This is one of those trees I’ve had in my yard a long time, and never done a follow-up post about. For one thing, it’s so large it’s hard to photograph. For another, I just didn’t get around to it.

All of the trunks come from one base; it’s one tree. The snows are so heavy where it came from that the young branches were brought down, and those branches later grew upwards and are now the trunks that create the clump.

This was the tree that started all my madness around finding new solutions for the slab question. Ironically, it’s the last tree I’ve put on a slab. This hemlock sat on a plywood slab for years, with me just dreaming about it, while completing other slab experiments. So, it benefited from other tree’s mistakes. Or my mistakes with them, I should say. Finally in 2014 it went onto a stronger slab option than the nylon boards that I was using for smaller trees, using instead the countertop material Corian.

I should mention that Mountain Hemlock is not a tree for beyond the Pacific Northwest, USA, or even east of the Cascades. East of the mountains and down south are too hot and/or arid for these fellas and they get terribly grumpy, and then quietly perish. But…come and visit us and the trees will be here!

Here’s an earlier post which shows how we made the mound of soil and the sloping left wall: http://crataegus.com/2010/03/22/hemlock-group/

Enjoy the (relatively long) photo essay!


Mountain Hemlock in 2010 about two years after collection, with the strange cobbled together and sloped box I built for it.


The day we created the ‘mound’ that would end up staying on this plywood for a few years (while I scratched my head). 2010. This was the tree that started the adventure with putting trees on slabs of unusual materials (I’m not referring to the plywood…)


Now we’re fast forwarding a bit to 2013, the second time I’d wired the tree. I think the first time was in 2011. The high snows where it came from had already brought all the branches down to have great acute angles with the trunk, so this tree really only needed minor adjustments with placement.


Some parts of the tree needed a stepladder to work on…this is about the middle of the tree.


Detail of a branch showing the delicacy of the foliage. The needles come out in 3-D, making it a bit different from other hemlocks. I think if the Japanese had this species, they’d be much more enthusiastic about hemlock than the native one they have over there.


Again fast forwarding a bit, this is the summer of 2014, being brought into the studio by Bobby and Konnor.


…about to be shifted onto the Corian slab (right), our choice for this big tree for its strength.


Konnor marking the footprint of the soil mass…


…and cutting the slab with a jigsaw.


Our feet for this project.


After shifting the tree over onto the cut slab.


Side view (right) of the tree on its rock platform in the yard. We liked the 45 degree cut on the Corian, which we painted dark grey. We thought the bevel gives this tree a much greater ‘floating’ feeling, lessening its visual mass.


Another detail from the front. Lots of Polytrichum (the bright green star-shaped moss) and other kinds of moss and lichen, and a curious dark green, small-leaved Oregon Box (left side and rear) that was also collected in the mountains here.


Yet again fast-forwarding, this is January 2015, and we’ve once again brought the tree in for some wiring. Bobby in his stripes. As usual. You can see the continuity of his clothing from the earlier sessions with this tree.


We were lucky to have Matt Reel drop into the studio, and so we had a real Portland Bonsai Village day of it, with some visitors dropping in to see the garden, too.


Yes, occasionally I DO put down the camera and fiddle with trees. We wired this tree lightly. Matt and I discussed how over-wiring a hemlock would simply destroy its natural grace.

DSC_0809 - Version 2

And this is how the Mountain Hemlock looks today, in January, 2015, after minor wiring touchup. More and more I’m inspired by what I see in the local mountains, which do not have as severe an environment as the Rockies, but tend to feature moister, calmer forests. In the nearby Cascades and Coast ranges I’ve been very taken with the relationships of trunks, just visually, and also the communities of trees ecologically, and have sought out trees for bonsai that might communicate this. I tried to present this hemlock as simply as possible—without a pot or visible slab—to highlight those features.

2014 Photo Bloopers!

Once again here are the very worst and most questionable past year photos for your New Year merriment. As before, no names are mentioned to protect the innocent.

Downton Abbey fans will appreciate that, yes, Crataegus Bonsai also does a refresher from the last season: http://crataegus.com/2013/12/27/2013-photo-bloopers/

Happy New Year everyone!























This antique tree was collected some years ago by Anton Nijhuis of Vancouver Island, Canada, and was recently brought to Oregon, USA. We reworked it here last week for a client. The dynamism of the low descending branch and its bumping movement definitely made for a fun styling. We couldn’t wait to finish it!

Curiously, the entire tree is a rooted branch. It has somewhat larger needles than most Mountain Hemlocks have, and Anton said that it seemed like a strain of hemlock localized to that one mountain, and he’d not seen it elsewhere.

Here’s a photo essay of our restyling. Enjoy!


This was the Mountain Hemlock before we did anything.


…after shortening a few jins and tipping the tree to our new inclination, and finding our front. Like so many front choices, it was a balancing of goods and bads…


Bobby refining a jin.


…wiring from the bottom up. We did not use anything more than wrapped wire and a few guy wires to restyle this tree.


Matt Reel was in the studio that day…and he was very determined to be seen, as he was in exactly the same place in the next two shots, too.


Bobby wiring the top.


A few finishing touches. At this point we were a bit goofy. Long day.


From this direction, from the left, you can see where the lower descending branch comes from, and how close it is to the trunk. The smaller branches of this tree had very mature bark, so it’s quite old.


Detail shot of the top.


Close in shot of the cascading branch.


And our final tree! 35″ (89 cm) from top to lowest branch. Will be repotting this tree in the spring, either into a box or a pot. A deep square would be nice, eventually. Hopefully something less brilliantly orange than this one…



Beetle Borers and Bonsai-

One of the truly irascible jerks of the insect world (if you love trees, that is), borers will redesign your bonsai without even asking permission. Even worse, they’ll do it without you even being aware there is a major change in progress, since all their nefarious nibbling is done under the cover of bark.


Borer larva in its gallery under the bark, where it eats the phloem.

Most commonly it is flathead borers that cause problems for bonsai. The lifecycle is, for most species, one generation a year. Eggs are laid in the spring. Borer larvae nibble through the phloem of the tree in an ecstatic sugar festival over the summer. After girdling several branches or maybe even the trunk, they will drill deep into the heartwood and pupate there snugly and read trashy novels until spring. They then emerge transformed into the mature winged adult who is ready for the great epic poems and then, having learned nothing of aesthetics, ethics, or propriety, go on to lay eggs on your favorite bonsai. It’s a sad cycle.


Adult borer. There are more than 150 species of borers, some much more colorful than this one.

Flathead borers attack deciduous as well as conifer trees. We have one out here in Oregon (Northwestern USA) that will go after almost any conifer they can find. For the most part, if the tree is strong, the borers ignore it. Stressed trees, weakened by sun or drought, are the most commonly attacked trees. I lost a weakened juniper one year from a borer that girdled the trunk, but this summer lost the top of a relatively healthy hemlock, which gave me pause. Borers cause the majority of ‘naturally created’ jin and shari on collected pines and junipers.


Flathead borer larva that Bobby found in the top of one of our Mountain Hemlocks.

Keeping ridiculously vigorous bonsai does not seem like the best method of prevention, since most bonsai maintenance techniques are designed to slow down the metabolism of the tree—which makes them more susceptible to borer attack. Keeping healthy trees should certainly help, but prophylactic attention might be warranted in areas of high borer activity.

If borers are present where you live, you might consider a systemic like Safari. Befriending a woodpecker is another possibility, and while you’ll not have any more borer problems, you’ll still, sadly, have a tree full of holes.

This sweet little pine has been in the Puget Sound (Northwestern USA) area since 1989. It was collected by John Muth. Some of you might remember it from the 1992 cover of Bonsai Clubs International. I remember seeing it in a bonsai exhibition years ago in Seattle, sitting off in a corner, looking quite distinguished. Recently this tree passed to a client of mine, and we reworked it.

In 1992 fewer possibilities for the styling of this tree existed. Just a few unramified branches were present, as is often the case with newly collected Ponderosa. Now we have more complex branching options. It’s a good example of a Ponderosa that over time has done pretty tidy job of growing out branches and ramifying.


Early image of this Ponderosa pine, 22 years ago, on the cover of Bonsai Clubs International.


Before we started work on the tree.


Like the thinking in the original styling, we agreed that this inclination was best.


Here’s the final shot. Sorry for the grainy photo; low light and all. A new, slightly deeper pot will be its home this spring-


One of the major events in North American bonsai is only 10 months away! The long awaited Artisans Cup bonsai exhibition will be held at the Portland Art Museum in Portland, Oregon, USA on September 26-28, 2015. Our five international judges will be David DeGroot, Colin Lewis, Boon Manakitivipart, Walter Pall, and Peter Warren. And quite shortly, in a few days, a new Artisans Cup website will be up to give you details (and I’ll give you a heads up when that happens).

The 2015 Artisans Cup is going to be even better than ever so get your trees ready, choose your pots carefully, get perfect stands for them, think innovatively if so inspired, and then dust off the lenses on your cameras as we’ll need some nice photos. This coming spring Ryan Neil and I will be reviewing the entries and deciding which bonsai are in the show, then on the show weekend our five judges will politely bicker over which of them are best. Which should be terrifically entertaining as well as educational.


In addition to a top-flight bonsai exhibition in the Portland Art Museum, there will be a huge spread of vendors to tantalize your tastes, and Portland Bonsai Village tours to explore Portland’s numerous bonsai studios and nurseries. Buggy tours drawn by lions, tigers, and bears will chauffer around the curious. Should you have animal allergies or a fear of predation we’ll have safer, combustion engine options.

Do stay tuned for the new website…which is coming shortly. Again, get ready! Choose your trees! Choose your wardrobe! And join us for our Portland bonsai smorgasbord, Sept. 26-28, the Artisans Cup 2015!

Al fin, después de muchas peripecias ocurridas en el transcurso del trabajo, “Post-Datado: el adiestramiento de un irreverente monje bonsái” ha sido traducido al español. Estamos en las últimas etapas para la publicación del e-book. Mi amigo Felipe Rodríguez de México ha sido el traductor y su gran entusiasmo y pasión por el proyecto ha sido en verdad contagioso. Y ha sido un gran honor que con entusiasmo similar David Benavente ha accedido a escribir el prefacio.

Finally, after many threats that this was in the works, ‘Post-Dated: The Schooling of an Irreverent Bonsai Monk’ has been translated into Spanish. We’re in the last stages of creating an e-book. My friend Felipe Rodriguez of Mexico has been the translator, and his raw enthusiasm and passion for the project has been truly infectious. And it’s been a great honor that with similar enthusiasm David Benavente of Spain has agreed to write the Foreword.


I used the yellow pie slice. I just didn’t trust the advice to add an ‘o’ to everything.

Para aquellos que no lo saben, ‘Post-datado’ es acerca de los años que viví, sobre-trabajado y casi-sin-dormir, como aprendiz de bonsái con Shinji Suzuki, de Nagano, Japón. Es una extravagante/filosófica forma de asumirse aprendiz como extranjero y trata no tanto sobre como hacemos bonsái sino las razones por las que lo hacemos. Y, como digo en mi prefacio a la edición en español, es también sobre ‘el tipo de problemas que podemos llegar a tener como extranjeros lejos de casa’.

For those not familiar with it, ‘Post-Dated’ is about my years as an over-worked, under-slept bonsai apprentice with Shinji Suzuki, of Nagano, Japan. It’s a whimsical/philosophical take on apprenticing as a foreigner, and is less about how we do bonsai than the reasons we do bonsai. And, from my Preface to the Spanish edition, it’s also about ‘the kind of trouble we can get into as a foreigner far from home.’


It’ll look something like this, but translated…

Dentro de poco publicaré una entrevista con el Sr. Rodríguez acerca de Post-datado y temas afines, para posteriormente hacerles saber cuando estará disponible el libro. Aunque no hablo español, quien desee hacer comentarios en este idioma puede hacerlo, que tratare de darles respuesta usando Google Translate.

Shortly I’ll be posting an interview with Mr. Rodriguez about Post-Dated and related things, and then of course we’ll let you know when the book is available. Although I don’t speak Spanish, anyone who wishes to comment in Spanish may certainly do so, and I’ll attempt to answer using Google Translate.


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