Blinded by Commonnessby Will HeathIllustration by Attila Soos.
About six months ago while wandering though a local bonsai shop looking at some Chinese elms I noticed something that disturbed me. Every single bonsai there that had decent trunk width also had a very obvious trunk chop. The change in taper from the trunk to the new leaders was dramatic to say the least, some actually bordered on the ridiculous. The foliage on most was wired into place to create a screen of sorts for this obvious flaw but one could not help but to notice it anyhow once it was seen.
This lead me to observe the other bonsai there and I noticed that from Ficus to Maples, this practice of putting bonsai up for sale at high prices with bad trunk chops and worse taper was prevalent. The new leaders in most cases were trimmed back to keep the silhouette in shape instead of being allowed to grow freely as need to increase the thickness.
Over the last few months I have visited every shop in my area, a couple dozen on-line sources and seen the same thing over and over. Okay, I told myself, these are pre-bonsai trimmed into a pleasing shape to increase marketability and anyone with experience will see that these need time to achieve a good gentle taper. That was until I noticed that the on-line sources tried to hid that chop with foliage also and never, not once, mentioned it or the dramatic change in taper.
Then, with this strongly in my mind, I started to notice drastic chops and attempts to conceal such on trees displayed on-line, in a couple books, in show galleries, etc. This wasn't just a pre-bonsai phenomenon, but it seemed to be invading all areas of bonsai and at all levels.
Another interesting trend was brought to my attention by Richard Fish in that the same sort of cover-up and pretend you don't see attitude is happening with grafts. "Thick gnarled trunk below the graft - thin immature trunk above the graft, with a permanent veil of strategically placed foliage to attempt to hide the union. These aberrations have even made it into some premier European shows recently. No one seems to care; in fact, even the better bonsai nurseries sell large quantities to a public that really should know better. Integrity is being damaged in the quest for ever-faster cultivation techniques and physically impressive trunks. Yes, these trees are cheaper pound for pound, but then most good things cost capital of one form or another. For a good reason."
He was quite correct to point out these flaws that are overly prevalent with White Pines but are also common in other species.
Could this be a harbinger of what is to come in bonsai, the start of the fall? Has patience started to take a back seat in this art? Is it now acceptable to display a tree that in all rights should still be in training while the new leader grew out and thickened? Has the ability to conceal flaws led us to accept them, overlook them as though they were not there, similar to how we treat wire on a displayed tree?
Have we become lazy?