On Sunday past I did some work on a new Bald cypress forest bonsai I started last fall. My work was limited to wiring and straightening the trunks of four of the seven trees. As I noted last fall, when building a forest bonsai the main consideration is the placement of the trunks. If you can get that right, the rest almost takes care of itself. In this post, I want to take a closer look at how this forest is composed to give you an idea of why it works.

In this first photo, we look at the starting point for every bonsai forest: the primary tree. While you may be able to make a bonsai forest without first taking the time to ensure this tree is selected and placed correctly, you’ve got a real chore ahead of you if you fail to give this part of the composition its due.

I chose to place this largest forest cypress to the right of center of the tray, at about the 1/3 position. This is not a hard and fast rule. But two things you don’t want to do are: place this tree in the dead center of the tray; and, if you place it in back of the side-to-side centerline, you have your work cut out for you when placing the remainder of your trees.

Now let’s take a look at the number two tree in the forest. I chose to place this tree more toward the center of the pot, in fact almost exactly in the center. Did I have to do this? No, there were other choices. But what’s important to understand here is that the relationship between the primary and number two trees in a forest establishes the visual route the eye takes when viewing the composition. It is by this means that the depth and perspective of the planting are constructed subconsciously.






With the first two trees of the forest in place, now we can take a closer look at the other components of one of the two sub-groups that are represented here. The photo is captioned with explanatory notes. Pay particular attention to the spacing between the trunks of the four trees. The primary and number two trees are spaced farther apart than trees number three and four. And what caps off this sub-group is the side to side spacing of the primary tree and that smallest tree way at the back of the sub-group. This one placement trick makes this forest look like it goes on a very great distance, doesn’t it?


Now we can turn our attention to the second of the sub-groups, which completes the forest. Here, in the “space” of three trees, I’ve filled in the forest both in number of trees as well as in “heft.” When you view this forest, it seems like it’s much bigger than it really is and features many more trees. Less is more, so I get the viewer’s mind to see a massive forest in only seven well-placed trees.

With the exception of the formal upright style of bonsai, there’s no more difficult challenge than the forest planting. It’s not just a bunch of trees crowded together in a shallow tray. There are rules that need to be followed, or the forest just doesn’t look like a three-dimensional creation.

This Bald cypress forest is a relatively new composition, so it obviously has a lot of growing to do. But this process can be “completed” in about three years, at which time this will be an outstanding bonsai.

Let us know what you think below.