Ryan Neil visits the Museum

Bonsai artist Ryan Neil recently made his first visit to the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum. Ryan was in the area conducting workshops and spent one of the few days he has off touring the Museum.

Ryan got a chance to see the entire Museum, including a portion of our Viewing Stone Collection.

Whenever we have a bonsai professional visiting we want to get their input on how they care for certain types of trees. Ponderosa Pine is known to be Ryan’s favorite species for bonsai so I asked him to go over his approach.

According to Ryan, in order to get back budding never bud/candle prune Ponderosa. Also do not remove any needles except those on the bottom of branches. The reason for this is that the more photosynthetic surface area the tree has the more energy it can invest in creating more buds. If Ponderosa are treated like Japanese Black Pine they will eventually weaken and die.

Ryan uses a 1:1:1: mix of Akadama, Lava, and Pumice for his Ponderosa. I asked if lava or pumice could be substituted for something like granite. He said that the porous nature of lava and pumice provides more pore space for water and air near the roots. Old collected Ponderosa like this one only need to be repotted every 15 years so long as you use a hard baked Akadama.

In the Chinese Collection Ryan was really drawn to a few of the antique containers like this lotus shaped pot. Here are some of the other Chinese pots that Ryan appreciated.Antique Chinese pot with blue-green glaze.

I asked him what he liked about this antique pot. He identified the black coloring created during the firing process when this pot came in contact with the fire. You can see that some of the glaze has actually bubbled off the pot. Ryan said this would have originally been considered a mistake by the potter however now it is what gives it more value.

He also liked this literati pine that I feature in a previous post, “The Graduation Progression of a Literati pine bonsai” He suggested that the main branch could be longer to really emphasize the Chinese character of the tree.

Perhaps the most significant piece of information I got came up when we were discussing the principles of the Clip and Grow technique.

For most bonsai enthusiasts, myself included,  the Clip and Grow technique is one of the basic concepts first learned when studying bonsai.

The concept outlined in every book I have ever read is that new growth can be directed by pruning to a bud which is pointing in the direction you want. What I have never come across is that this only works if you leave a stub above the bud you want to grow. Ryan showed me an example of what he was talking about with this Sageretia theezans.

You can see on this branch that there is a stub above the new shoot that is growing to the left. The reason for leaving a stub is that it forces the new growth away from the branch. If no stub is left the new growth will grow along the path of least resistance .

On this branch you can see no stub was left and the new growth is not growing away from the branch but continuing to grow straight.

All of us at the Bonsai Museum really enjoyed having Ryan here and look forward to his return visits.

The gradual progression of a literati pine bonsai

When caring for bonsai on a daily basis I find it important to look at pictures of the trees taken in the past so I can see how much they have developed. In this post I wanted to show the progression of a Japanese Black Pine in the literati style.

MaYuan “Scholar by a Waterfall”-13thCentury

The subject of literati is too broad, requiring its own post for me to adequately describe it here, but I did want to give a basic idea of what it is. The word literati means a “man of letters”. The Chinese literati were scholar-bureaucrats involved in politics, literature, and art. The paintings created by these men featured trees with slender, angular trunks and branches, with sparse foliage. I admit this definition does not encapsulate all that the literati style is, but as I said, that topic is for another time.  For more information about literati bonsai see the Art of Bonsai Project’s “A brief exploration of the Literati Style.”

This Japanese Black Pine pictured in 2002 upon the death of its creator, local penjing  artist, Stanly Chin, was among 10 trees donated to the Museum by the Chin Family after Stanly’s passing.

Sometime between 2002 and this photo in 2006, the apex died back as a result of a twig girdler.

The pine was allowed to grow and regain its vigor. Here is the tree in 2008.

Since the apex died back, the tree was needing to be restyled. In 2009 the branches were wired and the needles plucked. Initially all the branches were used in this first design.

In keeping with the literati style it was decided that the branch on the right should be removed in order to accentuate the trunk and minimize the amount of foliage.

The next stage was choosing a more suitable pot for the tree. Literati are typically planted in round pots, such as the rustic nanban style or the rivited drum style pot. Drum pots are one of my favorite type of pots, so I selected two that could work with the tree.

Since this bonsai belongs to the Chinese Collection I wanted the tree to have a more classical Chinese style . I think this iron oxide colored pot is more along the Japanese  aesthetic and is slightly larger than I would like.

This other round pot has the riveting like the first and is better proportioned for the tree. I also like the cloud feet that elevate the tree and give the feeling that the tree is growing all alone on mountain top.

July 2012, the pine is ready for candle cutting.

There are a variety of de-candling techniques when working with pine. I have been using the stub (peg & neck) method in which a stub from the candle is left in proportion to the vigor of the candle. The more vigorous the shoot the larger the stub. You can see a medium strength shoot on the left and a strong shoot on the right.

The strong shoot is removed leaving a 1/4 inch stub.

For the medium shoot  I leave a stub 1/8th inches long.

The small shoot is removed completely leaving no stub.

Obligatory shot of strong, medium, and small pine shoots.

With the spring candles cut, the pine is ready to send out its second flush of growth. You can be sure more photos of this tree will be taken as it continues to develop. Now grab your camera and snap some pictures of your own bonsai before they’re all grown up.

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