Air Layering.


This is a Fagus sylvatica ball shape garden plant of about 35 years old. This plant was pruned in ball shape from the beginning, there are no cutting marks and we have a conical trunk.


Last April we decided to do an air layering from the upper part of the tree. Before we get temperatures below zero for a longer period we checked if we had enough roots.  The sphagnum moss was completely full with young roots and the upper part was ready to be removed.


All he branches are growing to the outside close to each other. We do not need this wide volume and to remove the upper part from the main trunk we had to prune it back without any selection. Also the tree doesn’t need so much volume.


Now we have a clear view on the place  just under the new rootball we have to cut it off.


With a chain saw we tried to cut as flat as possible because the tree has to stand on the cutting mark in his pot.


We potted the tree up in a very light mixture of good quality soil based on peat. Fixed it with wire all around. Tomorrow I am going to prune the tree in the right proportion. This will be about 80cm high, a perfect taper, a good balanced and natural branch structure from the lower to the upper part. Tomorrow I will also explain the next steps for the future and how much time it will take to achieve a perfect rootbase. This is raw material on his best for this variety, better than any yamadori you can find because you don’t have to deal with strong and thick roots not on the same height around the trunk. In case of yamadori most of the lower branches are died off or too weak. Finding this material is not easy, there is no owner of a beautiful garden with such kind of shapped plants that will give you permission to do an air layering on them. Such beautiful shapped plants are not cheap. I planted them in my garden especially for that purpose a long time ago. I only use that technique on extremely good material, it makes no sense to do an air layering on a plant with no good potential.

 Are you interested in air layered quality trees we have 3 Juniperus, 1 Zelkova, 3 Maples and this Fagus for sale. Your project can be followed up here on workshops.


Pinus nigra.


Pinus nigra Brepo is the name of this dwarf Pine variety. It is a very slow grower who grows more or less in ball shape. This example is a little older than the useal garden center plants. This plant was about 20 years old. This picture is taken in Januari 2007 after the first styling and we used some of the branches, even if they were not correct on the right place. For example lower branch that starts on the front of the trunk. The rest came out of the branches from the apex and from one branch in the back. We had to use raffia as well to prevent breaking.


This photo is taken in October 2008 from another angle which is better for the 1st branch. The tree is unwired and now we are following up once a year the progress of the ramifications. Dwarf Pines are easy to follow up because they make a very compact growth.


July 2009 already a big difference, the Pine starts to become dense. Except cleaning the needles every year there was not so much maintenance to do. The tree was kept well fertilised and the soil mix works perfect.


April 2010, the tree in the owners garden on a perfect spot in full sun is now very dense. April is not a good time to work on Pines, he has to grow a couple of months more.


On last saturdays workshop the owner came back and finally we could start on our first selecting and pruning job.


Different things needed to be done; the older growth was too high and we needed to do a selection of the smaller ones, we needed to remove everything underneath, shorten in the outside growth and we made the apex less dense.


In the apex of a tree it is always a different kind of pruning than on the lower branches. We need a little bit long growth, but it has to be thinned out seriously. From now on this tree makes his start as a bonsai. We achieved this in about 6 years plus 2 years preparation as a plant. This example shows us not to look very close in a garden plant if all the branches are on the right place, but it prooves even if they are not we can make a beautiful tree out of it. With this advantage that he looks not like every other tree.





Today’s workshop-mugo.


On todays workshop it was very busy. There were a couple of complicated stylings, for example this yamadori mugo Pine. This tree was 8 years on my nursery and is now 3 years in this pot. Originally he comes from the German Alps.


I started to remove all the unnecessary small and dead branches in between.


As usual we discussed all the options. There were two trunks that we could use for different styles such as windswept or cascade or even bunjin. There was a 3rd small tree that was growing between the 2 long branches. It seems to be a separate tree. After discussing with the owner he took the same option that I had in mind.


Our main style will be a full cascade. We have to deal here with very old, not so thick trunks but they are really hard to bend and break easily. We have to bend the main cascade branch completely down. Before we are using our normal raffia technique I decided to lay straight raffia completely around the trunk, because this has to stay at least for 2 years. If we should start immediately with wrapping the raffia around and tie real hard he will snap in the bark and leave unremovable marks.


Than we start with a heavy wiring over the trunk and also a heavy wiring for all the other branches. We want to make some interesting caracter branches for the future.


This styling has nothing to do with the final image. Because I am always counting on more movement and  to achieve this I have to bend more than necessary. When we unwire a little part comes back in another position.


The smaller tree that was growing in between the 2 main trunks is now in our way. We changed the positions and moved the smaller tree behind the main trunk. It looks easy but 50 year old trunks are not so easy to move without breaking.


When an old branch is not wrapped in with raffia you can feel the tension when you start to bend. Were I point my right finger  this is the bending point of the branch, there I have less tension.


We could bend the 2nd main branch without wrapping him in raffia and keep it in place with tension wires. Protecting the old bark, because all this has to stay at least for 2 years. We created some more caracter branches in the apex.


Every branch that we had to put in position was a dangerous one to break, sometimes it took more than 5 minutes to create the right movement for one branch.


To achieve the right angle I had to break some branches on purpose. For this you have to be very concentrated that it doesn’t snap completely. We open the branch just half and do this slowely, than the branch opens in the line of the veins, so it never dies off. 


Today I was very happy with my assistent Bruno. For this kind of “heavy duty” work a good assistent is necessary because there is always work for 4 hands.


We do not need the smaller tree anymore in this creation. There was an option to separate this tree next spring during a repotting, but our main tree needs than a recovery after repotting so we decided not to take any risk for the main creation and cut off the  branches of the small tree.


I never say after a 1st styling this is our finished product. This is just how far I want to go in one step. The next step will be at least after 1 growing season. I do not care about the foliage or the pads that everybody wants to see immediately after creation. Next summer is going to give more foliage and the sap will  find his way from the roots to all the branches after the heavy bendings. From then on the work can be continued.

This styling proves again that your original material does not  always look the same as your end product. These are for me the most interesting trees to work with, those were it is not so obvious what the result will be.

I want to thank also Buno’s wife Sriske  for the delicious sandwich.

Bunjin part 2.

Scots Pine_1.jpg

Bunjin from the highlands in Scotland. Middle the 90’s I swapped these two Scots pines with Craig Cousins for a Trident maple. They were planted in a Derek Aspinall hand made pot. Derek was at that time a good friend who made a lot of pots for me. He didn’t produce big quantities but still the best pots ever. When he died it was a great loss for the whole bonsai world. The trees were only one day in the pot and were used for a demonstration by Craig and the day after we made our deal. I decided to repot the trees the same day in another pot and another position and with the new position I was breaking the “Bonsai rules”.

Scots Pine_repot.jpg

Both trees had not such a strong root systrem as we are used to work with. I knew I was taking some risks here. But the time of the year, beginning of Mai, was worth to take the risk. I selected a round hand made tokoname pot, the flattest one I could find. I brought the trees together as close as I could. The image of parent and child was born. My soil mix in that time was pure akadama, no pumice in between, the pot was too flat. There was no mycorrhiza so I used some from another tree to put under the akadama.

Scots Pine_2.jpg

The way I planted those two trees together gave me a lot of options. If like on this photo this would be my front side, we can not see the biggest tree coming out of the ground (pot). This photo was taken in spring two years later. That was the time both the trees needed to make a strong rootsystem. Now the 1st important wiring could start. The 1st wiring is always the one were we create our caracter branches; they go with the movement of the truncs.  It was after 5 complete wirings that, over a period of seven years, the caracter and the image of the tree became older.


A closer look from underneath to one of the main branches. This is what I mean with caracter branches inside; you can see on one branch different thicknesses (ages). That means there is build on the tree at least 8 years or longer.


I am lying on my back under a big tree and looking upwards. The ramification is perfect, not too close, nice distance and very natural. The bark looks a lot older. This photo is taken recently.


This could be a possible front side because I love the crossing trunks. This is breaking the rules of Bonsai, but it will never break the rules of nature and beauty.


Another possibility of front is the “dancing child” under his parent, but the tree doesn’t show his full caracter. As I said in the beginning, Bunjin from the Highlands are another type of trees than Bunjin from the high mountains.  They have more dense foliage, more branches and volume and not such a strong caracter in the trunks. This was the perfect variety to express this, because it comes from the area were those beautiful trees are standing  in nature.


This is the actual front side I choose were the trunk of the smallest tree dissapears behind the bigger one. Again against the rules, but remember the striptease of yesterday. Of course if you turn the pot a little bit to one or the other side , you have another view. Love it when the tree is on an exhibition and enthousiasts try to photograph him from his best side. This was another example of the Bunjin style; yesterday we were at the border were a tree can just survive in the mountains and this tree just stands in a rough climate about 500m above see level.

Understanding the art of Bonsai means more than creativity. Look to the movie “Karate Kid”; bring the tree back to nature and make it believable. I am teaching my students always everything step by step. We start botanical and keep the tree healty. Than we go to the artistic programm and finally the expression.


Recently I decided to sell all the big trees out of my private collection, including this one. If you are  interested you can only negociate in my nursery with me. I want my trees to have an owner that deserves them. Price will be interesting.




This Juniper Yamadori is already a long time a bonsai. I know the tree for more than 25 years. I restyled him 2 times. The owner before me did the same and now the tree needs another styling again.


The procedere is for all Juniper bonsai the same; remove a part of the older needles, thin out the branches and prune back the long growth were necessary. The tree is now ready for wiring. Knowing that we are going to do a restyling; that means changing the whole image of the tree, we need a heavy wiring.


Now we come to the part were style and caracter of the tree is very important. First I have to explain what BUNJINGI, also known as LITERATI, means. In the early days in Japan caligrafic artists went up high in the mountains to paint those kind of trees that had been suffering from the harch mountain climate. It seems easy because we talk about trees with not so many branches but those few branches and the elegant trunc have to tell you about the extreme climate condition they are standing in. On photo above, the tree is wired and branches are positioned, but it doesn’t give me this high in the mountain feeling.


Turning around the tree several times shows me a lot of possible new front sides. But for the thickness of the elegant trunk there are still too many branches. I start to remove the biggest ones that are not going in the direction from were the wind blows. Repositioning the branches in the same direction is no option, because “less is always more”.


Also in the apex I thinned out some branches. A heavy apex with lots of foliage is not the expression of a high mountain tree.


This is all the material that has been removed to reach more open area’s between the caracter branches.


In the early 90’s I started with “Kei Bonsai Kai”, which was the name for a group of bonsai enthousiasts who were studying the bunjin style. We were all sitting in front of a tokonoma with a Bunjin tree in it and discussing all the possibilities about front side, caracter branches, foliage directions etc… It was amazing how many options a good tree could offer. From that point as an artist you are on your own with your tree. It is like a painting, you have to follow what is in your mind. You see the tree in nature and want to place him as a miniature living example. With some expressions you can feel the wind blowing through the branches. That doesn’t mean with Bunjin that everybody feels the same. If you have to explain than you don’t understand. The photo above is one possible frontside, with falling caracter branch and middleaged apex.


By bringing the branches from the apex down we are expressing an older caracter. But still that didn’t give me enough satisfaction.


By this photo we are coming closer to a clear style, what means that a bunjin is like a good striptease act; you have to see all the beauty but not all at once. Now I am still confused when I look at the apex. Keep turning the tree around and try to find better options. The meaning with this front was trying to bring the foliage close to the trunk, but still no high mountain feeling.


The original front of the tree has always been that one and it will stay like that. This is what the tree tells me by showing all his beauty. For maintaince and further trimming we have to be carefullwith the amount of foliage that the branches have to carry. In one growing season the weeker branches now will be strong and I have to thin out once a year. With the green also I will have to create a certain caracter that follows the caracter of the branches. In about 2 years time this tree will be ready for exhibition. This bunjin style has a windswept caracter, which is always a good thing when you can add a style to your main style.