Welcome to The Way of Bonsai™ where I hope we can share a love for the little trees and learn to make them together. I enjoy this hobby because it allows the enthusiast the opportunity to continually learn something new, whether it be the growth habits of a particular species of tree or the design principles that create the illusion of an ancient tree in miniature. So, we are in this together…not so much as teacher and student, but as two enthusiasts with different skill sets to share. ( I find the term “bonsai master” to be ridiculous and have never found a professional in Japan referred to as a “master”. )
Believe it or not, the juniper posted here is less than six inches tall from the top of the pot to the top of the tree. As with many of the trees that I have worked on in Japan over the years, this one has a little story to go with it.
One day, while I was contorting a juniper into an aesthetically pleasing design, my boss inquired if junipers (shinpaku) were my favorite trees to work on at the shop. I replied that I enjoyed the challenge they posed. He then said, “Well, fine. Let’s break for today and go see a grower in a nearby city”. (Note: I worked seven days a week at the shop for years and these excursions gave me a chance to leave behind the daily routine for a few hours.)
We found the grower and, while my boss was conferring with the owner, I meandered through the field surveying the hundreds of shinpaku in ten gallon buckets. They were approximately four feet tall with many whips springing up from the base. I eventually went back to my boss and I heard him tell the grower that he wanted the trees. The man asked, “How many?”and my boss replied, “We’ll take them all.” They haggled over the price and the next day the trucks came and we off-loaded them and stored them in the compound. That same morning my boss showed me the first step in turning the trees into bonsai. He wired, contorted, and compressed the branches in hopes of creating wildly expressive dead wood (jin) in the future and a few branches that would support the greenery used for later design of the overall foliage pads. After showing me an example he then had me work on one of the trees. He made some adjustments to my work and then laughed and said, “Now you can work on your favorite trees! Hundreds of them!”
Over the course of one year I worked and reshaped those many trees until I had reached the point when the above photo was taken. As you can see the contorted dead wood gives the sense of an ancient tree doing battle with an inhospitable environment. Though the foliage pads on the right side of the tree need further development, this tree has progressed and developed into a nice, little bonsai from an overgrown shrub in a relatively short period of time.
I plan to include many galleries of pictures to give you ideas for developing bonsai in a short period of time and I will include similar short stories of my time spent in Japan, China, and Korea learning about bonsai. I hope you will visit often!