Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Post 146 Tables complete

Just to finish off what I started in my last post I've now finished painting my new display tables.
Four coats of Cabots water soluble varnish stain in deep mahogany give a nice satin finish and a good deep colour and you can still see the grain of the timber. It is surprising how well the simple old domestic pine has come up.

Here is the larger of the tables supporting a nice twin trunk swampy. Making the tables and finishing in a very traditional colouring and finish, reinforces the minor part the table plays in the overall composition. The focus is always on the tree and while the table must reach a certain minimum standard, once done it becomes quite invisible.
Having the tree up at a better height increases this effect. The observer's eyes and senses are much better served by being within the trees height range than above it, focussing attention even further away from the display table.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Post 145 Display Tables

Yes I know the pottery has taken a bit of a back seat lately with one thing and another. One of those things is a little carpentry but most certainly bonsai carpentry.

I got a bee in my bonnet a while ago about display height at exhibitions, The tables at most venues are the stock standard 'sit down and eat at' type and only about 700mm to 750mm high; not nearly the right height to view bonsai, especially the smaller ones.
Back in January I spent a little time researching exhibitions around the world and posted on the results. Have a look here.
The optimal height looks to be around 1100 for best viewing of most trees.

To cut a long story short I committed to making some display tables to get my trees up a bit next time I have the opportunity to display at a show. The next chance looks like being in May so it was time to turn ideas into action.

As you can see my pottery workshop has reverted to carpentry with the slab roller now a very useful bench. Any wonder I can never find my pencil.
I'm making three tables, all 350mm high and with different top sizes.

 Here are the first two, to a similar design, relatively easy to execute with mostly right angles. The third one, larger again, is still in construction. It will have slightly tapered and splayed legs; just a little more complex in the build.

I'm using stock standard pine so they'll be a little prone to bumps but it's easy to work with and comes in a variety of sizes that means there is less preparation to be done. I'll put the wear and tear down as patina. When all done I'll stain and varnish with a mahagony colouring. I've been at these for a few days now - man it takes some time, and I'd say at least another full one left to finish up, including three coats of paint.
More pots soon!

Monday, 10 March 2014

Post 144 Ficus hairpin graft update

In late November last year I grafted two new branches into position on a Small Leaf Queensland Fig, Ficus obliqua. The technique used was 'hairpin insertion' grafting. At the time I posted a step by step pictorial of the grafts being placed, in Post 132.

Since then the graft material grew initially and then went through a long period of dormancy. I thought they had failed but then more recently they are showing signs of vigour again.

This is a picture of one of them at the time they were set about Nov 24.

This is a picture of the same scion now. I have outlined the material in white to help pick it out. As you can see the shoot has extended quite a bit and filled out. The growth tip is quite fresh and showing all the signs of being active.

 Here it is in close-up. It might just be my imagination but I'd bet the 'leaving' branch diameter is greater than the 'joining' one, and despite the wire to secure it in position it feels pretty tight.

This is a picture from the other side showing the other graft. Same thing with it - looking good.
As to the dilemma of when is a hosted graft ready to separate the answer is clearly when the leaving branch is heavier than the joining branch and the graft is strong. These are close but there is no harm in letting them run a little longer.

With the peak of the summer heat now over we are moving into our autumn growth flush. This little burst of growth is just what is needed to completely secure these grafts before winter.

It's not over yet but at this point I'm very happy with the result. The only improvement I can see now is to take the hairpin much deeper into the trunk. These ones showed a tendency to work their way out of the drilled hole as they gained weight.
I really like the way the grafted branch is in a normal position relative to the trunk, a much better result than possible with an approach graft.

 Note from March 2014:
Update posts from this work can be seen at:

Post 158
Post 198

Monday, 3 March 2014

Post 143 Developmental Pathways #1

In my bonsai societies that I'm a member of I see a lot of folks in the first years of their bonsai journey struggling with visualising a development pathway for developing a bonsai from scratch.  Looking at a picture of a mature bonsai just adds to the confusion of how to get there.

People often are impatient for a result and this pushes them towards the preshaped stock plants which are often not helpful in developing this vision for what is possible. I think they add to the confusion sometimes because of the restricted flexibility in the design options they can offer and the more complex horticultural techniques and precedents that need to be followed to correct flaws.There is nothing quite like the blank sheet of a seedling or cutting to really see the possibilities of designer bonsai - that is a capacity to grow one to a preconceived design. In many ways cuttings and seedlings are also sacraficial and so they do foster that all-important horticultural experimentation. There is also the preconception that it will take too long to develop a tree from scratch, but with the right species selection that need not be the case.

Living in the subtropics offers us some great advantages. We have access to fast growing species that only pause during a limited winter period. I'd to think that you can start with a single stem cutting of a ficus for example and turn it into a very respectable bonsai in 3 years. I' ve started down that path this year and recently put together a presentation to illustrate the possibilities.

The heart of this technique is the promotion of spurts of unrestrained intensive growth. The objective is to build structure as well as girth. You can build structure without girth by restraining the growth and continuous tip pruning and you can build girth without structure buy growing a stump to put branches on later. Both of these option create difficulties and visual flaws. It is possible to take the middle path and do both at the same time to get a better result.

One of the greatest challenges of bonsai development is unrestrained apical dominance. Through this or any other development path the sacrifices you might have to make to restrain apical dominance in the interests of correct branch proportion is well worth any retardation in the overall process. Never let a branch get left behind; it's always a long hard road to have it catch up.

By restricting shoot selection to two you are optimising the development of the selected branches and by opting for consistent bifurcation (into 2s) throughout the process you avoid building in structural flaws that only sometimes become evident later.

As I said I started this process last September with a cutting of an unidentified ficus. Some have suggested it is Natal but I'm not sure. Anyway here it is. The one difference between the real tree and the presentation is that I have kept one of the old branches as a sacrifice branch (the one going up to the left rear). At this stage the trunk is about 25mm diameter and I have good primary branch structure in place for a small bonsai.

In the second picture I've over-sketched the trunk and principal branch structure. In late winter/early spring I'll root prune it to give it some more root space and then embark on another three grow/cut cycles. After two years of life it should be a very nice little tree.
The same principles can apply to other species, though with fewer cycles each season. Elms for example in our climate are easily good for 2 cycles which is probably enough given their relatively slower growth habit. Clearly you wouldn't even think about this for a juniper but bouganvillea is a great candidate.
The same principles can apply to a larger target design, it's just going to take longer to develop the bulk and scale of the tree. Subtropical benefits!!!