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N.B. - This article is taken from Martin Treasures book 'Bonsai Life Histories' published by 'David and Charles', which features over 50 life stories of trees in Martins' collection, a book I would recommend to Beginners and more advanced enthusiasts alike.
This particular life story covers 13 years in the development of an English Hawthorn, from collection to established bonsai. It illustrates the skill, artistic judgement and patience needed to create a beautiful bonsai.
More of Martins trees can be seen in the Bonsai4me galleries.
This hawthorn was found growing on a derelict building site, where it had been struggling for many years. The site was exposed and consequently the tree’s growth had developed more sideways than upward. Being nearly 2m (6½ft) wide and yet just 1m (3¼ft) high, it was most unusual shape for a hawthorn. The trunk immediately took my eye, since it was quite large and covered with wonderfully textured bark- it was obviously an old tree. What a find, and it was a twin trunk as well! Since the tree looked like it would have a large tap root, I decided to collect it a year later and dug a trench around it to help with the development of fibrous roots. The following year I returned in the spring to find it covered in berries. I was delighted because I am convinced that there are some hawthorns that simply do not flower, ever! But not this tree, though- here was the proof.
Picture 1; Early Spring Year 1
The tree lifted fairly easily and the roots were reasonable. I pruned the large branches drastically, so that it would have a good chance of survival.
With it potted up in a big plastic tub, I began to have second thoughts. After all the planning and effort to collect the tree, the twin-trunk arrangement was not pleasing to the eye. Both of the trunks were exactly the same size and shape, and were parallel. Would this hawthorn ever make a good bonsai? I was not convinced, but I thought that, if the tree lived, I would certainly start training and see what happened.
After growing on for two years, it was time for some basic structuring. There was a definite main trunk, so l reduced the height of the second trunk, slightly carving it. I was not happy with the result, but lived with it for a couple of months while I rethought my plans. I decided that this tree had no future as a twin trunk and so one of the trunks would have to go- but which one? The second trunk was chosen to remain since it had a more interesting shape and I was also pleased with the carving that I had done. I pondered my decision once more and quickly sawed the main trunk off before I changed my mind!
Picture 2; Spring Year 3
I decided that the tree’s appearance would be greatly improved if the left-hand trunk was removed. The major scar could be hidden with some additional carving. I therefore decided to remove the tallest trunk and also prune off all heavy branches, since new, more suitable shoots were now growing.
One year later and the tree was repotted into a bonsai pot. A very open soil mix was used because, despite much growth during the previous year, the roots had not thrived. Two years on and the roots were still not strong. The tree appeared healthy and was growing well, but there were very few fibrous roots. I changed the pot and soil mix, using mainly Akadama and grit.