Cantilevered, Ancient Vine Maple on a Board—

Here’s a project long in the dreaming—a Vine Maple on a metal / slab support. I’ve enjoyed cantilevered forms for their suggestion of precariousness. Which nature has in abundance.

The tree was collected from the Oregon Cascades in 2020. It’s an old thing, with a rotted base that’s seen many trunks die back and new ones grow over a long time. How long? I’ve no idea. There’s no rings to read. It’s older than the cup of Roma I’m nursing, and may even be older than the state of Oregon. I’ve counted as many as 180 annual growth rings on the Vine Maples up in our mountains.

Hope you enjoy. We’ll revisit this one once moss has grown over the muck, the branches are adjusted, and it’s friendlier to look at.


Vine Maple before our project began. This was collected in the fall of 2020. 


After 1 1/2 years, roots have colonized the box. The lightweight perlite from the box worked great with the raised form we made, as weight was an issue. I didn’t have the project fleshed out when we boxed it, so that was just luck. 


Starting to draw in the sand…a cardboard sketch served as our template for the Corian board…


Cutting the Corian board. 


Tying down the root mass to the board. The angle of the wire will prevent the root mass from sliding down the slab when on the tilted support. Lot of physics involved with these wonky presentations…


The first of several bamboo shafts that hold the sphagnum moss extension in place. No root went out that far. Yet.


Tried two new things this time: Added our favorite binder to sphagnum moss, cooked corn starch, before pressing and squishing into the roots. This stiffened and stabilized the moss. Then we painted a thin slurry of akadama / corn starch muck over the top of the sphagnum. Like stucco. 


Seasonal class participants busy with their paint (muck?) brushes. Starting to look like a coconut caramel pastry. Deciduous trees on slabs do well with water-holding media, hence the veneer of sphagnum around the root mass.


At the end of our first day we had…a bird skull? Sprouting wild feathers? One student thought so. 


Round two. Buds are swelling. Evan supports the mass at a jaunty angle while “The Hand” makes an emphatic point (I think this is Erich).


Taking over from “The Hand” I make a few wiggly hand movements, and the band plays on.


OK, finished. Here it is in the garden, at the end of our fourth session (the metal support needed a tweak in round three). This is from the back. The rotted out base, which feels like a feature, isn’t seen from this view. Hence my sense this is the back. 


Might look better out of leaf. We have carving and minor branch adjustment ahead of us, but not much. I like the wildness. It was a fun experiment, and my thanks to the ever-changing cast that helped. Erich, thanks for your welding wizardry. For the next cantilevered project maybe we’ll try a metal slab “shadow” rather than the “tuning fork” support we have here. We have a wicked hemlock on the docket next spring…

This is our second cantilevered presentation. The first was ”The Boot” (alternately “The Moose”). I feel the cantilever throws a bit of precariousness into the mix. Lost trunks, the rotted base, the cracked branches from snow—these suggestions of fragility and vulnerability often feel at odds with the stable, “You’ll be just fine” foundations we provide our bonsai, in clean-lined pots. Of course that’s the usual storyline—“Hey, look at this thing, it’s endured everything thrown at it, it will always be so.” And that’s an inspiring message. But I think this other way is also true. That it might fall over and be trampled by elk or absorbed by a fungus at any moment is also possible. What’s true in bonsai can be many things. I don’t think it’s singular.

May 2022 Bulletin Board:

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  1. crust says:

    Wow, such an insightful post!

  2. Roseanne Moresco says:

    WOW WOW WOW ~ inspiring, creative project!!

  3. RAY NORRIS says:

    Great project Michael, I’ve been trekking in the woods here looking for the right tree.
    Wish I lived closer to visit and learn more often

    Sent from my iPhone

  4. philip l harden says:

    Lookin marvelous. And we all know that it is better to look marvelous than to feel marvelous.

  5. This was fun! Ready for more.

  6. Michael Westervelt says:

    Is this the infamous vine maple that nearly made John a uniped?

  7. Skipp Serrano says:

    I get a lot of ideas from your posts. Most of all I cant help but admire your courage to experiment. While some of your ideas are way out, there is always a sense of fun and purpose to the madness. Keep it up.

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