As James R. Barrett states in You Be The Judge: “Whether we like it or not, all Bonsai are judged – if not by an official judge, at least by the viewer.” While I am by no means an official judge, I am a viewer. I judge trees to help myself dissect what it is that I appreciate about trees, and to share the same with you.
Video of trees:
There were no awards at this show, but I took the liberty of adding my own opinions and awards as I saw fit.
1st Place: Korean Hornbeam – Lindsay Shiba
Korean Hornbeam – Lindsay Shiba
- Asymmetrical shape that shows age
- Proper placement of companion plant
- Simple masculine container and a modest stand to keep attention on the tree
- Fantastic taper all throughout the tree
- I wasn’t a fan of the lowest defining branch. I’d like it to be a bit higher and incorporated into the foliage pad above it.
2nd Place: Cork Bark Elm – Michael Roberts
Cork Bark Elm – Michael Roberts
- Amazing ramification
- Mature rounded silhouette
- Good shallow wide pot to accompany the large silhouette
- While this tree seems to be done in a specific style meant for the silhouette, I think the branches go much too low for my taste.
3rd Place: Trident Maple – Kathy Benson
Trident Maple – Kathy Benson
- I love the base of this Trident Maple. You tend to get a lot of really fat trunks with massive nebari and “cookie cutter” styles, but this tree has a nice curvature to the base with still having nice nebari and flow to it.
- The silhouette has a great asymmetrical flow.
- The pot choice wasn’t my favorite. The tree has a feminine feel to it and the pot doesn’t feel as heavily feminine as I’d like. While it doesn’t add much to the composition during the winter, I assume it goes nicely with the foliage in the fall.
- This Cork Bark Chinese Elm has great taper which is a bit harder to find in shohin sized trees.
- Good use of the stand to bring the display higher with such a small tree.
- Great contrast in between the tree, pot, and then the stand.
- Asymmetry in the design is also a bit more difficult in shohin and was executed nicely here.
- The branch on the left could be a little longer to effectively be a defining branch.
- I thought the tree overall was groomed well with great moss growth and preserved bark.
Best Abnormal Species: Flowering Pear
- This is a fantastic display of design principles and how your tree doesn’t need to be perfect to be great. Using distinct features help to overlook flaws. You might not have noticed these at first glance, but the flaws include: terrible graft, inverse taper, no defined apex, no asymmetrical shape, no defining branch, several places where 3 or more branches emerge, and lack of ramification. While carrying all of those flaws, this tree seemed to be one of the few that drew “oooh’s” and “ah’s” throughout my time there.
- The color fit together and complement each other fantastically.
- This is also one of the most feminine square pots I’ve seen, which was a pleasant sight to see.
Personal Favorite: Pomegranate – Charlie Washburn
Honorable Mention: Pomegranate
This had an interesting dynamic between the lower pomegranate and the deadwood on the lower trunk, and the living branch with a hanging pomegranate. I saw this as an artistic communication of the progression of perseverance. The trunk is fantastic, and hopefully I get to see this in a few years after the branching has developed more. Nothing technical or design related stood out to me other than this which is why I went with Charlie Washburn’s Pomegranate over this one.
Pomegranate – Charlie Washburn
- Strong base with a twisting trunk
- Great placement in the pot and well displayed in terms of moss and cleanliness
- Great asymmetrical balance and overall silhouette
- Feminine pot choice, trunk, and branching overall
- There was also a branch that twists around another branch, and I feel like that wasn’t removed as a flaw, but embraced and used to its fullest potential. See photo below.
Additional Tree Critique
I gave critique for the trees that won in each category, but had some constructive critique for trees that weren’t winners.
Some pruning on this tree to clear up a bit more negative space would have made this a significantly better tree. Specifically when entering it as a silhouette, the twiginess plays a huge part of this trees display. Eliminating the front branch, any branches that grow down beneath the primary branches lowest point, and additional removal of parts of the apex is where I would start.
The two lowest primary branches look like the mirror each other which also gives a funky feel to the tree.
Fantastic base and trunk as well.
This tree lacks a defined apex. The highest point on the tree is at the left, while the branches suggests that it would sit best at or near the middle. Further development in that area would compliment the fantastic base and lower branching.
I assume this tree is meant to be broom style. I’m no expert in brooms, but I feel this tree lacks direction. The two lowest branches give this an awkward feel as bar branches. Typically brooms have a more acute angle of the primary branches. I’m not sure what I’d do with this if it was mine, but I might take a few large branches off and grow it out a bit. Sorry my criticism isn’t all that helpful.
I would really love if the lower right branch was wired up a bit to better fit the overall silhouette. That is my main gripe about this tree. Also a thicker trunk will come in time, but that would make this a stellar tree.
This quince had a very poorly displayed surface. The moss was obviously slapped on there at the last minute (or done so poorly previously) and this combined with a pot that has the soil level too high made for a disaster in that aspect.
I understand the difficulty of cultivating moss in the pot as I live in the hot windy desert, but prepping this by removing a bit of topsoil and making sure the underside of the moss you’re placing has a least amount of dirt on it can help. Another thing is doing this early on, then shredding sphagnum moss up to bridge the gaps between the cracks. Then misting the moss as much as possible and keeping it shaded would help in the spreading of the moss to close the gaps. This was winter time, so it drying out and being exposed to too much sun shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
This was the runner up for best shohin. This tree is so beautifully executed, but it was so often passed right by due to it being too small and displayed so low. This in conjunction with a 5 or 3 point display, or having it on a stand with a companion plant would have made it stand out more.
The secondary trunk on the right needs to go on this tree. I feel it grows IN towards the main trunk instead of out and complementing it. Using the front branch to grow out into the secondary trunk might work.
The taper in the lowest branch and the apex seem to match on this tree. The lack of taper relativity makes this tree seem a bit off. Also the lowest branch is a bit low for my liking.
I loved the display, pot choice, color contrast of the bark and display, and branching silhouette.
I feel that this tree is being grown without wiring through the clip and grow method. If that is the case then it will need a few more seasons and a constant pruning to keep the directions changing and from growing too straight. The main trunk lacks movement that might be difficult to correct.
Remove the straight sucker-like trunks from the bottom of the tree and this is a great Ginkgo.
Persian Quince – Steve Valentine
This quince was placed off center of the mat, and I’m not sure why. I feel that it would’ve been better in the middle.
I’m not sure how I feel about the lower left branch. The wide shallow pot, silhouette, nebari, moss, and apex are all good, but something felt off about the branching. I think it might be the spacing between the first branch and the rest. If you used that semi-rear branch as the first left branch it might be better proportioned.
Hopefully this was insightful and helpful for those that find their tree above.