Bonsai is a journey... not the destination!

Sunday, December 27, 2009


Santa has come and gone but the treasures he leaves behind will unfold many memories for years to come. Santa left behind Robert Steven's new book Mission of Transformation. Having previously read his first book many times over, I awaited his second book which so much anticipation it was almost like being a 4 year old again, awaiting Christmas morning.

Robert's first book moved me in such a way that I wanted the second. This is not just another bonsai book. It doesn't cover the normal how to etc... His second book is very much an addendum to his first publishing. Leafing through the book Christmas morning while enjoying a good cup of Java, I stumbled upon page 163, I had a double take! Pictured on the page was a Chamaecyparis Obtusa belonging to Peter Evans.

There were 3 photos on the page: the first was the tree has photographed by Peter; the second was Robert's rendition of the tree with a slight clockwise rotation; and the third was the tree planted out in a different pot.

The tree as photographed by Peter

Robert's photograph with the new
viewing angle

Robert's vision for Peter's tree

So one might ask what is with the title for this particular entry? Well, as I turned to page 163 it was like deja vue or something, because...

I had acquired a Chamaecyparis Obtusa Kosteri in June of 2007, brought it home, bare rooted it, planted it out in a grow box, gave it an initial styling and commence feeding and refining it. I had a vision for it's future and never thought much more of it.

The tree fresh from the nursery prior
to initial styling circa June '07

The tree after it's initial styling
circa June '07

The tree finally got it's first pot this
summer circa August 2009

Deja Vue!

A side by side in scale comparison

The similarity between the two trees is absolutely phenomenal, and at a glance, one would have a double take just as I on Christmas morning. A little background...

Peter and I live 11,000 miles apart. I find it totally amazing that two individuals, unknown to each other, separated by an ocean would come up with similar visions. What is further astonishing, is the similar characteristics of our individual trees. They are nearly the same height, trunk size, lean etc... Peter's tree was originally posted at the Knowledge of Bonsai forum in August 2007 seeking advice in the Robert Steven "Styling Advice" section (where the photos originate from).

My tree is far from reaching where it needs to be. It's journey is told here . As described therein I am working on a problematic root that still needs several more seasons in order to be further refined and corrected, at which time the pot depth will be reduced. Also seen in the photo (rebar) I am inducing some movement in a rather boring straight section of the upper trunk.

Artists are first and foremost individuals and although it might prove flattering to someone to have their worked mimicked, I believe that most thrive on developing their own creations, for personal satisfaction if nothing else, and that is the route I intend to take.

The side by side photograph demonstrates the design potential of the tree. Although both trees are similar, they cannot be duplicated. However, using Peter's tree as a template, and applying Robert's vision and introducing Robert's design principles, I believe I know have the necessary tools to develop the full potential of this Hinoki.

The foliage and branching on this tree is much fuller than Peter's. Furthermore, this cultivar is a Kosteri. Kosteri's foliage is much coarser than the regular Obtusa. It has a tendency to grow in a more vertical fashion in comparison with other cultivars. It will also be interesting to see over the next couple of years of applying Robert's design principles how full this tree will remain. I can already envision loosing the top tuft of foliage at some point in the future.

To many, working with Hinokis is a nightmare, to me a mere challenge. If nothing else it has taught me an important bonsai virtue, patience. Because of the root work, the tree will pretty much be left alone during the next vegetative season where, the tree will be abundantly fed and nurtured. I will spend the next season contemplating it's future.

Over the years working with this species, I have come to find out the frailty of the branch-lets. Although I am terribly careful when handling my Hinokis, my inept handling does materialize with die back after the tree has been manipulated. The juncture of branch and branch-lets is extremely delicate and any mishandling of such provides unfavourable results, not readily apparent when styling, rather they materialize many months later. It is incumbent that my timing be judicial between reducing the problematic root and developing the tree, as Hinokis do not back bud.

Robert has been a large influence on my bonsai journey. Doing bonsai in near total isolation is not an easy feat. However, Robert's creative artistic visions are easily imparted in his books. Armed with this creative knoweledge, I believe I can someday make Robert proud of this specimen.

Disclaimer: Permission has been sought from Peter Evans for personal use of his photographs.

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