Article 61 – ‘A balanced composition’

Hi, welcome to Taiga Bonzai in this post we discuss the marriage of tree and container starting with the definition of the Japanese word ‘Bonsai’ (the umbrella term for this art) – ‘Bon’ is pot and ‘Sai’ is tree.

Introduction – as we have often stated, the old rules are today mere guidelines nonetheless, they contain logic, common sense and a learning curve for the multitude who practice the horticultural art of bonsai. Arguably one of the most important factors is the overall composition of how a plant in its container is perceived, our latest book Taiga Bonzai Simplifying the Art ‘Revised Edition’ (which can be found on google play books) goes into lengthy discussion on this topic. Because bonsai like other art forms, paintings, sculpture, music, fashion and culinary has its critics and pundits who review the work by said artists, which can often be unforgiving.

A balanced composition – it has been said by the bonsai masters that the four types of pots used in bonsai, which include rectangularround oval and deep square glazed or unglazed are designated for particular tree designs for example, conifers are normally associated with unglazed pots whereas deciduous varieties are suited to glazed containers. These pot types are classed as masculine, feminine and neutral, deep square pots are only for cascade Kengai and semi cascade Han-Kengai, of course pot designs have changed over the decades, colourful designs, fluted, eight corner bowls and moon bowls are now relatively common; the identification of pots is shown below.

1. Masculine 2. Feminine 3. Neutral 4. Cascade pot

Masculine pots are normally quite deep with robust corners, feminine pots can be round without sharp corners or lines and oval pots will have a gentle rim also without lines, deep square pots are wider at the top with tapering sides as shown. By looking at the image the masculine pot would be ideal for a robust pine formal upright Chokkan or informal upright Moyogi as the pot’s design and colour (unglazed) would enhance the rough texture of the bark and dark green foliage.

The feminine pot (glazed/unglazed) would suit a delicate Japanese Maple Acer palmatum, Juniperus sabina, or a flowering species, designs can include literati Bungin or slanting Shakan. The oval pot (glazed) could be used for most tree design to reflect the colour of the bark, leaf, fruit and flower for example, deciduous varieties including Beech, Fagus Weeping cherry Prunus and Rowan Sorbus aucuparia. As stated the rules are guidelines to assist us finding the correct pot for the plant in question because the tree is the painting and the pot is the frame and both must compliment each other, to explain further have a look at the image below.

Oopjen Coppit 1634 by Rembrandt

As the image shows the dress worn by the subject is black marginley distinguishing her from the dark background, it is the skin tone of her hands and face and the lace shawl that stand out making the painting what it is; quite remarkable yet subtle. But more importantly it is the overall composition of frame and picture that is the main factor. The gilded frame probably a heavy wooden moulded/carved one has a warm luster with various tones opposed to a brassy-gold finish and it can be argued that picture and frame compliment each other. But before we move on go back to the painting and in your mind substitute the gilded frame for one of polished aluminium – would the composition be correct? this same consensus applies to bonsai; pot and tree.

In article 57 ‘The wait is over’ we took some time to choose a pot for our large S. aucupariaOmono Dai‘ class (100 centimetres or 40 inches) the tree has light green foliage, smooth grey bark, white flowers and orange fruit and is considered to be neutral. Strong dark colours such as blue or green would be overpowering disrupting the overall composition of tree and pot as would an brown unglazed pot; hence the decision was to go for glazed neutral white, which would be in balance with the tree’s colourisation.

As to the pot shape round bowls and ovals were discussed, but extensive searching did not yield anything suitable. Another option was to have one made, but this was out of the question due to lengthy production time, overall cost and delivery; the last option was a rectangular pot. Pot depth was another important factor to consider, a large deep pot although ideal for ‘root-run’ would be overbearing, the decision was to opt for a shallow depth rectangular pot that would be in harmony with the tree creating a balanced composition.

If you have plants in training it matters not what containers you use; metal, wood, clay or plastic however, if the aim is to eventually use a ceramic pot especially for public display much thought and consideration is necessary in choosing the correct pot. It is not just the pot style and colour, other factors have to be taken into account for example, trunk height and thickness, canopy spread, tree style and attributes, Chinese Penjing (Penzai) or Japanese Zen Buddhist styles. Moreover, ceramics can be expensive especially if hand made make sure the decision you make is the correct one.

If you are familiar with article 56 ‘Bug apocalypse’ regarding the reduction of insect populations vital to our existence, we mentioned an upcoming 4 part series called ‘Unseen enemies’. In these articles we concentrate on the increasing problem of invading pests and disease devastating agriculture, horticulture, natural woodlands and forests across the globe. Until next time BW, Nik.

Article 60 – ‘Germination! – no guarantee’

Hi, welcome to Taiga Bonzai in this post albeit short, we discuss the subject of germination because there is no guarantee that it will occur due to various factors.

Introduction – germination is the process by which an organism grows from a seed, spore or similar structure. The seed of a plant a relatively small package (although there are exceptions) is produced in a strobilus, (cone) carpel (fruit) or legume (pod) after the union of male and female reproductive cells. However, it should be noted that not all unions are successful, hence the seed/s lack embryo/s and will never germinate. In addition, some plants produce varying numbers of seeds that lack embryos; these are also infertile. Fully developed mature seeds in most plant species carry food reserves wrapped in a seed coat that splits open when the embryo begins to germinate.

Seeds – from certain fruit and vegetables for example, pomegranate, citrus (lemon-mandarin) and chilli varieties obtained from the supermarket have the ability to germinate, but many others will not because they are immature, have no embryo and thus are sterile. Another factor concerning germination failure is because the fruit when picked was unripe, hence the seeds have not reached the maturity required for germination. With some apple varieties it is possible to grow a tree from seed, but it will be genetically different and usually inferior to the parent tree and any fruit produced will not be the same. Most apple trees are propagated by grafting allowing growers to produce trees that are genetically identical to one another.

In nature trees have particular ways of dispersing their seeds by the wind, by animals and birds that consume and dispense them through their digestive system. Such seeds released from the parent plant are in what is termed as a dormancy stage, and dormancy is a natural state of being in many plants, its function is to ensure that the seed will germinate at an appropriate time. However, seeds can remain in a dormant state and fail to germinate although conditions, temperature, water and light are in adequate supply.

Dormancy – why this phenomena occurs can be attributed to a seed’s morphological and physiological requirements, because seed dormancy is able to originate in different parts of the seed, for example, within the embryo or its coating – the shell or husk. Thus, dormancy can be deemed not as a constant, but as a variable because it is a common phenomenon encountered in a large variety of trees. To break dormancy and initiate germination, the process of stratification is needed and this method requires different techniques of which, there are various approaches depending on a particular species of seed.

Seeds having two dormancy combinations, a seed coat dormancy and an internal dormancy (embryo) require the seed coat or shell to be treated first either by soaking in water and/or scarification. The internal dormancy is then subjected to the following treatment. Cold to break bud dormancy then warm temperatures to initiate root growth and to encourage the shoot to sprout and complete the germination process. There are various methods of scarification and stratification, but the most common approaches are: Cold stratificationWarm stratification Warm and Cold stratification. The article on stratification and scarification can be found on this site ‘The stratification of seeds’ January 29th 2017

Some seeds including the pomegranate, Punica granatum the lemon and mandarin orange genus Citrus, a popular choice among bonsai enthusiasts can be stratified in a warm environment quite easily. Wash and dry the seeds to remove any fruit residue to prevent any attack from pathogens and fungal attack which, can cause the seed to rot. Then plant them in a propagator or sealed container with a moist soil medium and place in a warm environment temperature between 18-24°C. (65-75°F) You can use moist soft kitchen paper under and over the seeds as an alternative to to using soil.

Pomegranate 5 years from seed

Other common factors contributing to germination failure are: Old or unviable seeds – Unclean containers that may be contaminated with pathogens – wrong soil medium – wrong time of year – inadequate temperature – planted too deep – and insufficient water or over water. Why not have a go at growing plants from seed, it is a cheap and easy method in obtaining trees – an experimental learning curve; until next time BW, Nik.