My Spanish friend Germán offered me last year two yamadori Spanish Sabina junipers with great potential. I will be writing about one of them in this entry.

What I really appreciate from Germán is that he offers only good quality and well-established trees. He collects them himself in diverse places of Spain and then cultivates them in his nursery “Yamadori Spirit” south of Madrid. His trees must be at least two years in a training pot prior to put them for sale or even showing them to the public. Germán would never risk the health of his trees plus he is a little superstitious.

The quality of his yamadoris are superb, he can walk hours spotting average trees but he will only collect good quality ones. The species that he collects are Sabina Juniper, Oak Quercus Faginea, Sylvestri Pines and Olivastros. Most of the trees that he offers have not been styled before, something that I like as an avid bonsai enthusiast. I appreciate a good tree that is in a raw state ready to be worked on as project and where I can experiment and put in practice the techniques that I have learned.

Germán sent me one of the Sabinas per post in the spring of 2016. He would ask me every day if the tree had safely arrived, that shows how he really cares for the trees. It took a little bit more than a week for the tree to go through the various post offices from Madrid to Freiburg, but apart from a broken plastic training pot, it arrived sound and safe to my hands.

Tree assessment:

This Sabina showed a beautiful contorted trunk with an already well defined division between the dead wood and the live vein with some nice natural jins. Its foliage was very dense and deep green as opposed to the many Sabinas that would show sparse and leggy foliage.

May 5th, 2016. Tree as arrived:

After cleaning the trunk I could really appreciate the beautiful natural details of the dead wood structure and could even spot a feature that later helped me on defining the final planting position and styling of the tree, a dragon face!

The original dimensions of the tree were: L 50 x H 35 cm.

First styling approach:

My first styling approach was to make a semi cascading tree since the trunk and foliage pads showed an outstretched form that could be directed downwards. My intention was to plant the tree in a natural looking kurama in order to express the natural environment where one can find this fine plants in the Spanish mountains.

I made some preliminary virtuals and commissioned the kurama to María José González, an excellent Spanish ceramist: The end result of the kurama was outstanding!

Nevertheless the more I looked at the tree, the less I was convinced that the semi-cascading style was the better option for this tree. The idea of making a semi-cascade also came to me after seeing a beautiful Sabina cascade by Giacomo Pappalardo called “Where Eagles Dare”: Mine would have not been something as extraordinary as Giacomo´s cascade, instead just a very average tree.

The contorted trunk is to me the best feature of the tree but the dispersed foliage pads would have been too far away from the trunk, drawing the attention away from it.

The only work that I did on the tree during 2016 was to clean the trunk and thin the branches out so the air and light could reach all areas of the foliage. I fed it with organic fertilizer during the growing season and placed it on a very sunny place so it could acclimate and grow well before I style it. I also sprayed the foliage now and then with Superthrive.

Definitive styling:

In January 2017 I took the decision to drastically change the styling approach by tilting the tree up more than 90°, compacting the foliage and eliminating the further branches so the dead wood and its “dragon face” feature could be the main focal Point.

January 5th, 2017. The following sequence of pictures shows the bending process of the main branch.

The more distant foliage was removed and the branches were jinned. I also did some bending on the already natural dead wood in order to bring it forward and make this resemble a dragon claw.

After wiring and slowly arranging the foliage pads, an image of a dragon raising through the clouds (foliage pads) and spitting fire (upper jinned branches) came out very naturally.

The base of the trunk really helps to enhance the impression of “impulse”, a bonsai aesthetic notion mentioned on the book “Bonsai A Practical Guide Aesthetics” by Francois Jeker: “A bonsai should suggest a compressed spring, a contained energy. More than a relaxed and weak muscle, the bonsai is a representation of the intense focus of a 100 meter sprint runner just at the very moment when he is going to jump and start the sprint.”

Another aesthetic notion that Francois mention in this book and that relates to this bonsai is the notion of compactness: “Our trees are often very large and wide with respect to the nebari. They even look weak or anemic”. This is how the tree looked when I first got it but the branches where then compacted to improve its design.

Styling sequence:

The lower foliage pad is still not in its place. I will position it after repotting.

In my opinion, the only flaw of this styling approach is that with this front view, the live vein is almost invisible on the lower part of the trunk. I tried to offset this by placing the lower foliage pads in this area bringing them close to the trunk.

Pot choice:

The final pot for this tree comes from Gramming Pots. Tomas Gramming is a Swedish potter member of the European Bonsai Potter Collective. Here is an excerpt of the Collective´s official web page:

Tomas is a very talented artist, sculptor, and potter from Gothenburg, Sweden. He works full time as a clay-modeler for Volvo, and so unfortunately does not have as much time as he would like for his passion of making bonsai pots. Gramming pots are therefore only produced in limited numbers, and in each he invests a lot of time and dedication into producing high quality pots with interesting designs. Each pot is unique, and some are fired in a wood-fired ‘Ittagama’ kiln that Tomas built himself.  The pots produced by Gramming Pots include all shapes, sizes and finishes. Tomas’ skill at engraving, carving, and pot forming is superb!

I first saw some of Tomas´ works in his blog where I could notice his attention to detail and his mastery working with clay. He posted some pictures of his late work in December of 2016 of some pots with details of dragon scales; this was exactly the detail that I was looking for this tree´s pot. Here is a link to Tomas´ blog:

The fact that Tomas works in the auto industry and I also worked in the auto industry plus we both share the interest for bonsai also made me decide to commissioned the pot to Tomas.

This is a picture of the first pot he made in 2017, a beautiful square unglazed pot with dragon scales “windows”. I knew this pot was the right one for this tree. Unfortunately for me, this pot was sold very quickly but I commissioned a new one to Tomas  after doing a virual wuh the tree.

I could have chosen a more suggestive pot i.e. with dragon feet or a sculpted dragon on the pot but I wanted something subtle so the main focus was on the tree. Nevertheless the pot had to be suggestive enough so the pairing pot-tree could work together as an unity.

It normally happens to me that when I commission a pot based on another that I had already seen, the end result will not always be the same as the original. This can lead to either a disappointment or an exceeding of expectations.

After almost two months I received a message from Tomas with a picture of a finished pot. Although it was a beautiful pot, I could not tell if I was completely happy with it, the reason were the smaller windows and fewer “dragon scales” on them . Fortunately Tomas had the same thoughts and at the same time he modelled a second pot with bigger windows, more “dragon scales” and more stylized feet.

Once I finally received the pot I discovered more details on it that made me like the it even better. The carving of the “dragon scales” is so detailed that it gives an inherent three-dimensionality to every side of the pot, it has a slightly dark glaze which gives a feel of patina and perfectly complements the bark color of the tree and makes the deadwood and foliage stand out. This pot definitely exceeded my expectations!



Once I finally got my hands to repotting this tree I was very curious to see what the conditions of the roots were. This tree was cultivated with almost 100% coarse lava and had almost no field soil, for this reason was very easy to free the roots from this old substrate.

As with almost all sabinas that I have seen, this tree had not such a big root system something that surprises me looking at the vigor of the foliage.

The tree also showed a long and thick root that could have caused some difficulties when planting it in the new pot. Fortunately, this long thick root had very few finer roots at the tip so I could split it and bent it down so it did not stick out of the pot with the new planting position.

Another nice feature that I discovered while repotting the tree was the end side of the lower trunk which was previously sunk and hiding in the old substrate. This feature perfectly resembles the tail of the dragon. Once the tree is well established in its new pot I will clean this part of the trunk and treat it with lime sulfur and wood hardener to prevent root, since it will always be in direct contact with the moist substrate.

The substrate I used was a mix of akadama, lava, pumice and bamboo charcoal, I also added a small quantity of endomykorrhiza spores to it (here is a link that explains the benefits of adding endomykorrhiza to the substrate).

Positioning and fastening the tree in the pot was the biggest challenge of this process, I originally wanted to have the tree leaning a bit more towards the viewer, but this would have caused the roots on the back to come out of the substrate surface. So I decided to tilt the tree upwards and keep all the roots pot bound. The next time I repot, once the roots have direct downwards, I will final reposition the tree.

The last step was to drees the substrate with sphagnum moss to keep the substrate moist while the roots recover from this action. The tree was then profusely watered and placed in a good ventilated place.

Final Touches:

This coming fall, once the tree is well established in its new pot and the spring growth has stopped, I will work on the refinement and final placement of the foliage pads that could not be placed before due to the original planting position.

I think this tree has come a long way since last year, I hope it recovers well and develops further to become a great bonsai. I´ll be updating this blog entry in the near future!

Before and After:

Perspective Details: