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Raft landscape planting for the Bristol Bonsai Society

I had been invited to do an evening demonstration for the Bristol Bonsai Society so I needed some material to work with. I have several Juniper Ittogawa like this one and they all originated from Japan.
From a different viewpoint you can see how long and leggy they have become. Trying to style an individual tree out of this material now would inevitably mean something in the literati style and result in the removal of most of the foliage which could in turn put the health of the tree at risk.
After cleaning out some of the weaker inner foliage it becomes more obvious that the tree could be used for a raft planting to create a forest. Branches which I envisaged to be potential trunks were then wired accordingly.
The two large branches I didn’t wire because of their bad placement would ultimately be removed completely.
Next I needed a pot to plant the forest in. I had originally used this pot for an old Scots Pine in a magazine photo article for Bonsai Focus many years ago. That tree had since been moved into a different pot so this was spare.
Just maybe I could use it the other way up to create a more natural looking dramatic landscape planting. The dilemma was would I be able to get all the trees and a rootball onto this precarious limited space and make it look right. The problem was that until the two were actually brought together on the night in front of a live audience you would never know…..and that is a frightening prospect!
I made some small windows through the cambium layer which could be treated with rooting hormone to encourage the formation of new roots. In my past experiences using Junipers as rafts they have been quick to layer themselves naturally and produce new roots all along the buried trunks.
Tie wires in place for securing the tree and its various trunks to the pot.

Unfortunately I didn’t get the opportunity to take more photographs as I brought the two together. With limited time available to complete the demo I had to keep the momentum going.

Positioning the tree on the slab pot was indeed a challenge, trying to get it to sit in the right position where I could accommodate the existing rootball and at the same time secure the branches where they could be arranged to create a natural looking forest.

Once the tree was secure I could set about covering everything with keto (a mud like substance from Japan that is perfect for slab and rock plantings). I introduced some neat akadama in the top section of the pot and secured this with keto too.

Finally the trunks were given an initial positioning to create the forest image and then moss was added to immediately enhance the composition and create that true sense of a mountain landscape.
A close up of the lone young stag which I introduced to bring a sense of scale and realism to the scene.
And finally a picture from home after a bit more adjustment to the branches and with the addition of extra moss. I will probably remove more of the very low branches to open up the trunks and enable the viewer to take in more of the smaller trees to the rear of the composition.

THOUGHTS WORTHY OF NOTE :- Despite being ruled by the position of branches on the original material and restricted by how they could be transferred onto the slab pot this composition still follows the basic principles of forest design. There is obvious movement, in this case from left to right with the tallest tree, the focal point being approximately a third of the way into the forest. Tree heights are different but combine well to provide a nice broad canopied triangular silhouette. Larger trees are to the front, smaller ones to the rear to give a sense of depth.

Notice how you can alter and change the movement in the composition simply by reversing the position of the small stag. In the bottom picture the stag is facing outwards, his head is parallel to the line of the trunks, he is in harmony with the group and your eye is drawn to the vast open space beyond this mountain scene.

In the first picture taken at the demo he is facing inwards almost defiantly towards the forest. This virtually stops your eye line dead, preventing you drifting into space and instead drawing you back into the composition and the moss edging the landscape.

I am really pleased with how this creation turned out, it’s nice when an idea comes to fruition. I hope you like it too.