Minimalist Hemlock Styling~

This mountain hemlock clump, Tsuga mertensiana, was featured in a styling post some years ago, and after a recent reworking felt ready for a revisit. Since the styling it’s been placed on a Corian slab, and moss has taken over.

This one seems to slow down visitors. With some curiosity, I’ve watched some literally come to standstill in front of it, as if listening. I don’t know what that’s about, though it’s an interesting response. The tree is very large, about 6′ tall.

I collected this tree with Bobby Curttright seemingly forever ago, though it was likely only about 6 years or so. I’m full of ponderables today—bonsai appears to both compact and expand time, depending on what part of it you’re connecting to. Today it’s the expanding part.

The tree however is in the present (and the past at the same time, if you’re counting rings…) and is patiently sitting out the drizzly winter in Portland, Oregon, should you care to visit. We have umbrellas.

Raw tree after several years growing in a box. The slope of the original soil mass was so steep we engineered the box to simply merge with the slope.

First styling, in 2017.

And the slab preparation. We used a Corian slab here, a common countertop material. Andrew in the back with the slab itself, Alan cutting out feet.

Laura painting the bevel.

The roots out of the box.

Preparing the root mass for the slab.

Using a muck wall to complete the design, and filling in with media.

Punching holes on the bottom of the muck wall so we don’t get a water blowout.

Alan sporting a wry hoodie~

Here’s where we ended the potting-up day, with a bit of late afternoon light.

After three years of growth, this is the tree today, January 2020. For design, I wanted to give the feeling of a clump of trees on a slope, perhaps a hint of a prevailing wind. And rather than reverse energy which we usually do (planting the tree on the right and having the flow go left, for instance), simply have it continue going right. Everything to the right. Which isn’t the most dynamic of ideas, but…I wanted to try it. Feel free to comment~

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  1. Ken Credeur says:

    VERY NICE!!!

  2. Lani Black says:

    You know the feeling you get when you get up to the higher elevations and suddenly there are these tiny alpine trees that are natural bonsai. I think that’s why people stop when they see this composition.

  3. Skipp Serrano. says:

    A bit large, but a beautiful rendition, never the less. I’m surprised that large a tree can thrive in such small amount of soil. Congratulations.

  4. Cindy Rodkin says:

    Great post thank you Michael!

  5. Karen says:

    The steep slope and having the tree at the top of it with a rightward flow of the branching gives the feeling that you are standing at the top of a very tall hillside. It suggests the feel of the wind up that high. You can imagine taking one step too far…to the right, of course. It creates a subtle hint of a dark (hopefully far off) future where a big storm will threaten to toss this tree over the edge. There is that suggestion of risk and also of the tree’s spirit possibly savouring the desire to fly one day. If you had planted the tree in the conventional position the whole story would have been missed. Very inspired! You spoke of time in your blog–this tree’s setting speaks to the future that is seeded in the present. Mesmerizing…..

  6. John Many says:

    VERY, VERY, nice tree!! The landscaping is not bad either!

  7. Nicholas B says:


    This tree made me stop too. It feels ancient, graceful, and peaceful. Some trees simply look like a tree on a bench. Or perhaps that they are no longer wild.

    Some of your hemlocks look like they are simply visiting for a short while before they will return to the mountains for a few hundred years. This is one of those.

  8. John Wiessinger says:

    I REALLY like your hemlock group. The tree grouping looks to me as though it’s growing on a cliff face with that dropoff on the right side. I think your decision to have the trees “move right” is a good one too – it works for me. Furthermore, the unusual pot/planting makes it all different and certainly draws attention. There are so many traditional pots out there – we need some artistic creativity and you certainly achieved it. Love your work!!!!!
    John Wiessinger – Ithaca

  9. Stephen Parker says:

    Great work very impressive may I make some suggestions to improve your bonsai maybe replace the slab with a rock with a lot character to mirror the trees

  10. Tom Martin says:

    Simply mesmerizing! So utterly realistic and contemplative. The simple concept of working with a 6 foot tall bonsai in such a container boggles the mind. Congratulations. Would love to see this at the US National in September but how on earth would it be transported? Umm, hold my beer!

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