Satsuki azalea ‘Kozan’, Rhododendron indicum ‘Kozan’.
Re-potted March 2016: tilted to right to reveal more of the nebari on the left, and to give a difference in the heights of the lowest two branches (i.e. the ones on the lower left and lower right). The pot is a Tokoname ‘silver fox’, a lovely raised mottled finish produced by rubbing the surface of the clay pre-firing with cooked rice. This is such a difficult and time-consuming process it is no longer used, so any pot like this is at least vintage in date. I like the fine speckling the technique produces, which gives a nod to the huge number of leaves on the tree. The colour echoes that of parts of the trunk. The rectangular shape, crisp corners, pronounced heavy lip and raised line decoration are all ‘masculine’ features.
The stand used at Heathrow is a vintage Chinese ‘kang’-style stand with fretwork design to the frieze which includes Chinese coins. The dark colour, substantial inward-curving legs and heavy carving give suitable strong support to this most alpha-male of trees.
All oversize leaves are cut off throughout the growing season. Hundreds of them. I try to cut through the top of the petiole with my fingernails, to avoid damaging the axillary buds, but I should probably carry a pair of scissors with me… Following flowering, all new shoot clusters are reduced to just two. Also quite a task. But the result is very dense, small foliage (see the picture looking down on the crown). Jan 2017: all leaves were cut off with scissors, except for a small tuft right at the tip of each branch. The removed leaves can no longer produce inhibitory hormones, so now back buds (in their axils) can develop. This also gives more open foliage, which allows light in so that any new growth can develop, and being able to see the branches more clearly allows dead and poorly-positioned ones to be removed. It also makes any wiring easier. Any unwanted strong summer shoots are removed at this time. In a tree which is as mature as this one, that means removing them all. In a developing tree, well-positioned ones would be bent as required while they are young and flexible, to create the desired branch structure.
Future development: left side to be grown more convex, right side more concave, with voids above each of the lowest two branches on the right, to create more movement in the overall design. Francois Jeker’s excellent ‘Bonsai Aesthetics: A Practical Guide’ (vol 2 p50-57) was the inspiration for this design – along with the fact that the tree was well on the way towards this when purchased!