April 4, 2017

Pacific Bonsai Museum "Natives" Preparation: Eastern Larch

Source material: 2017, January 8

          This is the second installment covering the five trees Bonsai Man Dan and I have prepared 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 encourage anyone who is in the area to attend the opening celebration this upcoming Saturday, April 8th. I hope and expect the artist panel to provide plenty of enlightening bonsai discussion. Scott Elser, Michael Hagedorn, Randy Knight, Ryan Neil, and Dan Robinson were all invited to bring trees for the show and will be in attendance.
         Today's installment covers one of my new favorite trees in the garden (a title which admittedly does not hold much weight there, as I shamelessly have many favorites). This Eastern Larch (Larix larcina) was in the garden on one of the main paths - hiding in plain sight. Yet for the first 8 months of my regular visits to the garden, somehow I did not notice or appreciate this tree until Dan pulled it out for work. Things often go this way at Elandan Gardens as I am now somewhat numbed to great material. I regret I do not have as many pictures of our transformation on this tree as I would like due some lost data including before pictures (always very useful), a video of Dan's die grinder carving, close-ups of the foliage and carving, and other manipulations we did. Because of that, I would especially encourage you to see this impressive tree in person if you can instead of relying on my limited photos!
The mostly finished version captured on April 1, 2017.

          As fate would have it, this tree was collected by the famous Nick Lenz in 1975. Nick happens to be one of my favorite bonsai artists and his unconventional works inspire me to take bonsai to new places. I hope in the future to share the products of some of this inspiration. It turns out, Dan knew Nick well and even knew that Nick was once an editor of a ghost magazine, which explained to me his many spooky-themed bonsai that I had seen online (some of which can be seen below). Dan bought the tree from Nick shortly after it was collected. The addition of the rock, the pot choice, and the styling were all done by Dan thereafter.

Nick Lenz's  trident maple "Root Over Gargoyle." Source
A Nick Lenz grape bonsai with deadwood carved to look like a pelican. Source
This "Trumpet Tree" by Nick is one of my favorites for unusual form bonsai. Source
Nick has many macabre bonsai growing on animal bones or with hidden faces. Source
The post caption for Dan's Eastern larch.
This antique Chinese pot is an unconventional choice for a larch due to its blue color. This creates discord because Dan loves the combination while one of his students strongly dislikes it.
          Prior to our work on the tree, the front branch was alive and was as thick as all the rest. Dan explained to me how John Naka said one should avoid eye-poking jins (dead branches) immediately before he proceeded to create one on this tree. He took some small pride in countering the conventional rules and demonstrating a stunning tree can still result.
          For the first time I had ever seen, Dan chose to lime sulfur all of the deadwood on this tree back in January, perhaps particularly because of the recent carving, the wood would not weather to the natural light gray by the time of the exhibit. On the tree today, you can still see some evidence of the recent carving (in small flakes of wood and in the stark white from the lime sulfur treatment), but they will disappear with time. The wood will become a more natural gray after more sun exposure, which can be one main cause of weathering wood. In fact, we have only had 8 sunny days since last October and record-breaking amounts of rain this past winter (welcome to Seattle); the weathering of the wood may be noticeable after the summer.

This is the tree immediately post-carving back in January 2017. It's worth noting that the granitic rock adds considerable weight to this already huge tree and pot.
          Other minor work performed not pictured included removing substantial lichen from what used to be a thick canopy of shield and oakmoss lichen, guy-wiring some branches down to better imitate weight from snow loading, and manipulating the moss around the base. The brown moss in the back was removed and replaced with some multi-species moss and lichen colonies from around the garden. The particular kind of moss that was formerly present only looks presentable in full sun, or it will grow too tall and have uneven color - hence the brown product in our dim winter. Despite its unsightly appearance at present, the tall mosses were one counterexample to the undying old moss myth that mosses are bad for your bonsai tree. There were strong surface roots of the tree colonizing the humid and sheltered surface soil immediately below the moss - some of which are now large and appealing enough to be highlighted by placing new moss around those strong roots so that they add to the nebari (surface root spread). If you go see this tree at the show, look at the back and you should see what I am talking about. I may update this post with further images after this weekend due to the data loss which prevented some images on what I desired to show.

One of the best traits of Dan's bonsai is that they have multiple great fronts. Designing with three dimensions in mind can make a "good" bonsai become much more impressive. This hollow in the trunk is not even visible from the front, yet it and the back of the tree are both strong candidates for alternative fronts.

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