Monday, March 26, 2012

Loropetalum Envy

Loropetalum. Lor-o-pe-tal-um. Not as intimidating as it first looks, as far as latin names go.

So, what is it? (besides a cute picture from wikipedia?)

It's a shrub I saw, and could not identify, last time we went to Florida. It was blooming in February, with this beautiful, wispy magenta flowers, had moderately sized foliage, and pretty jagged looking growth habit. I didn't know what it was, but I filed it away, hoping to come across it again some day in a place with a name loudly declared. Whelp, finally found it. And now I'm wondering...

Can it be grown as a bonsai?

So far what I know of them (besides being attractive) is this:

-They like full sun to partial shade (can provide, check!)
- They prefer well draining, acid soil (can provide, check!)
- They cannot handle freezing temperatures, but most do well with a cooler period for flowering. (with effort, can provide, so tentative check!)
- They are tolerant of pruning (awesome, so check)
- They can be grown in large containers (Hmmm, how large? Will they tolerate root pruning?)
- Heat tolerant, but prefer cool roots (good to know, shade or mulch pot in summer?)
-They come in green and purple leafed varieties, as well as white and magenta flowering varieties (I'm not picky, and has no bearing on bonsai culture)

A search for Loropetalum bonsai comes up with very little information about growing these.... but does yield some awesome photos.

-I don't read french (and the only french I speak is probably not suitable for mixed company or hanging out with grandma), so the information available here is lost to me. But there are some good pictures at the end:
-More information in a language I can't read, and can't even offer proper insults in. But again, nice photos!:

And plenty of others, some which are really stunning, but I don't trust the websites so I'm not going to risk infecting your computer and mine by clicking on them. Hmmm. Internet, you make me nervous sometimes.....

The winter requirements are challenging for me here on Long Island, I am just at the northern edge of where they can grow in the ground, but may die back to the roots as a landscape plant. This clearly is not optimal. I don't do a lot of tender species as bonsai, prefering stuff I can mulch and leave out without too much hassle in my winters. But I might be willing to make an exception for this one.

Anyone have experience with this plant? Thoughts, comments or photos you'd like to share? While tracking this down at a local nursery is unlikely for me, next time I take a trip south, I'll be keeping an eye out for some workable stock!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

10 Things I have learned; Dremel Edition

While learning to use my dremel today I learned:

1) Dremels don't have to be scary. I have come to the conclusion (actually, came to, several years ago) that the man who did the first workshop I ever saw, using one of these tools, was a particular breed. A gods-damned idiot. And its no wonder he ended up needing stitches.

2) The bits that came with my dremel are completely worthless.

3) The bits that came with the dremel bits box I purchased are slightly less useless, but really aren't made for what I'm doing with them.

4) One of the local birds knows the opening bars to 'Three Blind Mice'

5) My dremel is extremely low powered.

6) No matter how low powered it is, my dog is still terrified of it.

7) Fresh cambium from a juniper gunks up the bit FAST.

8) None of the bits I have are very helpful on live bark. They work, but peeling that part off by hand (for now) seems to be more time effective for me.

9) No matter how low powered it is, it still takes off deadwood and hardwood faster than I do by hand. This is neither positive nor negative on its own, but could be either depending on what I'm trying to do...

10) While not powerful, I like the multiple speed settings on a smooth functioning dial that I can change with my thumb while working.

General thoughts:
The dremel is a tool. It is neither better than nor worse than doing deadwood by hand. It has pros and cons, and I am certain that some of the cons I'm encountering will improve with a) practice and/or b) appropriate bits.

Generally, I like the work I do on freshly stripped wood better with a knife and several different pliers. I'm more familiar with this sort of wood working, since I had someone teach me wittling at a young age and never really gave it up completely. I can feel the weakness and strenth in the grain of the wood, and know where it will peel easily (i.e. would have rotted naturally first anyway) and where it's going to give me grief. This gives me a very realistic bit of deadwood on my smaller trees and on smaller jin on larger trees. What this is exceedingly time consuming on is large areas of freshly carved wood.... and on existing deadwood.

Enter the dremel. I was very pleased with what I could do on existing deadwood with this thing once I got the hang of it. It is really easy to try to let the grain of the wood dictate where the dremel ought to go; with disasterous results. Once I developed a firmer hand I had an easier time of it. My artistry with the dremel is low, something I know will improve with practice. The dremel also gives a smoother finish than my previous methods, which opens up a more weathered deadwood look than I can get with my hand tools, without waiting a season or two for actual weather to take its toll on the exposed wood and smooth things out. It will become, I think, an essential tool for me when working on existing deadwood, as my usual method is not very effective on that work at *all* and I have thus far avoided doing any serious work on areas of pre-existing shari on any of my bonsai, limiting myself instead to working on newly formed deadwood areas. This opens up work on several pieces of stock I have been stumped on for the last couple of years. Which is extremely satisfying.

I have an enormous way to go with learning the limits of what I can do with this tool. I kept the work on the deadwood today relatively limited, and used a combination of knife, pliers (three sizes and types)and the dremel. I will start doing more research on better bits for this, though for now I am content with the low power, rechargeable dremel I have; spending a lot on something more powerful now would just be silly until I know just how far I can work with this one.

The deadwood on the learning tree as I'm calling it, is actually on what I intend to be the back of this juniper. I spent some time playing on some dead branches from a cherry we'd taken down in the yard last year, but it wasn't really the same by any stretch.

There is still a lot of 'fur' left over from working with the dremel, another 'con' that I'm not accustomed to. I know I can burn this off, but I'm going to wait until I do some of the foliage work I intend to do tomorrow, so I know what I need to protect and can save myself some time. There is still more work to do, and I didn't do anything deep or drastic, but I'm content enough for now, just getting used to the feeling of the tool in my hands.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Kusamono Plant Profile: Pure Heart Hosta

Hosta 'Pure Heart', photo courtesy of Walter's Garden, Inc.

A 2011 introduction from Walter's Gardens, Inc. Pure Heart is a miniature hosta, typically 3-4" tall and up to 6" wide. A sport of 'Blue Mouse Ears', it is the reverse of another Mouse Ears sport, 'Mighty Mouse' (and is named after Mighty Mouse's girlfriend from the cartoon, Pearl Pureheart. Cute).

Foliage is strongly variegated with a cream center and bluish green margins. Purple flowers are bourn in midsummer on 8" stems.

Like all hostas, Pure Heart prefers partial shade and will burn if kept in too much sun or insufficently watered. Its size makes it well suited to pot culture, and it can be easily divided as the clump matures. It prefers neutral to slightly acidic soil and is recommended for USDA zones 3-9.


This one isn't widely available yet, but definately a cultivar to keep on the look out for!

Gumpo Azalea 1

Gumpo Azaleas are a satsuki hybrid with particularly small leaves, making them lovely for shohin bonsai. Classically, they are white, but pink (light), Fancy (pink flowers with a white margin) and red (dark pink) are available. Though less common in the Northern USA, these have been grown in parts farther south and in Japan for a long time. Usually considered suitable for zone 7 and warmer, we've only seen these little gems available regularly up here in the last ten years or so, as the winters have been slowly warming. They still require winter protection in my area, mostly from drying winds.

Intersting tidbit - Gumpo translates to 'Group of Phoenixes'.

This weekend I was considering a piece of stock I picked up at the end of last season. I got it for a song from the back of a large nursery, along with several of its brethren gumpos. Ostensibly a bush, the base is what drew me, and as I cleared away a lot of the old soil I was rewarded even further.

Originally, the soil line came up above the funny elbow looking branch on the right, with the whole bush being tilted to the right, hiding the root flare on that side. Fine roots had started to grow in the gap between the branch and what has now become the exposed nebari. I cleaned these out, since I had more than enough healthy roots to work with in more appropriate areas. Below are shots of the base and nebari from two different vantage points, both offering very different thoughts about a front for me.

The tree is a little wierd and kooky from this angle. I would actually rotate it slightly, so that the lack of roots on the left hand side is not so glaring, if I were to chose this angle. There *are* roots on that side, just not nearly as flat and spreading as the ones on the right in the above picture.

From this side, the nebari is not nearly as dramatic, but it still has something to offer, especially if I want to go with a heavy cut down and start the branching entirely from scratch. It could make a potentially powerful little shohin, which the leave size lends itself to very well. Less dramatic, more sedate. This was the side originally exposed, and what made me bring it home in the first place.

I will be letting this piece recover from the repotting while I deliberate possibilities. Extensive removal of branches (there are a lot of them that will play no role in any future work) will wait. I intend to remove the flower buds, and once vegatative growth starts up again here, doing light, selective pruning, with an eye on encouraging back budding. If I had a clearer idea of which direction I wanted to take this, I might be more daring with cutting it down, but for now, I am in no rush.

Suggestions and thoughts, as always, are welcome.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Speak for the Trees

The Trees are All Right

by Timothy Egan

In most of the American West, the trees are not the right height, which may
frighten Mitt Romney, and some of them are so old as to challenge the biblical
view of creation that Rick Santorum wants taught in schools.

The tallest
trees in the world, the coast redwoods of northern California, grow to 378 feet
— more than half the size of Seattle’s Space Needle. The oldest trees in the
world, bristlecone pines that cling to hard ground in Nevada’s Great Basin, can
live for up to 5,000 years.

The saguaro cactus, with its droopy,
anthropomorphic limbs, is the signature tree of the Southwest, though some say
it is not technically a tree. And the western red cedar, armored in bark that
Indians made into waterproof clothing, is a symbol of the Northwest.

This arbor tutorial is prompted by the slack-jawed ignorance of the last
Republicans standing in the bad-idea-fest that is their party primary. Every
week, it seems, the conveyor belt of craziness serves up another archaic idea
from the people who want to represent a party that claims at least 40 percent of
the electorate.

Just an exerpt from the above linked blog post. All politics aside, it's an interesting piece, and something well worth keeping in mind and (for me) in heart. Anyone who loves bonsai loves trees, yes? And wild spaces are places worth protecting.

Be the Lorax, speak for the trees.....

Look for a return from general plant news to bonsai this weekend.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Plant news

Just a pair of interesting articles coming out of the science community yesterday. For the plant geeks out there.....

Giant Vines & Towering Trees: Ancient Forest Unearthed

Doomsday Seed Vault's Birthday Brings 25,000 Gifts


Wednesday, February 29, 2012


I have a confession.

Using powertools on my bonsai terrify me.

Serious, hands shaking, put the tool down and walk away, kind of terrified.

I can saw wood (by hand power or tool power), use nail guns with glee, build a deck or entertainment unit from scratch (*insert rude comment about Ikea that I don't really mean*) and dozens of other tool and power tool related things.... but the moment my *trees* are involved, I start to feel a little lightheaded.

And this is, I suspect, holding me back.

I've participated in a demo, going so far as to hold the tree, while someone gleefully hacked away at an innocent hollywood juniper with a dremel..... and to be honest, that may be the problem. The tree.... did not come out lovely, and the guy doing the demo actually gouged his hand badly using his tools. Having to pull out EMT training from five years prior was not my idea of a fun way to end the evening. And the whole thing may have coloured my views on it.

I have at least three trees that I suspect would benefit from some real, heavy duty carving. Two junipers and an azalea. And I just. Can't. Do it.

What I need to do is contemplate getting back in to the local scene and finding someone I trust to show me how to do it *right*. And maybe it is time, almost three years after backing out of it because of internal politics.... will those have gone away? Probably not. Am I more prepared for them? Hardly. But going in knowing what to expect and simply deciding not to play ball? That, maybe, I can do.

Because I want to get my dremel dirty.