People new to the hobby are often mistaken about the size of trees. Therefor it is good to visit some international exhibitions such as Noelanders. Particularly for someone who is just venturing into bonsai this will provide some perspective. When looking at trees on display in the halls of big traders such as Lodder or Enger, it is easy to get the impression that bonsai are created from tiny plants. The opposite is often true. Most of the best bonsai have been very large, before beeing reduced to a size suitable for bonsai. This helps the development of big trunks for bonsai trees.
When growing bonsai it is important to keep in mind that a specific size of tree is required in order to create fine ramnification and impressive canopies. For each size and species, only a certain level of refinement can be reached. For instance, a mame-sized Castanea sativa will never have a very fine, twiggy canopy. The branches are too coarse and in a few cm of branch you will not get a lot of side-branches. With large leaves providing shade to the inner canopy, such a small tree with this species.. the ramnification will hampered even further. This in stark contrast to for instance Zelkova or Potentilla where very fine branches can lead to very fine canopies using trees of only a few cm tall.
Let us take a look at some images. The images below were kindly made available by Harry Harrington. Harry is probably most known for his comprehensive website bonsai4me where he shares his experiences with growing bonsai. After the website became a huge success he has expanded some of the stories, and published these in the books: bonsai inspirations 1, bonsai inspirations 2 and bonsai basics. Each of these books is available through his website.
This English Elm is one of the trees in Harry’s collection. It looks like a nicely developed, mature tree. Basically, exactly what we look for in a bonsai: The main trunk has a smooth taper, producing an abundance of smaller branches. Each of the branches has good ramnification. No major cut-marks are visible in the tree.
At repotting time, it is clear that this is a somewhat older tree, with a well-developed rootpad. The picture is also a good example of how little is left of a root-ball after trimming, in case of some trees. Do not trim your trees this close to the trunk, unless you know what you are doing. English Elm is very resistent to root-loss and will suvive this treatment well.
What is not completely clear however is the size of this tree. Only when looking at the tree with an object of refernce for scale, such as here the hand of Harry, one can really appreciate the size of this tree. It is indeed a seriously thick-trunked tree. The only reason why it appears as a gentle small tree, is because all the sizes are in balance. The canopy is built up from many branches with taper, secundairy and tertiary branching. The smooth transition into all these fine branches with only minimal hard transistions is only possible with larger-sized trees and/or trees that create natural twiggy growth such as elms, zelkova, Beech etc.