Theme styling: "CONTRARIAN"
Just as people are unique individuals, trees are also often unique. Develop a training strategy to create a celebration of the distinctive feature. Repeat it in several variations and it will become a true individual. "Contrarian" is a Japanese Garden Juniper (Juniperous procumbens). In Hawaii, this crawling juniper is often allowed to grow around the edges of a small pond. It's often trained as an upright bonsai as the naturally spreading branches are easily maintained. This plant was one of our last batch of juniper cuttings rooted about 1976. Because we decided to specialize in True Indoor Bonsai, we destroyed or gave away most of our inventory of junipers. The best or the unusual ones were retained for bonsai experimental training. This is one of the unusual ones.
Contrarian was extra thin. It had been in a 4" nursery pot on a tightly filled bench. We had left the plants without care for several years and other more vigorous plants had grown over it. There were only a few very spindly branches and we saved it as "an example of low quality bonsai stock." But with some attention, the tree began recovering. The lowest branch more than halfway up the trunk was dying. In this situation, junipers tend to throw out new growth where the branch leaves the trunk. The new growth happened to be pointing downwards so we pruned back all other growth to send most of the tree's energy to that weird new downward branch.
The branch kept growing and with a string, we kept it growing tightly down along the trunk. After several years, that weird branch was getting close to the ground and it was time to decide upon a styling strategy. There were several possibilities. The entire tree above the branch could have been removed to result in the trunk rising, then abruptly turning downwards. This would have created a unique tree, but one that would be too obviously be a superficial gimmick. Instead I utilized the unique downward branch as a design theme. Because I had never seen a branch grow that way, I named the tree "Contrarian" and trained other branches downwards also.
Some people consider this the "front" of the tree. It has a lot of visual movement with the trunk soaring to the left, but with the branches falling and seeming to flow to the right.
From the "right side" the unique branch growing downward tightly along the trunk is visible on the left. As branch neared the roots, it was trained to flare out. The second branch was trained only by pruning in a similar manner. But with a lot of open area, was allowed to divide with the smaller branches continuing to fall.
This bonsai has an overall height of 18" including the pot. The tree alone is about 14" tall measuring from the root spread to the top of the tree. That first distinctive branch came off the trunk 8" above the roots and the second branch is 13" above the roots. The trunk has an even curve near the base but is fairly straight up to the second branch. It then abruptly bends out and down then swings back on itself to form the primary apical top. Near that crown, several branches have begun growing downwards.
I like this view as it has the most movement. With the distinctive lowest branch in back, the bottom half of the trunk is visible. The second branch in front creates a visually dynamic change of direction to emphasize downward branches. The remainder of the tree forms a foliage background.
From the "left side" the training of the second branch can be appreciated. It visually fills up large empty area.
Close-up of the pot and stand. Clearly this is not a typical bonsai and we needed a non-traditional pot. I was delighted to find an unglazed red Chinese stoneware pot with a highly textured dragon bas-relief. Asian dragons are dynamic creatures with a confident individual spirit that was the essence of Contrarian. The rounded rectangular pot measured 9 1/4" x 6 3/4" x 2 3/4" high.
During our 1981 China trip, I noticed an old carved display stand in a Friendship Store. It wasn't for sale and was just piled up with other "used old things." In 1981, parts of China had not yet been exposed to Western tourism and in the less traveled regions, they had little appreciation for artistic items that were part of the elite aristocratic lifestyle. The stand was in bad shape with corners coming apart and the clerk was happy to part with it for an amount that he thought was much too high! Together with the unusual pot, it completes an effort based upon aristocratic Chinese design principles.
Theme styling creates unique trees if the original stock has unique features. Most of the most distinctive trees in our collection were trained in this manner. It doesn't matter if the unique feature is beautiful or ugly when you first notice it. Keep studying the tree. As you define a potentially unique feature, try to figure out what you can do to make it truly distinctive. Then develop variations and repeat the theme. As this is being written, Contrarian is about 25 years old and has developed a strong unique personality. Because its one of the smaller bonsai in the public collection exhibit area, many don't notice it. But those who start to study it become entranced!
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