First Steps for a Forsythia Shohin

Forsythia is one of my favourite garden shrubs, the yellow glow of their flowers on bare stems in Spring is magnificent. Although they are still quite rare as bonsai, when you do see one in flower you can’t fail to be impressed by them. I have been looking for some suitable material to start one for some time now and last year I was able to remove the specimen you see in the following pictures from a friend’s garden.

The next 2 pictures show the tree at the end of its’ first season in a pot. In a single season it had filled this 9 inch pot with strong healthy roots.

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In late Winter, I pruned it back and carried out some basic carving on the trunk. This is how it looked at that time.

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In early Spring of this year, I took it out of the plastic pot, cut back the roots and re-potted it in an clay oval training pot. I removed as much of the roots as I felt I could without killing the tree but it will probably need further root reduction in the future to fit it into its’ final pot. This is how it looked after the re-pot.

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With the recent increase in temperature, it burst into life about 1 week ago and not surprisingly, considering the work I’ve done on it recently, it went straight to leaf without producing any flowers. Hopefully next year I will begin to see it flower again.

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Starting a Shohin Common Juniper from Scratch

In April 2013, an old friend in my village who heard I had a passion for small trees gave me this tiny common juniper seedling, which he had collected while walking in the hills. It was bare rooted, when he gave it to me and I wasn’t sure that it would survive but I potted it into a 4 inch pot in a mixture of akadama and moler clay and watered it every day

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To my surprise, not only did it survive but it thrived and by 2016 it was beginning to look like a solid little tree. The next picture shows how it looked at that time in a 6 inch clay pot.

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In the spring of 2016, the root system had filled the pot in the previous picture, so it was potted up again into a larger one.

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It continued to grow strongly and by 2018 it was ready for some work. With a plan begining to form in my head I cut back the lower branches and wired some movement into the main trunk. The next picture shows how it looked after this work.

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A few weeks ago, I decided it was time to put the plan into action and start this little tree off on the road to becoming a future shohin bonsai. The foliage and bark was striped from the upper part of the trunk and the newly formed deadwood was wired to hold it in its final position until the wood dries out.

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The remaining foliage was thined and wired and a few weeks later the roots were cut back to fit it into a suitable shohin sized pot. This is how the tree looks at the moment. It will need a lot of care and attention in the coming weeks to ensure the remaining roots don’t dry out.

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Spring is here at last.

After last years long cold winter, which went on until May in the hills of southern Scotland, immediately followed by the hottest summer on record; far from ideal growing conditions for small trees in small pots. I’m pleased to say that this year spring has returned when it should do, and even though it can still be very cold at night, most of my trees are beginning to awake from their winter sleep. The tougher species are all outside now in the display area and on the benches but most of the shohin trees are still inside the greenhouse.

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Many of you will have noticed that I haven’t posted on the blog for a while. There are a number of reasons for this but the main one is that with advancing years I am not as able as I was to spend  long days outside, working on trees in the winter chill and yes I could do it inside but I have always preferred to work outside in natural light.

In the past few weeks, Gerry and I have resumed our regular meetings and much has been achieved in that time. Re-potting, re-styling older material and the first styling of new material, which I’ll be posting about in the coming days

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As a taster of what is to come, here is a picture of Gerry’s big Kaho Azalea. It’s been in this cheap Chinese pot since he acquired it 5 years ago. This tree is almost show ready but it really needed a better quality pot.

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After years trying to find something suitable, we came across this lovely green oval by Reihou, quite recently. This is how the tree looks now in its new pot.

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Here’s a reminder of how it looked when purchased, 5 years ago.

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Some Trees in Development

This post is looking at progress that has been made this year on trees I have been developing during my weekly sessions with Gerry.

The first is a Blaauws Juniper That was given to me as raw material by Philip Donnelly of Belfast Bonsai in 2015. It had a lot of thick branches that grew off the main trunk at awkward angles. The first job in 2016 was to cut it back to a simple outline retaining the one branch that was suitably positioned for the future development of a bonsai. This is how it looked at that time.

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Since this initial work I have been feeding the tree with high nitrogen fertiliser to promote strong growth in the foliage and I have also begun to create some jins from the branches that were removed and a shari on the main trunk. This work was done in stages over the past 12 months as the pictures will show.

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In the future, I intend to reduce the apex by about half and I hope to develop the tree as a semi-cascade.

The next tree is Gerry’s large hawthorn. It has good movement and taper in the trunk but at the start of this year it had very few branches and we hadn’t decided which side would be the front. We decided to plant it in a large box to push out lots of new growth. This is how it looked at the start of the season.

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This is how it looks at the moment after a full seasons growth in the box. The first picture shows what will probably be the new front

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The third tree today is a literati pine which was wired for the first time in August 2015. This proved to be a mistake as the weather following the initial styling was very hot and the tree suffered losing several  branches. This is how it looked at that time.

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It was rewired today having had 2 years to recover and the front is now at the opposite side

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This was the original tree in 2011

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Shohin Juniper Rigida; 3 Years Development

This shohin Juniper Rigida belongs to my friend Gerry but I have been closely involved with its development over the past 3 years. I have had difficulty maintaining the health and vigour of this species in the past but this one is quite different. It has grown with strength  right from the start and it responds well to interventions like re-potting and wiring. This is how it looked in 2014 when he acquired it.

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I gave it an initial styling in 2015 and it was potted on into the larger pot you can see in the next picture to build up some energy in the roots.

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As we looked at this tree we were happy with the styling but the planting angle wasn’t quite correct; it needed more of a tilt to the right. Early in 2017, the roots were trimmed and the tree was re-potted at the correct angle. This is how it looked at that time.

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Today, I trimmed back the foliage and wired the tree for a second time. I also transferred it to a nice pot by Peter Krebs. This wasn’t strictly a re-pot as there was virtually no root disturbance. This is how it looks at the moment.

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Raw Material for the Future

During Gerry’s visit last week, we potted  some of our raw material into wooden boxes to help with their development. I worked on trident maples that I acquired as a mini forest planting a few years ago. I am growing them in large shallow boxes to develop the nebari and it seems to be working well.

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I plan to make a shohin tree from this one, so I may begin chopping it back this week

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The nebari on this one is beginning to look nice but I would like to see it grow much bigger. This one was potted up into a wider box.

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Gerry wanted to pot a nice juniper prostrate that he brought back from Noelander’s.

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It was in a peaty soil, which had to be removed.

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This how it looks at the moment in its new box with a slight change in the planting angle.

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Its an interesting tree with future possibilities from several angles of view.

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Shohin Hawthorn Progession

I dug this tree from my garden in 2008 and planted it in a 12 inch pot to recover. It stayed in that pot until 2012, when it was chopped back and placed in the bonsai pot you can see in the first picture.

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By the early Spring  of 2015 the trunk has been chopped back further and the roots are now housed in a smaller round pot. At this stage, I still wasn’t happy with the tree and had no vision for its future development.

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Later that month, with an idea beginning to emerge I chopped the tree back once again. The following picture was taken later in the year when new buds had emerged and extended

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2015 after pruning and wiring the new growth. At this stage I thought this side could be the front.

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This is how it looks at the moment. I’ve done a little carving on the original V cut to make it look more natural. I’ve also shortened the thicker roots, planted it in a new pot and reversed the viewing angle. I like how this tree is developing now and look forward to seeing the ramification develop in the coming years

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