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Bonsai journeys - a project tree - California Giant Sequoia - also known as 'Wellingtonia' 

Bonsai trees are always 'a work in progress' with some part-way along their journey, some well established along the path, while others with years of refinement are almost at their final vision - and take just a little care and attention each season. 

The first article in this series takes a look at one of the largest trees in the world and a real Bonsai challenge!

Sequoias Postcard_edited.jpg

This story starts with a holiday to the west coast of America in 2007.

Between a drive from The Grand Canyon back through Las Vegas to San Francisco, we stopped off at a tourist shop for a rest, when casual browsing revealed one of those rotating wire display stands filled with various plant seed postcards. Finding one that had Giant Sequoias lit an immediate vision to the one featured as a bonsai in Harry Tomlinson's book that was my 'go-to' bible.

('The Complete Book of Bonsai' ISBN 0-86318-484-7

Page 156 - Sequoiadendron giganteum Wellingtonia)

I distinctly remember the line of copy saying these are "a real bonsai challenge"  so I was excited this purchase now gave me the perfect chance to start one right from scratch!

I still have the empty packet in my general bonsai info folder. Sadly the

sell-by date has faded - perhaps it was never there in the first place! 

In hindsight, as only two of the 10 seeds were to germinate - perhaps I should have paid more attention to the pack sell-by date! In looking back, the copyright notice on the product was 2004, with a line stating 'use contents within 2 years' so that had already long passed by the time I eventually got round to sowing them in 2010.  


By 2011, as stated earlier, only two small seedlings appeared and I nurtured these as such a valuable commodity for the future. Sadly, one was to perish after a second winter - as I failed to give them adequate frost protection whilst small. One of the many lessons you learn along the way.


With due additional care of the remaining one, it now having acquired honoured esteem as a prized possession with sentimental memories of the holiday, it flourished over the coming years.

By 2019, with just some lower branches removed, it was time to prepare for its first major styling in the spring of 2020. Did I mention that Bonsai is a destination, not just a journey? 

Up until that time the growth and feeding regime was purely aimed at getting a greater girth to the trunk.

Sequoias Stock.JPG

Left - Plenty of wide growth helping to thicken the trunk, if not exactly spurting skywards! 

Right - A season later - thinned out a little and in a larger pot, the apex better defined with ideally, one more section of buds to the perfect height. 

Trunk detail.JPG

Autumn 2019. Lovely flaky bark already on the trunk after 9 years - now 5 times wider than a pencil. Time tor a repot and initial refinement in Spring. 

A quick image from the book that will act as an inspiration to this design. 

The red oval highlights that this tree is 20 years old and has a height of 90cm (36in)

With material half this age as I write this, it gives me a wonderful target to aim for. 

Harry's Book_edited.jpg

Let's follow the re-potting process.


The first job was to establish the best front, allowing for the natural placement of branches and the options available in triming and thinning out to an initial styling - the aim to acheive the look seen on the left. 


With the front-facing branches removed, time to wire down the side and rear branches. Here the crown is left for final styling ahead of repotting. 


Plenty of healthy roots allows the rootball to be cut in half with a saw, then teasing out the roots ahead of placing in a shallower training pot for another season. The aim will be to fertilise well, encourage back-budding nearer the trunk that will enable branch refinement and a gradual shortening to give a thinner, taller profile.   

Clamping between older and newer growth to straighten the trunk. This is ahead of Spring and will be left on for a few months whilst the sap begins to flow, laying cambium and setting the inner strength.



Always pull slightly over the vertical as it will spring back once released. Check often enough - loosen and re-tension as required to get the desired final position. 

Sequoia Oct20.JPG

2019 - Rootball reduced again then placed in a large plain rectangular bonsai pot.

Late season 2020 and time to thin out more to establish the drooping branches that will then be left to curl upwards at the tips. We now need to establish lots more growth and start selecting alternative tertiary branching, pinching out any unwanted growth as we fertilise well next season. The aim here ill be to 'bring back' the foliage pads nearer the trunk so to get a taller a slimmer looking image.  

Compton Verny Wellingtonias.jpg

2021 -onwards... ??  Let's see how close we can get to these stunners at Compton Varney in Warwickshire, although these were planted in the 1850s, so I fully expect a few more years work before we can fully represent these in bonsai form.

Update: July 2021:

Trimmed to a far narrower profile. Feeding well now, to start developing pads. 

Sequoia Triple.JPG

Getting there, slowly ... Bonsai is indeed a journey to the eventual destination.

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