Fun With A Little Maple; And “The Octopus”?

fun with a little maple; and “the octopus”?

Sneak Peak

I work with a lot of large trees, as you know, but I have no problem growing seedlings and developing them into nice bonsai in their own right. It’s all about using best practices and doing your best work, regardless of the starting point.

Fun With A Little Maple; And “The Octopus”?

This rather meek looking little tree is actually the result of intentional and somewhat painstaking development. I grew it from a seed that I started about five years ago. If you look closely, you can see two distinct trunk chops which were done in order to build taper. This is a key bonsai technique, one you must do as a bonsai artist. No ones get out of performing this technique; and the quality of your work depends on doing it well.

Date: October 2019

Now why would you pot up a stick like this in fall? Well, I’ll tell you. The trunk on this tree is done. It tapers nicely from the soil to the tip of the leader, and it’s got subtle movement. There’s nothing else to do to it, and because I’m not trying to create a big Swamp maple all that’s left is to build a branch structure. There’s that one nascent branch that’s got wire on it. But there are also a number of dormant buds I can easily see that are going to push in 2020. This is going to work much better than it appears, trust me.

This photo is from a month after the one above. It’s alive!

Date: November 2019


Now I’ve got a whole bonsai. Those buds I told you about sure enough emerged and grew out. I applied some strategic wire, did some shaping, and have clipped off a leaf or partial shoot here and there. This maple now has a complete structure, and is just about down to pinching and occasional pruning.

Date: June 2020

Now available at the Shop.

Here’s one of the Mulberries I got in last month. The structure is fine, so there wasn’t any reason not to pot it up. I had gotten in a bunch of Byron Myrick rounds just for this and other trees. The one I had in mind worked out better than I thought it would.

I love the decoration on this pot – a consortium of octopi, as it were. I found some nice rootage under the soil surface of the Mulberry, and exposing it complements the pot decoration really well. So I’m naming this bonsai The Octopus. Did I do good?

This one is also available at the Shop.

Rulebreaking 101 – Red Mulberry

rulebreaking 101 – red mulberry

Sneak Peak

Rules are made to be broken, right? Yes and no. When you break a rule of art, what you end up with had better be a lot better than if you’d stuck with the rule. In bonsai it’s not any different ….

Rulebreaking 101 – Red Mulberry

I recently acquired this Red mulberry, Morus rubra, from another collector. It’s one of those trees that just calls out to you. The structure doesn’t really fit a familiar mold – and yet, you can’t take your eyes off of it. It’s quite a tree, and certainly ready for a bonsai pot.

What about this view? Isn’t it amazing! It’s hard to describe the style, though if pressed I guess the fallback would be informal upright. But that’s certainly not accurate, and doesn’t do the tree justice.

But this is where the problem comes in. The apex of this tree does not move toward the viewer; quite the contrary. When we’re learning all about bonsai, one of the rules is that the apex of your tree must always move slightly toward the viewer. It’s a metaphor that represents the tree “bowing.” So if you’re attending a workshop or demo, one of the things the artist will tell you is to be sure the apex of your tree comes slightly toward the viewer. And they’re absolutely right!

So in this view of the tree, after I potted it up, the rule is being adhered to. I’ve got the apex of the tree moving toward the viewer. Rules are followed! And it’s not a bad bonsai, right?

And yet …

In this view, the apex of the tree is moving away from the viewer. Is this a better bonsai? In my opinion, there’s no question this is the best front for this specimen. The deadwood feature is visible. The curve of the trunk and taper are spot-on. That terrific branch with all its development balances the composition. What’s not to like?

I’m convinced that this is one of those trees where you have to forget bonsai tradition in order to make the best bonsai out of what you’re working with. I could have force-fit the tree into something that followed the rules – but why end up with something less in the process?

I’d love to hear what you think about this specimen. It’s already one of my favorites.

Some Things That Are Waking Up

Each winter there are certain specimens of certain species that decide to wake early from dormancy. It just takes a little warmth and sunshine, and they start popping buds. We just finished up Bald cypress collecting season last week. This one was collected two weeks ago and it, along with some others we harvested, is already pushing buds. It looks like we’re heading into a slight warming trend over the next couple of weeks, so this tree should have obvious foliage on it by the end of February.

Here’s a Red mulberry, Morus rubra, that I’ve had on the bench for over a year. It was in an oversized pot, and had thrown branches that were six feet in length. Starting this year it gets to be a shohin bonsai. Last week I did a number of it, top and bottom, and it fit nicely with all that coaxing into this Chuck Iker round. I think it’s going to make a great composition. You probably can’t see in this photo, but it’s got lots of green buds that are swelling and should be open in a week. Styling it is going to be a lot of fun.

This Parsley hawthorn was lifted from our field growing area on December 14th of last year. Parsley haw is one of the first species to leaf out each year, and this tendency is enhanced if you do root work on them. I cut back all of the roots hard on this specimen, and it’s doing just what I expected. Judging by the buds I see, I’ll be able to create a nice branch structure in about six weeks.
This Huckleberry was also lifted on December 14th. It’s another species that comes out very early, whether you do root work on them or not. I have some on the bench in bloom, and most are just starting to leaf out. I don’t know about you, but I’m really getting excited about the 2020 growing season. I still have some collecting to do, which will probably extend into early March, but it looks like an early spring is headed our way.