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am here to help you acquire, style and maintain the finest collected
and field-grown material available anywhere for bonsai. Whether you’re a
beginner or a more experienced artist, please think of me as a resource
you can count on. Each tree you see on this site has been personally
collected/grown, pruned, potted, and in the case of “finished” trees,
styled by me. Now, this doesn’t mean that mine is the final word on any
of these bonsai; it’s a given that in the wonderful world of bonsai,
there are many tastes and many different views on what makes a great
tree. You may like what I’ve done and simply work to refine and
maintain the design. You may choose to re-style the tree based on your
own vision. Either way is perfectly fine!
Please enjoy these pages, and please keep me in mind as you make your bonsai journey. I would love to help you in any way I can.
I collected this tree in February of this year and direct-potted it into a nice Byron Myrick oval. It responded well, throwing lots of growth starting in spring. I always thought the tree should be a flat-top, and yesterday I did the initial styling that will ultimately lead to this goal. The occasion was a one-on-one teaching session with a client, in which we performed the initial styling on his more traditional informal upright cypress. He asked me how I determined which bald cypresses were suited to flat-top style versus the more traditional informal upright. It always has to do with the trunk base diameter versus height. Flat-top style trees are usually slender, and don't possess the deep fluting/buttressing you see in the informal uprights that are trained in the more traditional style.
This tree will develop quickly next year, and by 2016 should be very presentable. The trunk is festooned with lichens, which help with the impression of age.
Bald Cypress - June 13 - More Peering Into the Future
Here's a cypress destined for my collection. As with the tree below, it's been allowed to grow wild this year in order to re-establish its health. This is easy to gauge by the length of the shoots and the fact that they're still extending. Today it was time to do some editing. This tree has fantastic taper, so all that's left for me to do in the apex is to grow the new leader for a couple of years to thicken it properly, then carve the side so that the transition is smooth and the wound can heal over.
I used an interesting technique on the branches, which as you can see are now nearly horizontal. Instead of wiring (which will come later), I bent them down gently until I was able to feel a slight cracking. Bald cypress is the only species I know that you can do this to without fear of the branch dying. So these branches will grow horizontally now, and I'll let them thicken through the remainder of the growing season. This coming winter it'll be time to wire and move them to their final position.
Bald Cypress - June 12 - Peering Into the Future
Yesterday I took time out from display area construction to do some trimming on one of the bald cypresses I collected this past winter. They've exploded in growth, and since bald cypress is apically dominant (and how!) you have to take steps to redirect their energy back downward. At the same time, I need the trees to push roots in order to get established. So I have to do the right amount of "editing" of branches.
The photo on the left shows the mass of foliage that's developed so far this year. In the photo on the right, I've removed maybe a third of the foliage, mostly in the upper part of the tree. I'll allow the branches in the lower area to grow unrestricted for the rest of the year, and depending on how well they grow may wire and position them. Stay tuned.
|April 28 - Mayhaw Progress
You may remember this big Mayhaw from last year. I decided it was time to pot the tree this year, so I commissioned a wonderful piece from Byron Myrick and did the potting back in January. Today it was time to wire the tree again and continue work on the branch structure. The apex is developing sub-branching, so after another growing season of allowing the apical shoot to run in order to complete the tapering transition, I'll be most of the way home.
This is also the tree that I initiated a thread graft on two years ago. The graft is still growing, albeit slowly, but there's a good chance I'll be able to separate it within a couple of years.
You can probably see the slight twisting of the trunk on this specimen, which adds to the interest. All in all, it's a powerful bonsai in the making.
|September 22 - Big Water-elm progress
Here's an update on the big water-elm from below. It's been filling out all summer, and the tapering in the apex is producing a nice, smooth transition from the starting trunk chop.
I'll be removing the heavy-gauge wire I used to position the major branches sometime in the next few weeks, along with the remainder of the wire. That will be it until late winter, at which time I'll completely wire the tree again in anticipation of new spring growth.
2013 should complete the major design work on this tree. Since the apex has the proper taper, all I'll need to do in the crown of the tree is work to fill it out. I should get the majority of this work done next year as well.
|Big Water-elm - Planera aquatica - August 14
I collected this tree in Winter 2011, which is not the normal time for collecting the species. But it was in an area that is usually under at least three feet of water, so I didn't want to miss my opportunity. You can see in the first photo on the left below how well it grew this year. I wanted to begin the training while the branches were still pliable. The "after" shot shows the result. Next year should get this tree a long way toward its ultimate design.
The trunk of this tree is 5" in diameter at the base, and the finished height should be around 24". It's got some beaver marks on it, which I plan to incorporate into the design.
Water-elm Raft - May 2011
You may remember seeing this unique raft-style water-elm last summer after I collected it. This is how the tree appeared this spring before I took it to our local show in Baton Rouge to do the initial styling. As you can see, the growth was rampant which is typical of water-elm.
How do you style a tree like this? Because nature (and someone's truck) did such a good job of creating the basic layout of this forest, all I had to do was decide what to get rid of.
I should be loading up the result soon, so be sure to check back.
Photo copyright 2011 by Leslie Smith. All rights reserved.
|November 21 2010 - The National Champion Bald Cypress
I have the great good fortune to live a mere 17 miles from the national champion bald cypress. This massive tree measures 17 feet in trunk diameter at the base and 94 feet tall. It is reputed to be at least 1,000 years old. I suspect it could be over 3,000.
This tree is the largest east of the Sierra Nevada, and the sixth largest in terms of overall volume in the nation.
It appears to be two trees at first glance, but is actually a twin-trunk.
Now, for those of you big tree fans, Wikipedia mistakenly says that a tree called "The Senator" in Florida is the champ (note: The Senator was destroyed by a vandal who set it on fire; it's not possible to describe a tragedy of this proportion; RIP, great tree). To the left of this tree and back toward the viewer stands a cypress with a 13 foot trunk. To the back and left of this tree, about thirty or forty feet, is a multi-trunk cypress unrecognized in any literature I know that's not too far behind the champ. I stepped off a trunk circumference of almost 50 feet, meaning almost 16 feet in diameter.
It's hard to describe the feeling you get when standing near this incredible natural phenomenon. Enjoy!
|November 28 2010 - Me and the Champ
Here's how to judge the scale of this tree. I'm standing at the right side of the left-most portion of the twin-trunk monster. You can't even see all of the trunk base.
For those of you whose thoughts go to the obvious, I have collected cones from this tree and plan to propagate it. It's going to take a while to make bonsai worthy material from it, but so what? How could I pass up an opportunity like this?
|November 6 2010
The Louisiana Bonsai Society of Baton Rouge held its fall show
November 6-7. I did a demonstration on a large triple-trunk
water-elm collected back in July.
Here I've begun the wiring process.
|Here's my sketch of where I see this tree in five or six years. You
can see that I need to build the top of each trunk. This is not
going to be a problem, as these water-elms grow more or less like weeds given sufficient water, food and sunshine. As I told the audience, while researching this species I ran across a paper by
an LSU professor who noted that water-elms can sometimes
become "noxious weeds" in certain areas requiring control. I'm
more than happy to provide a public service in helping control this "pest."
|A final survey of my work. The basic branch set plus the new
leaders are in place. I'll allow the new leaders, especially on the
larger trunks, to grow wild next year so the tapering transitions
are believable in a few years. This is a critical step in developing a
bonsai from trunk-chopped material.
|Me and the tree, a basic design to work from. The left-most trunk
will need a tapering cut this coming spring, when I'll be able to
count on rapid growth for healing. Water-elms don't always roll
over as well as you'd like, but I do want to be sure I make the cut during the first active growth period of the 2011 season.
Show shots copyright 2010 by Leslie Smith. All rights reserved.
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