GEORGE McLEAN'S TOP & BOTTOM DRAGON!

               In several ways, George is breaking new ground.  He has extremely high standards as can be seen from his first article posted at www.fukubonsai.com/1a6t.html   He did a nice job, but when there was a hint it could be improved, he redid it again,  . . . again, . . . and again!   So knowing this,  I sent him some ideas and recommendations, he prepared and did a practice run, and sailed right through in one of the harder Intermediate Workshops.  "Top & Bottom Dragons" are amongst the current areas of research and we don't have a lot of documentation on our website.  So I asked George to take a lot of photos for his report which follows:

INTERMEDIATE WORKSHOP TO
CREATE A TOP & BOTTOM DRAGON
By George McLean (Assisted by Celeste McLean)
Kalispell, Montana

               WORKSHOP DESCRIPTION: The tree from Fuku-Bonsai arrived in excellent shape-- a very healthy "dragon" with a dramatic curve of the lower trunk, healthy roots, and excellent low branch structure. It was not hard to decide what would become the "front" of the tree, which has a leftward lean of the trunk and then a dramatic bend to the right. But I had never done a "dragon-roots" before and David Fukumoto informed me that this was the first time he had attempted to teach this project and that there was nothing on the internet about it.

             That made me a bit nervous, so I decided I needed to do a "dry run" to gain some familiarity working with a foil column. But what plant would be suitable? Finally, the choice was obvious:  corn!  It had a good compact  shallow root ball and the roots at this stage of growth would be about the same size as my tree. So I harvested a small stalk from our garden and did the whole workshop using some old pumice and pine bark as soil and a 7" round drip tray as a pot. All went quite well, although I didn't practice bending the column, leaving it straight in a "Mayan formal upright" style.

   
 

           Then it was time to start the real deal: the"dragon-roots" creation. I assembled the necessary materials: tree, soil media (body media, coarse mix, and top dressing), root hook, sphagnum moss, three 6 inch long 2mm aluminum bonsai wires, paper covered tie wires, 8 inch pot with plastic tie-downs in place,  one inch masking tape, a 1/2" by 6" foil strip made by folding a 12" strip in half, then repeatedly folding it the other way to thicken, and an 8" by 12" sheet of aluminum foil which would become the column. The top of this was folded over 1/4". This would become the funnel for watering--and then accordion folds were made every 1/2 " to create a column about 7 1/2" tall to facilitate a planned root extension of 6" or so.

          Both strip and column were made ahead of time to minimize the time the roots were exposed to the outside world. The pot was prepared by attaching ties and creating a small hill of media and covering this with the separator. More mix was then added.

         The chosen "front" of tree, showing dramatic dynamic curve of trunk and well-developed branches. Lots of potential here!  The somewhat root-bound tree removed from pot. One has to be patient and careful when untangling this mass of nice roots, especially with the fine hair-like ones which are doing  the work to feed the plant.

        (Note by David:  The intermediate "Hawaiian Dragon" workshop uses a 4LL8-D potted bonsai that is 3-5 years in training in a 5"x3"x2" pot to go into a #8 Conversion Kit that includes a 8"diameter x 2" pot, coarse bottom,  body media, and top dressing, and some Nutrient Granules.  Those participating in the study group receive choice prepared stock, individual assistance, and complimentary items that in this case included some bindwire and sphagnum moss.) 

.

          I then began by cutting tie wires and removing the plant from pot. Working from outside in, I gently disentangling roots with a root hook. The photo show the old plastic separator and after its removal, I was careful not to traumatize the fine hair roots and left some media attached to them. The finer roots were intermittently sprayed with water. The untangled roots were then coaxed into pointing downwards, using the hook. The aluminum strip was wrapped around the upper part of the root ball and tied firmly with paper-covered wire around the aluminum band (wire will eventually rot out). Tree was set aside and roots protected with wet sphagnum moss.

 

         The bare-rooted tree. Important in dry climates like mine to spray frequently to prevent drying. I also employ damp sphagnum moss wrapped around root ball for same purpose.

 

          The tree wrapped with the aluminum band and paper-covered wire to coax major roots in a downward direction. We want roots to grow this way since a major goal of the project is to extend the roots.

         (Note by David:  The concept of a "Hawaiian Dragon" is the creation of a "Thin & Tall" in which the "head" is the "top dragon" and the "body" is created by blending and extending the roots that can be gently or dramatically twisted!  Dragons are fun bonsai requiring imagination and smiling while creating!)
        The tree on its side resting on the aluminum foil collar that had pre-folded "accordion" folds.  A little moss was placed 1" down from top of foil, and some media sprinkled across the foil. Tree was then placed with the aluminum strip about 1" below the top of foil and pressed down a bit into foil.

        Foil was then gathered up on both sides to create a column, with more overlap at the bottom--about 3/4"---than the top (1/4"), so that top will be narrower than bottom. Media was brought into contact with the roots during this maneuver. Top was squeezed together to prevent any spillage of media, and reinforced with masking tape.

         Three aluminum wires were taped at intervals around the column to provide strength and support.  It's important to tightly compress the top of foil column so that when the tree is later inverted no media will fall out.

 

       The plant was then turned upside down and roots were teased out to outer edges of foil, and a 50:50 mix of body media/coarse bottom was placed centrally, forcing roots to outside, and the column loosely filled.

        The foil column filled with a 50:50 mix of body media and coarse bottom to the top. A plastic card was placed over the bottom and the tree was positioned  over the pot, turned upright, and the card removed.

 

       Then it was time for bending and twisting. If you Google "Chinese Dragon images" you will see that the average benevolent dragon has a series of "S-curves," commonly 4 or 5 --- one for the neck, the torso, the hindquarters, and 1 or 2 for the tail. My tree already had a beautiful curve for the neck, so I decided to add another curve representing the torso.

       This curve followed from the natural line of the roots and added a dynamic element to the design. At some point in the future it might be possible to add another curve, but I think we'll forget the tail! 

        The column is slanted quite a bit to the left --- this gave a more pleasing appearance to the tree.  So the base of the column was placed on a hill of media on the right side of the pot to balance the design. The column was squeezed to firm up the media inside.

         The tree after "bend and twist." Column base placed on right side of pot to give balance to the design.   Otherwise the tree will appear prone to toppling over. The dragon---depending on your interpretation-- now has a "belly."

         The column was then secured with the tie-downs and tape and the whole ensemble could be lifted by the tree.

          1/8" size holes were poked at 1" intervals in the column to allow aeration, 40% of (mostly old) leaves were pruned off, and tree was watered from above, and by immersion for 1 hour.

 

       On "monkey pole" after the improvised tie-down. The top of the foil has been flared out to facilitate watering. Also make sure no moss appears above the top, otherwise rather than holding moisture it may act as a wick and promote drying.  Removing some of the older leaves will reduce demand to off-set the modest loss of root hairs and help the tree to recover.

 

         Watering from above and below: the latter by soaking for 1 hour in water almost to the rim of the pot. With an extension this long (6 inches), water from above also very important.  The tree will be kept outside as long as nighttime temperatures exceed 50 F, in filtered sunlight, protected from wind.

 

  

 

          Wife and I flashing the Hawaiian "hang-loose" (shaka) with finished creation. For now the main goal will be to keep the dragon happy and healthy. Many thanks to my wife for her assistance in some of the final manipulations and with many of the photos.  Hope you like the project!

        Aloha!  George

SOME FINAL COMMENTS BY DAVID

         Mahalo George and Celeste for the fine article!  George really does his homework and was very well prepared to execute this right through the first time out!  It would have been a pain to redo!  When you get into intermediate and advanced workshops,  it really pays to prepare properly.  There is a truism in bonsai that it's really simple to create high quality bonsai --- JUST GET HIGH QUALITY POTENTIAL BONSAI STOCK THAT WILL INSPIRE YOU TO DEVELOP HIGH QUALITY IDEAS AND STANDARDS.  Then plan, prepare and execute! 

        It bothers me when I see outstanding stock cranked into ordinary bonsai by someone who doesn't bother to study the trees or recognize the quality of the material.  Some think bonsai is a race and they very quickly can ruin high quality bonsai stock that took many years to create. 

        George represents a new breed of True Indoor Bonsai trainers.  He has experience with traditional outdoor bonsai but hadn't really gone into challenging activity.  His first Introductory Workshop Package was almost too easy until he realized the higher standards that are possible.  He took it upon himself to raise the bar with three redos! 

        But on this second workshop, one he did it right and it was a joy to observe.  George was introduced by contributing editor Jerry Meislik and the two of them shared a visit by fellow Montana study group members Ron and Pam Davis of Bozeman.  Russ Mann of Polson wasn't able to be there but it's going to be interesting when the four Montana bonsai families can get together!  Congratulations with all best wishes for a great future!  ~~~David

*** Return to the July issue of Journal of Tropical & True Indoor Bonsai
*** Go to the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation website
*** Go to the Fuku-Bonsai website
Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation and Fuku-Bonsai, 2013