New Old Stock:Aichien Shimpaku Project, episode 1

Hey everybody! It’s Danny, back again with this month’s article.  Last month I shared some highlights from the instagram account and promised to start sharing more of that content on this site.  Well,  I dropped the ball but I plan to pick it back up real soon.  I guess the only acceptable excuse is that I’ve been to busy studying bonsai to write about bonsai.

August in Nagoya Japan is unmercifully, unforgivingly and seemingly vindictively hot.  With a seasoning of fog like humidity and infinite mosquitos.  It’s the kind of heat where if I was home in the DC area I can imagine taking a walk and being accosted by a passer by saying stuff like “Is it hot enough for ya?!” To which I would likely reply with a fake half-smile and an involuntary slight upward head nod on the account of being to physically uncomfortable to come up with any better response.  This is a little bit like what I would imagine a bonsai’s response to being worked on during these relentless dog days.  The trees are doing their best just to stay alive, so recovering from heavy work is not always possible.  Shimpaku juniper work being somewhat of an exception.  Shimpakus are pretty tough and with the proper after care, we can do most work with very acceptable amounts of risk, even with the high temps.

Alright, let’s get into it.  The title of this article is New Old Stock.  Here’s the story.  There are a handful of old shimpaku junipers here at Aichien that have been hanging around for some time now.  Never wired, never styled.  About 80 years ago, Mr. Tanaka’s grandfather planted these shimpakus in one of the Aichien grow fields.  They spent the better part of 30 years just growing out there, then about 50 years ago they were collected and put in bonsai pots.  Since that time they have basically just been existing here at the nursery.  Getting daily water, occasional pest control, rarely cut and repotted as infrequently and physically possible.  The result is somewhat remarkable.  Trees that look more wild than domestic.  Without the backstory, it would be difficult even for seasoned professionals to determine if these trees are field grown or collected from the mountains.

So I got the approval to take one on as a project.  When I asked Mr. Tanaka what direction he would like me to nudge this tree into he simply replied “I don’t know.  It’s like a test”.  So I was left with nothing other than my experience and often unstable judgment as a guide to set this rare material in a direction that I hope would be considered “progress”.  In this article I’ll share a few pics of the journey.  And when I say a few, I really mean it.  I didn’t take enough photos while styling this tree.  The good news is I learned my lesson.  So for the second episode of this series, I’ve got plenty of photos.

On with the pics, all 4 of them…

baseline

baseline

So this is the baseline photo.  I’ve chosen this angle as the front and leaned the tree forward some to get it more centered.  Looking nice right?  It’s amazing to think that a tree could spend this much time in a bonsai pot without ever being wired.  If you’ve got 80 to 100 years on your hands, get a few of these things going.  It’s fun material.

Clearly there is a lot of dead wood in the area where most of the branches fork from the trunk.  Right away I knew I was going to have to break a lot of it in order to make moves and put things in position.  Lets take a closer look at the busy area of the trunk, where most of the branches are coming from.

deadwooddetail

There are significant amounts of deadwood running through every major branch.  In order to make bends in this situation, much of the dead wood at the branch junctions had to be carefully broken or cut to allow the branch to move without damaging the thin and fragile veins of live tissue.

Structure set

Structure set

A little cleaning and the structure is set!  As a fitting testament to my faulty journalism skills I set the entire structure of the tree before considering picking up the camera.  So now we’re left with this massive gap in coverage where the tree goes from raw material to a tree with the structure set in place.  Hopefully, from the 2 previously provided photos you can get somewhat of an idea about what just happened.  If you A/B it a few times you’ll figure it all out.  Next phase is fine tuning and details.

Final1

After putting the main structure in place I set the foliage up and removed un-necessary greenery in an effort to get the tree growing in a state of equilibrium, everything growing evenly.  Just as I was taking this photo Mr. Tanaka came out to the work shop.  It was about 10:30-11 p.m.  We talked about the tree some and the work I performed.  Overall, he liked the progress but instructed me to make 2 changes.  The first change being to bring the lowest branch down even lower.  This change came as no surprise to me but I knew that this branch was really close to its limit.  So I asked him to take a look before I go further.  He gave me the green light to push it more and I quickly made the change.  The second change I didn’t see coming.  Completely blind sided and I liked it.  It’s always a chance to learn when something is pointed out that I did not previously notice.  I was instructed to remove a big branch near the apex.  Since I had the camera out, Mr.Tanaka shot a few photos of me in action and got several laughs out of me while I was trying to work.

Here we go!

Here we go!

gone forever.

gone forever.

Final2

Passed the test, barley.

With that heavy branch gone from the upper area of the tree we can get a much better feeling of the trunk movement.  Additionally, the tree is now in better balance.  Where previously the main branch seemed a little weak, it is now in closer proportion with the vigor of the majority of the foliage.  Not a massive change, but it made a big difference in the feeling of the composition.  I learned a lot from this project!  At the end of the night, this tree had way more style than I did.

One last shot, just the tree this time.

Final3

So that’s its.  The first wiring and styling of this tree after 80 years of being grown as bonsai material.  It’s good to keep in mind that this work is just the initial set up.  Now that the tree’s style and layout is established, the next phase is keeping it strong and healthy so it can begin to fill in to its new shape naturally.  In the next 2 or 3 years it will put on a lot of new foliage and begin to look much more mature. The re-pot will be fairly stressful, so we will likely wait 1 full year before removing the soil and permanently re-setting the angle/front.

Note: At the time of writing this article, about 4 weeks have passed since this work was performed and everything is still alive and growing.

Additional note: After working on this tree I did similar work on another tree from the same batch and took plenty of photos along the way.  So stay tuned for more in the next episode of New Old Stock!

On that note, I’ll say goodbye for now.  Thanks again for reading and keeping up with my bonsai adventure at Aichien.

Until next time…

Danny