It was in early 2002, during a week long  trip I made trough Switzerland in search for raw material, that I laid my eyes for the very first time, on this old Mugo Pine. It was love at first side, and I just had to buy it and take it home with me! But I also wanted to make sure that this tree was strong enough to safely make the long trip way up North in to my garden! So I decided to leave the tree in Switzerland for two more seasons of undisturbed growth in a environment it was accustomed to.

Then finally, in September 2003, the tree safely made the long trip across Europe, into my garden. I remember that wonderful feeling I felt, when I finally was able to have a long… long….long look at this beautiful old Mugo Pine! This battered survivor had all the sought after signs of a long and hard live, full of struggle. The weight of the winter snow had flattened and cracked the main branch over and over again, leaving it strangely shaped, like a flattened “corkscrew” with tons of deadwood all over it! And to top this all of, this Pine has a completely hollowed trunk, it looked just like a canon! Yes, those first hours I spend with this little wonder of mother nature, were very special indeed. To suddenly have that enormous responsibility, to finally be able to work together with such a ancient old Pine, trying to create a thing of beauty, is very humbling and exciting as well. This was the next step for me and my work. It was a great Bonsai moment for my indeed!

Late Spring 2004.

It has lived happily in this plastic pot for 4 years now and it shows all the signs of good health, so I decided it would be save to repot it.

When you buy a Yamadori like this from a other collector, you all was have to guess what lies be need the surface, so revealing a healthy root system like this Pine had, is always a relieve. Lots of healthy feeder roots and no big awkward fat roots, that had to be removed. Just perfect!

I carefully removed as much, off the old soil, from in between the long strong roots. Good drainage of the soil is of the up most importance in successful Pine care. I was really pleased with the amount of healthy roots this old tree had produced the last couple of years in my garden! After I removed as much soil as possible, I shortened the to vet/thick roots, just up to were new roots were growing out from it. This will trigger a reaction from the tree and it will start making lots of new feeder roots closer to the base of the tree. To long roots were shortened, following the same principle, to promote the same effect. The tree was planted in a large and very heavy gray Tokoname pot, in a soil mixture containing: Akadama, Kiryu and Bims for optimal drainage and room for the roots to grow!

October 2004.

The tree had suffered no ill effects from the repotting and had grown vigorously the whole season. So it was safe to start the first styling of this old Pine! First off all I had to remove all unnecessary branches and growth. Left picture: Back side off the tree. Branch A and B are very old, but to long and most off the foliage on them grows at the end, to far away from the tree trunk to be used! In the next couple off pictures you can see how I cut them off. Always checking twice and leaving a stomp to prevent dry/die back of the branches I did need for the design.

A close up view of the beautiful deadwood on the front of the tree. The massive trunk is completely hollow, one can only guess what forces of nature have cost this to happen over time. I used some blocks off wood to open up the tangled mass of long branches as much as possible. This way I created some room to see more clearly what had to be don next. Selecting the branches to work with, was a great challenge and responsibility for me. I have the up most respect for all material I work on. But a special tree like this one, comes around, maybe once in my live time and that makes it all, that much more exciting. I felt really privileged, being able to work with this old Pine! But my method of working and styling did not change much, I still worked on instinct, with out any real plane. Just a basic idea of a silhouette in the back of my mind! Just letting go, with out thinking to much, is such a great feeling!

Top view of the tangled branches I had to work with. Only with the help of heavy wire and raffia for protection, could I bring the desired shape into these thick old branches!

Front view of the tree before wiring. That wooden block, on the right, was used during the repotting to support the tree.

Right side view, before wiring. You can see right into its smiley mouth from this angle! Note how fare all the foliage is on those long branches!

Half way trough wiring the tree it looked like this. The lower left and frond branches were all ready selected and brought more or less into the right position. But I still had to figure out what to select for the top section and how to bring it in to place. It was a real puzzle, just how I like it! Creativeness and good Yamadori material is what Bonsai is all about for me, I would not want it any other way! The iron bar you see in the middle, was used, (for now) to pull and hold 2 thick branches into place. Later on, when all the other branches are wired, it will be replaced by a copper anchor wire to hold it in its proper place.

All branches are brought into place for now and will be left alone to grow and recover. Now it is time to sculpted the deadwood section on the right side off the tree. In the next couple of pictures, you can see me making the rough cuts with the help of a power tool.

Creating something out of this deadwood pipe was a real challenge, I had to bring this part somehow into proportion with the overall size of this future Bonsai. And off course it has to fit in with the overall feeling and general story of this battered old high mountain Pine, so I did not want to over sculpture it. And why would I even try, my woodwork could never compete with the tons of stunning deadwood on this tree, that Mother nature had created over the last couple of centuries! But I did want to shape it in such a way, that it would help to creates a curtain flow and overall balance in this strangely shaped leaning or fallen over, hollow Bonsai!  Any way, I just carved along, with out any real planes! Not much thinking, but a lot of feeling. Deadwood work is very liberating to me! The slow pace, involved in Bonsai design, some times gets to me. Than it is a relieve to do some deadwood styling after which you can see immediate result of your labor and ideas. Instead of having to wait 6 to 8 years, like it is the case with overall Bonsai styling!

In the above picture of the, for now, finished tree, only the main branches are still wired. Because the tree is in a heavy feeding program and receives plenty water, the needles are very long. All the new candles grew strong and were cut off, as soon as the needles opened up completely. This resulted in a lot of back budding around every single candle that was cut off! At least two strong buds returned and loots of new buds further down the branches to work with in the future.

I know that there is still a lot of work to be don on the foliage and deadwood of this tree, but I have all the time in the world and the tree isn’t going anywhere ether! 🙂

This is the same picture as the one above, but now I made a virtual of a smaller pot underneath the tree, so you can have a idea of the way the tree will look in the future with the deadwood sticking out over the edge of the pot. This old tree only had one styling up to this point and I realize there is still a lot more work to be don. But so far, I’m pretty pleased with the result, I hope you like what I have don so far

The tree reminds me of a swan with her head in between her wings, swimming to the left, pushing along a small wave in front of her. Or a rocket, crashing down into the sea with flames still bursting out off its tail! 🙂

December 2005, This Is a close up of the wave the swimming “Swan” is creating .

And a intimate look inside the “Swan”. ECHO…echo…….echo!!!!



Hans van Meer.





* For part to II of this story click HERE.