TREE HEIGHT

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MelaQuin
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TREE HEIGHT

Post by MelaQuin »

TREE HEIGHT

Looking at trees at bonsai meetings and at shows one aspect that strikes me time and time again – too many trees are too tall. The structure might be well developed, the tree might have a lot of grace and character but proportionate to the width of the trunk the tree is too tall.

The ideal, the guideline, the artistic ratio for good proportion and balance is a tree’s height is 6 times the thickness of the trunk. Like all guidelines this will vary with the type of tree and the tree’s own natural inclinations in its growth but overall this ratio has been established for sound artistic reasons. The ‘I like it that way’ rule doesn’t really stand the test of time.

It is really great that the enthusiast can grow a healthy tree but height and foliage mass don’t make a good bonsai. Balance and proportion are necessary and correct height relative to the thickness of the trunk will enhance all the tree’s good features and increase the feeling of age and gravitas. That’s it…. keeping the height in proportion to the width of the trunk gives the tree more importance, more attitude.

What is the most important aspect of a bonsai?? Think about it for a moment. What is the main feature of ANY bonsai? The trunk. Wrap up finish, the trunk is or should be the focal spot. The taller the tree the more the eye focuses on the foliage mass and the trunk takes second place. The taller the tree the thinner the trunk looks.

And what is this also doing?? It is putting the visual focus of the tree too high above the ground and the tree loses balance.

Now, go around your trees with a white cloth. Some trees won’t need it. Other trees, and most especially with your TALL trees REALLY look at the tree with fresh eyes and what do you see first? The foliage or the trunk? If it’s the foliage you have got it wrong. The eye should centre on the trunk, absorb the beauty and grace and movement of the trunk and then take in the foliage as the crowning glory of the tree.

If one of the guidelines of bonsai is ‘taper, taper, taper’, you will only accentuate that taper by accentuating the trunk. You will accentuate the trunk by keeping the height of the tree in keeping with the thickness of the trunk.

Another aspect to avoid is excessive weight at the top of the tree. With apical dominant trees the top growth can be spectacular and a branchlet can go from a thin slip to a weighty branch in a season…. elms being the perfect example, corky barks in particular. A well styled tree has TAPER and that means visual weight at the bottom. Heavy, thick branches at the top of a tree distort the balance and take away the grace of a tree.

With some species [especially corky bark elms] the stylist is frequently recreating an apex because the existing apex has grown too thick and heavy. Thick, heavy, solid branches belong on the bottom of the tree. Light, airy branches should be at the top. Taper, Taper, Taper in absolutely EVERY aspect of styling bonsai.

6 to 1 and Taper. These two artistic guidelines are immensely important in properly styling a tree. Ensuring the trunk is the most important aspect of the tree is paramount to good styling. Looking after these aspects will make successful styling more successful and the trees will benefit.
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Re: TREE HEIGHT

Post by Hackimoto »

Thanks MelaQuin for putting it so well and taking the time to express your thoughts. I must agree with you 100 % as I spent the weekend at the Gold Coast Show discussing with members this very topic. All I see are trees that have been let grow too high for the thickness of the trunk and the distance from the soil to the first branch. :roll: There are so many trees that all I want to do is cut a third off the height, or get rid of the first branch or get rid of everything else, and keep the first branch as the new leader and the future "tree". Hence the name Hackimoto. :twisted:
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Re: TREE HEIGHT

Post by Ces »

I don't know guys... I thought the main goal of keeping bonsai was so that the tree would induce the feeling in you that you had intended. That is to say, perhaps you might style your trees so that they produce in you the feeling of serenity experienced when exploring/appreciating the wilds. Alternatively, you may want to evoke the raw, enduring, weathered nature of distant and remote settings.

maybe you want to emulate any of the myriad of scenarios inbetween. Hopefully a large, mature bonsai collection reflects many of these philosophies (at any rate, thats what i like).

And i think this may be down to philosophy. you are right guys. the rules regarding proportion and taper etc. are there because they have stood the test of time. Follow them and you will produce quality, traditonal bonsai as dictated by these rules (or so i believe. Haven't achieved it yet myself). BUT for me there are two reasons that I don't feel a strong compulsion to worry specifically about following all the rules, all the time.

Firstly, I don't intend to show my trees. They are a hobby/passion that I create for myself for the simple fact that my time schedule doesn't allow otherwise.

Secondly and primarily, if the tree pleases me in the way I want it to, there's no need to worry about whether its 6:1.

Like i started off guys... As an extremely inexperienced bonsai enthusiast, I don't know. I do know that if i had to follow the 6 to 1 rule exclusively, I would have to get rid of a few trees that I very much enjoy working on and viewing. :2c:

each to their own (philosophy), aye?

cheers,

Matt

edit: spelling, added "(philosophy)"
Last edited by Ces on November 13th, 2012, 11:07 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: TREE HEIGHT

Post by Shinkitai »

Thanks Melaquin. That confirms what was going through my mind when looking at a couple of my trees and some other trees I have seen lately.
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Re: TREE HEIGHT

Post by anttal63 »

AW AW HERE WE GO AGAIN LONG TALL SKINNY TREES :palm: :palm: :palm:

Oh Mel you all already know how close this topic is to my heart !!! Here in Melbourne we also have plenty of them. I will say it has been very interesting to see one very prominent artist selling off 2 of his tall trees recently. IMO the nebari is the most important thing and so this is where the stability and strength of a tree starts and this is where i measure ratios from. IMO 2 x the width of the nebari is the perfect tree ( this does not always mean sumo !!! ) and 4x is max. However if we look at 6x the width of the nebari, this may translate to 10:1 by most peoples measuring standards. I personally think this is ridiculously too tall. Just because something happens in nature, doesnt mean it apply's artistically beautiful to bonsai. However the right tree with the right nebari to balance, stabalise and off set its height can just scrape through, as do some of those tall skinny japanese maples with the dish plate nebari's. Again not my cup of tea !!! As i know all too well how volatile this topic can get, i have said mine and will not enter in any further discussion but will follow it with great eagerness to read peoples views. :lol: :cry: ps not sure wether to laugh or cry :tu: :tu: :tu:
Last edited by anttal63 on November 14th, 2012, 6:51 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: TREE HEIGHT

Post by Josh »

Can I throw another in. Recently I saw some trees that looked like trunks cut off and a bit of growth on top. There were some mini black pines sold at the auction on Monday night which looked awesome, these are not type I'm talking about. As said a tree needs taper and balance. There was a hawthorn sold at the auction which was quite tall and the first thing it didn't match the 1:6 rule, however I thought the size really suited the tree and the curves in the trunk were just right to support the size of the tree IMHO. It looked like a really old tall tree you see in the american pictures of their talll cedars ect..
Now to go out with a tape measure and start cutting some tops of :lol: :lol:

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Re: TREE HEIGHT

Post by Guy »

we must know and understand the rules before we can successfully break them
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Re: TREE HEIGHT

Post by MelaQuin »

There are exceptions to everything and there will always be some trees that accept what could be an excessive height and look magnificent. To me the guiding principle is the impact the trunk has. If the foliage is what catches the eye then the height is wrong. If the trunk predominates, even by just a whisker than the height is fine. It would be dreadful to have every tree to the same ratio but too often the tree is allowed to develop too vertically to the detriment of the trunk's power.
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Re: TREE HEIGHT

Post by Qitianlong »

at a local bonsai nursery the other day, searching for some pre-bonsai (ended up with a lovely chinese elm...) I asked these same questions of the master bonsai'er there. He told me to ignore all the rules and create trees that appealed to me, not to judges or critics or anyone else. The lovely pengjin I saw recently in the PRC would seem to comply to this also, with amazing trees doing amazing things without clearly defined rules. Another master told me just last week, however, whilst viewing his collection, that the left branch must come out exactly here and not point there, and then the right and so on... so... :lost:
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Re: TREE HEIGHT

Post by Pup »

Penjing and Bonsai are different, the Chinese philosophy is directed more towards the bones of Buddha, in as much you see the trunk line and the branches.

With Bonsai it is different as you look for, Nebari tachiagari and miki moyo. ( roots, trunk movement and taper)

My take is to look for the smallest tree within.

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Re: TREE HEIGHT

Post by Bretts »

A few points I think worth considering. :reading:

Yes many beginers have a fear of cutting trees back short enough and Australia is in a way beginers in bonsai so we do see many that are too tall and poor bonsai. But the fear is always swinging the pendulum too far back the other way and artistic ability is not pursued.

The 6:1 ratio is a great begining for beginers but it is by no means the rule. Anytime a beginer thinks they have the tree pictured they should get out the ruler to see if what they think they see is actually what they see. Also try measuring great bonsai. It will soon become aparent that the 10:1 ratio tree will never look like the 5:1 that you are trying to craft from the picture in the book.

6:1 is actually about mid range of the usefull hieght ratio. It is some what easier to get a pleasing result in this range. A higher ratio of say 10-12:1 is much harder to be artisticly apealing. A lower ratio can look very impressive horticulturally but as it gets shorter and fatter it will be harder to be impressive artisticly.

To the suprise of many. these ratio's are much on par with real trees. 99% of poeple will measure the width across the trunk right above the root spread. Some artistic skill will need to be used on some trees where this line is blurred. Antonio measures lower down than most poeple so his 4:1 is more like everyone elses 6:1. That is fine in his garden for his purposes but is very confusing when discussing with other people, online especially.

The trend in recent years has been for lower and thicker trunks but trends don't always stay.

Personally I like all types of bonsai, I just like good bonsai. I am sometimes more captivated by a tall elegant creation because the talent to create these is not easily obtianed.

I am definatly not alone in this as it is nice to see by a comment or two above :tu:. I never forget seeing a bonsai master (WOB series 1 I think) when asked to talk about his favourite tree. Amoungst all the massive pines and junipers he chose an elegant juniper group planting. It took me a while to understand why that was his favourite. I also noticed this article by Colin Lewis.
http://hoyokubonsai.createsend5.com/t/V ... C1A387288D

As a side note, I would love to mentions KC,s formal upright here. There is something about that almost unnatural straight trunk that is ever so impressive.
Last edited by Bretts on November 14th, 2012, 3:29 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: TREE HEIGHT

Post by kcpoole »

Thanks Brett for compiment on my Upright. I will upload a photo of it when I get home to show all. It is most definitely a tree taller than 10:1, but to me it works :-)
Antonio will probably hate it tho :D but thats OK because he does have to look at it :-).

As has been stated, and i agree, that normally most trees are a little too tall, and as Bretts so well summarised why this may be so in Oz.

Every tree, and every viewer of them is different, but that is what makes Bonsai so interesting. Seeing and appreciating what others are creating is what our Shows and this forum is all about. if we all did trees to the same formula then life woud be pretty boring :imo:

Personally i like a taller more slender tree, but Describing it in hard numbers is a hard thing to do. Where do you measure it?
Across the nebari?
Across the trunk 1 inch form the soil?
Across the trunk where the nebari finishes and the more paralel trunk begins?

I hope Walter Pall will not mind me linking to a tree of his to show that maybe it is difficult to describe in every case.
http://walter-pall.de/beechjapanese_bee ... index.html

If we measure this tree across the total viewable root spread, I get a Ratio of about 3:1 or less. The problem here is that it is hard to see where to actually measure to.
If we measure acraoss the nebari where the roots actually join into the trunk, then I get almost 6:1
if we measure at the top of the nebari where the trunk start to become more paralel, I get nearer to 10:1.

Which is the "Correct" measurements for this tree? I have heard all 3 locations being used in many different scenarios to describe different trees. the 2:1, 6:1, 12:1 numbers are just Personal Guides, as it is impossible at this point in time to have consistency across all trees and all locations anyway.

To me :imo: the correct way to describe a trees is,
is it too tall and spindly?
is it too short and fat?

Never get into an argument about what the numbers may say, because that is like flogging dead horse. Everyone has their own ideas ( which is good actually) :-)
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Last edited by kcpoole on November 14th, 2012, 4:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: TREE HEIGHT

Post by GavinG »

The basic principle that Melaquin discusses, and I will join her in shouting it from the rooftops, is that a good strong trunk is the essence and centre of the tree, and no amount of ramifying and wiring and poodle-clipping will make a weedy or boring or thick-going-to nothing trunk look good. The numbers, no matter how you measure them, are only a guide, but if you ignore the principle, you're not seeing how the design works. If all you want is something cute in a pot, then by all means have fun, but bonsai can be so much more.

Doing bonsai-by-numbers is much the same as the painting-by-numbers craze of the 60s and 70s (was it that long ago, damn but I'm getting old.) - let's not go there.

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Re: TREE HEIGHT

Post by Jarrod »

As Ken has stated, setting an exact ratio is difficult, as everyone measures from different places. What's more important is the way the nebari appears and the first section of trunk moves from there.
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TREE HEIGHT

Post by Bretts »

Whaaaat Jarrod? How is that more important.
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