Many times I dream of going on a hike up in the mountains or some weathered wild place to scout and collect some gnarly-looking bonsai specimens (yamadori). In my bonsai experience, that remains in my bucket list. So far this year, I have been fortunate to collect potentially awesome “urban yamadoris”. Still crossing my fingers that a good percentage of these materials will survive and someday become admirable bonsai. Here’s the story of one urban yamadori I collected from a Goodwill Store parking lot.
As a bonsai artist, I’m always keeping an eye on potential bonsai materials from different sources whether at nurseries, people’s yards, side of the road, or material growing in the wild. I did not expect to find a potentially good material at a commercial parking lot near a Goodwill store, and also very close to home. I’ve driven by this area many times before and only in the corner of my eye that this shrub has caught my eye but never before had a close look at it. Early this year, this shrub finally called for my attention when I noticed how overgrown it was and broken branches were just laying on the parking lot from cars hitting it. After examining the shrub, to my surprise, this shrub, looks more like a black pine tree. At one point it have been broken (probably a car crashing into it) and have been pruned badly to keep it from hitting cars and people. After further examining this material, it is large and there are enough foliage low that this could be a good candidate for a bonsai. I took a mental note but really did not know where to start to get permission to salvage the tree. Also I was not sure that I could even get enough fine roots to keep this tree alive. The tree probably have been in the parking lot since the beginning of this commercial property. This poor tree was in a space about 3 ft wide by about 4 to 5 feet long. I imagined the roots going under the parking lot to seek water.
Late January to early February, afraid that someone might get annoyed of this tree and cut or kill it, I finally took action and researched who owned the property. I wrote the owner/manager a letter almost with a feeling that this may not go anywhere. That letter was dated February 8th. As I waited for a response, I continued to think about this tree as the weather got warmer. I was afraid that my chances of salvaging the tree this year is slim.
On March 5th, I finally got a call from Mrs Uchimura, the owner/manager of the property. She said that she misplaced my letter but was wanting to know what type of shrub I will replace the tree with. During our short chat (I was driving at the time), she mentioned that she would be interested to see how I will turn this material into a bonsai and that she agree that this material is too big and unruly for this space.
March 8, Sunday, I decided it was the right time to at least examine the tree and see if there are enough roots to dig this tree in one shot. It was a chilly morning but clear, I was excited and somewhat nervous because of the size and 2 of my concerns are: 1) if I decided to dig it all out, it will be too heavy for me to carry into my truck alone 2) that the roots are too deep and no finer roots close to trunk. As I proceeded to dig around the base, I noticed that the two large trunk that came out of the ground, independently moved as I slightly pushed the trunks. I realized that the tree trunks have been split into two propbably from being hit by a car a while back. Guessing from the size of the roots this may have happened about 6 to 8 years ago.
These trees certainly have some twist to it. Not weathered like what you might find in the wild but with some carving, these trees can give the feeling of a true yamadori. More digging revealed that because it had broken sometime back, finer roots developed closer to the trunk. I felt a little more confident that I can collect these trees with a greater chance of survival. I proceeded to collect the tree carefully. Taking as much roots as possible and wrapping the roots with plastic and duct taping around it to keep it from moving around when I carry it. It took about an hour and a half to complete the process. Since these are 2 trees, each tree is lighter for me to carry into the truck. The soil it was in was very sandy and therefore was very easy to dig. I was excited to bring the trees home that I didn’t secure the trees and one of the trees was hanging on the side of my truck. Luckily it was a short drive home. This is probably my longest blog post so far but this is only the beginning of the story. I will be post more about this tree as it progresses. I got them now in wooden planter boxes.