Article 76 – ‘Design: a discussion’ Part 6

Hi, welcome to Taiga Bonzai in this article we return to the subject of design due to the response we have received from our followers. Design has meaning and message conceived in the mind of the artist regardless of the genre.

Introduction – to remind you of two opinions from bonsai masters Utsubo Monogatari and his written work ‘The Tale of the Hollow Tree‘, (circa 970) ‘where the tree’s beauty can only appear when shaped by the hand of man‘ and John Yoshio Naka “Don’t turn your tree into a bonsai, turn your bonsai into a tree.” A tree that resembles its wild counterpart, but times have changed, although traditionalists will predominantly adhere to the old ways modernists will opt for another path; we now look at some other examples of design. Sokan and Shakan

Sokan – known as twin trunk is quite common in nature but it is said not so much in bonsai design, the two trunks derive from one particular root method, where they trunks may split immediately above the roots, (nebari) or rise as one from the soil and then split after a few centimetres. The two trunks will each differ in diameter and height, the dominant trunk is relatively upright, whilst the secondary trunk will develop away from the main trunk which can be slightly slanted. Each trunk will develop their individual branches and foliage with each having a single crown or canopy.

Sokan or twin trunk example

Styling two trees into a single composition does require some consideration as both have to rise in close proximity from the nebari. Therefore, the nebari has to be exposed to show that the two trees are actually connected failure to do this renders the style incorrect. In addition, there should not be reverse taper where the two trunks split, branch selection is another factor in reducing any potential voids in the overall composition.

In this next image we see a Rowan/mountain ash Sorbus aucuparia in training, a large tree in the ‘Omono Dai‘ class (the first category for large bonsai trees 100 centimetres or 40 inches) and because of its height styling is a little more difficult to attain compared to trees of smaller sizes due to branch placement and amount of foliage produced. The right hand trunk is secondary to the left the (primary) yet both trunks are growing in close proximation curving to the left then taking a different path.

This tree collected in 2015 did not flower and fruit until 2021 and then only on the left hand trunk did this occur, (orange berries) hence it might prudent to refrain from pruning the right hand trunk’s branches to see if it will also flower and fruit. As the image shows there sufficient branches available that can be wired towards the centre to fill the void. This is a deciduous tree that will take a number of years to reach its potential.

Shakan – or slanting is a style having many designers in constant debate of where the design begins and ends as the case may be. According to the book of styles Shakan should be tall to show the trunk’s shape and movement, which may be slanting either right or left. The foliage should be minimal and would be in accordance to give the appearance of balance, stability and strength as would be found in nature. (shown in the following image)

Shakan or slanting example

However, some contend that the leaning style of a tree should grow at an angle of about 60 – 80 degrees relative to the ground, but if this is the case then not only has the Shakan style been completely changed from the original concept. It can be argued that it is not in keeping with the true Shakan style, so where is the dividing line if there is one. A tree’s shape (apart from the artist’s manipulation) is the result of element onslaught for example.

A tree subjected to wind blowing from a constant direction will be bent low to the ground, but much depends on the wind’s severity and strength described in article 69 ‘Design: a discussion’ part 1, this style is classed as Fukinagashi, (windswept) it is not Shakan. Take a look at the image below, the tree is quite remarkable considering it is a ceramic product listed on the website of ‘Dragon Art Studios’ – Poland under the title Sztuczne drzewko bonsai Sosna wykonanw W stylu ‘shakan’.

What is it’s design? – The trunk although slanting left is straight with what can be determined as a ‘live’ vein starting at the base, curling upwards presumably around the trunk (light brown on dark brown) then bending down and slightly back descending into the foliage. Looking through the catalogue of styles this design has Myoggi (informal upright) traits but this is ruled out due to foliage characteristics, the only other style that could be applicable is Han kengai (semi cascade) as the foliage descends below the rim of the pot, but this is also ruled out because of the straightness, height and length of the trunk.

At this juncture all we can say is that it is a remarkable creation in a design all of its own that attempts to mimic the art of bonsai culture, what it is is yet to be determined but it is certainly not in the Shakan style. Bonsai design is constantly changing as we have stated previously, traditionalists are adhering to the ways of the old masters whilst modernists progress along their own path.

But if these new styles are accepted how can they be categorised and who has the mandate to assume such responsibility, one cannot change the historical art and horticultural practices that have been in existence for over 6 centuries; we leave you to ponder on this. Until next time, BW, Nik.

Article 57 – ‘The wait is over’

This article is an update on a twin trunk Sorbus aucuparia rescued from an area of wasteland being prepared for development in early spring of 2015. The folklore and scientific information on the species can be found on this site Sorbus aucuparia (Rowan or Mountain ash) October 11, 2017′ but for those whom require a brief update please continue reading.

When the plant was collected its height was in excess of 2 metres and thus had to be reduced, as the fronded-like leaves are quite large it was decided that, the plant would be suitable for the ‘Omono Dai‘ class (the first category for large bonsai trees 100 centimetres or 40 inches. 70% of the root ball was removed and the foliage was reduced to maintain a balance between the nutrients to the leaves and roots respectively. The plant was placed in a wooden box in a standard soil mix with slow release fertiliser pellets and moved a semi shade area to recover.

In the spring of 2016 it was needed to reduce both trunk’s height due to the large amount of buds that had formed, (red broken circles) hence the cuts were made from the back of the tree at an angle to hide them, these were covered with petroleum jelly (vaseline) a) to allow for moisture run off and b) to prevent possible infection from pathogens. (The visible rubber coated block of wood was placed there to keep both trunks separated, this was later replaced with a specially designed expansion clamp the article for this subject is also found here; Expansion clamp design and construction – May 15, 2019)

S. aucuparia mid summer 2016

In spring 2017 the tree was replanted in a large modified plastic container and pruned to encourage foliage growth with the hope that leaf size reduction would occur as shown below.

S. aucuparia mid summer 2017

As the yellow arrows show there has been a slight reduction in leaf size however, the plant did not produce any flowers nor did it in 2018, 2019 and 2020, probably due to the constant hard pruning it has received, which has set it back somewhat.

S. aucuparia mid summer 2021

In May of this year there were cold spells with bouts of snow, hence growth has been retarded, this is the same plant in June of 2021 – leaf size has been significantly reduced and it has finally flowered top left.

S. aucuparia in bloom June 2021

As stated the growth rate has been retarded nevertheless, it is possible that flowers on this plant will be produced on the right of the two trunks, but we will have to wait until 2022 as it is too late for this season. It is now 2nd week of August and the fruit have turned orange, but we still have to be patient because they may turn red which is a useful factor in deciding on what colour of ceramic pot will do the tree justice.

S. aucuparia August 2021

Choosing the pot – In studying this twin trunk (Sokan) we see that the design is arguably reminiscent of a dancing couple (male on the left – female on the right) in graceful movement. The bark is grey, foliage is light green flowers are white and berries at this juncture are orange, this suggests that the whole combination has a light tone to the overall composition; therefore, in keeping with this theme the intended pot should reflect these factors.

According to the bonsai guide lines the tree is the picture and the pot is the frame, strong dark colours would be overpowering disrupting the overall composition of tree and pot as would an unglazed pot. Hence the decision was to go for glazed neutral white. As to the pot shape we looked at round bowls and ovals but, these taking into consideration the height of the tree would not look correct therefore, the last option was a rectangular pot.

In addition, pot depth was/is another important factor to consider, bonsai pots are classed as masculine, feminine and neutral; this twin trunk is considered to be neutral. A large deep pot although ideal for ‘root-run’ would be overbearing for this S. aucuparia, the decision was/is to opt for a shallow depth rectangular pot that would be in harmony with the tree creating a balanced composition.

Dimensions 40x28x7,5 cm

Obviously the tree has to undergo more training, pruning and wiring which, takes time. A living organism such as this plant has many changes in its yearly cycle of growth, changes that cannot be disrupted we can only go with the flow as said before patience is a virtue. Nonetheless, we believe it has bonsai potential, but time will tell. Until next time BW, Nik.