For those curious about my visits to so many Kyushu bonsai gardens, the answer is simple – Daisaku Nomoto. In addition to hosting the Kyushu portion of my recent visit to Japan, long-time friend and teacher Nomoto designed an itinerary to suit my interest in developing bonsai from scratch. So instead of visiting some of the top collections in the area, we focused on a handful of the more interesting gardens where I could see development techniques up close and ask whatever questions came to mind. This very thoughtful planning made for a outstanding visit – for this, thank you Daisaku!
Of course, many of these visits focused on techniques for developing black pine bonsai. Nomoto, who apprenticed with Kihachiro Kamiya, is well-known for his pine work. Here are some of the black pines at his Miyazaki nursery, Nomoto Chinshou-en.
Daisaku Nomoto with a cascade black pine at Nomoto Chinshou-en
It was fun to see the pines in Nomoto’s nursery after visiting so many different pine growers. Many of these pines were still under development, though most were further along than the trees we’d seen elsewhere.
Young black pine
The pines ranged from big to small, including a number of shohin.
Shohin black pine
Shohin black pine
Shohin black pine
Small black pine
Medium-sized black pine
Large black pine
There were also a number of pine projects, including grafted cork bark and Kotobuki black pines.
Cork bark pine
Young Kotobuki black pine
Exposed root black pine
As is typical of nurseries belonging to bonsai professions, many of the better pines in the garden belonged to Nomoto’s customers. With the rest, Nomoto is free to do as he wishes. And as there’s never enough time to give every tree one’s full attention, even the brief tour of the nursery provided Nomoto time to reflect about future plans for a number of the trees in his garden, including the interesting pine below.
Nomoto considers a pine’s future
In addition to black pines, Nomoto Chinshou-en was full of different varieties – more on these next week.
I’ve been growing black pines in colanders for years. Thanks to Bonsai Today issue #20 and Boon Manakitivipart, many enthusiasts have been doing the same. Sizes are convenient, drainage is great, and the cost is reasonable. I have yet to find pots that make it easier to keep black pines healthy.
In general, I’ve grown pines in colanders until the trunks reached the desired size. At this point, I’d transplant the trees into ceramic pots made for bonsai and get to work developing the branches.
I began to think twice about this approach after my recent visit to Mr. Iwakiri’s garden. Iwakiri keeps his pines in colanders throughout the entire development process. Based on his results, it’s hard to argue that more formal pots are necessary to produce outstanding bonsai.
Young black pine in colander
A slightly more developed pine
Even further development – the small-sized tree begins to take shape
What most stood out to me is the quality of the bark on some of the older trees. Container-grown pines can produce great bark.
I was also surprised to see how large some of the trees were in relation to the size of the colander. As long as the trees get enough water, a surprisingly small pot can support a lot of tree.
Large tree in colander
In the corner of Iwakiri’s garden was an almost 8′ pine in a surprisingly small colander. The colander sat in a saucer that held runoff from watering. Near the base of the saucer was a chopstick protruding from a small hole. During extended periods of rain, Iwakiri could remove the chopstick to prevent the roots from sitting in water for too long.
The one colander-related technique of which I’m not a big fan is the double colander approach. Simply planting a tree – colander and all – into a larger colander is a simple and fast way to provide more space for roots with very little effort. Up until it’s time to repot anyway. Having clawed through thick roots and plastic fragments from the inner colander in the past, I prefer to remove the inner colander before setting the rootball in a new, larger, container.
If all of this isn’t enough to trigger some curiosity about growing bonsai in colanders, I’ll finish with two last trees, each around 32 years old, developed by Iwakiri. Not bad for a hobbyist.
Black pine in colander
Is there a way to determine whether or not my wiring is suitable for creating the bonsai in my mind’s eye? Yes! I learned about it in Mr. Iwakiri’s garden. Iwakiri recommends modeling the trunk line before wiring actual trees. He demonstrated the idea with newspaper and aluminum wire.
The idea is to create a mock-up of candidate trunk bends and then build up the model to the desired thickness of the future trunk to evaluate the success of the initial bends. Many bends look great on skinny trees but look funny or sometimes disappear entirely as the trunk thickens. Iwakiri recommends starting with a simple model, taking a photo of the model, and then adding clay or paper mâché to simulate the girth of the future trunk. The photos come in handy, he says, as it can be hard to remember what the bends look like beneath the clay.
Paper and wire represent the young trunk – the tea bottle is closer to the eventual thickness of the trunk
Mr. Iwakiri considers how to bend the model trunk
Iwakiri has put the technique to good use. Here’s a young tree he’s been developing for 30-40 years. Branch work has begun only recently.
Black pine in development
My recent visit to Japan included a stop at the garden of one Mr. Iwakiri in Miyazaki, Kyushu. Iwakiri has been growing bonsai for more than 40 years and he has a wealth of knowledge on the topic, particularly when it comes to developing black pine.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago (see “A visit to Miyakonojou“) black pines developed by the seedling-cutting technique can often provide us with too much of a good thing. What to do when we find too many roots resulting from the seedling-cutting technique? Iwakiri has two recommendations:
- If developing anything but small bonsai, don’t use the technique. The seedling-cutting technique can result in overly homogenous roots. Eschewing the technique can allow for more natural looking roots.
- If developing small bonsai using the seedling-cutting technique, remove every other root. Keeping every root can yield more roots than makes sense for small trees and can create large flat root pancakes – a structure that doesn’t look natural for pines and one that makes fitting small trees into appropriately sized pots impossible.
Iwakiri has dutifully removed superfluous roots on his small pines for decades, but to really test the hypotheses, he kept all of the roots on a few trees as a control of sorts. Here’s what happened. At a glance, it appears that keeping all of the roots has produced a very nice root base. Upon greater scrutiny, we can see two problems. The more obvious is that the roots are all the same shape and size – a form rarely seen in nature. The bigger problem is that the root spread is quite large in relation to the base of the trunk. This second issue is more a matter of style and taste than the first, and for that reason I find it the more interesting of the two.
The ratio of trunk to root-base for the control tree is around 4:1. If the trees with larger trunks followed the same ratio, we’d have some humongous root bases. Would this be a problem? Does it depend on the tree? I’ve included photos below of the “control” tree along with some other bonsai from Iwakiri’s garden for comparison.
Black pine created via seedling-cutting
Root base detail – note how similar the roots are
Black pine – around 40 years old
Black pine – 30-40 years old