Even after 25+ years of collecting trees for bonsai, I still do crazy/risky things. I mean, this is all for fun, right? Here’s one of my latest examples.

sweetgum8-15-16-1I usually collect Sweetgums (Liquidambar styraciflua) in May and June. Winter collecting has resulted in poor survival rates for me, as low as 20-30%. So having learned that lesson the hard way, I wait till May and wrap it all up by June.

In the case of this tree, I got a wild hair in August and sawed it out of the ground. The trunk base is 1.5″ in diameter, and it’s 12″ to the chop. I really like the trunk character.

The tree is pictured from what I figured would be the front. It seemed to show off the best features of the trunk. This is always important when you’re creating a bonsai. The trunk of a bonsai is the foundation of it. The size, the shape, the movement, the character, all of these things play a role. Without them, it’s very hard to make something that looks right. So it’s only natural that I would be careful when deciding on the front of the tree.

sweetgum9-25-16-1Here’s a photo of the tree from September. It obviously survived my craziness (I don’t necessarily recommend this; I’m just reporting on what I did).













Fast-forward to today. All of those shoots just starting to push back in September are elongating. That’s a good sign. So today it was time for another wild hair – can I make something out of this unusual piece of material? You see, my original idea for this tree was of a fairly standard informal upright or even slanting style tree with the requisite branch structure: first branch (on the left), second back, back branch, and so on up the tree finishing in the crown. Nothing at all wrong with that, either. But considering where all the new growth appeared, is there something more to this specimen than what I saw in the beginning?

This is where photos and a little study can help you to not miss better options with your trees. Here’s what I mean.


First I turned the tree to have a look at the back. Anything here? Well, not really. But you do have to look.













How about from this angle? Now I think I’m seeing something better – something a little out of the ordinary. So I figured I’d wire the shoots and the leader to see if I was right.










Here’s the result, and now by turning the tree just a bit I see the design of this one. I envision a shallow oval, fairly long to give the impression of a landscape scene. That should make for a dramatic presentation.

What do you think? Do you like where I went with this one? And have you ever used photography to help you design your trees? Leave me a comment below.