Slanting Style

by Bernard Coetzee

Simple but very dramatic - Simple because of its unique trunk design and dramatic because of the special emphasis placed on branch arrangements. Branch placement and rootage therefore plays major role in the development of this style. The correct disbursement of its foliage weight is therefore important for the impact value you are trying to achieve.

In creating Bonsai I have always found that the more simple the style appears to be the greater the difficulty one experiences with its design. I have listed a few points in order of importance to bear in mind when creating slanted tree styles.


Surface roots must be displayed dominantly mainly on the side opposite the slant. (Fig. I) These roots not only are there as a show of strength but also to give the design an artistic sense of balance.leaning-1

The base of the trunk must show its strength in coping with the foliage weight which in some cases can be at a rather precarious angle. The rest of the trunk from the main branch upwards remains as important as it would be for any other Bonsai. The apex will depend on the angle of the tilt and the shape of the trunk and also the foliage design as to whether it should be sharply defined or just silhouetted (Fig II).

The slant in this style can obviously be tilted at any angle leaning-2providing that harmonious balance is maintained. Acceptable angles range from a 'slight tilt' - 10° to a 'drastic tilt' about 45° to 50°. Over 50° would be the exception rather than the rule and it would then come close to becoming a semi-cascade. Avoid straight trunks - firstly they are difficult to design correctly and secondly they could be in danger of looking unnatural. So select material which displays interesting trunk movement and directional changes. The trunk should rise from the soil at a distinct angle to give more credence to the style. Trunks which first grow upwards and then slant away tend to have a contrived look about them.

This effect is also easily detected by the tell-tale root bulge of an instant and unplanned slanting trunk.


Branch arrangement is next in importance in this style as this is the area from where the tree will get its artistic effect. Your 'design creativity' will now come into play. No matter how imposing the trunk may be, your branch placement and weight of foliage distribution will determine its ultimate success. Branch layouts go into two definite types. These are of either formal or informal (symmetrical - asymmetrical) design (Figs III & IV).leaning-3

Fig. III shows two trees with the identical slants but with individually distinctive branch layouts. In 'A' we see a symmetrical design in which the first branch balances the lean of the trunk. The asymmetrical or 'B' design has the opposite effect by further unbalancing the planting or accentuating the slant of the trunk. shows another tree with the same slant but with formal branch layout. This layout is also found on trunks which begin with a lean and then after the first branch tend to come back into an almost informal upright position. Both Fig. III and IV show the correct position of the apex - away from the base of the trunk. Other styles created in the slanted trunk mode are: Windswept (Fig V) and Literati (Fig VI). There are many more of course but these are classified by their branch placement. This is because they assume the style of the most dominant feature of these trees, being their branch layout. Fig. V and VI show two styles which are classified by branch arrangement, yet both have a distinctive leaning trunk.leaning-4


Foliage shape should conform to the well known triangle as the overall balance of the planting will depend on it. See Fig.V. Almost any shape of pot or other container could be used as long as it does not detract from the style. Rounds and ovals are probably best, but rocks & slabs are also effectively used.


To conclude, here is a recap of the main points:

  • Strong rugged trunk & base with good (opposite the lean) rootage
  • trunk must be interesting preferably with curves and bends
  • Apex should not be over the base of the trunk
  • Branch design must emphasise the slant in the trunk either formally or informally
  • weight of foliage balance to be carefully planned
  • conform to the triangle in foliage shape & silhouette


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