Thoughts on Style Trends

By Terry Davis

Tony Tickle has an article in the latest Bonsai Focus on the development of regional styles. It’s an interesting and timely idea, but it sorta died a-borning there. He gives a big nod (and much of the space) to the tendency to mimic traditional Japanese styling, and I guess Europe is probably guilty-as-charged of that to a large degree. On the other hand, they do such a good job of it! Or maybe they just import a lot of first-rate Japanese bonsai. Clearly it is easier to do it there than it is in the US of A. I’m not complaining or accusing: actually I’m just jealous, both of the ability to import good stuff and of the ability to afford to import good stuff.

What gets ignored is the development in Europe of very regional styles based upon the availability of superb wild material such as olives, boxwood, and Scots and mugho pines (yes, it’s supposed to be spelled with an “H”). To a great extent the medium is the message, and they would be fools to ignore it. To turn these lovely things into Japanese bonsai look-alikes would be a crime. Personally, I think a little more attention could be paid to the native shapes of mature Scots pines, but then you know I have a natural styling bent. And what about the styles of those lovely Italian Stone Pines? The Europeans all seem to refer to these trees as “yamadori”. “Yamadori” literally means “taken from the mountains”, but if it ain’t from the mountains, it can’t be “yamadori”.

We see the same thing happen here with buttonwood and bald cypress bonsai, although many folks still aren’t paying enough attention to the native styles and turn the latter into Christmas trees.

And, if you have been paying attention, some wonderful things are being done in Hawaii and Southeast Asia with Casuarina. In fact, an internet search for the latter will turn up some nice videos. Again, collected material. There is a back yard garden in Kapaa, Kauai with a fascinating collection of wild-collected casuarinas: a veritable dragon farm!

And beyond that, there are the figs and the Pemphis and other SE Asian wild stuff, emphasis on the “wild”. Again, I am soooo jealous. I mention figs not so much because they are native, but because, growing so much better there, they are much, much different than what we grow here.

In this country, there can be no question that the ponderosa pines both have and encourage styles that are pretty much unique to the species. The wild style is really intriguing, and to quote the Koran “Let the wise man take note”

Sooooo regional styles. Where am I going with this? You have heard it before from me “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills”. And I am going to do again, was it Marshall McLuhan? Again: the medium is the message. If the native style speaks for itself, don’t interrupt!