By Jerry Meislik
In June 2006 I visited the Ann Arbor Bonsai Society to conduct a root-over-rock workshop. The workshop participants spanned the range from brand new members to those with many years experience. All were interested in learning more about growing materials indoors as well as using a material that is often ignored in the bonsai community, and a style that is infrequently taught in workshops. Bill Heston, president of the Ann Arbor Society, ably assisted me as well as helping the workshop participants. Hugh Danville and Susan Fettes also participated in the program as well as those whose pictures are shown below.
All the materials, plants, stones, and soil were ordered and shipped from Fuku-Bonsai just prior to the workshop and arrived in excellent condition. Workshop materials included pre-trained Scheffleras whose root systems were specifically grown longer than normal to be used to train over the supplied lava rocks. Several sizes of lava soil and trays were also in each kit to make the process easier.
The workshop began with an introductory lecture by JM showing the difference between most bonsai styles in which root systems are compressed to fit into a typical bonsai pot as contrasted to the specific styles requiring an elongated and expanded root system. Classic exposed roots styles used for temperate bonsai were illustrated and compared to tropical exposed root, banyan and root-over-rock bonsai styles.
With these preliminaries out of the way each participant was asked to study his or her own tree and rock. After careful scrutiny the participants selected the best aspect of the rock and its orientation, vertical or horizontal, as well as considering the best aspect of the tree. JM then reviewed with each student their design ideas and once an agreeable perspective was achieved the stone and tree were secured to each other with wide plastic tape. The rock was then secured down to the pot with sturdy wire. Soil was layered into the pots with the coarsest material at the bottom and progressively finer materials on top of this.
Branches were wired or removed as needed to best amplify each tree’s chosen design. Using material of this high quality required only minor branch adjustments to make the compositions perfect.
Plants were then “collared” with aluminum foil and more soil was added as needed to cover the rock and roots on a temporary basis until the tree has grown more roots firmly anchoring it to the rock. At this stage any and all growth is allowed to remain for at least 6 months. This new growth is not removed but it can be wired to gently position “wild” branch growth. In this way all growth helps to bind the tree onto its new rock home. In the next stage of training unneeded branches will be removed and more wiring will be done to reinforce the design. Defoliation of the tree was discussed as a future project once the tree has passed its initial anchoring phase. Followed soon by secondary refinement and detailing phases.
Plants will be kept in a warm environment in bright light and even put outdoors for the summer. Water will be applied to keep the rock and soil moist and fertilizer may be started after two weeks.
Next spring the aluminum collar and soil will be removed over a few weeks to expose the rock and roots. and to adapt the roots to the dry air. Each participant was given a detailed plan for the future of his/her tree.
Participants then joyfully took their
creations home to enjoy.