From the Cliff Face to the Living Room: Discovering the Hidden Depths of Bonsai

Odigo Travel Blog

By ODIGO Contributor Emma Parker

My latest voyage of discovery with Odigo led me into the fascinating and complex Japanese art of creating ancient forests less than a metre high, known to the world as “bonsai.” Before setting out on this journey, all I knew about bonsai was that they were trees grown in pots, beautiful but slightly surreal. After visiting several bonsai nurseries, an exhibition, and a couple of museums, it was clear that bonsai have about as much in common with everyday potted plants as an antique kimono does with the polyester items on sale in souvenir emporia. Even so, I have only just begun to scratch the surface of bonsai culture…

Garden of Omiya Bonsai Art Museum

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Full steam ahead…

Scratch Bonsai

All this warmth and rain means that my bonsai material in the  growing beds are running a bit rampant which is great.  Except that the weeds are getting out of hand too.  I’m thinking this is also because of the chicken manure I’ve been spreading.  I may change to a foliar feed instead and that’ll hopefully mean less work weeding.

DSC_0270 Pyracanthra, Sorbus, Blaaws Juniper, Silver Birch, Japanese Maple

DSC_0269 European Hornbeam

DSC_0271 English yew, Japanese Cedar, raised Beds with trees rootpruned earlier this year. Still a lot of low level weeds were unremoved as I didn’t want to damage the recovering rootballs of trees in the shallow soil.  Think I’ll fill up the bed a bit more with another layer of soil.

DSC_0272 A toddler sized bathing pool filled from just one raised bed of weeds.

I’ll try and keep on top of weeding a bit more now that I’m off work for…

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Amur Maple Parent

Scratch Bonsai

Well after removing all branching last autumn and leaving a bare trunk, I was happy to see some new buds earlier this spring but unfortunately not enough appeared.  Some at the apex and some clustered around an old wound too low down.  One has popped in a suitable location for a bottom branch so I wired it and am letting it thicken.  The others at the apex have been repeatedly clipped and the new emerging buds nipped to promote short internodal length.  I’m feeding vigorously to try and get these new buds in the middle of the trunk.  I may have to try more threadgrafts at some point.  Large old wounds were also reopened to try and encourage more callousing which has been pretty poor over the last year.

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Shohin Hawthorn Gets the Chop

Robert Nocher Shohin Bonsai

I took this first picture of one of my hawthorns at the start of the season. As I studied the tree I could see that due to the distinct lack of taper in the trunk, it was not going to make a satisfying shohin image. I decided to chop it back and start again.

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Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture immediately after this work was carried out but the next picture shows the progress 4 months after the cut was made. As you can see it has put on a lot of new growth and there are now enough new branches to carry out an initial wiring.

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Here it is earlier today after preliminary branch selection and the application of a little wire.

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I think it is looking much better now. The next job will be to take it out of its pot next spring and remove a few thick surface roots.

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What Makes a ‘Good’ Bonsai?

Scratch Bonsai

I’m coming to the conclusion that ‘it depends’.  Depends on the viewer (beauty is in the eye of the beholder), depends on the season, depends on the species, depends on so many things but hopefully I’m learning more with each opportunity to display my trees and view other artists work too.  This is a busy time for the bonsai society I’m a member of, with a show just finished, one this weekend, one next month and then finally the Belfast Parks Autumn Show which has several classes for bonsai trees.  I’m planning on attending each event in some capacity and so as I alluded to a recent post I’m thinking more about the artistic side to the hobby and how my trees can be improved in future.  Being a very visual person, I enjoy looking at other trees and reading about other artists’ efforts to succeed and improve in their ability.  …

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