Archive for the ‘Bonsai’ Category

I would first like to apologize for the lack of content for a long time. It isn’t without reason but, I’m not going to into that right now. What I would like to say though, is that I have now been in Japan for five years now, it has been a roller coaster of up’s and down’s to say the least. I have a lot of respect for anyone who comes and does any length of time as a full apprentice. I believe no matter where you do your apprenticeship it is never an easy task, everyone sacrifices a lot and it can only ever be taken a step at a time.

After all this time, I’m proud to say that I have received my certificate from the Nihon Bonsai Kyōkai/Japan Bonsai Association and I have finished my apprenticeship.

I would like to thank Oyakata, Daiju-en Oyakata, fellow apprentices that have we have worked together and soldiered through, all friends who have helped and supported me and my loving family in the United Kingdom. Most of all I would like to thank my wonderful loving wife and our children, without your help & love this most truly wouldn’t of been possible and makes it all worth doing.

The title of this post is a quote from Winston Churchill, who needs no introduction at least back home anyway. I thought it was slightly apt as, although my time as an apprentice has finished the start is only in sight and from now my hope is only to continue to support my family doing what I love, spreading bonsai where I can. Yoroshiku onigaishimasu!

Oyakata gave me a tree a while back to wire, style and make look nice. A mountain collected juniper that had already been re-potted and the front chosen some time ago. It was just a case of recreating structure, making pads and trying to make a clean look, whilst still a natural feeling.

The tree to start wasn’t looking in bad condition and was looking very natural but, in good condition for a wiring to make look good.

I started with normal shimpaku clean up, cleaning the foliage live vein, etc and then on to wiring.

This was the final result.


  I opened op the front to show more trunk, shari and live vein. Separated some of the bigger pads into smaller pads to give the tree more depth and better flow.

Another tree that I was given to work was a small cascade.


The tree was bought and repotted quickly a good year ago and wasn’t in great health at the time. One of my Sempai was watching Oyakata re-pot it and stated the was a good chance it my die. Since then the tree has grown in strength and made it through it all.

Oyakata asked me to wire it now it was in better health. It was a bit of a challenge has it had been changed from bunjin to kengai and structure had to be completely reset.


Overall I was pleased with result and its set it on a path of improvement but, still has a few years to really fill out and reach its potential.

A chuhin Shimpaku that has been here for a couple of years or so, finally got it’s first styling by myself.

The tree had been re-potted and cleaned up back when it first arrived but, hadn’t been touched apart from basic maintence since then. Another apprentice brought the tree to the work shop for maintence but, Oyakata asked me to wire it instead. The photo above was after I had removed all weak foliage and cleaned the live vein. 

I then proceeded to wire, setting new structure as the front was changed and finished with cleaning the Shari & lime sulphur. 


I really want the foliage to gain in size fill out more, so it’s more proportionate to the dead wood and also envelope around the Shari more so, as to break up the powerful Shari more than it is now. I tried my best to bring the foliage and the Shari together but, it’s the best I could do for now though.

Thanks for reading I hope you enjoyed seeing some of my work.

Around five years ago at a visit to Ken Fujiwara’s nursery I was checking out the tree’s and came across a white pine that caught my eye. It had very good leaf and looked healthy. It had some inverse taper though and I wasn’t sure if it was grafted on to black pine or if it was natural white pine. After a chat with my Sempai he confirmed it was grafted and that was why it had inverse taper. The bulge did have Shari to it one side and this gave that area some interest and not only a bad point. I could see that the tree had some potential and I knew it was bendable so, I proceeded with asking a price. Being as it was grafted on black pine it made the material more affordable for me, otherwise it probably still would be expensive as a natural white pine and Oyakata said he would of bought the tree if it was natural white pine. Setsu Goyomatsu can still command high prices if the are very good tree’s otherwise they have a tendency to be cheaper. I decided that I wanted to try to make the tree even though I didn’t know how exactly but, I thought there is a good tree in there.

One day when I had some free time at night I started working on the tree. Unfortunately I lost the photo’s of the initial bend before but, this is the tree in October of 2015 near the end of one growing season after I bent the tree. The big bend was bent best part of forty five degrees.


As you can probably see the tree suffered a little on the top where it had the hard bend.


You can see more clearly  from these two pictures. The first is the top of the tree and it pushed weakly with short new needles compared to the second photo of the bottom bench which was not so severely bent. It was this point I was glad I didn’t work the whole tree because it possibly could of been too much for the top section and died. With any type of tree, bending hard and later wiring is the safest option but, knowing your species and how far you can push them is paramount. White pines are certainly more tricky even when they are strong compared to other species.

Here you can see the damage and Shari caused from the bend after I removed the tape.


The tape doesn’t stop the damage happening but, helps to limit and hold the bark, cambian, etc.

I then followed up with some maintenance to try to help balance and strengthen the top part.

I left the top half alone, leaving all needle and on the strong area I cut all old needles leaving only this years needles. This is to open up the strong area, let light in and potential new buds from the cut needles can still form. Leaving the weak area should help to strengthen this part and give it the best chance to catch up with the lower branch.

This how the tree looked after the sessions work.

I then decided to re-pot in March 2016, to strengthen the tree and get into a better mix also to adjust its angle ready for its styling.


This was a quick snap mod re-potting, is isn’t take an after pick at the time and forgot to take later as I think it was getting late.

The tree was then left to grow and the only work for that growing season consisted of some candle pinching on the strongest of shoots on the main branch.


This is the tree in its new pot with the chosen front. The top half has got stronger but, still not quite caught up to the main branch on the right. The ceramic choice is maybe my favorite style of pots, of course not suited for every tree but, I believe a good choice for this one. I love very deep powerful ovals such as this one and this has just enough femininity to use with a white pine in my humble opinion.

Even still I decided it was ok to style and wire the tree.

Here you can see the detail of the Shari ball which is to be the focus and main interest of the tree. With the combination of the bend and angle change the tree looses most of its inverse taper and crates an interesting swirl of movement for a main trunk.

The start of the work consisted of running a screw through the bent part of the trunk to ensure that it wouldn’t move after I removed all the guy wires. I then proceed to remove all all needles and some new needles on the strong branch because it was still very strong and to give space to wire. I was only going to remove old needles on the weaker part if I needed to as I wired. I also cut any branches and made Jin which weren’t needed.

The tree then ready, I went on to wire one branch at a time starting with the main branch and working up.


I went branch by branch till I got to the apex. My analysis of the top was that it wasn’t the easiest to make but, had several options. There are three branches and all could be used. I discounted the already natural apex as it was too long, was difficult to fit and I couldn’t use it to fill in the top because it would always look like the tip of the apex if I left it. So I cut it out and the Jin you see in the picture above is it. It’s not always the best move cutting out parts you can use as the apex especially if you want the tree to look full but, in this case it had to be done to create better structure.  I was then left with one viable option in my mind as the other possible option had to be used to make a pad on the left.

I then laid down the left & the right branch and taped the back branch. My plan was to curl the branch around to fill in and form the apex. I felt it was the fullest, strongest and would make the best top on an already leggy apex.


I then curled the branch, following the curve, up and forwards using my jack (for ease and control) and a guy wire connected to the jin & wire.


I then wired the apex and this was the result after a little fixing.

I wasn’t really happy though and felt like the second branch on the right was hiding the nice sweep of the main branch which I wanted to show. That led me to taking it out and cutting it off.

This was the finished tree after it’s first wiring but, it still has a long road ahead of it to eventually become a bonsai. I’ve tried my best to be patient with this tree’s progression but, still try to push to develop it quickly enough. It’s not always easy with white pine knowing how far you can take them without going over the edge. From my experience I feel harder styling should be left in the dormant time, when the tree is strong and this is when I have had my best results.

Moving forward about another two years the tree has only been maintained with old needle and wire removal. I had the tree back in the workshop ready for a re-wiring, older and wiser hoping to improve on what has already been done.

Here I had already cut off a secondary branch from the main branch and the old secondary branch. My reasoning is to compact the tree as it’s grown out a lot and to make a more chuhin size. Another thing is to open it up if the balance branch was kept it would of hidden too much of the trunk. I then continued to wire brining down branches and spreading the apex so in time it will fill out better.

This was my initial finished image for the moment but, reviewing the photo Some changes need to be made. The apex is a little narrow for the moment but there isn’t anything that can be done for now about that but, It will fill out in the future considering it was so leggy.

What I wasn’t happy about is that the main branch and how separate and in compact it was. It was highlighted more from a photo, than in person. So using a guy wire I pulled it up and in to try to correct it.

This was the final image for now . I’m looking forward to see it develop, fill out and mature. It’s amazing how much it has thickened and changed in this short time.

Here is a short video, to give a better idea of the trunk.

Thank you for reading and merry Christmas everyone!

Not every body knows but, Aichi-en has two plots of the nursery a couple of blocks apart. The second area which is least know, we refer as the field. It contains very low concrete benches and a little growing bed area. Most of the tree’s there are very raw, in development or just too big too fit on the nursery. They are watered and mainly taken care of by Mr Tanaka’s mother and acts as an overflow. Recently a Chinese buyer bought about ten field grown black pines and when we where there loading them on to the truck Mr Tanaka asked us to bring back this tree for me to wire.


Most of the tree’s their are nothing to write home about but, there are a few gem’s amongst it all. This tree is one that me and Juan had eyed up a long time ago because we knew that it had some potential to make a nice tree one day. It’s an old collected tree but, still very raw and reminded a little of the collected material back in Europe.

The main feature of the tree is the old shari on the trunk and this is what I wanted to show in styling.



To start off I pulled needles and cleaned the inside of the sabamiki to see what branches & structure I have to use.


I removed a few ‘definate don’t need branches’ and looked at both sides. Either of them could be made both having plus and negative points. In the end though I went with my initial gut choice and what I believed would make the best tree in the future.


Somewhere around this and having made the decision I gave Martín the all clear to remove a big branch going up.


If I had chosen the opposite side as a front then this would have been the main branch, which was one of the main plus sides of using the other side, it being thicker and older branch. Using this side though, it was useless and had to go.

I then set about wiring the branches into place. It wasn’t the easiest of styling’s, with young branches black pine can be very brittle but, they are strong and can handle a few small breaks.

Finally with an up-potting here was the initial styling result.


It’s still very raw and has a very long was to go but, I hope it’s a step in the right direction and on its way to being a bonsai one day.

As I was taking the final picture a happy geisha came to view the tree to my surprise, just like you see in pictures of exhibitions in Japan!

Back along Mr Tanaka came back with a new kifu sized white pine.


The tree is setsu-goyo/grafted on to black pine base which many of us are familiar with being as many are exported around the world. Favored for their strength and size. This one however is very old, older than many you see and sets it apart some what. 

This tree also belonged to a famous collecter and customer who has since passed, Mr Ryoji Fukui. A  customer of shokuji-en(Ishi-San), formally residing in Nagoya and now Inazawa, it was the most famous nursery in Nagoya. Shokuji-en is famous for shohin bonsai and  Fukui-San was a shohin collector but, also had some very nice big tree’s.

There is a published book of Fukui-San’s tree’s but, this tree does not feature in it. The book contains many we’ll known tree’s including Kokufu winner’s.


I set about working the tree according to Mr Tanaka’s instructions with a slight front change. I had remove a branch at the front to show the trunk. 


It had been some time since the tree had been worked, was leggy and really needed a structure set. The tree also could do with a slight tilting to the right and in the future a more suitable pot change to show the real power of the tree. I look forward to seeing the pot selection Mr Tananka chooses and how much it will change feel of the tree in the near future.

This white pine came to Aichi-en about two years ago, it has since been re-potted to change the angle a little and left to get healthy. Mr Tanaka got for a good price and knew with a little work it would make a nice tree. It’s old and has some cool shari including some interesting ita-shari at the top. This is quite unusual with white pines and more commonly found in Shimpaku/Chinese junipers.
As I set about wiring it, I tried to consider the tree and its style. Being slanting with a slight bunjin feeling, I wanted to make the pads powerful enough to fit in with the chunky trunk but, not so heavy that it lost its mountain, literati feeling. I kept the main branch as one pad and tried to break the tree up more further up.


For me the tree at the moment looks too clean for its style. It should look more natural  more bunjin style foliage pads but, for now this was development work and setting the structure. Give the tree one or two years growth the pads will naturally soften up.

One day before Mr Tanaka was set to go to Kokufu he asked me to style this tree for the sales area.


At the time it was just before we watered, it was close to lunch and I need to leave early that day (about 3:00) for personal reasons. Mr Tanaka and the guy’s were heading off to a customer’s for work after lunch.

The tree had been bought previously bought by Mr Tanaka on-line. It is old, good leaf and many things going for it. The only problem with the tree from an earlier inspection is its bad branch structure. Knowing this and with my time limit I knew my work was cut out for me (apprentice pressure). 

So I set about wiring, cleaning the tree and pulling old needles as I went. Quickly we got called for lunch but, I ate fast and I went back to work straight after (not really any time for a lunch break).

I didn’t have so much time to pontificate about which branches to cut or keep but, I tried to keep to Aichi-en style and improve structure best I could with still trying to make the tree look nice.

This was the final result.


I thought that it didn’t turn out too bad but, Mr Tanaka decided not too take it. Not sure if this was because he felt it wasn’t good enough or just decided to keep it. 

A little while back i was given this akamatsu/red pine to wire. 


This tree was first styled back in 2012 by Mr Tanaka for an Kinbon article.

As you can see the transformation was truly impressive and some awesome work. It completely altered the tree making compact and balanced. However as in any process of making a bonsai tree this is only the first stage and is never instant.

Following the styling only maintenance work has been performed on the tree. This included de-candling, pulling of needles and general care. 

The tree wasn’t de-candled last year and now was starting to loose shape. Mr tanaka decided it needed a second wiring and asked me to wire it. I started by pulling needles and removing any branches that had died.


After pulling the needle’s it’s easier to see how much the tree has got out of shape from a picture and it required cutting back quite a bit in areas to bring the tree back to shape.


This was the result after I finished wiring. 

I was pleased with it and Mr Tanaka only cut one small twig as his corrections. Before red pine where closest to the least favorite specie to work with but, my appreciation of red pine has only gone up & up recently, now to the point I believe they are one of the best in many ways.

The yearly maintenance on black pines/kuromatsu (Candle cutting, needle pulling and any necessary thinning) has been going on now for a short while as we start pretty early at Aichi-en. We start with the biggest and work are way down to the smallest over the span of a month.

This is the second tree that I did this year.

  
 And after work.

  
There are many tree’s at Aichi-en, from recently purchased to the span of the nurseries existence.  This tree actually falls close to being here from the very beginning, one of the longest here and has seen all four generations of Aichi-en. From Mr Tanaka’s great-grandfather’s time, it’s been here for one hundred years. Originally a collected tree (yamadori) it was styled and designed by him. The shari isn’t actually original and was made by Mr Tanaka’s great-grandfather though, to look at it now you really couldn’t tell. 

This tree actually features in Mr Tanaka’s grandfathers book from twenty years ago. Recently an apprentice here decided to go home and Mr Tanaka kindly gave us a copy each.

  
 This book contains some pictures of old Aichi-en tree’s, some of which  were made here & still are here today and some that have been sold or no longer with us. 

This is the same black pine by, twenty years ago.

  
The tree has in fact not been changed or re-styled since. It does though gradually naturally fall slowly in the pot over time. Each time it’s re-potted it is re-angled back up but, it continues to gradually fall and hence the current picture angle of the tree. The tree has got wider/more full and although it’s not really visible from the photo’s the thickness of the bark has changed significantly. As Mr Tanaka said (as I made this observation) twenty years is a long time and tree’s develop a lot.

This is a picture of Mr Tanaka’s grandfather at the time of the book making.

  
This is a picture of the first two generations of Aichi-en. Mr Tanaka’s great grandfather and grandfather.
  
It was nice to hear some stories behind some of the tree’s here at Aichi-en the other day whilst looking at the book with Mr Tanaka. With such a long history and heritage it is humbling to be a part of it, work with them and as today marks my official date of two years here since my return, after my trial period. It is nice to reflect, be grateful and think what the future holds. An apprenticeship is a marathon to be run daily, with ups and downs, It’s not all good or all bad, happy times and sad times. At the end of the day though I feel that I’m a very lucky person, this is a life changing experience and for certain it’s one of the best things, if not the best thing I’ve done in my life! The future is uncertain but, it certainly is bright.. Onwards and upwards…!!!!

After finishing the maintenance work on the developed Japanese maples and trident maples we then moved on to doing some work to tree’s in development. This tree has been here for a while and I felt it was time it could do with a little work. It was ideal at this time because the branches had now not been cut this year and there was length to graft.

  
 The tree is a yamamomiji/Japanese mountain maple with poor leaf quality. The leaf is not good because of the size is large and the inter nodal distance is long. At sometime it was partly grafted with Seigen and left to grow for the most part, probably to let the grafts take and heal the scar’s (which are healed now).

Here you can see the difference between the different foliage types. 

  
I then defoliated the tree to see what could be done and make the work more easy. I did however make a mental note on which was original foliage and which parts were grafted.

  
At the time I also remove the secondry branch on the left as it was un grafted, coming from an ugly position and not very beautiful being straight. 

I made four approach grafts using a saw, nail’s, hammer and wound sealant.

   
  

               

  
Three out of the four grafts that were made are Seigen grafted back on to the tree, to make two new branches and a new apex. The first, was a new secondary branch grafted in a better position. The second was on to the back branch as it was still yama momiji. 

The very top two parts of the tree after the apex splits in two are also still yama momiji leaf. The left  top will be cut in the  future but, is left for now for vigor. The right side will be used as the tree will be moving to a right direction and the main branch that side. 

The fourth and final aproach graft is yama momiji the graft is not to create a branch but to use to lower the apex by 11cm.  The middle section of the tree has little taper or movement so to improve the tree it has to go.

  

  

If all goes well, the graft will keep the apex alive as the middle section is cut out and the apex re-attached at a lower point. The reason for trying to do this is to speed up the tree’s development and the challenge is certainly appealing as it’s perfect material for trying this. It was messured with a clipper and the difference is very minimal and the chosen point should be a good fit.

At a later stage there will most certainly need to be some more branches grafted and the tree has a long way to go yet but, hopefully it is a step in moving forward.