American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

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Solstice

Post  Arthur Joura on Sat Dec 21, 2013 3:45 pm

Greetings IBC friends!

On this day all over the world, people of all cultures recognize the significance a certain natural event that centers on the essential relationship between the earth and the sun.

In the Southern Hemisphere it is the height of summer. The midnight sun shines over the Antarctic Circle at this time of year.

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, today marks the Winter Solstice, the shortest day and the longest night of the year. North of the Arctic Circle, the sun will not be seen.

Historically, and again, across all cultures, there have been rituals and celebrations to mark this event all over the Northern Hemisphere. It was cause for celebration because from this point forward the days would gradually grow longer, so there was hope for an eventual rebirth of the world in spring. But it was also a time for serious ritual observance because the next few months would be the leanest and potentially most difficult time of the year, when survival might well be at stake. Fortunately, it is no longer so dire for most of us.

One aspect I value most about bonsai is its ability to help humans stay consciously connected to the natural world. Hopefully nobody reading this now will be fending off starvation in the days ahead, but in the Northern Hemisphere we will all be looking at our plants over the next couple of months and longingly anticipating the renewal of life in the spring.

Happy Solstice!



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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  AlainK on Sat Dec 21, 2013 7:52 pm

Thanks for the nice pictures.

And by the way, I like a lot the way you work on these trees. Kudos to you!
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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  Daygan on Tue Dec 24, 2013 5:37 am

Thank you so much, Arthur, for your faithful updates. I have enjoyed reading every one since you began this thread almost a year ago, and I anticipate many more enjoyable posts to come!

I would like to comment briefly on my own thoughts regarding the term "bonsai". First, let me say that your comparison to the adoption of the word "cuisine" into an English language culture is excellent. As an American living in China and fluent in Chinese, I can say with first-hand knowledge that the Chinese language has a vast number of borrowed words of this fashion from both Eastern and Western languages (including English). In some cases, these borrowed words maintain their original meaning or the difference is virtually indistinguishable, but in other cases, the meaning has diverged somewhat from that of the source language, and I believe that the Chinese people using the words within a Chinese context have every right to modify those words as is applicable and useful within their culture.

Another thing that I believe we need to consider is the original context in which bonsai was developed and the actual initial intentions of those pioneering and developing the craft. Bonsai was developed by individuals living in Japan, of Japanese origin, but not by the entire nation of Japan collectively. It is my understanding that these individuals were making things that please them, as people often do, and I'm pretty certain that they were not attempting to create something of patriotic expression. They were creating expressions of the natural world, and the Japanese culture in which they lived is peripheral, and not at all central to the intentions of their creations. I believe the paragraph below, which has been copied from a previous post of mine in another forum, aptly sums up what I'm trying to say:

The Japanese people who started the idea of bonsai were not trying to create Japan in a pot. They were reproducing the beauty of nature as they saw it in miniature. We can and should do the exact same thing, with the exact same innocence, and be just as free from any obligatory head-nod to Japan as were the first Japanese who put this art into practice. That, in my opinion, is bonsai in its purest form and intent, bonsai without the encumbrance of an obligatory cultural context, free to express the heart of the artist.

Adding to this idea just a little bit further, (and again, this is also something that I have posted previously elsewhere), the Japanese individuals who were the forefathers of and nurtured the art into maturity did an amazing thing, and developed something truly unique and beautiful. However, to pigeonhole bonsai as Eastern or Japanese does more a disservice to the art as a whole than a service. It's not "just another eastern thing", because while it was developed by people who lived in the East, the raw, most basic core ideas of bonsai are universal.

I hope what I've written is clear and understandable. Thank you again, Arthur, for providing us the opportunity to see a little bit of your bonsai world in the North Carolina Arboretum, and for consistently providing us with thought-provoking and educational reading. Happy Holidays to you and to all!


Last edited by Daygan on Tue Dec 24, 2013 5:38 am; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : Happy Holidays!)

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  Dan W. on Tue Dec 24, 2013 6:15 am

Great pictures Arthur! Thanks for sharing, and happy holidays!

Well put Daygan. But I think we should all just take a break from the "bonsai" term discussion and play a game of "football"... .
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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  DougB on Tue Dec 24, 2013 4:19 pm

Thanks Arthur for the great photos. Several are great to just lose yourself in the image. Well the good news is if you ever get tired of getting your hand dirty you can become a professional photographer. And by the way these and many others would be great in a large format tabletop album.

Have a blessed Christmas
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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  Sam Ogranaja on Tue Dec 24, 2013 8:11 pm

Great pictures Arthur!!!!

Maybe one day you can do a calendar Smile

Merry Christmas!!!
Sam
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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  John Quinn on Wed Dec 25, 2013 7:29 pm

For a moment I had (disturbing) visions of seeing Arthur with a staple in his midriff...then I realized you meant a calendar of his trees. santa 

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Some End of the Year Replies

Post  Arthur Joura on Sat Dec 28, 2013 6:39 pm

Thank you to all who have made replies in the last few days!

Alain, Doug and Sam - I am glad you enjoyed the photographs. Photography is nothing more than a hobby to me, a quick and easy way to create interesting, and disposable, visuals. For more serious creativity I like bonsai a lot better, and though it might dismay some people to hear it, I expect to continue dedicating my efforts to that field of endeavor for years to come.

John - let us hope, for everyone's sake, a calendar of the type you strangely envisioned will never come to pass!

Daygan - Thank you for articulating so well a critical point in any intellectually honest consideration of bonsai as an art form - those who initiated it were expressing an experience of nature. The original Chinese forms of bonsai, and the Japanese versions that followed, were almost certainly nothing more or less than a vehicle for the human impulse to contemplate, communicate, and ultimately participate in, the beauty of the natural world. All of the cultural identification now attached to bonsai came about much later. A great deal of this cultural identification came about in relatively recent times, and has been driven in large measure by commercial and/or nationalistic interest.

By the way, it is of great interest to me that you are an American living in China! I hope you will take the opportunity, now that you are an IBC member, to post on this site your observations regarding the state of bonsai art in that country. I expect this subject has some interest to you, and you are in a fairly unique position to help other westerners come to a better understanding of the Chinese perspective, which is so often overlooked, misunderstood or even denigrated in western bonsai circles.

Richard - My apologies for taking so long to respond to what you wrote, but I do appreciate your post. I salute you for coming up with the term "linguistically economical"! I wish I had thought of phrasing it that way, instead of, with unintended irony, taking several sentences to get across the same idea.

I note that you live in the UK, and perhaps there what you observe about the tendency for westerners to use few of the Japanese bonsai terms is true, but my experience here in the US is different. Here there are still many in the bonsai community who use a multitude of words foreign to their own language when talking about the art of cultivating miniaturized plants in decorative containers. This practice goes naturally hand in hand with the overall conception of bonsai as a Japanese art, which is an unquestioned and unquestionable assumption on the part of many bonsai lovers in America. Even among people who are open to the idea of styles of bonsai that are not Asian-identified, however, there is a tendency to use at least some of the Japanese terms. This is done mostly, I think, out of habit. An unfortunate consequence of this practice, unintentionally or otherwise, is the perpetuation of the foreign-ness of bonsai in the minds of most westerners.

As an integral component of my work, I speak and write about bonsai on an almost daily basis, and the largest portion of my audience is people who have little or no pre-existing knowledge or interest in bonsai. Part of my job is to help these people better understand what bonsai is and hopefully cultivate in them an ongoing interest in it. Clear and effective communication is critically important to this effort. The use of foreign words, which then have to be translated and explained, is an impediment to this effort. If you are going to have to explain the foreign term in your own language in order to be understood, why not just speak in your own language to begin with? There is no bonsai concept that cannot be conveyed using one's own language. (And here let me preemptively answer those who will say that use of the word "bonsai" should be addressed the same way - "bonsai" has already entered into the lexicon of languages all around the world, whereas words like "nebari", "yamadori" and "shohin" have not.) When I speak or write about bonsai, no matter what audience I address, I use only words that can be found in an American dictionary. Even in this thread, to which I have posted more than 40 times, for a total of what must surely be measured in tens of thousands of words (at least), I have never had to resort to any terms foreign to my own language. I do not do this out of arrogance or disrespect. I admire bilingualism but I am not bilingual, and it is not necessary to be bilingual or even semi-bilingual in order to communicate effectively about bonsai.

I have one other overdue response to add to this post - a while back Dan W. asked about Limber Pine (Pinus flexilis) in the bonsai collection of the NC Arboretum. We received 2 Limber Pines as part of a donation from the late Ruth Lamana back in 1996. Mrs. Lamana was one of the many fine people I met through my connection with the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum, where she had served for many years as a volunteer. If I am not mistaken, she was the first volunteer at the Museum, and although she had already retired from that position by the time I studied there, Bob Drechsler recommended I seek her out. Mrs. Lamana had retired to Chapel Hill, NC, so I contacted her and went to visit her at her home. I went there several times and she came to the Arboretum once to visit me, and eventually she donated 5 of her best bonsai to our collection, including the 2 Limber Pines.

According to Mrs. Lamana, she purchased her pines at a bonsai convention in Pennsylvania in the early 1980's. The trees had originally been collected in Colorodo in the 1960's by Harold Sasaski. Mrs. Lamana at that time lived somewhere in the area of Washington, DC (northern Virginia, I think), and she was able to grow the pines well in that region, but when she relocated to the piedmont of NC they began to decline. She thought the trees would better like the climate of western NC, and her assumption proved correct. They have grown well for us and proven to be excellent bonsai subjects, with virtually no pest problems.

We have relatively few collected plants in our bonsai holdings, and few western US species overall, so I do not claim any great expertise in either area. Having acknowledged that, I will say that, in my opinion, people in your region should certainly look favorably on collected Limber Pines for bonsai use. You have them at easy access, they grow well in your environmental conditions and they take readily to bonsai culture. I have found them to have short memories when their training wire is removed, but on the other hand, their branches bend easily! They like sharp drainage and full sun exposure, but this is true of most pines I have ever grown. I never pinch their candles, but limit their size by pruning back to existent interior growth, a process to which the trees respond by producing ample budding on wood that is not too old. I have never concerned myself with trying to reduce their foliage as the size of it as it is seems well suited to medium to large sized bonsai. I suppose their needle length would lend itself to miniature bonsai as well, although I have no personal experience with this.

One of our Limber Pines is currently in the process of being stylistically overhauled, so I will refrain from posting pictures of it for now. The other is currently out on display in the bonsai garden, where it has lived on a mostly year-round basis for several years now. This is what that specimen looked like the day Mrs. Lamana gave it to us in 1996:



You can see by the coloration of the foliage the difficulty Mrs. Lamana was having growing this plant in the Chapel Hill area. She surmised the tree did not enjoy the humid conditions of its new home, or the general lack of cold in the winter. I have to conclude she was right because the plant quickly regained a healthy appearance upon relocating to Asheville and has never had such problems since, and we have never needed to resort to pesticides in growing it.

Once the pine had stabilized, I set about restyling it. I thought it leant itself well to a cascade-like form, with the branch on the left descending below the rim of the container. The shallow container it came in was not suitable for this new look, so I found a deeper container among the unused pots I had on hand. Next, I went to work on the prominent deadwood feature, which I felt had a clunky and unappealing appearance. Here is an image of the same tree taken in 1999:



The woodwork was done primarily by use of a rotary carving tool, although I used some hand tools and a torch, as well. I felt the new container had the right size and general shape, and a better color than the previous one, but it shared a problem the other one had in its overt Asian appearance. At first opportunity I commissioned a custom made container from California bonsai potter Jim Barret and moved the pine into it.

Here is the tree on display in the Bonsai Exhibition Garden in 2007:



An image from 2010 shows the tree with a taller, more pointy apex:



This final picture shows the Limber Pine from earlier this year, after it was pruned and rewired, and a heavy coating of lichens and moss removed from its base:



Overall, I personally do not care much for the strictly controlled, meticulously manicured style of bonsai, and that look is particularly unappealing to me when applied to pines. It may be that people who favor that style will find Pinus flexilis unattractive, or maybe they can whip it into shape, I do not know. For more naturalistic styles, however, I can say with confidence this species works very well.
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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  Dan W. on Sat Dec 28, 2013 7:44 pm

Thanks Arthur! Good information and beautiful tree! I will share mine in a new thread when I begin styling some of them. Thanks for the history as well! I've enjoyed every moment I've spent with Harold; he's a great guy. He is truly passionate about his trees and his love for bonsai shows every time I visit him.
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Reply with quote Re: Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  Robert J. Baran on Sat Dec 28, 2013 11:57 pm

For those not familiar with Harold Sasaki, please see a little background on him at the Jul 8 entry in our Bonsai Book of Days project, http://www.phoenixbonsai.com/Days/DaysJul.html
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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  JudyB on Sun Dec 29, 2013 3:37 pm

I wonder if you could expand on your use of refrigerated storage for some of your trees. I noticed that you said if you had the space all your temperate trees would winter inside. Do you think this is a better solution for our warming climates?
I find that even here in Ohio, my cold greenhouse is great, until we get a warm snap for a few days. Even with shade cloth, and a translucent material as the "glass" I'm not able to keep the house colder than the outside temps.
I do heat mats, and have a heating system when it gets cold, but nothing other than auto fan/vents for cooling. I have often thought that refrigeration might be a more stable answer. But how do you keep humidity up? Wouldn't humidifiers get too cold inside this? Also if it's a freestanding building how would you deal with outside temps getting too cold? Sorry for all the questions, but it's something that I've thought of doing. Perhaps I just need a reefer refrigeration unit in addition to the heating systems...

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  AlainK on Sun Dec 29, 2013 6:14 pm

Once again, I really like the "feel" you give when styling a tree.

But being known for my big mouth here (and there), well... Shall I dare?

OK, I dare:



I know it might be a cliché, but to me "pointed" trees look more juvenile, whereas the base of this one seems to show it went through hard times. Amore rounded top would better give the impression of an older tree.

My 2 € cents worth  Wink 
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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  Daygan on Mon Dec 30, 2013 1:21 pm

Arthur, thanks for the Limber Pine story and the great progression photos! I like where you've taken it!

Arthur Joura wrote:
Daygan - Thank you for articulating so well a critical point in any intellectually honest consideration of bonsai as an art form - those who initiated it were expressing an experience of nature. The original Chinese forms of bonsai, and the Japanese versions that followed, were almost certainly nothing more or less than a vehicle for the human impulse to contemplate, communicate, and ultimately participate in, the beauty of the natural world. All of the cultural identification now attached to bonsai came about much later. A great deal of this cultural identification came about in relatively recent times, and has been driven in large measure by commercial and/or nationalistic interest.

By the way, it is of great interest to me that you are an American living in China! I hope you will take the opportunity, now that you are an IBC member, to post on this site your observations regarding the state of bonsai art in that country. I expect this subject has some interest to you, and you are in a fairly unique position to help other westerners come to a better understanding of the Chinese perspective, which is so often overlooked, misunderstood or even denigrated in western bonsai circles.

And thank you, Arthur, for your comments and affirmation. I find more and more that the way you and I think about bonsai are quite similar!

I will try my best to find ways that I might share about bonsai in China. To be honest, I haven't seen much in the ten years that I've been here. The younger generations here, in general, barely know what bonsai is. In Beijing, which is where I currently live, I can probably count on my fingers the number of times that I've seen bonsai of any kind. I should work on being more proactive in finding out where China's bonsai are being displayed!

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Some Beginning of the Year Replies

Post  Arthur Joura on Tue Jan 07, 2014 10:02 pm

Having been away from home and work for a period of travel around the time of the recent holidays, I only now have come upon an opportunity to respond to the several replies to my last posting at the end of December. Thank you to all who responded and my apologies for taking so long.

Dan - I look forward to reading about your development work with the limber pines. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that you currently know Harold Sasaski, and hope that you might some time relay to him that 2 trees he collected so long ago have found their way to a public collection in North Carolina! I met Mr. Sasaski just once, in Chicago, where he was vending at a Mid-America show in the mid-1990's. He would have absolutely no reason to remember me or our encounter, but I remember him for his kindly having taken time to talk to me and show me around the bonsai holdings of the Chicago Botanical Garden, which at that time had no public viewing area.

Robert - thank you for the link to the article about Mr. Sasaski on the "Bonsai Book of Days" site. I read it with interest.

Judy - thank you for your questions about bonsai overwintering. What follows is some basic information about overwintering temperate plants, which I hope may prove helpful to you and others:

The primary objective for overwintering any containerized temperate plant is that it stay within a stabilized zone of temperature that allows the plant to remain dormant, but not become cold enough to cause damage. An ideal range is between 33 and 39 degrees Fahrenheit, which is what I am able to achieve through the use of the walk-in refrigeration unit. Of particular concern is the temperature at the root zone of the plant, which, when contained in a pot, is subject to the more volatile fluctuations of air temperature rather than the more stable temperatures enjoyed by roots in the earth. While a range between 33 and 39 degrees F might be considered ideal, containerized plants can generally remain viable within a much greater range that includes periods of hard freeze and periods of much warmer temperatures, provided the time spent therein is not too long. The concern on the extreme cold end of the spectrum is usually root loss, but exactly at what point this occurs, and to what degree it must occur to be fatal to the plant, seems to be a matter of some disagreement among botanists. I can say from hard experience, too, that these unknowns vary from species to species depending on their relative cold-hardiness. On the warm end of the scale, the danger lies in the plant prematurely breaking dormancy, then having damage occur when temperatures once again drop to colder levels.

Not many individuals are going to be in a position to afford overwintering their bonsai in a walk-in refrigerator (although my friend Felix, when many years ago starting out in bonsai while living in an apartment in Manhattan, once kept his several small specimens all winter in his household refrigerator, nestled among the milk and eggs!) In lieu of that, we may follow a few practices that have over time proven to be effective:


  • Sit the plants on the ground, rather than on a bench or table, where they can benefit from some radiant heat from the earth.
  • Mulch around the pot, to restrict the movement of air and help contain the radiant earth heat (but be mindful that the mulch can create an attractive environment for rodents, including voles which may survive the winter by eating on your plants.)
  • If possible, situate the plants in a position where they receive daylight but little or no direct sun.
  • Site the plants next to a structure, such as a house or outbuilding, to shelter them from the wind.
  • Better yet, keep the plants in an unheated structure where they will be protected from wind, ice and snow, but still have some level of light.
  • Keep an eye on water needs (which are greatly diminished in winter but still present) and be certain plants are well watered before being subjected to freezing temperatures.

I know of many people who overwinter their bonsai in one form or another of what might be best described as a cold frame, and for this discussion we can consider small cold-greenhouses in the same category. Such structures are generally effective in protecting plants from the cold, but are less able to mitigate the effects of warm periods. Ventilation is critical for this purpose. The structure should ideally have more than one closeable opening, so that all can be opened during warm periods for the sake of creating greater air flow. A vent fan, if possible, will help considerably in this regard. Equally important is having a means of blocking sunlight and therefore limiting the amount of solar gain inside the structure. A shade cloth is useful in doing this, but only to a limited extent. Better that the structure be located in a shady spot, if possible, or that it be covered with a material that allows light to pass but filters it to a greater degree than shade cloth will. White polypropylene is ideal for this purpose, and that is why it is a material of choice among professional growers for covering shade houses in the winter. Some bonsai growers express concern that their plants have enough light over the winter for the sake of producing more robust budding, and of course evergreen material that cannot be kept completely dormant throughout the winter season will still be photosynthesizing, but it does not seem to take much light to satisfy either of these needs. Keeping the overwintering environment at a stable, low temperature is a more pressing need, in my opinion.

All this is a subject of much current interest. As I am writing this, right now in Asheville, at 2 PM, it is 13 degrees F with a wind chill factor of -3. Last night we were at 0 with a wind chill of -36, the coldest it has been in all the time I have lived in this region. The bonsai I keep in the refrigeration unit are safe and comfortable at 36 degrees F. The rest of the temperate bonsai plants are in this hoop house, under the protection of the white poly:



The vents are closed and the big exhaust fan shut down, of course, and I have taken the extra measure of blocking off the opening at the base of both access doors to keep the wind at bay:



I did not open the house yesterday and I will not open it today and probably will not tomorrow, because more of the same has been forecast and I do not want to allow any of the (hopefully) warmer air inside to come out. We do not have supplemental heating in there, so the difference between the inside temperature and the outside temperature comes down to keeping out the cold wind and trapping in the radiant heat of the earth and any solar gain achieved during the day. I will not know how cold the plants got until I eventually go inside and check the high/low thermometer. Whatever it is, it is.

I have this much to assuage my anxiety - the house is sealed off as best it can be; the plants were all watered in before the cold snap hit; the plants I thought to be at greatest risk were set down on the ground; just about every plant in there has been through multiple winters before, kept in the same manner, and survived. But these are extraordinary circumstances. I hope that everything will survive, but I expect some plants will be damaged, and some may be killed outright. I will not know for certain until spring comes around again.

Judy, rereading your post I see there are a couple of questions specifically regarding our cold storage facility, which went unanswered through all of the above. So - As regards humidity in the storage facility, it is no great concern. The refrigeration units (there are 2) suck moisture out of the air, but when I water the plants in there (which happens maybe 6 times over the course of about 5 months) more moisture is introduced. Low humidity is better in the winter, I think. It all works out for us, in any case. As for the effect of temperatures outside the storage facility, it is minimal. The facility is contained within the basement of the pavilion at the Bonsai Exhibition Garden, partially underground, but what really matters is that the walls of the walk-in refrigerator are thick and insulated. An artificial environment is created within that is little affected by what goes on outside of it, short of a power outage.

Alain - thank you for complementing my styling work and offering suggestions for improvement. As a general rule, I very much agree with the practice of growing bonsai with rounded crowns. The altered image you posted, showing the pine with a lowered profile, does not look bad to me and the change could be quickly and easily accomplished. However, a hard & fast rule (which trumps a general rule every time) is that each bonsai is best considered individually, and shaped individually according to what the grower sees in it. I like the way our Limber Pine appears now and look forward to seeing it improve, slowly, over time.

Daygan - I am not surprised you have not happened upon much bonsai or bonsai interest in China. Even where bonsai is most popular, which is not China, it is still a marginal interest practiced by relatively few. I confess I am a little surprised, though, that you have not gone looking for it before now, given your interest! As you live in Beijing, a logical first step will be to visit the Beijing Botanical Garden (http://www.bgci.org/garden.php?id=334), which I understand to have a substantial public collection. Perhaps there you can make connections that will lead you to other collections and fellow enthusiasts.

You also wrote that you and I have a similar way of thinking about bonsai, and I thank you for sharing that. I think there are many people who have alternative, more liberal, and less rigid views about bonsai, and great potential is there for a wider bonsai audience if these alternative ideas can be given more visibility. The success of bonsai at the NC Arboretum is tangible proof of this. It is hard to change the way people think, however, and here I am referring more to the large mass of uninitiated people who have nothing more than a stereotypical idea about bonsai, and not so much to those who are already practicing bonsai in what they believe to be the traditional way. As you know from your experience of airing similar thoughts on another bonsai forum site, there are many people who strongly disagree with such thinking.

To conclude, and possibly soften this most recent barrage of verbiage, I will post a picture made last week during my time away from home:



I was in Allaire State Park in New Jersey, taking a walk on New Year's Eve, when this scene presented itself. This was sunset on the last day of 2013, seen through the outstretched limbs of an American Sycamore (Platanus americana). I would like very much to create a winter silhouette bonsai display that evoked this same feeling!
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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  JudyB on Wed Jan 08, 2014 12:54 pm

Thank you very much for responding to my questions about cold storage. In the highly fluctuating climates we all live in now, I am starting to think that doing a refrigeration unit is not only safer, but could also be more cost effective in the long run. As for now, seems I'm either heating, or running the exhaust system. I'm glad you took the time to go back and answer the humidity question, as currently I use room humidifiers which would freeze were they not on heat mats.
As usual a well thought out and useful post.

I do hope your poly house trees all come through the freeze ok.

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  coh on Wed Jan 08, 2014 5:26 pm

Arthur,

Just wanted to say I've really enjoyed this thread. Please keep the good stuff coming!

Regarding the winter storage issue. I'd be interested in knowing (1) how cold the temperatures got in your polyhouses, and (2) whether you have any problems with losses due to that level of cold. Obviously the second part can't be answered until the spring/summer.

I keep most of my bonsai and more valuable "pre-bonsai" in a plastic-enclosed shelter in my barn (with supplemental heating, maintained around/above 27 F) and others in a plastic-enclosed shelter in my garage (colder but still mid 20s and above). However, I did have some "overflow" plants (mostly nursery stock and larger pre-bonsai) that I had to leave out in the barn, where temperatures the last couple of days have been in the low to mid teens. Those kinds of temperatures on exposed pots make me nervous. Personally, I don't trust putting plants on the ground under mulch as I've suffered severe rodent damage that way, so I'll only do that as a last resort.

Given the severe cold this winter, maybe this would be a good topic for a separate thread rather than taking up too much space here...

Chris
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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  Dan W. on Mon Jan 13, 2014 9:15 pm

Arthur,

I'll be sure to pass on a hello from you, and the news that these Limbers are living happily at the NC Arboretum. -- Harold has a web-site as well if you're interested. (Moderators: If this link is an issue please delete Smile) Here's Harold's site: www.coloradobonsai.com
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Almost Froze to Death

Post  Arthur Joura on Wed Jan 15, 2014 6:26 pm

Thank you Judy, Chris and Dan, for reading and taking the time to respond!

When I arrived at work last Wednesday, the water feature in the Bonsai Exhibition Garden looked like this:



Just to keep things in seasonal perspective, and hopefully provoke a warmer thought, here is what it should look like in a few more months:



From that point one week ago up until today, the trend here was toward the less frigid. Yesterday found me out working in the garden, in a light sweater, pruning landscape plants under a pleasantly mild sun. Today the temperatures are stuck in the mid-30's F and there are snow flurries whirling about. This sort of fluctuating whether is bothersome to people, but can be worse than that for potted plants.

Last Wednesday afternoon, when the temperature had risen up to about where it is right now, I ventured to open the hoop house and have a look inside. The root masses of the plants in there were still frozen solid. I checked the high/low temperature and found that the air inside the hoop house had at one point gotten as low as 8 degrees F, which was not so bad considering how cold it had been outside the house, but still much lower than I would hope to have any of our bonsai exposed to. To look at the plants now it would seem that no damage was done, for all look more or less the same as they did prior to the extreme temperature dip. But experience says we will not know for certain if damage has been done until next spring arrives and the plants begin to grow... or not.

I regret to confess there have been a few occasions when spring revealed an unhappy surprise or two, but fortunately these instances have been infrequent. There have been other times when some trees took their time breaking bud, greening up later than their companions and later than they normally would. When these plants eventually began to grow they grew well enough, but it was an anxious feeling waiting on them. I think in such cases there has been significant root loss sustained over winter, and come spring the plant delays producing leaves until it has diverted enough energy to re-growing roots. When enough roots are in place to support a crop of leaves, the plant commences to put on foliage. When a plant is showing reluctance to break bud in the spring, I always scrape on a few twigs to check for a green cambium layer, and as long as that is present I wait patiently for the plant to do what it has to do.

All this puts me in mind of the most remarkable case I know of a bonsai that took its time commencing growth after winter dormancy. It involves this specimen, an English Oak (Quercus robor), that I grew from an acorn planted in the early 1990's:



This tree started life in a pot and then spent some time in the ground, being grown on to develop a stouter trunk. I first styled it at a demonstration in Harrisburg, PA in the mid-2000's, having just dug it out of the ground and brought it to Pennsylvania bare-rooted, wrapped in a large plastic garbage bag. People in the audience were making bets about how long it would take to die, but I was not so concerned. Some people think oaks are difficult to dig up from the ground and grow in containers, and some are, but English Oak does not seem to mind container culture too much. Besides, it is an oak, and oaks are tough.

In 2007 we in eastern North America experienced what I have come to call the "False-start Spring." The first 2 months of the year were so mild that plants began to break dormancy in early March, and by the beginning of April even plants in the landscape were approximately 1 month ahead in their development than what they normally would have been. Then, during the first weekend of April, winter temperatures returned. The traditional frost free date for this region of the country is May 15th, so winter weather in early April is nothing unusual. Having little or no such weather in January or February is very unusual, however, and when even native plants in the forest mistakenly think spring has arrived and then are thrust back into winter, the result is disastrous. Many established trees in the landscape, especially Japanese Maples, were severely damaged that year. Plants in containers suffered even worse.

That spring of '07 was one when I had to throw away a few plants that after awhile revealed themselves to be permanently dormant. There were numerous others that took their time growing a second crop of leaves to replace the earlier ones that were nipped in the bud by freezing, but I waited on them because the green under the skin of their branches told me they were still in the game. The English Oak pictured above was one of these plants.

I began to worry, though, because as all the other damaged plants one by one recovered and clothed themselves again in green, this oak sat naked and forlorn. April passed, and May, and still no sign of life. There was still green showing under the bark, however, so I continued to wait. June came and went. July came and went. August arrived, and still this bonsai was bare and seemingly without life, appearing ever more so for all the other leafy plants around it, but still it showed green when I scratched on its limbs. If this had gone on much longer, I may have killed the tree by striping off all its bark checking to see if it was still alive, but toward the end of August tiny buds appeared. The tree finally produced little leaves, maybe half their normal size, and just the one sparse crop. The growing season for this oak that year was about 6 weeks, and then the leaves fell off. Next spring it came out normally. The tree lost some limbs, but after allowing it a year of vigorous growth I was able to begin styling it once more in 2009.

In October of 2011, after headlining that year's Carolina Bonsai Expo, Walter Pall was walking with me through the Arboretum's bonsai collection and took note of this particular tree. I told him that I grew it from an acorn but I did not tell him about its near-death experience of a few years earlier. "Well" he said, "you will need to protect it some in the winter because they are not so cold hardy."

Our English Oak bonsai has spent winters in the walk-in refrigerator ever since.
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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  hometeamrocker on Wed Jan 15, 2014 7:25 pm

Thanks Arthur, as usual a great post. I think your anticipation speaks for many of us experiencing this years colder temperatures. Thanks for the inspiration to hold fast if things are sluggish to wake up...

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  coh on Wed Jan 15, 2014 7:27 pm

Arthur,

Regarding the English oak - do you recall what time year you dug it? Was it before or after the buds had opened? There's been a lot written about the best time of year to dig these. Harry Harrington claims more success (in England) when he digs after the buds have opened, but his climate is much different than ours. I have one English oak in the ground and it will need to be dug/root pruned next year. I'm planning on doing it in spring before or as buds are swelling, unless someone can convince me that's not the best time.

I have a second English oak that I acquired as an end-of-season special at a regular nursery. Last spring just as the buds were swelling I unpotted, essentially bare-rooted and did a lot root work and it grew very well afterwards, which gives me confidence to work on the other one at the same time.

Chris
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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  Walter Pall on Wed Jan 15, 2014 9:30 pm

Arthur Joura wrote:
In October of 2011, after headlining that year's Carolina Bonsai Expo, Walter Pall was walking with me through the Arboretum's bonsai collection and took note of this particular tree. I told him that I grew it from an acorn but I did not tell him about its near-death experience of a few years earlier. "Well" he said, "you will need to protect it some in the winter because they are not so cold hardy."

Our English Oak bonsai has spent winters in the walk-in refrigerator ever since.

This was not just a vague statement, it was rather coming from long and sad experience. I have personally seen dozens European oaks and beech die after cold winters and I know of thousands. Fact is that we have rather clod winters in Central Europe, temperatures going down to minus 20 Celsius, which is around zero Fahrenheit. Oaks and beeches in nature have not problem with this. In spring they are usually the last ones to get swelling buds. Usually it takes until the end of April or even longer. So far so good.

Most folks who use these species for bonsai think that they must be hardy, seeing them in nature. Unfortunate that is not the case. They die left and right after temperatures below minus 10 Celsius in January/February. And they almost certainly die when there was a warm period in March or beginning of April and then come temperatures of minus 5. This does not seem very low to us, but late frosts are very bad, because the tree starts with buds swelling and little hair roots appear. Then a frost of minus 5 Celsius, which is not too much below freezing will kill the small roots and usually the tree is gone.

Oaks and beech have strong vertical roots which go down considerably to find underground water. These roots NEVER freeze because they are deep enough. In a  bonsai pot these trees can only grow flat root systems. Since the roots are genetically not hardy they will be severely damaged or die with very low temperatures. It seems that oaks and beech will rather survive very low temperatures in January/February than late frosts in April or May after a warm period.
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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  jgeanangel on Thu Jan 16, 2014 12:14 am

Arthur, I can't tell you how much I enjoy reading your posts...yes even the ones that are a little wordy...
of course I am just kidding about the wordy!  You are an excellent wordsmith/story-teller and I truly look forward to your weekly sermon:)

I have often thought to post comments but this thread is so good I feel anything I could add would only be dribble.  But, today I have something to share with your readers!  This past weekend, our study group had its annual opportunity to spend the day working on artistically styled, miniaturized trees, cultivated out of the ground..aka ASMTCOG with "Master" Joura!!  As to be expected it was a learning experience for all!  We even managed to make a couple videos!  

This video is the just the beginning work on a Bald Cypress that Arthur has grown from a seed!  


John

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  Sam Ogranaja on Thu Jan 16, 2014 1:13 am

Great video!!!! You guys are awesome!!! Very informative.

Thanks for sharing.
Have a great week!!!!
Sam
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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  DougB on Thu Jan 16, 2014 7:21 pm

Thanks John and Arthur. That video was great and exceptionally instructional. We need more video like this.
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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  jgeanangel on Thu Jan 16, 2014 7:51 pm

Sam Ogranaja wrote:Great video!!!! You guys are awesome!!!  Very informative.

Thanks for sharing.
Have a great week!!!!
Sam

Thanks Sam!

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

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