Saturday, June 20, 2009

spruce #50, Bonsai Olympics

As I was to style this spruce these days anyway I figured I could use it for the Bonsai Olympics which are held at the WBFF Convention in Puerto Rico in July. On Knowledge of Bonsai one could enter the contest. Well, I wanted to support this event and see what happens.


This is a European spruce (also referred to as Norway spruce), Picea abies. It was collected in Italy in 1992 at the timberline in the high Alps. Right from the outset it was a borderline case. The strange roots looked like they could not be cut off because that would result in reverse taper. There was no visible good nebari. The trunk did not look too promising either, very straight and little taper. The branches started very high up the trunk and seemed way too thick to ever get bent down. The tree was planted into this Mica pot which was too small from the outset. Anyway, it survived and started to look healthy. I did not consider it one of my better pieces of material and put it out for sale. It was still hanging around with a price tag on it in June 2009, 17 years after collecting. But it certainly looked healthy and ready for major styling. At that point in time the tree was about 60 cm high and probably more than 100 years old. I selected this one for the contest because it is quite unusual, created a challenge for just about everyone who ever bothered to look at it. And then I knew it could probably be a good example of the naturalistic style.




The first thing was to solve the root problem. I dug for a nebari and out came interesting roots which would not conform to any ideal nebari as in the bonsai books. But they certainly looked like they do in the mountains on real spruce. The silly aerial roots had to go partially and I jinned them. Then I tried with several pieces to finally stick this lava rock into the aerial root hole and fix it. The hollows were filled with moss. Immediately it looked like the rock was always there and the wild nebari made sense. Then I cleaned the branches, took off moss and little dead branches. It was decided to cut off what was the apex and prepared it for jinning. Then the problem with the straight trunk with little taper still remained. The solution was to create a big shari line down from the dead apex. Thus the trunk looks like it has taper and it does not appear so straight anymore. Then the deadwood work started for serious. All small dead stumps were jinned, including the root stumps. The apex was cleared of all bark. The smooth branches without bark and the big shari line were worked on to create some texture and irregularities. Then with a small torch, fire was applied to get rid of the small untidy looking pieces of wood. The fire could not be applied thoroughly because the wood was still moist. This will have to be redone in about two years. Then the deadwood will gain in character enormously.







All major branches were wired with very thick copper wire. The thick major branches were cut halfway from the top right at the point where they came out of the trunk. Then they were bent down and the void was filled with black charcoal to hold the branch in position and to make the whole process almost invisible. All secondary branches were wired and the majority of small branchlets. The branches were positioned to give the tree the typical look of a very old spruce in the mountains. The overall design is naturalistic, meaning it should not have the typical bonsai look but rather the typical wild spruce look. It is very common for spruce at the timberline to have loads of deadwood all over. Several options to continue were tried. One was to place the tree onto a very nice natural stone from Germany. It could have looked great, but the root ball was too big for that. To make the root ball smaller was not an option in the middle of June and right after serious styling. The most normal option to place the tree into a good final bonsai pot was discarded because it would not be interesting enough.






The option chosen was to place the tree right onto a moon shaped pot by William Vlaanderen from the Netherlands. Two suitable pots of the right size and shape were available. The one chosen made it quite easy to plant the tree into it right away without disturbing the root ball. It also looked interesting and gave the one-sidedness of the crown more meaning. The crescent pot gives a feeling of the cliff that is to the right and the tree is growing away from it, into the light. Left of the tree is a little place to rest, but then the cliff falls off again. Just as in the mountains. To add to the natural feeling moss was planted and some small sedums. It is supposed to give the viewer the feeling that he wants to climb up there and rest a little under the huge ancient spruce to look over the valley onto the other side at the mountains.

Certainly, as usually, the tree looks like very recently styled and untidy still. Unfortunately the crowns created for naturalistic styling don't look well on photographs. In reality they look quite realistic, three dimensional and well proportioned and not too dense at all. On a photograph they usually look too dense and chaotic. Well it will get better in time. Now the composition will stay as is at least for the next two years. The modern substrate will allow aggressive watering every day and feeding every fortnight. When the wires are taken off in about two years the crown will have become much denser already. It will be possible to cut back all branches and make the crown much more compact. Foliage will be cut out to keep the spars look of an ancient tree. The deadwood will be worked over with some tools and then with fire. The aim is to make it look very credible, as if it came from nature like that. In about five years from now the spruce should be ready for exhibit.








14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow. The tree did look impossible in the first photo. Wonderful transformation. Thanks for showing the steps and the thought behind the decisions. The photos of spruce in the Alps capped off the essay beautifully.
walt r

TpaBayFlyFisher said...

WOW!!! Once again you have shown the great skills of a true master. Not only did you turn a very difficult or perhaps "impossible" piece of material into a striking tree, but your use of the rock and pot makes the entire composition memorable. Thank you for taking the time to show it to us.

Anonymous said...

Nice progress! I just love looking and reading and learning from your posts!

It is summer and it would be nice to hear something about preventing parasites and diseases. A lot has been said already about watering, feeding, soil mixture and so; but i can not remember if also about treatment to prevent
(and against) pests...?

I have a more specific question though! Mostly I am having problems with new collected spruces and mugos
(1 or 2 years in a pot), pests develop more easily on such still "transplant shocked" plants. How do you treat aphids and mites on spruce (and m. pines) - what type of insecticides, when to apply and how offten to repeat?

Thanx you in advance!
Alex

Walter Pall said...

There is not much to say about pests and diseases, because I do almost nothing. There are almost none. I keep my trees very happy and they use their innate immune sytem to fight for themselves. I have not used any poison in ages. Aphids come and go. I don't worry. birds will eat them and one day they are gone. If there ar too many in early spring I will wash them off with the garden hose. In the wilderness the trees have to fight for themselves and so in my garden.

WP

Anonymous said...

that´s a good example that modern natualistic style is more adaptablythat the (maybe old fashioned) japanese style.It looked impossibe to style it, but when you know the technology you can do something better than the japanese folks.
The japanese people would throw it away.

Shaukat Islam said...

Walter,

Thanks for sharing the progression pics and your thoughts on styling this tree.

Very good transformation indeed! After seeing the first pic I thought 'why on earth did you chose this tree, there must have been better material with you?'

But seeing the transformation, I changed my mind. This is what the 'art of bonsai' is all about --- changing a mediocre specimen into something very impressive.

I liked the angle/position of the first two pics. And although majority would prefer the dark background over a white (with valid reasons of course)but my choice would be the white background.
Why? Because the white background gives the impression of a clear sky, and looks very natural.

Which one are you going to chose?

Shaukat

Walter Pall said...

Shaukat,

I chosse the one with the white background. A black background makes the tree look more dense. Often this is an advantage. Trees in the naturalistc style have a tendency too look too dense on a photograph while they may be very sparse in reality. A light background makes the tree look more sparse. So I chose this one.

WP

Bandi said...

Hello Walter,

Some time ago I asked you how much one should wait until you could start working on a collected spruce. You said it would be years. I'd like to know if this rule applies to spruces bought from garden centers? I've seen a thew near me with beautiful ramification and nice trunk...and i was contemplating on buying one. They have already been in pots for years.

Bandi

Shaukat Islam said...

Walter,

I am happy that you chose the one with the white background.

Shaukat

Walter Pall said...

Bandi,

spruce from nurseries are much younger. You can start much earlier. If the tree is in the container since years you can start right away. Nurseryx spruce typically are ten to fifteen years old, collected spruce from 50 to 300 years.

WP

Anonymous said...

Beautiful and ingenious. I like very much that virtuous and logical tree design that you produce regularily! And I'm so happy that we have the opportunity to learn from somebody like you Walter. I believe, that we will learn and understand bonsai in the best way that is. Thank you for this courses on your blog. This is a good way to see and learn things.
Picea is beautiful. Like an ugly duckling to a beautiful swan. Beautiful and ingeniuos.
Sebastijan Sandev

Anonymous said...

Everything I read to this point indicates spruce should be worked on in fall or you risk the danger of killing the branches that were wired.

Obviously this is not the case as demonstrated by your exceptional spruces.

I bought a RM Juniper and Ponderosa pine at Nature's Way Nursery when you were there in May.

It was a pleasure meeting you and observing your work.

Your naturalistic approach is so refreshing compared to the cookie cutter copying of the established Japanese approved styles.

Walter Pall said...

As you can see yor timing information is not correct. I always work on spruce from beginning of June until beginning of September. Probably nobody has more sprue than I have - 350.

Anonymous said...

The Pac-Man look is a little much.