does design drive the tree, or tree drive the design?

Sneak Peek

We’re all familiar with the established styles of bonsai. Almost all of the trees we create will fit one of them. But sometimes the tree drives its own design, and you have to be prepared to go with it.

Does Design Drive the Tree, or Tree Drive the Design?

I bought this Roughleaf Dogwood (Cornus drummondii) back in May, and I’ve been waiting for it to get stronger in the apex before working on it. You can see why I got it – it’s got killer bark and deadwood. Now, deadwood on deciduous trees is uncommon and some of you may reject the whole idea. I get it. But I think there’s a place for deadwood on certain deciduous trees, and frankly if it doesn’t belong you can usually sense it immediately upon viewing the tree.

Regardless, if you study this tree for a bit you’ll come to the conclusion, as I did, that it’s probably not going to fit the standard informal upright mold. To be sure, there are cases where you can skillfully “force-fit” a tree to a standard stsyle. And then there are those times when you just can’t.


So this is looking a bit like a windswept style tree, right? I can’t argue the point. But to my way of thinking, just because you have all of the branches pointing in one direction on a tree doesn’t make it a good windswept bonsai. This is probably an arguable point with this tree, but as I studied the work I’d done it just wasn’t saying “windswept” to me.

So I turned the tree to a position that has a few things going for it: one, the very fine nebari is better shown from this viewing angle; two, by changing the position (using a block for now, and then potting it this way) I get a more viable design; and three, you can still see the fine bark and enough of the deadwood. I call it win-win.

What’s the downside of this tree-driven design? I don’t have any back branch at this time. This problem can be solved one of two ways, either by the tree pushing a bud in back (which is entirely possible, but most likely not till next spring), or I can do a foliar fill using the side branches and wiring sub-branches into the back space.

What do you think of this tree? Am I way off base with my design concept? Do you prefer the windswept look? Let me know.