Rocky Mountain juniper cascade styling–

I had a comment on another juniper post this month that the finished tree looked like a pronghorn antelope… which was pretty apt I thought, and yet that name could well go for this one, too. It’s a Rocky Mountain juniper collected a few years ago by Randy Knight and purchased from Ryan Neil, and my apprentice Konnor and I styled it a couple weeks ago here in Portland, Oregon, USA.

Although I assisted in choosing the inclination, front, and setting the branches, most of the work including the wiring was done by Konnor. Much fun and some late evenings later, we ended up with this styling. Please let us know what you think!

As the tree was before we began tinkering with it…

We don’t incline trees just to make life difficult, really, although it must appear that way sometimes. I hope the root system does not have us do any really freaky bending techniques next spring to get it in a bonsai pot.

Konnor and I wiring the tree. Photo by Troy Cardoza on one of his impromptu and much enjoyed visits to the garden.

Here’s the final image. I forgot to measure the tree, but as you can see from the previous photo it’s a fairly modest sized large tree. Crazy old, that deadwood is fantastic. Please do let us know what you think of this. Actually just as I’m writing this it looks a bit like a scorpion… what do you think, Konnor? Did we make an arachnid?

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  1. Mike says:

    Yup, definitely a scorpion! How does one bring oneself to cut off such exquisite deadwood? I guess you don’t!

    • crataegus says:

      Ok, one vote for arachnid. Could not touch that deadwood, would be a tree crime of the highest order! Plus, these snags of deadwood are evidently for pinching things with…

  2. chis says:

    Sorry. I don’t care for the front the two of you chose at all! Looks like you want to put a nice family portrait in the square of deadwood. Beautiful deadwood but it’s all very distracting. Hopefully you are challenging your audience with this post.

    • crataegus says:

      Ah, we have a conversation finally! Thanks for the comment. Actually I’m sure you’re not alone. Most will either love or hate this tree. As most don’t have ambivalent feelings about arachnids anyhow. I’ll keep my voice out of the discussion and let the tree and everyone else speak, but I hope your post emboldens others to free their minds and willingness to comment. Thanks-

  3. Dan W. says:

    One beautiful thing in art is our individual freedom of expression. Personally I think we often learn the most from those who have differing viewpoints / tastes from our own. — I find this one intriguing…I agree that some of the deadwood seems distracting…but it also brings character, and I imagine it is very powerful in person. I look forward to seeing it filled out and in a pot πŸ™‚ — Scorpion does seem fitting…

    • crataegus says:

      Definitely agree. If we only see it from our own vantage we don’t grow. And we should have a ‘dislike’ button here like the ‘like’ buttons on Facebook…

  4. Tom says:

    How will you deal with the roots?

    Sent from my iPod

    • crataegus says:

      With difficulty…well, not sure if there will be any large roots that will cause a problem. It may be that we’ll have to bend a couple large ones the way you bend large juniper branches, to get it in a pot. Hopefully not!

      • Dan W. says:

        How long will you wait to re-pot this one?

      • crataegus says:

        It is growing this fall, and will be repotted in the spring of 2013. I prefer to repot junipers a bit later, because they seem to like the warmth of mid-spring.

  5. konnor says:

    Scorpion it is. I do agree that at this state in the tree’s development the deadwood has a lot of visual weight, but the structure of the tree is placed well, and within a year or two the accumulated needle growth and pad development will hold its own against the strength of the deadwood. Softening the edges if you will. An old collected tree rarely offers the perfect structure, but I do believe that the intrinsic beauty of this tree has been preserved. A challenging composition to be sure, yet one that I think will wear well. Time, as always, will tell if we saw clearly. Thanks as always for a great visit.

  6. Jim says:

    Love it! Very unorthodox. I definitely see the scorpion in it. I can’t wait to see it when it fill out.

  7. Jorge Trak says:

    I like it, although I could be agree on the comments regarding “the deadwood has a lot of visual weight”, but have to see it in the final pot, that will help (I think) to see the complete design of the tree πŸ™‚
    Talking about aracnids, Scorpions, dragons, I rather to see dance or wind movements in the trees (Maybe for my Latin blood) πŸ™‚

    • crataegus says:

      The deadwood does have a lot of visual weight, it seemed interesting enough to keep the foliage rather small and let it be expressive with the deadwood. This tree did not want to dance ; ) It’s too edgy for that.

  8. tom tynan says:

    I am always interested to see how someone else handles really challenging collected material – esp. where the ratio of deadwood to foliage favors the deadwood. Will the crown be open and transparent with the deadwood peaking thru or will it be the deadwood that carries the weight with the crown visually behind or in-front of the deadwood – we will have to wait and see. The dense full crown junipers we see from Japan may work well with those varities of junipers – but I am not sure if that works with RMJ. As we see more RMJ across the country perhaps we will see more examples of how different artists handle these trees. My only comment about the deadwood is that at the current viewing angle it visually feels too vertical – meaning almost 3 vertical or slightly off vertical sections of deadwood with the crown below and behind. There is something about this rhythm that feels slightly off – although the main deadwood to the left with that big curve at the top left does help….

    • crataegus says:

      I previously said I would not comment on this tree and let others do so. But I’ll say a few words since the commentary has been so accurate and interesting.

      It does feel slightly off and I admit I wanted that. It’s a weird thing to say, but I thought the tree was edgy and not nice with the usual harmonies we expect from bonsai. This one creates an emotional response from people—many of which are emotions like ‘uncomfortable’. Where is it stated that all bonsai must make us feel peaceful? Especially with the forms we get from the mountains—that is hardly a peaceful, harmonized environment. So when this tree makes us feel incomplete or off a bit, I’m encouraged. It’s not a nice tree. Mqybe we encounter our own disharmonies when looking at it.

      I also wanted a small mass of foliage to set off the dynamism and language between the elements of deadwood—movement that you either will like or you won’t. I tried to keep the foliage minor, so that the deadwood would be as present and in your face as possible—and perhaps, as irritating. I’m not sure if in person it has any different feeling. Maybe. But the other front and inclination options would have tamed the deadwood somewhat…which seemed a shame to me, but then there are many options with a tree as wild as this.

      I’m enjoying ALL the commentary on this ridiculous tree! Thanks everyone. Please keep them coming-

  9. Dan W. says:

    I totally agree. Art should move us…emotionally…spiritually. Peacefulness is only one feeling out of many.

    I find it cramping when some make the suggestion that all bonsai should be perfectly balanced or peaceful…or even old. I agree that in general the “old” trees with more character are much more interesting…but I also feel that having a couple of spry, youthful trees on the bench can really add another element of enjoyment… for me anyway. — Some “uncomfortable” trees also add to the diversity of ones experience with bonsai.

    Great work! And thanks for sharing your philosophy behind what you create!

  10. MPN says:

    I much prefer the first photo.
    Awesome material!

  11. Attila says:

    Yes, the deadwood is definitely distracting, but that’s what I love about this tree: the boldness of the strokes, to use a brush-painter’s analogy.
    Being distracted by such a gorgeous deadwood that looks like a charging scorpion is very refreshing.

  12. chis says:

    After looking at this tree a couple of times over the past two weeks I thought this design would grow on me. A lot of comments being made about visual weight, intrinsic beauty (sounds like I date I had in high school…not pretty but great personality), dancing bug, brush strokes, etc. etc. I still don’t like it. I agree with MPN regarding the first pic. I would have liked to seen the tree designed from that perspective versus the “bug” design. But hey, to each their own. good conversation.

  13. seki bonsai says:

    I side with Mike. The edginess comes, perhaps, from the movement in all directions- like energy from an explosion, where we are used to seeing flowing soft asymetrical triangular shapes, this departs from that in that it all the jins are about equal in caliper and length. I think once the foliage fills out a bit more it will provide better balance to the deadwood. It will not possess so much visual weight once it is framed in green and in a proper pot.

  14. Rob Hawkins says:


    I see great promise in the deadwood, but (in my opinion) that can only be fulfilled if the live part provides adequate contrast, and then only if there is a harmony about the whole composition. So far, I see only promise and have no idea where you plan to take the composition. If it isn’t in a more consonant direction–rather than the present great dissonant one–I don’t think I, personally, would ever like the bonsai.

    Finally, I’d like to say something that’s in response to some of the other comments I’ve read: innovation doesn’t mean just doing something different. The difference has to be FUNCTIONAL; and in the case of bonsai, that means it contributes to a HARMONIOUS composition and thereby to the beauty and credibility of the product.

  15. ferdinand bondoc says:

    hey mike can you post this one gain in new pot?thanks

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