Updates of the Two Shohin Chinese Elms Air-Layered from a Mallsai

It has been three years since I wrote my first blog on air-layering a Chinese Elm mallsai into two shohin. It turned out to be one of my more popular blogs with over 2,600 views and had been reblogged twice by others. I think it is time to update how these two shohin look after three more years of care.

This is the original S-shaped Chinese Elm mallsai in 2009:

img_3062

Air-Layered Top Section

August 4, 2009, after sawing off the rooted air-layered top section and potting:

img_4334

I repotted it into a high-end Chinese olive-green crackle glazed bag-shape oval pot made by Jiang Xiaoling (江小林). This is the fall color in January 21, 2016:

img_2858-002

This is how it looked about 10 days ago with spring leaves:

img_8114-001

This shohin was trained as a Lingnan penjing using the clip-and-grow method. At first glance, it looks like an informal upright bonsai, but it is not. The main trunk, instead of moving to the left or right as in a typical informal upright, leans backward to the northwest corner of the pot before it bends back slightly to the right and forward with the apex falling within the trunk base. Since photography flattens the tree into a two dimensional image, perhaps one can better envisage the backward movement with the aid of the below side photo.

img_8122

When I attended Pedro Morales’ Tropical Bonsai School’, he emphasized in the Japanese informal upright moyogi style, the first movement of the trunk is either to the left or to the right; it is a no-no for the first bend to go backward, otherwise the tree would have a Jay-Lo’s butt! Well, in Lingnan penjing, that is OK.

The late Lingnan master Mr. Liu Zhongming (刘仲明) said in his book, “Lingnan Penjing”, since South China has a hot weather, people tend to be easy-going and lackadaisical; and such traits show up as one of the characteristics of Lingnan penjing. So Lingnan penjing has a “reclining” (卧式) style tree, sort of like someone taking a siesta. In this shohin, the trunk movements resemble a person leaning on the far end of a sofa, a couch potato. I jokingly told friends this tree reflects me when I watch TV.

The Bottom Section

This is how the bottom section looks after cutting off the air-layered top:

img_4342

And this is how it looks seven years later from a stump:

img_8153-003

This one is a sumo style informal upright with a fat trunk and sharp taper, and trained with wiring; what a big contrast to the air-layered top section. I potted it into an oval blue glazed Chinese pot by Zhu Shuiming (朱水明 阳明交趾) to soften up the tree.

I have a lot of fun transforming this mallsai into two very different looking trees: a Lingnan penjing with an easy-going trunk movement and somewhat more natural looking branches ramifications, while its younger “brother” grows up as a serious looking squat-like informal upright bonsai.

Advertisements

A Landscape Kusamono on Lace Rock

This is my wife, Soon’s landscape kusamono. It was shown in the 2014 Houston Chinese Bonsai Society show. Our friend, Shaulin Hon, an architect turned professional photographer, took these photos.

houston-chinese-bonsai-society-show-2014-13

Soon likes to create a mixed planting of herbaceous plants and weeds, the end result is a kusamono that looks like a natural meadow juxtaposed with plants of different colors and textures. I am not surprised there are more than ten species of plants on this lace rock.

She named this landscape planting: A World Beyond the Cave  (别有洞天).

This landscape kusamono is an allegory to a Chinese fable, the Peach Blossom Spring (桃花源记), written by Tao Yuanming (陶渊明) in 421 about a fisherman who came upon a grove of blossoming peach trees growing along the river banks. He was captured by the beautiful peach blossoms and kept rowing until the river ended at a spring. There was a cave on the hill side of the spring, he ventured into it and after passing through a narrow opening he emerged and saw a scenic village with cultivated fields and fine houses. The villagers were living happily and in harmony with each other. They produced everything they needed. The villagers told him their ancestors settled in this secluded place after escaping ravages of war during the Qin dynasty (around 200 BCE). For hundreds of years they lived in peace without outside contacts. After spending several days there, the fisherman left and marked his route so he could find his way back, however, the villagers erased all traces of the markings and the fisherman could not find this Shangri la again.

Don’t we all wish we could find our Peach Blossom Spring village on the other side of the tunnel?

houston-chinese-bonsai-society-show-2014-14

The fisherman found a cave.

houston-chinese-bonsai-society-show-2014-16

Coming out the other end of the cave and finding an Utopian village.

img_7663-001

Photo taken November, 2016. An overgrown Ilysanthes floribunda nearly covers up the cave entrance.

The 5th US National Bonsai Exhibition’s Finest Creative Display and Hokusai, the Iconic Japanese Print Artist

You might not have heard of the artist, Hokusai (1740-1849), but you might recognize the image of his most famous woodblock print, “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa”, which is perhaps one of the best recognized icons of Japanese art work.

4hjh3kj634

Hokusai’s “The Great Wave Off Kanagaw”

What does a Hokusai print have in common with bonsai? Apparently none! Bonsai was called hachinoki at his time, so he probably had never even heard of the word, bonsai. Yet, when I saw two bonsai displays, one in last year’s Artisans Cup, and the other in the recent 5th US National Bonsai Exhibition, Hokusai popped up in my mind.

This is Creighton Bostrom’s Finest Creative Award display at the 5th US National show. The semi-cascade Juniperus procumbens nana, planted in a “kurama” pot, is positioned precariously within a giant laminated wooden wave.

img_6834-001

Michael Levin of Bonsai West looking at the “Wave” or the forest?

img_6834-002

‘The Wave”, cropped from the above photo. You can find better image of this display in Bonsai Empire’s video of the exhibition.

Some people saw a bonsai tree, some saw a giant woodwork. What I saw reminded me of Hokusai’s Great Wave. I do not know what Creighton Bostrom tried to convey in this display. May be it’s a tribute to Hokusai because artist often pays homage to old masters by creating similar piece in his/her own medium, in this case, using bonsai display as a medium. May be he was inspired by the 2011 devastating tsunami in Japan? Many of us know, Isao Omachi, one of the young Japanese bonsai masters, lost all of his bonsai in the tsunami, literally they were swept away by the Great Wave. May be, and most likely, none of the above. Continue reading

Japanese “Penjing” From an 1826 Book

zjpts19

zjpts261

Japanese penjing? No way! You must be kidding!!!

The above woodblock prints (from the Waseda University e-Library) were two of the tray landscapes illustrated in an 1826 two-volume Japanese book by Suminoe Buzan (墨江武禅), entitled Senkeiban zushiki” (占景盘图式, Illustrations of Tray Landscapes). Imagine if we were to replace those colorful deep pots with shallow trays or white marble slabs used by the Chinese today, I have no doubt most people will recognize them as penjing.

Continue reading

The 5th US National Bonsai Exhibition

img_6969

When Tony Tickle, one of the judges, said Bill Valavanis has an energy of four men at the awards banquet, he was right to the point and drew a standing ovation. Bill was the force behind this great event. When you see him directing volunteers, from setting up the displays to measuring dimensions of bonsai for the commemorative album, he is like the bunny in Energizer battery commercials, that just keeps going on and on.

img_6934

L to R: Peter Warren (UK) translating for Minoru Akiyama (Japan), Bill Valavanis, Tony Tickler (UK) and Enrique Castano (Mexico). Minoru, Tony and Enrique are the three international judges.

This is the first time my wife and I attended the US National Bonsai Exhibition, held in Rochester, New York, September 10-11. We were excited by the number and the high standard of bonsai displays; one could virtually shop for anything you need for bonsai from the vendors who came from all over the US and from overseas. The exhibition and vending areas occupy two football fields, 55,000 square feet! A lot of walking.

Since we cannot take photos of trees on display, here are some photos of show preparations and at vendors’ area.

img_6740

Staging area for participating trees.

Continue reading

Growing a Good Nebari and Fat Trunk Base Ficus Bonsai

A  good nebari (exposed roots just above the soil surface) and a large trunk base are perhaps the two most desirable features we all wanted for our bonsai. However, they take a long time to develop. Many of us buy pre-bonsai. At the nursery, we may dig below the soil level, hold the tree up, turn it around and tilt it at various angles to choose the best possible material but it is rare to find one with both a good nebari and a large trunk.

In this post, I want to share my experience building a good nebari, at least to my eyes, and a large tapered trunk for a Ficus microcarpa pre-bonsai. I bought this ficus about 9 years ago from a gift shop of a local Chinese restaurant. As in all mass-produced pre-bonsai, they usually have messy or unattractive roots and a typical S-shape trunk. What attracted me to this tree was the large trunk base, however, it has a nagging thick root, about 2″ diameter, growing on the convex side of the trunk’s first curve, and plunging down into the soil like a large inverted J-hook. Nevertheless it was a good starting material.

When we begin to train our tree with a faulty root such as this one, uneven trunk movement or branch placement, it is imperative that we correct them as early as possible. If not, they will stay with the tree and may beome more troublesome to correct at a later date. We have to decide how we want our bonsai to look like in 5, 10 or more years down the line. There is no short cut unless you want to spend big bucks buying a “specimen” tree from bonsai professionals.

This is how this ficus looked in July this year after defoliation and wiring. The root spread is about 10″ at the soil level and the trunk diameter is about 4½” above the root base. DSCN6289

DSCN6296
Continue reading

Shohin Ficus Bonsai

Ficus thrives in our hot Texas Zone 9 weather. I have several large Ficus microcarpa, whenever I removed a thick branch, I tried to root it. Over the years, I have obtained a number of second generation ficus, some grew into large trees, some were trained as shohin in different styles: banyan, informal, sumo-style shohin and Lingnan penjing.

I recently defoliated some shohin and wired their main structures, they looked naked but some had put out new buds and leaflets.

A banyan style shohin:

IMG_5883

IMG_5885

Sumo-style shohin:

IMG_5954

I am developing a new leader for this shohin.

IMG_5960

IMG_5963
Continue reading