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 Post subject: Winter Walking for Bonsai
PostPosted: Fri Apr 18, 2008 11:53 pm 

Joined: Sat Jan 29, 2005 2:11 am
Posts: 6469
Location: Michigan USA
Winter Walking for Bonsai
by Russell Marchant

The growing season is long gone. The beautiful autumn colors of your favorite maple forest, a magnificent display of red and gold just a few weeks ago, is now nowhere to be seen. Deep down you knew it would happen. It always happens. It was inevitable. Another winter would make its arrival in the mid-west United States and take your hobby, your fun, and your passion, and force you to "put it away for the season." The trees you fed, watered, talked to, consoled, and "coached" into being, "as good a tree as you can be" are now covered, to the very top rim of their pots, with mulch and are ready for a long winter's nap.

So where do you go from here? What can you do to avoid the deep feelings of withdrawal that every bonsai practitioner (except for those folks in California and Florida with their year-round bonsai, hurricanes and mudslides) feels this time of year? Well, the truth is, there are plenty of things to keep your interest (or for most, passion) for bonsai alive. You can immerse yourself in books and magazines extolling the noble pursuit of growing and designing bonsai, you can surf "the net" for the perfect bonsai site, you can clean your display area and your pots, and you can participate in an activity I strongly endorse. You can engage in an activity that guarantees a positive outcome on all fronts - fresh air for your lungs, a sense of peace for your mind, and a deeper appreciation for trees and their basic design. You can take a walk, or better still, you can participate in a walking lesson in basic bonsai (tree) form and design as taught by the most superior of all masters, the trees themselves.

Winter is an especially wonderful time for bonsai enthusiasts (or anyone who truly loves trees) to take a walk and "learn through observation". To cite one of my favorite John Naka quotes, "Don't try to make your tree look like a bonsai, try to make your bonsai look like a tree." Well, what better time and place than winter in some of our old stately parks and cemeteries (many cemeteries predate parks in a given area so they often contain magnificent specimens) to observe wonderful old trees in the glory of their winter silhouette?

A great thing about using a walk to explore bonsai design options is that you can include or exclude other participants, based on your preferred learning style. If you learn best from discussion and an infusion of different opinions then arrange for a small group walk. If, however, you are more of the introspective, ponderous learner than a solo excursion may be more to your liking. (I personally, enjoy the company of my two dogs. They are great company and, to their credit, my following them on many of their "side-trips" has allowed me to see many unique specimens I probably otherwise would have missed. .

Look for signs of age – Look for elements to emulate

An often-repeated goal of the bonsai artist is to provide trees a look of age, and if possible, a look of "great age." As such, I often think it difficult to truly imagine just how magnificent the contorted branches of an old oak can be, or how truly beautiful a lightening created jin is, until you really observe them first hand, in nature.

In the Pickle Creek area of Hawn State Park, in St. Genevieve, MO, there is a wonderful nature trail that winds through an old hardwood forest and slowly climbs up to a granite summit that contains some of most unbelievable "natural bonsai" you would ever hope to see. Scattered around the hilltop are a "gallery" of small pines, 24-48 inches tall. Each is clearly a testament to the struggle of surviving atop a hill of granite -- trunks are contorted and branches are bent low from snow and naturally "jinned" by 50+ years of wind, hail and lightening. What a tremendous image to emulate!

Another indicator of old age is a great expanse of surface roots, the nebari. Unfortunately, we often see so many small subdivision or garden trees, with their post-in-the-hole type trunks, that it's difficult to imagine what a network of roots radiating from a burly old trunk really looks like. If you are curious, you can visit beautiful, little Lafayette Park, located in St. Louis, Missouri, just south of the downtown area and a few miles east of the Missouri Botanical Garden. What you will find are a row of trees on the north side of the park, with absolutely beautiful nebari. The surface roots flows from the trunk like water cascading down a mountain stream.


Many cities are blessed with old stately parks and cemeteries; fortunately each contains an abundance of magnificent trees each with basic design lessons to share. So the next time you start to feel a touch of "bonsai withdrawal" creeping up on you, set aside some time to take a simple walk in the park and be prepared to be amazed. After all, that's where many of the trees we so desperately try to mimic and copy live. Some of them have been there for a very long time, well over a 100+ years. Most are in the glory of their winter silhouette and they are just waiting for you to come by and take a look so they can teach you a few things, first hand, about good bonsai design.

Bob King scored: 7
"More of a snippet than an article. Photographs would have helped."

Pat Luck Morris scored: 9
"An evocative photo or two would enhance this excellent piece."

Walter Pall scored: 6
"Images should have been added. Nicely written. A bit too few new thoughts here. Stating the obvious a bit too much."

Average score of all judges: 7.33

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