When I started in bonsai one of my first teachers was Tim Kong. Tim is a nice guy, and crazy about collecting both in the urban environment and in the coastal mountains. He never had much interest in the high mountain trees. His passion could have centered around redwood trees; he had many others but always seemed most excited by redwoods.
I went collecting myself early in my bonsai career and dug out three small and a large redwood. But, for one reason or another, I sold all of them to other people. I think mostly because when you are collecting redwoods you don’t really know what you’re getting until you’ve dug it almost all the way out. The interesting parts of the trees are usually below the soil line.
Bob and Zack Shimon of Mendocino Coast Bonsai live up along the north coast and collect off of private land where other people can’t get permission. Their business is a pretty amazing service to the bonsai community. I decided to pick up this redwood from them while visiting the 2014 REBS show. Their material is always very healthy and they keep the branches from getting too long and stiff while they’re keeping the trees as stock. That means that when you buy one it’s ripe for styling with many good shoots to choose from.
A few shots of the tree after I bought it. It was clear to me from the beginning that I was going to have a hard time choosing between the two possible fronts on this tree.
In contrast to species like Juniper and pine, the challenge in Redwoods is to contain the runaway speed of the new growth. The styling therefore needs to be on the tight side so that the tips that emerge later can be fresh looking but not be out of the desired silhouette. I have to admit I took a bit of inspiration from Ryan Neil’s new website when thinking about how to style this tree. His styled junipers are tight to the deadwood and highly dynamic in the contrast between the deadwood and the movement in the branching.
To start the styling I carved out the only large cut on the tree, first using a drill and then following up with a rotary carving tool. For me carving on trees is a process, just like growing the crown. Allowing the wood to age a bit between sessions often provides some additional ideas for how to proceed.
And the result of the initial styling in a few photos.
The styling feels nice and tight to me at the moment. That will give it a bit of room to grow some fresh tips on the new structure for show purposes.