Things we look for at bonsai exhibits: healthy, beautiful trees in well-thought-out displays, clean pots and attractive top-dressings. This much is true for almost any bonsai exhibit. It’s when we start to consider criteria for evaluating individual trees that things get interesting.
I have yet to visit an exhibit that lined up the trees on display by variety. I wouldn’t recommend it from a curation perspective, but it could be a great learning experience. Likewise if the trees were lined up by style. Seeing what works and what doesn’t can jump out when comparing like specimens side-by-side, and it’s a great way to highlight trees’ best points.
Below are bonsai displayed at the Bay Area Bonsai Associates’ 34th annual exhibit shuffled roughly by variety along with some notes specific to each group’s style or species.
First up – the junipers. What do we look for in juniper bonsai? Deadwood and movement. Taper and branch development count too, but deadwood and movement are key features of the variety.
Shimpaku – note consistent taper and movement along the trunk
Shimpaku – good deadwood and movement
The silhouette suites the movement of the trunk well
Shimpaku grafted on Sierra juniper – Jim Gremel pot
California juniper – the deadwood shows great age
From the side – note the slender lifeline
California juniper – good contrast between the life lines and the deadwood
Bringing the foliage closer to these key features could heighten the effect
Pines are prized for quite different features. For pines, age is best conveyed through the bark.
Japanese White pine – note the bark developing on the upper trunk and branches
Japanese black pine – great trunk (and healthy candles!)
Note the consistent downward angle of the branches
Japanese black pine – the semi-cascade approach is well-suited to this specimen
Deciduous trees too are prized for their trunks, but it’s in the branch development that we can see deciduous specimens at their best. Although it can be tricky to evaluate ramification after the leaves emerge, the young leaves are beautiful and do a great job of conveying the season.
Trident maple – silhouette mostly in place
Trident maple – silhouette in development
Trident maple – silhouette in early stages of development
Korean hornbeam – the silhouette is looking good
Korean hornbeam – silhouette in slightly earlier stages of development
Flowering varieties are much appreciated when shown in bloom and make great highlights for the exhibit hall.
Contorted Japanese flowering quince – Jim Gremel pot
Beech are among the last deciduous varieties to leaf out in spring and remind us that we’re not completely done with winter.
As broadleaf evergreens are typically shown in leaf, the idea is to show them full with beautiful silhouettes. Depending on the variety, a number styles are available, though informal upright makes for one of the more natural approaches.
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