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Friday, 10 May 2013



  1.      River red gum

Eucalyptus camaldulensis
Tree age: c1989  Year 1st trained/styled: 1989

I purchased this tree in 2004 from a former bonsai club member when it was already 15 years old and re-shaped it but without altering the essential trunk style.  I was attracted to the tree from two aspects:  first, it was a native Australian tree; and second, I was entranced by its appearance. I find that the three main areas to focus on in developing this bonsai are: keeping the leaves as small as possible (it is a tree that has naturally large leaves); preserving its bark platelets from being damaged when handling the tree; and shaping the tree to appear as a River red gum looks on the flood plains of the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers.
I have found this to be a very tolerant tree for bonsai culture, very hardy and forgiving of some of the horticultural activities it has been put through.  It is a tree for all seasons – although it looks its best in spring and summer is when.  I consider it will continue to develop into a great bonsai. 

2.      Coast banksia

Banksia integrifolia var. compar
Tree age: 1980. Year 1st trained/styled: 1993

This tree was obtained as a 10” (300mm) nursery plant that had some age but no training. It was just one of four similar plants but this one turned out to have a different bark, growth habit and new growth colour from the others.  I eventually determined that it was a less common variety of the Coast Banksia.  The main challenge with Banksia integrifolia is to reduce the leaf size.  This is done by fertilising well and frequently trimming for ramification.  By doing this, the tree eventually produces mostly the juvenile form of the leaves that are dramatically smaller.  This tree has had numerous style changes over the years: it is a tree I like to experiment with.  The main and most enduring feature of this tree, along with its wonderful bark, is the heavy, low, right hand branch that I will never remove or lighten.  The tree is extremely healthy and vigorous and is trimmed numerous times during the growing season; hence it is easy to change its style or feel.

3.  Golden Himalayan cedar

Cedrus deodara ‘Aurea’,
Tree age: 1965. Year 1st trained/styled: 1975

This Golden Cedar was purchased as small nursery stock when I was about 17 years old and has been in my collection longer than any of my other trees.  The thing that attracted my eye at the time was that it had been almost blown out of its pot with half the roots sticking up in the air, and dead.  The dead roots eventually broke off and a small swelling formed on the top of the base.  Cedars do not bud back on old wood so it is important to keep the tree compact enough to continue the ramification of the branches.  It was always going to end up in a cascading fashion of some sort and the current shape is the product of many style changes over the past 39 years.  It seems to have finally found a style I am happy with and a pot that complements it in all ways.

4.  Desert ash

Fraxinus angustifolia var. angustifolia
Tree age: 1999. Year 1st trained/styled: 2008

I grew this tree from seed I collected at the 1999 Adelaide AABC convention.  I grew a fat trunk with the use of lots of sacrifice branches until I gradually removed those not wanted and started to seriously style the tree in 2008.  I retained two possible trunks and ended up keeping them both, turning the lower one into a branch.  The tree has a compound leaf and the biggest challenge is to reduce the leaf size by constant trimming, pinching, defoliation and lots of wiring in its first few years of intensive training.  This tree will eventually look its best in winter once a few more years have passed and its ramification has increased.  I have not yet found the right pot for it.  The current one is a bit too shallow.  My search for the ideal pot continues.

5.  Coastal tea-tree

Leptospermum laevigatum
Tree age: 1991. Year 1st trained/styled: 1998

This tree was given to me as very young nursery stock in the early 1990s and I grew it on for a few years in larger and larger plastic pots.  I eventually pruned it hard and have since grown it in various bonsai pots. Its shaping has all been done by clip and grow; no wiring at all.  I love it for its rough and flaky bark, the muscling on the trunk and its small and colourful leaf (especially the new growth that is red tinged).  The style has evolved naturally without any master plan; just working with the tree as it grew.  It is a very tough and forgiving tree that is root pruned and potted in the warmer times of the year; the rest of the year involves frequent pinching and trimming to keep it in shape.  To me it looks its best when it is covered in new red growth and because the tree can put out new growth throughout the whole season, even going into winter, this can be at almost any time of year.

6.   Swamp cypress

Taxodium distichum
Tree age: 1970. Year 1st trained/styled: 1978

This tree had been ground grown for a few years and dug up before I purchased it. I chopped it down in height to increase taper – and to get it into my car.  The tree was designed from one side but was later reversed when the trunk was carved to remove the last vestiges of scarring where the trunk had been previously shortened.  Although the tree was carved almost 30 years ago it has never shown any tendency to rot unlike some Swamp cypress you will see in the more tropical parts of Australia.

7.   Chinese elm

Ulmus parvifolia
Tree age: 1994. Year 1st trained/styled: 1994

This tree was grown by the late Hong Lin of Melbourne.  He immigrated to Australia in 1994 and was given a Chinese elm that became the stock plant from which this elm was grown as a root cutting.  The tree has been styled in the Lingnan style of clip and grow Wire was rarely used on any of his trees.  Mr Hong also set himself an extra challenge and that was to have the trees look as good from the ‘back’ as well as their ‘front’.  All I have done since purchasing the tree is to water, fertilise (a bit more than Mr Hong did) and trim the excess growth.  I do not intend to change the tree in any substantial way as I feel the tree is close to perfection as it is.  I will only re-pot this tree once every 5 or even 10 years if it continues to stay in good health so as not to produce any excessively vigorous growth.

8.    Corky bark elm

Ulmus parvifolia ‘Suber’
Tree age: 1975. Year 1st trained/styled: 1978

This tree was grown from a cutting and when about 3 years old was cut back to a single side branch, which produced the lowest curve on the trunk.  The style has gradually emerged over the years but had a major cut back and restyle about 3 years ago.  The Corky bark elm has always been one of my favourite trees over the years as it produces the corky bark at an early age and is a vigorous and healthy tree that is easy to style.  I am trying to encourage the tree to grow in a more natural deciduous style rather than the original ‘black pine’ styling of its early years.

9.   Dwarf Japanese garden juniper

Juniperus procumbens 'Nana'
Tree age: c1982. Year 1st trained/styled: 2002

This tree was given to me by another Canberra bonsai artist to replace a similar tree that had been stolen.  It was grown from nursery stock and had some styling done by the original owner.  Since owning it I have totally restyled it.  Junipers are a favourite of mine.  I enjoy how quickly they respond to bonsai styling techniques.  This tree has a number of 'jins' (dead branches) and a 'shari' on the trunk.  Deadwood such as this is often a feature on conifer bonsai as it does occur in nature and helps create the impression of age.  The tree is currently on loan to the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection of Australia.

10.  Blaauw's juniper

Juniperus x-media ’Blaauw’
Tree age: c1983. Year 1st trained/styled: 1995

This triple trunk tree was first styled at a workshop with Japanese-American bonsai master Roy Nagatoshi at the Bonsai Clubs International Convention held in Sydney in 1995.  Initial styling involved intensive wiring of all branches.  The jins and shari (deadwood) on the right trunk are a feature often used on juniper bonsai.   I potted the tree into the 'Mirkwood Forest' pot in 2005.

11.  Jack pine

Pinus banksiana
Tree age: 1985. Year 1st trained/styled: 1994

Pinus banksiana is a North American species occurring in Canada and in the north-central and north-eastern United States.  This tree was a self-seeded specimen collected in 1991 from one of the many arboreta in the Brindabella ranges near Canberra.  Sadly most of these arboreta were burnt out during the bush fires of 2003.  First styled in 1994 this is one of my favourite trees.  The species buds back readily and the needles can be reduced dramatically. I use techniques generally used on other two needle pine species, but modified to suit the Jack Pine growth habit.  The pot by Queensland potter Marie Hewartson complements the tree perfectly.  The tree is currently on loan to the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection of Australia.

12.  Kingsville boxwood

Buxus microphylla ‘Kingsville Dwarf’
Tree age: 1991. Year 1st trained/styled: 1996

Kingsville box is a 'sport' of Buxus microphylla and takes its name from the nursery where it was discovered in Maryland USA in 1912.  However, it was not released to the public until 1937.  Its small leaves make it ideal for use in bonsai and in particularly 'shohin' size bonsai.  I purchased this tree as nursery stock in 1992 and styled it as in the classic broom style bonsai, since 1996.  Although slow growing, the species has a strong root system and requires regular re-potting and root pruning.

13. Japanese black pine

Pinus thunbergii
Tree age: c1980. Year 1st trained/styled: 1991

The Japanese Black Pine is regarded as iconic bonsai material.  This tree was originally styled at a workshop with American bonsai artist Jim Barrett but the current style has become quite different to that suggested by Jim.  It was purchased as mature nursery stock from the Weston Creek club show in 1991, and was much taller, being reduced to its current height at first styling.  In 2001, I performed some heavy bending of the top of the trunk to change the direction of the apex.  The tree was totally wired last year in preparation for this show.

14.  Shimpaku juniper

Juniperus chinensis  ‘Shimpaku’
Tree age: 1998. Year 1st trained/styled: 2005

This Shimpaku juniper was purchased from Canberra Bonsai Society in 2005 as future workshop material.  Originally, the tree had eight trunks and stood at approximately 2 metres high.  It now has five trunks and is 1 metre high. It reflects Mr Masahiro Kimura’s design of a family: father and son (two larger trunks), the mother at the back of the setting, and two trunks as the smaller siblings. The bonsai took three hours to style at a workshop with Mr Kimura during the AABC Sydney Bonsai Convention in August 2005.  The tree retains his design but has undergone continuing development. Much work is still to do with the focus on increasing pad definition without creating a ‘pom pom’ appearance. The current bonsai pot is its final pot and complements the tree structure.

15.  Rosemary

Rosmarinus officinalis
Tree age: 1982. Year 1st trained/styled: 1997

This tree was part of the Shirley McLachlan estate in 1997.  Originally, the tree had two trunks, and after a few years growing in plastic and training pots, I restyled it in 2003 and removed the straighter of the two trunks. The movement of the trunk gives the tree its underlying beauty and the present design enables the observer a diversity of views, with each different from the last. It is a gentle tree and its aroma on a summer evening takes one to the enchanting Mediterranean.  It is also a practical tree, as I use the foliage in cooking. 

16.  Coast- banksia

Banksia integrifolia
Tree age: late 1990s. Year 1st trained/styled: late 1990s

I bought this tree from Grant Bowie who had first shaped it in a demonstration. Grant already had a similar bonsai of this species which had developed a strong fat base but had small leaves compared with the normal B. integrifolia. The shape of the tree has evolved as it matured, however I like the fat base and the small leaves which are maintained by constant trimming during the growing season. This tree loves water and needs to be re-potted at least every 2 years due to vigorous root growth. While the basic shape of the tree is influenced by traditional approaches to styling bonsai, I have also tried to develop a more natural appearance for this banksia.

17. Shimpaku juniper

Juniperus chinensis ‘Shimpaku
Tree age: 1976. Year 1st trained/styled: 1976

This tree was partially styled when purchased and I have continued to develop its cascading form, refining and developing the foliage pads as the tree matures. This tree has been used as a hire tree for the last 10 years and has been very popular with hirers and their customers. It was displayed at the Japanese Embassy in December 2012 for the Emperor’s birthday celebrations.

18. Privet

Ligustrum sp.
Tree age: c1873. Year 1st trained/styled: 1973

Purchased approximately 6 years ago, this tree has been a bonsai for 40 years. The tree itself may be 140 years old based on its known history as a former hedge plant at a historic homestead on the Central Coast. It was entered in a general photographic competition a few years ago and was runner up in 4500 entries. The gnarly appearance contributes to the aged appearance of the tree.

19. Azalea 'Sao-to-me’

Rhododendron sp.
Tree age: 2001. Year 1st trained/styled: 2001

This non-flowering azalea is appreciated for its fine bark texture and small leaves which colour beautifully in the cold weather. Lee Wright created it from a single plant with many thin shoots. I plaited some shoots together to make the thicker trunk. The others shoots were plaited together with the intention of removing them once they had helped to thicken the main trunk, however as the tree developed I liked the second trunk and retained it. This tree did well when entered in the Royal Easter Show and the Castle Hill Show. Since purchasing the tree in 2010 I have maintained the original shape, which has very pleasing movement and strong visual impact for a small tree.


20. Golden Chinese juniper

Juniperus chinensis ’Aurea’
Tree age:
c1988. Year 1st trained/styled: 1997

This juniper was a garden shrub that grew too big for the area it had been planted in.  It was dug up and had 5 trunks to start with, two of which I removed.  Of the three remaining, I drastically cut back and carved one.  Both the primary and secondary trunks had branching that tended to grow mainly in one direction.  The tree was tilted to the left and with selective pruning I gradually developed its present windswept style.  Further carving was done on the main trunk, over a period of time.  As it is a Chinese juniper, it usually has both scale-like mature- and needle-like juvenile foliage at the same time, which makes styling problematic at times.  In summer its colour is gold-green.

21.  Shimpaku juniper

Juniperus chinensis 'Shimpaku'
Tree age: 1986. Year 1st trained/styled: 1991

This tree was purchased from a club sales table in 1991.  The tree had three trunks.  I considered one trunk to be a little high and removed it but retained a small jin as part of the tree's story.  The remaining main trunk presented a particular challenge: it tended to lean towards the small trunk on the left and I wired many times.  To achieve the beautiful balance of the current design, and to allow the main trunk to be positioned more vertically, the first branch on the right hand side was removed, retaining enough to create another jin.

22.  Shimpaku juniper


Juniperus chinensis 'Shimpaku'
Tree age: 2000 Year 1st trained/styled: 2008


23.  Prostrate Nepal juniper


Juniperus squamata ’Prostrata’
Tree age: 2004 Year 1st trained/styled: 2008


24.  Prostrate Nepal juniper

Juniperus squamata ’Prostrata’
Tree age: 2004 Year 1st trained/styled: 2008

Each of these small bonsai (shohin) was created from larger nursery stock that was cut back to the first branch. This branch was trained up to create a new trunk and its tiny shoots were developed into the current branches. Often shohin bonsai have only two or three branches to create the impression of a larger tree canopy, however I have tried to develop truly miniature trees, with branches and spaces between the branches all miniaturised in scale. I enjoy the challenges of working at this scale, however to develop and maintain the fine structures requires attention to detail and meticulous trimming during the growing season.


25.  Common hawthorn

Crataegus monogyna
Tree age: 1985. Year 1st trained/styled:

I obtained this hawthorn from a dig in the Green Hills area, Canberra in 1991 that is the now the site of the National Arboretum Canberra.  Training started a year later when the tree produced abundant new growth.  It has responded quite well to training but did not flower for the first 5 years.  From 1998 flowering became more intense but it did not produce much fruit (haws).  In 2012, however, the plant was covered in flowers and the large amount of fruit both pleased and surprised me.  The tree buds back quite readily and the bark now has a lovely aged look.  The best time to enjoy the tree is in spring when it has masses of white flowers and in autumn when the berries turned red.  In winter it drops all its leaves and the whole tree is bare.

26.  Dwarf Japanese garden juniper


Juniperus procumbens 'Nana'
Tree age:
1991. Year 1st trained/styled: 1994

I bought this plant in 1994, wired its pencil-size stem to a bamboo stake giving it a twist around the bottom and planted it in my backyard.  It grew quite vigorously sending its branches toward the rotary clothes hoist, hampering its turning.  It had to be dug up.  Digging was tricky as the branches extended about 80 cm in radius around the centre of the plant – this was done in 2000 – and I planted it into a polystyrene box for a few years and later into a big garden pot. After several more years of training in a round terracotta pot, it was transplanted into its present Chinese bonsai pot in 2009.  I began styling the plant from the day it was dug up, but undertook the more serious styling from 2000.  During the later period of training, I modified the apex into a much more adventurous shape.  The plant resembles a large bird in flight, thus its name ‘The Jade Phoenix’.

27.  Firethorn


Pyracantha sp.
Tree age: 1995. Year 1st trained/styled: 2000

This pyracantha is one of several exhibits that were dug from the site of the National Arboretum Canberra.  It was collected in 2000.  It was growing as clump and appeared to be around 5 years old.  It had lots of yellow berries that I was looking for at the time (red is the usual colour of pyracanthas berries: yellow is uncommon).  I root pruned it, potted it into a polystyrene container and the very next day removed some branches and began styling it.  In spring, new shoots sprouted all over the clump and styling was a matter of choosing which to reject and to wire up the remainder.  Not surprisingly, I went with the clump style as the plant itself suggested.  However, I decided to use an informal rather than a strictly traditional approach to the styling of the plant.  This bonsai has given me many hours of pleasure in styling and looking at it.  I particularly like the prolific white flowers it has in spring, followed by its yellow berries in autumn.

28.  Deodar cedar

Cedrus deodara
Tree age: unknown. Year 1st trained/styled: 1982

This tree was a gift from a friend of mine: a bonsai enthusiast who had a lot of trees.  This one was a stock tree and had been neglected. When I acquired it in 1982, it was growing upright in a very small square pot and as it was unbalanced it continually fell over.  The tree was old and gnarled and I was forced to break away the container to begin the long training process.  Once released from the original container it took 7 years for the tree to break its root bound mass with new feeder roots.  Evidence of this root mass outline can still be seen around the base of the trunk.  I have trained the tree as ‘looking over water’ style – other bonsai artists might call this a form of cascade – with a pleasing trunk line which will eventually be exposed to show its full beauty.  Cedrus deodara are a little fussy with their upkeep and do not tolerate heavy handling during training.  Once established they will respond to normal bonsai care and love very free draining potting mix, which in this case is totally inert. 

29.  Port Jackson fig


Ficus rubiginosa
Tree age: unknown. Year 1st trained/styled: 1989

I located this tree in a feeder stream of Cabbage Tree Creek at the foot of Clyde Mountain, NSW.  It had been split in two by the force of flood action.  I saw the plant as desirable bonsai stock and decided to remove one half of the base using a chain saw.  The base was replanted in creek sand in a backwater of the creek and collected 1 year later, when it had developed roots and some foliage, and it was replanted in a box of pure creek sand.  Since that time all visible branches have been developed from the split trunk base.  The ficus of the south coast of NSW have thicker and smaller leaves than those of their northern counterparts, and growth is slower as they can be subjected to very cold weather.  I defoliate the tree twice per year to maintain reduced leaf size and reduce inter nodal length.  It has consciously been trained to achieve the natural appearance of the Port Jackson figs growing in the vicinity.

30.  Bosnian pine


Pinus heldreichii
Tree age: unknown. Year 1st trained/styled: 1985

I found this tree growing in the Uriarra Pinus radiata forest in the ACT.  How it came to be there is a mystery: the plantings in this area were made in the 1940s and I assume that somehow the parent tree seedlings were mixed in with those of the P. radiata seedlings.  This tree, which is in fact two trees fused together, was found near the base of two large mature specimens along with many other seedlings of P. Heldreichii in the vicinity.  Unfortunately, all pines in this area were destroyed in the 2003 bush fires that wreaked havoc on Canberra.  But that sad fact serves to make this specimen all the more significant.  Heldrich’s pine is native to the Balkans and Southern Italy and identification was initially difficult because of the lack of the species in Australia.  Being an uncommon species, I had to learn how best to manage its development as a bonsai.  Initially, the tree was very slow to react to training, but it now responds to handling similar to that given the other pinus species.  Needle reduction has been excellent as initially needles were 3-4 inches in length.  I donated this tree to the AABC and underwent its initial styling at the AABC convention in Canberra in 1991 and was raffled off.  The tree itself told the design. It was found difficult to style and it was returned to me some years back by the winner for further development.

31.  Japanese black pine


Pinus thunbergii
Tree age: 1974. Year 1st trained/styled: 1982

This tree was germinated from imported seed in the ACT during spring 1974 and grown in the ground until 1980 when it was lifted, root-pruned, trimmed and planted in a training box.  While this tree exhibits the ‘old lived’ and rugged characteristics of Japanese black pines in the wild, the trunk base development could be improved.  The trunk has a somewhat difficult ‘goose-neck’ in it that has necessitated the development of other features to shift the viewer’s eye.  A very pleasing feature of the tree is that it is now showing the ‘turtle shell’ bark that only comes with age.

32.  Korean fir


Abies koreana
Tree age: 1982. Year 1st trained/styled: 1982

Abies koreana is native to the higher mountains of South Korea, growing in temperate rain forests with high rainfall and cool, humid summers, and heavy winter snowfall.  It is a small to medium-sized evergreen coniferous tree growing to 10-18 m tall with a trunk diameter of up to 0.7 m.  When I bought this tree from a local garden centre as a small plant, it was broom shaped and this influenced the current style.  Some of the trunks were removed to thin out the crown and allow room for good foliage development.  The fine, compact foliage was one of the features that attracted me to this tree.  The Korean fir needs a regular trimming regime to keep it in good shape as a bonsai: it does not grow back on bare wood.  It needs to be kept moist to grow well, especially in our hot dry summers.

33.  Dwarf hinoki cypress


Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana'
Tree age: 1981. Year 1st trained/styled: 1981

I was attracted to the fan-like foliage of this tree.  The fans have reduced in size with age and repeated finger-pinching, done to keep the tree in shape.  The tree prefers some shade during Canberra’s summer months and shelter from strong wind.  The soil needs to be kept moist but must also be well-drained.  Although bought in Canberra, the tree was grown on in the ground in Sydney for 2 years to speed up its naturally slow growth.  The Hinoki cypress is a tall (up to 36m) tree native to Japan.  The normal form of this tree is rarely seen in gardens; however there are a number of attractive cultivars suitable for smaller gardens.

34.  Seiju elm


Ulmus parvifolia ' Seiju'
Tree age: 1982. Year 1st trained/styled: 1999

I was attracted to this tree by the corky bark. After its purchase from a bonsai nursery, I planted it at an angle and trained one branch up to make a new leader.  The base of the tree has thickened well and I am continuing to develop the crown.

35.  English elm


Ulmus procera
Tree age: 1980. Year 1st trained/styled: 1980

I bought this tree from the late Joe Micallef in about 1998.  Joe Micallef was one of the early Australian bonsai artists and a key figure in the early bonsai community in Canberra.  Joe was very innovative and liked to experiment with different styles and techniques.  I was attracted to the unusual shape, in particular the exposed roots.  I have largely maintained the original shape but allowed it to grow taller.  English elm is an easy tree to care for and maintain as a bonsai.

36.  Heath banksia


Banksia ericifolia
Tree age: Unknown. Year 1st trained/styled: 2005

I bought this tree in 2005 from a nursery in Young, NSW.  The nursery owner had been experimenting with this plant for some years but was not happy with its progress: it had been developed as a standardised pot plant 1.7 meters tall. I saw great potential in the tree, however, and was particularly attracted by its unusual trunk.  My first step in styling the tree was to immediately reduce its size to a lower branch 250mm from the base.  This branch appears, fortuitously, to have developed due to neglect.  The other branches you see today developed from this cut.  From this time, the tree developed its shape in a relatively short period.  Training now consists mainly of regular pinching of the foliage during the summer months.  I am happy to encourage the tree to flower, which it does from time to time – unfortunately not this year for the enjoyment of Convention visitors.

37.  Old man banksia


Banksia serrata
Tree age: Unknown. Year 1st trained/styled: Unknown.

I purchased this tree from a Bonsai nursery at Cambewarra in 2004, already in a bonsai pot and with some styling done.  This tree is one of several collected by the previous owner a few years earlier, and was part of his personal collection.  He liked to collect this variety Banksia with feeder roots close the main trunk.  This is the reason for the bulbous trunk on this exhibit.  I was particularly attracted to this tree because of its trunk and am still inspired by the thought of how long it had survived in such hard conditions.  The bark on the trunk tells a story of survival and age: an appearance that is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve in a banksia cultivated in a pot.  Since acquiring the tree, I have undertaken only minor restyling and have concentrated on reducing the leaf size.

38.  Blueberry ash


Eleocarpus reticulatus
Tree age: 2001. Year 1st trained/styled: 2005

I dug this tree from my father’s vegetable patch at Bermagui in 2004.  At the time, it was 4 metres tall and both my father and I were delighted: one because his vegetables had been saved from a tree that can grow to 15 metres in height and 4 metres in width; and the other because he had acquired a plant with splendid bonsai potential.  I particularly like the powerful trunk on this tree and the bronze colour of the young new growth which contrasts with the older green leaves.  The Blueberry ash thrives in warmer temperate conditions along the coast and its white ‘fairy petticoat’ flowers and blue oval fruits are perhaps the most pleasing features of this species.  Unfortunately, the tree was significantly affected by the harsh Canberra frosts during its first 2 years of development and since 2006 I have kept it inside during winter.  This has allowed for faster development of the foliage.

39.  Narrow-leaved black peppermint gum


Eucalyptus nicholii
Tree age: 12 years. Year 1st trained/styled: 2007

I have worked with Eucalyptus nicholii since 1995 and consider this variety to be excellent Australian native material for most of the basic techniques used in bonsai.  My inspiration for this setting was the combination of rocks and trees on the Jindabyne side of Cooma.  I have moved trees and rocks around several times since the first potting in 2007 and, notwithstanding the pleasing symmetry of the design, I am still struggling with the right balance of rocks.  Further, I have designed the grove to be viewed from either side: in this exhibition it is viewed from the original preferred front; in other shows it has been viewed from the opposite side or both sides.  In some senses, the grove began its journey as bonsai in 2002 when I acquired several Eucalyptus nicholii trees from various nurseries with the intention of one day creating a uniquely Australian setting.  The primary tree was put in the ground for 2 years to increase its size.  Two other trees are leftovers from a previous attempt to create a eucalypt grove – an attempt I considered to be a failure. 

40.  Port Jackson fig


Ficus rubiginosa
Tree age: 12 years. Year 1st trained/styled: 2001

This tree is a survivor: the only survivor of an unseasonal frost in 2003 that killed all of my larger Ficus rubiginosa trees.  Even this tree had lost its main leader due to the frost and new branching had to be developed from the new shoots.  It was purchased in 2000 as a starter and has been consciously trained as a shohin. Because of our cold climate, it lives inside during the winter months and this significantly slowed the tree’s development, especially the broad canopy that has taken a long time to evolve.  Being an indoor tree for part of the year, however, means that it receives a lot of attention.  I like the character of the trunk.  Particular challenges with training this species as a shohin have been in the reduction of the leave size and in keeping the trunk in a small pot.

41.  Monterey pine


Pinus radiata
Tree age: Unknown. Year 1st trained/styled: 1997

I dug this tree from the Tuggeranong pine plantation in the south of Canberra in 1997.  It was the first tree I had dug from the wild since becoming a bonsai enthusiast a few years earlier and as a beginner, my initial thoughts were of its survival.  All the information I had read at that time suggested that this particular variety was not suited to bonsai.  I persisted with its development over the years, however, and am happy with the results.  The tree had self-seeded and was growing under a log.  I was attracted to it because of the movement of the trunk, which is still a feature as it develops the gnarly bark of a mature tree.  From day one its design was to be a cascade and initially was a full cascade.  As my skills developed, the tree has been refined and it has become a more compact semi cascade style.  This compact growth has taken many years to develop and I draw viewers’ attention to this characteristic. 

42.  English oak


Quercus robur
Tree age: Unknown. Year 1st trained/styled: 2001

A member of the Canberra Bonsai Society dug the tree from the site of the Olympic Bowl in Canberra city before it was demolished in the late 1990s.  The parent trees exist today, adjacent to the Canberra Olympic Pool, offering a unique opportunity to compare a mature tree with its bonsai progeny.  I purchased the tree from a club sales table in 2000 and continued its development by utilising the existing branching and trunk.  As its framework developed I turned my attention to reducing the leaf size, over many seasons I partially defoliated the tree twice a year, in early November and early January.  Interestingly, the tree now produces smaller leaves every season.  This is a special point of interest because this variety of oak normally has leaves 3 times the size seen in this bonsai.  The powerful trunk and the bark are what I like about the tree.

43.  Black cypress pine


Callitris endlicheri
Tree age: 1987. Year 1st trained/styled: 1987

Along the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range, often where ancient rocks still thrust upwards from the plains, rich, dark green spires of Callitris dominate the land in small patches.  The soils are shallow and dry.  Life for trees is hard, but these candle-like stems seem oblivious to such views of their world.  Only the ancient, cracked, dark ruddy-black bark hints at life in challenging places.  Although the eye reaches up to the rich greens, it always returns to the strength of the muscled bark: firm, protecting, rich in textures and colours.  These days, elders of these black cypresses are not common.  Land clearing for crops and grazing have removed most.  But in narrow sheltered gorges, not suited to other uses by people, old, ent-like stands can be seen.  Walk in the valley of the Molonglo gorge and you will find them.

44.  Small-leaved Kunzea


Kunzea parvifolia
Tree age: 1997. Year 1st trained/styled: 2002

At home in shallow, ephemeral swamps, or other shallow, often heavy soils, these small myrtaceous shrubs are almost invisible for much of the year with their wispy branches and minute leaves scattered along purplish branchlets.  Come spring and gaudy magenta spheres are strung along those wispy canes!  Sometimes, one of these natural miniatures grows out of cracks in rocky ground beside the small swamps.  Things are drier here and branching is tighter and less wispy, but no less beautiful.  My mind still enjoys following the twists and turns of trunk and limb that dissipate into wiry grey-greens, waiting for the next explosion of purplish-pink.

45.  Bracelet honey myrtle


Melaleuca armillaris 'Green Globe'
Tree age: 1985. Year 1st trained/styled: 1990.

Habitat: coastal cliffs and sides of rivers, often dense canopies...impenetrable....
     I first knew your spiralling trunks where you lined city streets,
     with trunks in circles of lazy J-curves.
     Now, gazing into your green, or is it yellow-green, canopy,
     that caps long, twiggy branches,
     I imagine waves crashing on craggy cliffs,
     while soft sea-breezes cool my skin.

46. Prickly paperbark


Melaleuca styphelioides
Tree age: 2001-2. Year 1st trained/styled: 2003

Along the banks of small, intermittent streams that feed into the Hawkesbury River, New South Wales, are small groves of trees with white, peeling, papery bark.  If you squeeze the trunk, it 'gives' a little because of the thick spongy and papery bark.  That bark provides protection from the periodic fires that sweeps through the area and leave traces in black streaks on the white.  One might see some trunks of mixed charcoal black and white - reminding one of the basis for the name of the genus Melaleuca.  Squeezing a handful of leaves is another matter.  More likely to yield a yelp as the fine, stiff needles readily pierce the skin.  They also make sitting under these trees not overly attractive!  These small forest patches are thrilling to see in early morning or early evening when the sun imparts soft, yellow-ochre hues to the towering trunks and rather rigid branches.  In my mind's eye, I can safely wander through this miniature forest grove, admiring the oldest trees and their younger companions.

47.  Heath myrtle


Sannantha pluriflora
Tree age: 1986. Year 1st trained/styled: 1986

Drought ravages large swathes of the Australian landscape, shaping all the life that comes there.  Our trees and shrubs often show the signs of droughts past.  No room for 'lightning strikes' or snow torn branches here.  Rather, tell-tale dead branches reach for the sky.  But below the dead crags life springs anew - rich, verdant, affirming of its tenacity.  Contemplating this tiny Sannantha reminds me of the droughts past, and of the near disasters that my own mis-management can cause to beautiful plants.

48.  Harland’s Box


Buxus harlandii
Tree age: 2006. Year 1st trained/styled: 2010

The textured yellowish bark and small leaves of Buxus harlandii remind me of many Australian native plants – perhaps that is why I find them so attractive.  This plant was bought at the 2009 AABC convention in Brisbane as I liked its curved base and ready shohin potential.  It is easy to work with, responding well to pruning and trimming and sets easily after wiring.

49.  Grevillea ‘Pink Lady’


Grevillea juniperina ’ Pink Lady’
Tree age: 2002. Year 1st trained/styled: 2002

A hybrid with Grevillea juniperina as one parent, ‘Pink Lady’ grows to about 30cm high with a spread of up to 2m.  It produces abundant pale pink flowers throughout spring and this little bonsai is visited by honeyeaters and silver eyes during this period.  In its early bonsai history it lost a branch for no apparent reason but now appears quite hardy in pot culture.  It does not appear to shoot back on the older wood and must be kept trimmed to retain the desired shape. This cultivar was originally developed in neighbouring Queanbeyan

50.  Burgan


Kunzea ericoides
Tree age: 2005. Year 1st trained/styled: 2006

These two trees have been fun to develop.  They emerged as ‘weeds’ in another pot, were planted out into small pots and their trunks wired into exaggerated shapes.  They were fed and watered and the branches were trimmed back hard from time to time with no particular plan for their futures.  The squat, square pot inspired the final design of the smaller tree, keeping its head down in a rocky windswept landscape.  When cutting away surplus branches and foliage from the taller tree about 2 years ago, I was delighted by the little tree that emerged.  Its appearance has continued to improve with a trimming regime aimed to enhance the illusion of age.

51.  Paperbark


Melaleuca linariifolia ‘Claret Tops’
Tree age: 2003. Year 1st trained/styled: 2005

The bark texture and lovely red colour of the new growth, which will occur throughout the growing season if the tree is pruned regularly, make ‘Claret Tops’ an attractive plant for bonsai.  This tree was continually cut back in the early years of its development to stimulate finer branching and is now thinned regularly to maintain a balance between leafiness and twigginess.  It responds very well to trimming.  It has had some wiring, but the main training has involved removing unwanted growth.

52.  Prickly paperbark


Melaleuca styphelioides
Tree age: 1980. Year 1st trained/styled: 1981

Melaleuca styphelioides is a popular bonsai specimen for its attractive bark, small leaves and readiness to shoot back on old wood.  I acquired this particular tree in 1980 as a bonsai stock plant.  As one of my first attempts at creating a bonsai, it has had all its branches removed and regrown twice in its very early days.  I have developed movement in the top section of the trunk and the branches to add interest and offset the straightness of the lower trunk.  Until a few years ago, the foliage was cut back to encourage density of twigs.  Thinning has now opened up the branches to reveal more of the finer structure.  This tree looks a bit dismal by the end of Canberra’s winter but bursts into abundant new growth in mid-spring.

53.  Firethorn


Pyracantha sp.
Tree age: 1984. Year 1st trained/styled:1984

Pulled from the garden as a small seedling, this tree was spared from the compost bin thanks to the interesting shape of its tiny trunk. It was potted immediately and has always been kept in a small pot and shaped by the ‘clip and grow’ technique.

54.  Japanese maple


Acer palmatum
Tree age: 1983. Year 1st trained/styled: 1985

I grew the trees in this grove from seed collected from a mature Japanese maple planted in Weston Park, adjacent to Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra in 1983.  My aim was to create a setting of trees as might be found in a mature forest setting.  The group showcases the delicacy that the Japanese maples offer all year round: in spring and summer it has soft green foliage; from around April it develops lovely autumn colours; and it looks pleasing in winter with bare branches and an uninterrupted view of its tall elegant trunks.  One challenge I faced is that water readily runs off the beautiful granite slab the trees are growing on.  This can erode the soil and makes it difficult to keep keeping groundcovers such as moss growing and meaning that the trees have had a harder life than they would in a normal pot.  My plans include adding a ninth tree to the group (to replace one that died) and continuing to develop the fine branching.

55.  Scots pine or western yellow pine


Pinus sylvestris or Pinus ponderosa
Tree age: 1984. Year 1st trained/styled: 1987

I collected this tree from a pine forest on the outskirts of Canberra and have conflicting advice as to whether it is a Pinus ponderosa or a Pinus sylvestris.  As one of several exhibits whose parent trees were destroyed in the 2003 Canberra bushfires, its origins cannot be further explored.  The tree has been redesigned several times with extensive pruning and wiring undertaken in June 2002 and is currently in the slanted style.  It is an easy tree to care for.  It always had lovely nebari and a strong trunk line with good branches, although it is a very spiky tree with stiff and prickly needles that make it hard to do fine wiring.  The foliage pads have developed well despite this challenge.  The bark on the trunk is attractive and now showing some good age.  During the next few years, I intend to undertake further development of trunk line up to the apex.  It is a little thin in proportion to the rest of the trunk and I will grow on several sacrificial branches over the next few years to improve this. 

56.  Unidentified yamadori pine


Pinus sp.
Tree age: 1966. Year 1st trained/styled: 1993

The Boboyan pine plantation in the Brindabella ranges west of Canberra, from which I dug this tree in 1991, was planted in 1966 – hence the tree was 25 years old at that time.  The plantation no longer exists and identifying the species of this tree is difficult.  The design is based on an elegant, slightly oriental spreading pine as might be found in China.  I particularly like the age evident in the trunk as a result of the lichen and rough bark.  While this gives the tree great character, I intend to develop more vigour in it and then rewire it to lower the height and create a more spreading canopy. 

57.  Burgan


Kunzea ericoides
Tree age: Unknown (as yamadori). Year 1st trained/styled: 2008

I collected this tree from the Murrumbidgee River in 2007 where it was regularly washed and broken by flooding.  It was growing horizontally with the trunk leaning down the stream.  It is a natural windswept although waterswept is more accurate. It has only been trained for 5 years and has responded very well.  The trunk has great age and movement, which draws the eye to the foliage pads. The pot was handmade by a NSW central coast artist.  The trees age is unknown but would be at least several decades.  I am particularly drawn to this tree because of the movement of the trunk and the delicate white flowers it produces in spring that contrast with the dead wood.  It is a very rewarding tree to work on and always bounces back, even when treated ‘quite roughly’.  It is fertilised regularly and responds well to wiring if it is wired when the wood is still green.  Once the wood hardens off it becomes very brittle.

58.  Burgan


Kunzea ericoides
Tree age: Unknown (as yamadori). Year 1st trained/styled: 1985

I collected this tree from the Murrumbidgee River in 1984 where it was regularly washed and broken by flooding.  It was growing horizontally with the trunk leaning down the stream where some protection was offered by a boulder.  For many years it was trained as a windswept style but the weight of the top continually pulled the tree down and lifted the roots from the pot.  So in spring 2012, I altered the planting angle, converting it to the full cascade style you see today.  The long trunk has changed very little over the 30 years since I collected the tree leading me to think it may be several hundred years old.  I am particularly drawn to this tree because of its age, the beautiful movement of the trunk and the delicate white flowers it produces in spring that contrast with the dead wood.  It is a very rewarding tree to work on and always bounces back, even when treated ‘quite roughly’.  It is fertilised regularly and responds well to wiring and pruning.

59.  Japonica (primary tree)


Chaenomeles japonica,
Tree age: c1995. Year 1st trained/styled: c1995

English elm (secondary trees),


Ulmus procera
Tree age: c2003. Year 1st trained/styled: c2005

The Japonica was neglected nursery stock, grown and cut back for at least 10 years. It has been in a bonsai pot for 2 years.  The elms were thin clumps of suckers pulled from the ground behind a motel in Canberra during a morning walk.  These too were grown and cut back for some years. The smaller trees are too large to be accent plants, but they all somehow harmonise, with their grey trunks and similar gnarliness.


60.  River bottlebrush


Callistemon sieberi
Tree age: 1990. Year 1st trained/styled: 1995

Inspired by callistemons growing on rocky outcrops in the Ovens river, I obtained a tubestock seedling from the local landcare nursery and arranged the roots over a suitable rock. It was allowed to grow on in larger pots and polystyrene grow boxes to establish the basic root, rock/ trunk structure.  Basic shaping began about 1995. This tree is my attempt to show the hardships of life in the mountain rivers: roots hug the rock searching for footholds and pockets of nutrient; branches are forced downstream and deadwood is created on the upstream side of the trunk by regular floods.

61.  Prostrate juniper


Juniperus squamata ’Prostrata’
Tree age: 1999 . Year 1st trained/styled: 2001

I purchased this tree was as nursery stock in 1999 in Brisbane.  It was grown on for 2 years and then transplanted into a polystyrene box when styling as a raft began.  It was grown in the box for a further 7 years, gradually reaching the present style with re-potting being carried out approximately every 2 years.  It was first placed in the bonsai pot in 2008.  In 2010, the tree was brought to Canberra and allowed to acclimatise.  Since then only routine maintenance has been carried out.

62.  Burgan


Kunzea ericoides
Tree age: c1995.  Year 1st trained/styled: 2006.

I was offered this tree to do a demonstration at the Australian Native Bonsai Show at the National Botanical Gardens, Canberra in 2006.  In nature, the tree grows to about 10 metres in a wide-spreading, sort of conical shape with tiny white flowers but it was clear from the start that a multi-trunk style was the best option.  After initial design it has been developed in the clip-and-grow method.  Over the 6 years I have had the tree it has only twice produced a small cluster of flowers.  The tree has proved fairly hardy and back-buds readily.  In 2011, two branches at the back of the tree inexplicably died although the branch immediately below these survived.  It has been suggested the cause was a drying out event, which seems plausible.  The tree has at the moment distinct foliage pads but in the future I am tempted to develop a single, layered canopy to bring it back more in line with what one would see in nature. 


Viewing Stones 

The art of stone appreciation involves the display of stones collected from nature. The Chinese have collected and admired stones for thousands of years (since 206BC), the Koreans possibly from the same time period and the Japanese from around 593AD. Westerners developed an interest from early Japanese migration to the USA with their bonsai. Today many countries in Europe, the Americas and the Asia – Pacific region enjoy the art of stone appreciation that has many names including Scholars’ Rocks or Gongshi (China), Suiseki (Japan) and Suseok (Korea).


 63a The Hatchling


This viewing stone is referred to as a ‘figure stone’.  It was collected from Alashan in Mongolia.  In geological terms it is a 'concretion' - formed by the infilling of pore spaces around a nucleus with mineral precipitation which then becomes a fossilised concretion.  As a figure stone the viewer might imagine a bird hatching out of its egg shell and hence the owner has named this stone 'The Hatchling’.


      Group of 5 Distant Mountain Viewing Stones


       63b Limestone Mountain collected from Liguria in Italy


       63c  Lingbi stone (calcite limestone) collected from Anhui Province, China


       63d  Youlan Mountain Range (calcite limestone) collected from Guangxi Province, China


       63e  Green Jade Twin Peak Mountain collected from Clear Creek,  California, USA


       63f  Orange Jade Mountain collected from California, USA



     63g Coastal Arch


     This sedimentary conglomerate stone was collected from California, USA and  is displayed in a sui ban (ceramic tray). The sand represents the ocean whose waves as well as the wind have carved out the arch along an ocean cliff.


     63h Crouching Dragon


      This dark gray Lingbi stone (calcite limestone) was collected from Anhui Province, China and is a figure stone evoking a dragon crouching and waiting for prey.


   64  Mugo pine  

Tree age: 1951. Year 1st trained/styled: unknown but probably 1960s.

When I purchased this tree it was a very tall and “traditionally” styled pine that had great potential and lovely old bark but I felt the very formal upright styling of the tree did not match the exciting low curve of the trunk.  About 60% of the tree was removed and styled 1 year and then about 2 years later the tree was further reduced to the size and style it is now. All the tree was styled from just one of the original branches.


65 Chinese elm

Ulmus parvifolia
Tree age: 1994. Year 1st trained/styled: 1994.

The late Hong Lin of Melbourne also grew this tree. Its origins from a root cutting are very evident in the unusual trunk formation.  I love the way the tree has been styled with a flatish apex and the use of hanging branches is another feature. The tree looks equally good from the front or the back, which was the intention of the artist.  Since purchasing this tree the only change I have made was to “slip pot” the tree into a slightly larger pot that I purchased in 1995 and was made by Petra Engelke of England.  Although I do fertilise a bit more than the original artist; which is evident from the lovely healthy green colour of the leaves throughout the year; the tree continues to produce very small leaves.


Last Updated ( Thursday, 16 May 2013 )
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