Over the last 25 years I have collected many amazing Yamadori, in all that time I have NEVER discovered a tree quite like this Taxus Bacatta that was growing half way down a limestone cliff. The amazing deadwood and twisting live vein gave the tree an incredible ancient presence.
I believe that very few people… maybe none has ever seen this tree as it’s in a VERY inhospitable, almost inaccessible location, it has survived many hundreds of years… I wanted this tree, but I also felt a deep sense of respect for this ancient survivor… so that’s where its staying.
Three years is a long time to find out if your collected tree has made enough root in the right place to enable you to pot the tree into a training pot. I had reached the stage where the BIG yew was ready, would there be enough root, would it fit into the BIG pot I had prepared, could I make this big heavy tree stable and secure?
My good friend David Barlow was there to help me. David is a superb engineer and this tree would require some clever sub soil engineering to make it stable.
The tree was suspended between to plant pots so that I could work to remove the plastic pots easily. David held the tree and I set to work. I was very pleased with the amount of new root the tree had made.
When the tree was collected very little root was on the tree, careful maintenance and a strict regime of misting, feeding, placement and feeding had brought the tree on well… I was happy to start the work.
The Yew had been planted in a VERY open soil mix of Acadama, Grit and pumice and a small amount of orchid bark. This ensured good drainage and an easy media for root growth.
Once the old plastic pots had been cut away the roots could be inspected closely, I decided to cut away eight inches of root so that the tree would sit well in the pot. I was aware of the old deep root from the time that the tree was collected (photograph EVERYTHING) had I not removed this the tree would have not have looked stable in the pot.
I would have liked to have had the deadwood at the base of the tree overhanging the pot, BUT when the tree was positioned in the pot it simply did not work, it had to be removed!
Two hardwood blocks were employed to stabilize the tree, they were fixed in place with copper wire. The base of the tree was drilled and 4mm Copper used to tie in the tree through the holes in the base of the pot.
I used large size pure Acadama in the potting as this had proved very successful on previous potting of large Yew in my garden. Once the soil was filled to the rim of the pot the drama created by the base of the tree could be enjoyed. This was important as the visual weight of tree required a strong base to sustain the appearance of a massive tree.
The first styling of the tree with the basic branch structure put in place was in November, this potting was two months ago and the tree has responded well. I guess it will be AT LEAST ten years before this tree is ready for showing… BUT it will be worth it.
My great friend Michael Mehrmann has let me share this wonderful video of six amazing trees from Omiya, the video is in High Definition so watch it in full screen to enjoy all the detail of these fabulous Bonsai.
The five featured trees are
To watch in full screen HD click the small arrows in the bottom right of the video
Earlier this month I was hanging on a rope over an 80 meter drop digging out this Yew. That was after a drive of 5 hours, a four mile walk into the hills and a very hard climb. The rain was lashing down and the dig was hard. Whilst hanging on the rope over a scary precipice, soaked to the skin and freezing cold I reflected on some recent posts on Internet bonsai forums. “Is yamadori too expensive?”.
I can only guess that those that pose this question have no idea on exactly what it takes to collect great material and make it available for others to create great bonsai. Would bonsaigirl* from Devon; make the effort to find the site, get permission, buy the gear, take a day off work, get a mate to help, get up at 5.00am drive five hours, walk in, rope up, climb down, dig for two hours suspended on a rope, carry back, pot up, establish for at least two years and have the expertise and recovery facilities to look after the tree over this period then sell for less than the cost of the fuel I somehow think not. Is yamadori too expensive? you decide.
Here are the roots after removing the rock and cleaning the duff away
*this is a made up person NOT a real poster
An important learning tool in my box when teaching bonsai is telling students to get out into the wilds and see old and ancient trees in their natural habitat. It’s not enough to read the books, visit the shows or surf the web for inspiration, being out in the wild walking the hills and mountains is crucial to understanding the natural growing habits of our native trees.
In my early years with bonsai I remember creating a juniper bonsai with deadwood and receiving a snide comment from a long standing club member “I have never seen a tree with white wood before” my retort was that he should look beyond the trees in the local park.
There is no substitute for standing under an ancient and appreciating all the human history that the tree has witnessed plus the hundreds of harsh winters, cold winds and blistering sun that has created the beauty of the living specimen.
Earlier this week I took a walk in the hills with a close friend and naturally I took my camera, along with taking photos of trees, I record bark, branch structure, root spread and aspect.
Here is a VERY old Oak tree that was perched on a granite outcrop in the bottom of a glacial valley, the root bole was over 5 meters circumference and the tree less than 7 meters in height, as you can see from the photos, no wire or pruning has taken place to create this amazing tree.
The last photo is another Oak on the same outcrop. The way that the trunk spreads over the stone is fascinating and a great ‘model’ to work towards when creating this style of bonsai.
In the dark depths of my memory I remember a phrase spoken by another artist during a lecture/demo… “Create the smallest Bonsai possible with the material you have” … and lets face it BONSAI are supposed to be small trees. Despite the plethora of large trees being shown in major exhibitions I have noticed an upsurge in ‘small’ bonsai… Note the recent major Shohin exhibition here in the UK and the growth of the British Shohin Association over the last few years. Certainly many artists of my generation (and older) suffer from ‘Bad backs’ due to carrying over large bonsai.
Many large bonsai do possess drama and ‘presence’ but so do small trees… AND I believe that small trees are more challenging, far more attention to detail and a delicate touch is required.
I have just styled this ‘Kifu’ Taxus. When the tree was collected from the cliff face it was over 1.5 metres in height and a double trunk. The original idea was a Chuhin size but the fascinating area around the nebari and a twisting live vein leading to a strong branch enabled this tree to become a Kifu size bonsai. It is planted in a lovey circular pot by Milan Klika.
the Kifu taxus styled today
Not quite as collected, the top of the tree has been reduced
This was how the tree was originally styled but it simply did not look OK
I have had this lovely larch for just over 18 months and it has been developing well and styled last year, potted in a ‘primitive’ Bryan Albright pot the movement and ruggedness of the tree displays well. I like the quality of the bark, movement of the trunk, scale and size of the tree (Chuhin) and particularly at this time of year the emergence or the fresh green shoots.
The view from above the tree
The lovely rugged bark
Still some work to be done on the deadwood
I have seen lots of funny ‘Bonsai’ T-shirts but this one brought back from Malta by a friend is one of the best I think.