Camellia Restyle

This and some other upcoming posts will not be the article-length variety that I sometimes write.  Free time is shorter than ever with a trip back to Japan for November and December coming up.  I’d stay a lot longer but the wonderful folks in charge of the Bonsai Societies of Florida have asked me to do their marathon tour next January.  I’ll be back in America for most of the 2014 but an extended trip back to Japan next Fall / Winter is likely.  Perhaps a full year or so.  On to the camellia.  I included a photo of this in a previous post and Wayne over at Bonsai Bark wrote a nice post about me and asked about it.  Thought it would be nice to highlight not only what I did, but why.

DSC_1046The Camellia japonica above was acquired last October from a long-term client (part of the Taimadera Crew I’ve mentioned before) from Nara who has become more interested in medium to smaller size bonsai as he ages.  While not AARP ready yet, I tend to gravitate to medium size bonsai in part to save me from further back injuries.  Speaking of which, this tree was living on the roof of his house for a very long time; perhaps long enough to grow a few container sizes as the doorway into the house – yes the house – was not as wide as the canopy.
DSC_0462  Some collections reside in the most inconvenient places.  This man decided to sell us about 15 bonsai plus some expensive containers and it was my job to carry them through a tiny doorway, down three flghts of stairs (all steep) cross rooms, bow to wife / apologize, put on shoes, and carry to van outside.  Not fun.  Many trips involved carrying the trees sideways so fertilzer cakes and old foliage got everywhere. The lot was loaded and we drove back to Osaka.  Saw this on the way home.  So true……DSC_0471

DSC_1204Didn’t get a chance to take pics of trunk before scrubbing.  Best to use nylon brushes of various ages and sizes. Older brushes (like this white one) are safer to use on sensitive species like Camellia, Satsuki, and Enkianthus campanulatus.  They have a window of error for scrubbing to clean them.  Light work will clean them up.  Too many brush strokes and you’ll notice parallel lines in the bark that are a lighter shade.  Way too much and you start seeing vascular cambium. 

DSC_1050 My scrubbing started after unloading.  This old wound was covered with cut paste then athletic tape to keep it from falling off.  In this area, I used a new dark green bristle brush.  While washing off the tree, my marching orders were given.  As is often the case, Fujikawa-san not only had a client in mind for the camellia, but knew their taste in style as well.  He said “this tree will sell to a Taiwanese client at the Taikan-ten”  followed shortly by “make it look cool for him and don’t cut off many flowers”.  Having kept up with the client in question’s purchases over the last few years, I went to work.


Aluminum wire was used to clean up the  outer silhouette and bring all the flowers possible into this new outer canopy with bud orientation completely uniform at about 30 degrees up.  Visual weight of a given tier was important to keep uniform.



DSC_0995 Not only the re-orientation of the branches helped, but also removal of any leaves that pointed at strange angles after compaction of canopy in certain places.

DSC_1179  For those playing at home, you may wonder how that line on the lower right got so sharp when the initial lower canopy was so uniform?  The answer is branch removal.  My teacher has said time and again that branch selection for removal on more refined trees is one of the hardest things to do.  In this case, I wanted to give the first major bend in the trunk more power and keep the viewer’s eye heading due up and to the right.



The rest was just a matter of consolidating pads and leaving room for flowers to open between tiers.  I was quite happy with the final tree given that I could not cut any branches back hard and lose the season’s flowers.


DSC_1046 AfterDSC_1177


Tree sold during Taikan-ten set-up about 30 minutes of time outside truck to a – surprise – Taiwanese client.  I’m in the process of getting a nice camellia bonsai article written which will likely appear in International Bonsai.  Keep an eye out for it and if you don’t subscribe to Bill’s magazine, you should.


Thanks for reading.