Sunday, January 9, 2011

Considering naturalistic forest group plantings...

Those of you who know me may have noticed that I have been quite busy constructing containers for several upcoming forest/group planting workshops coming up this month. The pieces range in size from 13" to 24" and feature many naturalist features including variations in texture, overall shape and color.

Since I have a lot of time invested in the construction of these beauties, which by the way you will not yet find on my website, I thought I would spend a few moments to introduce them here. Rather than showing photographs of each one, which would be way too time consuming with 35 unique, one-of-a-kind pieces, I though I would give some background as too the artistic vein in which they were designed and created.

When planning a forest or group planting, an artist should consider several important aspects: which trees to use, which container to select, and what type of overall design to construct. Generally speaking, there are two basic styles that I see represented in the current modern form.  The straight trunk design, usually presented in a classical oval container, and the dynamic and moving style formed in a natural rock like slab.

Let us consider this quintessential composition by the great master John Naka.  

Entitled Goshin, this forest planting of Foemina Junipers was started in 1948 and remains in the United States Arboretum as a permanent exhibit. 

This forest is a beautiful composition presented in a traditional oval shaped container. The forest has a grand static quality, unmoving yet graceful in its own right.  It is a masterpiece reflective of rigidity and strength, yet allows for gentle movement of the foliage among the canopy. Perhaps one could contemplate its two basic directions: upward and outward. Upward movement in the trunks emanating  from the collective base, and outward movement in the graceful flow of foliage from the open canopy.

I think the container is proportional for this group. It works well with the strong columnar like trunks. Like the trees the pot is straight; this blends with the trunks. The pot's depth is almost the same as the collective trunks thickness and that too helps unify the container to the forest.  There is also a harmony in the tree trunks presented by the negative spaces that exist between them. 

A final observation of this composition warrants a glance to the spread of the canopy and the containers width.  Once again we have a sense of balance. The right and left first branches spread out past the pot, but just enough to give visual weight up to the canopy. It does not take away from the base and soil line, which could alter its proportions a bit. The canopy also features a lovely jin, which was intentionally placed off center right in the composition. Notice how its placement coincides nicely with the right side of the foliage. It overhangs the pot a bit more than the left. This was intentionally done to help balance out the overall composition.

Like the masterpiece above, forests can also be done quite effectively with the use of a more naturalistic slabs. In choosing one, a bonsai artist should take into consideration ways to bring harmony to the composition. Consider line, thickness of trunks, movement of subjects, negative space, and overall style. Take a look at natural rock slabs and see where to highlight certain features such as depressions or outcroppings. Save uncovered edges or margins in the slab to help frame the composition. This will help to harmonize the trees to their environment. 

Here are some great examples of naturalistic style plantings...

Credits: (top and above right) Robert Stevens, (top left) unknown, (above) book cover by Sabuto Kato, forest artist unknown.
I hope you have enjoyed this brief presentation. I look forward to any questions or comments you may have.
Hope to see you at Joy of Bonsai in Bunnell!


  1. Nice Rob. That forest slab going up hill is pretty inspiring!!! Looking forward to seeing you at the Miniature Landscape Conference at the end of the month:)


Thanks for taking the time to comment!
-Rob Addonizio

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