September 2019: Jay McDonald rock planting

Marin Bonsai Club and guests were treated to an educational and entertaining presentation on bonsai rock planting by Jay McDonald at the September 2019 meeting. In the Japanese tradition this is called a saikei (sigh-kay) and in the Chinese tradition penjing. The volcanic stone Jay used had a dramatic arched shape and he chose a small, shohin-sized shimpaku juniper for the signature planting. Jay discussed the various positions he had considered for positioning the tree before deciding that a placement just off center showed the tree to the best advantage and flowed well with the lines of the stone.

Ever considerate of his audience’s limited attention span, Jay had done extensive preparation on the stone and tree before the meeting. Screen platforms or pockets for soil were created to provide growing material and stability for the tree, and drainage holes created to keep the roots healthy. Jay had purchased the tree in August, pruned and styled the branches and cleared the roots of old soil so it would be in prime condition for planting on the stone.

It was clear that Jay had done considerable thinking about his composition and the elements needed to create a composition that would be a real show stopper. He had purchased several accent plants that mimic larger plantings one might see in the woods, and had accumulated some prize silverback moss to fill in and secure some of the plants.

The positioning of the main tree went smoothly and may have given the audience a false sense of these rock creations being easy to create. However, watching Jay carefully secure the tree into place with strategically placed wire and much thought about just the right angle hopefully illustrated the high level of experience and technique required to create a successful saikei. Jay emphasized the need to make a very tight connection with the stone so that the tree won’t be jarred loose and roots damaged, and pointed out that no ‘muck’ was needed in this case, only good soil and the right sized pocket.

Jay also insisted that the tree be rotated in the garden on a regular basis so that the tree grows evenly. This will necessitate looking at the back of the stone at times which is not as attractive as the front (although Jay thoughtfully hid some of the technical parts with more lush green moss), but is essential to keep the tree healthy.

Future care will involve regular fertilizing, like every week, and keeping the saikei out of direct afternoon sun – morning sun only! The stone drying out could be disastrous for these plantings because the rock ​heats up more than a pot will and roots will shrivel in soil that will dry out quickly.

Understandably there was much competition in the raffle for Jay’s saikei, but the lucky winner was Diane Matzen. We congratulate her and hope to see the planting in a future MBC show.

Candace Key

Photos by Candace Key and Cheryl Redmond

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