Hey folks! It’s getting close to the end of September and I’ve been meaning to get this post out for a couple of weeks now. Better late than never. I’d like to share a few photos. Mostly a series of progression, before and after photos of some of the project trees I’ve worked on from late August until the time of publishing this post.
Some of this stuff has already been on Instagram and some will be seen here for the first time. Mostly juniper work has been done lately, but there are a couple of pines in here too. Please keep in mind that all of this work is study material and as an apprentice my skill set is a work in progress (this is actually true for everyone, not just apprentices). Hopefully this can serve as a bench mark that we can look back on as the skill set continues to grow.
On with the photos!
Up first is this field grown shimpaku juniper in the 20-30 year old range. This is really great material since it is so dense. Plenty of branches to work with and lots of strong healthy foliage.
First things first I cleaned up the foliage to see what I’m working with. As you can see, I cut off a lot of stuff. Now we can clearly view the structure of the tree and there is still plenty of strong healthy foliage to work with.
Next I made a few adjustments to the structure by removing 3 large branches. One in the front and 2 just behind the main branch. Additionally at this phase I cleaned up the trunk and made some changes to the living tissue in order to show off the strong live vein that seems to have been developing for quite a long time.
Next I wired the largest branches and set the structure in place. Additionally I removed one more branch from the front that I was unsure about earlier on. Doing this allowed me to open up the live tissue on the trunk a little bit more.
Once the structure was set I wired all of the small branches and fine tuned the shape of the tree in an evenly balanced way that will allow it to quickly become dense and full, not just in the front but the back and sides too. The result 2 or 3 years from now will be a bonsai that is structurally sound, dense and ready to be detail wired again. At that time creating small pads and more definition in the foliage mass will be possible. If we skip this important step and jump straight to making nice definition and small pads now, it would result in a bonsai that can look good in the front but doesn’t have a full foliage mass. Basically the back of the tree would be empty. This tactic is often used to quickly make a tree look nice for a photo, which is ok but at some point it has to come back to this stage to be a complete tree. Might as well do it now.
At this point there is not much more that can be done safely. The next step will be re-pot and a slight angle change. This amount of work is fairly safe to do on a tree of this age and strength at one time, especially with the proper after care. However, if in doubt about how far to go in one session you can give a few months buffer between each step shown in this progression.
One last shot in front of the black screen showing the future front and potting angle. The light in this photo really washed out the detail of the trunk, but you can still see the tree so it’s good enough. :p
Next is a black pine that I wired for one of Aichien’s customers. This tree is pretty nice and has a lot of potential. The task for now is to get the structure set up so we have a strong foundation to build on. The obvious problem with the current state of the tree is that the needles are really long. Since this tree does not live at Aichien, I can’t say for sure why the needles are so long. My guess is that it received too much water and too much fertilizer directly after its last round of candle cutting. Luckily, it can all be fixed within a couple of years by keeping the tree here at Aichien and getting it on the same maintenance cycle as the rest of the pines.
To get started I cleaned everything up by pulling the old needles and removing all of the branches that I knew for sure I could not use. Basically the same starting point as the first tree in this post.
Jumping to the finish here, I removed two branches from the front/right side and set the branch structure in place. Turning all of the buds up is important not only for the look of the tree, but for balanced growing as well. When the branches are this floppy and the needles are this long its easy for the higher branches to block out the sun from the lower branches. By pointing all of the buds toward the sky we can increase the chance for all buds to get the proper amount of sunshine. Next spring we will cut the candles and start working towards more density and shorter needles.
Up next is another field grown shimpaku. This tree is already fairly well established so the main focus here is getting it tuned up and looking its best. I did a minimal amount of wiring with this tree in an effort to preserve the nice natural feel that it has.
Thats it, basically I just washed the pot and took a different photo. Ok well maybe there was a little more to it than that but the changes are subtle. I cleaned up the dead wood and put a little time in to correcting a lot of old tool marks and evidence of carving by the previous owner. Thought the light washed out the detail, the dead wood looks much more natural now and will continue to improve with a bit more age. Also I made the live vein a bit thinner and pulled the apex down to get the foliage more compact and closer to the trunk. A little bit of detail wiring and snatched the foliage off of the bottom of the branches and its a done deal. For a quick clean up project, I think this tree turned out nice and was a lot of fun to work on.
Up next is another shimpaku, however this one is a bit older and unlike the others in this post this material was originally collected from the mountains (or at least some hills some where in a natural type setting or maybe it was air layered off of a larger tree, honestly I cant say for sure where it came from but i know its not field grown stock.)
So its easy to see that I made the tree much shorter. Maybe a bit to much, but it was intentional knowing that the apex will quickly fill out by the end of next growing season. I wanted to make a more compact tree with this one and the short main branch kind of dictated the shape of the rest of the tree. Now that its set up in this fashion, it will continue to improve as it grows out a bit. There was also a significant portion of the live vein dead in the center. Once I got it all cleaned up it left two thin viens as opposed to the previous single live vien, nice!
Next is an old red pine that has been here at Aichien for a while. Within the last 2 or 3 years Mr.Tanaka repotted it and set the angle and front. My task was to wire it and set the structure. The main branch had to be bent a lot, so I carefully broke it in a couple of places. Red pines are the worst when it comes to bending with confidence. The branches dont give much warning before completely breaking off. So I had to be really careful with this one.
Unfortunately I didnt get any more photos for this tree. I really wish I would have taken some closer shots of the structure before work. Anyhow, I recruited that piece of re-bar to serve as an anchor point when I pulled the main branch in to place. I really like this tree, looking forward to watching it progress as it continues its journey into refinement. Great practice material!
The last tree for this post is another field grown shimpaku. This tree didnt really have much potential and I spent a good amount of time rolling all of the options around in my mind before getting started. The good sides of this material is the thick trunk and strong foliage, the down side is that it looks like it was just shoveled out of the field and plopped into this pot. All of the large branches are way to thick and grew really fast, making them difficult and risky to bend. There is also nothing particularly interesting about the trunk and to be honest this thing looks just like 10 million other field grown shimpakus in Japan. So the challenge was to give it some kind of identity and hopefully make it a bit more interesting.
This is roughly the angle I chose for the front. Though its not 100% clear to see, most of the branches are growing from the top of the tree and sag down toward the base.
Here is a shot of the back of the tree. You can get an idea of the branch placement in this photo.
Here is a shot of the back of the tree. You can get an idea of the branch placement in this photo. I went through the same steps with this tree as I did for the tree at the start of this post. With the addition of a little bit more dead wood work.
And here is the finished set up. I’ve got it propped forward to show the future potting angle. This tree was truly an exercise in creating something from very little and I really got a chance to use my imagination to put things into place. Obviously this tree is going to need some root work to get it in the right size pot, but it wont be much trouble. As the tree becomes more dense I think things will really come together when the foliage starts creeping through the dead wood near the apex. I’m happy with the way this one turned out.
Well thats all I’ve got for now. My plan is to continue putting more effort into taking photos so I can do more posts like this in the future. It’s not an easy habit to get into. Usually I get half way in to a project and then remember that I want to take photos of this stuff. I’ll get it figured out one of these days.
Also, this September marks my 18th month as an apprentice here at Aichien. There is still a lot more experience to be gained. So this post will be interesting to look back on in the future. As more progress is made, the quality of the trees I’m given to work one will likely increase as well. It’s all very exciting. Please stick around and see where things go from here!
Thanks for reading! Also in the hopper, I’ve got the follow up to last months “New Old Stock” article. So keep your eyes out for that one, should be up before the end of this month!
Until next time…