Bending a twisty Yew to improve the trunk line

I have had this Yew for over 20 years and it has had major bending done on the lower part to bring the foliage closer to the trunk, this took 3 years to fully ‘set’ and stay in position. The tree was exhibited last year on a pile of book at the Noelanders Trophy and most liked the display and a few traditionalists were horrified. Over the years the tree has been in a variety of pots some crazy… and some not. This is because the tree has been like a petulant child, difficult making the tree do what I want. And finding the best pot has been a challenge.

I have always had issue with the distance of the foliage in relation to the trunk line, combined with the lower trunks movement has never fully been utilized. Having done such extensive carving to reduce the bulk of the upper part the live vein was thinned to a flat part at the rear of the tree. With a bit more carving to thin out the deadwood bending this area would be a simple process. This would pull the tree together and solve a lot of the awkward shapes and angles in the tree. The wire was held in place with cable ties and the tree was bent through and angle of 30º I did not wrap the tree with raffia because the bend was so subtle and the wires and ties held the whole together well.


I am very happy with the final dynamic appearance; I love the angle of the Ten Jin, the movement of the lower trunk and the compact nature of the whole image. The training pot will help the tree thicken up the live vein and meanwhile I can concentrate on filling out the foliage.

Here are some early photos of the development and crazy pots followed by progress photos of the bending done.

The Calligrapher, The Books and the reasoning

calligrapher at NoelandersIn 2008 Sandro Segneri one of the invited artists at this years Noelanders Trophy was in my garden. Sandor was working at the Burrs workshop and was taking time out.

When he saw this Yew Sandro was drawn to the sweeping curves of the deadwood and likened the movement of the tree to calligraphy. I find it pretentious in naming your own trees, however I liked the name Sandro gave to this bonsai.

Finding the correct pot for this tree has not been an easy task, the tree has been potted in a number of different containers. Last year Erik Križovenský from Slovakia attended one of my workshops. He brought this unusual pot for me, it was not made especially but when I saw it I considered it to be an interesting match with this tree.

The Space available to pot the root ball is quite small, planted 18 months prior to the Noelanders trophy this tree would need to be transferred to a larger pot soon after the event.

In deciding how the tree would be presented I needed to consider the strange pot, the unusual style of the tree and its name. Terry Foster and I worked with a number of different tables and none really suited the tree. We decided to look for inspiration in the many bonsai exhibition books that I have. As we waded through the pile of books nothing presented itself as a suitable option. It was then that we noticed that pile of books and wondered if these in fact could be our table.

The original idea was to wrap the books with white covers, this would make the publications anonymous however it simply did not work. In deciding to use the books ‘as is’ made my job easier and the choice of books is key to the idea. If you look carefully at the spine of each book they all form the background to the styling of the tree.

Once this decision was made the choice of accompanying planting or supporting objects needed to be considered. An accent plant or something else, the choice of Calligraphic brushes and ink stone seemed the obvious choice.

On presenting the tree for photography at the event I was very happy with the selection of books and the colours of the binding.

The tree or should I say the display was received well with most liking what I present and making a point of telling me… and a few really not getting it!

close up of the the tree

I ventured opinions from those I valued, Peter Warren was candid stating “the focus is on the books and not the tree, even though the tree is good” and I admit on reflection he is right! Everyone talked about the books… and no mention of the tree.

When considering an unusual display the quality of the tree must be excellent and not play second fiddle and I fear this may have happened. However I was surprised that the display did not look out of place, and was somewhat disappointed that more folk did not rage against it. My old friend Bill Bailey did not mince his words “I don’t like it… but I AM a traditionalist” I also overheard this comment “if I wanted to see books I would have gone to a library” I take comfort in the words of Oscar Wilde “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”  And nobody talked about the ‘other’ tree I had in the show so I guess there IS merit in what I did.