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Show #20/4407. The Art, Skill & Care Of Bonsai

Summary of Show

What Is Bonsai
BONSAI IS the Japanese art form that uses trees in containers, dates back over a thousand years and focuses on the long term cultivation of one or more trees. It’s primary purpose is non agricultural but rather for the pleasure of the gardener and its viewers.
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Bonsai Can Be Large
When Eric thinks of bonsai he thinks of a very small plant, in a small pot yet they’re standing next to a magnificent plant that is taller than both of them. Rodney explains, bonsai simply means tree in container, it DOES NOT MATTER THE HEIGHT of the tree or the size of the tree as long as you have it in a bonsai pot. One can have really small ones or really large ones.
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Bonsai Forest
Eric next notices a wonderful example of a BONSAI FOREST. It is so different from the look and feel of the single bonsai plants that most are familiar with. What is the story of this planting? This is a planting that Rodney and his wife put together around the year 2000. It reminds him of his childhood and the cypress forests that he grew up in and playing in. It doesn't have the water but you've got to be able to visualize some things. And, it's a great forest for playing in.
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Tree Growing Out Of A Crack In A Rock
Eric has this vision of a thousand year old juniper growing out of a crack in a rock, on the SIDE OF A CLIFF. Rodney explains, they always try to make bonsai look really old but this one was easy. The older they are to begin with the easier it is to give that illusion. This tree is probably in the five to six hundred year old range. Eric wants to know about the white wood.
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Copper Wiring
But he does want to talk about the COPPER WIRING. One of the things he does know about bonsai is that the wires are used to shape the branches. And this is a great example of that.
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Grouping Of Boxwoods
They next look at a grouping of BOXWOODS. It's a fairly common plant used in bonsai. Eric wants to know the story behind this group. In bonsai terms it is called a kingsville. Henry Holman, first called it buxus macrophylla compacta, so that is what Rodney has chosen to call it. These trees are right at forty-five years old.
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Small Bonsai Plants
Eric next wants to talk about the SMALL BONSAI PLANTS. We’ve looked at some really large specimens and some forests but the small plants are where nearly everyone starts and it seems to Eric like that would be the easiest way to start because there is what appears to be a lot of extra work with these big ones. Rodney cautions, that is not always the case, it is not always true.
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Japanese Maple
Each one is so different and fascinating. Rodney appreciates that. The first is a JAPANESE MAPLE and came to America from Japan as a cutting. Rodney has grown it for thirty-five years now and it represents things he likes about bonsai.
For More Information Click here

Azalea
Rodney next shows us an AZALEA. It is a nice azalea because of the leaf and the flowers. It is a little bit on the smaller side and this again shows you the power of the roots. It’s important to remember that bonsai is horticulture.
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Hawthorn
The next plant is a HAWTHORN. It was collected because it tripped Rodney, which upset him. But, the leaf size is nice, it has gotten a lot smaller because of being in the pot.
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Winged Elm
Next is one of Eric's favorites of all the native trees, the WINGED ELM. This may well be the first bonsai that Eric tackles. Rodney concurs it is a great one but adds "this is for sale.”
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Choosing A Bonsai
There he'll pick out a couple of trees that he will turn into bonsai. But WHAT SHOULD HE BE LOOKING FOR? Are there any plants that he should avoid or are there some that Rodney really likes that traditionally people have more success with? Rodney would not pick any exotic plant, they tend to be little harder to grow, particularly if they’re from out of the area. If looking for something with small leaves and short inter nodes a magnolia might be ruled out. It can be done, but probably best ruled out.
For More Information Click here

Transition From Nursery To Bonsai Container
Eric would like some more PRACTICAL DETAILS. So we've brought our plants home, how do we move that plant, make the transition from the little nursery pot into the nice, round or flat bonsai container that we purchased? Rodney says it's a process. The first thing to do is pull the plant out of the container and check the root system. Then prune the roots to plate size, to where it can go in a bonsai pot. The tree when you collect it, or get it from a nursery and in a container will have the most energy it's ever going to have. One wants to cut it to where it will sit in a bonsai pot right from the start.
For More Information Click here

Correct Soil
They next talk about the SOIL because with bonsai we are not going to use typical pine bark that would have been used in a nursery and what the plant has most likely been growing in to this point. Instead use a media with better drainage and great nutrient holding capacity. We want the plant to be very healthy and hearty, so utilize a mix that is top of the line.
For More Information Click here

Pruning The Plants
We have now come to the part of our bonsai adventure where we need to PRUNE THE PLANTS. This is where we create form and structure. We must determine which limbs we want to keep and which ones we want to let go. And we want to stimulate growth. This is kind of the romantic, zen part of the process.
For More Information Click here

 

LINKS:

Allgood Nursery
Allgood Bonsai | Facebook

Plant List

Show #20/4407. The Art, Skill & Care Of Bonsai

Complete Write Up

In this episode GardenSMART takes a look at the majestic miniatures that are known as bonsai with a gardener who has devoted his life to the art and science of growing them.

BONSAI IS the Japanese art form that uses trees in containers, dates back over a thousand years and focuses on the long term cultivation of one or more trees. It’s primary purpose is non agricultural but rather for the pleasure of the gardener and its viewers. The author of the ancient work “The Tale of the Hollow Tree” eloquently wrote “A tree that is left growing in its natural state is a crude thing. It is only when it is kept close to human beings who fashion it with loving care that its shape and style acquire the ability to move one.” In a sense the art of bonsai goes well beyond the taming of nature and seeks to realize the greatest potential out of each plant that is in the care of the gardener.

It only takes a few moments with Rodney Clemons to see that the heart of this energetic plantsman exudes the very notion that every plant under his watchful eye will be elevated into the form and figure that allows it to be experienced at its very best. Rodney began his love affair with bonsai back in 1973 and has never looked back. His work designing Japanese gardens and natural water features has helped him develop a sensitive eye and a skill with rock and plant placement that adds realism to his bonsai creations. He is a well known lecturer and instructor who spends most of his time tending his extensive collection of bonsai at his nursery Allgood Bonsai. His wife Charlie is masterful with the art of bonsai as well and the two of them have built an amazing life together, drawing every drop of potential out of a plant that falls into their care.

Eric meets Rodney and welcomes him to the show. Eric tells Rodney that for a long time he has been energized by bonsai. It's a whole category of horticulture he finds fascinating yet has never done it as a gardener, has always thought about it, had aspirations and occasionally even bought a pot to try to do something but never pulled it off. Yet Rodney has done this for decades. Eric wants to know what initially sparked his interest in bonsai? Rodney’s initial interest was the fact that he loved trees. One day he was walking in a mall with a girlfriend and at the very end of the mall saw a trident forest. It was a bonsai show and the closer he walked to that forest, the more passion came out. He walked right into that forest, climbed it and is still in it today. How how did Rodney move from being an enthusiast, even during the early years working on plants, to making this a full time occupation? Rodney loved it enough to stay in it full time. It is something he really, really enjoys and it is hard to separate something you enjoy from something you want to do all day long.

He started with just a few plants but it became part of a much broader garden collection. His first teacher said one needed to have three trees so you don't over work any one of them. But if you are like Rodney and you over work things you’ll need more than three. Eric wonders, what is the size of his collection now? Rodney says they don’t count. Okay, that's fair enough.

In this show we're going to attempt to demystify the mystery that is bonsai and dig deep into some of the techniques and the the methods so hopefully Eric and others at home will be able to try this. So, they dive in.

When Eric thinks of bonsai he thinks of a very small plant, in a small pot yet they’re standing next to a magnificent plant that is taller than both of them. Rodney explains, bonsai simply means tree in container, it DOES NOT MATTER THE HEIGHT of the tree or the size of the tree as long as you have it in a bonsai pot. One can have really small ones or really large ones. Quite frankly the large ones are a little bit easier to pull off because they provide a little more room for scale. This is an ancient cypress. Eric surmises that it must have a story. It does. It was collected in a dwarf tree swamp area and this tree is three to four hundred years old. Just an educated guess, The swamp was in an area near Naples, Florida. It was hard to choose which to collect because one sees so many good trees as you walk around but this was an easy choice. However, it was two miles to get it out of the swamp.

Eric wants to know about the form, it has a really nice flat top. That’s how these cypress grow, with a flat top. A lot of folks do bonsai in triangles. This triangle is inverted, the top is the flat part, then it tapers down. Rodney wants to make his trees look like a tree not necessarily a bonsai.

Eric next notices a wonderful example of a BONSAI FOREST. It is so different from the look and feel of the single bonsai plants that most are familiar with. What is the story of this planting? This is a planting that Rodney and his wife put together around the year 2000. It reminds him of his childhood and the cypress forests that he grew up in and playing in. It doesn't have the water but you've got to be able to visualize some things. And, it's a great forest for playing in. How old are these trees? They range anywhere from thirty-eight, forty years old to about sixteen. The youngest, of course, are the smallest in this case. Eric loves the texture that Rodney has created, it looks like one of those beautiful old growth forests with these towering, enormous trees and little, small ones that are trying to find just a little gleam of light so they can get big as well. Rodney shows Eric that this display rotates. This is the view for several weeks, but they must rotate it so sunlight gets to all sides otherwise the branches start actually changing direction to catch the sun. They are after all solar collectors. Rodney asks Eric as he's turning it if Eric would tell him which way he likes best. There are two sides, front and back, one can even look at it from the side. It really does provide a sense of depth. Eric comments that it is totally different from the different sides. When standing on one side he feels like he's inside of a forest looking out into a field or a pond where the light breaks, then from the other side it's as if he's looking into the forest. It then feels a little more cool, the other side feels a little bit warmer but they do evoke completely different emotions. Rodney is impressed, he compliments Eric that is the best answer ever.

The guys look at another bonsai and it too is amazing. Eric has this vision of a thousand year old juniper growing out of a crack in a rock, on the SIDE OF A CLIFF. Rodney explains, they always try to make bonsai look really old but this one was easy. The older they are to begin with the easier it is to give that illusion. This tree is probably in the five to six hundred year old range. Eric wants to know about the white wood. Is this the way Rodney found this plant or is this a technique he uses to make it look more aged? This tree came from South Dakota and because it came from such a rough situation the wood did age and bleach out. But this has actually been redone because things will change in the south with all the humidity. They put lyme sulfur on which basically turns into sulfuric acid and actually bleaches the wood. Eric wants to know - When you went about the process of removing that bark was the white part of the tree alive or was it a part of the tree that had died already? When Rodney got this tree it was an upright tree and had bark all the way around. The first thing that one should do is check to make sure how much of the tree is alive. Most of that tree was actually dead with the exception of the live vein or dark part. Finding that changed the style totally. So taking off the bark, which will last for a long time on the tree, prompted this style. Eric thinks the outcome is amazing.

But he does want to talk about the COPPER WIRING. One of the things he does know about bonsai is that the wires are used to shape the branches. And this is a great example of that. The wire is intended to shape the branches not to restrict it in any way. Basically one is putting the wire on and bending the branch. That bending creates a little bit of tissue damage, that forms scar tissue, which then holds the branch in place.

Eric gets the sense in talking with Rodney that each one of these plantings tells a story. Rodney agrees, each planting is intended to tell a story. Oftentimes it's a personal thing, you have to feel the story to create these works of art.

They next look at a grouping of BOXWOODS. It's a fairly common plant used in bonsai. Eric wants to know the story behind this group. In bonsai terms it is called a kingsville. Henry Holman, first called it buxus macrophylla compacta, so that is what Rodney has chosen to call it. These trees are right at forty-five years old. Rodney knows that because he took the cuttings. And, it is a wonderful composition. His inspiration was a troubling one. He was doing a program and had two separate sizes of trees. They have grown a little but at that time they were smaller. He was struggling with how to put them together. The night before his grandfather had died, so at three o'clock in the morning he realized that his grandfather could be the large tree and all the grandchildren could be the other, smaller trees. It ended up being a great program, Rodney really enjoyed himself, he had created a scene from the family homestead. In looking closely one notices the live oaks overlook the inter-coastal waterway. He did take some little liberties with it by adding boulders which symbolize the water. So this composition includes boulders and the little gravel shoreline. It is more intricate than the others we have seen. And does show a little more of the story allowing your imagination to take over. This really is not bonsai, it is saikei. A little bit different term but can still be in his garden without kicking it out. And, it is beautiful.

Eric next wants to talk about the SMALL BONSAI PLANTS. We’ve looked at some really large specimens and some forests but the small plants are where nearly everyone starts and it seems to Eric like that would be the easiest way to start because there is what appears to be a lot of extra work with these big ones. Rodney cautions, that is not always the case, it is not always true. The only additional work that the big ones have is the amount of pruning one might have to do, the number of leaves for example. But the small ones, because of the scale and the need for water are a lot harder. They require more water because they don't have the same reservoir that the large ones do and the pots get hot. These pots can get up to one hundred and forty degrees. So they dry out quickly. Accordingly these are watered twice a day, at least, and sometimes three times a day. And, that is a commitment.

Eric wants to talk about the individual plants. Each one is so different and fascinating. Rodney appreciates that. The first is a JAPANESE MAPLE and came to America from Japan as a cutting. Rodney has grown it for thirty-five years now and it represents things he likes about bonsai. The root system is incredibly important with small plants, one needs a nice root system, the taper of this tree is really nice, and the small leaf makes the tree look farther away. The part of scale hard to pull off is leaf size.

Rodney next shows us an AZALEA. It is a nice azalea because of the leaf and the flowers. It is a little bit on the smaller side and this again shows you the power of the roots. It’s important to remember that bonsai is horticulture. He keeps these plants happy and healthy, it is in a larger pot right now that will allow the plant to grow nice and strong because of the size of the container. But when it is going to be shown it goes into a pot that is much smaller. It can only be kept it in the smaller pot for a year. So you get it healthy, then slowly get it to size.

The next plant is a HAWTHORN. It was collected because it tripped Rodney, which upset him. But, the leaf size is nice, it has gotten a lot smaller because of being in the pot. Flower size is fantastic and the fruit is to scale for something this small. It’s exfoliating, which shows the nice color and you can see some of the bark is still coming off. They remove the bark this time of year just to show off the tree.

Next is one of Eric's favorites of all the native trees, the WINGED ELM. This may well be the first bonsai that Eric tackles. Rodney concurs it is a great one but adds "this is for sale.” They both laugh. This is an older tree and could easily be forty, fifty feet tall if in the ground. It shows you can cut a plant back pretty hard. The thick trunk let’s us know that the tree was, at one point, a little bit taller than this. It would not have grown to that size in this pot. It's cut back.

Eric likes all of these plants and thinks this little group of trees really shows off the diversity of the bonsai category. It is way broader than the stereotypical three or four plants we often see. It truly is. One can make a bonsai out of anything but these are really good for bonsai and they're unusual in the bonsai world because most people have never used them. These plants were collected all around the southeast, two of them in Louisiana, one in south Georgia, Valdosta. The water elm although not a true elm is a fairly common native, certainly common around water. People may walk right by it without seeing it because it just blends in. These are quite old, although they don't necessarily look like they would be as old as some of the bigger plants that we have seen. Their life cycle is very short as far as being able to produce food. The reason is they don’t live in the sun for very long so their growth period is very short. One grows in the deeper part of the lake so it gets less sun for a shorter period of time. The other grows a little bit closer to the shallow water so it gets sun earlier in the year and for longer periods of time. Both are in the hundreds of years old. One is just a little older, theory wise (Rodney’s theory) because it has grown in more water, deeper water. These plants do a great job of underscoring what one can do, especially with plants that we don't typically think of as bonsai. Rodney explains again - bonsai can be any plant, it just must be in a bonsai pot.

Eric says he’s hooked, when they’re done he's going to leave here and drive straight to his favorite garden center. There he'll pick out a couple of trees that he will turn into bonsai. But WHAT SHOULD HE BE LOOKING FOR? Are there any plants that he should avoid or are there some that Rodney really likes that traditionally people have more success with? Rodney would not pick any exotic plant, they tend to be little harder to grow, particularly if they’re from out of the area. If looking for something with small leaves and short inter nodes a magnolia might be ruled out. It can be done, but probably best ruled out. One should be looking for a healthy plant, a nice line and a good root system. Those things are hard to build. The branches can be positioned where you need them. So between conifers are there ones that are typically easier or harder to work with? Most of the bonsai books show the pine tree juniper style so that is what most people are used to and expect a bonsai to look like. Deciduous will grow in their own style. One can go out and look at the way they grow. It's a little different. Rodney is of the opinion that the easiest tree to start with would be a juniper. Some type of juniper.

Eric would like some more PRACTICAL DETAILS. So we've brought our plants home, how do we move that plant, make the transition from the little nursery pot into the nice, round or flat bonsai container that we purchased? Rodney says it's a process. The first thing to do is pull the plant out of the container and check the root system. Then prune the roots to plate size, to where it can go in a bonsai pot. The tree when you collect it, or get it from a nursery and in a container will have the most energy it's ever going to have. One wants to cut it to where it will sit in a bonsai pot right from the start. It may look a little rough but prune it back past the growth tips and cut the old roots out because they are not working any more. So cut them back, then let the new roots come out. They're the ones that will now be doing most of the work. Pruning roots is a lot like pruning the top of a plant. You are stimulating new roots. Prune behind the bud breaks that way you’ll get more really fine feeder roots which allow better water and nutrition uptake. You don’t want the roots going around outside of the pot and circling. What you do want is a matrix where the roots go all the way through the soil particles.

They next talk about the SOIL because with bonsai we are not going to use typical pine bark that would have been used in a nursery and what the plant has most likely been growing in to this point. Instead use a media with better drainage and great nutrient holding capacity. We want the plant to be very healthy and hearty, so utilize a mix that is top of the line. It should have three main elements, one part is lava stone, it traps air, meaning the air will stay in. The second part is pumice. Pumice holds moisture. The part that we can't get in this country yet, although it's being worked on, is akadama. Akadama means red dirt in Japanese, it holds nutrients. And one can't do that with pine bark. So between the three you've got water, air, and nutrients. Everything is covered in three products. The pumice and lava stone can be grown or produced in this country so they can be easily found but the akadama is difficult to find, you're most likely going to have to go on the internet for it.

We have now come to the part of our bonsai adventure where we need to PRUNE THE PLANTS. This is where we create form and structure. We must determine which limbs we want to keep and which ones we want to let go. And we want to stimulate growth. This is kind of the romantic, zen part of the process. So we have a deciduous plant and a conifer and talk about the different ways we prune each of these categories. They are a little bit different in the sense that with a deciduous tree the first part of the year is when it produces the food that feeds the tree. Once that’s over, cut it back. It’s mainly directional pruning so when Rodney does something like this he prunes to the second or the third bud, cutting off that bud is going to produce a branch that runs that direction. He shows us a juniper, a very common landscape plant one can find in nearly any retail garden center. And a great place to start with bonsai, it really is. It is a tough plant, the difference is you let this run. The energy is in the foliage itself and so let it run, then prune back. Flatten the branch out just like a pine tree grows, flatten the branch out, shorten it on top and let the outside edge run. That produces foliage back inside, then prune it back. One thing we need to remember with junipers, and is also true of many conifers, don't cut back beyond the last green leaf. If you go beyond you often won't get new buds emerging. Rodney can't say this enough that the outside layer of growth is very, very important.

Eric wants to know what other tips Rodney might have for our viewers? What other kinds of maintenance should be considered - pest, water, fertilizer? Pest control is similar to what anybody that is growing a plant has to look for, they are all the same, same things you have to deal with pests. Watering - water thoroughly. When you water, water to where it's fully hydrated. Fertilizer, use some fertilizer. Rodney uses organic but anything will be fine. Sunlight is important. These plants are out in the sun. The plants need sun to produce their food, the sun is where they get it from.

Eric thanks Rodney for spending the day with us. We've learned so much. Whether they are centuries old or just a few short years, bonsais inspire us with their nearly limitless possibilities. Eric is now super excited about bonsai. Rodney thanks GardenSMART for visiting, it has been a pleasure letting folks know about bonsai.

LINKS:

Allgood Nursery
Allgood Bonsai | Facebook

Plant List

 
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