This Juniper is with me since 2009, the very same year I joined the team Franchi Bonsai in Pescia (Pt).
The photo shows the juniper a few years before my arrival.
From the beginning, it was my duty to take care of the trees in the Museum and soon I was mesmerized by this specimen of Juniperus Chinensis. The massive growth of the last few years had narrowed down the possibility for the light to penetrate the inner vegetation, resulting in a weakening.
Here is the tree, in 2009, before being worked on.
The first thing to be done is a good cleaning and thinning of the vegetation, using the wire only to open up the branches and let air and light enter the canopy. Once the work was done, the bonsai highlighted a beautiful trunk with two swollen lymphatic veins that, going up along the trunk, come together in the highest part only.
The colour of the vegetation is a deep green, a clear indicator of a strong and healthy foliage. The first branch only is unfortunately weaker due to a previous parasite attack that has already been eradicated. With the thinning and the opening of the branching I expect to recover vigour in this area too.
The juniper after the first styling:
After two years, the time has come for more specific and detailed shaping. During this time, the juniper has grown a lot and, as a result, has lost its definition. The work will not be limited to cleaning and opening, but to a thorough reshaping.
Working in a museum where there are unique specimens, I am not used to “renovate” bonsai too much, as the plants on display must be beautiful and showcased all year round and now have their own personality and individuality. I always try to enhance what is already there without overly transforming the existing form.
In this case, too, I will not question the front or the inclination and will try to follow the plant’s current habit.
The most demanding task will be to give an elegant outline to a tree whose most significant feature is grace and delicacy. With this in mind, I will not have to create a compact foliage, but will have to “play” with the spacing between the branches in order to make the foliage consistent with the nature of the juniper.
After a thorough cleaning of the bark and vegetation, I will then proceed with the application of lime solphur (the traditional bonsai Jin whitener & deadwood preserver) and the subsequent application of the wire to all the twigs.
All that remains is to proceed to their positioning and the successive cleaning of the pad’s lower profiles.
Here is the final result:
Some details of the branching
The juniper in 2012
Unfortunately, in the following years the bonsai had a major setback. Due to a root problem, the juniper gradually lost vigour especially on the right side, leading to the loss of the first branch and other important branches on the same side.
Nevertheless, I always felt connected to this juniper so I decided to buy it despite its deteriorating health. A risk which I took, albeit not completely worry-free.
So, the juniper arrived in my garden in 2017.
I had already done some initial work on the root ball by simply repotting it in a larger pot without thoroughly cleaning the roots.
The juniper in 2018
The foliage was still very unbalanced with areas that were noticeably weakened while others were healthy.
The weak parts would first turn yellow and then lose colour and texture, especially in March-April. I have always attributed this to a problem of asphyxia or root rot and a subsequent pathogen attack. It is quite difficult to eradicate the problem, but obviously the first step is to solve the root problem by repotting and replacing the soil, which is obviously too compact and asphyxiated.
At the same time, the plant should also be treated with a systemic fungicide.
As you can see, the vegetation is weakening to the extent that the small branches are dying off.
Meantime, the healthy parts keep growing undisturbed.
After re-potting, a periodic application of systemic fungicides and a cultivation schedule aimed at supporting the plant’s growth, the juniper looked like this in December 2020:
Weak areas are now almost nonexistent while long and vigorous vegetation can be seen on most of the foliage. In this period of recovery, nitrogen is not the main element, elongation is not our aim, but recovery and balance in the vital functions of the plant itself. You won’t get the same result simply by flooding the tree with nitrogen. Rather, it is the use of soil conditioners (e.g humic acids or algae extracts or other bio-stimulants) which enable the tree to safely recover. Afterwards, you would to support the growth with a fertiliser.
Branches that have been lost have been turned into jin. Their presence is necessary to remind us of the past and the history of this tree.
The foliage now seems to have regained its original vigour. The tips of the branches are lengthening significantly as a result of growth. This is a sign that the plant has fully recovered.
Here we are finally ready, after 10 years, to respectfully return to this juniper with scissors and copper wire.
This time, however, I can’t just rearrange the vegetation according to the initial shape. Definitely, the losses of these years make a new interpretation an absolute necessity. The death of the first branch and other branches has obviously changed the personality of the plant. Since it is not possible to re-establish the previous form, a new design is necessary.
After a thorough study, I change the front slightly, choosing one that is slightly more to the left than the previous one. In this manner I have a more intriguing movement of the two living veins. In addition, the first branch on the left touches the trunk in a more attractive way.
I also decide to tilt it more to the left. The idea is to make a bonsai not so strongly pointing to the right, but more balanced. The feeling should be of a very tall and slender tree with an elegant attitude.
This is the project I would like to create:
…. this is what, eventually, I managed to achieve:
Apart from a few minor differences with the project, I managed to create what I had in my head.
The big branch on the left has been splitted into two vegetative pads: the first one (the one created with the frontmost branches) is shielded with some rubber and positioned on the bottom right. This branch could eventually be eliminated. indeed, if we picture the bonsai without it, we can see how it aesthetically remains the same. I decide to use it in an attempt to make the composition unique by inserting a branch that does not normally grow in the correct position (this branch in fact crosses the trunk at the front).
The other part of the branch instead is used to create all the vegetative mass on the left and on the back; the alternation of the branching will have to create always different spacing between the branches so to avoid repetition. Finally, the apex turns towards the left in order to balance the whole composition:
Some details of the foliage
In order to open up the vegetation, I also made use of an iron rod hidden at the back.
To bend the branches, I make abundant use of guy wire. Convenient, effective and invisible, they avoid the use of overly thick wires and also reduce the risk of cutting into the bark.
Finally, I must thank those who have accompanied me in many of my work for many years: Giacomo and Andrea.
Making bonsai is already a great thing in itself, and if it is done with true friends, it is even better! Consider that: I worked non-stop from 10 a.m. until 2 a.m.: 16 hours straight where I didn’t feel an ounce of fatigue, taken as I was by the pleasure of bonsai and by the serene and easy-going company of two dear friends.
This is the bonsai I love!
Giacomo at work
Andrea during the wiring:
It’s late! It’s 2 o’clock in the morning. Andrea’s and my smiles say everything about our happiness and satisfaction.