ready for styling. Most of these just need water and fertilizer to get big and strong. When they do need a little something done… well, I don’t need help from club members to repot, or make an occasional big cut on material I am developing for future work.
- For most of the trees that are in development, I have a clear idea of what I am working toward. These don’t seem right to take to a work session or workshop either. (I love to work on my trees in my own back yard!)
- Very few trees are ready for developing or in a new phase of development that really throws me. These trees — the ones I’m not really sure what to do with — are the ones I want to take to a workshop.
When I got a last minute opportunity to attend a workshop with Adam Lavigne this week, I was very excited to realize I had a few trees in that last category.
I was in a similar quandary for this Elaeagnus Umbellata (above), as well as a twisty, multitrunk azalea. Apparently I had never photographed this one, so here is the azalea (below) after its styling.
Adam, thanks for all your help! It was a pleasure to spend the day with you and a small group of others from Northern Virginia Bonsai Society.
Jack, thanks so much for hosting!
Readers, if you haven’t read Adam’s blog, I recommend it. Check him out at adamaskwhy as well as on Facebook and Instagram.
Ficus Benjamina. Not always considered outstanding material for bonsai, but it is readily available and will survive indoors, so I suspect it is used as bonsai more than many species — even if by the inexperienced and curious.
Mine is not dissimilar as this is a tree I have had since my early years in the art. By my records, I’ve had this plant for a solid 20 years.
I’ve been warned that F. Benjamina can die back if you don’t leave a leaf at each growing tip, but that creates an odd challenge. You see, I like to see the tree structure when I prune, and I don’t know which leaf will be at the tip until all of the decisions are made. So, here’s hoping for a strong growth response.
After removing the leaves I do some initial pruning.
This Vicary Privet is happy and healthy, and while you may not be able to tell just how many, it has way too many trunks.
It’s time to make some decisions, but HOW?! I took a good long look and tried not to move too fast — a common mistake for me. There were a couple that I knew I wanted to keep, and a couple that really obviously needed to come out because they didn’t have much growth or were interfering with the keepers.
This got things moving in the right direction, and after removing a couple I could get a better look. Now I could see that one was far too straight. Another was angled counter to the flow that was beginning to develop, and eventually it was clear that I needed to take it down to three.
I am no pro at carving, but I decided to get a start on shaping all of these large cuts.
Here’s how it looks now.
I’ve had this San Jose Juniper for nearly a year now. I acquired it as bonsai material (as opposed to home and garden nursery stock) and did some initial branch positioning late last summer. It’s strong and healthy, and in need of a better soil mix so I will get it out of this nursery pot and into something more fitting.
There were a couple of design adjustments I decided to make now as well. It didn’t take long after that first wiring for the wire to start biting in, so it was removed in the fall and some of the branches have crept upwards since then. Most adjustments can wait, but I did decide to go ahead and re-wire the apex and upper left branch to get them back down where they belong.
I also removed the lowest branch on the left, as I have been planning to do, and used guy wires to pull two back branches into that space. This may seem like a lot of moving at the same time as a repot, but at only 13 or 14 inches tall, this tree’s branches are quite flexible and shiuld be able to recover well.
Here it is after the work today.