Vine Maple ‘Boot’ Styling…

For lack of a better title…The ‘Boot’. Long time followers of this blog know that I often name trees so that it’s easier to identify them. Not in the sense that they are serious NAMES that are sometimes given very, very good bonsai in Japan. It’s easier (and more fun) to say, ‘Let’s bring the Boot into the studio today’ than ‘Let’s bring the fourth Vine Maple to the left into the studio today’.

I collected this Vine Maple about a year and a half ago. Vine Maple is one of our more curious, long-lived understory trees here in the Pacific Northwest, USA. It looks a bit like Half-Moon Maple, but it’s more vigorous. And we can collect it. Having old, yamadori deciduous nearby is lucky in the extreme. Given other ring counts in the area, this tree is about 90 years old.

I’d been looking forward to doing something with this one ever since collecting it. I had very little idea what that ‘something’ might be, until this winter I was toying around with these interior supports I’ve been using for a couple of years, and wondered if a cantilevered bonsai was possible. We see so many trees growing off nurse logs up here, and some of them feel a bit precarious…

Like some of the other tree projects going on here, I used the sculptural idea of the ‘found object’ rather heavily. None of the branches of this maple have ever had wire on them, the challenge was to use what we found to its best advantage, without manipulation.

Enjoy the photo essay-


Our Vine Maple, tilted at the angle and viewed from the front we thought was most interesting. It does have a big rotted hole on the other side, and that, given the age of this tree, was also a possible front.


Some earlier work on the back. The left large branch is very straight, so we cut it off and carved it out…


…leaving this hole, which was designed to harmonize with the larger, natural hole.


Bobby beginning our soil removal.


Beginning to play around with the nylon support. (My grandfather, long since passed, wore this jacket when he was puttering around in his massive gladiolus beds. Since learning that I’ve worn it nearly nonstop in the bonsai garden.)


Our best guess at how the tree should rest on the support.


Bobby securing the counterweight…


…and tying on the sphagnum, tucked around the roots. This is another interesting angle of viewing, and gives a better sense of the projection toward the viewer from our chosen front.


The root mass floats a bit above the table, which looks like the odd rotted wood formations covered in moss that one sees here in the Northwestern forests, with various plants growing off them. This tree is still a bit of an ugly duckling, with some branches like the straight lower left one that I’ll shorten eventually, after the tree gets established. Small leaves are bursting out now, only a week after assembly. Somehow ‘assembly’ feels like a better word than ‘potting’…

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  1. backcountrydan says:

    I’m loving the creative freedom here! It get’s a bit old hearing everything someone “can’t” do in bonsai according to “so and so’s” rules of correctly making bonsai art… lol. — Agree, “assembly” is perfect. 🙂

  2. Peter says:

    Thank you for this post, Michael! I really enjoy seeing your creative, natural display of trees!

  3. paul3636 says:

    Not a comment. Question. No soil at all just moss?????

    • crataegus says:

      For now…just sphagnum moss, yes. I am not suggesting others try this, it’s still experimental. Good results over the last few years, though, with maples and accent plants. I wouldn’t use this with a pine. I’ll may introduce some soil to this composition in future years, carve some wedges out like one does for satsuki, perhaps. Sphagnum has a very slow decomposition rate, so it retains its structure for a very long time.

  4. Peter says:

    I am concerned that your apprentice feels the need to wear inappropriate shirts in an attempt to intimidate your trees! 😉

  5. Vern Maddx says:

    Very creative, ballsy and 100% American.

  6. Janet Roth says:

    What a cool project ! though I think “elk” or “moose” would be a better name than “boot” 🙂 Love your jacket !

  7. Dennis Keller says:

    I love the Dancing Native on the 5th picture,
    That was the first thing I saw!

  8. dangerousbry says:

    Reblogged this on BONSAI WALES – DangerousBry's Blog and commented:
    Creativity at its best!!!

  9. kevin s. says:

    now THAT is super rad !!!

  10. Robert says:

    This is creative and individual; I like the “explorative” nature of this.

  11. Jim Young says:

    Me too.


  12. Peter says:

    That’s a great tree! Nice work. Any trips planned to Vancouver island this year? If you have any yamadori vine maple you’d be interested in trading, I have several dozen Yamadori shore pine and hemlock available in my garden.

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