What 5 years can do to the simplest of material!

In this post I’d like to show the development of one of my earliest trees. Although the tree is far from perfect, it has accompanied me from the very start of my bonsai adventures, and in a lot of ways mirrors my own journey. It is also a great example of how consistent work can yield good results from even the simplest of material.

I bought the tree in 2007 in one of my forays to a local garden center in search of something (anything!) to work with. As I mentioned previously, my computers tended to meet violent and non-backed-up ends until fairly recently, and so I don’t have any picture of the tree as purchased. It was a very plain and uninspired garden center juniper, and what caught my eye were the angles in the lower part of the trunk.

The first thing I did was to chop the trunk back to the first major branch, and in what I then considered a very brave act, bent the branch more than 90 degrees to create a cascading image. A year later, I did my first styling on the tree, and here’s the result –

Initial 'styling' - February 2008

Initial ‘styling’ – February 2008

A few months later, I refined the image a bit –

Slight refinement - April 2008

Slight refinement – April 2008

In September of that same year, I started my bonsai studies under Enrico Savini at the Progetto Futuro bonsai school in Italy, which opened a whole new world of understanding and technique for me. By the following year, the tree had developed radically –

July 2009 - Development of the initial design concept

July 2009 – Development of the initial design concept

By this time, I felt that I had explored the original design concept enough to not be happy with it. As you can see from the above image, the top canopy doesn’t quite seem related to the design. I had kept it because I wanted to completely re-design the tree, in order to create a very different image.

So in the winter of 2009-2010, I changed the planting angle, removed all but the top two branches, and started working on a new design. By the winter of 2011-2012, the tree was ready for the first round of re-styling  –

Feb. 2012 - the future front before work

Feb. 2012 – the future front before work

Feb. 2012 - The future back before work.

Feb. 2012 – The future back before work.




After wiring and rough styling, the new design starts to take shape –

Feb. 2012 - Second design, first styling.

Feb. 2012 – Second design, first styling.

Feb. 2012 - Second design, first styling.

Feb. 2012 – Second design, first styling.








This styling round mainly consisted of primary branch placement. The secondary branches did not yet exist, so it was not possible to create a refined image. The challenge would now be to work together with the tree to develop the secondary branches that would allow the image to be developed further. By November of that same year, the tree was progressing nicely –

Nov. 2012 - Second design, second styling

Nov. 2012 – Second design, second styling

The next few months were spent further developing the branching on the tree – keeping growth in check where branches were long enough, while letting growth grow longer where needed. Also, selective pruning was used to promote a better branch structure that would support a more refined styling.

Last week, the tree was ready for another styling round –

Aug. 2013 - Refinement of second design - front

Aug. 2013 – Refinement of second design – front

Aug. 2013 - refinement of second design - back

Aug. 2013 – refinement of second design – back








At this stage, the foliage at the top third of the tree is still too young to allow for more precise styling, so that is definitely something that still needs to be done.  Also, at this stage, the tree’s flaws are becoming more apparent. The design is a bit too heavy for the trunk, and the point where the trunk meets the original branch that was bent creates a serious visual flaw that will be very difficult to correct.

Another thing, is that the foliage on this juniper limits the level of refinement that can be reached. The tree’s natural foliage is very thin and long, and the branches don’t bud back very well. This means that in the coming years, it will be very difficult to maintain the current size of the foliage mass, which as I said, is already too heavy for the trunk.

This means, that if I want to take this tree even further, I will most probably need to hit the re-set button yet again. First, I will probably need to change the planting angle in order to work around the serious visual flaw in the trunk line. And while I’m at it, I might as well go ahead and graft the tree with better, more compact foliage, that will really take the tree to the next level.

That being said, looking at how the tree is now and comparing it to where it came from, I have to say that I am quite happy with the results so far. Not so much from the design or anything like that, but from what the tree has taught me along the way, and how it has shown me the different techniques and approaches required as one takes a tree from raw material through refinement.

As started in 2008

As started in 2008

Now - 2013

Now – 2013


6 comments on “What 5 years can do to the simplest of material!

  1. Hi Ofer,

    I think this is quite amazing. I started not much time ago and – as you – once stepped in a nursery and bought a Juniper, just to have some fun and start experimenting of what I learned and read here and there (and it’s ages away from your result ;)).
    But from what I saw in Israel so far, this is a quite modest, but very aesthetic tree, one of the best I saw. I like it’s current design and would not be fast to change.

    • Hi Uli,
      Thanks for the comments and the compliments about the design! Unfortunately, we aim for the best here 🙂 so the tree will have to be redesigned to deal with some major issues it still has.
      BTW – if you want to see more examples of the things we can do with simple nursery material, and the difference in results between instant styling and styling over the long term, check out my posts –

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