Bring in a tree that’s lookin’ pretty to share with the group, or a tree that needs some post hardening pruning.
For those who are interested in propagation, CBC VP Adam Shank will be bringing in an Ezo Spruce to prune which will produce a lot of cuttings. Spruce cuttings are not easy to strike successfully but Ezo is fairly rare so if you’d like to try, bring a ziploc bag to collect some.
At our upcoming meeting this Saturday we will be prepping for our show which is next weekend.
Happy New Year Everyone!
Our first meeting of the year is coming up on Saturday January 28th, 9:30am in the indoor classroom of Rockefeller Park Greenhouse.
To begin preparations for the upcoming spring repotting season, we will start with a discussion and workshop on kintsugi! Kintsugi refers to the Japanese tradition of repairing broken pottery using lacquer dusted with gold powder. In addition to keeping the item in service, making a decorative and functional repair allows the piece to tell the story of its history and reminds us to find beauty in imperfection.
For repairing bonsai ceramics that experience wide ranging outdoor temperatures, we must deviate a bit from tradition in our repairs. We will use quick-setting 2 part epoxy to effect a structurally sound and durable repair. I am hoping some members have broken or cracked pots to bring in and participate. Materials will be provided but if you’re planning to participate please send me a message to let me know.
Additionally, if anyone got a new bonsai tree for Christmas and would like to share it, or ask questions about care, please do.
Looking forward to seeing everyone again!
-Adam Shank, V.P.
For this month’s meeting we will be doing a “Swap Meet” as suggested by Rob Giorgi. If you’ve got anything bonsai related you’d like to sell or just get rid of, bring it in! Or bring a tree to work on.
The meeting is Saturday August 27th at 9:30am. Same location as usual, in the classroom at Rockefeller Park Greenhouse.
The June Bonsai Club’s meeting will be held at the Rockefeller Greenhouse on Saturday, June 26th starting at 9:30 a.m. We will be meeting on the patio outside.
At this meeting we will be having a “Swap and Shop” So you can take advantage of selling or trading for some of the pots, tools, plants, trees etc. you may bring.
Also, at this meeting there will be some young trees to be given away and there are four Japanese Maple seedlings that were donated to our club last year on the condition they be given to new members.
Hope we a good turnout for our first meeting back at the Greenhouse in a year!
See you next week,
Newcomers to bonsai are often surprised to learn that most bonsai are outdoor plants. Usually it isn’t long before the question comes up: what do you do with them in the winter?!
Winter care is a subject for another time but there are multiple silver linings for the bonsai hobby in winter. First, you can get some valuable “down-time” to rest, recharge, and then brush up on your bonsai knowledge.
When it comes to deciduous trees, you can more easily work on them without leaves on the branches. Without foliage (an important distinction because there are deciduous needle conifers) you can more easily see the branch structure and work on the tree without the hindrance of the foliage. You do still need to be careful you don’t damage buds on the branches but certainly wiring is a lot easier.
As an example, consider this Chinese elm.
This was taken fairly early in the season yet the foliage still obscures most of the branch structure.
But when dormant you can much more easily see the branch structure and be able to make better decisions regarding where to prune or wire.
Not only that, but there are even bonsai shows in winter (not this year, though, thank you COVID…) where deciduous trees can be enjoyed for their “nude” form. In winter silhouette shows you can truly appreciate the ramification of the branches while they’re not hidden by the foliage.
When bonsai are displayed in this state at a winter silhouette show it really reveals the work that went into the creation of the tree. Scars, poor branching, graft unions, and artist mistakes can be easily hidden by foliage. With bare branches, every inch of the tree’s structure can be seen, admired, and/or critiqued. That can be nerve-wracking for the artist but quite beautiful for the show attendees. It is often said that beginners grow trees for their summer form but seasoned artists grow for the winter form. The pictures accompanying this article really show the beauty of these winter nudes.
There is an interesting concern often raised about winter shows that goes back to the fact that bonsai are primarily outdoor plants: is it harmful to the tree to be indoors and warm in winter?
Usually not! Early winter shows are safer than late winter shows in that the tree hasn’t been dormant for long enough to be easily woken up. The hormones that keep a tree asleep are broken down by light and heat so as long as they’re not inside in the warm temperatures for more than a couple of days it is no more harmful to a tree than a few warm, sunny days in the middle of winter. This isn’t to say you should tempt fate by regularly bringing dormant trees indoors to enjoy them in the winter but occasionally displaying a tree in a winter silhouette show is generally a safe endeavor.
As you can see, it isn’t all gloom and doom for a bonsai hobbyist in winter. Take advantage of the opportunity to refine your collection’s branching, you and your trees can get some rest, and maybe next winter you can take in a Silhouette Show!
Recently I paid a visit to April Grigsby’s (of April Grigsby Ceramics) pottery studio to learn about making bonsai pots and try my hand at making one of my own.
April has been working with clay since she was 6-years-old and majored in Ceramics at the Columbus College of Art & design. One of her pots even took second place at the 2nd National Juried Bonsai Pot Competition. She took a break from ceramics soon after that but eventually found her way back and now combines her lifetime of ceramics experience with her love of bonsai (she’s a former president of a Florida bonsai club) to create beautiful and functional pots which are especially suited to bonsai hobbyists and professionals alike.
We started the tour at the end of the pot-making process as I got to see her newest appliance, a high-tech electric kiln.
This kiln is large enough for pots a little over 20 inches and the firing schedule is all digitally controlled. This level of control allows for precise timing of each stage of the firing (temperature and length) so that moisture can be slowly driven out of the clay before the intense heat hits, reducing the chance for breakage. This particular kiln has heating elements on the sides and bottom to keep the heat consistent within the appliance.
She also has an older propane kiln but that one is on wheels and has to be wheeled outside for proper ventilation, which requires a close eye on the weather to avoid rain or snow!
April is able to use “furniture” to build custom-sized shelves within the kiln so it can be efficiently packed full of pots. A given firing can be in excess of 16 hours so it is important to get the most use out of every inch of space. Firing is often done in two stages, with the first firing (bisque firing) turning the clay into ceramic. If the pot is to be glazed, it is then cooled down, the glaze is applied, and the pot undergoes a second firing to melt the glaze onto the pot.
While the digital controls are very accurate, April still prefers to verify with pyrometric cones, aka “witness cones,” which are designed to melt at a specific temperature so that when the firing is done she has an indication that the proper temperature and length of time was reached. They also serve as an early warning if the temperature settings need to be adjusted for future firings.
One thing that is important for bonsai pots in particular is that they are vitrified, or heated to a state where the clay is nearly converted to glass so that there is very little moisture remaining in the finished product. Any superfluous moisture could crack under freezing conditions. In addition, April uses clay that has very low porosity so that water isn’t absorbed back into the finished pot which could later freeze and crack. Finally, she is careful in her designs so that most of her pots do not have an inward-turned lip. As the root ball of a bonsai freezes it expands and lifts up in the pot. A pot with an inward-turned lip can prevent the root ball from rising and crack the pot.
The tour continued into the studio where April showed me her two potters wheels used for “throwing clay”. In the picture on the right, the nearest wheel is her newer one while the smaller one closer to the wall she has had for decades. She frequently uses the smaller more familiar one for trimming and finishing a pot. An added benefit is that she’s able to save time by not needing to clean out the “splash pan” every time she starts to throw since the trimming process doesn’t require the wheel to be spinning at a high rate. The scraps also have more time to dry. This makes recycling easier because dry clay “slakes” (disintigrates) down more quickly when added to water.
Because it is spinning, pots made on the wheels are round, or nearly round. However, after being thrown the pot can be re-worked to oval, square, rounded-square, or other shapes. This necessitates that the bottom of the pot be cut off so that the sides of the pot can be re-shaped, since the bottom of the pot cannot change shape. More on that in a minute.
If she’s building a pot with clay slabs, she will use her rolling table to flatten the clay, which typically comes in 25lb blocks. Once the clay is flatted the slabs can be used to build a pot, become a pot bottom, or can be pressed and shaped over a mold to make intricate pot shapes. For pot bottoms, the bottomless pot is placed on an appropriately sized slab and the inside of the pot is traced into the slab. Marks are made on the slab and the pot to line it up and then the slap is cut, scored, and pressed into place. Slabs for pot bottoms are rolled out immediately after the pot is formed so that the clay for both parts dry at the same rate. If their moisture content isn’t similar then assembly may be impossible.
Pots can also be made by rolling clay into a coil and slowly building up the shape of the pot, or by making a “pinch-pot” where a ball of clay is worked by hand into shape.
April has a myriad of tools, molds, pattern stamps, etc. While she does occasionally buy commercial glazes she prefers to make her own and has a shelf full of the powdered ingredients she mixes according to precise recipes. For the pots that are getting a glaze, she can dip, paint it on, or use her custom spray booth.
A pinch-pot is what I made as part of my visit. You can see the pictures of the finished product below. Not perfect, for sure, but not too shabby for my first bonsai pot! Though, I did have in mind this pot being for a kusomono (grass & flower planting).
I started with a small ball of clay and slowly pinched the center of it down and away to make the bowl shape. This was refined by setting it on a small non-powered turn-table to allow for more easily shaping and smoothing the clay with my fingers, scraping tools, and sponges. The thickness of the walls and bottom can be tested with a small needle tool inserted into the clay. When I had the desired size and shape, April helped me to level the sides and punch drain holes. I opted for two fairly large drain holes and since it was for a kusomono planting I did not add wire holes to the pot. After that, April showed me how to make rolls of clay into feet and attach them to the pot by scoring the clay and applying water before pressing firmly into place. Finally, I signed and dated the pot. It will take several days to dry and will then be fired. I decided not to glaze this pot so it will be the natural color of the clay.
Overall it was a fun and educational trip. April is a master of her craft and her pots are in high demand and I enjoyed seeing the process of making pots. I also came away with a greater appreciation for the amount of work that goes into making every pot.