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"And the LORD God made ... trees that were pleasing to the eye ..." Gen. 2:9, New International Version.

"Bonsai isn't just something I do; it's part of what I am." Remark to my wife and daughter.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Enjoying New Leaves - But Not Spring Leaves

     About a month ago, this parrot's-beak (Gmelina philippensis) was exposed to temperatures a little below freezing for a number of hours, after I put too much confidence in the overnite weather forecast. The species is tropical. The tree itself survived, but all its leaves were frost-nipped and lost.

New leaves have been coming in - I was quite relieved when the first ones appeared - and I find their fresh light- and medium-green color quite enjoyable!  It's like a foretaste of spring; but under false pretenses, one might almost say, since this species doesn't normally shed its leaves every year.

Parrot's-beak (Gmelina philippensis). Picture taken yesterday under a porch roof.
Picture taken today in late afternoon, open sky overhead.
A closer look, to see more shades of green
Gmelina philippensis (the initial G is silent) is native from the Philippine Islands westward to India. In its native range it sometimes grows as a woody climber, as does bougainvillea. Also like bougainvillea, it is spiny, tho the spines are small and I have yet to have one break the skin. The yellow flowers resemble parrots' beaks, hence the English common name.

I've had this tree for almost 6 years now. It's been doing well in medium-grade bonsai soil and with medium water; it seems to do best in full sun at my latitude (just over 41° North.) The species has been described as "leaf-dense," and I've found that accurate. That makes it easy to shape an attractive canopy. On the other hand, the thin bark wounds easily and any wound seems to take half of forever to heal over. Clip-and-grow seems to be the best technique for shaping parrot's-beak, with wire used only with considerable care and vigilance.

:-)  :-)  :-)

Monday, January 2, 2017

An Image to Inspire a Bonsai

     One of the Christmas gifts that my lovely wife gave me this year was a calendar simply titled "Trees." Each month's picture is of a tree, or trees, from one view or another. I've always found trees interesting, a big factor, I'm sure, in my love of bonsai.

Several of the pictures show trees that are good models for bonsai; here is one of those.

Photo credit to TF Publishing. No copyright restrictions found.
This a birch; if I had to guess, I'd guess a paper birch (Betula papyrifera.) But while I can't be sure of the tree's species, I am sure it offers a great deal of visual interest in its lines and form. Here's an image on which to base a bonsai: strong, well-rooted, well developed, thriving, mature.

The late John Naka, in his well-known Bonsai Techniques, included a number of pictures of trees, each tree's picture paired with the sketch for a bonsai which he had developed from that picture. It's worth noting that, more than once, he ignored an accepted design rule or two in order to stay faithful to the living tree's image.

Besides demonstrating a very useful technique with those pictures and the derived drawings, Naka gave his readers a non-verbal reminder: the art of bonsai is about trees, and tree images. One of the pithy sayings for which he was known puts it another way: "One trip to the mountains is worth 10 workshops!"

My wife knows me pretty well. Along with this calendar, she also gave me an Ansel Adams (Ansel Adams!) print of a snow-covered apple orchard. Thanks, sweetie! 💕

:-)  :-)  :-)

Sunday, November 13, 2016

A Grafting Tip

(Readers who receive the Fort Wayne Bonsai Club newsletter will see this in the current issue in slightly different form.)

     During the Exhibit Critique at the 2016 Mid-America show, Colin Lewis described a grafting technique that gets around one of the common difficulties encountered in grafting. That difficulty is making sure that the cambium of the scion and the cambium of the stock line up with each other at all (or almost all) points. Until your eye has been trained by some experience, making sure that the cambium layers line up all around can be a very frustrating affair.

The technique Lewis shared abandons any attempt to make the cambium line up all around in exchange for eight guaranteed points of cambium-to-cambium contact. Let me try to explain the method, using some twigs cut from the ash tree in our front yard for the purpose. (In case anyone wonders, the intent of this post is to explain and illustrate the concept, not record an actual graft.) 

Step 1. The first step is to trim the scion flat on one side. The cut needs to be as smooth as possible. Then turn the scion over and trim the opposite side in the same way. The surfaces of the trimmed areas need to be as close to parallel as possible.

The green arrows point to the cambium, the thin green layer between the brown of the bark and the off-white of the sapwood.
The chartreuse arrow points to the foliage end of the scion.

This technique, by the way, can be used equally well when a seedling or rooted cutting is being grafted in and its own roots are being retained until the graft takes. You just trim down into the sapwood on opposite sides, as illustrated, at the point on the scion where you want it to contact the stock. Make the trimmed-down area just slightly wider than the flap bed (the exposed area of cambium and sapwood on the stock; see picture 2.)

Step 2. Cut the flap in the stock.

Again, the green arrows point to the cambium, the chartreuse toward the foliage.

Step 3. If the scion is thin enough after trimming, you can skip step 3. But if the scion is thick enough that you won’t be able to close the flap properly, you need a notch, no wider than the scion and just deep enough that the upper surface of the scion lies flush, or nearly flush, with the top of the notch. Note the red arrow! If I had actually been making a graft, rather than simply trying to illustrate a technique, I would not have left the floor of the notch so rough. For an actual graft, it needs to be smooth and flat.

Do not leave the floor of the notch rough like this.

By the way, you can make the notch at any angle you choose, depending on the angle of growth you want the new branch to take. Handy, huh?


Step 4. When you lay the scion in the notch, the line of cambium on each side is going to cross each of the lines of cambium in the stock. That gives you four firm points of cambium-to-cambium contact, two on each side of the scion on its underside. 

Each of the green circles sits above a point of cambium-to-cambium contact on the underside of the scion.

Step 5. The underside of the flap also has two longitudinal lines of cambium, and when you close the flap, each of them is going to come into contact with each of the two cambium lines on the upper side of the scion. This gives you four more points of cambium-to-cambium contact.

You now have four cambium-to-cambium points of contact on the underside of the scion, and four on the upper side, for a total of eight. This is enough for a good join.

Again, each green circle sits above a cambium-to-cambium contact point on the upper side of the scion,
as well as one on the underside.
It's important that the flap lie flat or nearly so, so that cambium-to-cambium contact can be re-established between the flap and its bed. Otherwise, you risk some dieback and an unsightly wound.

(Don't forget that when you make an actual graft, there are other things to consider as well: a very sharp knife and good aftercare, to name just two.)

Lewis pointed out another benefit of this technique: Sometimes the stock branch is intended to be cut off after the graft takes, and the scion is intended to take over. In that event, you’ve introduced some movement into the eventual finished branch in the process of making your graft!

:-)  :-)  :-)

Friday, September 30, 2016

Fort Wayne Bonsai Club Fall Show, 2016

     The Fall Show that I invited all and sundry to visit, held last Saturday, went very well. We had a very good turnout, due in part to the fact that another Japanese-themed event was held in another part of the Foellinger-Freimann Conservatory that same day. Undoubtedly some people on their way to the "Japanese Family Event" stopped on the way to take a look at our bonsai, and some who came to our show then decided to proceed down the hall to the Japanese Family Event. Win-win!

As I've mentioned before, I'm not nearly the almost-instinctive photographer my wife is. On top of that, my camera's battery died early on. Still, I did get a few pictures worth posting.

Club members were enthusiastic about bringing their trees; we may have had the biggest display yet.
Jeff and Bruce appear to be deciding whether to break my camera or just make me pay a ransom! (Just kidding.)
Ed discussing a point with one of our newer members, while Becky takes a turn at the sale table.
The next two pictures were taken with my smartphone camera after my regular camera was electrically dead. Please forgive the picture quality.

A yamadori ponderosa (Pinus ponderosa,) and a crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) in eye-catching bloom. 
Larry Benjamin's splendid trident maple (Acer buergerianum.) I know I posted a picture of it after the Spring Show,
but this tree is worth showing again. And the smartphone's picture produces something of a silhouette effect.

As at the last several shows, I spent most of the time at the work table in the Conservatory lobby. Any work I got done was, in a sense, a bonus: my primary reason for being there was to pique visitors' curiosity and encourage them to stop at the display. That often involved answering questions about bonsai, which I am never loath to do. (Just ask my lovely wife.) One man in particular, altho he has no bonsai experience, had a number of very perceptive questions.

My demo tree, an Austrian pine (a.k.a. European black pine,) before work started. Pinus nigra.
The demo tree after the day's work. As one wit said, "If you're not appalled at what you've done, you haven't pruned enough!"
I've been shaping this tree a little at a time over a number of years, aiming for a semi-cascade (one of my favorite styles) without constraining its own quirks too much. This season it was allowed to grow wild until the Show. In this work session I cut it back to encourage compactness and ramification, thinned the foliage, and repositioned the first branch and the "lion's tail." Next spring it will be repotted and then allowed to grow untouched for the rest of the season. Major wiring will follow in 2018, and I hope to have it into a display pot within a couple of years after that.

I bought this and a few other Austrian pines when I was looking for a tough, esthetically pleasing and readily available species to recommend to bonsai beginners in this part of the USA. I have since decided that yews fit my criteria better, and have switched much of my focus to them. (See this page to read more.) But I'm still working with this Austrian and a few others, just to see how they'll turn out. 

:-)  :-)  :-)