The work continues here even though the days are short, gray and cold. The extreme cold is behind us for now, but we’ve got all of January, which is typically our coldest month. I won’t be surprised if the temperatures dip even colder than early December and with that in mind work continues cautiously. I thought I’d continue with another Ponderosa today and it has everything to do with a gift around Christmas time. It all goes back to December 2010 and the Holiday Party for the Bonsai Society of Portland; my buddy from the club, Lee Cheatle, was part of the crew catering the dinner. When I arrived, he motioned me back towards the kitchen and out the back door to the catering van. At this point I was totally confused and thought anything was about to happen. He rolled up the door to the van and inside was this ponderosa pine sitting on the floor. “Merry Christmas!” he bellowed and I didn’t know what to think!

We have to go back a little farther still, lest you think this was just out-of-the-blue. Lee and myself belonged to the same study group at Mike Hagedorn’s and he had brought in a very nice Ponderosa with really nice plated bark that looked just like the giant ones you see out in the wild. I kept commenting on it and the fact I didn’t have any Ponderosas in my collection yet. Lee must have taken that to heart when December rolled around. He explained it was a tree originally collected by Randy Knight and he had so many of them he felt he could part with this one, which had some of that thick, plated bark he knew I liked so well. It was still in its original anderson flat, a black plastic tray a lot of the collectors around here like to use to pot yamadori (collected mountain tree) in. I kept it on my deck the rest of the winter near a window I could look out of from the house to see it and begin thinking about what to do with it.

It was a challenging tree and had a long, straight trunk with little movement except for this little bend about halfway up the trunk. The best feature of the tree is its bark and that little bend. I had a couple of options open to me for the direction I could take this tree but it all hinged on what the roots would be like when it came time to pot it for the first time, which I planned to do in the spring as Lee had told me it was good  and ready for that. I don’t recall exactly when I potted it up to its first pot, which was an oval mica (plastic) pot, but we were well into spring and the year was 2011. The roots were an exact mirror of the trunk, which told me this tree spent most of its life in the crack of a rock. Imagine a ‘U’ shape with the bottom of the ‘U’ as the base of the trunk and either side of the ‘U’ as the root and trunk. It didn’t look like there were going to be any difficulties fitting the tree into the pot before I got started, but something always seems to come up to make life difficult; the roots were way too long for the pot I had planned on using. I thought about it a bit (you don’t want to ponder too long when a tree is out of its pot ;-)) I tried bending the long, thick root just to see if I could bend it around the interior of the oval pot and it seemed like it was totally possible. I got it wedged into the pot so tight, it was hardly necessary to wire the tree in! I wired it in anyway because I knew the top might cause the tree to flop out of the pot with a good gust of wind, which we get here from time to time.

After the potting, I let the tree rest a couple of months, noticing no loss of vigor and strong budding activity. I gave the tree its first styling that summer and discovered this species’ tendency to crack when being bent. Once we apply the wire to the branches, we bend them into position where we want them–this is known as setting the branches. Sometimes we need to make some pretty sharp bends to get the job done and this is when a branch may crack due to the stress placed on the woody tissue by the wire. When I got over my initial alarm and patched the cracks up with cut paste, I let it rest for the remainder of the growing season. Fast forward to winter 2012, I observed wire biting into the bark in several spots, so I removed all wire from the tree and also saw a new direction for the tree. I wish I had some before photos of the tree before I re-potted it in the spring of 2013, so you could see the evolution of the planted angle of the tree over time…I don’t, so let’s just say that I raised the trunk from a more horizontal position and had to have something to keep it there. I had this rock I found from Hood River sitting around and it just happened to fit under the trunk in a spot that made it look like the tree was always there. The new pot for the tree was now much less wide but deeper. When it came time for the re-pot, I went through the same process of folding and stuffing the roots into the new pot. Ponderosas are one of those trees whose roots seem to be as flexible as their branches. This is a real plus when it comes to potting them up because there is no need to do any cutting of the roots to fit in the pot. You will always want to trim out any dead roots to make more room for the live ones and of course, you need to have a generous enough pot to accommodate the tree’s roots. That brings us to an image of where I started last Sunday, when the sun came out for the afternoon before applying wire to the tree for the second time:

Lee tree

 

As you can see, I put the lens cap from my camera in there for scale; this is not a large tree. The needles are about what you’d expect for a Ponderosa–a little long and an olive green color. And one other thing about this tree in particular, which isn’t too apparent from the photo is the fact that the tree itself is only a long extension of the trunk and there are no branches all the way down to the farthest point on the left, where the first branch emerges. A really challenging design restraint I think I resolved by making the tree appear to have branches way up near the base of the trunk. And again, I was moving along pretty steadily and only took one ‘between’ photo:

Lee tree

 

The bottom branches on the left are set into position and all that needs to be done is to bring the ‘apex’ into place:

Lee tree

 

I snapped this shot just as the sun was fading and the air started to chill. I set the ‘apex’ just above that little bend in the trunk, which is also brought to our attention by the rock beneath it. If you click on the photo, you’ll get a larger, more detailed image and you can see some of the nice bark this tree has. My plans for the  future of this tree include a different pot that allows me the ability to remove the rock…or should I? Another shot of the tree on a monkey pole off the deck, pretty close to where it’s spent the last two years:

Lee tree

 

The chickadees are especially obnoxious this winter, hence the need to protect with bird netting 😦 I like this shot looking up at the tree…you can get a better sense of where the branches emerge:

Lee tree

 

And as ever, if there is something in bloom, I like to include it. This is another gift from fellow club member Jan Hettick, and decided to flower now. It’s Hibiscus sinensis, a tropical species that usually blooms in the heat of summer and the flowers are always huge. Not this time! I threw in a shot of my hand for scale so you can see how small the flowers are this time–I love it!

Hibiscus from Jan

 

And the hand:

Hibiscus from Jan

 

I’ll leave you with a close up of the blooms against the weathered fence boards…a study in red and green for the Holidays!

Hibiscus from Jan

 

It’s great to be a part of such a generous bonsai community!

Advertisements