Demonstration by Randall Lee – Cyprian cedar

On August 25, 2022, at the Garden Room, Rohnert Park Community Center, Rohnert Park, CA, Randall Lee performed a bonsai demonstration for the members of the Redwood Empire Bonsai Society (REBS). Randall is a professional aesthetic pruner, long-time bonsai enthusiast, and avid bonsai experimenter. He started bonsai in 1984 by reading books and attending a few demonstrations. He is a member of East Bay Bonsai Club and the Merritt Aesthetic Pruners Association. His favorite species are Hinoki cypress and Cedar.

There are only four true cedars: Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica) aka Blue Atlas cedar, Cyprian cedar (Cedrus brevifolia), Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani), and Deodar cedar tree (Cedrus deodara). Others are false cedars.

Randall brought in for showing the Atlas cedar, Cyprian cedar and cedar of Lebanon. He demonstrated on a nursery stock Cyprian cedar (Cedrus brevifolia). The demo tree was tall and skinny. The trunk had little or no taper. It was healthy and full of green foliage. Based on the overall appearance, height, thin trunk, the tree was best suited for a Bunjin style bonsai.

Bunjin bonsai comes from the Japanese word “bunjin-gi”. The style is traced to Chinese culture. Bunjin is also referred to “literati” style.

John Naka in his book Bonsai Techniques stated the following: “The Bunjin style of bonsai is so free that it seems to violate all the principles of bonsai form. The indefinite style has no specific form and is difficult to describe, however its confirmation is simple, yet very expressive. No doubt its most obvious characteristics are those shapes formed by old age and extreme weather conditions.”

Bunjin may appear to have been collected from the wild or “yamadori”, but it is not.

Some guidelines for Bunjin, include: Tall with little or no trunk taper. Trunk movement is desired. Twists, turns, radical bends lend value. Nebari or surface roots are not important as in other bonsai styles. There are few branches. The first branch is at least two thirds up the trunk. Foliage on the branches should be sparse.

The appearance of Bunjin is that of a tree influenced by severe environmental conditions, such as a mountain cliff or storm damage.

The aesthetics of Bunjin or literati style is difficult to achieve.

Randall studied the demo tree before starting anything. He identified where branches were thick or large on the trunk. He would first remove those large branches near the top of the tree, leaving only the small branches. Branches that were too close to each other were removed. Negative space was critical to the aesthetic design. Randall cited that some branches were left alone for not wanting to stress the demo tree all at once. A branch can always be removed later. In creating a Bunjin style, the saying “less is more” comes into play.

The demo tree was wired using copper wire. Movement in the branches was achieved by use of the wire in a downward position for the most part.

Randall recommended post demo care to include shade for the tree to recover from the shock of pruning and wiring. Cedars like indirect sun. Water daily and do not let the tree dry out completely. Too much water will tend to turn the needles yellow.

Upon conclusion of the demonstration, the Cyprian cedar bonsai tree was raffled.

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