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.