This Taxus sp. from John Pitt was presented in the KoB progressive styling contest. He won the first prize in the ‘professional pre-bonsai stock’ classification, scoring 23 points of a possible 30. The material, originally a 2 year old seedling was planted in the garden where it was trained for 6 years to become thick and mature enough, before its’ first shaping. The way it is styled is very impressive and challenging. Finding a solution for the taper problem by splitting the trunk is not a common technique, and that is what makes this tree somewhat unique. It is fascinating and educational to see the transformation. When looking at the tree as raw material it is remarkable how much more mature it looks after the initial styling. For a beginning bonsai enthusiast, this tree may not look very special but one thing is sure, this will be a little jewel in the future. Marinko Beg
I bought this tree in a batch of 2 year old seedlings, 1 cm trunk, 20 cms tall, about 6years ago. I planted it in my garden, wired the trunk for movement, and let it grow, while pruning back yearly. I then split the trunk and potted it up in a pond basket about 14 months ago. The before pictures show all sides of the tree, and I chose this particular one for the contest because of its strong growth since re-potting. After watching it grow for 6 years I have looked forward to styling this one. I plan to create a very ancient image using the trees characteristics of the split trunk and the excellent nebari which was the result of root preparation 6 years ago. I desire to create the image of a lowland tree that has suffered years of decay, a lightning strike that ripped the heart out of it centuries ago, and its’ struggle overcome, survive, and rebuild itself. I think it’s possible to reduce the height to below 25 cms and so produce a powerful Shohin. It’s a good time of year to work on a yew due to the first growth hardening off, and with the right care I may get enough new growth to fill out the image before September. After studying the tree, there are a few possible fronts, but one stands out as being a favorite. ‘Quarter Progression Image 1‘ shows a good nebari, nice trunk movement, branches in appropriate positions, and the tree leans naturally forward. I don’t want to tilt the tree much because the nebari is very natural at this angle. ‘Quarter Progression Image 2‘ shows another possibility for a front, but I decided the nebari on ‘pic 1’ is far superior because I intend to use the surface roots in my design. I’ve worked through the branches, pruning as necessary and removing those I couldn’t use, . I left as many as possible and only plucked the needles around the junctions to facilitate wiring. I want as much of the trees factory left as possible to promote new growth during the coming season. A couple of problems are noticed while doing this. The branches are weak on what will be the back, so these will be left to grow for a season or two without any pruning to the tip. Some of the branch stubs are quite heavy, and while this indicates the tree’s great age and the fact that it was once much larger, they will have to be made look more natural than at present. ‘Quarter Progression Image 3‘ shows how this branch was cut back when the tree was lifted and potted last year. For the carving I intend to hollow out the trunk to portray a tree split apart by mother nature and slowly decaying with time. Care must be taken not to go to far with this or the tree’s lifelines could be jeopardized. I prefer to do this work in stages ensuring I don’t stress the tree to much, so I will just remove the obvious heartwood and put some rough details in place. More work will be done later to refine the carving, and I will also try to do something with the branch stubs, but again not all at once. I decided to lower the top on one side of the trunk because it was to symmetrical, and try to make it look as natural as possible. I won’t lime sulfur the trunk hollow as it would be totally unnatural for this tree, instead I use teak oil mixed with wood stain to give the appearance of a dark damp hollow trunk, I may highlight the edges of the carving with some lime sulfur later.This view of the hollow trunk is after treatment with teak oil and stain, both natural products that seem to have no effect on the trees health. This photo shows how I wire a yew branch without losing any needles, except at the junction with the main branch, it takes a little longer to wire in between the needles but is better for the tree. The wiring is a very delicate operation on a tree this size with thin branches, but every twig must be wired and placed in the optimum position for the design, and to ensure every branch gets plenty of light. This photo shows all the branches spread out. I also use guy wires where possible in preference to heavy wire. There are not many main branches so I create different layers within one branch to create the illusion of more, slowly it begins to take shape. You can see from the top view what I mean about weak branching at the back, as I said earlier this will be left to grow unchecked at the tip for a few seasons, but I will keep other growth under control nearer the trunk and build a branch structure. This view after wiring shows the tree today, June 31st, she will be allowed to rest now for the next couple of months and depending on how growth is, pinching and pruning will continue throughout the summer, I may also refine the carving a bit. I expect the tree to respond positively and therefore the image will mature a little before the final photos at the end of August. Despite a rather wet and cool summer here in the UK, the tree has responded positively to the previous work with growth and new buds all over, but not as much new foliage as I had hoped for. Nevertheless, the image has filled out some. All I’ve done for the final image is tidy the edges of the deadwood a little to define them more for the picture, pinch a little foliage, except for the two back branches which will be left to grow unchecked for at least a couple of seasons, and jin a couple of exposed roots. These may be used in the future depending on the choice of pot etc., but they will stay for now. There is still several good choices for a front, but for now this image is my choice. Over the coming years much work remains to be done to refine and fill out the image, but the major work is now complete. I resisted the temptation to repot for this set of pictures, although the tree is probably healthy enough. It will sit in this training pot for a few more years yet, as I believe it will develop better, and there is no point risking the trees health at this stage. Although this material was categorized as pre bonsai, I think it has just reached this stage now. I am very pleased with its’ progress over a very short period of time, it is now well on its way to being a credible very old Image. My intention at the outset of this exercise, was to transform an 8 year old tree into one that looks much older.