Olea / Olive Bonsai Re-Styling

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olive bonsai

January 2017: This article shows the re-styling of a wild, collected 'yamadori' Olea sylvestris / Olive bonsai. Originally collected from Majorca, known as one of the best sources of wild Olive in Europe, the tree was imported into my UK garden in October 2016.

Olive are a surprisingly robust species during UK winters and only require a little protection when temperatures drop below -4 to -5C. Placing the tree in an unheated outhouse, garage or coldframe during these periods is sufficient enough protection to avoid any harm coming to the tree. They are very able to tolerate the soil becoming very dry, in fact, Olives have to be watered very sparingly. In the wild these Olives can survive on as little as 2 litres of water a year. 

olive bonsai

This particular specimen was very large; just 15"/40cm in height, it had a massive 10"/25cm to 3"/7.5cm diameter trunk! With mature bark and natural deadwood running up the right hand side of the trunk, the Olive had great potential for bonsai. However, some aspects of the tree were not as pleasing to the eye.

olive bonsai

The top of the tree had been roughly carved ('roughed-out') prior to reaching my garden, in an effort to provide a basic trunk shape.

olive bonsai

But as can be seen from the rear of the tree, the roughing-out required further work to become an attractive feature.

olive bonsai

The back of the Olive as a whole, showing a large area of roughed-out wood. This standard of work is understandable from the seller's point of view. The material is cut to a rough shape to indicate its potential for bonsai, however, the refinement of this deadwood and the hours of work required to undertake it are not commercially feasible. It is for the buyer, or the new owner, therefore to enhance and refine the wood themselves.

In January 2017, I decided to carry out the refinement carving myself.

olive bonsai

The Olive bonsai after pruning, wiring and styling the branches, as well as refining the deadwood. From the front, the effect of the deadwood work is very subtle, the main features of the tree are after all, the size of its base, its bark and the run of natural deadwood on the right hand edge of the trunk.

olive bonsai

However, closer-up, the work on the upper section becomes more evident. Rather than simply remove the left hand mass of deadwood to create a plain tapered trunk, as would be easy to do, I decided to create a feature of it. The upper top-jin was simply refined and the grooves along the grain were enhanced.

olive bonsai

The back of the tree however had to be worked heavily. The wood was smoothed out to remove tool marks made previously, undulations were then added to these areas to avoid them looking flat and two-dimensional. I then added uro, channels and cavities that followed the grain of the wood, and therefore, the trunk itself.

olive bonsai

A close-up image of the top of the tree shows some of these effects in greater detail.

My final task was to stain the newly carved wood. Water-based black ink was added to the hollows, followed by rubbing damp wood-ash into the wood prior to two coats of lime-sulphur to create the white wood.

(For further details of this technique, please see Lime-sulphur and Ash for Bonsai )