Tag Archives: Bonsai Critique

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






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


Design and Critique #5 – Design Principles

I’ll start by letting you know that I don’t know what species of tree this is, but it is from the 38th Nippon Bonsai Taikan Exhibition (Photo credit: Bill Valavanis). However, that is not important to know to talk about design principles of bonsai.

Winter Bonsai Display

There is a flow to 3 main things that define the type of design that is being used: The defining branch (blue), the apex (red), and the trunkline (black).

2018 38th nippon bonsai taikan exhibition part 4 1 paint


The apex is the highest point on the tree. To find the flow of the apex you find the highest point on the tree and put a dot. Then you find where the apex “terminates” or ends by the change in silhouette or pad and mark that on the left and right. Now split that apex in half from left to right. If the highest point is on the right half then it flows to the right, and the same goes for the left portion.

Defining Branch:

The defining branch is typically, but not always, the lowest branch on the tree. This branch has the purpose of defining the longest or widest point of the tree. This branch and the opposing branches on the other side of the silhouette help to form asymmetry in the design.


To find the flow of the trunkline you draw a line straight up from the middle of the trunk. You then find which half most of the trunk lies on. This photo isn’t the best example of this, but the right side has a large portion of the trunk. This is generally more straight forward than this example. Imagine a semi-cascade or slanting style as a more obvious example of this.

Design Used:

The apex, trunkline, and defining branch all flow the same direction. This is an example of harmony in design. A perfect time to use harmonious design when styling your tree is when you might have an amazing feature that draws a lot of attention. Stunning deadwood, gnarly or smooth bark, or stunning jin or shari are all situations where harmonious design does a great job of complementing those features.

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Design and Critique #4 – Pine and Elm Display

3 point bonsai display

Display of Trees:

The trees flow well from the main tree to the sides by placing both the Elm and the companion plant in a direction that the foliage and branching suggest. The stands are also perfectly chosen to contrast the tree on top.

The flow of the Pine is directed towards the left, as is the flow of the Elm. This is shown by the defining branch on the lowest part of the tree combined with the flow of the apex of both trees. You can also see the silhouette of the apex drawing a line to the next tree.


The literati styled Pine has a great defining branch on the left that sets the longest part of the tree. This helps it accomplish asymmetry rather than the unrealistic perfect symmetry. The trunk doesn’t have any outrageous bends, but has consistent movement which fits nicely with the literati style.

The Elm has good branching, but the taper from the thick trunk to the smaller branches lets you know that it was developed from a larger trunk chop. I would love to see this same display in Fall to see the yellow elm leaves combined with that fantastic blue pot.


I love the display stands for this display. Well chosen and very fitting for the accompanying trees.

The feminine pot is a perfect elegant choice for the pine tree. Flowing rim of the pot with a tapered bottom enhances the movements of the tree without dominating the display.

The Elm has a nontraditional lower branch on the left, but I like it. It really helps to balance the tree and serve as a defining branch.

Next Up:

Winter Bonsai Display

Bonsai Design and Display Critique – #3 Japanese Maple

Japanese Maples are one of the most popular bonsai specimen with good reason. Here is one of my favorite Japanese Maple displays I’ve seen. For the previous critique on the Olive tree click here.

Japanese Maple Bonsai Display

What do the trunks and branching communicate?

The trunks clearly show a dominant trunk with two smaller trunks. The branches seem a bit chaotic but help to display a mature canopy.

The rounded canopy suggests maturity which is complimented by the branching that is visible from the front. You can see the ramification of the branches which portrays the lack of foliage in the interior and gives the impression of age.

What does the display communicate?

The display has a sense of simplicity to it as a whole. No drastic angle changes in the display, tree, companion plant, or scroll.


Great balance in the display. The main tree is higher up to make it easier to view, while the scroll is as a similar height and the companion plant is lower to not detract from the main tree.

I’m not 100% sure on that pot color selection. Maybe it’ll blend better in the Fall once the leaves change colors, but that blue doesn’t seem to resonate with the display or tree in any way.

Wonderful consistency throughout the display of feminine design.


The tree seems to be planted a bit too high in the pot. When you have a pot that shallow you should be planting it inside the pot to make the trees size versus the pots size more dramatic.

There are a few branches that cross from this viewing angle on the left side. I can’t say for sure, but the silhouette would seem to be untouched by removing the two branches on the lower left side.

I want to see the nebari so badly, but it is hidden by the moss. I’d like a better angle to be able to see if the nebari helps to show age of the tree.

Next Up:

Elm and Pine Bonsai Display

This display is up next for critique.