Windswept Bonsai - a Windswept Juniper:Typically, a windswept bonsai will be an evergreen.
A bonsai in the windswept style represents a very common occurrence in nature. If you have ever been in the mountains, for example, or on cliffs by the sea, where prevailing winds lash at the trees, you will have seen how they react to such stress. Usually they are stunted, because they aren't growing under ideal conditions! Almost all branches grow away from the wind, sheltered by the trunk itself, and only the strongest trees survive.
Typically, a windswept bonsai will be an evergreen. It is difficult to create the same effect with deciduous trees, as the leaves will face in all directions, so will not look convincing. Try using a juniper, which often grows under these conditions. In some places it could be possible to dig one from an area that created the hardship, and the resulting appearance, we want. The best time to dig up native trees is in spring, just before new growth starts. It can be a strenuous job to dig up as many of the roots as possible, wrap well in damp cloth to prevent the roots from drying, and often carry some distance, but it makes the resulting bonsai even more special. Usually a plant that is dug up from its native surroundings is grown in the garden or a large pot for a year, to be sure the root system is healthy before any pruning is done.
When looking for a plant, whether to purchase or dig, choose one that already has more growth on one side. Look for a sturdy trunk, as that is an indication of age in a stressed tree smaller than it would normally be. Remove all foliage on the trunk itself, and on the inner half to two-thirds of the branches. With age, all the oldest foliage closest to the trunk is lost, and strong winds strip off all side shoots, leaving growth only at tips where it is protected by the rest of the tree. Remove almost all branches facing into the prevailing wind, leaving an occasional broken piece without needles or bark, called jin, typical of a natural tree. A strip of bark can be removed from the trunk on the stressed side, but be careful not to strip bark from just below a branch or the foliage on that branch will die. This is called shari. Several applications of lime sulphur will help preserve the wood and also give an appearance of age to the exposed wood.
Carefully choose the branches to be kept, remembering that each branch needs its own space and must be able to be seen from the front of the bonsai. Branches become shorter towards the top of the tree, and the tip follows the line of the other branches pointing away from the wind. Now all foliage is removed from the underside of the branches, emphasizing the shallow pads of foliage and clean lines.
Windswept bonsai are usually planted towards one side of a shallow oval pot, so that the foliage extends into the space on the other side. They need a strong supporting root on the 'windy' side and a heavy buttress root on the foliage side, to avoid appearing as if they are about to fall out of the pot. Often a rock is used in the space on the soil to emphasize the rugged landscape where this tree grows.
If we think of bonsai as a miniature copy of an old tree, then a windswept bonsai is a tiny version of a survivor - a tough tree that 'beat the odds' and took anything that nature gave it and still maintained a dignity that we can admire. It is not an easy style to create but one that anyone who loves the rugged outdoors can appreciate.