Archive for January, 2014

New Years Blues, Part Two

As promised, I’m back again with a turquoise-blue beauty that has a completely different history. It’s the story of an Alligator Juniper, Juniperus deppeana, I collected near Oracle, Arizona back in 2000. It was growing on a solid granite bolder that was propping up another bolder that caused the tree to grow at a forty five degree slant away from the second vertical bolder. It had a dense clump of chilanthes, a fern common to the area, surrounding the base of the trunk. I thought the fern was really cool, so I left it there and continued my dig. I was able to obtain the complete root ball with very little effort and only had my fleece jacket with me, no burlap or plastic bags. If you’re ever without, fleece jackets are very handy for tying up a root ball 😉 I took photos of the tree early on but these were prints that need to be scanned and I don’t have a good digital scanner. Just imagine the tree being six feet tall and surrounded by ferns and you get the picture. The tree spent three years planted at its original slant with the trunk surrounded by ferns. Somewhere around 2003, I made the decision to orient the tree more vertically, removed the fern from around the base of the trunk and chopped the top three feet off the trunk. One aspect of Alligator Junipers I have to disclose is their tendency to form burls, and this one had a large one around the base of the trunk where the ferns were…it was a round ball with a stick coming out of it. It made me wish I had done a more thorough job of checking the trunk before I dug the tree. Instead, I was seduced by the fern growing around the base. Live and learn, as they say! I’m not one to give in easily, and saw this as another challenge to an already challenging tree to work with. This species also has the habit of budding out of the trunk from the base to the apex. And the buds emerge from between the plates of bark that give the tree its name. Great care must be taken removing them or you’ll also damage the unique aspect of this tree–its regular plated of bark that has an uncanny resemblance to alligator skin.

Thanks for bearing with me, but I feel it’s important to lay the ground work for a tree story before you present an image; this first one is from 2008. After eight years it was in its third plastic training pot and still aimlessly searching for a recognizable style (weeping slant?):

J. deppeana

The above photo uses what is now the back of the tree for the front, which shows you how flummoxed I was by this challenging tree. You can also see the ‘burl’ at the base of the trunk, which I always allowed moss to partly conceal. The trunk itself has a long, slow curve which we are also taught to avoid in all the bonsai books and manuals. Lots of challenges, this tree, but it still held my interest; vigorous grower, beautiful glaucous foliage had me seduced like a beguiling woman 😉

Fast forward to November, 2013, the tree is now 13 years in my care and has finally found a pot, a new front and the Bonsai Society of Portland invited Ted Matson in for our program. The topic for the evening was a tree discussion and we were invited to bring in a tree or two for possible inclusion, if Ted chose it to talk about. And I had the perfect tree 😉 Let’s take a look at what Ted had to work with:

J. deppeana


Look at that burl on the left side of the trunk base and you can see what I’m talking about. That didn’t bother Ted though and I told him the story of what did and can’t be seen well in this photo–the area near the apex of the tree. Concealed inside of that bushy mass of foliage are some branches that were starting to thicken and had the beginnings of little burls themselves. I was entertaining a chop one-third the way down the trunk from the apex that Ted thought was an option but wasn’t inclined to agree with. He advised simply wiring the branches and placing them in ways to conceal or detract from defected areas. I brought the tree home with something more to think about–someone else’s perspective and acceptance of a flawed tree. In other words, don’ throw the baby out with the bath water! The next image shows the branches I thinned from the apex area before wiring with the idea in mind, ‘I can always resort to ‘plan B’ and cut the whole bloody thing off!’

J. deppeana


I tossed my camera lens cap in for scale, the largest branch at top is the diameter of my pinkie, which is too big to be at the top of this tree. Thinning out the apex gave me renewed faith I could keep the top third of the tree for now. So, the wiring commenced and all I’ve got is this shot of the tree nearly finished…sorry, it’s something I’m going to have to do better! Those ‘in-between’ shots really help us understand the process of transformation.

J. deppeana


And here’s the tree finished for now; the front:

J. deppeana


A view from the left side, or the tree’s right:

J. deppeana, left


The burl doesn’t look too bad from this side…now, the back of the tree, which was the old front from the first image:

J. deppeana, back


And finally, the right side, or the tree’s left:

J. deppeana, right


That’s all folks! I hope you’ve enjoyed my ‘tree story’ and that you’ll seek out another’s opinion before making those drastic cuts 😉

New Years Blues

Happy New Year! Rain has returned here in ‘stump town’ and I’ve settled in with a hot cup of coffee to bring you up to speed with a couple of trees I’ve been working on over the holidays and into the new year. First up is a Blue Atlas Cedar I acquired from Jim Gremel at the PNBCA convention held in Vancouver, Washington in September 2012. We were both vendors at that convention and Jim had some very nice trees available for sale at his booth. This tree caught my eye from the first day, and as the convention wore on, I decided I’d try and see if I could do a trade. It took two trees to come close to his asking price–a collected Engelmann spruce and a collected mountain hemlock–but I was able to come home with this glaucous beauty! And here it is on the bench in a very unusual pot for such a tree:

blu Atlas cedar


I’ve never owned, much less worked on one,  so I picked Jim’s brain as much as I dared about the particulars of these blue beauties. This one is grafted–the root stock is Deodora cedar. I can’t remember if Jim did the grafting, but the union is very seamless; the only give away is the difference in bark texture three inches above soil line. Jim did mention the need to put movement into the trunk very early on as it thickens it becomes stiff and when one attempts a bend, snaps in two like a carrot and that’s the end of that! So, this tree received training very early and has lived most of its life in a pot. Part of the reason a trained specimen like this costs a small fortune 😉

The next step in my plan for this tree was to get it into a different pot; something that would complement that beautiful blue foliage and enhance the cascade style it was in. I found just the right pot waiting on a shelf, a pot made by Mike Hagedorn back when he was still a potter. I brought the tree and pot to his study group last winter and he approved of my choice. Let’s see if you agree:

blu Atlas cedar


The tree was fully wired when I took possession of it, but the wire was biting in hard in spots and I removed it shortly before re-potting it. I used 50% pumice and 50% Akadama for my soil mix and fertilized with Portland Rose Society organic fertilizer throughout the growing season. The tree responded well and had sent out 6″ to 8″ extension shoots on most of the branch tips. I cut those off in September without thinking to get a photo before I did–sorry. The next best I can do is show you what the tree looked like before I began wiring it last month. This photo was taken in late November, 2013:

blu before


Imagine the entire tree with rangy shoots like those near the top of the tree and you can picture what it looked like before its fall cut-back. The tree had also filled in the areas closer to the trunk. Always a good sign but it told me I’d have to be careful when wiring not to lay the wire across the needles, which is all too easy to do when wiring one of these. Something else rang true about what Jim said about their tendency to snap like carrots–that trait extends to the little tufts of needles as well. The needles are very sharp and when you add all this up, it takes some getting used to wiring one of these! So, after two and a half days this is what I got:

blu after


From the right side, or the tree’s left:

blu after


And the left side, or the tree’s right:

blu after


And the back of the tree. It would make an interesting front too 😉

blu after


That’s where I’ll leave it for today…stay tuned for New Years Blues Part Two…