Saturday, July 7, 2012

Alaskan Yellow Cedar

I had the pleasure of participating in Dan Robinson's workshop on Alaskan Yellow Cedar a few weeks ago at the Visions of the American West convention in Denver.  Enrolling in this workshop was a bit risky since I wasn't familiar with this species, but I couldn't pass up an opportunity to work with Dan.  The taxonomy of the Alaskan Yellow Cedar is seemingly ever changing as described here.  In fact, its Latin name was changed yet again as recently as 2002.  Dan digs these from an alpine bog on Vancouver Island, where the acidity level of the soil is so high, it's hard to imagine life existing at all.  Along with each workshop tree, we were given a portion of the trunk to determine the age of the tree.  These trees continually layered, producing new roots as the ground level raised, so each had a portion of the trunk that was underground.  The growth rate is so slow, I will need to have this examined microscopically.  He estimated the age of his demonstration tree at 600 years. 

I did not capture photos of the other trees from the workshop, but most were slanted without much movement in the trunk line.  Dan mentioned that he was tempted to air layer many of these trees since the tops had such interesting deadwood and the many of the trunks lacked taper.  The tree I chose was the only one that was relatively columnar, but yet, it seemed to have some movement in the trunk when viewing from a certain angle.  Most of the four hour workshop was spent on carving using a Mikita die grinder - Dan's weapon of choice.  I spent the last half hour or so wiring the foliage.  Dan and I disagreed somewhat on the front, as he felt it was best to expose as many gnarled dead branches as possible, whereas, I preferred to expose the most trunk movement and taper, as seen here...

Many older trees, especially yamadori, have a main point of interest.  As bonsai artists, it is our objective to first see this, but then also to accentuate and draw focus to it.  This tree on the other hand seems to have many areas of interest, from its hollow trunk, to the gnarly jin at the base, which at one point was a root, to the intense dead, gnarled branches, to the beautiful array of colors seen when exposing the inner bark.

The tree seems to be adjusting fine to Nebraska, despite our very hot and humid conditions as of late.  It will be interesting to see how the tree reacts to transplanting and adjusting to a less acidic soil.  More photos of the convention and workshops, including some of myself and Dan working on this tree can be found here.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Larch Hybrid

This collected larch came to me from Alan Adair.  A Japanese/American hybrid.  This is the only photo I could locate of the tree at the time of purchase.

Last spring, I changed the planting angle to expose less surface roots and began the makings of a semi-cascade style bonsai.  I wired it this past week.  The base has definite interest, but so does the trunk that seemingly twists towards the sun.  I believe you can appreciate both with the new front.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Kifu Korean Hornbeam

This is one of two yamadori Hornbeams that I picked up last spring. Both are Kifu size, but I plan to shorten the other to create a smaller, shohin package. Both were left to grow freely last year to gain vigor. I had a major decision to make before working this tree – which side to make the “front.” I studied this tree occasionally since it went dormant, but it was never clearly evident.

On one side (pictured above), the negative is a large wound up about the middle of the trunk, but the taper is slightly more dramatic because of it and there is also nice taper to the root base. The collected Korean Hornbeam's typically don't have much of a root spread at the base, but rather a wood mass that has formed from all of the budding along the base of the trunk. There isn't much branching on this side of the tree, mainly because of the wound.

The other side has no large wounds to think of, and nice, even flowing taper to the apex. Plus, the apex branch has slightly better taper and secondary branching. This side also has a lot of branching, which I would need to thin if making it the front to expose the trunk line. Not a big deal, but I'd rather have these branches to the side/back and wire them to bring them to the front.

Quite the dilemma, huh? I chose the side with the wound. Why? Simple - the nebari rules all. The stronger nebari/base taper that flowed to the soil level made for the most appeal.

I began with cleaning out the wounds. As I chipped away at the layer of cut paste, I saw a black color to the bark, which meant the top layer of the exposed wound had begun to rot under the paste. I dug out the rotted layer using a chisel from this carving kit. In addition to carving out the rotted wood, I attempted to expose a new layer of cambium around the edge to induce healing again of the wounds. Ever since spending a day with Dan Robinson at his gardens in Washington, the use of my knob cutter has been dwindling. Dan swears against the tool all together. I only use the knob for real soft wood, generally Japanese or Trident maples. When working Hornbeam, I usually carve a short jin or stub, then use my carving tools to blend the wound using the adjoining contours of the tree. Since the newly exposed wood can be fairly bright, I usually burn the exposed wood to darken the color.

After all of the cleanup, it really came down to picking branches and wiring. The tree was heavy branched on the back side, so I brought one of these forward to create my first branch. I think the rest came together nicely and this should make a very nice bonsai in the years to come. I will change the planting angle slightly to hide the stubbed roots on the back side of the tree and plant this into a smaller, deep oval, come spring time.