Evolution of a Mugo Pine

Vance Wood

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EVOLUTION OF A MUGO PINE

Unless someone is fortunate enough to study under a master as a student or apprentice where every move and step is monitored and corrections made, progress in learning the art of bonsai can be slow and halting. Often the trees reflect the development of the artist and if they survive the first years of neglect and mistakes will progress along with that individual.

At some point mistakes, or over sights made early will be compounded until a point is reached where these errors must be dealt with if the tree is to ever become world class. Of course this process is dependant on whether or not the artist desires to elevate his work beyond the point it has now attained to. Often frustration and fear will dissuade making this leap of faith with a tree that has been an old friend for perhaps many years. The following will document the progression, or decline if you choose to look at it that way, of a Mugo Pine obtained as nursery stock in 1970.

This Mugo was one of the first trees I obtained after getting out of the Army. I chose this tree because of its powerful trunk, something I had not encountered outside of the collected trees I no longer possessed. It was found at a nursery in a three gallon nursery container common in the trade, and remained in this container for another two years while I agonized over what to do with it. Even then I knew this tree was conflicted but I did not realize how much this conflict was going to bother me some thirty years latter. I have in the past shown this tree, many times, and it has won several awards. Many bonsaists would leave it alone, rationalizing that its past successes justify its obvious weaknesses.

For the last five years or so I have not shown this tree, its conflicting form had come to bother me so much that I had no desire to exhibit it any longer. This fall I decided that I was going to start making good on the promise I had made myself to redesign the trees in my collection that were good enough to show, mostly because they were old, and make them as good as I had them pictured in my mind. I had out grown the designs these trees had grown into and found myself no longer happy with them artistically.

The series of pictures to follow this text may not be of high quality. Many will have to be scanned from photographs which in themselves may not be the best quality. But, you have to remember these prints go back some twenty and more years, before digital cameras and digital soft ware became, first affordable then, sophisticated enough to render a decent image.

Perhaps the biggest problem I had to over come was realizing that I was going to have to reduce this tree by fifty percent, losing one half or the other. Time had taken this tree to a point where both could no longer live in harmony in my mind. With a tree that is probably between sixty and seventy-five years old one does not make a step like I was going to take without serious and painful thought about it. What I was going to do could not be undone. It was also possible that the tree itself would be undone in the process; this was going to be a major reduction of an old tree.
 

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Rick Moquin

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It is indeed sad when one has to face the draconian measures you deemed necessary, it's almost like having to put man best friend to sleep.

It is difficult to judge your actions not seeing this tree in person, as to whether there were other possibilities or not. Notwithstanding I do have a penchant for penjing and in this form I can see new life.
 

Vance Wood

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For years I have struggled with this tree conceptually, realizing that no matter what was done, in the end if a world class bonsai was ever to come of it, one half or the other would have to go. It is for this reason I stopped showing the tree three or four years ago. It always wins, or I should say won, ribbons but on the grand scale of things it really was a second rate bonsai squared off against third rate bonsai. I don't think on a national level it would have gotten an honorable mention(rubber chicken). I think it now has potential, beyond the rubber chicken.
 

JasonG

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Hi Vance,

Yes, what you did had to be a tough decision. But I think this shows that 99% of the time the "Gut feeling" is always the right one.

Your first picture with the awards, is an ok tree for my taste. To me it seemed to be way too full and out of balance big time. Like you say, 1 of the trees had to go.

Now in the 3rd picture, You have a much more balanced tree, the trunk line is now exposed (nice trunk btw) and you are on your way to a much more pleasing well rounded bonsai with greater potential than picture 1.
I think with some detailed wiring to open up the apex some more it will be a very good mugo pine worthy of more awards. Now the fun begins all over again, this time almost 40yrs later..... working the fine details of the tree, the jin left from the old tree, new pot, etc..... enjoy yourself and your new tree!

Good decsion and you should feel excellent about it!

FWIW, Jason
 

Rick Moquin

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As stated Vance, not having seen the tree first hand it is difficult to formulate assumptions. Having said that with the reduction, how much reduction is feasible to the root mass in fitting this puppy with a new pair of shoes?
 

Vance Wood

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Hi Vance,

Yes, what you did had to be a tough decision. But I think this shows that 99% of the time the "Gut feeling" is always the right one.

Your first picture with the awards, is an ok tree for my taste. To me it seemed to be way too full and out of balance big time. Like you say, 1 of the trees had to go.

Now in the 3rd picture, You have a much more balanced tree, the trunk line is now exposed (nice trunk btw) and you are on your way to a much more pleasing well rounded bonsai with greater potential than picture 1.
I think with some detailed wiring to open up the apex some more it will be a very good mugo pine worthy of more awards. Now the fun begins all over again, this time almost 40yrs later..... working the fine details of the tree, the jin left from the old tree, new pot, etc..... enjoy yourself and your new tree!

Good decsion and you should feel excellent about it!

FWIW, Jason
I'm glad you appreciate what it took to do this and I am glad you agree with it. I too see a brighter future with it in its new form.

Rick: Yes a new pair of shoes is called for, both size and form have to be right. Either way the tree does need to be repotted this year. It is sitting high in the pot because it has pushed itself up.
 

JasonG

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I'm glad you appreciate what it took to do this and I am glad you agree with it. I too see a brighter future with it in its new form.

Rick: Yes a new pair of shoes is called for, both size and form have to be right. Either way the tree does need to be repotted this year. It is sitting high in the pot because it has pushed itself up.
Cool.

Pushing itself up would indicate it needs to be repotted wouldn't it? Also, what soil do you use? I noticed it looked to be all organic?

Thanks in advance....

Jason
 

Vance Wood

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Cool.

Pushing itself up would indicate it needs to be repotted wouldn't it? Also, what soil do you use? I noticed it looked to be all organic?

Thanks in advance....

Jason
I think I made allusions to the fact it needed repotting. It definitely needs repotting. The soil is my standard three element soil mix. It all looks organic because of what's left of the moss, most of which I removed when I did the restyle.
 

JasonG

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Thanks Vance!

You are right, I misread your earlier post. Sorry about that!

Jason
 

BonsaiRic

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Great vision for this tree Vance!! I like the trunk movement visible in the 2nd picture. IMO this is well on its way to becoming a Masterpiece from nursery stock. I have mugos in training and will look to your expertise as a guide. Thanks!!
 

Bonsai Nut

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I know you know this, but the tree looks much better after your styling. Once the stumps are reduced, the tree will look great.
 

Vance Wood

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I know you know this, but the tree looks much better after your styling. Once the stumps are reduced, the tree will look great.
Thank You, and yes I believed it would look better or I would not have done what I did, especially considering the risks involved. This tree is one of my oldest and dearest frineds---for a tree that is, and I did not embark on this path without a good deal of consideration and trepidation to be honest, a trepidation that has not passed yet. We shall see in spring.
 

anttal63

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yep the ultimate sacrafice in the name of improving ourselves and our trees. my hat off to you sir.
this tree has gone leaps ahead.
 

Vance Wood

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yep the ultimate sacrafice in the name of improving ourselves and our trees. my hat off to you sir.
this tree has gone leaps ahead.
Thank you. The fact that you recognize the concept of self improvement is encouraging to me as well. Sometimes we get in a rut of thinking because we have been doing bonsai for so long that we know everything and have gone as far as we can go. This too is a myth; you only stop growing if you stop trying to learn new things and apply new ideas. Admitting that one tree or another is not what it could be is not an excuse for not doing something about it. Though I have been growing bonsai for fifty some odd years I feel like I am a beginner because I am looking at my trees through new eyes and not making excuses for old visions.
 
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I have seen this tree in person before and after the changes and I must admit it took a lot of courage for Vance to do this, but the outcome proves it was the right decision.

Good work vance,



Will
 

Vance Wood

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The tree is doing fine, it budded well this spring and has started to back bud where I hoped it would. It will take a couple of more years to start to look like something again, but the wait is worth it. I am not going to rush it by doing something hasty this year. Next season is soon enough.
 
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