The Kinashi Bonsai District is the source of many different bonsai varieties, but by far most trees from this region are black, red, and white pines. Each of these varieties are typically grown here in pure “river sand.” Warmer winters and hot muggy summers make river sand the perfect medium for pines in the region.
The growers tend to develop trunks in the ground, then dig the trees to develop the branches. Given enough time, some fun trees result.
Exposed root pines
At each nursery, I asked the proprietor if he or she had pine seeds for sale. The first time I heard yes, I was led to the back reaches of the property where said seeds were kept in a workshop. I’ve been growing some of these seeds for almost a year now – a small reminder of Shikoku in my own backyard.
Flats and pots by the workshop
Wandering through the nursery-ridden neighborhood offered views of different approaches to growing pines. Some plots were tidy, others rangy, others seemingly abandoned. With the price of rough pines as low as it is in Japan today, it can cost more to dig and care for a tree than one can make selling it.
Mini bonsai forest
Some not-so-healthy cork bark pines
More less-than-healthy cork bark pines
Pines in need of a haircut
At the Kinashi bonsai center, several nurseries had trees for sale, including some new varieties. The senzyumaru black pine below had tinier foliage than kotobuki yet the variety grew more vigorously. Here’s the oldest of the batch.
Behind one of the growers, the proprietor’s son – one of the convention headliners – maintained a fabulous collection of shohin bonsai.
Shohin exposed root black pine
Young black pines
Japanese pepper tree
Back outside, it was all pines again.
Rangy black pines
Well kept pines
Many well-kept black pines
I finished the afternoon at a nursery near the start of my tour. It was famous for a black pine with extraordinary branches. Seriously extra-ordinary.
Apart from the overall beauty of the place, the most memorable feature of Ritsurin Garden its collection of pines. Each is old and well cared for, like Tsurukame-matsu (crane and tortoise) below. From the park brochure, “A black pine tree resembling the shape of a crane spreading its wings planted in a turtle-shaped stone planter made from 110 stone blocks.”
Crane and tortoise
From a distance, the pines are collections of green puffs.
Pines along the pond
Up close, one can see evidence of the hard work that goes into these trees.
Well-developed branch pad – where are the old needles?
Collections of pads form the silhouette of each tree.
The soft outline of a black pine
The park has hundreds, if not thousands of pines. Somehow, each has received painstaking care to produce some of the greatest curated pine vistas I know of.
Small green clouds
Having pruned pines in landscapes for a number of years, I marveled at the resources required to maintain such a place. One famous path ran beneath a low canopy of pines that provided a great silhouette of the branches.
Cascading pine branches
Occasionally red pines would dot the landscape.
Red pine bark
But more often the pines in the garden were black.
Black pine branches
One of the more famous trees at Ritsurin is a large white pine growing between the Kikugetsu-tei Teahouse and Nanko Lake. From a sign posted at its base, “Neagari Goyomatsu – This is a grown-up dwarfed pine transplanted from a flower pot to the ground. Ienari Tokugawa (the 11th Shogun) is said to have given the tree to Yohiro Matsudaira (the 9th lord) in 1832.”
Tokugawa’s gift – exposed root white pine
The exposed roots
Ritsurin is a pretty special place, reason alone to visit Shikoku. I can’t wait to get back.
Pine leaning over the water
I always appreciate the different approaches bonsai professionals take with their gardens. Some gardens are filled with exhibit-ready trees while other gardens are filled with project trees. Some focus on a certain size or variety of tree while others include bonsai of every description. At a glance, it’s clear that the focus at Aichi-en is on pine bonsai. White, red, and black pines fill the majority of the garden, and there are more large trees than medium or small sized bonsai. Trident and Japanese maples comprise the bulk of the deciduous trees, but these sit beside quince, ume and hornbeam among other deciduous varieties. There are junipers, cryptomeria, and many other trees whose names I do not know.
From the roof of Mr. Tanaka’s bonsai workshop, one can get a sense of how many trees fill his garden.
Aichi-en from above
More garden and the family house
Tanaka keeps some trees on the workshop roof.
Many of the garden’s project trees were kept on the rooftop. The nicer trees were situated closer to ground level.
Root over rock Japanese black pine
Most of the kifu-sized trees shared a staggered table near the house.
In fall, the colors were wonderful.
Bonsai Fall color
Up close, the trees were wonderful. Two of the garden’s Zuisho were outstanding.
Japanese five needle pine – ‘Zuisho’
Considering the small size of Zuisho needles and branches, these are remarkably full trees.
The same tree from above
The Japanse maple beside the front gate turned a wonderful shade of red.
The pieris below sits right inside the front gate.
I snapped these shots during short breaks or early in the morning – those precious moments when I was free to appreciate the trees in the garden. Back in the workshop, I appreciated the trees one at a time. The black pine below was one of the last ones I worked on at Aichi-en. I removed all of the old needles and some of the new from the strong areas. In weak areas, I removed some or all of the old needles. I also cut a few small branches where more than two emerged from the same place. It was very basic pine work, but it made the tree look a lot better.
Cascade Japanese black pine
New, old, and dead needles
After removing old, dead and some new needles
Fall work complete
That’s the story for a single pine. With all of the pines in the garden, that’s a lot of tweezer work.
It always feels good to be a member of Bay Island Bonsai. This week it feels great. Bonsai professional Daisaku Nomoto of Miyazaki, Japan, provided the program for this month’s meeting. It was a critique – members were invited to bring trees for comment and some minor re-working. Turned out to be a great evening. Here are some of the trees and comments they elicited.
The first tree under consideration was a Japanese black pine. Nomoto wanted the movement of the silhouette to reflect the movement of the trunk, so he suggested some minor cutback. The tree’s owner gave the ok, and Nomoto got to work.
Nomoto demonstrating the tree’s movement
Note the shoot pointing downward in front of the trunk – removing it shifted some emphasis from one side of the tree to the other
Nomoto adjusting branches with pliers and finger
A few more adjustments
The chopstick indicates the relationship between the apex and the center of the trunk. This relationship has a big effect on the tree’s overall balance.
The pinyon pine below was a gift to Boon from Michael Hagedorn. The tree has grown steadily for a number of years and is ready for a styling. Nomoto suggested removing the foliage on the left side of the tree to emphasize the bunjin movement of the trunk. Instead of removing the foliage all at once, he recommended removing it over time to preserve the lifeline defining the shari along the trunk.
Noting the future location of the first branch
This section of the lifeline feeds the foliage to be removed. Removing the foliage over time decreases the odds that the lifeline will die back in the area to which Nomoto is here pointing.
Nomoto was very impressed with the small Olive below. He mentioned several times his desire to take the tree back to Japan. Why? He tells us that small olives with such great trunks are quite rare in Japan, and that this specimen is a great candidate for the Kokufu Exhibit.
Admiring the olive
Nomoto’s one suggestion was to change the angle at which the tree was planted. By tilting it forward, the trunk rose straight into the air rather than leaning back.
The suggested planting angle
Suggested planting angle from the front
I was very impressed by the material that showed up for the meeting. Many of these trees have yet to be shown, however their quality was great. The juniper below has a super trunk and awaits a styling before it’s ready for exhibit. Nomoto’s suggestion was to plant the tree lower in the pot. The relatively narrow base of the tree creates some reverse taper which distracts from the overall power of the trunk. By planting the tree lower, the base of the tree looks larger in relation to the rest of the tree.
Sierra juniper – note subtle reverse taper at base of trunk
Suggested planting depth and pot style. This pot is a bit too small for the tree, but the style and color make a great match
A very mature Sawara cypress elicited a single recommendation. The tree’s current silhouette is quite round. Nomoto suggested a more triangular silhouette.
Sawara cypress and chopsticks
After asking some basic questions about the variety, Nomoto offered to trim a few branch pads on the boxwood below to demonstrate how more, smaller pads can make the tree look older and more developed.
Trimming boxwood foliage to create smaller pads
Another collected juniper elicited some interesting suggestions. For the jin below, Nomoto suggested gouging out the channel just to the left of the old lifeline to create more interest.
Examining the deadwood
He also suggested removing most of the trunk. The pinyon branch stands in for the future key branch.
Juniper with towel and pinyon foliage
The first goal for the very old cedar below is to return it to health. It’s come a long way in the past year, but still has a bit to go before it can withstand significant styling. Nomoto recommended removing the branch that emerges at the first bend in the trunk. His first preference was to leave no jin behind, providing the wound can heal properly, though he thought a small jin could also be appropriate.
Appraising an old cedar
The fantastic juniper below was grown by Jim Gremel. Nomoto wanted to reduce the canopy a bit. To do so, he recommended removing the first branch. This branch grew upwards and formed somewhat of a second trunk. Removing it would leave room for one of the upper branches to fill in and provide a more appropriate silhouette.
Seen from the front – great movement
The foliage at the right emerges from the branch Nomoto suggests removing.
Thanks go to Boon for arranging for Nomoto’s visit. It’s quite a treat to have such talent at a 30-person club meeting, commenting on our trees. I understand what a special occasion this is, and I appreciate it greatly!