In early 2002 I had the honour to be invited by Mark Noelanders to give a 3 hour evening demonstration in March that same year at his Bonsai club in Belgium (B.A.B Belgium Bonsai association). Although I was really excited at the prospect to give a demonstration at this club that already had seen most off the big names demonstrate, it also put me under a lot of pressure! How and were could I find material good enough to work on and that would entertain this knowledgeable crowd? I spend many day’s visiting all my regular material addresses here in Holland, but could not find anything remotely interesting or good enough! So in a last desperate attempt to find something, I drove with my wife An trough Belgium to try our luck at the Bonsai dealers we knew there! At the end of a long day driving, with out finding anything suitable and affordable, we had become pretty desperate! We had only one more Bonsai centre to visit and had not much hope to find something there. But we did! In the back of the garden, hidden away from sight, we found some really weird and impossible shaped Pine yamadori! And that was just what I was looking for, ugly and affordable! J
One off them immediately jumped out to me, a Mugo that looked like the mark of Zorro! It was basically a long and thin Z shaped tree full of mistakes and with only some long branches in it’s top. The base and the first 10 cm/2,5 inch upwards the trunk were really thin and then suddenly changed into a big lump that was created over many years with old deadwood and thick live vain running over it! From there the trunk becomes thinner again and stays the same thickness until the first sharp bent to the left. The next section of the trunk is slightly curved and goes abrupt to the left and back downwards. Some time long ago this section of the trunk was split right trough the middle by mother nature, leaving a long opening that looked very strange! And again this section also had no taper what so ever! At the end of that section there was a other abrupt change of direction to the right side from witch one thick branch and a few thinner ones grew upwards. Out off these branches I had to create the whole future Bonsai! A big risk to try in a 3 hour demo, but this is what I like to do, trying to create a Bonsai out of challenging material! Because when it all falls together and it works it can become really special and unique! I always had, and still have, that motivation to work with impossible and unlikely material! At first because there simply just wasn’t any good material to be found here in Holland, but latter I discovered that I really like that challenge to find something interesting or even beautiful in these ugly duckling trees! So this Mugo, that we instantly named Z, was just right to show what my interest in Bonsai are.
Below: The first pictures of “Z” in my garden. This is the planed front side of the tree.
Below: Left side view. notice that in the whole of the trunk there is almost no movement to the back or the frond. So I had to create some sort of dept with the foliage!
Below: Backside of the tree.
Below: Right side view.
Below: Close up of the section were all the branches grew from. Only the thick branch will be used to create the whole top section!
Below: This is the design that I made as a reverence for the demo.
Below: Before the demonstration started.
Below: Just one the right side of my top hand finger is were I sawed out a wedge, separating the branch from the deadwood section on the right. Allowing (I hoped) the branch to bend easier and further to the left side! The branch will be protected from breaking and ripping with layers in water socked raffia, tape and thick copper wire.
Below: This is probably the first demo tree that could receive Belgium radio!
Below: The audience were allowed to get real close to see what was going on. Just the way I like it!
Below: The most difficult part of this demo, bringing down that thick branch, has worked out just fine. With out any splitting or cracking! But to make it in time I had help wiring the last branches from one of the friendly members of the club.
Below: At home I had made a construction that tilted the the tree and pot in to the desired angle and hold it in place during work!
Below: Bonsai is hard work!
Below: The finished result of 3 hours hard work. Before I started I had explained to the audience that I would not try to make a compact tree. Most of the foliage was simply to far away from the base of the trunk and I don’t like to twist and curl long branches just for the look of it. So I just created the desired outline of the long branches. And in the coming years I will use the proper technique to force the tree to back bud so that over time I could shorten those long branches to the desired length!
Last week, almost 10 years after it’s first styling, I restyled “Z” once again. Below: 3 major branches were removed during this restyling.
Below: Close up, as seen from the right side, of the strange but beautiful deadwood section on the lower part of the trunk.
Below: Close up of the split trunk.
Below: Close up of the thick branch that, with the help of a cut out wedge, was controlled ripped away from the deadwood. The green arrow shows the point up to were the branch was attached to the deadwood (yellow arrow).
Below: Close up of the finished top section. Most needles are just 1,5 centimeter/ half a inch long!
Below: The finished result in a pot by Brian Allbright.
I am pretty pleased with the new image of “Z”! I like how he changed from a unwanted tree into a impressive Bonsai!
I hope you enjoyed this story?!
Hans van Meer.
Comment/question by Jack Sales.
Very interesting read. Thank you for posting. I was wondering if i could ask you a really quick question? I have a mugo pine from a nursery with a lot of top growth and a small amount of weaker growth further down. When would be the right time to prune the top branches away to allow the lower branches to develop?
sorry for the late reply, but I simply forgot to answer you! I had a look at your picture and I saw a typical nursery Mugo with long thick branches with mostly only growth at the end! To get foliage to grow closer to the trunk on Mugo’s like this will take a long time but it can be don and it is a good practice to understand the growing habits of this species! I dont know were you live but this late in the season you can only cut back the to long branches up to were a smaller branch grows from it. But dont cut that thick branch to close to that smaller branch! Make sure to leave some room for the old branch to die/dry back! A stump of about 1 cm/0.4 inch will be more than enough to protect that small branch from harm! Seal the woods with cut paste. Later next season you can remove that dried up stump with no problem! Now would there still have been older needles along those long branches, they stay on there for 2 or even 3 seasons, than you could have cut back any branch right back into that old growth! This can be don from early in the growing season to mid Summer! The tree will than react with loads of new buds all along your branches growing from the base of those older needles! That would have saved you a lot of time! With your Mugo it will be a case off lots of feeding and removing candles to promote back budding lower on those branches. If it helps you can find these techniques in a article that I wrote about two needle pine care on my website! This article will explain most of these techniques in words and pictures! Hope that helps you some, if not you can always ask me for more advise, even if I sometimes forget to answer!
Good luck with your Mugo!
Hans van Meer.
Link to the article on my website: http://www.karamotto.org/?page=40