The Marin Bonsai Club started the new year off with an energetic and informative forest-on-a-slab demo from Randall Lee, the professional aesthetic tree pruner with a strong penchant for bonsai. Randall brought with him a whole bunch of young but distinctive Catlin Elms, a small collection of sample slabs in addition to the one meant for the elms, some mesh, and some buckets of muck, and set about creating a dramatic tabletop scene in just two hours.
Knowing he had a lot to do in a short amount of time, Randall was already prepping the slab meant for the elms before the demo officially began, and essentially never stopped working and talking until he was done. He did a very good job of keeping a conversation going without interrupting the project.
The prep work he was already doing as the demo began was the creation of an alternate wire tie-down method since his attempt to epoxy wires directly to the slab had failed. This is one of the biggest challenges whenever one attempts a bonsai style that uses something other than a regular container to showcase a tree–how to affix the bonsai material to the rock, slab, deadwood, or whatever else you may be using. Rock plantings have the advantage that you can sometimes find creative ways to wedge the wires into crevices, or even thread wire through the more complex rocks. No such luck with a solid slab. Randall did, however, encourage us to attempt to drill into our rocks and slabs, though it can take a while depending on the hardness of the material, and be sure to use a masonry drill bit! Other than for wire tie-downs, another reason to drill into a slab is to create drainage holes, otherwise slab plantings can get a little swampy with nowhere for the water to go.