January 28, 2021

Where's Bernie?? Bonsai Edition


  1. Bernie in Elandan Gardens
  2. Bernie as a Mudman
  3. Blog Announcements

          No doubt most of you have seen the meme going around this week based on Senator Bernie Sanders braving the inauguration day cold bearing his now-iconic mittens and practical Vermontian fashion sense. Political leanings aside, Bernie's inauguration sighting has quickly exploded on the internet as netizens place the Senator in their own photos around the world. The senator is even selling T-shirts and sweatshirts featuring his inaugural meme and is donating 100% of the proceeds to Vermont charities like Meals-on-Wheels which helps feed low-income seniors. Naturally, I had to join in on the fun! Not only is this meme a good opportunity for some Bernie bonsai sightings, but I'm also glad to have the excuse to go through my old Elandan Gardens photos and to play around in Photoshop again. Without further ado, enjoy my Bernie-fied walk down memory lane at Elandan Gardens including some experimental ideas with Bernie standing in for traditional Chinese mudman figurines.

          So sit back and enjoy the refreshing taste of this fresh can of memes I've cracked open for you. If you need to spice up that work-from-home life, feel free to use these as ZOOM backgrounds or you can put Bernie in your own photos through this free photoshop-esque template

Bernie at Elandan Gardens

Bernie admiring one of the many old ponderosa pines by collected and styled by Dan Robinson.
Bernie doesn't look impressed by my work on this seed-grown Japanese black pine... I was just de-wiring, Bernie!

Elandan is still open in the winter, though some days it can be cold and windy - the trees don't mind. Bernie is right to bundle up!

Bernie likes the table Dan's stone-sculptor son, Will Robinson made for last year's Northwest Flower and Garden Show. Featured in the center is a mountain hemlock collected from an alpine Canadian bog.

Bernie can't help but photobomb,
Left: atlas cedar. Right: weeping Japanese red pine.

Bernie must not have liked how we styled this one Shimpaku juniper...

Here's Bernie appreciating the serenity of the pond and one of Dan's yamadori bald cypress trees. It's more of a niwaki landscape tree now as some large roots have escaped its planting area and run into the pond.

Bernie with one of Dan's seed-grown Trident maples. As I mentioned in my article series on growing from seed, this tree is less than 10 years old! 

Bernie with another one of Dan's seed-grown Japanese Black Pines. This one is only 7 years old.

Bernie must have a good view from up there!

This picture was taken while Dan and I were pruning that Monterey Cypress on a hot summer day. Dan (who recently turned 82) is only 3 years older than Bernie but he seems a little less concerned about covering up.

        The last two photos are from the last time I went to Elandan Gardens before my move. Dan was doing summer pruning on this Scot's Pine niwaki (bonsai-styled landscape tree) and we had the whole crew helping out to make the process go faster. This tree has been pruned so many years in a row that the foliage pads had gotten incredible dense as a result of repeated backbudding. This called for cutting off new growth from back to last year  (this results in new buds growing with shorter needles) and then simplifying the remaining branches down to 2 or 3 per junction and in some cases pruning off old pruning stubs that were missed in previous year's thinning.

My friend Lisa made a new year's resolution to try 5 new hobbies in 2020, so I roped her into helping prune trees. No word yet if the bonsai addiction has infected her yet...

One last Elandan Gardens apprentice reunion (partially anyways) from left to right: HansyDan Robinson, myself, Tice, and Bernie of course. Both Hansy and Dan offer bonsai lessons and landscaping services around the Paulsbo and Bremerton, WA respectively.

Mudman Bernie

Bernie chillin' under Dan's most famous juniper. It's hard to say, but this may be the most iconic tree from Dan's book Gnarly Branches, Ancient Trees.

          Mudpeople have a long history in bonsai in the sense that they were originally incorporated into Chinese penjing hundreds of years ago. Though hand-made mudpeople are much more difficult to find today, they are still used in Chinese penjing today and are now mass-produced via molds to the benefit of modern capitalism. Historically, these mudpeople were more prominent in Chinese penjing because penjing has always been a more holistic landscape of trees, rocks, and figurines whereas Japanese bonsai in some ways dissected penjing into separate artforms of kusamono (accent plants), suiseki (viewing stones), scroll art, and bonsai (trees simply in pots). While the separate Japanese elements can be woven into one story like a penjing landscape for formal three-point displays, mudmen are much less common in those Japanese traditional displays.

          Though online histories of mudpeople are few and far between, enough collectors have now investigated them further that you can read more on their history here.

For reference, here's one example of mudpeople in a traditional penjing display from William Valvanis's blog.

          Maybe one day I or a more talented artist could make mudman Bernie a reality, but for now here's what we can imagine that would look like.

One of Dan's larches. They hold onto their tiny cones wonderfully for a miniature tree effect. In thinking about the scale of Bernie relative to the tree (or the cones specifically), you should know there is a tree in California with cones as big as a small child

Bernie and Dan's massive Dawn Redwood.

Bernie likes forests too! This tree was previously featured in my post "A Rocky Obsession" (though the photo is more recent).

And lastly, Bernie under a ficus tree I styled at the end of the summer at a Columbus Bonsai Society event.

Blog Announcements

  1. Submit your trees for critique or advice here. I need new trees for the next Bonsai Buds episode! Guest announcement TBD.
  2. Contact me if you ordered seeds from me last year and they did not germinate. I've been doing much more research on long-term seed storage and germination and should have higher rates of germination this year. I'm happy to send new seeds at no charge.
  3. New seeds types with my 10 year bonsai growing guide will be on sale in February.

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