Category Archives: Silhouette

Design and Critique #9 – Chinese Elm

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Masculine vs Feminine:

This tree is very feminine in many ways. The delicate branching with movement complements the movement in the slender trunks. A rounded canopy is the crowning feminine characteristic that pulls everything together.


The trunks all fill their own space that is designated for them. This is an easy thing to venture off from with multi-trunked trees or forests. The pad formation seems to be more distinct on the left side. I’m not sure if that was intentional or part of the development of the tree.


I would love a pot that is a bit more shallow and feminine to fit the feeling of the tree. The pot being a bit oversized might have to do with it being displayed constantly and not being able to have a huge amount of personal attention.

I’m not really a fan of the stone it is shown with or how close it is displayed to the tree.

I think a few of the branches when viewed up close look unnatural in the ways they bend.

Next Up:








Design and Critique #8 – Flowering Plum



The focus of this tree is the trunk and the flowers. These two features are so stunning that they overwhelm the display. This takes your attention off of any flaws that might exist.

Branching and Silhouette:

While the branching and ramification leave much to be desired, the silhouette still holds an asymmetrical shape with 3 dimensional aspects.


I’m not 100% sure on the size of the stand. I feel it is a bit oversized which takes away from the feminine aspects of the tree. I also feel the pot color fits much better with the purple leaves of a purple-leaf plum (exact species not listed) but it doesn’t mesh as well with the light pink flowers. I do love the companion plant choice. Fantastic tree overall.

Next Up:

Chinese Elm

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Design and Critique #7 – Twisted Pomegranate



The display of this tree threw me off for a few reasons. The pot is yellow, which doesn’t seem to fit with pomegranate’s leaves, but would go well with the flowers and fruit. It just seemed a bit loud to go with a winter silhouette showing.

The companion plant looks not so alive (can’t tell from the photo if I’m wrong or not) and awkwardly placed. This is in part due to the apex and confusion of flow which I’ll touch on.

The moss is well put together and looks clean. This can be just as much of an art form as the rest of bonsai itself.

Branching and Silhouette:

The silhouette of this tree rubs me the wrong way. Not to say it is wrong, but design-wise from my understanding I think it is because there isn’t a significant amount of asymmetry in the design.

The defining branch doesn’t seem to come from the trunk but from behind the tree which isn’t very natural looking.


I gave critical criticism, but this is a phenomenal tree. Pomegranates are one of my favorite deciduous trees and I wish I had gone to this show to see it in person.

I’d love to see this tree with 3 or so pomegranates left on to complement the yellow pot.

This is my favorite pomegranate and possibly the best deciduous tree I’ve seen in person. This is displayed at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, CA.

Next Up:

Flowering Plum






Orange County Bonsai Society Exhibition

Here are photos of the trees from this show at the Sherman Library & Gardens.



Olive – Tom Vuong


Liquidambar – Wayne Wolfe


Korean Hornbeam – Ken Schlothan


Chinese Elm – David Melitz


Ginkgo Forest – Deborah Mauzy-Melitz


Cork Bark Portulacaria Afra – Gary Lai


Prostrata Juniper – Jason Chan


Shohin Catlin Elm – Joyce Gibbs


4 Point Shohin Display (JBP, Olive, Cork Bark Elm, Ficus Burt-Davyi) – Joyce Gibbs


Bougainvillea – Paul Minerich


Prostrata Juniper (Grafted Itoigawa) – Gary Lai


Hackberry Forest – John Deluca


Liquidambar Forest – Ken Schlothan



Kishu Shimpaku Juniper – Wayne Wolfe

Design and Critique #6 – Crape Myrtle ‘Natchez’

This White Crape Myrtle is another example of harmonious design. The apex, defining branch, and trunk all flow to the right. This tree has a lot to give in terms of showy bark, flowers, and amazing Fall foliage. These features lend enough interest to the tree which allows itself to go with a harmonious design.

Taper: This tree has amazing taper that continues from the base all the way up to the apex. The branches show proportionate thickness as well. The nice part about Crape Myrtles is that they shed their bark and heal wounds fantastically. This makes believable taper more accomplishable without large scars. 

Branching: This tree will continue to develop more ramification as time goes on, but the branching that it currently has does a good job of moving while occupying a good amount of space within the overall silhouette.

Comments: I love that this tree will still display its amazing bark even when in leaf. I wish I had a photo of this tree at what I see as the actual display angle to help me to see the left portion of the tree better.


Next Up:

Twisted Pomegranate


Winter Silhouette – Awards And Critique

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.

Best Shohin


  • 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

Flowering Pear Bonsai Display

  • 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 img_3124

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.