May is sweetgum collecting time. I’ve been planning to build a forest since last year, and I had Byron Myrick custom-make this pot for it:
You always start with the focal (largest) tree. I’ve had my eye on this one, growing on my property as a volunteer, for a couple of years now. I chopped it back earlier this year, and it exploded in growth as spring got going.
Notice how I removed most of the foliage on this specimen. That’s the other secret to collecting sweetgum in May: almost all of the foliage has to go! Now, I do keep a few leaves on the tree to use as “barometers.” If they don’t wilt, I know the tree is likely to survive. All I have to do is wait for roots to grow. Sweetgums do this very well in bonsai pots.
Incidentally, you may be able to see the layer of pea gravel I placed in the bottom of the tray. Because forest trays are so shallow, they tend to drain poorly no matter how good your soil mix. The pea gravel should help prevent this problem.
After placing your focal tree, the second most important tree must go in the right spot. It should be fairly close to the focal tree, and begin the process of providing depth and perspective to the planting. I think I’ve accomplished that with my second tree.
I know it’s “cheating” a bit for me to jump to the final composition, but if you study it for a while you can get a pretty good idea of the principles of bonsai forests and why I placed each tree where I did. (You can also see one minor error that doesn’t appear in person but which the camera picked up, namely, the fourth tree from the right in the right-hand group is hidden behind the fifth and final tree. I may need to adjust its position a bit. Edit: it was the camera position that hid the tree; it’s quite visible in person.)
There are many, many suitable designs for bonsai forests but all of them adhere to certain principles. Here are some of them, in no particular order:
- The focal tree has the thickest trunk and is tallest
- Smaller trees are placed toward the back of the planting to produce visual depth and perspective
- The lowest branches on the trees of a forest appear on the smallest trees, progressing upward with increasing tree height/size
- The scalene cone shape of a forest bonsai mirrors that which is created in an individual bonsai
- Just as no tree’s trunk should block the view of another’s when viewed from the front, the same is true when the bonsai is viewed from the side
- The trees’ styles should be the same, formal or informal upright, and if there is movement in the trunks they should move in harmony with one another
I think I’ve done a pretty good job of building this sweetgum forest. Hopefully all of the trees will survive the collecting process. I’ll publish updates as it progresses.
Comments are welcome, as always.