We tend to hunker down in winter, since our bonsai aren’t growing and the weather is often miserable. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make progress with our bonsai. In fact, once the leaves on our deciduous trees have fallen, we have an ideal opportunity to see the “bones” of the tree and evaluate/re-evaluate the design.
I’ve been working on this Chinese elm, Ulmus parvifolia, for a few years now. It has reached a pleasing point in the design process. The lower part of the tree, all the way to the crown area, is essentially done. The ramification has really advanced over the past year, and I’m actually going to need to thin the tree somewhat in late winter. I’m not complaining about that, mind you. As for the crown, the “bones” of it are taking shape and I expect it to fill out completely within the next two growing seasons. All in all, this tree is coming along beautifully.
When you study your trees, you have to take the time to consider them from all angles. Now, most trees are not “360°” bonsai, meaning they don’t look equally good from all angles. This is not a problem. Pretty much all bonsai have a definitive front, and with good reason. So you build the tree with this in mind, in accordance with the various rules.
Here’s the back of this Chinese elm. Nothing wrong with the tree from this angle, that some judicious pruning won’t fix in a couple of months.
Next we turn the tree another 90°, to view the left side. This present us with an obvious, though minor and easily fixed, problem. Notice that the back of the tree (to your left in this photo) does not extend as far out as the front does. As a rule, your bonsai should have greater extension in the back than in the front. Granted it’s not too pronounced here, but I definitely need to trim back the branches extending toward the viewer.
Now for the really important question. Do you notice anything unusual about the tree when viewing it from this angle? Take a few seconds and compare this photo with the first one above. As I studied them, one very significant thing just leapt out at me, namely, the trunk line has much more character and interest when viewed from this angle. Notice the subtle curve that progresses from soil to apex. Notice how the curve becomes more dramatic once you get into the crown area. And notice that the tapering transition appears much smoother.
The obvious problem with viewing the tree from this angle is one, the placement of the branches, and two, the fact that the crown moves away from the viewer. For this particular tree, that problem would be very hard to overcome if I planned to make this the new front. But … maybe there’s no need to. Why not just turn the tree 180°?
Voila! From this angle, not only does the crown move toward the viewer, I have a workable set of branches in the lower part of the tree. I still have the subtle curve of the trunk, and the curves I’ve built in the crown look very nice. I even have a better-looking set of branches in the crown to work from, when viewed from this angle.
It won’t be too much trouble to re-position this tree in its pot come spring. And that will make my design a whole lot better.
Do you agree with this change? Let me know what you think.