Saturday, July 16, 2011

Street trees of Tokyo

It has been one-and-a-half years since my last trip to Japan, but I still feel compelled to blog about it. Not sure if it is a good sign, but I am going to do it anyway.

When in Japan, you don’t have to be a horticulturist to notice that they spend a lot more time looking after their street trees. Some of them just stop you dead in your tracks. The photo above on the left shows an old plum tree featuring large areas of exposed wood on its trunk. The photo above on the right shows a painstakingly manicured Black Pine outside a private gate. Even trees looked after by the local government are impressive. Below are a few examples. The photo on the left shows bamboo used as road side planting. I am not sure what species it is, but most of them are ‘runners’ or ‘clumpers’ and will involve a bit of maintenance to keep them as they are on this picture. The photo in the center shows a pine trained into a pleasing shape, which also allows the passage of street cables. The photo on the right shows a deciduous tree, which has been carefully pruned every year to maintain a compact crown in one of the busy streets of Tokyo.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Gate-shading pine - Mon Kaburi

When I was staying in Ueno, Tokyo last year, I went for a stroll to explore the surrounds and was blown away by the density of temples in the area. There was practically a temple every fifty meters. Later, I learned that this relatively small area boasts 92 temples. Many of them are small though. In one of them I saw the most amazing gate-shading pine (mon kaburi). One long branch of this three stretched all the way from the temple to the front gate (photo 1) while the other long branch stretched across the entire front side of the temple (photo 2). Old branches of the pine were covered with moss and the tree trunk was ancient.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Visit to Bonsai Farm, Melbourne

Last week, I visited ‘Bonsai Farm’ nursery in Melbourne and had the most delightful conversation with Lindsey Farr. We talked about vintage bonsai pots and about the future of international bonsai. I bought his ‘’World of Bonsai’’ DVD’s, which was the main reason for my visit. I saw some nice trees there and generally got a good vibe from the place.

I kept thinking about the future of bonsai on the flight home. What are the possible directions for new development? To me, bonsai is primarily a form of sculpture. The fact that it employs some of the most complex artistic media (live plants) is important as well because it restricts the subject of bonsai as artistic work. The subject of bonsai is always a plant. There are bonsai or penching which look like a dragons or Chinese characters, but they still have to look like plants. A bonsai artist is a sculptor who has no choice, but to make statures of trees and nothing else. Trees come in many forms, but this variety is finite. Chinese and Japanese artists exhausted all these forms in the last two thousand years. Masahiko Kimura made a successful attempt to incorporate elements of abstract art, but how far can you go down that road? Can we have a bonsai tree that doesn’t look like a plant? 

Moving away from traditional bonsai pot forms is another direction for the future. You can’t make your bonsai tree look like a ‘couch’, but you can make a ‘couch-shaped’ bonsai pot and your bonsai tree may look quite novel in it.Thinking further outside the box: combining bonsai with objects other than rocks and containers. Here is the food for thought, because these objects can be an exquisite art in themselves and they are not going to be restricted in their form by anything...

Monday, July 04, 2011

Demonstrations by Peter Adams, Sydney 2011

Last weekend, I attended a couple of bonsai demonstrations by Peter Adams from America. He is great at painting bonsai trees and sketching different design options for trees. He has an acute artistic sense and a refined taste for bonsai and bonsai pots. He is trained as a professional artist and his abilities would be rather common in the artistic circles. However, they are rather rare in the bonsai community and he takes full advantage of it. Below, are Peter’s drawings of three different design options for a particular tree.  

He can be a harsh critic of something when he speaks in generalities and at the same time hypocritically mellow in his opinions when it comes to specifics. For example, he would look at a mediocre tree and say it is wonderful not to offend the owner. I know that they call it good people skills, but it made some people in the audience think that mediocre trees are wonderful.

He had a career of growing bonsai, which allowed him to accumulate a wealth of horticultural knowledge. Sharing it with the audience was good learning.

The organisers of these demonstrations provided him with the world class bonsai material, however a tree with a tremendous potential is not always the best candidate for a spectacular demonstration. Therefore, there were no amazing transformations. Below, are the before and after pictures of the tree, which is the subject of the three design options drawings shown above.

Peter Adams also showed us some photos of his bonsai collection in the US and I was a bit disappointed. The trees were decent, but none of them had the ‘wow’ factor.

Overall, I did learn quite a few things and it was well worth it.

For a blog post about Peter Adams' demonstration in Sydney in 2009 go to: