I’ve had this little elm for about 8 years now. I bought it from the estate sale of a Bay Island Bonsai member. I’ve never discovered the history before that point but I know that former owner had been a serious enthusiast and his collection was quite good. He very well may have started the tree himself.
I can’t say that elms are my favorite trees to grow, but the winter silhouettes are very rewarding after a while. I had an easier time growing them while I was in SoCal than I do here in San Francisco because they seem to like the heat of the summer. I think that the East Bay or South Bay would likely be a really good place to grow these. Jim Gremel at one point had quite a few of them; I recall one of the first BIB shows that I attended had a couple elms that were finely ramified and looked delightfully like a mature tree.
When I bought the tree it was in a large terra cotta container that was wide and about 6″ deep. It had two-foot long runners on it such that you could barely see anything. My first task back in 2007 was to cut the tree back and eliminate all the strong branching that was too large or stiff to use.
After cutting it back I repotted the tree into an intermediate container, and started over with the ramification process. You can see in the photo above that the secondary trunk on the left side is much taller than it is currently. At some point I decided that I needed to shorten it to almost nothing and regrow the low branching on that side. The issue wasn’t that there was anything wrong with the existing branches as much as that they were in the wrong place. The straight secondary trunk also didn’t visually compliment the curve of the primary trunk.
There’s a funny interlude with this tree. I had decided back in 2008 or 2009 that I wanted to buy a large and rotten apple tree from Jim Gremel. Jim’s place was started on an old apple orchard and instead of immediately uprooting all the old apples he chainsawed them off about a foot above the ground started turning them into bonsai. I had seen one that I wanted but I didn’t have the money to buy it so I decided it was time to sell a few trees to get the money together. This little elm ended up on the sale table with a $500 price tag on it. I knew it was a good tree and that I didn’t really want to sell it so I put a really high price on it to discourage casual interest. A fellow club member and friend ended up buying it anyway, so I lost the tree for a couple years. Without following through on the apple tree plan (can’t recall what I spent the money on actually) I was definitely down a quality tree. I’ve sold a lot of trees over the years but this is one of the few that I had sincerely regretted parting with. Luckily for me, my friend decided to get out of bonsai a couple years later and sold it back to me.
By 2012 the tree had a pretty good canopy of fine branching on it, but there were still holes and the secondary trunk that makes up the low branching on the left side was lagging behind the apex in ramification.
When I cleaned up the old leaves in the fall of 2013 I knew that the tree was nearing what I considered to be an ideal crown shape. The only thing left was a bit more density on the secondary trunk. I had repotted the tree into a very shallow container that was the best that I had at the time but I was still searching for a good show pot for it.
During the summer of 2014 the tree grew okay, but the tiny pot that it was in definitely limited the branch and root growth to a slower pace than what it was before in the box. When Boon returned from his summer trip to Japan he brought a bunch of pots back to sell to club members, among them was a pot that I thought would be perfect for this tree.
As it turns out, this was not only my favorite little deciduous tree in the display, but it was everyone else’s as well. The tree won the members’ choice award for best small (aka Kifu) deciduous tree.