You may be like me and become enthralled by very large bonsai that are designed well. There’s something about the big ones! But if you’ve spent any time working with smaller trees, you’ve no doubt come to understand that just because they’re small doesn’t mean they’re a snap to style. Perhaps the main reason for this is the simple lack of branches to work with, along with the length of the trunk itself. You see, with less to work with you have a lot more to accomplish in a short distance. With a large bonsai being three or even four feet tall, that’s a lot of distance to display trunk taper, movement and character. And usually you’ll have 10 to 20 branches to shape and achieve ramification with. Contrast that with small bonsai, those under 12″ in height. A lot has to happen in those 12 inches. As for branches, you may have a handful only. So creating a “tree impression” becomes much more difficult.
Remember this Chinese elm, Ulmus parvifolia, from last year? It’s a mere 7.5″ from soil to apex. My goal from the start with this little guy was to make it look like a real tree. I had worked on it for years, and while it was okay it needed a serious design inspiration. So I cut half of the tree off! So now, there’s character in the short trunk and a nice tree form in just a handful of branches. Mission accomplished.
Here’s a small Parsley hawthorn, Crataegus marshallii, collected in February. You can see where I cut what was a lengthy section of trunk from the main area (I used it for cuttings). Now a shoot has emerged from near the chop. If I don’t go ahead and wire it, it’s going to become too stiff to do anything with. Ultimately, this small piece of material could make a nice shohin bonsai. But as I noted above, this will only be possible if I can make a lot happen in a very short distance.
This is the likely front view of the tree, by the way.
And here we are, after a single piece of wire and a little shaping of the shoot. I also took off most of the old existing branch that was soaring off toward the sky. A neat branch to be sure, old and with good character, but it was long and untapering and useless for my intended design (which at this point is just an intuitive impression; I’ll know more about it later on). Now it’s time to wait some more, and let the piece grow on out while ignoring it. For a point of reference, the trunk base is 3/4″ in diameter. The chop is at 4″ along the trunk.
For those of you who like smaller bonsai, let me know what you think.