Saturday, August 18, 2018

Get paid to work with bonsai?

Image result for carmen leskoviansky

You might call it a dream
job-what’s it like spending your work day around bonsai?
Getting paid to do
what many of us do for free. Carmen Leskoviansky knows just what that’s
 She earned her Bachelor of Science in Horticulture
from Michigan State University,
and began working at Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols
Arboretum in 2009.

Carmen oversees the care of the orchid and bonsai 
collections as well as the
Gateway and Medicinal Gardens.  

Here are her responses to a few 

1. Is your educational background plant related? Where you a "plant person" prior to getting your education
 Yes and yes! I have a bachelors degree in horticulture from Michigan State University, and I've always been a plant person.  My parents had a little garden near the chicken coop that they split between me and my brother.  Each year, we'd go to the greenhouse and were allowed to buy a flat of whatever we wanted to grow.  It helped that we had some acreage and that my parents were avid gardeners.  I had lots of time to play outside in the woods, help in the garden, and learn about plants and nature.
2. Before you came to Ann Arbor, had you any experience with bonsai?
I had no experience with bonsai when I started here besides seeing them on display at a few botanical gardens.  At first, my role with the trees was keeping them healthy and alive - fertilizing, watering - and managing the volunteers who did most of the design work.  Over time, I began learning more about styling and got more involved with all the aspects of bonsai.  My official job has shifted over that time from caring for many collections and garden spaces to now focusing on the bonsai collection. 

3. Who is the bonsai person who you've found most interesting or helpful?
There are so many people who have influenced me!  Connie Crancer, the horticulturist who took care of the bonsai before me, was my first teacher.  She taught me watering, fertilizing, and helped me through some of my first pruning and wiring exercises.  Since then, a number of the volunteers I work with here at the gardens have been very influential in my bonsai education - Jack Wikle, Paul Kulesa, and Cyril Grum - to name a few.  This year, I started studying with Michael Hagedorn, and I will say that his teaching has very much influenced how I look at trees as well as the quality of my work.  He is a thoughtful teacher, and I really connect with the way he styles his trees.  

4. Do you have a favorite species to work with? Or a species you dread?
Image result for carmen leskovianskyThis is a really tricky question.  Each species offers something different.  I tend to gravitate towards deciduous and flowering species.  I think it comes from all the time I've spent in the woods.  I'm familiar with these trees, and they remind me of my childhood.  Here in Michigan, we don't have a lot of the same dramatic conifers you see out west.  Though, I do really enjoy working on white cedar and larch - two conifers native to Michigan

Finally getting down to business.

 This is a juniper of unknown variety and origin that has been knocking around my benches for a little while. I honestly don't know where it came from. From size and age, it looks like an old cutting, but I rarely even try with junipers-they just take so long to strike roots!

Last year it was massaged out of a training plastic and into this small Chinese pot.  Many times my inspiration for how to style a tree takes a while to form up, and that means trees can evolve into a final form rather than just make a magical transformation.  This little plant has been growing and needed one of two thing-cut back to lessen the long shoots and get more compact, OR some wire to make the long shoots more interesting.

Here is the "other" side of the plant, compared to what is shown in the first image. This view really emphasizes how long and lank the foliage is. The decision was made to wire everything and add some curves to all the straight growth. Pinching took places at the same time, and all growth shortened. Any verticals were removed.

 Notice the light level. It didn't take all that long to do this work, but by the time it was wrapped up, the sun had set.
Two branches were made into jin, and new soil worked into the pot to help add a bit more lean to the trunk.
The jin will need cleaned up for shape, but one was wired so that it would hold it's curve. It adds some visual interest on that side and also mirrors an exposed root's curve, that doesn't show well in this photo.
A photo in daylight shows the amount of wire used. Well shaped, truly refined bonsai means wire.
This little fellow has a ways to go-the foliage masses need to fill in-but it looks alot more lie a bonsai than it did 24 hours ago.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018


Image may contain: plant and foodThose who are regular readers of these online jottings will know that Elephant bush-sometimes called dwarf jade or baby jade (Portulacaria afra) is one of my favorite species for bonsai. One if it's chief recommendations is hardiness. That quality is demonstrated in these two photos, taken about a month apart.  
The first photo shows the morning after a rabbit came calling in my back yard. My neighbors spend lots of money on those sprays and treatments, so there is a green,grassy smorgasbord all around, but still the bunnies come to my back yard to sample twigs and berries. 
This plant is called elephant bush, because in the plant's native range, elephants eat it in large quantities. Goats and other live stock also use it for fodder. Apparently the rabbit didn't like it much-he bit the leaves and then spit it out. Result-one  decapitated plant.
But just a few short weeks later-look-the plant has pushed forth a bunch of new leaves and is going strong and hardly missed a beat. Also, check out the snipped off portion-the leaves are still fresh and moist. This would root easily if I simply pushed the stem into the soil.
If the name cast iron plant wasn't already being used, maybe that would be a good moniker for this plant, too!

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Always say yes to the free tree

 Always say yes to the free tree! This was a free hand out promotional item given away by a vendor set up at the recent International Tree Climbing Completion recently held in Columbus, Ohio. You didnt know there was such a thing? Neither did I until I walked out of Franklin Park Conservatory, having taught a class about a much smaller tree -based activity, and took a look at the various vendors. I cam away with a nice tote bag, filled with other fine "swag"-work gloves, magnifying lenses,temporary tattoos and a bumper sticker.
And of course, trees! This is a variety of Rocky Mountain Juniper (J. scopulorum) called 'Moonglow'. New growth is such a light blue green it is almost grey and seems to glow, hence the name.
Rocky Mountain Junipers are most famous in bonsai for the amazing deadwood that ancient collected specimens can develop. This little fellow is a LONG way from dead wood glory, but you got to start some where.
Top photo is the cutting pulled out if its plastic pot. it was growing a in a loose fairly sandy soil which is a pretty good sign for a juniper. Its what they prefer. The attached label told me this was produced by Musser Forests, a nursery company in Western Pennsylvania that you may have heard of. They grow good stuff. They are located in Indiana , PA, the home town of Jimmy Stewart.

Second photo is the same viewing angle, with loose soil removed. Another inch or two of trunk is exposed and the start of a root base is revealed

In the third photo we see the tree in a training container. Steel recycles! I did this work in Mid-August, which is not time to do root work on a Juniper, so this was basically a "pot-hop" working what had been a tight, upright root ball into a flatter, less deep shape. A few root high up the trunk were removed, as well as some dead tip, but no real trimming of the roots was done. All the active root tips were left intact. Getting this into the pot simply involved some chop-stick action, working good bonsai soil into the roots.

Some wire adds much needed  shape. The photo at right is from the Musser website and shows the strong upright growth pattern of this variety. Wire is needed for curves, and this will be left on till it really starts to cut in. All foliage was shortened, and the tree given a dose of "repotting tonic": some liquid kelp, a crushed aspirin and some fish emulsion. The aspirin is not for any aches and pains, but because the chemical in the drug is the same stuff in willows that acts like rooting hormone. The other tonic ingredients, used at low strength will help give a jump start to the last flush of summer growth.

Ten years from now, this may look like a decent bonsai!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

A Maple Make Over

 Amur maple-Acer ginnala is a populare subject for bonsai. It's leaves resemble Trident maple (A. buergerium), and though it's growth habit is a bit more coarse and unrefined compared to tridents, it is very cold hardy. A vigorous grower, it can be used in any style and any size classification of bonsai.

I got hold of a bundle of Amur seedlings somewhere along the line. They went into individual pots and got grown on for a while. Having a big bunch of them may have meant they didn't get the individual attention they needed They grow some gnarled root, twisty trunk little trees that looked like the belong in a Hobbit movie, but never ramified enough for my taste.
I potted up a few to use as mame, more like little trees as accent plants, and sold the majority at a club meeting.

A few seedlings got left behind. These got jammed rather hastily into a forest pot with the thought of making something out of them-sometime. The where allowed to grow wild, getting hacked back once in while. The method here was benign neglect. The trunks thickened, the trees got taller as they did their thing and I did mine.
This is how the planting looks some years later, the third week of May, out of winter storage for a month and a half and growing vigorously.

I realize I've  used the word vigorous to describe this species twice now, but they earn it. The abuse that this planting has taken is amazing. There is a nest of ants in the pot, and their activity, plus some sloppy potting when the thing was assembled means that there are empty holes in the soil ball above each drain hole. The plant doesn't seem to notice. The roots are so tangled and congested that water doesn't penetrate well and the root ball feels like a Brillo pad-the trees don't care!

Ok, maybe some of the trees noticed. You can see that most of the back row is dead. I am sorry they are gone, but this may be the cosmos telling me that I need to be more careful, and also telling me this should be a smaller planting. This is a damn handsome pot, and it will be a shame not to have something growing in it, but it is far two big for just two trees. By the way, the pot may look like terra cotta, but it is high fired. It is actually Italian, so while not a traditional bonsai region they do know from ceramics.
 Here is the pot I'd like to get the living trees into. It's a very sweet round made here in Columbus by my friend Tom Holcomb. It's an almost black brown color with grooving on the sides.
 Remember the ants nests? If plants could cry out, maybe these poor guys where calling out "New Shoes, Please!"
 Looks like I was over-optimistic about the size of the root ball, and how it could be reduced.

That looks better. Size and depth are very good. It's a stiff and formal pot for these trees, but will do for now. Could change later.
Root ball cut way back, fresh new soil tucked into the nooks and crannies, now its time to think about size and shape. The sharp eyed readers in the crowd will notice that both trees have been shortened, and a few low branches have been removed

Also, I made the choice that this would become a two tree planting, and the odd little fellow in the back has been removed to his own training pot.

Now that basic height has been decided, its time to cut back all the shoots. Besides taking some load off the reduced root system, this will encourage some back budding.The trees are a bit leggy  and need to fill in. The tree on the right has a few empty spaces that could do with whole new branches. It was tempting to cut it down even shorter, but that wastes some good trunk texture, and I think the height and width suit the pot they are in.

Here is the new duo as it stands now. It is in the shadow under a bench, in a spot between my house and my neighbor's that gets mostly eastern sun and than shade the rest of the day. For a few weeks I'd like to pamper it to help it bounce back.

More photo updates coming later in the summer!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Neat and Tidy

This apron was a Father's Day gift. My wife got to a point where she was frustrated with soil, bark or lime sulfur on good clothes. I thought the idea of an apron was a bit much when she mentioned it, but that didn't stop a determined woman from doing some internet shopping-her favorite hobby-and that lead to the package on Father's day.

It's a very handsome piece of work, even if it is a bit over done and hipster-ish. Heavy, waxed fabric, leather straps and bronze tone metal hardware.
Image result for geppettoI feel like I should be breaking done an organic, locally fed hog into house made smoked meat-or perhaps carving some wood into a real boy!

I was hesitant to wear it, but once I tried, I really took to it. Its very convenient to have all those pockets, to hold the things you need-shears, tweezers, chops stick, Ipod, pipe lighter, all there where you need them.

But it didn't take long to enjoy putting on this "uniform". There is obvious precedent for a bonsai artist working in an apron. The books and websites are full of illustrations such as the one below.
The apron is practical, but seems to me to be part of the Japanese cultural imperative  to keep orderly and neat.

Image result for roy nagatoshiImage result for frank okamura teaching

The flowers that bloom in the spring

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Always a gorgeous show when the

 Quince and Crabapple start putting on the colors.

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