A tree prequel….here are three trees that have me intrigued and looking forward to playing with: A Mountain Hemlock, a Vine Maple, and another Mountain Hemlock-
…with a title like that you’d think I was lost in a poem by Tennyson…but I was only looking at a tree in my yard.
I tend to photograph this Red Maple at this time of year… it was created by Anne Spencer, one of our talented Portland artists who passed several years ago. Some months before she passed, I was honored with a phone call from her asking if I’d want to be the next caretaker of it. Being impulsively impish, I replied ‘Is that a trick question?’ In any event, I’ve had the tree for several years now. Especially in fall, when it’s looking so beautiful, I am reminded of our dear friend Anne.
Bonsai is, in so many ways, the art of change: That constant, lovely, haunting dance of loss and addition.
Your tree is looking well, Anne. It’s been the treasure of my yard, a chest of memories, and a quiet education. It’s sweet to be able to share your tree with others so far away, and so far beyond. It still sits in Portland, Oregon, in the fall of 2014, quietly living on.
Last month I received a curious, lumpy envelope from Canada. Enjoying curious, lumpy packages, I opened it eagerly. When its contents were on my lap I remembered I’d sent a silly email to a Canadian fellow who was planning on attending a Seasonal Workshop with me. He’d asked how he could make a down payment on the class. I somewhat impishly suggested some alternative methods, such as a string of shells, gold bullion, wampum. This is what I received in the mail:
Until a couple of years ago, I’d never worked with Limber Pine, one of our North American white pines. It’s growing on me. Buds back well, nice short needle, strong. Has a nice name, Limber Pine, which comes more trippingly off the tongue than Loblolly Pine, for instance. And it has great deadwood features.
This Limber Pine was styled in a Seasonal Workshop a couple of weeks ago. It was collected by a student of mine, Steve Varland of Backcountry Bonsai, who was able to be in the Seasonal to help style it. Loads of fun!
Photo essay follows our journey with this tree-
Ponderosa is a controversial North American tree. Mostly the debates swirl around the long needles, and their size being a problem with bonsai. I’m of two minds with this. For one, Ponderosa ramifies rather well over time, and needle length comes down pretty good. My misgivings are that for very small trees, ponderosa foliage doesn’t seem well suited. But, for a modest sized tree and larger, we have a really rough and rugged, really quite exciting, pine character. It’s almost the ultimate pine, in terms of wild ‘piney’ feeling.
This ponderosa is modest in size, 26″. That’s enough size to get beyond the long needles, and then it’s also a bunjin, which is one of the best applications for the species. Needle size will also go down a lot over time.
Before I bought the tree, it had been left to grow for some years without any kind of management. Ponderosa will quickly revert to a strong primary bud and weaken anything on the interior when this happens. A few of the branches were really weak. But there were also small buds everywhere, waiting to push.
And that’s the background for this tree! I’ll fill in how we reset the energy and the styling in the photos:
My apprentice Bobby Curttright and I were looking forward to this all month! Long time friend Gary Wood came west to share his tree wizardry with us in a seminar last weekend. I always thought his last name was a karmic promise…
Gary’s knowledge of trees, their inner workings, and how they respond to stimuli including sharp bonsai implements is nothing short of encyclopedic. And he’s an inventive, nearly prophetic thinker. For one, his own observations had him almost ten years ahead of the research on the role of auxins and sugars in determining plant growth.
A dozen lucky folks from the Northwest converged on my studio for Gary’s fact-filled, humorous day.
I suppose that title needs a bit of explaining. About 4 1/2 years ago I grafted this Rocky Mountain Juniper (collected by Randy Knight) with some curious shimpaku foliage that I took a shine to. The shimpaku foliage was a bit coarser than we see normally, and I thought it would look good on a tree with a rugged, expressive character.
So that’s the backdrop for the Day of Yikes…
When a tree is grafted with an entirely different foliage type, some day, eventually, the original foliage needs to be cut off. Although with a bit of practice there’s little worry, really, it is still a bit exciting to finally (after years of waiting) yell out ‘Yikes!’ as you make that final pruning cut.
The tree did fine.
And this summer Bobby rewired it for the second time. The following is a series of photos from the last two years, from the Day of Yikes to about four minutes ago, when the last shot was taken.