Choosing the Front: Old Collected Trees

How do we choose a front on an older, collected tree?

A few tips:

  • Keep an eye out for fronts that show a trunk line that is not an S curve
  • Use the special features of the tree; this might be unusual movement, shari, live vein, jin, old branch, cavity, or even bark
  • Be willing to have a pigeon breast if other, greater features may be featured
  • Clean the dead areas of the tree of bark, exposing shari that might influence front choice
  • Remember that inclination is as important as front, and is chosen at the same time
  • Be aware that large roots on collected trees can pose an angle limit to some inclinations, yet root mounds are more acceptable as well

Very old bunjin Ponderosa pine has all of 7 twists in the live vein (that’s 2,520 degrees). Several front and inclination choices exist for this one—tree from Backcountry Bonsai

A 7″ Rocky Mountain Juniper being grafted, with two possible fronts—tree collected by Backcountry bonsai. They nicknamed it ‘Dunkin’ (for Dunkin donuts).

This juniper has two front possibilities—tree collected by Randy Knight

A collected vine maple, yet to be styled—also two good front possibilities here

While not a collected tree, this cutting grown shimpaku has the same complexities and challenges in front choice—and that choice will have a lot to do with how the shari is created. Incidentally a client of mine grew this Chuhin-sized tree (medium-sized) in about 8 years from a cutting—great potential with not many years labor.

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  1. says:

    What a handsome group of bonsai enthusiasts!

    Follow your bliss – Joseph Campbell


  2. twiliter59 says:

    John Naka on deciding the front: “Find the back, and turn the tree 180 degrees.

  3. Shaahid says:

    Hi Michael. Excellent article. Can you please elaborate on point number 1.

    • crataegus says:

      Sure—the S curve is a simple shape. It gets boring with time. Try to find more engaging trunk lines from different views and inclinations. Inclinations can change the line of a trunk quite a bit, so get out the blocks and play around.

  4. John wiessinger says:

    Very helpful tips. I do appreciate!

  5. David Paul says:

    Hello and like others,
    Thank you for the helpful tips.
    I am curious on the grow boxes shown on the collected trees, I make some the same as viewed, but experiment with the bottom. Should it be mesh type? should the walls be mesh type? and with the front, I assume that is not decided(unless obvious) prior to going in the grow boxes, meaning take time and “absorb” the essence of the tree, then decide?
    Any thoughts are welcome, BE well!
    Davey from Boston.

    • crataegus says:

      Hi David, the bottom of the boxes are slatted, and between the slats about 1/2″ is left as a gap. There one can staple some screening. The walls are all wood. And as far as front goes, I try to have the inclination and front roughly positioned in the box if I can. Sometimes this is not possible, or, as you suggest, sometimes it hasn’t been found yet.

  6. Anthony G says:

    The cutting grown shimpaku is awesome.
    Was the cutting almost as big as the tree now?
    Or was the cutting a tiny thing and the curves on the trunk were made within 8 years?

    • crataegus says:

      The second—cutting was about 1/8″ diameter whip, then it was wired. In the first few years branches off that whip were also wired. The tree was successively in the ground, then out of the ground to work on it, then put in the ground again.

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