This is the fourth in a series of eight choice high-quality plants being trained in a full range of styling in very shallow saucer-pots by Ron Davis of Montana.  To see other of his articles on this website, go to his portal page at 

By Ron Davis (Montana)

      Twelve inches tall with a double twist cone over an internal wire armature. Armature made of two #8 copper wires pushed up through two pairs of drain holes.  Pairs twisted together and intertwined with other pair. Plant was secured to the end of armature with two copper wires.

     Bottom soil layer is large lava only.  Most of the soil is a mix of large lava, a little moist sphagnum moss, and soil media with ˝ teaspoon of Nutrient Granules per cup of media. Top layer is soil media with NG. This plant had a small root system relative to others in this Project.  Good white tips, but thin overall.  No large individual roots.  One large surface root was dead.
      Starting from the bottom, the foil collar was constructed in four sections to accommodate the curves.  Sections were nested to fit and then taped to secure junctions.  Finally, the entire collar was covered with masking tape to seal minor water leaks and add overall strength. 
      The plant originally had three branches with the middle one in contact with and running in the same direction as the upper one. This middle branch was removed. The plant now has two major branches, one going downward and the other upward. This dichotomy presents a design problem. Which way will the Dragon hold it’s head as it grows?

       IMPRESSIONS BY RON:  My first concern is simply whether this plant has enough roots to survive the transplant.  This was my first effort at constructing an internal framework of wire, and forming a large collar with pronounced curves (viewed from above, the design covers more than 360 degrees from base to leaf tips). It took several attempts at manipulating wire before this final shape was achieved.  An important consideration is the size of the wire that goes through the holes and beneath the saucer.  If too large, the wire will make the pot unbalanced.

      Forming the collar is primarily a matter of patience.  Getting the right taper is more difficult with a spiraling design than if it were simply straight. Main considerations are forming a “throat” that is adequate for root development and doesn’t have any flat areas that would hold stagnate water (The wire framework shown in photo 3070 was slightly altered during the collar construction so that the flat area was eliminated).  This latter requirement puts some limitations on possible designs. A striking dragon look would have the “head” of foliage below the level of the “body”. Perhaps this could be achieved with a plant that already has significant root development and only the lower roots and base would need to be watered.

      I am pleased with the overall design of this bonsai.  In a sense, I have violated one of the first rules of bonsai cultivation: have a firm vision of the final design before repotting. On the other hand, I think it may be alright to let both branches grow freely for a while and see if they form a harmonious design or if one needs to be eliminated so that the Dragon is heading in a definite direction.  (October 9, 2011)

      COMMENTS BY DAVID:  Ahh,  Ron is entering the deeper world of bonsai in which he has a personal relationship with each tree!  Bonsai is much more than a plant in a pot.  It's a quiet friend that depends upon you for supplying its needs so it can thrive and develop into a beautiful specimen.  This really is the most important part of bonsai as there must be a personal relationship between the tree and owner-trainer.  The great late Japanese grand master Saburo Kato was often quoted as saying that the most important sound for a bonsai is hearing the footsteps of the owner-training approaching!

      Ron has taken on one of the most difficult challenges to attempt to greatly increase the potential of his tree.  Exceptional trees are often the result of major accidents of nature or an accumulations of constant growth and die-back periods under harsh conditions.  Bonsai training replicates these pivotal events and Ron has just made such a change.  It began with a young tree that had some potential but was given another greater open-ended future.  What else can Ron do to continue adding layers and layers or complexity and character to create a great bonsai? 

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