I try my best to keep a photographic record of the trees I grow. I generally succeed and find that it helps to motivate me when I feel I am not getting anywhere with a tree. Looking at photos of what the tree started out as, comparing it to what it looks like at that moment will tell me whether I am making progress or simply going around in circles. To you reading this blog I would also encourage to get into the habit of taking pictures whenever the tree makes it onto your worktable.
In this post I will relate the photographic story of a collected little shohin sized wild olive. It begins with a friend who was kind enough to invite me to go on an olive dig on a farm in the Overberg area. I don't often dig trees, as I have too many trees already, but I was keen to go with in the hopes of finding some good material. It just so happens that we were quite lucky that day and I was able to find a few trees which offered a lot of potential.
Image caption. Some of the collected olives, a little while after being collected and showing new juvenile growth. Photo taken in November 2013.
So collecting the trees and doing what we could to ensure they pulled through the ordeal best I eventually got them home. I was also keen to try out what was at the time, a new mix; my Professional Mix. So all of the collected trees were potted into this mix and treated in the usual manner ie. bright shade, water and of course plenty of BonsaiBoost.
Image caption. I was very excited about this little olive, particularly the massive base for its size. Here you can see how well it has recovered from being collected. The matchbox helps give you an idea of the size. Photo taken in April 2014 about 6 months after being collected.
The idea I had in mind for this tree was a clump style or as it is known in Japanese; Kabudachi. In Charles Ceronio's great book of bonsai styles of the world he writes about this style being often found in nature where seeds of the same species begin growing in close proximity and as they mature the base of the trees fuse. As such they eventually exist on a common root system however with multiple trunks. When styling trees in this style each "trunk" is treated as an individual tree.
At this early stage the aim was therefore to grow several trunks and of course the best way to do this is to allow the shoots to extend as long as possible, as this will cause them to thicken at the base.
Image caption. I wanted to check on the roots to see how well the Professional Mix had done (with BonsaiBoost fertilizer), and I was very pleased with the results. Photo was taken in September 2014 so a mere 1 season after collecting was all it took for the container to fill with roots.
BonsaiBoost was given and replaced every 2 months. I wanted sustained development without giving excessive nitrogen which would simply have led to excessively long internodes, meaning that on a tree of this size I would had to have restarted a trunk/branch several times to get a bud where in future I could cut back to.
Image caption. The new growth has thickened and hardened off now, some progress in the right direction has been made. Photo taken in February 2015.
It is so important that you get the right foundation for any tree you design. Without it, years of development will be for nought and you will have to restart the tree. Not to criticize other people's trees, but I have seen way too many olives (especially olives!) which were collected and have significant trunks only to see that the artist rushed development of the branches in order to begin developing the canopy. The price for this was branches which were simply too thin, without taper and thus boring. Had the artist take more time to allow the branches to develop more before beginning with ramification they would have laid a more solid foundation with more potential for later development.
Image caption. The most important "secret" I could probably ever share with you is that of the sacrifice branch. It's not pretty but they work! Photo taken June 2015.
Image caption. By choosing smaller material to collect, I have short tracked the amount of time I will need to develop a convincing bonsai. You can already see just how much the tree has changed, and in particular how the main branches, or in this case "trunks" have developed with the help of sacrifice branch development. Photo taken June 2015.
Its important that you do not cut the sacrifice branches too soon. I have trouble with this sometimes, my hands itch to go grab a pair of scissors or a branch cutter - I guess its my neat freak nature - but I usually gain control in the end and the branches are safe for a few more weeks.
Image caption. A sacrifice branch being used to thicken a branch. Photo taken January 2016.
Image caption. A close up of the base of the sacrifice branch in the preceding photo. The section to be sacrificed is the growth after the first shoot more or less in the center of this image growing at a small angle to the vertical.
Image caption. A new shoot desperately needed for the back of the clump. (Center of the image)
Another great advantage of sacrifice branches is that they allow the tree to build up a lot of energy. When you cut the sacrifice branch at the right time, when the tree is actively growing strongly, then that energy must find a vent. This venting takes place through pushing new buds along the section of the branch which remains, but new buds will sometimes pop out of the tree in unpredictable places. This does not happen with all trees, especially when the wood or bark has reached a certain age, however in olives they tend to bud anyway, even when rather old. In my little project I desperately needed some more branching at the back of the tree, which is important to give a bonsai tree depth. When I did a harsh cut a couple month back I was lucky enough to get a bud popping in just the right place! This new shoot will be allowed to develop so that it can thicken, after which it will be cut back to get it to divide.
Just another reminder is that you should always use sealant to protect or cover cuts. It not only help to prevent the tree from becoming infected with something but it also helps to prevent loss of sap. Lost sap means lost development, and growth is what we want lots of at this stage of the trees development.
Image caption. It's a good idea to wire the shoots gently while they are young so they are at least roughly in the positions you want for the design of your tree. You can always fine tune later.
When you do work on the tree and cut back the branches, and perhaps even defoliate to make it easier to wire, it is easy to work on the structure of the tree. With the leaves out the way wire can easily be applied to the branches. Use aluminium wire for deciduous trees roughly of the same thickness as the branch you are required to bend. However this is a generalization and if the branches are still a little soft and not fully hardened (still have a green colour) then it is best to use thinner wire which is softer. The bark of young olive branches is paper thin. In Japan when wiring azalea which have the same characteristic, they will first wrap the wire with paper to protect the fragile bark and thus prevent scarring. On this little olive I am not going to bother with that as it needs to age a lot more and during that time, any scars created will have naturally become invisible.
Image caption. To ensure that you are developing your tree with an equal amount of growth in front, back and sides take a look at the tree from the top. It should have a roughly oval or round shape, if its flat in any one direction then you should focus on developed in that area.
So starting out as a collected tree, planted in a container for the first time in September 2013 till today which is roughly 2 years later the tree has developed strongly thanks to the good initial recovery of the tree, generous root development due to the the use of a fast draining growing media with plenty of oxygen exchange and of course sustained release of nutrient rich fertilizer in the form of BonsaiBoost which could support the development of strong and numerous new shoots.
Image caption. The current stage of development. Photo January 2016.
These photos were taken with a smartphone and as such there is a fair amount of lense distortion but I hope they give you an idea of the amount of development which can be achieved on healthy material in a very short space of time. The goal at the moment is to continue developing the thickness of some of the branches and further the ramification of the tree. The following image is a scan from a Kokufu ten exhibition photobook which I am using as reference and also inspirational material. I would strongly advise you to study coffee table type books on bonsai or scour the internet, saving images of trees which appeal to you. I am certain that by repeatedly studying these images they become ingrained in your mind and become a resource from which to draw when you are designing a tree. Of course nature cannot be substituted so be sure to study trees on your way to work, school, university or whenever you are afforded the opportunity.
Image caption. One of my inspirations for the olive.
Looking at the photo above maybe in another 2 years I will have gotten closer to my goal. It's a bit hard to see with all the leaves on the tree but it's getting there, I will have to write a follow up on this article then. I even have the pot for it already, a first generation Yamaaki drum style pot!
Hope you enjoyed the post and please don't be shy to ask questions or make comments below.
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