Road to The Cup- Part 1
I mentioned in my last post that the tree that I’ll be bringing to The Artisans Cup was a castoff sales table tree that turned into a keeper. The selection of material to work on in bonsai is the first task for a bonsai artist; it is equal in importance to any other task, or perhaps even more important. It will be the initial material selection that determines much of the ultimate potential for quality in the final product. Without a good place to start you’ll either be spending many years in the development stages or you’ll never be reaching a high level with your bonsai.
Producing a juniper bonsai from untrained material is a good example of the bonsai process. While the process is different for different types of material, junipers are one of the classical and best-understood species, they are particularly well-suited to beginners and can help students understand an arc of development from start to finish.
The things that you’re looking for in juniper material are simple enough to enumerate and overlap at least partially with many other species:
1. Trunk proportions – You need a trunk that has enough girth compared to the height to make a nice composition.
2. Trunk movement – For most junipers the more movement the better. If you look through old Kokufu albums you’ll see that Chinese junipers (shimpaku) are typically very sinuous and move a lot. Needle junipers typically have much more upright trunks with stiff movement.
3. Trunk Twists – particularly for Chinese juniper and junipers native to the United States, a twist in the trunk makes the difference between a mundane composition and an interesting one. While you don’t want a barber pole effect you do want at least some gentle twists and turns that will keep your eye interested.
4. Deadwood and lifelines on the trunk – the contrast between the deadwood and the lifeline on a juniper can be quite dramatic. Look for a trunk that has some age, and is irregular in cross section.
Notice that all those things are about the trunk? There is nothing else to worry about in your initial selection of juniper material because everything else can be fixed. Nebari are considered an accessory rather than a necessity. Any branch issues can be fixed with grafting, bending or both.
So, what if you want to grow your own trunk? There are some really good junipers out there that were grown from scratch or field grown. But, on average it will take you much longer to develop a tree from scratch than from an established trunk. And, it takes much more skill to create a composition entirely from nothing than it does to adapt a good trunk to your vision.
Because collected junipers tend to be older and large they will typically be better for use as medium or large trees. Nursery grown material will often be better for small trees but difficult for medium or large trees.
Whether a quality piece of nursery stock, or a collected wild juniper trunk – keep this all in mind when selecting material. Be picky, look for unusual features and try a few different things.
What promising features did I see in the tree that I’m taking to Oregon? Just a nice gentle curve, some gentle taper and the hint of a twist to the trunk. There was no good foliage, no great nebari, no polished lifeline contrasting with bleached deadwood. What comes next is what takes your material and begins to make it a bonsai.