Akio Kondo bonsai critique
This month’s Bay Island Bonsai meeting featured a critique by Akio Kondo. Members brought the trees and Kondo provided guidance about topics ranging from care, to styling to display. Here are some highlights from the event.
Kondo appreciated the thinness of the two trunks, and liked that the shorter trunk was thinner than the longer one. He found the foliage a bit dense at the top of the tree, but nothing that minor cutback couldn’t address. He liked the size and shape of the pot, but recommended a higher quality container for exhibits.
Kondo’s first comment about the shimpaku above was that it has a lot of branches. Typically, he said, collected trees don’t have many branches, and greater numbers of branches are more characteristic of younger trees. He then suggested that a small branch growing from the inside of a curve in the trunk be removed. With a few exceptions, he found the branches to be thin relative to the trunk – a much easier problem to solve than its opposite: branches that are too thick. He suggested a slightly smaller pot in a similar style would be a good fit for the tree.
Kondo had less to say about the small shimpaku above as he had just finished wiring it. He suggested opening up the shari a bit and then he and Boon considered shortening the jin. Boon held a piece of paper infront of portions of the jin so we could get a better idea of what the tree would look like with varying amounts of jin.
Pondering jin length
Kondo peeked inside the foliage of the black pine below and noted and 5 branches emerged from the same spot near the top of the trunk. He suggested removing 1 or 2 of these. His recommendation for a pot: oval, thinner and slightly smaller.
Many of us were happy to see a refined bougainvillea in the critique – Kondo so much so that he offered to buy the tree and bring it back to Japan. He suggested removing one of the four branches that emerged from a congested section of the trunk, and pointed out another branch that could be removed and replaced by the branch above it. Although we encouraged him to cut these branches on the spot, Kondo demurred with a smile and left this to the tree’s owner. He found the pot size and color to be appropriate.
Kondo immediately praised the procumbens juniper above for conveying great age. He suggested opening additional shari along the trunk – not near the apex, but along the middle section of the trunk. He had two suggestions for the pot – same size and shape but a tiny bit smaller, or maybe a dark nanban.
Kondo placed a 2 x 4 on edge under the right side of this Sierra juniper because he liked the trunk line moving slightly to the left. When asked if he thought the tree would point to the left or the right, he suggested that either direction could work.
Kondo also had comments for a few of my trees. He started with my Korean hornbeam.
Pot – too small. Kondo thought a deeper oval in blue or “white” – white being the term Japanese use to describe antique pots that were once white but are now quite darker – would be appropriate. Health – weak. Weak? Kondo intimated that similar trees in Japan are much more vigorous. Mine’s off a bit as it’s recovering from summer defoliation. Kondo then mentioned potting advice I hadn’t heard before. He suggested repotting the tree every other year – a bit more than I’m used to as the roots tend to develop slowly – and completely bare-rooting it every 10 years. The idea is that giving hornbeam a little push and lots of fresh soil maintains vigor over time.
I didn’t see Kondo’s comment about my holly coming at all. He thought the shape and style was fine, but recommended grafting all new branches – from a female specimen. Male trees commonly develop thick trunks but no fruit, whereas female plants offer great fruit but rarely develop thick trunks. It’s an interesting suggestion – I’m now on the lookout for female ilex vomitoria.
Red pine forest
“Omoshiroi,” Kondo said. Same thing his kohai, or junior apprentice, Daisaku Nomoto said when he saw the tree last winter. Kondo didn’t have any suggestions for the branches, noting that the tree has more of a Chinese character than a Japanese character. He thought a narrow, but very long pot would make an interesting choice. He especially wanted to see space under the long branches on the right side of the tree. His second suggestion was planting the grove on a long slab. I’m now on the lookout for one of those too.
My shore pine proved more difficult for Kondo. He found the needle size to be too big for the size of the tree. If the tree were another eight inches taller, the ratio would be alright. As it is, I’ll have to see what I can do to reduce the needle size. Training shore pine is like training white pine, so I’ll go easy on the water and fertilizer and see what happens.