Archive for June, 2012


These are two of my favorite things to find in the wild. And every so often I find myself in the right place and time and the  plant under the right conditions–mainly a captive root system, whereby I can collect it for further enjoyment in the garden. Huckleberries are something I grew up with in Montana and every summer we would go out in August to harvest them. Anyone who’s ever had a slice of huckleberry pie knows they have to be about the best tasting berries in the world! So, when I returned to the northwest after fifteen years in the desert, I collected a plant using my experience of collecting bonsai. I looked for a nice compact specimen with a lot of fruit–yes, I collected it while it was fruiting. This is usually a bad time unless you can get a nearly intact root system and extract it very carefully, which is just what I did. The trick to getting good roots is to carefully rake away the duff from around the trunk and look to see if there are any surface roots close in to the trunk. If you have to dig down below the soil at all to find roots, chances are the plant you’ve selected is just a shoot off a rhizome and it may not have an established root system. Best to leave that alone and look for another. When I got back home, I planted the new acquisition into a plastic colander, which afforded the plant excellent drainage and lots of air to the root system. I was very careful with the daily care of the plant even though I’d gotten very good roots; I sited it in partial shade and misted the foliage as well as daily watering. It responded well and I’ve got a picture of it in a Mardella Brock pot as proof of that for you. Here is the plant six years from collection–notice it even has a couple of berries on it:

I took these photos the first week of June and that’s about two months early for huckleberries; part of the reason is that they’re in a garden but I suspect the weather has had a role in the early ripening too. This is the first year I’ve had full flavor and sweetness in the fruit. The species I’m featuring here is Vaccinium membranaceum, or black huckleberry. I’ve got another photo to share with you of a collected huckleberry planted in a collander that I’m thinking of of leaving it just as it is:

I like the association of the tree in the collander, as that’s where the fruit ends up for washing after picking anyway 😉 Here is a close-up of the fruit:

And another:

I fertilize these rather heavily with an orgainc pellet fertilizer, with low Nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous numbers; 5-4-4. I place it around the trunk when the buds are opening in spring and again late summer. I like the organic pellets as they slowly release a small amount of fertilizer every time you water the plant.

I’ve also got an orchid to show you that just finished flowering for me, Epipactus gigantea or Giant Helleborine, that I found floating bare-root near the shore of a river. I didn’t know what it was when I saw it, but I knew it must be something interesting and would not have survived when the water level of the river dropped later in the season. That was almost three years ago and this plant has really established itself in my garden. It likes a lot of water and has a strange habit of ‘climbing’ out of its pot. The roots grow so aggressively that they literally lift the plant right out of the pot. So, I got the idea of planting some of it in with some grasses to keep it in check–that works. The grass roots  are dense and strong enough so that the orchid stays put. It also makes for a nice planting as the leaves of the orchid resemble grass or bamboo. Here’s a photo of the one with the grasses:

And here is the more established plant this one came from:

And a detail of a single bloom:

I hope you’ve enjoyed this mid-summer interlude as much as I have–a feast for the eyes and the stomach 😉

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This is a little tree I acquired from Anne Spencer, a master of deciduous trees for bonsai in America. She found this little tree at a nursery in Mollala, Oregon in October of 2002. The tree was grafted 4 or 5 years before Anne bought it and whoever did the work was quite good because I’ve failed to find exactly where the graft union is on the trunk. It was in the pot you see in the first photo when I bought it February of 2011. The color is an o.k. match with the fall foliage but is a bit too deep for the tree to look it’s best. I also felt the tree needed to be rotated slightly to show off it’s best characteristics. So, let’s take a look at my little ‘prize’ here in its first fall in my garden, fall 2011:

I love those tiny little leaves! I always like to give the dimensions of the trees because it’s really hard to tell size from a photograph and a description like “it’s small”. This tree is 8″ in height from the rim of the pot and the trunk diameter is 3″ at the soil. Given those numbers you can estimate just how small the leaves are and why it’s called ‘Chris’s Dwarf’.

Fast forward to the spring of 2012; the buds are swelling and my window of opportunity opens to make some anticipated changes; first the re-pot to a new pot. I wanted to get it into a shallower pot, yet keep the shape of the pot similar. I also wanted the color of the pot to harmonize with some aspect the tree’s foliage and bark. Ginkgos have a beautiful yellow green leaf color in the spring and a golden yellow color to the foliage in the fall. If we look on the color wheel at yellow we find violet directly across from it as its complimentary color. A violet color pot would be quite stunning to harmonize with this tree’s fall color. If we find yellow-green on the color wheel, we see that it’s complementary color is red-violet, which would be an awesome match for this tree’s spring leaves.

After much searching of my modest pot collection, I ran across a soft rectangular, glazed Chinese pot with just the right dimensions. The color of the glaze is a very muted red-violet, more towards brown than red-violet…not perfect but acceptable given my budget. The ideal color for a ginkgo in my opinion would be a nice plum color that would harmonize best with the fall color but also look nice with the spring and summer foliage. I hope I haven’t lost you with this tangent about selecting a pot–I think it’s important to note that a lot of thought goes into this aspect of bonsai because it is about a tree in a pot after all!

After I got it re-potted and turned the tree counter-clockwise a bit, it was time to watch it bud to see if the small amount of root pruning I did affected it one way or another. It did not, and the tree started to bud as strongly as it had last spring in its much deeper pot. I wound up cutting back four of the branches and struck them as cuttings. Out of the four cuttings two have rooted so I’ll have a couple more of these wonders to play around with. You can also see from the photo that I wired two of the branches on the right side of the tree as these were in bad positions. So, here is the tree as of last week after re-potting, re-positioning, pruning and minimal wiring (with aluminum wire)

I plan to lay a little organic fertilizer on the soil surface once the leaves have stopped growing, maybe by the end of the month or so. Otherwise, I’m really looking forward to seeing how the new tree/pot combination looks with the golden fall foliage. Thanks for tuning in 😉

The subject of today’s post is a little lodgepole pine, Pinus contorta, that I collected in August of 2008 in the Washington Cascades. I found it growing all by itself in the center of a chunk of lava in what seemed to me to be an impossibly small crevice. I was able to get enough root to keep it going and was able to pot it immediately into a bonsai pot using pumice, akadama and lava as the soil. It stands 7″ tall from the rim of the pot, is 8″ wide and the trunk diameter at the soil is now at 1 3/4″. It grew well in its first year and I decided to wire it in the fall of 2009. I pruned one branch off the tree that was way too large; all the rest of the branches are what this tree had naturally. It isn’t often one stumbles upon a natural shohin size pine, I really felt fortunate the day I discovered this little tree. The needles have been reliably small and stay relatively straight which isn’t always the case with lodgepole pines. It also has a nice stout little trunk with rough textured bark–an indicator of age. I can only estimate this tree’s age–the only sure way would be to cut it in half and count the rings. But I do know it takes decades for young lodgepoles to obtain a rough textured bark like this.

In the spring of 2010, our club, the Bonsai Society of Portland had its annual show at the Japanese Garden and I thought this little pine was ready to show in public. The club has a ‘people’s choice’ award it gives to the best conifer, best deciduous and best shohin trees in the show. My decision to show it paid off because it was awarded best shohin that year! The first photo up is the display the tree was in at the show–it’s the little pine at the top:

Here’s a close-up of the tree. It’s sharing its shelf with the trophy:

The pot it was in happened to be one that was available at the time and was the right size for the tree. After you have a tree in a pot for in this case two years, you begin to think about other possibilities both with the pot and the tree itself. Do I want to change the angle of the tree? Do I want a slightly smaller pot? Would the tree look better in an unglazed pot? All these questions spring to mind as we go about the daily task of watering, fertilizing, weeding and all manner of little tasks necessary in keeping small trees in small pots 😉 So in the spring of 2011, I bit the bullet and re-potted this little tree into a shallower and narrower unglazed pot by Michael Hagedorn. It’s oval in shape and suits the tree because the curve of the trunk; if it had a straight trunk, I’d go with a rectangle. Here is the tree in its new digs, photo taken in December of 2011, after a successful growing season in the new pot:

I’ll show a shot I took of the back side of the tree too as some have suggested they like this better than the current front I have for it:

The tree budded strongly this spring and has already hardened off needles. I will fertilize lightly this summer and this fall it will have to be wired again. I’ve also begun to cut back some of the stronger branches near the apex. I’ll re-visit this tree this fall after styling it.

Subalpine Fir

This is the story of a small subalpine fir, Abies lasiocarpa, that I collected in the fall of 2008. My Dad wanted to go mushroom hunting, so I used that as an excuse to steal away for a n October day and do a little collecting of my own. This little tree stands only twelve inches tall and is just over two inches in diameter at the base of the trunk. It was growing in a crack/pocket in solid rock with a small root pad I was able to get mostly intact. The top of the tree must have been broken off which is why the tree never grew taller and it must have been in a fire as the shari on the base of the trunk had blackened charcoal in the recesses of the exposed wood. What a story this one might tell if it could speak!

I potted it in one hundred percent pumice and used an eight inch plastic pot. I put it in the greenhouse to get it through the winter and the buds opened in the spring, so I knew I had a keeper. I let it grow freely and fertilized regularly until spring of 2010, which is the first time I took a picture of it:

This was a quick shot before I potted it up in its first ceramic training pot; I didn’t feel it was ready for anything in particular, I just wanted to get it out of that plastic pit 😉 The next shot is just after potting and I think I used straight pumice for this stage of development as well:

I see little nuggets of akadama there, so it was in a 50% pumice 50% akadama mix after all. Not much to look at in this stage,  finally able to get a good look at the base of the trunk. I did remove a small branch that was growing downward and wired a couple of branches only to find spring is definitely not the time to wire your subalpine fir! So I stopped there and stuck to watering and fertilizing for the rest of the growing season. It responded very well to its new pot and was strong enough to style the following fall. Next up is what it looked like after that first wiring:

This tree, like most yamadori, had few branches to work with and the tree is built with only two branches; the first branch on the bottom left is actually a back branch and you can see it was necessary to wrap it with raffia and use heavy copper wire and a guy wire to get it into position. The second branch that includes the rest of the tree and the apex emerges near the top on the right side of the trunk. This species of fir has pockets of sap just below the outer bark that one must be careful with but the branches are generally flexible–very much like a spruce in their flexibility. A note here about the bark on subalpine fir–it takes a very long time for their bark to get the gray flaky plates you see on a spruce or a pine. A tree can be quite old and still have bark that is smooth and light gray. I know this little one is quite old because the bark is acquiring a rough texture and a gray color. If you look up towards the apex, you can see there is still some of the smoother bark up there. Do you see the little mushroom to the right of the trunk?

This styling was done in November of 2010 and by spring of 2011, I was already starting to notice some of the wires biting into the bark. I spent the summer and fall of last year slowly removing those wires that had to come off and the branches quickly grew upward and out of their positions as you can see in the last photo to date on this tree. This spring I decided it was time to get the tree into a little better pot that suited the fat little trunk. I tried tilting the trunk to the left when I was re-potting it but it didn’t do what I expected it would for this tree. So the tree is planted as you see, still in a slant style in a slightly better pot. The next step will be to wire it again this fall; I’ll update this thread when that happens.

And a closer look at the trunk:

I’ll leave you with a little accent I’ve had since 2000, harebells, Campanula rotundifolia with a little mushroom growing in with it. It looks like a chanterelle to me–what a bonus if it is! This is potted in an old tuna can that is slowly rusting away…Ah, wabi sabi 😉