It was just another work day at Mr. Moriyama’s garden in early December and the weather was starting to get cold. Mr. Tanaka and I spent most of the first half installing thick plastic over the hoop house in the back of the yard. With us was Mr. Tohru Suzuki and his apprentice Mr. Takuya Suzuki of Daiju-en. After finishing the grunt work, we started to do some maintenance work on a couple of trees which consisted mainly of cleaning since we were only there for the morning. As I was working, I could hear Mr. Tanaka, Mr. Tohru Suzuki talking to Mr. Moriyama about something in Japanese. I picked up words here and there but didn’t much pay attention and kept my focus on the tree in front of me.
After we finished our work that morning, I wondered around the garden admiring many of the trees. Mr. Tohru Suzuki was looking around as well. I stopped to look at a large bushy Shimpaku that’s I’ve cleaned in the past a few times and Mr. Tohru Suzuki walks up to me and point at the tree. “You wire, okay?” he says to my surprise. I didn’t get my hopes up too quickly because I thought he was joking around with me since he’s done that many times in the past. I quickly said, “no problem, easy work!” Mr. Tohru Suzuki looks at me and laughs and said, “for Kokufu?.” I said, “yes, no problem,” playing along and laughing myself. He smiles and walks away looking at the other trees and my mind went to other things.
It was time to leave and I was packing up our tools when Mr. Tanaka calls me and says, “you and Takuya, take the Shimpaku and put it into the Daiju-en van. I guess Mr. Tohru Suzuki is really going to try to put the tree into Kokufu! Since we’re putting into his van, I figured that he was going to take care of the work. Takuya and I both carried the heavy tree into the van and I finished packing up the Aichien van.
During the drive home, I looked at Mr. Tanaka and told him about what Tohru Suzuki said jokingly to me about working the Shimpaku for Kokufu. Mr. Tanaka looked at me and said, “he wasn’t joking.” I looked at him surprisingly and said, “really???” Mr. Tanaka then said, “yes, that’s why they’re following us home with the tree.” I turned around and sure enough, the Daiju-en van was right behind us. All of a sudden, the events of that day didn’t seem so funny anymore and became more serious…
Once we got home, I was told to wire and style the tree for Gomangoku-ten and Kokfufu-ten. I spend the second half of the day studying the tree and started to clean the tree. In this post, I will be sharing the steps I took in styling this large Shimpaku from cleaning the trunk to repotting the tree into the show pot. After filtering through all the photos I took of the work, I cam up with 71 photos to share, so I hope you have a comfy chair because this post is going to be a long one. Technically I could have divided this article into three post but I figured it was the New Years and I’ll start it strong. Plus, who likes to see, “to be continued,” at the end of things anyways?
A Look At The Tree From All Sides
The Debate on Foliage Size
Currently in Japan, the popular foliage is Itoigawa. It grows fairly dense, fine and light green. In the past, Kishu was the favorite because of its dark green and very dense foliage characteristics. Normally large collected trees have larger sized foliage and are than grafted with Itoigawa or Kishu. The reason people don’t just collect Itoigawa or Kishu Junipers in the past is because they don’t naturally grow very big.
Depending on who you ask, their feelings can differ on the foliage they like. Some argue that the tightness and density of Itoigawa and Kishu is superior in quality to all others. Where as other will argue that it is unnatural and strange that such a large tree would have such small foliage and that in itself causes an imbalance in the style of the tree.
To each his own but I would caution that being completely one-sided about different topics could limit our overall understanding of Bonsai in general.
A Look At The Soul Of The Tree
Here’s the top portion of the live area. At the middle of the tree, the life is separated from the rest of the deadwood. Old scars told us that this separation was reduced by guy wiring the live portion as close as possible to the deadwood to make the tree look like one unit.
Cleaning The Trunk and Life Line
Here a close up of the tool I used and most of the bark removed. After I got as close as I could to the first layer of bark, I took a brass brush and lightly brushed the bark to expose the red colored layer.
Since the trunk was hidden by the branches, we looked for branches that we could remove to show off more of the trunk features. Here is a photo of the branches that is covering most of the trunk of the tree.
There is a huge difference between new and old deadwood. New deadwood always makes the tree look young whereas old deadwood makes the tree look old. It’s always a good idea to try to show the old areas of the tree.
Cleaning The Deadwood
I took the tree outside and washed the deadwood with water. Once the deadwood was wet, I took a toothbrush and started scrubbing some of the algae that was growing on the trunk. I then washed the tree again and allowed it dry in the sun. Once dried, I got a hold of lime sulfur and mixed a 1-to-1 solution with water.
Interesting thing about applying lime sulfur to the deadwood. Normally dry old wood will turn dark once the lime sulfur is applied. It’s just a sign that the wood is absorbing the solution. Once the applied area is dry, when I reapply the lime sulfur, the wood doesn’t turn dark anymore and stays white. This gives us an example of how the lime sulfur in the wood starts to repel the solution (as see at the tip of the brush) as opposed to absorbing it. The higher percentage of lime sulfur in the solution, the whiter the wood will get. I tend to tone down the lime sulfur so that the trunk shows a more wide variety of colors from light brown to white.
Here’s the center of the tree after the lime sulfur solution dried. If you look closely you can see that there are areas that are white, and light brown. Please excuse the green areas. I went through those areas again with a wet toothbrush and replied the lime sulfur again to clean it more thoroughly and lighten it up.
Styling For Show
Styling a tree for a show can be very limiting. Most of the time, the tree is already in good shape and there isn’t a lot of big changes being made. Even if major changes would increase the quality of the tree, doing it right before the show is not an appropriate time due to the stresses involved. Much of the wiring work is purely for fine tune adjustments and we spend a good amount of time making sure the wires are not noticeable. Our goal at this time is to clean the tree up, create clean pads and repot the tree into a show pot.
After Two Days Of Wiring
Here is what the tree looked like after my initial styling. I created some basic branches and set them knowing that there will be more adjustments in the coming days as Mr. Tanaka and I look at the styling more carefully. Though I was in charge of most of the work on the tree, it is still going to the Kokufu Show and Mr. Tanaka had to give me the thumbs up before I was finished. After having the tree sit for about a week in the workshop, Mr. Tanaka and I sat down together and talked about some of the things I needed to change.
As Mr. Tanaka looked at the tree he gave me three suggestions to make the tree better. First thing he said was that the tree’s left felt very heavy compared the tree’s right. He also said that I needed to separate the pads on the top of the tree a bit more so that it doesn’t look so big. Lastly, he said that the tree’s right side apex has a bump and needs to be pulled in.
After the suggestions, I got right to work to make the changes.
Here is the tree the following morning. I mainly made the tree’s right look bigger by fanning the pads out a little more. I tweaked the apex a bit to try to lessen the bulge on the right side. I separated areas of the apex to make it look smaller but doesn’t show very well in the photo. Almost there but let’s see how the tree looks in its show pot first.
One of the things that Mr. Tanaka wanted to try to change is the position of the tree in the pot. Not to the extent of angle changes but wanted to see the trunk more to the right of the pot. If you look at the above picture closely, you can see that the movement of the tree is to its left and the centerline of the trunk is offset to the left of the pot as well. This makes the tree look a bit unstable in the pot and affects the overall balance of tree to pot. If we could somehow move the center line of the trunk offset to the pots right, the balance would be better. But is this possible? From the picture, it looks like the deadwood just about touches the ends of the pot on both sides.
Mr. Tanaka said that depending on what the roots look like, he would like to remove some of the deadwood on the tree’s right to make space so that the trunk can be offset to the pots right. If there aren’t many roots underneath the deadwood we may be able to do it, but if there is a major root there, we will not be able to shift the tree over. Lets repot and see what we have!
As we dug down and removed more of the top soil, we found something hiding! It’s a piece of old rope attached to a very old nail. We’re not sure how old this rope is but it may have been used to tie the tree down or perhaps to move some roots around. Whatever the reason for it use, out it comes!
Here’s the side that we wanted to shorten the deadwood. It looks there are some heavy roots on this side and moving the tree isn’t going to be possible. So now what?
Mr. Tanaka looked at the tree for a bit and came up with a great idea. He suggested that we lower the soil line and expose this big twisty root and make it a feature instead of a fault. My hand marks how low we want to bring the soil line down. We’re looking at about 2 inches.
Mr. Tanaka and I continued working and cleaning up the root ball and lowering the top soil. After closer examination, it turns out that these big roots are the main roots of the tree. Any attempt at cutting them will sever the entire root system. Here are some pictures to show how this big root is routed in the soil. 1- The main life line dives down under the deadwood and to the back.
10- The other root goes down and too heads for the tree’s left. Wow, that was like a roller coaster ride! Mr. Tanaka looked at it and said that this big root is interesting looking and that showing would make the tree even more interesting.
Look at both pictures carefully and think about which one you would choose.
Here is the tree all finished up! Note that the exposed root on the tree’s right helped shift the centerline of the trunk more to the trees right and alleviated the off-balance of tree to pot. Did it completely balance it all out? No, but helped. Unless we started doing major root work, this was a far as we could shift the trunk at this time.
So which pot did we pick? Lets take another look.
We decided to go with the smaller size pot. Mr. Tanaka’s reasoning was that the larger size was slightly too heavy for the tree and shifted to focus from the tree to the pot. With the smaller pot, the focus is shifted to the tree. Mr. Tanaka then said that if we had a size right in between, it would work better but the maker didn’t make that size and our options were these two. Better the pot be slightly too small then too big for the tree when showing. The focus is on the tree first. He did add that if the tree was going to stay in the pot long-term, the larger one would be the better for health reasons.
The Fruits Of Our Labor
The tree was then exhibited in the 32nd annual Gomangoku show (Daiju-en show). Since I’m apart of that bonsai family we all wore suits and was able to get a nice picture of me with the tree. After the show, the tree will be kept indoors to protect it from the cold and soon entered into the 87th annual Kokufu-ten in February of 2013.
It was an incredible experience working on a tree like this and preparing it for show. This marks the first time I’ve styled a tree for Kokufu-ten. I learned lots in how to prepare the tree for a big show and only adds to my growing confidence in my work. There’s much more to know and the education will never end. I look forward to the future!
A Little History
About a month ago, I posted the before picture of this tree on Facebook and Marco Invernizzi contacted me and said he worked on this tree in the past as well! What a small world! Apparently he too wired it back in 1999 and it was shown at the 72nd annual Kokufu-ten show. Marco said that he wired it but credited Mr. Kimura with adjusting the pads and picking the final front of the tree. Amazing how connected we all are. I wonder who else in the future is going to work on this tree? Will another apprentice 10 years from now work on this tree and write a post about it as well?
Thanks for reading and to a great New Bonsai Year!
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