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artofbonsai.org • View topic - Critique: The Maleficent Tree
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 Post subject: The creator speaks...
PostPosted: Wed Apr 20, 2005 8:38 pm 
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In a private email, Nick sent some thoughts about this composition and invited me to post them here. These are his words:

The Hideous and Horrid Azalea augmented slightly by Nick Lenz
Once upon a time there was a girl named Mary. When the government released her from the WWII concentration camp for evil-doing Japs, she moved north. She also went to Japan to study with ?old man? Murata. He told her that the secret to bonsai refinement lay in planting bonsai in sieved dust. In Seattle, she founded the first bonsai study group which, in time, became their vicarious bonsai club. But in much time. She also started this unsuitable azalea species for reasons unknown.

I first met Mary 33 years ago. She was a small and demure woman of exceptional beauty, with arthritis. I do not remember this particular azalea bush from my friendship with her, which was limited because her husband, a university professor with a strong association with Hokaido, disapproved of me for class reasons ? I had shunned my PhD.

In time, the arthritis killed her, choking off her breath. I had not been in communication for years because my wife lost half her brain. Months after her demise, the professor called me to ask if I wanted something. I did. It was the azalea that had been planted in the ground years before because the unfortunate woman could not cope with it.

The base was the only attractive thing about it. The species culture would later become a vile burden.

The poor plant existed in mud. It took 2 years to relieve this. In the ground, it had sprouted 4 perfectly radiated giant suckers now identified as evil eyes. I had no compunction in carving and hollowing them as such because I had no faith at all in the potential of the plant.

Many years followed with heavy duty re-bar and grab wires to try to bring the existing elements into something bonsai like. The pruning scars of the plant healed surprisingly quickly, even without a Preparation H equivalent. Thus, I had not needed to carve sinister faces about the four quarters of the Cross. It just happened because I thought the plant was junk.

I decided to rid myself of it for several reasons:
1. It was ugly and I would never be able to refine this awkward species, as I wanted.

2. The growth habit was abominable. This ever-so-cute azalea grows in the following fashion. The bud pops and out comes a shoot, in totally unpredictable direction. If it is weak, it is short, not much over 3 cm. If it is vigorous, the shoot will be 10-14 cm (not good). Only the most vigorous shoots produce budding nodes. But if you cut the shoot down to them, it just dies (the shoot). The azalea blooms on none but the most vigorous shoots, with a 9cm blossom of a color that would make a retired Flarida matron with tinted hair puke. And the flower is 6 cm! The leaves are large, come out very early, and die immediately with the slightest hint of frost. Very bad material.

3. Winter sucks. This azalea didn?t like it at all. I am a half a climate zone away from Mary. No one wishes her labor to be destroyed by the winter. North Leverett is not Seattle.

Thus came the plot to rid myself of a plant I could never bring to the quality of my usual lot. I selected a victim with greenhouse capability, the most charming and American/European I know, to posses it, and conned her into it. As presented online, the tree is a couple of years away from my constant refining and therefore should not reflect upon my ability to create (natural) branch chaos, which I never do.

Someone said that Boon thought the smaller tree would make a great shohin, which my eye followed year after year. Considering the growth habit of this course bush, this would be even more frustrating. Thus, impossible. The growth habit is much too coarse.

And this is exactly what shows in the photograph the chaos which is the will of the species and not the owner.

So you see, dear reader, that you have expounded sound and fury over a plant that never should have been intended as bonsai. The world is like this.


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At the risk of anthropomorphising even more than others seem to have, this tree would be far more ominous and foreboding if it were preternaturally green and vigorous... The bonsai equivalent of Kudzu, if you will.

To me the tree merely looks as though it's trapped and scared. Rather than maleficent I would suggest it looks rather beset.

I can, in view of what Nick has written about it, understand that his attitude to the tree is the most maleficent thing about the whole story.


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