Two weeks ago, as I was driving through the mountains, I spotted a white spruce clinging on to the overhang growth of a low cliff face. Normally I would not collect a tree this late in the season, but the depth of erosion beneath the overhang indicated that this tree would probably get pushed from the cliff face by the snow of the coming winter. With the rootball being fairly compact I decided to collect it. Two weeks is not enough time to form an accurate assessment of potting success, but so far so good. No needle loss, discoloration, or other signs of stress.

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If the tree continues to exhibit healthy behavior, I may actually give it some mild, initial styling this fall. I know, I know. I’m pushing my luck by insulting the tree too early, but I feel like I’m beginning to understand these white spruce pretty intimately; what they will tolerate and how they will respond is all relative. These are tough trees, and although I’ve had my share of failures with them, I’ve learned quite a bit along the way.

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I love the tree from this angle, and I assume this will be the front. It’s easy to imagine this tree growing sideways out of the cliff, especially from this viewpoint. That fat base and extreme taper are no doubt the result of years of abuse from the snow and ice glaciating over the edge of that cliff. I estimate this spruce to be 40-50 years old.

Well, it’s Friday night again, so naturally I rock out to bonsai and beer as usual. Today I picked a boring old house plant that’s been sitting unstyled, and mostly ignored on the bar by the stairs. I literally started wiring it out of boredom, and decided about midway through wrapping the branches that I was actually quite find of the multi trunk ficus. It has quite accidentally turned out to be one of the better pieces in my collection!

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Although the trunks never really come together, it makes it sort of a raft style, and those gnarly roots grab the soil like a fist. Working with wire this thick is hard on the fingertips, so no more typing for me. Where’s my beer though? Time to step back and admire!

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Well- I did it…

I began to worry that the roots were choking. Lots more browning this week, even with supplemental light. I started to worry that if I did nothing it would only get closer to the point of no return, so I went for it.
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The root ball was pretty pack with mud. I carefully removed all the excess soil and loosened the edges of the football with a fork, then planted it in the biggest pot I had. The new substrate is simple, but better than the gravel and old soil it has been sitting in for the last year. Equal parts perlite, sphagnum and quartz/slate chips. I’m not getting my hopes up. It’s probably dying. It’s always the best material that doesn’t make it. But here’s a picture to remember it by…

20130403-092414.jpgMaybe it will be okay… Crap… What have I done…

It’s that time of year when the snow is rapidly vanishing, and the ground is thawing out. The pussywillows are starting to form, and the birds are filing the yard with the sounds of spring… And I am once again biting at my lip and bouncing my knee; combing through my pictures of tagged trees and reviewing maps as I pace my deck like a ravenous addict. I can hardly stand the waiting…

This spring is going to be a tremendous leap forward in not just the number of pieces in my collection, but also in the scale and power of the material. I’m especially excited about the gnarly old Aspens I discovered last summer, which have tremendous potential as literati or slant styled bonsai material. Robert Fowlkes and I have a few expeditions planned for collecting Black Spruce and Mountain Hemlock specimens as well. It’s going to be an incredible year, and I’m so excited I just have to share some pictures of these aspen. Don’t they just cry out for wire?

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These will be the first heavy expeditions I’ve undertaken, with some of the material being quite large, and the amount of gear required to collect will be a load of its own. I will begin building boxes this weekend, after the Sears Mall show in Anchorage.

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The following week, I’ll be driving from Seattle to Phoenix with family, and I’m hoping to bring back a couple of small Zelkova pre-bonsai.

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20130329-171651.jpg BONSAI EXHIBITION! – Saturday, April 6th at the Sears Mall in Anchorage. Starts at 9am and runs all day. Artists Paul Marmora, Robert Fowlkes, Tim Pack and myself will be there displaying our work, doing live demonstrations and answering questions for anyone who is interested in learning more about the art of bonsai. Paul will also have some nice starter trees, pots and other supplies available for purchase. Interested in bonsai but never took the first step? Come to the show this Saturday and learn more! Plus check out some wicked trees!

This little guy is exceptionally fast growing. To the best of my knowledge it is only a year old, and I have had it about 8 months now, a gift from a friend and local gardener. I have continuously cut this tree back over the long winter, as it continued to grow without much light or babying. It would be a foot tall by now I’m sure. Still Im planning to keep its growth under tight control, and to train this pomegranate as a Shohin tree.

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I wasn’t able to make it to the fairgrounds this weekend, but I found a little time this afternoon to work on one of the little birch yamadori that I collected earlier in the season. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this twin trunk as i first began, but over the course of an hour with this birch, it gravitated quite willingly towards a windswept style. The pot is entirely too large and inappropriate, and the small jin I’ve created of the would-be third trunk, is perhaps too thick and in need of refinement. The leaves are sparse, but bright green buds promise to fill out before fall is upon us and this birch starts to yellow. If needed I may supplement the waining daylight hours with lights, so the tree can fill out a bit more before going into hibernation.
Picture below.

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Before…20120830-153720.jpg

After a little fine carving…
Would this be considered Jin or Shari I wonder?

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My dog loves to watch me work…
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After several hours of pruning, I began to slant my branches with guy wires.
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Lots of guy wires…
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Before…
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After…
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I made an interesting discovery this past week while on holiday in the mountains, of a species of creeping evergreen called Dryas octopetala. Common names include Mountain Avens, White Dryas or White Dryad. At first glance this flowering subshrub is unremarkable, but upon close inspection, its twisted woody roots actually fill out as a sort of deadwood-like trunk. I collected a couple of specimens, and potted them in my new substrate creation- 1/3 glacier pebble (mostly granite and slate bits), 1/3 pumice, and 1/3 potting soil with perlite. It is going through a period of adjustment, but appears to be doing well considering the extreme change in environment. I am eager to see how this new material progresses, and will be keeping a detailed catalogue of my findings here on the blog. Pictures below.

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