Once again, Clinton Nesci gave a most interesting demonstration using Australian natives to create literati trees. Species like the Australian tea tree (Leptospermum ‘Mesmer Eyes’), Tick bush (Kunzea ambigua) and Heath myrtle (Baeckea virgata) lend themselves well to the literati style as they are elongating species with lovely rough, deeply fissured or flaky bark, small foliage and beautiful flowers. They ‘tick all the boxes’ as far as Clinton is concerned.

Literati trees are characterised by their tall, gently tapered trunk which is their main feature. Branching which is sparse and well spaced starts about halfway up the trunk and the foliage pads are kept small. There is no one design, with ‘endless choice depending upon what you want’.

Clinton brought several trees to show the type of material suitable for styling as literati, three of which he wired before the meeting.

Plenty to choose from

For this demonstration, Clinton chose a Baeckea (B. virgata). He likes to start with young material as this allows him to control how things shape up and also reduces the amount of scarring on the trunk where small branches (in this case, less than a pencil thick) were removed as the wounds heal quickly.

Firstly, Clinton chose the best potential trunk, removed all the lower branching and then wired the trunk. The wood of B. virgata is quite brittle so Clinton used two lengths of 3.5mm aluminium wire rather than a heavier gauge as this gives him more coverage and better movement. The aim of the first styling is to put nice movement into the trunk and create a three dimensional shape. Clinton starts with an outside bend and then it doesn’t matter too much as on this tree, there are plenty branches to chose from. To get interesting movement, Clinton bends then rests and then bends again, going slowly so as to not risk breaking the trunk.

Clinton then eliminated what he didn’t need removing everything below his choice of first branch. No lower branches doesn’t mean that the first branch can’t come down to a low position filling the empty space.

Clinton pointed out that you don’t need a lot of branches but balance is important. He wired and placed the branches leaving a few spare little branches as insurance in case some die off. Clinton keeps the foliage pads flat for maximum sun exposure.

Seventy per cent of the foliage has been removed so the tree needs time to recover. It will grow vigorously and will need rewiring more than once. Attention needs to be paid to avoid scarring. While it can be clipped into some shape, ‘wiring is the future’! Clinton will not repot this tree until August noting it will be a few years before it goes into a bonsai pot.

Clinton brought the above selection of pots from Australian potters Denise Edgerton, Samarkand, Marg Fenn and Denise Allen to illustrate the type of pot he would use for an Australian native literati pointing out that we are spoiled for choice. The beautiful textured bark of our natives is well suited to rustic containers. Shallow round or freeform are best suited to this style but attention to watering is important as these pots dry out quickly.

The beginning

Thanks Clinton for motivating us into exploring this beautiful style using our native material.

Should you like to read more about literati, the following links might be useful.