Archive for the ‘deadwood’ Tag

Fence Bench   Leave a comment

This has been my first full year of retirement. It has been a roller coaster ride of ups and downs and medical issues. Rosie and I have worked thru them and we are excited for this new summer.

Early in the Winter I started expanding my grow out area. It was expanding and I needed more room to house all the pots and larger tree growing out. It is especially hard since often times canopies are allowed to grow unpruned until sizes are reached on certain branches before pruning back. Having these sitting all over the yard and moving them to mow and water and prune other things is a hassle. What I did was reinforce the fence by installing knee braces at each post with a 4 x 4 and a steel stake driven in the ground. This made the fence super rigid and also adds more strength to the fence since it’s shared with a neighbor. I installed a 16 foot shelf on the fence at the post height, about ten inches from the top of the fence. These are mostly for growing out shohin size trees and with the shelf at 10 inches from the top, I don’t have to worry about something or someone coming along and knocking it off the shelf from the other side.

Two months ago I built the second shelf under the first. This shelf is about 14 inches below the first shelf. Here you can see the knee braces holding the fence firm. Both shelves are 16 feet long. This area gets full sun almost all day. The sun starts about 9:30 AM and gets shade about 5 PM. Notice all the larger stuff on the ground sitting around in colanders and cut down nursery containers.

Today I finished the lower shelf on concrete blocks two high. The shelf is two 16 foot 2 x 6’s with a small block every 5 feet for support and to keep them from twisting. The bench holds all the larger trees that need the support. Underneath is all my seed trays.

Up on the shelves contain cuttings and smaller rooted plants of things taken last year.

These clay pots have elm root cuttings in them, neagari style and the tips of the cuttings all have small green shoots popping out.

Like these….

These small green things are semi cascade style small leaf privets. Just poke them in the ground and roots in 60 days.

I got these three pines from Ed Clark March 14 this year. Two of them have been styled, the third one tomorrow.

The big pine I got from Steve DaSilva. It’s growing really well. I lost two very small branches that turned brown after about a month. The rest of the tree is responding well.

Candles galore.

These two colanders have , I think,  Crape Myrtle seeds in them. They popped out last week and are really growing quite fast. They will be getting the screen on top this week end. The screen keeps them from growing up, and puts all sorts of movement in the seedlings.

These were tridents I did several years ago with the method. Just window screen laid over the seed bed.

That’s the way you put movement into trunks at an early age. I have several hundred tridents that I am doing this way again.

The Bunjin Form   Leave a comment

My Thoughts on Bunjin.

By Jim Osborne

“Bunjin is probably the most miss-understood of all the bonsai styles. Actually, it is not really a style at all but more of a feeling. All good bonsai should evoke some feeling in the viewer, and this is especially true with Bunjin. In most other styles, you look at the roots first, then the trunk. In Bunjin, you look at the trunk, the branches and roots come second. Bunjin is all about the trunk, in other words, the line of the tree.

Bunjin can trace its beginnings back to China, over 1,300 years ago. One can easily see a kind of abstract shape in Bunjin, which brings to mind the art of calligraphy and landscape paintings of the Southern School of China. I learned that the men, who painted in this way, were from the ruling class and turned their backs on the government and courts in order to dedicate their lives to things like poetry, philosophy, calligraphy and painting. They sought freedom for the individual man of culture. These men became known as the “Literati,” meaning educated ones. The literati felt that in their wild landscapes the entire man was revealed, even more than the mountains he painted.

Bunjin bonsai reflects this freedom. In other bonsai styles crossing branches or trunks would be considered incorrect. In the Bunjin style, such crossings are not only permitted, but it can give a powerful tension and drama to the design of the tree. Look at the landscape paintings of the literati. Crossing branches, and odd twists and turns of the trunk are prominent features of their work.

According to Frank Nagata, former dean of the Southern California bonsai masters, “Bunjin is the last of the bonsai styles for the student to appreciate.” As I’ve stated, Bunjin is not really a bonsai “style”. There are few rules, and everyone makes what they feel is right. However, if it’s not done correctly, the tree just looks funny. Therefore Bunjin is very difficult to do.

It is even hard to describe what makes a Bunjin bonsai, because it is more of a sprit that invests the tree than some thing physical. There are some rules however. The most important of which is that the trunk is tall and slender with little or no taper, and it is never straight. The trunk should have interesting twists and turns. In some Bunjin, the apex can be a 180 degree turn in the trunk itself. The branches on Bunjin are asymmetrically arranged and few in number. The first branch being, in most cases, two thirds up the trunk and sparsely greened. Most Bunjin have very little or no surface roots at all.

My bonsai friends and people who know me know that Bunjin has long been my favorite style. I do not really know why this is. Perhaps, it is because of the true freedom that one can enjoy when creating a Bunjin bonsai. I do not have to concern myself with all the rules of the more conventional styles. With Bunjin, I am free to create as I see fit, as long as I take into mind the sprit of the tree. I have found that with Bunjin, you either love it or are indifferent to it. Most people look at a Bunjin and don’t see too much. They think that it must be easy to create, because of the simplicity of the design. Whatever the reason for my love of the style, it gives me great pleasure to create and enjoy them.

People often ask me what is the difference between a Bunjin bonsai and a literati bonsai. Nothing, they are one and the same. New-comers to the art of bonsai learn about the heaven, earth, and man triangle and the arrangement of the branches; first branch second branch, back branch, ect. Then, just when they are beginning to feel sure of themselves, they see a tree that breaks all the rules, and they feel uncomfortable. They don’t like it. When the novice no longer has to think about the rules in bonsai, then maybe they will at some point develop a taste for Bunjin. It has been said that Bunjin or literati bonsai is the most sophisticated of all the bonsai styles and sometimes the uninitiated may see them as artificial.

The great John Naka says this about Bunjin. “The Bunjin style of bonsai is so free that it seems to violate all the principles of bonsai form. The indefinite style has no specific form and is difficult to describe, however, it’s conformation is simple, yet expressive. No doubt it’s most obvious characteristics are those shapes formed by old age and extreme weather conditions.”

What type of pot can be used for Bunjin? As with the style itself, less is more. A round, drum, or a nail head pot could be a good choice for the Bunjin bonsai. Another good selection would be a natural-looking crescent or boat shaped pot. In most cases, the pot will seem somewhat undersized. As in any bonsai, the tree and pot must harmonize with each other. The same rules for color and glaze apply to Bunjin as in any other design.

Thinking about trying to create your own Bunjin bonsai? What type of plant material can be used? Just like other bonsai, you have many choices. The most often used material is some type of pine, because they can be found growing in nature in a Bunjin style. Juniper would be another good choice, but really you are only limited by your own imagination. Whatever you choose, it should be a material that will allow the harsh pruning and sparse foliage that is the hallmark of Bunjin. It should also be something that does well in our Western climate. Bunjin are mostly grown in small pots, which is something to consider in the heat of our summers.

I love this style. It is a challenge to create, and I find that it epitomizes the very sprit of what we as bonsai artist try to create. Bunjin is about the struggle for survival against great odds. It has great age, and displays fantastic movement, and as such, great drama. It tells a story. It surely evokes a feeling in the viewer. It clings to life, year after year, despite itself, in the most adverse conditions. What is not to love about this wonderful style? What more could one want from a bonsai?”

I have found the form very intriguing and began dabbling with Bunjin in about 2012. It is rather difficult to perfect the form and it takes the perfect material to be successful.

I few of my own.


The Trees that Throw Apples?   Leave a comment

Early in my life I saw a movie that scared the bejeezus out of me. The Wizard of Oz. As a small child the beautiful parts of the movie ended up taking a back seat to the scary parts of the movie. I mean, who could ever forget that green witch with her evil cackle and scary looking broom. Later, we would see the team skip down a yellow road and into a spooky forest only to be molested by evil apple throwing trees. That image stuck with me until this day.

Now I have talked many times about a term called “mental model”. A mental model is a term used to explain why people are drawn or not drawn to certain images in their life. Due to my age, BI (before internet) my first exposure to bonsai was the first book I ever purchased. I bought it on my honeymoon and read it cover to cover many times during that week. The pictures in that book set my mental model of what bonsai should look like. I didn’t have the internet to look at and be exposed to countless thousands of images of bonsai from around the world like so many do today. That book was my world and that is what I knew, and bonsai for me was contained upon 50 pages in a small book. Of course my horizons broadened greatly as I found out about the bonsai scene within the state and began to see images of trees not in the book

This modified single trunk tapering “S” curve trunk was my mental model of what bonsai should look like. If only everything we find in nature could look like this!

This photo also captivated my imagination due to my proximity to the trees in nature near me.


This is how I thought bonsai should look. I thought based on the pictures I saw of how to develop bonsai and a finished product, that all bonsai were shaped like an “S” , had massive taper and finished in a pointed triangle.

The subject of this article started in 2011. I was invited to Steve DaSilva’s home for the first time to dig some material from his field. The maples we were digging at that time were about five years old. They had been started in 2006. Up to this point I had only one really big, and good trident maple in my collection. When I saw these in the ground I allowed my awe to get the best of me. I wanted the biggest one I could find. I wanted the tallest, the fattest and digging it gave me so much satisfaction.

I had that puppy out of the ground, Planted in a cut down ten, and filled it with my soil mix. That is just how this tree has sat for the last nine years.

I have moved it around my yard countless times and tried this and that. Started some pine tree type branching on it, but the tree never became all consuming to me. It was always just watered and cared for, without doing much bonsai work to it. Last year after a look at the tree and what I was able to take out of the top, I decided to layer out that top.

That top had made a turn to the side and a new leader was chosen and it looked as if it could be something.

The top removed and planted out.

After removal of the top, I had this stump. Many of the branches left on the trunk have not necessarily been trained in that shape, they are mostly there and that way due to me cutting them back so they didn’t stick out into a travel path. They many times presented a trip hazard and I would just lop them off.

Cesar Ordonez, a new guy to bonsai but eager to learn, asked if he could come over on a Sunday due to his work, and help out with what ever it was I was doing. This past Sunday was a good time for that as I had some things that needed tending to. I put the big monster on the bench and we looked it over. I had it on a turntable and I asked Cesar if there was anything he saw in the stump. We turned it different directions and looked and looked. It had branches but they were in not so good places

I began working the top with a rotary tool. I removed wood from between branches in an effort to add some taper to the stump.

Based on various indicators around the stump like branches, taper, or lack there of, nebari, large roots and future refinement I kept coming back to this one place. I indicated that by placing a sharpie mark on the base of the trunk. While there are places that the trunk looks fatter, it comes with other things that ruin that look. I liked what was going on but was unsatisfied with the shape of the trunk. For this thing to be believable it would need to look like it had lived thru harsh storms and rough living. Nature would have tapered this thing all by itself.

I turned the tree a little off my mark and carved some more. It was looking better and more of the feeling I wanted. The trunk didn’t look so blocky this way and had a subtle turn. I asked Cesar what he thought and I just nicked it with my grinder to seal the deal. No turning back now.

The only thing that kept me from working more was that damn eye poker branch.

With that branch gone there was nothing stopping me from really getting to work on the trunk.

In my research for spooky trees I found some pictures. Of course we have the Wizard of Oz, which had the creepy talking apple throwing trees that scared me as a child.

In my research, which means I look to the internet for inspiration. I found a common theme in scary trees. They all tend to be blocky trunks, cut off square and branches coming out of the top. Perfect, I’m on my way.


More grinding with the Arbor Tech and more woods turns to sawdust. At this point I am adding some texture to the removal of the wood. This will become much more prominent in the future as the interior dries out and texture can be carved with fire and things like that.

I did some cleaning up of branch stubs and buds on the trunk ready to pop.

The tree was popped out of the can and the roots were exposed to the air nine years later. Unfortunately I did not get any pictures of that, though Cesar may have pics on his phone. The tree was prepped up and planted into the colander to build a better root ball and the tree was planted more slanted to accentuate the creepy nature of the tree. Most of the pictures above show the subtle curved trunk at an angle in the soil.

Though the branches are large and unbendable, I was able to move a lot of them. Some of the big ones will be carved down later as smaller new growth, that can be wired into twisty spooky shapes, can be done.

Juniper Winter Work   6 comments

I have worked on many shimpaku and other species juniper over the winter. Many were restyled and re-potted.

Mas Ishii Shimpaku

This first tree is a tree I purchased in 2002. It had been a very beautiful tree but I managed to ruin it over the years. It has escaped death numerous times from spider mite and pinching misfortunes. This is the tree in 2005 after escaping death twice.

Another few years and more rattyness.

A few more years and even less green left.

Left to grow for a few years to get strong and now it may be ready for a restyle….at least with whats left.

Restyled and repotted in a glazed Bunzan.

George Muranaka prostrata.

This tree was purchased in Nov. of 2014. It was left to grow for a couple years and then a first styling was begun.

Cleaned up and put into a first pot.

part of the canopy would be removed and jinned entirely.

Re grow and then style whats left.

George Muranaka Shimpaku

I purchased this tree from George around 2006. Once again it suffered from spider mite and my lack of awareness on how to take good care of the species.

Left to grow and a re style and then a repot. Looks like this now and is growing quite well.

Benny Kim (Kim’s Bonsai) procumbens.

The tree is on the left and purchased in 2002. It had a good trunk about two inches across.

Lots of jins on this one and some carving.

A first styling

Starting to look pretty good.

A new direction for this one. It had started to slump really bad due to the roots giving up on one side. Time to turn it upright.

Done…for now.

Steve DaSilva Procumbens.

These were struck as small plants and wired and twisted up. Planted in a field for a few years and dug up in 2015.

I would use the stock as a demo at the Fresno Home and Garden show in 2016

As it sits today.

Ed Clark Shimapku

This tree came by way of Ed Clark from Bonsai Northwest in Washington State. I kept it for a year making sure it was good for a repot in 2017.

Ready for some work.

It was removed from its growing container and combed out. Root structure was fairly small like most junipers but was rather one sided. I wnted to plant it into a signature Begei pot I had and felt that once planted here it could stay for a while. The one sided root meant it was planted well off center but will be fixed later when new roots go and allow for more diligent root pruning.

Now for the style part.

There is a large looping jin that comes over the top of the tree. The shoot I wish to be the apex is in front of that jin. I need to get it behind.

So…with some praying and bending and pulling I ease the jin around the shoot.

Now I am happy with the position of everything and can start the details.

More pruning and removing everything I don’t want. That should mean I have only the things I do want. Good in theory and poor in practise….

After some wire and manipulation I am able to coex a pretty decent tree out of the aftermath. Next year I will concentrate on managing shoot strength and how to treat possible shari on the trunk….or not!

Mas Ishii Shimpaku

I purchased this tree from Gary Ishii in 2004. Like all my shimpaku I battled the spider mites with fury. Mostly they seem to win but never kill the tree but ruin it for many years till successive cut backs get rid of grey and yellow foliage.

This style took place in 2010 after the tree had recovered for many years. It was planted into a Sarah Rayner shallow glazed bunjin pot.

This winter the tree underwent another re style and pot change. This time into a heavily patinanted Bunjin Begei.

….then the styling

Troubled Pine   4 comments

Bob Hilvers, Curator of the Collection of bonsai at the Clark Center for Japanese Art, brought this pine for the meeting last Thursday in Hanford California. This is one of three clubs I belong to. Bob brought this pine last year around this time and more of the tree was green. Since then he has removed all the foliage from an upright branch with the options of reducing its length, jinninig it or removing it completely.



Bob scratches his head wondering what to do with this tree….

This view is the front of the tree due to the deadwood and what is going on.



This is a back view of the tree. This side is more boring and lack the ruggedness of the deadwood from the other side.


Even if the tree was made from this side somehow this pad of foliage that turns in on the other side would have to get to the point of Bobs hand.


A better view of the back


A view of one of the sides from the dead side of the tree.



I am thinking this could be a nice side to work from.


The present front.


Close up of the branch that used to be alive.


A close up of the smaller jin lower on the trunk.


What would you do with this perplexing problem tree?

Artist Spotlight; David Nguy – California Juniper   1 comment

The Fresno Bonsai Society sponsered David Nguy (pronounced “Nwee”) for an all day workshop and a demo with a California Juniper that would be raffled off at the end of the day. This was a very good workshop as I learned many new things aout these junipers that I did not know before. While the design aspects of the demo were much the same as I do already, what really got my juices flowing was the out pouring of tips and technique on the species aspect of the tree. Most of these ideas also apply to all junipers and make life so much easier when it comes to styling one of these thing from bare bones.

This juniper while supplied by David was not dug by David. Since most of the junipers he had, over 200, most were too large for a raffle or had not been sitting long enough to have the work applied to them yet. He purchased this tree for our raffle and since it was smaller it fit better within our budget. The tree had some work done on the deadwood already but this part was not exactly up to Davids standards. The deadwood had been worked on with power tools and looked like a 1/4 dremel bit had been used to apply grooves and holes all over. Not very natural looking. David would take care of this part soon enough.

David has studied with everyone in Southern California and most recently with Masahiko Kimura. He studied there while Ryan was there and some of the stories he enlightened us with were very entertaining. Any club in California would benifit with a weekend with David. He comes highly recommended.

So lets get to the demo. As I type away at the keys, I will italicise the parts that were new to me. I may have heard of some of these things but had really never seen them used in practise. David started out by explaining about the base of a tree and why we search for parts of the tree that are better than others. Of course roots play an important role in this decision, it is an accepted fact here as well as in Japan that nebari on a collected tree from nature will not always have the most pleasing roots. It is best to try and pick the part of the trunk base with the best flare and show the widest part of the trunk. During this decision branches that are eye pokers or bar branches should best be removed so as not settle for a lessor part of the base in order to keep branches. By removeing the offending branches from the beginning, it will actually be easier to make use of whats left rather than fight trying to make use of branches that play a minor part of the design. Other branches can always be bent into voids to help convey the design.

David has propped this tree up on blocks to get an approximate design angle for what might become the finished angle. The first thing that is noticed is that all the mass of deadwood at the base blocks the view of the trunk ascending from the soil. In order for us to see this, it will be necessary to reduce the visual mass of the jin to see that area.


He turns the plant so we can see all the deadwood blocking the view. All of this will have to be reduced. For the first hour of the demo David had a huge pair of trunk splitters for reducing all this wood.






Large bites with the trunk splitter made the jins reduce very quickly. Smaller bites for refining.


He now begins to reduce the large jin on the back of the tree. This branch was about two inches thick.


All the deadwood can now be covered with his hands. It is more compact and the deadwood is more in balance with the size of the tree. It now is a supporting player and not such a dominate force.



Now it is time to talk about juniper foliage. In the past…..

junipers were kept in control by pinching, and at some point trimming with scissor. This pinching would always turn brown and look terrible. Juniper foliage clouds would be sculpted by pinching the outline to keep all the tips the same length. While this looks amazing right after it is done, it still looks crappy in a week. Also junipers were pruned back in the hopes of stimulating new buds. What this does is stall the plant. What is better is to prune away all the foliage and keep the strong tips, building density with overlapping layers of foliage. A branch is shortened by reducing the foliage back to the secondary branching or in some cases all the way back to the primary branch.

(This will be shown in detail later)


David explains that this tree has nearly double the amount of foliage it needs to accomplish the design idea.


What he will do is remove all the foliage from the last two years. Most of the time a juniper will keep green foliage for about two years and the three year old foliage is that which will turn brown. All David wants to deal with is the strong one year old foliage.

This seems funny since removing all this foliage makes the tree look very pom pom like. It seems to go against all that is bonsai by retaining more foliage closer to the trunk rather than have all this leggy foliage.




In the middle is an interior shoot full of old foliage.


After reducing all the old growth we have a branch that is nude for half its length and then a tuft of very vigorous foliage out near the tip.


Here is a section that has been cleaned out. I have been cutting off too much of the strong growth in the hope of forcing new growth in closer. Davids approach is to always be working with new growth and cover the leggy part with sucessive layers of foliage.



David uses only copper for wiring and gets his copper from Japan. He says that copper in the USA has hard and soft spots. The Japanese anneal wire by rotating the wire as it anneals rather than put it all in the fire at once. His wire was so soft, I have never seen wire like this. He unrolls the wire carfully and cuts it into 3 foot lengths . These are stored in PVC tubes that allow one to knock around the wire but not harden it by bending.



David demonstrated how to wire even though most of us were already good at wire. He did show me this that I didn’t know which I have been guilty of many times and just didn’t know it. Everyone knows how to wire two branches with one wire by splitting it over a wye in the branch. The hint is: make sure that when bending a branch down, start the loop on the bottom of the wye. If bending the branch up start the wire on top of the wye. What happens is if you start on the top and bend the branch down, the fulcrum has nothing to apply purchase to.


It will just rock up and not have any holding power.

Sounds simple, but I know I have done this before. I just didn’t know it and was pissed that my wire did not hold.


David wires every branch and was using some very small wire. Down to about 18 gauge copper. Thats pretty small wire.


David begins working on the apex, and working it around twisting and foreshortening it to achieve a fuller apex.


Just a tad short and needed a chair to wire the top. He said Kimura makes all his apprentices work on trees by kneeling and adjusting ones body up and down to achieve different levels on the tree. No getting on ones feet or chairs.

That guy in the background must be thinking “Man, I wish I owned that tree.”




Davids finished first styling. He said this tree will respond well because the work was minimal and that it should be rewired next year.


Wow! He was the lucky raffle winner after all. Congratulations Greg Wynn.


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