April 3, 2017

Pacific Bonsai Museum "Natives" Preparation: Pitch Pine

Source material: 2017, April 01

          Over the past few months, Dan and I have been preparing five of his trees for an exhibit at the Pacific Bonsai Museum centered around bonsai of species which are endemic to North America (hence the exhibit name, "Natives"). I am excited to attend the exhibit's opening celebration this upcoming Saturday, April 8th, because it includes an artist panel with some big names who were invited to enter trees - Scott Elser, Michael Hagedorn, Randy Knight, Ryan Neil, and Dan Robinson. I once saw Michael Hagedorn during an unplanned visit to my local bonsai store and I may or may not have been mentally fangirling too much to say hello. Or maybe I just didn't want to interrupt his workshop. I will lie to myself and say it was the latter.
          The most recent tree Dan and I prepared was a special pitch pine (Pinus rigida) which needed moss on the soil surface and some needle thinning to bring it into order. The tentatively finished product can be seen below, though slight modifications may still happen before going to the museum. Compared to some of the other trees Dan is loaning for the "Natives" show, this tree only needed slight maintenance; the needle thinning was done in only a day. In upcoming posts about other "Natives" show trees, you will see some of the other tree preparations were more involved projects. I felt a little bit of extra responsibility on this particular day as Dan recently has had some health challenges and was not able to make it to the garden last weekend. Fortunately, one of his more senior students came and was able to give me guidance.
        Pitch pines are not commonly used in bonsai, however, they have one strong advantage over the Japanese red, black, and white pines that are more relied upon - pitch pines backbud prolifically. In the below album, you will see they backbud even on the oldest wood of the trunk through their thick flakey bark. Their ability is so extreme that if all of their branches were completely cut off (an operation which would any other pine), Dan said that they would be likely to survive and sprout new branches from a bare trunk! Their plethora of easily actuatable latent buds are useful for trees still in development, but for a tree going off to a show, I removed the activating buds that were not in places we desired.
          In the photos below, I also show some of the processes of needle grooming and pruning I did on the tree. Before the arrival of Dan's other student, I had some internal conflict about how much refinement I should do. While looking at this tree, Dan and I noted the varying needle lengths which could easily be brought into order. Predictably, Dan did not worry too much about it and seemed to suggest he would leave some of this wildness to contrast with the other artists who would certainly enter trees "groomed to the nines." I honestly was not sure if Dan explicitly did not want to thin the needles, or if he did not want to spend the time doing it himself. In the absence of Dan, but wanting to maintain his vision, his more senior student advised me to prune needles that conflicted with other candle clusters or that impeded view into the canopy but to leave long needles if they were not involved in such conflicts. Long needles tended to be growth from two years ago, but in a few cases a bud from last year had long needles and those predominantly were left behind.
The tree prior to any work. Formerly on display at Elandan Gardens, Washington; now on loan at the Pacific Bonsai Museum until October 2017.
The outline of the old pot on the rootball was easily hidden with moss.
The tree's backstory. It was originally collected by a student of Dan Robinson's, and later styled by Dan.
Even on the old trunk wood, you can see many backbuds here. A special characteristic of this species.  
Another illustration of backbudding on the trunk.  
Back of the tree and the moss haul from below a highway overpass.
The upper canopy was the most dense and wild area.
An example of an area post-needle thinning.
Here the thick, flaky bark and dead wood features are clearer. Although lime sulfur provides an attractive contrast, Dan prefers this hue from natural weathering over the artificially stark white deadwood.
           This tree and four other Robinson trees will be available to view at the Pacific Bonsai Museum for the next six months! Dan can be said to specialize in native species and although most of his bonsai career was before my time, I have heard it said that he at one point was the best native species collector in the US. His publicly open garden, Elandan Gardens can offer many more native species inspiration as well. I will continue to publish the trees we prepared over this week leading up to the previously mentioned "Natives" launch on Saturday, April 8th.

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