This English Elm was collected from a local farm in 1994. It had only a few new shoots growing and all the branches on the top of the tree were dead. After it was dug up, I cut off every thing that was dead, all the old soil was washed off and it was potted up in Akadama. It is was a great opportunity to rescue an English Elm and create a bonsai using the collected material to preserve the genetics as well as give it a new life. It is a special tree given the plight of Elm trees in the UK and the effects of Dutch Elm disease on the trees and landscape following millions of Elms dying back in the 1970’s and being removed.

The hole in the front is all natural and must have formed when a second trunk died and rotted out. It is a feature I am keen to keep exposed so I ensured the branch placement allowed the trunk line and cavity to be visible even in when the bonsai tree is in full leaf. The leaves of the Elm are round to oval with a rough slightly hairy surface texture. They have a pointed leaf tip and asymmetrical base of the leaf and scale down in size with leaf pruning techniques for bonsai. The root flare on the Elm gives a sense of maturity to the tree and enhances the dominance and power of the lower trunk. It reminds me of a mature tree with fluted buttresses.

I am trying to recreate the image of an old oak tree. They lose their heavy branches for many reasons, such as being cut for timber for building ships, fire wood or storm damage. I have noticed that the Elms when used as bonsai can develop a light tracery and develop good ramification due to being able to produce numerous back buds so providing multiple pruning opportunities. This helps to build up a good image for bonsai and allows for styling and shaping of the crown due to the species characteristics.

Drought and the impact of years of weathering against storms, winds and the elements can cause damage to the crown of trees in nature as seen with the stag headed oaks as well the natural ageing process as trees move into maturity. I often observe the trees in the landscape when I am developing my own bonsai and try to emulate some of these ideas and develop features to enhance the aged look. My Elm bonsai also has a large wound at the top of the crown which could be developed further to look more natural over time perhaps with carving.

Tree propped

In this image a prop has been placed under the large lower branch to prevent it being ripped out of the side of the trunk a long time ago to act as a support. I am not sure whether I will utilise this for the Elm bonsai but it provides some interesting ideas around how to incorporate larger lower branches in bonsai design as opposed to removing lower branches or ones that are disproportionately large compared to other branches.  

Another Oak I enjoy to look at when thinking about bonsai styling and design

Large lower branches can also get so heavy that they break away and leave large damaged areas that will eventually rot out the trunks. This is another feature I feel I have naturally managed to achieve with this Elm bonsai with the presence of the open cavity.

In my design I am keeping the branches looking as light as possible to show that these are young branches that have regrown after what ever disaster may have happened to the tree in the past. The upper crown branches though are more vigorous and can become thick quite quickly; this is something you have to consider in your bonsai tree development.

The only problem with my design is that, in nature, young branches would grow straight up and not out into nice more aesthetically pleasing pads.

This is where Bonsai design takes over to give a more pleasing image.

The tree is now planted in a Gordon Duffett pot. It measures 43cm x 40cm wide.