Our latest meeting and demonstration occurred on June 26, 2018, Tuesday evening, 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., at the Luther Burbank Art and Garden Center, Santa Rosa, California, featuring Bill Castellon. Bill is a landscaper and aesthetic tree pruner by profession, and bonsai artist and instructor as well. He brought with him four Japanese black pine (JBP) trees, one Shohin just recently worked on by cutting the candles and removing some of the old needles, one demonstration Bunjin JBP and two other JBP starter trees. Bill first passed out a couple of articles published by International Bonsai describing Bunjin or Literati bonsai and depicting a number of examples of trees styled in the form of Bunjin (Literati).
What is Bunjin or Literati bonsai? “Bunjin or Literati bonsai is an “approach” or “interpretation” within bonsai and not a specific style in and of itself. It is somewhat difficult to describe.”1
Bill pointed out that his Bunjin JBP demonstration tree has a slim trunk, slow taper, small branches of foliage, and apex. There is a lot of movement in the trunk and shape of the branches. The Bunjin bonsai invokes emotions in the viewer of wind, awkwardness, unbalance, and struggle. The design is a deliberate effort to move away from other bonsai styles, such as the usual JBP triangular style. The Bunjin or Literati bonsai is interesting by itself or displayed with other bonsai styles and accent plants.
Bill would demonstrate work required for the JBP Bunjin bonsai in this region from June 15 through July 1. He cut at the base every candle grown this season. This is done to maintain balance in the needles and keep the needles and internodes small. The trunk is slim and the tree on the small size, and so having small needles appear in proper proportion. Bill described several techniques for cutting and removing the new candles. However, he practices cutting at the base, all in one day, and then removing last year’s needles. This is done only if the tree is strong and healthy. Only seven or eight needle pairs at the top are left alone at the cut candle site. More needles can be left on at the bottom of the tree, which is weaker than the top of the tree. In cooler weather conditions, the candle cutting is done earlier than the above dates. Waiting too long to cut the candles can be hard and stressful for the tree. After about four to six weeks, new candle buds will begin to show. New candle buds will appear in two, three or four at the base or cut site. In the fall (October) a decision must be made to reduce these new candle buds to two. At this time, the older needles are removed.
Bill discussed the type of pot for use with Bunjin or Literati bonsai. The pot should be small and rustic as found in the Nanban styled pots. He believed a deeper pot than the one used with the demonstration tree would be better suited for the JBP tree’s roots. The small pot lends to the appearance and display of Bunjin bonsai. It appears awkward and almost ready to fall over.
After cutting the candles, Bill moved on to wiring the branches of the demonstration tree. He reduced some of the branches and foliage where it appeared too dense or full. Bill said he preferred to use the smaller size branches over the large ones. Some small branches would need to grow stronger for wiring and for taking over in place of the larger branches. But, for now he left some of the larger branches alone. Bill wired the branches and set them in place. He created movement in the wired branches and created an apex branch. When he was finished, the demonstration JBP tree was slim, slow tapered and with plenty of branches. He estimated the age of the demonstration tree at 15 years based on the start of some barking at the base of the trunk.
Bill then moved on to the two other JBP trees in four-inch nursery containers. These trees were being grown from seed for Shohin, bonsai with a maximum height of eight inches. The trees have large new seasonal growth and branches for growing a large trunk base similar to Bill’s Shohin JBP example. He cut some of the large candles but left alone one or two largest candles to be used for growing the trunk base diameter. He suggested placing the two JBP trees in terra cotta pots slightly larger than the plastic four-inch nursery containers and using a bonsai soil mix.
All three JBP demonstration trees were raffled and won by club members – Mike Nelson, Wayne Culp and Paul Wycoff.
1 – Literati or Bunjin Bonsai, by Bonsai Learning Center, February 24, 2016.