I have always been enamoured with forest plantings, penjing, landscape scenes etc. A huge part of what draws me to bonsai is to get immersed and lost in the illusion of these portraits or scenes, moments in time. The perspective, depth and scale of these compositions moves me. If only I had more space for a lot of them!

Larch in rural Quebec landscape. Photo by Jean-Francois Hamelin

For more inspiration, soak in this composition by Mariusz Folda. The forest was grown from rooted cuttings and trained over 20 years.

Larch forest by Mariusz Folda
Larch forest by Mariusz Folda

I had made some mediocre efforts at forests but did not yet have the experience, or skills to achieve what I really wanted. I showed my Sensei an attempt I had made with some young Alberta spruce. Alberta are generally undesirable for bonsai as they have very agressive upward growth.

My rather underwhelming Alberta spruce planting.

She said something along the lines of , don’t worry, we will make you a real forest. Interest amongst the other students was high so we set up a workshop open to any of her students and friends to come and make a proper larch forest. What a cool thing ! She is such an incredible force when it comes to opening and demystifying the world of bonsai. Linda taught us the traditional rules of forests and how they help with the aesthetic, depth, proportion etc. How the number of trees have suggested placement based on their heights and thickness.

Examples of placement vs tree thickness and height in Saburo Kari’s book.

Earlier in the winter Linda had asked me to bring a bunch of larches into the greenhouse to be ready for our workshop. I was first to remove all the dead leaves , snow and ice. These had been growing in bonsai substrate for many years in rootmaker pots to boot!

Larches coming out of early winter and into the greenhouse
Arriving on an early winter morning to get ready for the workshop.

In Mid-February I came in early in the morning to help get set up. We set up turntables and prepared workspaces, sorted the trees into bunches so people could chose and got a bunch of slabs ready. The workshop was phenomenal. Making a forest is a serious undertaking when done properly. It takes solid repotting techniques and experience as well as new skills specific to forests and slab planting.

Sensei teaching forest planting 101

I wanted to create something tall, natural looking and evoke a feeling of a Canadian forest scene. I went with material that was very tall and decided to leave a fair amount of that height in my design. I chose a slab that was large enough to accommodate the size of the planting and boy was it a cool one.

My trees and slab ready.

Ok the trees are roughly wired and cleaned up, slab prepped with soil mix and anchoring wires for each tree, roots prepped! Time to get them into their new home. It’s tricky to place the trees exactly where you want with these various established root systems. It took some fanagaling but I got them pretty close to the original sketch.

The master of the forest goes in first.
Just about in place! Time to tie down the wires!
Ready for some moss !

The forest responded well to the work however had a rough battle with aphids in early spring. I believe we are now beyond that battle after 3 treatments and implementation of predator attracting plants around the benches.

Regaining strength.
Killing aphids by hand daily in addition to insecticide.

While the aphids seem to be gone for now, some of the trees in the forest are slower to recover than others and are still regaining strength. I performed a very selective pinching after the shoots elongated in efforts only to manage energy and maintain balance and vigour. I decorated my forest scene with some classic Canadian wildlife 🙂 The little animals add a lot in terms of the scene and scale. This composition brings me so much joy every day.

Stay tuned, I will bring more updates regarding the Canadian Larch Forest!

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