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Before & After: A Two Legged Bonsai (& More)


All bonsai have numerous before and after moments in their progression. You might say that every time you pick up your tools and start to work on a tree is a before moment and every time you put down the tools and walk away is an after moment.

We could have started this newsletter with any number of excellent before and after trees. But how many great two legged trees do you see? It’s a Sierra juniper (Juniperus occidentalis) that belongs to Bonsai Mike. You can see the potential peeking out underneath the foliage in the before shot. Still, even with good potential, the after shot reveals an impressive transformation.

A closer look at the after shot. Here’s what Mike wrote about this old yamadori juniper… “One of my best trees. I collected this Sierra in 2011. It has gone through 3 stylings since then and keeps improving. The foliage is getting a little heavy now. In order to show greater age, some branches must be removed in order to create more open space.”
One way of talking about this is, there are small before and after moments and then there are large before and after moments, moments that illustrate marked changes. Or more accurately, marked improvement. Improvements that require considerable skill on the part of the artist and that are obvious even to the most casual observer

You might divide before and afters into two other general groups. One is radical restyling and others is what I call maintenance styling, which is mostly just bringing an overgrown tree back to, and perhaps beyond, its earlier beauty.

Staying on topic, here’s a strikingly beautiful maintenance before and after by Naoki Maeoka.
Wired, trimmed, repotted and cleaned up (cleaning the deadwood and applying lime sulfur, and also cleaning and brushing the the live veins to bring out their natural beauty). Though no major restyling is done, the result of Naoki Maeoka’s maintenance work on this Juniper procumbens is magnificent.
And lest you think that the second type, maintenance styling requires less skill, I might take issue. It’s easy to mess up a good tree if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Another maintenance before and after. This time the artist is Jan Culek. Most of what was done on the tree just above was also done here, though it doesn’t look like there was much wiring and no repotting this time. No variety is listed, but it looks like it might be a Shimpaku juniper.

This has to be one of the most compelling bonsai I've seen in a while. It has that wild, unrefined look and though the deadwood is prominent, it's not dominated by deadwood like so many trees. But perhaps the best of all are the brilliant living veins and the way they stand out against the deadwood. This before and after is more about maintenance styling than styling rough stock. Less daunting perhaps, but only someone skilled in the art of bonsai can do what you see here. In this case, that someone is Gabriel Romero Aguade of Bonsai Sant-boi.
Another maintenance before and after. This one is by Mariusz Komsta, a long time favorite on Bonsai Bark. Mariusz doesn't identify the tree and I won’t embarrass myself with a guess.

Here’s one that involves much more than maintenance. It’s an Itoigawa juniper before and after by Gabriel Romero Aguade. When I first saw this one, my guess was that the transformation took years. But rather than settle on a guess, I decided to ask Gabriel Romero Aguade how many years it took. Here’s what he wrote... “From the first to the second photograph, 6 hours have passed. more or less.“ Go figure.

Before and after by our friend Robert Steven. The before photo was submitted to Robert by David Royinsyah. The after is one of a large number of digital simulations that Robert employs as a teaching tool. The tree is a Tamarindus indica, a type of tropical legume. The photos are from the Black Scissors Community.

Note: the following are my comments, not Robert’s.
First thing was to get rid of the ugly pot and replace it with something more natural whose lines and color complement the tree – what an improvement!

The rest of the changes are fairly subtle. What I see is a tree with a gentle prevailing breeze from left to right. With this breeze you get shorter branches on the left and extended branches on the right, with the foliage on the right extending beyond the tips of the branches. You might also notice some inner branches curving to the right.

Another change is the apex, with its nod to the right which further emphasizes the prevailing breeze. Beyond that, I’m sure there are other changes, but you’ll have to check with Robert about those.

And on that note I think it's about time to be after before & after. We could go on an on I'm sure. If you made it all the way to the end well thank you. Give yourself a little pat on the back.

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