• Andrew Robson

New Fixer-Uppers for RAKUYO

I'm a sucker for a deciduous project with good bones, so when I was recently visiting another deciduous colleague who had a pair of fixer-uppers for sale I quickly snatched them up!

First... an unidentified prunus species.

Prunus sp. - new front

This bonsai has great bones, with some beautiful age and character. While the trunk is outstanding, the branching leaves something to be desired. A decade or two of serious branch work with some grafting techniques should help rejuvenate this bonsai to once again becoming a beautiful piece of living sculpture.

Shari on the trunk

The trunk has plenty of sabi (a Japanese aesthetic word meaning weathered, aged, and patinated ). Clearly the best feature of this bonsai, the front will be changed during repotting this spring to highlight the trunk at its best view. The rugged bark and aged deadwood in conjunction with its spring flowers should provide an outstanding counterpoint for the bonsai bench, which is why species of prunus can make such magnificent bonsai.

Next... a European Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus)

European Hornbeam - pot front

This is a bonsai with a special provenance, it was grown by Anne Spencer. Anne was a deciduous artist here in Portland that passed away several years ago. She not only grew some spectacular deciduous trees, but was a key member of the Bonsai Society of Portland, playing a part in building our impressive, local bonsai community.

Although this hornbeam has great bones (thanks Anne!), it needs some rebuilding due to a few rough years. In addition to bringing back lots of fine twigging and ramification, the right side (from the pot front) could use some more branching. There are a few scars to heal including an unfortunately large one centered on the lower trunk when viewing from its current front, which means a new front choice might be selected to hide the problem...

possible new front - shifted 180 degrees with an inclination change

By selecting a new front, the massive scar can be hidden. Even once it's healed over, it will be visible for a couple decades, which makes this new front option a strong possibility. However, the tree needs a decade or two of branch work, so it's possible the scar could be healed over and aged by that time which makes it a tough decision... one for another day.


Both the hornbeam and the prunus will be repotted next spring into custom-made boxes to gain some youthful energy to allow us to start fixing them up. It will be a fun journey to bring them both back to their former glory as quality deciduous bonsai.

When shopping for bonsai, I always go after trees with good bones. Lots of things can be fixed: secondary and tertiary branching, fine twigging/ramification, nebari, and health, but bad bones are near impossible to adjust!

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