American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  GerhardGerber on Fri Mar 14, 2014 9:59 am

Hi Arthur

So, you have noticed that this current phase of my thread is receiving "only token responses"? You may be correct that the subject is "too deep" for many, but I am not worried about it, because there may be other reasons, as well. With this entire enterprise (that is, maintaining this thread on the IBC) my starting assumption has been that the audience for what I have to say is quite small. The portion of the overall population that knows or cares anything about bonsai is minimal, and this forum is read by only a tiny fraction of those people. Out of that minuscule slice of a minuscule slice, the portion of people who are interested in even considering the possibility that there may be more to bonsai than what the conventional view tells us there is, is a pitiful minority. When you take that number, whatever it is, and subtract from it the people who are disinclined to comment in the first place, or who cannot comment because they read on this forum but do not belong to it, the number left may not be enough to fill the seats in an average size minivan.

I might be discouraged by this, but for a couple of considerations: 1) I personally benefit from writing all this stuff, because it forces me to concentrate and distill my ideas for the sake of effective communication; and, 2) when you put a message in a bottle and toss it into the ocean, there is no telling where it will wind up and who's eyes might eventually see it.

I read till my head hurts, Google to fill in some of the blanks.......I know nothing on the subject, can't contribute, but your effort is definitely appreciated, every small thing I learn is something I didn't used to know.....  Cool 

Thank you...

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  gman on Fri Mar 14, 2014 4:24 pm

“The configuration of the branches now reflects information I have gathered over years of looking at trees, and the overall image of the bonsai is one of greater plausibility. I can imagine seeing a tree similar to this in nature. It would be an amazing tree to see, for certain, but not unimaginable, as was the case with the way this tree looked before”.
“Honesty compels me to also admit that it has not been shaped to look like an Eastern Red Cedar, either - at least none I have ever seen. They are such common trees throughout the eastern US, primarily in Piedmont areas.”

Hi Arthur,
I’m one of the lurkers who read but rarely comment…. thinking that I have little value to contribute….or that we couldn’t put our thoughts down in writing so eloquently as you do.
However, your last post/discussion (highlighted sections above) hits home for me as it’s the same reasoning I look for i.e. a more natural form in my trees.  
Working in the woods for nearly 40 years in the PNW I have seen and observed many specimens that allow me to repeat your term “reflects information gathered over the years looking at trees”.
To me the transformation of this ERC shows/illustrates the many common features of ancient trees that struggle to survive in their environment (regardless of species).  They aren’t thriving by any means for they have usually adapted to the extremes of climatic conditions combined by the limited nutritional value of the microsite they are living in.  Therefor many common features include; lots of deadwood, gnarly twisted branches with limited foliage, scars (shari) from branches being broken off from decay, wind or heavy snow etc.  So yes this tree may not reflect any ERC you have seen but it does resonate to us in that it reflects an ancient tree that one could see in the wild.
This is a great post….keep it going.
Sincerely
Graham
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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  David Brunner on Sat Mar 15, 2014 10:11 pm

Hello Arthur –

As I have posted before, I really enjoy reading your posts and the responses that they engender.  I hope your posts continue for a great while.  They contribute hugely to the collective development of the IBC community!

I read with interest your posts regarding what I will refer to here as the iconography of “treeness” within various artistic traditions and how these might represent an “accurate” representation of “treeness” in bonsai.   I have spent some time in considering a response because I am very respectful of the time and thought you put into each submission.

Given the above, I think there is a construct which may have been omitted which is abstraction.  Quoting Wikipedia “Abstraction is a process by which concepts are derived from the usage and classification of literal ("real" or "concrete") concepts, first principles, or other methods.”

Bonsai is an abstraction of “treeness”.  In the abstracted sense, “treeness” cannot be separated from the cultural reality in which it was generated.  What I am saying is that bonsai are not trees, they are representations of trees, and as such they are subject to the constraints of abstraction which are inherently cultural.   I truly enjoy the various representations of “treeness” which you have provided!  But, dare I venture here, you and I share a relatively similar cultural heritage.  Another individual with a divergent cultural heritage may have a very different concept of “treeness” based upon abstractions which are prevalent in her culture.  

As children, across cultures, we see trees as green lollipops atop brown trunks (you have shown various representations).    As we grow older and become ingrained in our respective cultures we see trees as iconic objects imbued with meaning.  Sometime this remains the lollipop ideal (e.g. some of the medieval images you have posted), and in other times this becomes a different representation of “treeness” imbued with meaning and nuance.  

In the end, what I am trying to say (perhaps without terseness) is that the idea of “tree” is what bonsai tries to impart.  And the idea of “tree” is constrained by the reality of abstraction – which is culturally driven!
My belief is that there can never be a universal ideal bonsai, just as there can never be a universal ideal tree.  (Unless, god forbid, a number of projected dystopian realities come to be…)

Let us each create our own abstractions of “treeness” from within our own capacities and cultures and share these abstractions within the global community.  In so doing we will expand our horticultural knowledge as well as our knowledge (if darkly) of other cultural paradigms.  If and when we raise one paradigm of “treeness” as the standard of all “treeness” we risk cutting ourselves off from the richness of diverse opinion and diverse cultures.

If it becomes necessary or advantageous to compare and contrast horticultural and design skills with others in competition, then sobeit.  However, I opine that such endeavors should be understood to occur within one (or clearly indicated multiple) culturally relevant abstractions of “treeness.”

Thank you again for your insightful and provocative posts.  This is why I delight in this forum with its divergent and diverse viewpoints !   Just as trees are multivariate – so are we!
Yours!
David B.

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Acer palmatum 'Structural Puzzle'

Post  Arthur Joura on Wed Mar 26, 2014 4:42 pm

Ahh, springtime... when a middle aged man's fancy turns to thoughts of the impossibility of keeping up with everything that needs doing!

Thank you to tmmason10, DougB, Stephen, Eric, lordy, Gerhard, Graham and David, for commenting and keeping this thread going while I was not available to contribute to it.

Eric - I enjoyed your story about cutting the root that gushed water. I could relate, because I one time cut a root that carried all my neighbor's phone conversations. To you, and to Stephen, and to anyone else who has an interest in Eastern Redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) as bonsai, I say this: Redcedar is usable as bonsai, but they are not such wonderful subjects. They tend to be stiff and coarse in their habit and foliage, and they take forever to put on any size when in training, even when grown in the ground. The best hope for them as bonsai is to find one in the wild that has some age and character in the trunk line, collect it and work on developing the branching and foliage. That is what was done with the Redcedar in my previous post, and what I am doing with several others we have in the collection. Even if you are lucky enough to come across such a specimen you can expect it to take many years before shaping up. If I was going to produce a juniper bonsai from a very young plant, Redcedar would be one of my last choices, regardless of how abundant they may be. I think 10 years of work with a young 'Parsonii' would yield better results than 20 years with a young virginiana.

lordy - I am glad you found your way back to the IBC to read this thread. Janet Lanman is one of the most cultured, intelligent and enjoyable people I have had the good fortune of meeting, in bonsai or any other area of interest. When next you see her, please give her my fond regards. People in the D.C. area who love bonsai are so fortunate to have the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum in their backyard, not to mention all the knowledgeable and talented people who are associated with that institution! I look forward to meeting you next May at the PBA convention.

Graham - Thank you for confirming what I supposed to be true - that people who have first-hand knowledge of trees in nature will recognize true tree-ness in a bonsai that has it. Part of the problem, if indeed it should be labeled as such, is that relatively few people are so familiar with trees in the first place.

David - I re-read your post several times to be sure I was correctly following your thoughts. I do not feel comfortable intellectualizing to such a degree, especially about bonsai, which I prefer to experience from an emotional and sensual perspective. However, I have no disagreement with viewing bonsai as an abstraction of trees in nature. Within the broad category of abstraction there are degrees of greater and lesser abstraction. In bonsai I personally favor less abstraction, which is generally expressed as "naturalism". When you write: "Bonsai is an abstraction of “treeness”.  In the abstracted sense, “treeness” cannot be separated from the cultural reality in which it was generated.  What I am saying is that bonsai are not trees, they are representations of trees, and as such they are subject to the constraints of abstraction which are inherently cultural." I can only agree. My point (and I expect you understand this) is that I am not of Japanese, or Chinese, or any other Asian culture, so abstracting tree-ness to the standards of any of those cultures is not sensible or appealing to me. I prefer to shape abstract trees based on my own personal experience of real trees, here in my own country, under the happy influence of my own culture. Each to their own! There is plenty of room for all kinds of divergent ideas under the Bonsai Big Tent.

In the weeks since I last posted on this thread, I have spent much of my time knee deep in severed limbs and used medium out in my workspace. Even with the considerable amount of  work I do out of season, this time of year is a seemingly endless rush of pruning and repotting in advance of active growth. It is a race I always lose to one degree or another. Each specimen I work on has a story of its own, and as such could be the subject of a post of its own. I never have to worry about finding something to write about. The problem, always, is making the time.

Today I want to share with you one of the Arboretum's Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum) bonsai. I recently pruned it and applied some wire, and sometime in the next week or so it will be repotted:



This specimen came to us from eastern Pennsylvania. It was donated by a fine old gentleman named Kent Kise, a resident of Lancaster, PA, who was put in touch with the NC Arboretum through our mutual friend, Roger Lehman of Meco Bonsai. Mr. Kise grew this bonsai for more than 30 years. He did much of the styling work himself, with help time to time from visiting experts and knowledgeable acquaintances, and it is fair to say that he thought of this tree as one of the best in his collection. The age and character of this plant made it attractive to me, and I was intrigued by its design. I say "intrigued" and not, for example, "impressed" or "enchanted" or some other more clearly positive word, because there was something in the construction of this tree that did not sit right with me. Here is a photograph made of the maple at the time of donation, in October of 2008:



As is my customary practice with any substantial tree that comes to our collection, I did nothing immediately to dramatically alter Mr. Kise's maple. I did begin working with it, however, the following spring, making a few adjustments to how the tree was situated in the Sara Raynor container. I moved it to the left in the pot, turned it slightly clockwise and tilted it a little to the right:



The tree felt more visually comfortable to me in this new position. I trimmed back some of the more leggy growth, but did not entirely remove any larger branches. The above picture was made in March of 2009. This next image is from November of 2010:



In the years I have been caring for it, this maple has produced good, but not outstanding, autumn color. There is a lot of variation in seed grown maples, which is what this one is. I think it looks very attractive in spring (April, 2011):




And just to round out the seasons, here is a summer image, taken in June of 2012:



Let us look again at its current appearance, this time in a 360 degree clockwise rotation:









Here are a couple of images showing before and after spring cleanup pruning on one of the primary branches:





Here is a close-up of the base of the tree, seen from the tree's most commonly viewed perspective:



Like the tree itself, this base has a good deal of character, yet it is far from perfect. The asymmetry of it might be seen as unattractive, but even more problematic is the very noticeable hump sticking up on the right hand side. Of course, the hump could be removed and the resulting scar would eventually callous over. I expect some people would choose to do that if they were growing this particular tree, and perhaps they would try to alleviate the asymmetry, as well. But I have no intentions of doing so. It has flaws but I can live with the base as it is. Is this a bad approach? Am I being slack in not doing everything I can to make this tree as excellent as it can possibly be? You can answer these rhetorical questions however you like, but my feeling is in line with a quote attributed to the psychologist William James: "The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook."

One issue with this bonsai that I am having difficulty overlooking, and this is the very same thing that registered uncomfortably with me the first time I laid eyes upon it, is the configuration of branches at the very heart of the tree's composition:



That area of the tree looks awkward to me. My eye catches there as it moves through the composition, and I think it is unpleasant to look at. Located where it is, it is impossible not to look at it for approximately half a year, while the tree is without leaves. I have tried different perspectives to see if there is a way of presenting this bonsai that downplays the unfortunate branch arrangement, but I have not found such a view. The first branch on the left side is a major part of the problem, and has a fundamentally poor structure of its own:



Any time you have a big branch with a "T" intersection, you probably have a problem! This configuration is the result of a decision made long ago, wherein part of a side branch was utilized to become a back branch, as well. Such convenient cheating is commonplace in bonsai design, and typically becomes uglier and more noticeable the older the tree gets. It is particularly unfortunate that this should occur when one is working with a young maple, because it is almost always unnecessary, given the miracle of back-budding. Still, this is an ordinary enough fact of life - choices made for convenience and expedience at an early stage of the journey can cost most dearly later on.

So I have been looking at the structure of this tree and thinking about it for more than 5 years now. I have whittled down parts of the offending branches over time, but the central flaw in their basic arrangement remains intact. It is a puzzle, a structural puzzle:











In the time I have been studying over this puzzle, a little glimmer of hope for a future solution has appeared and it takes the form of the fore-mentioned miracle of back budding. Even on an older tree such as this, every year there are many new buds that pop out on various places all over the branches and trunk. Typically they are mostly rubbed off before they can develop, but sometimes they appear in a fortunate spot and are allowed to develop. A few years ago a bud showed up on the trunk of this tree, on the left hand side and toward the rear when the bonsai is viewed from its most favorable perspective. In other words, adventitious growth has occurred right where I would most desire to add a branch. I have let it develop, so now it is entering its 3rd year of growth:



This little branch has a long way to go before it can be called upon to fill the void that would be created by pruning the already established branch, but it can go about its business for awhile as the existent branch remains in place. Then one day the big cut gets made, and the young replacement branch is there, ready to grow into the void.
Here is a Photoshopped view of what might be the eventual result:



Those looking closely will note that I also took the liberty of adjusting the relationship between the back branch on the right side and the trunk, which is another weak area of the current design. Again, this move entails growing out a piece that already exists until it is large enough to allow removing an offending, existent part of the branch, in this case the piece that crosses back against the line of the trunk.

It should be understood by everyone that such Photoshopped images are as much wishful thinking or fantasy as they are representations of practical possibilities. In many cases these "virtual" images are made long distance by helpful people who have no familiarity with the actual bonsai. Many alterations can be made on a photographic image that are not in reality possible when dealing with the living plant. In this case, as the grower of the bonsai in question, I know what I am proposing is doable, yet the actual results will inevitably be different. At best, the Photoshopped image can only crudely suggest how the tree might end up looking.

As long as we are playing this game, here is another workable alternative for the bonsai in question:



In this version, too, the new back branch has been allowed to grow and develop, and the alteration has been made on the back branch on the right side, but here the entire first branch on the left side has been taken off. This creates a highly dramatic asymmetry to the silhouette of the tree. Such an imbalanced look will not appeal to everyone, and I am not certain I care for it myself, but it is an interesting possibility and I could live with it that way.

In the long ago, dark days before home computers, if a person wanted to visually represent an idea they might draw a simple picture. It is still possible to do this, and now, for convenience sake, it can be done using Photoshop! So, what follows are some simple drawings, each representing a different take on the design of this Japanese Maple bonsai.

First, here is a representation of the existing structure:



Here is the first possibility I proposed, utilizing the new back branch and removing a chunk of the first branch on the left:



Here is the alternate possibility previously discussed, with the entire first branch on the left removed:



Another doable option, although this one holds little appeal in my view:



Of course, I could strip off all the branches and start from scratch, making a proper banzai out of it:



I am not certain what solution I will eventually apply to this structural puzzle. I do know that whatever I decide to do, I will take my time getting there, making no decisions until I am fully comfortable with all the possible ramifications. In the meantime, I can easily enjoy the individuality and character of this old bonsai just as it is:

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  John Quinn on Wed Mar 26, 2014 6:38 pm

"Banzai"...not in ten thousand years!  Cool 

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  Eric Group on Fri Mar 28, 2014 1:23 am

I think photoshop option one is the best of the options presented.

Remove that part of the branch shooting straight up and let the new one in the back grow out.


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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  tmmason10 on Fri Mar 28, 2014 1:31 am

Arthur, another fantastic post. I liked the focus on paintings in relations to bonsai but I much more prefer these types of posts about styling with real examples. I think you have the right approach for appreciating this old bonsai for what it is while you figure out where best to take it in the future.

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  JudyB on Fri Mar 28, 2014 11:58 am

Arthur, I am just wondering how much you take into account the originators design when making these changes?  I think that most of the directions of your virts take that into account, but the latter ones, seem to me to go a bit far from the original design.  And in so doing (for me at least) take away the individuality that is the reason the tree was special to begin with.  The first fixes seem to better respect the trees character and make it better, but not so different...
I do agree that something should be done, as in all bonsai, there is always something to work on... but the question remains, how far to change?

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Stone Mountain

Post  Arthur Joura on Wed Apr 09, 2014 12:01 am

Thank you to John, Eric, Tom and Judy for taking the time to reply to my last post. Judy, to answer your question - a variety of considerations go into the decision to change the design of any bonsai on which I work. The design idea of the person, or people, who previously worked on the tree matters to me but is rarely the determining factor. Mostly I want to make the tree look as good as I can, without being obsessive about it. This thread captures, as well as I am able to express it, all the varied streams of influence that inform my design process. Those who read here with any regularity know that the natural example is becoming an ever greater inspiration for me.

Which segues nicely into today's post, which is more or less a photo essay.

Spring, in addition to being the time when there is so much to do with the bonsai in the collection and the plants in the garden landscape, is also a highly active time of year for presenting bonsai educational programing for clubs and conventions. A couple of weeks ago I went to Roanoke, VA for just that purpose, and made an interesting side trip. I have been presenting programs to the Hinoki Bonsai Society in Roanoke on an annual basis for the past dozen years, and I think on every one of those trips I have made a point of venturing away from the direct Interstate route and taking the opportunity to do some back country exploring. There is an abundance of beautiful, Southern Appalachian scenery between Asheville and Roanoke! This year I set my sights on visiting one of North Carolina's State Parks - Stone Mountain - where I had never previously been:



Stone Mountain State Park is located in Wilkes and Allegheny Counties, a fairly rural section of North Carolina, not too far from the boarder with Virginia. The Blue Ridge Parkway skirts along its northern periphery. The park covers more than 14,100 acres, but I was on a very limited time schedule and was able to see only a tiny fraction of it. I picked out a short trail, 1.5 miles (2.4km), up to a small mountain top, and then the same trail back. As the trail started out, it passed through a nice stand of old White Pines (Pinus strobus), with a dense growth of Rosebay Rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum) for an understory, but it was a cloudy day and in the shade of the pines my camera was useless. As the elevation increased the pines gave way to hardwoods, and there were many oaks:



It is hard to tell, looking at the photographs, but these were some sizable, old trees. There was one Chestnut Oak (Quercus prinus) right near the trail that was particularly impressive. It was easily 4ft. (1.2m) in diameter at a height of 4ft. above ground, and had the characteristic rough, deeply fissured bark found on mature trees of this species:



It was impossible for me to get all of this tree in one shot, which is usually the case when trying to photograph big trees in the forest. Although it does not come even close to giving a proper sense of how impressive this specimen was, here is a look up into the looming canopy:



I hurried along with one eye on the clock, which is a terrible way to take a walk in the woods, and made the top of the mountain in a short while. There I came across this tree, an Eastern Redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) and I began to have the feeling I had picked a good trail:



What might appear in the photograph to be a sidewalk of some sort, of concrete or asphalt, is actually exposed granite. Here is a closeup of the section where the trunk of the tree makes a 90 degree angle:



Here is the same tree, seen from the opposite side:



When I come across trees such as this, I always wonder how they might work as bonsai. Not in the sense of lifting it off the mountain and planting it in a gigantic pot, but rather as a model for shaping a much smaller tree. This is an example, I think, of a tree form that many bonsai critics would find unacceptable, mostly because of its rigid lines and the sharp right angle.

Moving past this sentinel tree, along the granite "walkway", I headed toward some open sky in the near distance. I passed through a grove of old Redcedars, none more than 25ft (7.6m) in height:



The ground plane in this area was a world unto itself:



Moving on, the vista began to open:



Stone Mountain takes its name from the broad expanse of an exposed granite dome that forms its summit. I was not actually on Stone Mountain, because I did not have the time to do the trail that takes one there. I was on a smaller, secondary mountain called Wolf Rock, that has a similar geology. I have come across such granite domes elsewhere in my travels about the Southern Appalachians, but I had never been to one as big as this, and this one is only a fraction of the size that Stone Mountain is:



The distance view from this little mountain top was not too bad:



But the near view was even more compelling. It is a strange environment, dominated by stone, stark and open, and everywhere you look is some intriguing detail to catch the eye:





Up on these granite domes there are thin pockets of gravelly soil, where can be found growing gnarly old trees, the hardiest of tough survivors. All of the trees I saw in this area were Redcedars and Virginia Pines (Pinus virginiana), both species being able to resist drought and eke out a living where most other trees would wither and fail. Here is a Redcedar that stood maybe 7ft (2.1m) in height and was equally wide:



Here, a group of Virgina Pines:



An interesting configuration of trunks on 2 pines growing side by side:



Another group of pines, and one bound to draw the attention of a bonsai enthusiast:



Here is a closeup of that tree at the foot of the grouping:



I suspect this tree would be very easily collected, as its roots appeared to be in a shallow pocket and not down into a crevice. There were many "collectable" trees up here, and it is my most sincere wish that none of them will ever be collected! To start with, this is public land, a park, a shared space that exists for everyone to enjoy. Permission would never be given to collect such specimens here, so to do so would be illegal, not to mention greedy and ethically wrong. Beyond that, such trees are relatively rare in the eastern US and they are part of the experience of being in one of these special environments. I was able to enjoy viewing these trees on the day I was there only because all those who were there before me left them untouched. This is a subject of some contention among bonsai enthusiasts, and I realize there are places where collecting old, gnarly, naturally dwarfed trees is not only permitted but can be reasonably justified. Not so in this situation. I was thrilled to find this spot, and see these trees, and I hope people yet unborn will visit one day and be able to have the same experience.

There was one such tree I particularly enjoyed. It, too, was a Virginia Pine and stood about 6ft (1.8m) or so in height, but it stood out because it was all by itself:



Here is a detail of the base of the tree, growing in the space between 2 large, flat stones:



A view from a slightly different angle, that I would offer as the "official portrait" of this specimen:



Although I was watching my time walking up the mountain, when I got on top of it I somehow lost track. I thus found myself in an all too familiar situation - having 2 hours in which to make a 2 and 1/2 hour drive, and being nowhere near my vehicle. I had to run down the mountain and could not stop to take any more pictures. It was easy to forget about time up there. The whole while I was at the park, the only other human I saw was the woman working at the visitor center. Once I was on the trail I had the whole mountain to myself, just me and the trees and the sky.

There is a quote from a text long ago declared heretical by the Church, attributed to Jesus, and it says this: "The kingdom of the Lord is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it." Sometimes, if you are in the right place at the right time and in the right frame of mind, I think you can see it plainly enough.
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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  Sam Ogranaja on Wed Apr 09, 2014 4:16 am

I love this last post Arthur!!!! And may I say that I read all your posts carefully and I've yet to detect a misspelling. Excellent grammar!!!! A compliment from a non-American Smile

Thanks for keeping up with this thread!!!
Sam
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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  DougB on Wed Apr 09, 2014 4:55 pm

Thanks Arthur. Once again you have magnificently demonstrated that Nature is far more creative and refined than we mere mortals.
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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  jgeanangel on Wed Apr 09, 2014 7:25 pm

Thanks Arthur! Certainly reminds me of 40 acre rock but with a view!
John

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  JudyB on Thu Apr 10, 2014 1:01 pm

Just Beautiful, there are a lot of little pockets like that park in America that are passed by without a thought. Nice that you can take the time (even when you don't have it..) to walk in those places.

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  brett2013 on Thu Apr 10, 2014 3:38 pm

Arthur Joura wrote:



This is a Podocarpus macrophylla, displayed a couple of years ago at the Southern Spring Home & Garden Show in Charlotte, NC. Next week I will be bringing a new display for this year’s Spring Show, and hopefully I will post here about it.

Thank you for reading!

That's a lovely Podocarpus ! Styled differently from the usual ...

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LSBF Convention Houston Texas

Post  JMcCoy on Tue Apr 15, 2014 7:32 am

Arthur,
It was a real treat to meet and talk with you during our big Texas state shin-dig last weekend.  You, David DeGroot and Pedro Morales really kept everyone happy and enlightened!  I'll share some photos I took along the way:

Japanese Black Pine demo:


David, Pedro & Arthur






here come the power tools


The finished tree ready for the big raffle (alas I did not win)


The exhibit critique was just outstanding - I really enjoyed this!






There were many different workshops, here's one on small pines:


And of course the important business of the Pub Committee


Just a terrific time! I look forward to seeing you again - maybe next time at the NC Arboretum!
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Early Spring

Post  Arthur Joura on Fri Apr 18, 2014 5:48 pm

Thank you to Sam, Doug, John, Judy, brett2013, and Joey for taking the time to read and respond on this thread.

John - Yes, Stone Mountain reminded me of 40-Acre Rock as well, but it is much bigger. The part I visited was only a fraction of the size of the larger mountain top. I think the 3 Amigos should plan a trip!

Joey - Thank you for posting the pictures from the Lone Star Bonsai Federation convention! I carried my camera the whole while I was there, but found very little time to use it as I was kept very busy with various programs. It was a tremendously enjoyable event, well run, with many excellent bonsai on display, and the Texas bonsai people I met were all as friendly and nice as could be. It was a pleasure to meet you and I hope our paths will cross again.

Spring is upon us here in western North Carolina, and the signs of it are everywhere to be seen. It is a heart-stirringly beautiful time of year, but one sometimes fraught with anxiety, as well. Last Tuesday night the temperature dipped to 27 degrees Fahrenheit (-2.7C) with gusting winds, and on Wednesday night it was 30 degrees (-1.1C) and calm, bringing the danger of frost. We somehow avoided the frost, and the plants for the most part weathered the wind and freeze with little damage. The early flowering magnolias were all fried, but that is what customarily happens to those finicky introduced exotics in this part of the world.

Of course with the exhilaration of spring also comes the overwhelming demand of keeping up with the plants. This leaves little time for writing, but I have been taking pictures. What follows are some images from the last few weeks, documenting the early part of spring, 2014, in the Bonsai Exhibition Garden at the NC Arboretum.

The flowering show in the garden began a couple weeks back, with the 'Fair Elaine' Flowering Cherry (Prunus incisa 'Fair Elaine'), a cultivar selected and named by our old friend Dr. John Creech:



Very soon afterwards the daffodils (Narcissus cv.) did their thing:



Those flowers are gone now, but the many native plants included in the garden landscape are taking their turn. It will not flower until later, but Cinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamomea) is fairly showy as it emerges from the earth:



Trilliums are a springtime favorite in the Southern Appalchian Mountains, but they are not the easiest wild plant to cultivate. This species (Trillium cuneatum), while not the most visually striking of its genus is at least agreeable to growing in gardens:



Here are 2 native irises, the first being a cultivated form of Dwarf Crested Iris (Iris cristata 'Vein Mountain') and the second being Vernal Iris (Iris verna v. smalliana):





This next subject looks like it might be a perennial, but it is actually a low-growing woody plant from the eastern US called Yellowroot (Xanthorhiza simplicissima). Although it is extremely adaptable, easy to grow and virtually trouble free, it is not so often used in cultivation, which makes me appreciate even more having it in the bonsai garden:



One of the most enjoyable tasks I have in the garden every late winter to early spring is pruning the several trees we have planted there. Space is limited, so that is one impetus for the pruning, but I also want the trees in the garden to have something of a "bonsai" feel to them if at all possible. Here is a Coral-bark Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum 'Sangu Kaku') that I managed to get done just a day or so before it began to produce leaves:



Here is an image I made just yesterday of the same tree less than 2 weeks later:



There are a few bonsai out on display right now, but most of the benches are still empty. The weather is too volatile at this time of year to risk having the full compliment of trees out where they would be at the mercy of the elements. Typically it is not until the end of April or the beginning of May that all of our bonsai come out of their winter storage mode. The few deciduous trees we do have on display now look appealing in their new spring finery, however, and the public is clamoring for more!

A Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum) group planting:



An Allegheny Serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis), in synch with the spring landscape behind it:



And finally, the almost-obligatory Japanese Wisteria (Wisteria floribunda):



Wisteria is not the most wonderful species for bonsai use and this is not the most wonderfully shaped wisteria bonsai I have ever seen, but it hardly matters. For approximately 2 weeks out of the 52 weeks of the year, a wisteria in flower will steal the bonsai show. When the flowers fade the plant is taken off display, resuming its place on the back bench, out in the growing area.
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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  Stephen Krall on Sat Apr 19, 2014 2:00 pm

Hello Arthur,

Sorry for the late replies on some of your post, but for some reason I stopped getting the e-mail when someone post to this thread. Over the last month or so I have been re-thinking things in my life, I guess it had something to do with the fact I was getting close to turning 50, and one of those things was my bonsai collection and being more critical with the material I chose to work with, what truly interest me and what are just mere experiments. Now that I am 50, Birthday was last Sunday, I have come to the conclusion that I have too many experiments and not enough Bonsai. I think you are right about the eastern Red Cedar and so I will only pursue the one I have and see how it eventually turns out.

I very much enjoyed your post on Stone Mountain. Especially the Virginia pines. Those trees were fantastic and reminded me of my college days when I had the opportunity to go out into the mountains and photography. I went to college in Bristol, VA and had many opportunities to go to the Mountains with only a short drive and I was fortunate enough to do an internship in Highlands, NC my senior year. I love the mountains! But back to today. I am working with several Virginia Pines in the hopes of creating nice bonsai with them. You know I have a love for native species which you inspired and I would love to see more Virginia pines in bonsai. I think they lean more toward the literati style because of their growth habit and the environment they grow in, but I think they are good material just the same. Your photos also reminded me of the time I went to Stone Mountain Georgia. Now that is a big rock! It was neat, to be on top and see the views from the top, but to me it wasn't nearly as nice as what you show in your photos. When I saw that first shot of the clearing, for a brief moment I thought I was looking a water flowing into a larger river. Very cool shot. Maybe some day I will get there and see it for myself.

You post on the maple was interesting. I am not sure what to make of this tree at the moment. While I understand your dilemma with the branch structure, the problem I am seeing for me is the taper and shape of the main trunk. It give me an un-natural feeling when I look at it, but maybe I am over analyzing it, or maybe I have just not experienced enough maples growing in the wild, but I get this gut feeling of it not looking natural. However, if I look at it the context of "fairy tale" bonsai as Walter Pall puts it, then it seem more reasonable. I could see that tree in a children's story book at the edge of the scary forest, without the leaves of course....

I am excited this spring as my wisteria is going to bloom for me for the first time ever. It won't be as showy as the one you have at the arboretum, but I am looking forward to it and will take a photo when it is finally in full bloom.

Hope to run into you in a couple of weeks at PBA. I am planning on coming on one of the three days.

By the way, winter is over and it is time for you to change your photo. A nice spring time smile would be good.......LOL.

Steve


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Hello, I must be going...

Post  Arthur Joura on Fri May 16, 2014 10:13 pm

Spring is a tidal wave that drowns me every year. Guiltily aware of neglecting this thread for weeks now, I have not been able to find the time to post anything, even though there is an abundance of things worth posting about. I really should not be taking the time right now, but I am concerned that if I go too long without checking in, I might just find it too easy to give up altogether!

Here then, just to keep some semblance of a presence, are a few images made of displays in the Bonsai Exhibition Garden over the last few weeks:















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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  Stephen Krall on Sat May 17, 2014 12:42 pm

Hello Arthur,

Very beautiful Azalea. I really like that composition. Spring is a wonderful time and I really enjoy it very much, watching all the plant life and my trees come out dormancy and ready for a new growing season. It reawakens all the possibilities of the future that winter sometimes squashes. Unfortunately spring is also a time when you find out that you were not as successful with you winter care of your trees as you thought you were. So sometimes the signs of spring also bring the realization of death. This past winter was a little harsher than most and I have a few less trees now. But I now have available pots to use for other trees.

Thanks for the post. It is nice to see some of the trees in their spring time color that I only get to see in the fall.

Oh, and great spring time smile with your picture. It was good seeing you last weekend in D.C.

Take Care,
Steve
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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  Vance Wood on Sat May 17, 2014 1:25 pm

Can you give me a bit of information about the Mugo Pine you have on display in the colection? Where did it come from and how long has it been in the collection?
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Return to DC and Some Background on a Swiss Mountain Pine

Post  Arthur Joura on Tue May 20, 2014 11:08 pm

Steve, thank you for your reply. It was good to see you in Washington, DC, at the recent Potomac Bonsai Association (PBA) spring festival. Our conversation there relieved me, I felt, from having to respond here to your previous post, although I did take to heart your prompt to change my avatar image.

The PBA festival was an enjoyable outing for me. It took place back at the beginning of this month, but it now seems as though it was years ago, given the blur of springtime activity that has transpired since then. It was an honor and pleasure to share the bill with my friend Rodney Clemons, and we had good fun in presenting a joint demonstration. I also had the unanticipated opportunity to meet face to face some of the other people who participate in the IBC Forum, and that was a nice experience, too. It felt somewhat like meeting old friends for the first time. Most of all, though, I was much taken with returning to the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum, where I had not been in quite a few years. That place is special to me for the experience I had there, back when I was first starting out in bonsai (I wrote at length about that on page 3 of this thread: http://ibonsaiclub.forumotion.com/t12772p30-bonsai-at-the-nc-arboretum#138640)

I had entertained hopes of seeing a couple special friends that weekend - former curator Bob Drechsler and former volunteer Janet Lanman. Alas, Janet is quite old now, more than 90, and does not get out and about so often. Bob is less old but retired nonetheless, and he has probably had his fill of attending such social events during all the 3 decades he has been associated with bonsai at the US National Arboretum. Other friends from days gone by were there, however, including the IBC's own Chris Cochrane, who can usually be found hanging out (virtually) in the Viewing Stones section of the forum. I also was able to spend some time talking with Jack Sustic, curator of the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum. I knew Jack back when he was working as a horticulturist at the Riverbanks Zoological Park in Columbia, SC in the mid to late 1990's. I had not communicated directly with him for a long time, although I have always tracked with interest and pleasure his career in DC. He was mentored, as I was, by Bob Drechsler, and I think of him as being very much in the same skillful, honorable, self-effacing mold of a curator as Bob. Opportunities to talk shop with other bonsai curators are few and far between, so being able to do so with Jack was a highlight of the weekend.

Speaking of old friends, walking through the Museum's collection brought back many memories. These were the very first quality bonsai trees I had ever seen in person, back when I went there in 1993, and it was wonderful to see them again. They all looked bigger than I remembered! They all looked great, too, in excellent health and fine trim. Jack Sustic, assistant curator Aarin Packard, and all the dedicated volunteers at the Museum do outstanding work maintaining a bonsai collection that should be recognized as a true national treasure. Seeing the National Collection stirred in me many thoughts about the bonsai collection at the NC Arboretum, and perhaps some of these may be shared here at some future time.

Just as with my recent visit to the Lone Star Bonsai Federation convention in Houston, I was so busy running around during my time in DC that I came home with very few photographs of the event (if someone else who was there and has some wants to post some on this thread, I would welcome it.) I did have the presence of mind to lend my camera to my new friend, Chuck Croft, so he could take a picture of Jack Sustic and me posed in front of one of my favorite bonsai in the National Collection:



That tree is a Trident Maple (Acer buergerianum) from the Imperial Palace, part of the original donation from Japan that started the whole National Bonsai and Penjing Museum enterprise.

***********************************************************************************************************************************

On a different topic, Vance Wood asked a couple of questions about a Swiss Mountain Pine (Pinus mugo) in the NC Arboretum collection, of which I posted an image in my last entry on this thread. That fine specimen was donated to our collection by the late Dr. Robert Murray, of Roanoke, VA. Dr. Murray had exhibited his bonsai as part of the Hinoki Bonsai Society exhibit at the 2001 Carolina Bonsai Expo. The guest artists that year were Jim Doyle and Walter Pall, and they selected Dr. Murray's pine as the 'Best In Show, Individual' award winner. Here is a photo of Dr. Murray and his tree, taken at that show:



The following year he donated the pine to us. The above image gives an accurate account of what the tree looked like at the time of donation. Over the years Dr. Murray became an avid supporter of bonsai at the NC Arboretum, and a personal friend to me. He was the very epitome of a gentle man. He had many admirable traits, and among them was the habit of keeping detailed records of all the trees in his personal collection, including photographs from all stages of the specimen's development. Here is an image he made of the same pine clump from back when he started it:



That picture is from 1984. Dr. Murray developed this bonsai from raw nursery material, sold for landscape use. This was another attribute of his for which I had the highest respect - he developed his own bonsai, most often from scratch. Although he was most certainly well acquainted with the Japanese bonsai aesthetic, he also had a great love of the natural example and possessed highly refined artistic tastes. The walls of his home were adorned with original paintings, all of natural themes and mostly done by regional and American artists. He looked at bonsai as primarily a vehicle for expressing his love of nature and appreciation of art. I think this was the basis of our heartfelt friendship. Dr. Murray died 2 years ago last month.

Swiss Mountain Pine is a rugged species, at least in regards to cold hardiness. This specimen is one of just a small handful that I feel comfortable leaving out on display in the Bonsai Exhibition Garden, fully exposed to the elements, all winter long. It was out there this past winter, where here in western North Carolina we set records for sustained, extreme cold. One of the benefits of having a few plants on display all winter is that you sometimes get to see them covered with snow:



Here is another look at the tree as it currently is, potted in a tasteful container made by Nick Lenz:

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  Vance Wood on Wed May 21, 2014 1:25 am

Thank You so much for posting the purview of this tree I find the information very edifying in view of the many things said about the species.

If you take a look at this tree how can you not want to use the Mugo Pine to do bonsai? Look at the needle length and the ramification what else out there is even close except maybe the Scots Pine?


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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  kevin stoeveken on Wed May 21, 2014 3:22 pm

beautiful photos Arthur...

I am one of the people taking your workshop through the Milwaukee Bonsai Society and as it my first workshop with a visiting artist I am really looking forward to it !  (though I am sure it is hard for you being away from your babies during this busy time of year)

one thing I particularly like about your approach is the emphasis on native and local trees...

and as to Dr. Murray:
"He looked at bonsai as primarily a vehicle for expressing his love of nature and appreciation of art."

That is a wonderful way of describing exactly how I feel about this art form...

see you soon
Kevin S.

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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  DougB on Wed May 21, 2014 5:03 pm

Thank you for great post of the National and Dr. Murry. I have vivid memories of visiting the National shortly after the American exhibit was opened. I still treasure the memories and by now my old photographs.

Your description of Dr. Murray,
"He looked at bonsai as primarily a vehicle for expressing his love of nature and appreciation of art." is a wonderful tribute. And this is what I have learned about you, but did not have the proper words to express it. God bless and may you continue to contribute for many, many years.
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Re: American Bonsai at the NC Arboretum

Post  kevin stoeveken on Sat Jun 07, 2014 10:33 pm

spot-on presentation at the Milwaukee Bonsai Society...
super positive reviews from the few Arbor Arts Collective folks that i was able to talk to afterwards...
thanks again for making the trip out.

kevin

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