New Old Stock: Aichien Shimpaku Project, episode 2

Hey everybody!  It’s Danny, back again with the second installment of the “New Old Stock” series.  Just in case you didn’t have a chance to read the first episode, I’ll briefly get you up to speed.  In August I was assigned to work on 2 old Aichien shimpaku junipers.  The trees were grown by Mr. Takana’s Grandfather, spending about 30 years in the field before being moved to bonsai pots where they have spent the last 50 years practically un-touched.  Check out the first episode to get the full story.

Lets jump right into it with the baseline shot of the tree.

Baseline

Baseline shot

Ok so I’ve skipped over the clean up process photos and decided to go directly to the photo of the tree all cleaned up and ready for work.  Basic clean up work was done.  Live vein cleaned, dead wood cleaned and lime sulfured, and un-necessary foliage removed.  Also, based on Mr.Tanaka’s recommendation,  I cut off 2 fairly large branches from the left side of the tree (as shown).  This angle will likely be the approximate new front as well.

Unlike the tree I styled in episode 1, this bonsai has been styled once before.  Several years ago, Mr.Tanaka allowed an apprentice from another local nursery test his skills on this tree.  Lucky for me, he didnt really do much in the first styling.  So I’ll get to properly set the structure and put this tree on a course toward it’s refinement stage.

If you look closely at the locations of all of the branches on the trunk, you will notices that there is not a single branch that does not have a large amount of deadwood moving through it.  This means that every branch will need to be carefully broken or cut to allow them to bend into place.  In this situation I find it’s easiest to pre-break the branch and then use a pseudo guy wire to hold the bend in place as opposed to using large wire at the junction of branch and trunk then attempting to bend and break at the same time.  It is easy to use the simpler method here because these branches only need movement in one direction, down.  If the situation called for more twisting and moving and complex bends, I would go for the option of wiring everything completely.

I started the process with the branch just above the first big bend, about half way up.  Normally I would work from the bottom up, but the final position of this branch would determine how far the rest of the branches need to move.  So I decided to start here.

Branch1

Branch1break

Break using pliers.

There was a small hole here that the pliers fit into nicely, making it a good location to break the dead wood.

Branch1break2

busted

Branch1Bend

bent

Take a step back and see how things are falling into place.

Take a step back and see how things are falling into place.

On to the next branch.  This one is a little bit behind and a little bit higher than the last branch shown.  To break this one I decided to use a twisting motion in the direction I needed the branch to move.  This was also in the same direction of the grain, so it was not so difficult to get it to do what I needed it to do.

Branch2Close

lets go!

Branch2Break1

Broken

Branch2break2

Opening up, still a little more to go.

Branch2break3

The limit.

So at this point the branch is broken and bend to its limit.  Though these branches are not very thick, they are a bit of a challenge to break.  Not because of their strength, but because of how sensitive they are.  The line between where I want to put them and where they will not survive is very thin.  Obviously, keeping them alive after the bend is ideal, though it doesn’t always work out like that.  A bit of experience goes a long way with knowing where the limit is but even then there are no guarantees.

Next is the main branch.  This one is really delicate and the live vein is pretty thin.  Breaking it right at the trunk appeared to be the safest route and it prevented me from having to make any breaks along the length of the branch, increasing the chances of success.

Branch3

1

2

2

3

3

Ok, now that the lower half is mostly set lets take a step back and see how things are looking.

Half way

Half way

At the half way point it starts to become a lot easier to visualize the finished product.  Now we can really see where things will be positioned moving forward.

The next branch is near the top, on the left side.  I need it to rotate forward and down.  The area where it connects to the trunk has a strange bend and mix of live and dead wood.  So to safely move this one I’m going to cut through the dead wood to free the branch up for safe bending.

Branch4

Close up of the junction to be cut

Close up of the junction to be cut

in action.

in action.

Cut and bent.

Cut and bent.

In position

In position

Once this branch was cut it moved very easily with little risk of damaging the live tissue.

The next branch to be moved is the thickest branch close to the apex.  This branch needs to change position by several degrees and it not only thick but has a significant amount of dead wood with a very thin area of live tissue.  In order to move this safely I want to avoid breaking the dead wood as much as possible.  If it breaks, it’s likely to break all the way through and damage the live tissue.  Thus killing the branch.  So in an effort to maintain complete control of the bend I plan to scoop out as much of the dead wood as possible, allowing me to bend just the live tissue without damaging it.

Branch5

Branch5Top

Top view

In the top view photo above, you can see the dead area somewhat clearly.

bottom view

bottom view

Cutting and digging and removing dead wood.

Cutting and digging and removing dead wood.

Set up and bent

Set up and bent

Once the cut was made and cleaned up I then applied wire to the surrounding branches and topped it all of with a guy wire insulated with a piece of rubber hose to protect the branch from being cut by the wire.  Sometimes I’ll tie the guy wire over the entire set up like this and sometimes I’ll simply tie the guy wire to one of the copper wires on a near by branch.  Both work well, this way is not as pretty but I find it to be the most effective especially since this tree is in the structural set up phase.  We dont have to be so concerned with concealing wires

Branch5Side

Side View

The photo above shows a side view of the big branch after being cut wired and bent down.

Ok lets step back again and take a look at the tree now that all of the large branches have been moved into place.

StructureSet

Structure set

Alright, now that the structure is in place I’ll set up the smaller branches and try to get all of the foliage spaced out evenly.

Final

Final

With the foliage arranged like this we give everything an equal opportunity to take in as much sunlight as possible.  I feel like doing this really helps the tree bounce back quickly from this type of work. Additionally it sets everything in a good position to grow.  Over the next couple of years each small pad will continue to expand until eventually it almost becomes one unified mass of foliage.  At that point, it can be detail wired and really start showing signs of being a finished bonsai.

At the time of writing this I thought it’d be nice to pull the tree in the workshop and take a photo in front of the black screen.  This photo is about 5 weeks after the final photo shown above.

Final2

Just 5 weeks after styling

After only 5 weeks its easy to see that the tree is feeling fine after all of the work performed.  The pads are already beginning to put on a little extra mass and take a shape of their own.

And incase anyone has noticed the black wire on the first branch…

Tape

Tape

When copper wire oxidizes on dead wood it leaves black marks that are really hard to remove.  In an effort to avoid this I thought I’d try wrapping the copper wire in insulating tape to protect the branch from future oxidation.  We’ll see how it does.

Well that’s it folks!  I’m all out of photos.

As always, thanks for reading and supporting me as I continue to grow and learn bonsai here at Aichien in Nagoya Japan.

Until next time…

Danny