The ‘Muscolino’ juniper.
Story of a Juniperus formosana grafted with Juniperus chinensis var.Itoigawa.
The story of this formosana juniper, commonly known as “Taiwanese”, begins in 2006 when it became part of my collection.
The plant has excellent vegetation, green and vigorous. However, the feature that caught my attention right from the very beginning was the dead part and in particular the long woody appendage on the right which spirals out.
Unfortunately the wood shows clear signs of decay. Many of the wood fibres are spongy and without consistency. Even with the use of resins to consolidate it, it would have remained a wood with a porous appearance that would have given the feeling of a temporary, non-durable wood. The only thing left to do is to be patient and clean it. As always, I prefer to use hand tools, avoiding cutters and power tools. Using gouges and chisels, all the weak wood is removed until the wood fibre is firm and compact. It is important to always work moving the tools in the same direction as the fibres in order to respect and highlight the natural movement of the wood.
When working with dry wood we must always aim to avoid artificial work.
The winter of 2006 arrived and I proceeded with the first styling and shaping activities.
From the pictures you can see that the vegetation grows away from the trunk, at the top of a fairly large branch that without movement stretches to the left.
Circled in red in the photo you can see the rigidity of this section. Looking for a way to bring the crown closer to the trunk, it is clear that the solution is to be found in the bend of this branch.
As we know, every branch offers resistance to bending. Young, fine branches bend easily, whereas very old branches are much more difficult to modify.
In this case, the total removal of the dry wood from the branch would lead to a reduction in its strength and the possibility of bending it more easily.
If this lightening is not enough, we can further empty the branch until it has sufficient “movement degree”! In such cases it is important to remove excess material in order to make the branch evenly elastic. If we remove too much wood at one point, when we go to bend, it will be at that point (a weak point) that the bend will be concentrated (increasing the risks of the bend).
The emptied branch will then be filled with raffia and copper wire. It will then be vented and further protected with an inner tube. The application of the wire concludes the preparatory phase for the main bend.
It is important and useful to try to rotate the branch while bending. In doing so it is important to rotate in the same direction as we applied the raffia, inner tube and wire. In doing so, the more we bend and rotate, the more the protections will tighten around the branch offering more protection against damage or breakage.
In this case the bend was about 90 degrees.
In September 2008, on the occasion of the Giareda exhibition in Reggio Emilia, I proceeded with the second work.
No important folds are foreseen, even if I will have to compact the branching to tighten the foliage on the trunk.
Here is the before and after of this work.
In March 2009, I carried out the first repotting.
The root ball was carefully cleaned up, eliminating most of the existing clayey soil with a stick. It is a slow and delicate work that I finish with the use of a water jet to wash the roots.
The soil used is a mixture of pumice, akadama and kiriu.
Before removing the old pot I always mark the front precisely using wooden or copper sticks. These will be very useful later on for accurately positioning the front and the angle of the plant.
The juniper a few months after repotting.
Meanwhile, as time passes, the restored wood dries and ages. New fractures in the wood highlight its movement, its rotation. In this case, the importance of having worked the wood by following its fibres and course becomes clear.
Unfortunately, the cultivation of Taiwanese juniper involves many problems. The best known is certainly the difficulty in maintaining the scaled vegetation, which very easily turns into a needle. This difficulty is particularly evident when dealing with small plants.
This leads to a “chronic” impossibility of obtaining a defined and lasting foliage.
The needle-shaped vegetation, due to its structure, will also be difficult to give the feeling of softness of the foliage that we look for in junipers.
It was with this focus in mind that I decided to graft the branches in 2014. For the change of habit I choose the juniperus chinensis var. Itoigawa, which has characteristics that are known to all.
With the use of four plants I try to make as many grafts as possible.
Grafting can almost always be done in an approximate manner, but there is no doubt that the best period is spring.
With time the branches of the two junipers weld together. This is the first step towards success.
Once they have taken root we need to separate the itoigawa branches from the original plant.
To make this easier, I start by weakening the attachment by wrapping a wire around the branch until it is permanently “choked”.
As the new vegetation grows, I gradually remove the remaining parts of the Taiwanese juniper. In this way the change of clothes is gradual and not traumatic.
Once the Taiwanese vegetation has been completely removed, the itoigawa is also cut and finally separated.
At this point (we are in 2016) all that remains is to grow the juniper to increase the vigour and volume of the vegetation. To do this, I grow the plant in a very large pot so that it can grow faster.
In 2018, the plant returns to a bonsai pot. From now on, the aim will be to thicken and divide the branching. Scissors will be used to shorten the branches and replace the apices. What is done on deciduous trees is also normally done on conifers!
With 2019 comes the time for the first shaping after grafting the new vegetation.
With the use of guy wires and a wire I open up fan-shaped the branching. I am not interested in creating a precise and detailed silhouette. For this time I just need to find the shape and size of the foliage, allowing air and light to pass through it.
Here is the before/after
2020 is the right time for the second work. Once the openings of the previous work have been established and the foliage has been thickened, this will be the opportunity to give a definitive and detailed line to this juniper.
Here it is after shaping
Finally, the bonsai presents itself with a detailed foliage in proportion to the trunk.
An analysis of the work shows a further refinement and lightening of the dry wood. The improvements are dictated in each case by the indications suggested directly by the tree: new cracks in the wood are, for example, important indications of the natural evolution that the particular wood will have in the future. It is up to us, with our work, to make the wood age, which would otherwise take decades.
The foliage, on the other hand, tends to push slightly to the left, optically compensating for the strong presence of dry wood on the right. The first branch is decidedly detached from the foliage above, while the right-hand side, shorter and more compact, caresses and frames the trunk and the dry wood. This vegetation contributes greatly to the depth of the foliage.
Finally, the slightly rounded apex closes the plant together with the two small tenjins.
When laying out the branches, it is important to clean the profiles of the stakes so as to accurately draw not only the foliage but also the spacing between them.
The plant seen from the back
Right and left side
And finally the name: Muscolino!
Muscolino in Italian is kind-a Little Hercules!
That trunk bent at an acute angle looks just like a man’s arm showing off its small, toned muscles! 💪
Some details of the bonsai
And at the end there’s the group photo!!!