Boon’s Black Pine Baseline

Posted by on Nov 26, 2015 | 5 Comments
Boon’s Black Pine Baseline

When I was only a year or two into doing bonsai I learned of this guy named Boon who lived in the East Bay and was good at working with pines. I attended the BIB show and saw for myself that the show was filled with great trees that exhibited a level of work that I had not yet achieved. After seeing the show I purchased my little slant exposed root pine from an estate sale and thought I should take some workshops from Boon to see if he could make it look better.

Boon liked that little tree; we wired it, reduced the top and put it back on the bench to grow. I was starting to like pines quite a bit so I purchased a couple other black pines from various sales in the Bay Area….Boon didn’t like them though.

Two of my earliest pines.   Boon thought the one on the left was worth working on, but the one on the right was not worth the time.

Two of my earliest pines. Boon thought the one on the left was worth working on, but the one on the right was not worth the time.

In the case of the tree that Boon didn’t like, there is almost no movement in the trunk, the nebari is a twisting mess with a couple of cut scars and the branching is not well-placed to hide any of these faults. (This photo was even taken a couple years after Boon saw it and I had improved it a bit.) In short, it’s a tree that you could work on for a very long time before arriving at the conclusion that you wasted your time.

Boon told me:

“In ten years you can grow a pine from seed that will be much better than this one. Ten years from now this tree will still be bad.”

I really liked the idea of starting things from seed so this sounded like good advice. He told me to go down the street and find the pine tree with really good bark and pick some pine cones to get quality seed. The selection of seeds will make no apparent difference in the first few years; but as the tree matures, the bark can be widely different. It’s critical for your long-term success to start with seeds from a tree that has great bark.

I’ve been studying with Boon for over a decade now, and we recently worked together on one of the Japanese Black Pines that I started based on his instructions. For a look at the prior life of this tree see my earlier post – “Exposed Root Pine #1.” The tree is probably the best in terms of girth to size ratio among my batch of pines, largely because the exposed roots have fused to form a large mass that tapers rapidly to the first branches.

June 20th 2014, before any work.

This image from June 2014 shows the tree before we started doing serious cutback. The sacrifice on the left is the primary sacrifice which had been reduced before this by about half. At top is the secondary sacrifice branch.

November 2015, the tree was decandled in late June and the summer growth is small enough to wire and work with.   The secondary sacrifice branch is still on the tree, serving the purpose of fattening the trunk section that is just above the main mass of roots.

November 2015, the tree was decandled in late June and the summer growth is small enough to wire and work with. The secondary sacrifice branch is still on the tree, serving the purpose of fattening the trunk section that is just above the main mass of roots.

November 2015, after some pruning.   The branch on the right was too long and large so it was removed in favor of smaller branching that was coming from about the same place.   The lowest branch on the left is also too long, so we thinned it in preparation for reducing the length once the interior buds fill out next year.

November 2015, after some pruning. The branch on the right was too long and large so it was removed in favor of smaller branching that was coming from about the same place. The lowest branch on the left is also too long, so we thinned it in preparation for reducing the length once the interior buds fill out next year.

We did some bud thinning, needle pulling and rough pruning prior to settling into a wiring session that lasted about half the day. I wired and did rough positioning of the branching, mostly by pulling them down to allow light to hit the smaller buds that were closer to the interior. Boon periodically came by to make adjustments to enhance the lines in each branch.

Boon makes adjustments to the branching on the left side of the tree.    He emphasized that at this stage branching should be spread out in all directions to maximize the light that hits each small branch.   Only when the tree is approaching the show stage would branches be clumped together more tightly to form pads.

Boon makes adjustments to the branching on the left side of the tree. He emphasized that at this stage branching should be spread out in all directions to maximize the light that hits each small branch. Only when the tree is approaching the show stage would branches be clumped together more tightly to form pads.

Having had plenty of attention since inception, no major bends or cuts were needed on the tree.  Boon added movement to the intermediate branching using the wire, making sure that each branch has some nice wiggles when viewed from the top and from the front.

Having had plenty of attention since inception, no major bends or cuts were needed on the tree. Boon added movement to the intermediate branching using the wire, making sure that each branch has some nice wiggles when viewed from the top and from the front.

The branching on the back of the tree is important to all bonsai compositions.   Boon brought down some of the back branching so that the underside of it is visible when viewing the tree from the front.   This gives the tree more depth and improves the shape of the crown.

The branching on the back of the tree is important to all bonsai compositions. Boon brought down some of the back branching so that the underside of it is visible when viewing the tree from the front. This gives the tree more depth and improves the shape of the crown.

Looking down from above after wiring the entire tree.   The branches are laid out radially, the key branch is at bottom in the photo.

Looking down from above after wiring the entire tree. The branches are laid out radially, the key branch is at bottom in the photo.

November 2015, after work.

November 2015, after work.

Boon and I discussed the timeline for the crown filling in and he thought it would be 3-4 years until it was full with the branching becoming more mature in 7-10 years. At the same time we will work to refine the lower branch structure by reducing the larger branches in favor of smaller ones.

While it can be frustrating for a beginner to buy a plant and have their teacher tell them it’s a poor plant to work with, this baseline serves an important purpose. Each tree that you own takes time for water, fertilizer and pest management. It takes about the same amount of effort to do those daily tasks for a tree that is worth $1,000 as it does for a tree that’s worth $10. The baseline is there to make sure that you’re not wasting your time on material that will never be worth owning.

I’m not sure what my collection would look like right now if I had not started studying with Boon more than 10 years ago, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t include a batch of seedling-grown Japanese Black Pine that are nearing show quality. Thanks for the advice Boon!

5 Comments

  1. Dylan
    November 26, 2015

    Hi Eric, I had the pleasure of watering, weeding and fertilizing this tree for a number of seasons. It looks fantastic; I am happy to see it progress so well.

    • Eric Schrader
      November 26, 2015

      Dylan – Thanks for all your efforts on that front! I know keeping on top of the day-to-day chores at Boon’s place is a big job.

  2. Ray
    November 26, 2015

    Very nice pine Eric. Can’t wait in a few years to see it’s progress

  3. Adair
    November 28, 2015

    Eric,

    You have inspired many with your seedlings!

    The concept of starting with good stock is difficult for many, especially beginners, to accept.

    Pat Parelli, the famous horse trainer, has a great quote regarding training horses, which also applies to bonsai: “You have to take the time it takes, so that it takes less time”.

  4. ceolaf
    November 30, 2015

    While this is an important idea/lesson (i.e. don’t waste time on material that will never be worth owning), I do not think we should expect novices to simply accept that as a commandment from day one.

    Rather, I think we all need to understand this lesson in (at least) two ways.

    * We need to learn what makes for good or bad raw material for bonsai (or bonsai made from poor material).

    * We need to learn how hard it is to work with or around certian problems, and how hard it might be to correct them.

    These lessons go together, and happen over time. Good teaching will — as it always does — help students to learn these lessons faster. But simply following dicates without experiences does not make for learning or mastery; it just makes for compliance.

    So, rather than just telling people that they shouldn’t use poor material, it would be much more useful to novices if we support them to learn these lessons faster.

    In this case, I think it would be helpful to read more about the story of the rejected JBP. Tell us more about the efforts you made with it, what you goals were and how you came to really understand that Boon was right about it.