Looking at the original images of this Field Elm (Ulmus minor), taken just after I bought it in the Summer of 2005, it is hard to understand what potential I saw to inspire me purchase it in the first place!
The mistake I made with this tree was that the soil level was originally higher when I found it at a bonsai nursery. The soil covered the base and the nebari (surface roots) and the tree looked as though it had great potential as a raft-planting. (Where the branches of a fallen trunk continue to grow and become trunks/trees in their own right).
As can be seen in the images below, when I bought the tree home and the surface soil was removed, the actual nebari were much lower than I had anticipated. I had made a pretty basic mistake........... always try to check the position and condition of the nebari before buying a tree!
Together with the awkward positioning of an even number (6) of trunks, this wasn't the best purchase I have made!
August 2005: Designing and styling this tree started with establishing its basic structure, the trunks and their positions relative to each other. As with group plantings, connected-root/raft/clump form bonsai always look better with an odd number of trunks. This raft had 6, so one had to go. After some thought I decided to remove one of the smallest trunks (the furthest to the left above).
Having established the primary trunk (on the far right) in my mind, I realised that the secondary trunk (middle trunk) was growing at a very awkward angle; backwards, away from the viewer.
So the secondary trunk leant backwards too far and grew at a poor angle compared to the other 4 trunks in the raft. However, the trunk was too thick to manipulate into a more upright position by wire alone. This meant it was necessary to notch the trunk with a saw so it would be easier to reposition.
A sharp, large toothed saw was used to make a 'v'-shaped notch so that when the trunk was pulled upright, both edges of the notch would meet and eventually heal together. The notch has to be deep to enable the wood to be bent; often it is necessary to cut over 2/3 of the way through the wood before movement is possible.
The trunk was pulled upright and held into position with a guy wire. By late Spring of 2006 (8 months later) the wound had healed well enough for me to remove the guy wire. The trunk stays in its new position to the present day.
February 2006: Early Spring and it was time to bare-root the tree to remove all of the old organic soil. The tree was badly rootbound and it took the best part of an afternoon to carefully untangle the rootball and remove the old peat and ground soil that was found within it. Removing the old compacted organic soil, rootpruning and repotting with a fresh inorganic soil ensures that the rootball will be healthy and reinvigorates the tree for faster development and healthy growth.
As can be seen, the nebari is actually quite good; it is just a great pity that the trunk immediately above it looks so awkward.
Spring and Summer 2006: Though the appearance of the tree had improved in a very short period of time, my heart wasn't in it anymore.
I felt that the only way to improve the tree would require work that make the tree look pretty ugly for two to three years. With so many other trees in development in my collection already, I decided I didn't want to take this on as a long term project. So in late Spring I thought I'd see if someone else wanted to develop the tree as it was and put it up for sale.
Throughout Spring, Summer and Autumn, there was no interest in the tree and it remained unsold. So, when the leaves dropped in early November I decided to take the tree off the market and invest some more time in developing it for myself. OK, it looked a little strange, but surely there was something that could be done to improve it? The question was what?
I decided to turn the whole bonsai 3°-4° anti-clockwise so that the awkward left hand side of the base could rest along the soil surface. This section still lacks any nebari and this will need to be grafted in the future or possibly created by layering that part of the trunk. However, despite this 'fault', this angle, with the left hand side of the base 'grounded', seemed to be far more appropriate for the tree and I proceeded to rewire the the branches into new positions.
While I was happy to wire this tree in late Autumn as the UK has relatively mild winters, bending the very straight trunk in the centre of the raft would produce cracks that might be at risk from frost damage, so this last job was left until Spring 2007.
Spring 2007: the elm raft was repotted into a shallow rectangle made by Erin Pottery and that straight middle trunk was wired. While I was happy with the position of this trunk relative to its neighbours, some subtle movement was required.
The 1"+ trunk was difficult to bend; eventually with the use of a branch bender and 4 lengths of 4mm wire I was able to put a very long and shallow 's' bend into it whilst not actually changing the angle it grow from the base.
What was previously a pretty awkward-looking tree has finally come alive as a bonsai with just the help of a slight repositioning!
Current Height: 20"/49cm