John Boyce’s Bunjin

Posted by on Dec 10, 2014 | No Comments
John Boyce’s Bunjin

John Boyce is one of the founding members of the Bonsai Society of San Francisco (BSSF.org), which started in 1960. I’m not sure how old John was when the society started, but he’s got to be in his early eighties these days.

When I was a beginner in the club, John was one of the people who fascinated me the most. While many members had interesting trees, his trees seemed to stand out not only as stylistically different than the rest but also as typically older, more sparse and sometimes even half-dead looking. John fervently advocated harsh treatment of bonsai trees as “the only way to keep them that small for 30 years!”

While I may not agree with all of John’s horticultural techniques, I can’t argue with some of the amazing trees that he creates. He is primarily interested in bunjin aka literati bonsai. This style is tall, skinny with an interesting trunk and sparse branching. The trunk can be any of the shapes and styles that other bonsai take, but it must be more spare in it’s expression.

This particular little pine tree came to me many years after I had first admired it. Back in 2005 BSSF had the opportunity to put on a little show inside the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. Many of the members, including John, were quite excited by the venue and each put forth one of their best trees. John, interestingly, brought this little pine to the show. When I first saw it I was struck by the dynamic quality of the trunk and key branch and by the sparse foliage. But, I was also quite interested in the root that seemed to obviously and defiantly cross over another root right at the front of the tree.

The tree at the Asian Art Museum show in 2005.

The tree at the Asian Art Museum show in 2005.

November 2006, John did a talk on pines for BSSF and brought this as one example to discuss.

November 2006, John did a talk on pines for BSSF and brought this as one example to discuss.

November 2012, the tree has grown out for several years and needs wiring.

November 2012, the tree has grown out for several years and needs wiring.

November 2012, after wiring.    Many of the branches were too stiff to do a really good wiring job.  The branches were set into rough position with the intention of further refinement later.

November 2012, after wiring. Many of the branches were too stiff to do a really good wiring job. The branches were set into rough position with the intention of further refinement later.

The tree has an odd reverse taper near the top where the trunk turns to the right.    It was not there ten years ago, but it also is not particularly visible from the front.

The tree has an odd reverse taper near the top where the trunk turns to the right. It was not there ten years ago, but it also is not particularly visible from the front. I took this photo during June of 2013.

The crown as it looked after a little cleanup and wiring.

The crown as it looked after a little cleanup and wiring.

Wiring and cleanup complete.

Wiring and cleanup complete.

The structure of the crown isn’t exactly what I think of as ideal. This tree was grown for a very long time with essentially no crown. John seemed to have a tendency to keep his trees very unkempt looking and to use large wire on them occasionally to re-bend branches. The things that make this tree interesting to look at are the subtlety of the trunk, and the descending branch with its little elbow bend. I have the thought that a full crown on a little tree like this may be a bit too much. Perhaps a much smaller crown would be better, but I think it will take some time to establish branching that is short enough to use for that purpose.