Massimo Bandera’s passion for Japanese beech
The Japanese beech is perhaps among the most symbolic species favoured by bonsaists, precisely because of its simplicity and the marbled, light grey colour of its bark and branching. In the leafless winter phase it expresses a sublime beauty.
The particularly patterned leaves typical of the crenata offer great beauty; moreover, being small, they are much appreciated. The Japanese beeches best for bonsai grow on Mount Fuji, or Fuji-san in Japanese, between 1,000 and 2,000 metres. In the Hakone area there are ecotypes with an almost white trunk and therefore very suitable for bonsai. In the higher, more elevated areas, the seeds are most suitable, being small, of particularly light and strong plants.
Growing from seed
Once the seeds have been collected by growers in the most abundant years, cultivation can proceed. The cultivation of beech trees from seed can be done with discipline in an acceptable time frame; certainly true of the specimen in the photos, which at half a century or more, requires a great deal of patience. Japanese Masters say that smaller leaves come from smaller seeds and, from high altitude plants, come bonsai with lighter trunks. In spring, sow the seeds in a soil mixture of 80% Akadama and 20% sand or pure Akadama.
The typical leaves of the beech.
After the cotyledonary leaves open the true leaves and shoots, at which point after a couple of months from the sprouting action the seedlings are transplanted by cutting off the taproot leaving a root of a couple of centimetres, transplanting the plants into small pots. From the end of May onwards you start fertilising. From the second year it is very important to cultivate the plant well by cutting off the longest roots, preparing the foot as wide as possible and starting to balance the buds by pruning, always removing both the largest leaves and the largest shoots.
Smaller leaves come from smaller seeds and, from high altitudes come seeds with even lighter trunks
Obviously when you see particularly beautiful bonsai such as those in these photos, for a perfect nebari it is being root-grafted. This is normally carried out in January around the 20th to 30th year. At that point proceed with maintenance consisting of cultivation in shallow pots to encourage an enlarged root base and balanced vegetation. In summer, beech should be kept in half shade and it is very important not to pinch early, but to allow the shoot to develop. Then prune in the summer from June to August to facilitate the enlargement of the trunk; summer shoots especially should be allowed to grow completely. This technique is better than pinching in April. This is all about facilitating trunk enlargement.
The beauty of Japanese beeches begins to express its full potential after some 20 to 25 years when the trunk reaches an acceptable size. It is very important to make any concave cuts and to apply Japanese cut paste in order to achieve a perfect healing. Smooth, marble-looking, clear bark is one of the fundamental beauties of Japanese beeches and should be cleaned with soft brushes from time to time.
The 10-year sequence of images shows an imported beech from Japan between the 45th and 55th year of age, i.e. from 2012 to 2022, strong improvements can be seen even in a bonsai already beautiful. Following the beech through the seasons is perhaps one of the greatest and most emblematic moments of the beauty of the tree and the beauty of the seasons with their colours and feelings; emotions of nature giving us moments of peace.