Bonsai exhibits are our best opportunity to simply enjoy the trees. Every year during BIB’s annual exhibit, I make time to wander the hall as if I were a visitor. I study bark and branch placement, moss-work, accents, and display. It’s some of the best fun bonsai has to offer.
One of the first things that strikes me about a tree is its balance, or “baransu,” as Yasuo Mitsuya would say. The shimpaku below has it in spades. Dense, green foliage, wonderful course to fine ramification, and a silhouette that’s as Japanese in character as any tree in the exhibit.
I also like the pot. It’s a great fit for the tree and is a useful shape for a number of varieties. I saw many in the same style all over Japan last winter and looked very carefully for one like it at every stop, but never found it in the size I was looking for.
A Ponderosa pine an aisle away had a similar lifeline that twisted around a deadwood trunk. The roughly textured shari reveals prolonged battle with the elements, and the wonderful twists show the tree’s flexibility in response to harsh conditions.
Some found the less-developed foliage distracting – I didn’t. The branches will ramify and the foliage will improve with time. Ponderosa aren’t as well known for their foliage as they are for their movement, and this tree has good movement.
I find it interesting that the Ponderosa and the shimpaku ended up in such similar pots. Both are brown, scalloped ovals that work well with sinuous trunk-lines. The larger, more powerful tree is potted in a deeper bowl with less tapered sides, and the feet are turned toward us to create a strong profile. The more delicate tree is potted in a container with very tapered sides and feet turned to the sides to create a more delicate silhouette. Both are appropriate and attractive choices.
Now that Western junipers have been making their way into people’s collections, we’re starting to see them in exhibits. BIB showed several last year and at least six this year.
They are a great variety for bonsai. Attractive foliage that’s easy to refine, great vigor, and often spectacular movement combine to make these trees perfect vehicles for their owners’ visions. In time the branches will develop to create more appropriate backdrops for the exciting trunks. More developed foliage will do wonders for the trees’ balance by influencing our sense of the trees’ depth and direction.
Some junipers have less desirable foliage. Californias often fall into this category. Many of the first Californias – and sometimes Sierras – to be collected, were grafted with shimpaku foliage. Today they are mature looking trees, trained, like the tree below, in the Japanese style, but with an unmistakably indigenous trunk.
California juniper with shimpaku foliage
Atlas cedars have long been popular material for bonsai. Easy to bend – when they don’t snap – and the needles don’t grow too long.
Blue atlas cedar – cascade
Blue atlas cedar – formal upright
Juniperus procumbens is a very popular variety for bonsai due in part to specimens like the rock planting below. Long trained as bonsai, this procumbens is in great health and conveys its age well. Great moss-work completes the scene.
Procumbens juniper – root over rock
The specimen below is another long-time bonsai growing out of a rock. Or is it two trees growing out of the rock? The debate remains open, but I put little stock in the answer. It’s a unique tree with a special branch/trunk to one side. In another five to ten years the foliage will fill in and create a silhouette worthy of the old trunk.
The pot, if you look closely, is a beautiful Chinese antique. Somewhat warped by time, the pot boasts one of the more striking patinas in the hall. Between the pot and the rock, the bonsai was one of the heaviest in the exhibit.
Ezo spruce – root over rook
White pine can be a challenge in Northern California. Some varieties do well, others have trouble staying alive. In between, many five-needle pines vacillate between sparse and full from year to year. The past year was good, but not great for white pine. The semi-cascade below is one of my favorite white pines, and one of my favorite bonsai in the area. If I can find someone with the photos, I’ll be happy to share its story someday.
Japanese white pine
Japanese white pine
Japanese white pine
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