On-Sale Buxus

This could be the start of something good.

Here’s a fine boxwood (buxus sempervirens) I discovered at the local nursery this past September. Fall is a great time to buy pre-Bonsai as nurseries are looking to dump excess inventory. Typically, everything left over from the “landscaping season” is deeply discounted.

I selected this particular tree for its nicely defined twin trunk, and its impressive roots.

Here, it is shown with about 60% of the original foliage removed. It still has a long way to go – and I’m looking forward to getting it into a training pot in a few years.


The finer things

Bill Bonsai

A great shot of Bill tending to a newly acquired tree.

A fine evening, a few cold sudsy beverages, a great friend, and Bonsai.

Here’s to the finer things in life!

Ficus: Evolution of design and the sting of defeat

This young ficus started as one of five in a group planting in spring 2007. Potted together with its brethren, it occupied a space atop our bathroom cabinet, where it received adequate humidity and consistent, but artificial light.

Shortly after planting, most of the others started to suffer from what I now suspect was a lack of light.

Their decent was rapid. Death came swiftly.

This little guy, after repotting, hung on however.

July 2008

Once placed in fresh soil and in an east facing window (as pictured) it flourished despite the sudden lack of humidity it now faced.

Still, its growth was steady, but slow.

Sept 2010

Here it is again, weakened considerably after a move from New England to Virginia.

At some point, after several of the initial main branches had died back, I decided it needed a redesign, as the semi cascade no longer worked given the remaining sparse foliage.

While repotting, I discovered the roots hadn’t developed much at all, and hardly enough to tie into the pot with wire. Once repositioned, it wobbled terribly. Hence the crutch, which helped to anchor it in position and in a way help to convey the sense of an old and weathered tree.

But I have to be honest. After more than three years of watching this poor thing struggle to survive, I wasn’t optimistic.

August 2011

Here, you can see the foliage has recovered, and after struggling to find the best expression for it, I finally achieved what I think is the best representation.

At the time, it had several new new little sprouts at the top which would eventually help to fill out the apex.

Things were looking up, or so I thought.

Longevity was just not in the cards for this guy. After nearly five years of slow growth and being subjected to either inadequate light or a lack of humidity – in some case both – it finally joined its brothers in sisters in the great compost bin in the sky.

Ficus, a species with tropical origins, is a tough species to provide optimal conditions for, at least in my experience in New England and Virginia.

I find this is true of indoor bonsai in general. Comparatively speaking, the indoors is a dark and dry climate really, and not ideal for growing bonsai.

I’ve tried many times, and as a result, I’ve killed many trees.

But, as the great bonsai master John Naka said, “Killing trees is the tuition you pay for learning bonsai.”

So true. With living sculpture, failure hurts – big time – but it’s necessary.

Results: 2012 growing season

I figured before I got too busy with other things, I would make some photographs to show for some of the work from this year’s growing season.

Not entirely sure what species this is. Crape Myrtle maybe. I’ve yet to research it deeply.

The reason I don’t know the species is the same reason why I beam with pride when I look at this tree. I was on my way home one day, when I passed by a few items being discarded on the side of the road, among them a large sturdy 5-gallon growing pot with a dead and severely hard-pruned stub sticking out of bone dry soil.

Because I sometime collect trees from the wild, which require a few seasons in a large pot, I’m always on the lookout for large containers. And this was perfect. My initial thought was to simply grab hold of the stump, and simply slide the compact soil right out of the pot and leave it behind. Given the dryness of the soil, this would have happened easily. But as I reached down and got a hold of the stump, I saw to my surprise a small green bud no bigger than a pencil lead. I almost didn’t see it. I thought, “why not?” and pciked up the pot and put it in the car, soil, stump and all.

I watered it well when I got home and kept it in the shade for a few days, and well, the rest is history.

I let it grow for a few weeks to build up vigor – and man did it grow like crazy – before I started to prune. Prior to what is pictured, it looked like a mop. I couldn’t even see inside the pot.

Once trimmed, I began incrementally clearing the soil from the top down and around the base to reveal the exquisite roots below.

I just love this little orphan tree. It has a long way and several seasons of training to go before we can call it a bonsai, but to think how far it’s already come since the side of the road brings me great joy.

~ Hinkoi Cyprus ~

Hinoki Cypress is a species I’ve always wanted to work with, and when I found a late-season sale at my favorite local nursery, it was on.

When I found this it was straight as an arrow. It had a wonderful branch structure, marvelous roots, and just a bit of dead wood at the base of the trunk for carving later.

Really, when choosing nursery stock, I couldn’t have asked for more.

I original envisioned this as a tall upright, but once I finished the major pruning, with the remaining chosen branched in tact, it really called for some motion. I knew it was going have be wired.

I wrapped the better part of it in raffia to protect it, and started wiring and bending, and carried out additional minor pruning as needed.

I suspect the wire will stay on until mid next summer, provided the branched don’t swell to much. In that case, to avoid scarring, it would come off sooner.

But I like where we are with it now and I don’t expect to do much more with it this year.

It still has a way to go, namely the foliage needs to fill out more especially in the top branches and crown.

And with the right winter protection, it should emerge next spring summer full and green and ready to go into a proper bonsai pot.

~ Gardenia ~

~ Japanese Holly ~

~ Privet ~

~ Local Variety (unknown) ~

The Ancient Forest

May 2012
Blue Rug Juniper
with locally collected:

• drift wood
• river stones
• moss
• hand-sifted gravel

Eventually, these little guys will each stand on their own as stately icons, but the bamboo supports will probably stay on for a season, likely two. Tying each branch upright was painstaking, but well worth the effort.

The magnificent round pot belonged to Kumi’s grandfather in Japan.

After about three years of training and feeding, I suspect this little display will be most impressive.

Mini Schefflera

While not characteristically a tree, a tree-like appearance can be achieved with Schefflera by simple pruning and minor wiring.

This particular tree was initially planted with a group of seven at Home Depot. I think I maybe paid $7 for the whole pot of them.

This is typically how Schefflera is sold.

They were originally about 8 to 10 inches tall. After repotting them as individuals, I cut them all back to about two inches high, leaving a lower branch on each. Not all pulled through. In fact most died. But the ones that made it were better for it.

As you can here the bottom branch, because it was on the tree when I bought it, is both longer and thicker than the remaining branches at the top. They are all new growth that sprouted soon after cutting the trunk back.

It all comes together to suggest a stout and solitary old tree in a meadow.

Schefflera is among the cheapest, most forgiving and easiest-to-find species to work with for indoor bonsai, which in my opinion makes it an ideal starter species for a beginner, or an alternative and fun species for even the most experienced.



Dwarf Alberta Spruce: From Dwarf to Bonsai

November 2010

Here is your very basic – and very conical – Dwarf Alberta Spruce that I picked up at the local nursery. I hadn’t yet worked with this species, and I had an idea of what kind of Bonsai it could be made into.

As you can see below, there’s no going back now.

With a large portion of the foliage cut away, and many of the needles painstakingly removed from the base of the branches, the trunk line is beginning to take shape. I mean really, can you think of a better a way to spend a cool and quiet Virgina November night?

And here’s where it ends, for this season anyway.

Tall, dignified and showing its “age,” this stately exhibit will need a long rest before I continue training it. It’ll spend the winter in a quiet, and wind-free corner on the porch. In the spring, when new buds emerge and the pads of foliage start to fill out, I’ll consider repotting in a real bonsai tray.

April 2011 – Next stage: The big bend

Surprisingly, this young guy survived the major work done in the fall.

My worries were that after the I did the major pruning and made the long intentional scar that runs the length of the trunk, I thought that it might not pull through. It was a major shock to the tree, no doubt, and probably not the best thing to do to such a young tree right before going into winter.

Nonetheless – it made it, and is thriving this spring with much new growth. I’ve been pinching back many newly emerged budding shoots, to help maintain thickness in the foliage pads and keep the desired shape. Nature has a funny way of working things out too.

As you’ll notice since last year, the tree dropped two main branches that I had left on after the initial hard prune. This was more a blessing than a curse, I think, as the tree looks better now.

With the branches well defined, I felt comfortable introducing the big bend that I had envisioned last year. The thing with these Alberta Spruce is that they are incredibly springy little conifers. I could leave that bending apparatus on for a year I bet, and it would still spring right back to being straight within a week or two. But we’ll see. After second thinking, it’s still too early to think about re-potting. So I can leave it just as is for a few years any way.

Next fall, or maybe even late winter, I intend to prune back the top a bit, just enough to bring the tree’s outline more into being triangular, which is ideal for conifers. (their natural grown habit is typically conical.)

I added some surface moss and a rock for a small effect. My thinking here is that a round, smooth rock creates a strong visual tension against the linear, rough lines of the tree, thus complimenting each other.

The next step this summer, which I started already, is to finely work the detail of the scar along the trunk. I need to give it more attention with the Dremel, and then lime sulfur will be applied to it, which will bleach and define it, making it look realistic.


Nursery Stock Juniper

April 16, 2010 – Here’s a young juniper (Procubens Nana,) nearly as it was when I selected it from the nursery. I had already started to clear away foliage from the base of the trunk.

I was drawn to the nice flow of the trunk line. Like most, this little guy was previously grown to complement a shrub garden, spending it’s life creeping along the ground.

But I had higher hopes for him …

April 17, 2010 – Here it is after the first hard prune. The pot I selected, given to me by Kumi’s grandmother in Japan, belonged to Kumi’s grandfather and is a true honor to have.

It also helps to highlight nice reddish brown tones in the trunk.

Once potted and pruned, the little tree is just now starting to take on bonsai characteristics … but it still looks more like a garden shrub than a bonsai.

Sept 26, 2010 – The “finished” product – not that a Bonsai is every truly done.

Most of the foliage has been removed, exposing the wonderfully textured trunk, and a few branches have been stripped of their bark, resembling the old weathered branches of an ancient mountain conifer.

The stone is anchored by a hardware fixture I built in the bottom of it, and wired to the hole in bottom the pot.

For the most part, the basic shape and branch configuration will stay the same. It will be fun to watch this little guy fill out and thicken over the next few growing seasons.