The Juniper featured in this article was originally bought as a nursery tree, in early 1998. It was a fairly basic attempt at creating a bonsai and it was originally styled as a fairly typical informal upright bonsai. No pictures exist of the tree in its original state and this is probably a good thing. Needless to say, I didn't like the styling I had carried out and the tree was put to one side and out of sight for a few years!
In 2001 I decided to start the process of rebuilding the tree. The main problem with the tree was that (as is fairly typical) I had purchased poor material from a garden centre that wasn't particularly suitable for bonsai without considerable development. One of the biggest problems with my original styling was I had produced something with a long, untapered and featureless trunk that was much too tall for its girth (around 1"/2.5cm).
The tree is pictured here in 2001 after I restarted its development; I chopped the trunk to what had been its first branch. It was still too tall however and lacked any branches, the only foliage being at the top of the trunk and there was little (no) chance of prompting the tree to backbud and produce foliage lower down. How could I reduce the height of the tree and get some foliage around the main part of the trunk?
Having studied many images of Juniper bonsai that I admired and that appealed to me, I realised that the vast majority of them had branch structures and foliage 'built' from just one or two main branches. There was no need for me to try and produce a Juniper bonsai with perfect branches like those you might see on a 'perfect', classic(al) Pine bonsai.
Why not add some twists and turns to the top of the trunk to add some interest, and at the same time, place the foliage I already had where I wanted it?
And so I decided to place the foliage where it was actually needed.
As can be seen in this image from July 2002, by wiring the top branch downwards, the height of the tree was reduced making the trunk appear more powerful and I now had some usefully-placed foliage to develop into branches.
One obvious problem that still existed was that the base of the trunk was still very plain and boring with little character. To introduce some interest to the trunk, in July 2002 I started to create a shari (deadwood feature). Bark was removed in a spiraling path from one old branch stub to another. My plan was to slowly widen this new shari over time; much less stressful for the tree than creating a wide shari in one sitting.
By September of 2002, the tree had recovered its vigour after the initial work removing live bark, and I continued to develop the shari. Lime sulphur was applied to the deadwood to whiten it.
At this point, little work had been carried out on the foliage other than to occasionally pinch it out to increase its density.
Summer 2003: Further work was carried out on the shari. Unfortunately, the strip of live wood left in the middle of the shari died back by the end of the year; almost certainly because that particular area of live wood didn't support sufficient foliage to cause it to heal. It is a pity that it died back but these things happen and can always be worked around.
By the Summer 2004 the shari was well established. Further carving was carried out to add more interest and accentuate the movement in both the live and dead wood. By this time I had fully wired the tree to establish the branch structure and to create some foliage pads.
Oct 2005. The bonsai was repotted into a pot by Erin Pottery in the Spring and work on developing the foliage pads had continued. It is possible to see now that the original foliage had now been developed into several (sub) branches. The tree was really starting to look like a bonsai at last! Though the main part of the trunk was still only around 1" in diameter and still very straight, creation of spiraling deadwood had given an impression of movement and added plenty of interest. The height of the tree at this time was 14"/35cm.
December 2007. Over the previous two years the tree continued grow and I had maintained its basic foliage shape. However, as time went on, it became more and more obvious that the foliage was steadily becoming too heavy for what was such a delicate, feminine trunk.
So, I finally decided to restyle the tree, lightening the foliage mass considerably by turning all of the upper branches into jin and reducing the size of the remaining foliage pads. As is normal, I pruned back hard with the coming year's new growth in mind so that by the end of next year the foliage will still be in proportion to the design.
And while restyling the foliage, I also took the opportunity to further refine the deadwood and the shari running up the trunk.
Current height of the tree; 12"/30cm