The bonsai at Elandan Gardens are displayed against the attractive backdrop of Puget Sound and the fantastical background of the gardens themselves. Dan Robinson has adorned the reclaimed land with stones, trees, and even deadwood collected from the mountains in an effort to create an experience that evokes alpine beauty. It’s a great spot to spend an afternoon.
Pond at Elandan Gardens
Juniper deadwood at Elandan
Not far from the displayed deadwood one can find live junipers with outstanding deadwood.
Rocky Mountain Juniper – Juniperus scopularum
Discovered near Drummond, MT on a quick reconnoiter up a hill in 1989. Carrying just a crowbar and pruners, I had to sacrifice my shirt to tie up the roots of this beauty after extraction. It was growing in crumbling basalt, so it came out bare-rooted. Its incredible trunk line and profound age make it a favorite.
Rocky Mountain juniper
The deadwood at Elandan is testament to Robinson’s eye for good trees. This is no surprise considering that he’s been at it for 50 years – read Dan’s Story at the Elandan Gardens website for details.
You just don’t know what you’re going to see next at Dan Robinson’s Elandan Gardens, in Bremerton, WA, but you can bet it’s been around a while. Or, at least it will look that way. The Japanese larch below is younger than I am, grown from seed since 1974. Robinson planted this tree on a lava rock years ago, but over time, most of the soil has washed away. Robinson actually picked the tree up to show me the shallow root ball and marveled that the tree could withstand the high temperature the rock reached on sunny days.
Japanese Larch - Laryx loptoleptis
Year of origin: 1974
Grown from a seed, this tree was field grown by John Hinds. When The Colonel donated the tree in 1997, I decided to train it as a hollow windswept tree on a rock. Carving, wire training and planting the tree on the lava stone was achieved in 2001. (Caption: Elandan Gardens)
The hemlock below is far older. Planted in an ornate unglazed pot, the hemlock is thriving in the cool Pacific Northwest summer.
Alpine Hemlock – Tsuga mertensiana
Collected in 1997 from an alpine area on Vancouver Island. Heavily carved and wire trained in 2003. This splendid tree has been selected as the logo tree for the Evergreen Bonsai Club of Kitsap County. (Caption: Elandan Gardens)
Hailing from the opposite end of the US, several Bald Cypress were doing just as well.
Bald Cypress – Taxodium distichum
This naturally hollow-trunked beauty came from deep in Florida and was collected in March of 2004. Because of a healthy root system it never seemed to know it was uprooted and flown to its new home at Elandan Gardens. The growth was vigorous in 2004 and the future for this plant is promising. It is planted in an antique Chinese pot, circa 1835. (Caption: Elandan Gardens)
A small number of Elandan’s trees were imported from Asia, including the Korean hornbeam below. The trunk shows that deciduous trees can also convey great age.
Korean Hornbeam – Carpinus koreanensis
This tree was collected from the mountains of Korea in the 1980s. It was reduced from its original 12-foot height. The new sprouts, which issued form the remaining trunk and base, were trained into its basic form. I acquired the tree from Brussell’s Bonsai Nursery in 1991. Carving was done to eradicate the large pruning scars left over from its initial reduction. Careful pruning and wiring has lead to its now aged yet elegant form. (Caption: Elandan Gardens)
One of my favorite trees in the garden is somewhat of a rarity – a big cone Douglass Fir bonsai. The trunk movement and deadwood are great.
Big Cone Douglas Fir - Pseudotsuga macrocarpa
Collected in the Colorado Rockies in 2009. Untrained at present, its extraordinary trunk speaks to a life of durability in the face of adversity. Life followed by death is evidenced by the successive layers seen here on the trunk. (Caption: Elandan Gardens)
A number of chamaecyparis found their home in Elandan, including the yellow-foliaged specimen below.
Elandan’s trees are planted in a variety of containers, from Japanese and Chinese stoneware, to stones, to containers made by local potters. The pot below, as well as several similar pots at Elandan, was made by Oregon potter Charles Gloucester.
Charles Gloucester pot
The last tree I saw before leaving the garden was an awesome collected hemlock that defies stylistic categorization. I can’t wait to see what shape it takes after its initial styling.
Dan Robinson has been growing pine bonsai for a long time. Some of trees on display at Elandan Gardens started from seeds Dan collected in Korea when he was in the service. Most, however, were collected from the mountains, including the awesome specimens below. All text accompanying the images comes from signs displayed with the trees. I’ve identified trees without signs simply as “pine” - feel free to let me know the details if you’re familiar with these trees and I’ll update the post accordingly.
Ponderosa Pine - Pinus ponderosa
Year of origin: 1700
When I spotted this tree struggling for life in the crack of a granite boulder in Wyoming, I instantly had a plan to create a cascade style bonsai with its swollen base and short compact branches. To complete the design, heavy wiring would be needed to manipulate the branches. Heavy wire holds the branch in the position you determine for the tree’s artistic creation.
Ponderosa Pine – Pinus ponderosa
Year of origin: 1500
This untrained tree has an eminence about it that only a powerful stone pot could possible frame. The balance here looks a bit precarious; perhaps a larger post will be necessary.
Ponderosa Pine - Pinus ponderosa
Year of origin: 1750
I replaced the original Ponderosa Pine foliage by grafting Japanese Black Pine foliage onto it in 1970. The Black Pine foliage has a density, color and length that is very desirable.
Eastern Pitch Pine - Pinus rigida
Year of origin: 1820
Collected in the Adirondak Mountains of New York with a young and enthusiastic Frank Heidt. Pitch pine is a favorite of East Coast collectors and it is easy to understand why. It’s amazing that within an hour of New York City gnarly stunted trees can be found.
Lodge Pole Pine - Pinus contorta
Year of origin: 1850
Collected on a collecting trip near Gold River, BC in 2003. Potted in September, 2004. The upper trunk was split and torn down in April 2005. Training has just begun.
For good reason, horticultural endeavors don’t often focus on death. Bonsai is an exception. Exposed deadwood on old trees can reveal hardship and character that defines a tree better than any other feature.
One of the best places to appreciate deadwood on bonsai is Elandan Gardens in Bremerton, Washington. Elandan is an amazing expression of Dan Robinson’s imagination – a bonsai museum and nursery on reclaimed land along the shores of Puget Sound. I think the best way to introduce the museum is by appreciating a great example of natural deadwood found on a Ponderosa pine whose character and age is well expressed in the scaly fissures of its weather-beaten trunk.
Ponderosa pine deadwood
Wonderful curves and scales and splinters
Unmistakable signs of age
The tree is over three feet tall – a winding specimen with sparse foliage atop curves that tighten as the trunk nears its apex.
Ponderosa pine at Elandan Gardens
As you can see by the setting, Robinson has created an environment for his trees that retains elements of the mountains from which these trees were collected. It’s a nice touch, and a great way to focus his visitors’ attention on the details in which he takes such great interest – the deadwood.