Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Jet lag!

12.47 November 28th. 2012. and I have just got up. I feel like I have jet lag but without the pleasure of having travelled somewhere nice. This last week has caught up with me badly. So this morning I was up at 6.00am, took Kathy to work, came back and walked the dogs and loosed the chickens and geese out then went back to bed.
I feel a bit fresher but not much. At least I have an easy day today. Just need to collapse the cage pallets to send back to Spain and then I have a meeting with Kath and Malcolm Hughes over at Sutton Coldfield tonight to discuss the Best of British Bonsai event. I know what you are all thinking! It's not often you hear the words 'easy day and Kath Hughes' in the same sentence.

Only 25 sleeps till Santa according to the radio this morning. I think I will have to get my list done for Santa soon as I have been a good boy this year. Well I think so! I have even praised a few of my club attendees this year despite picking up the tag 'brutal' when critiquing their work. So I think I will ask Santa for a nice suiseki (I hope he knows Dave Sampson), or maybe a nice tree from Japan. Or maybe even a new piece of yamadori.
Unfortunately at this moment I do not have any trees coming from Japan. The yen/££ situation is just ridiculous making buying trees in Japan difficult. This is especially difficult when looking for a tree or trees for myself as I am not looking for commercial trees I want something a bit special. And the special trees come with special prices. So I am putting my money into yamadori mostly as I can get far more for my money.

When you can work with material like this, it gives greater scope for creativity. I am sure you will agree.

Mega frost here this morning, -4c so winter is officially here.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

It's been bl...y hectic!

It has been 5 days since my last post I think, so I apologise for the delay. But it's been bloody hectic here.
The trees from Spain arrived amid a lot of initial excitement. The driver called to say he was in our lane but could not find the property. I gave him directions to our driveway and waited in anticipation. However as soon as the truck turned up my heart sank. There was no tail lift on the truck and immediately I thought, how are we going to get the pallets off the back. And then just to confirm my fears, the driver asked me if I had a fork lift truck. Unbelievable!
Apparently in their wisdom, TNT assumed as the address was Shades Farm, that I was a farmer living on a farm and therefore would have a fork lift truck about the place!
Or even a tractor would do.WHAT! I said to the driver that the neighbours house is 'Seafarers Cottage' but if your looking for the beach it's about three and a half hours drive due West as the crow flies. I think he appreciated my humour........not!
A quick call by the driver to headquarters, and I had the assurance that the trees would be delivered on Monday as all the truck's with tail lifts were booked. As it was Thursday, I was not leaving the trees another three days before getting them. So another chat with the depot took place and they said the trees would be delivered later that day as the driver would go back to the depot and move my pallets onto a truck with a tail lift and a pallet truck. So, off he continued with his delivery's, and my trees still on board.
As evening arrived and no trees had been delivered I was on the phone chasing my delivery, which no one seemed to know anything about at the depot. However after one of my calm, deep and meaningful conversations with the guy in charge, I was promised the trees would be delivered at 10.00pm that night.
At 10.30pm the phone went, and yes you guessed it. "This is TNT here, I can't find your property."
Well eventually the truck pulled up outside and I set to work unloading the pallets and checking on the trees in the torrential rain.
Next morning I was up at 6.00am unloading the pallets and taking the trees into the studio to check them over.
Here's some of the trees in the studio. Notice the unfinished Scots Pine in the middle of the floor.

All the trees had arrived in perfect condition and I could breath a sigh of relief. I spent most of Friday unwrapping the trees and taking photo's for the website.

Here are a few of the trees. First an Olive

 Then a nice Oak.
 And a nice powerful hollow trunk Oak.

Saturday was chaos as people arrived throughout the day to pick up their reserved trees. With several clients buying two trees once they had seen them in the flesh.
I would like to thank all of you who took me at my word and reserved trees from the images I provided and from my descriptions and reassurances. Thank's for showing faith!
Late Saturday afternoon we got another shock as Mo Fagan turned up out of the blue. For those of you who know Mo, you can understand seeing Mo would be a shock for anybody. Just joking Mo..........NOT!
Anyway, it was really great seeing Mo who had driven all the way up from Bristol on speck to see the oaks. He said as the oaks were Quercus faginea or as he saw it Quercus fagin, he just had to have one. And he did too, taking home a really nice twin trunk with a massive nebari. So Fagan left with a Fagin. All I need now are some Juniperus evans, Carpinus williams, Pinus smith and some Fagus jones and they should sell like hot cakes. I was really pleased for Mo as he went home a happy chappy and I am sure the tree will have a good future.
By Sunday I was shattered. But there were still several people popping in to look at trees. Marcus Watts popped in on the morning. He was on his way back to Cornwall after making a delivery near Birmingham. He also left a happy bunny taking with him a nice Itoigawa Juniper. By the way Marcus is the UK representative at the European final of the NEW TALENT competition which will be held in France Easter weekend 2013. Good luck Marcus.
Well Monday was my wedding anniversary so in order to keep the day free I decided on Sunday that I better get the Scots Pine finished. Oh did I mention it was 11.30pm Sunday evening when I had the idea. So at close to midnight I went over to the studio and set my sights on finishing the initial styling of the Scots Pine. At 2.45 am and after lots of Earl Grey tea, I finished the Scots Pine and went to bed content.
In case you forgot, here is the tree.

And after the first styling.

Sorry about the photo, but I was tired.
This first image is OK but next time I wire it I need to compact the foliage on the lower right branch more to the left and possibly shorten the pad as well by about two inches. But for now it's OK, Rome wasn't built in a day.
Another one in the bag!

Thursday, 22 November 2012

A Scots and some stones!

In yesterdays post I said I was experimenting with some new photography back lights. Well I conceded defeat today and put it all back in the box and decided to get on with styling a tree. So today I brought an established Scots Pine into the studio and made a start.
Here is a picture of the tree.

 I have had this tree three years now since collection and it has not missed a beat.
The stick through the foliage is a quick and easy way to stop some of the thinner branches from hanging. Leaving branches to hang facing the floor only makes them weaker, so I just prop them up to receive the light and to keep the energy flowing to the branch. I am sure you are aware that when you create a cascade tree from a tree originally upright of form, it can be difficult to get the energy down to the lowest branches. The energy naturally going to the crown. Well it is the same with collected trees. It is important to keep the energy flowing to all parts of the tree and this is very difficult if the buds are aiming at the ground.

Here's a close up of the trunk.

The base and trunk show interesting form now that the tree has been tipped on it's side. You can see that there are several cut off branch stumps that need to be addressed.

Here are a couple of the jin I created today.

I have more jin to create and then I will look at pruning the branches for correct structure.
Just a tip for creating jin. It does not matter whether you carve using a machine or if you carve using hand tools. But please try to avoid merely sharpening the tip of the branch to a point, try to add movement or character to the branch. There is nothing more annoying than jin that look like a sharpened pencil.
I can recall the first demo that I witnessed in Europe when on my travels This guy created the worst pencil style jin on his tree that I have ever seen. I remember thinking, either this guy was the class pencil sharpening monitor in his school days, or else he was a descendant of Van Helsing and was carrying on the family tradition of vampire slaying. Well he did a great line in sharpened stakes anyway.

It is important to get the structure of the tree right early on. It is in the first styling that we create the skeleton of our design. Then over time we 'flesh out' the skeleton by growing new branches, generating more buds and slowly filling in all the gaps and where necessary extending branches to fill the desired profile of our design. It is interesting when watching demonstrations, how most people just cut off what branches they don't need for their design, but then wire everything else on the tree. There is no structuring of branches.
In the image below you can see the nice healthy buds with their protective wax coating.

I said in my last post that I would post some photo's of some recently acquired stones. Here is the new Furuya Ishi from Japan, courtesy of Dave Sampson. It is only a small stone, but as with most Furuya Ishi it has great detail.

The two Chinese stones were very different. The first is a Red River stone or Dahuashi. It is not my normal type of stone but I like it. Unfortunately it arrived with the daiza split in two. However I can get another daiza carved but a broken stone would have been a disaster.

The second stone from China is a Lingbi stone. I like the stone but the daiza is very poor and I will definitely be getting it replaced.

Tomorrow is another day. I have the Scots Pine to style and my trees from Spain are being delivered  so a busy day ahead.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Good news!

Last night I had a lovely surprise when my eldest daughter Amy, called from Nepal where she is on a teaching assignment for nearly a year. She has just returned from a two week trek which she had scheduled into a break from teaching while the children are on holiday.
Amongst the many interesting and exciting things she related to me, was her description of seeing shohin size cotoneasters with beautiful craggy bark growing at 4,000 metres near Annapurna base camp. That's my girl!
However she took no photo's for her old Dad and there are non boxed up and in the post. So I will have to hold off posting her Christmas hamper just to teach her a lesson. You just can't get the staff nowadays!
But readers of my blog fear not. I am in the process of organising a 50 man Sherpa led expedition just like the old orchid collectors of the 1800's put together, to attempt to find and collect some specimens from my local garden centre. I am just waiting for my altitude sickness pills to arrive!

I had some more good news in the form of an email confirming that the new yamadori trees from Spain were in transit and well on their way. I am really looking forward to receiving them later this week.

Well I am well and truly on wind down now for Christmas and the New Year. I have one more One to One workshop booked and then I am downing tools so to speak and taking some time to reflect on this past year, the good the bad and the ugly. (That would be a good title for a film, Ummm).
I have a number of styling projects in the pipeline for myself, both Japanese imported trees and yamadori, and I am going to work my way through some of them slowly at my pace without having to watch the clock.

We had horrendous winds here yesterday and two shohin were blown off the benches but fortunately they were fine, no damage done. We have had three mornings of really good frost, then high winds and mild and now today it is hammering down with more rain. Still I guess it keeps us guessing!

I have just bought three nice stones. One is a Furuya Ishi from Japan, and then one is a really nice Red River stone from China. The final stone is a Lingbi stone also from China. I will try to post some photo's tomorrow when I have more time. At the moment I am experimenting with some new photo back lights for the studio as I want to be able to take good quality studio shots to illustrate my work better. I also have two different back ground cloths as well so I am playing around at the moment to get things right.
It's great fun!

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Busy but productive

Since my last post I have been really busy. The highlights of the past few days however has been the  Stourbridge Bonsai Renshukai "Stourbridge Bonsai Practise Group" show held on Sunday 11th November and my trip to Spain looking at yamadori.
The Stourbridge group is what is left of a once quite large and active bonsai club. Originally it was the Stourbridge Bonsai Society. Then after infighting and a big split, it became the Beechwood Bonsai group. Then a few years ago, for whatever reasons, several members just gave up leaving literally a handful of members. However it has recently had an injection of a few serious new members who are now getting the group back on track with the help of the current Chairman Dave Jackson.
As most of the members are close friends and or students of mine, I offered to give them my time and do a demo at their show free of charge. I styled a genetic dwarf Spruce Picea abies on the day and a raffle was held to raise some funds for the group with the tree as the prize.
Here are the guys setting up.

Several of the trees on display were seen previously at the Ginkgo and Noelanders exhibitions in Belgium. Hopefully some of the other members will be inspired by the show and I am very hopeful that the group will go from strength to strength and I will support them where ever I can.

Here are two of the members preparing my Spruce for the demo by removing all the inner dead branches for me while I checked on the exhibition. I must say a big thank you to Jeremy Haddleton who tirelessly and selflessly worked to make sure the event went well. Even to the point of carrying my gear in and out and parking my car so that I could concentrate on displaying the trees. And in the image below (guy left) helping prep my tree. And to Richard Swatman and Kevin Homer for giving up part of their day to help with a bit of wiring, and expertly done too. But then they have a good teacher, what did you expect.

I think for future exhibitions the guys either have to do something about the lighting or find a different venue, but then I am sure they realise that. There is already quality and depth in numbers of good trees which should ensure an even better display next year. In fact four of the members could put on a great exhibition just by themselves with proper preparation.


Well after the Stourbridge event, it was straight home, pack a bag, something to eat and then an early night as I had to be up at 2.30 am to drive to the airport for my trip over to Spain.
The reason for my trip this time was to visit some guys who collect yamadori with a view to securing new material for 2013. Well it could not have gone any better and in fact the first trees should be here next week.
Driving from the airport to look at the first selection of material, I was astounded at how beautiful the granite mountains were and my mind went off on a tangent thinking of how they resembled suiseki, but big ones at that. As we drove past one particular out crop of granite, I thought, I would not like to make the daiza for that! I regret not stopping to take photo's as it would have been a great reference for the future plus a fun exercise to put them into daiza using PHOTOSHOP or something similar.

In between the friendly chat about bonsai in general and yamadori collecting I could not help thinking that I hoped this trip would be worth it. As well as my trees from Japan, I get yamadori trees from all over Europe and in the past I have had my fingers burnt by unscrupulous collectors. I feel another name and shame idea coming on.
So it is no surprise that I felt a little apprehensive. But once we arrived at the first address, all negative thoughts drained from my mind as soon as I saw the first trees.
One of the topics on the agenda was growing conditions and weather. It was interesting to hear that when we were experiencing some of the wettest and most prolonged bouts of rain during the summer. Over there they were experiencing  heat of 40c and having to water 4-5 times a day to stop the trees frying. So we are not the only ones experiencing freak weather, but of course these extremes can manifest themselves in different ways. When we experienced the winter of 2010 (we had minus 20c here for two weeks) and then the three months of rain this summer. I console myself by thinking about the tsunami in Japan or the hurricanes that devastated parts of the US and this puts things into perspective. We really get off lightly, although sometimes the trees don't.

This is the first batch of trees that greeted me as I walked into the garden. These are Portuguese Oaks Quercus faginea. This is a great alternative to the Cork Bark Oak Quercus suber, as it will tolerate cold down to minus 20c. In fact these trees have gone below that. I can't wait for them to arrive now. Although the bark is not as extreme as suber, they still show wonderful old bark texture as you can see. 

Here's another example. I am quite sure that these will be a favourite among UK bonsai growers who love deciduous trees.

Here is a close up of the bark quality.

Of course being into conifers, I homed in on the junipers and pines. It was nice to see a few Juniperus phoenicea as well as the ever popular Sabina Junipers Juniperus sabina being collected. They are both very different. The Phoenicea tolerates salt water and so is found closer to the sea even growing on sea cliffs. It is characterised by having ridiculously hard wood as it is very slow growing. The natural deadwood areas are as hard as stone. They are sought after for their spectacular deadwood but not for their foliage which is quite coarse when collected. But over time the foliage can be reduced in size and made more compact, however in today's race to get the next tree on the bench rather than learn how to work with the foliage, many graft Itoigawa on to it to capitalise on the deadwood and get that quick fix. The branches are very stiff to move, even ones only a centimetre in thickness show great resistance to bending. So any serious bending requires sensitivity and experience.

Here's a Phoenicea to show the foliage. This one had plenty of deadwood but not much in the way of movement.

All of the Sabina Junipers I looked at had some movement. Many were spectacular with fabulous deadwood and superb movement to rival anything you would see in Japan.
One of the interesting things for me was to see the variation in foliage on the Sabina's. Some looked like Shimpaku, some would have passed for Itoigawa. Some of the softer open types looked like Juniperus thurifera. I think the best Sabina's are the nearest thing we have in Europe to Itoigawa.
The wood of Sabina Junipers is not as hard as the wood of the Phoenicea, or indeed the Juniperus chinensis. So care is needed to preserve this deadwood.

Here are a few examples of some of the Sabina's. And these are not the best!!

And here's one showing interesting movement.

These unique trunk forms are an artists dream. These junipers will make master pieces in time when in the right hands. I have reserved some Kifu and Chuhin sized junipers and a few larger ones and over the next few years I am only going to style yamadori trees for myself. I have a few Japanese trees that I am developing that no one has seen yet. But all my new projects will be European yamadori. Watch this space.
So for those of you who are all junipered out, you will be pleased to know I also went to another place to see olives. When I went over to Angel Mota's in Majorca to work on his trees, he described the Olive as the king of trees. I can still remember him placing his Ginkgo winner on the ground and sitting on the top to show me how strong they are. I must confess to being fond of Olives. They are a dream to work with. You can cut all the branches off leaving only a trunk and start all over again if you wish. The best ones have fabulous natural deadwood and for a non coniferous tree, they can have very interesting trunks and movement
Here are a few examples.

Here's a close up of some deadwood.

Finally here is a close up showing how small the leaves can be reduced to with the correct technique. Quite incredible.

Olives now feature heavily in European bonsai and rightly so. I think that as more people grow them in the UK and people realise how versatile they are, we will see more and more featuring at the top UK exhibitions. I feel it is important that we grow species from our own country and Europe as well as the classic species of Japanese bonsai. And as I travel around the world teaching and demonstrating, I try to encourage people to work with their native species. I really think this is important.

Friday, 9 November 2012

With a few spare hours.

Well yesterday I had a couple of hours to spare and so I decided to carry on with the Scots Pine that I had started on 19th September. For those of you following my blog, you may remember that I mentioned I had started to style a tree but that I had only managed to bend the one and only primary branch on the tree, and had been too busy to finish it.
Here's the tree in question.

 As I explained in a previous post, all the foliage was on one branch situated behind the preferred front of the tree and rising into the air in the opposite direction to the energy of the tree.
There were quite a few stumps to address on the tree, where jin and shari needed to be created to make sense of the cuts. But the only obstacle was the moving of the branch into a position where I could relate the foliage to the trunk line.

Below you can see that the branch is as thick as my wrist. This photo was taken with the branch in place, job done. Allowing the cells to relax on such a thick branch is the key. It took 3-4 hours to move it.

If I can pass on one piece of advice to any budding stylist/artist, it is to work with the tree not against it. Everything else will be easy.
Working with the tree means two things. First of all, work at a pace that is good for the tree and not you. You don't count, it is all about the tree.
We can create the image of a tree through many mediums. We can draw a tree, paint a tree, sculpt a tree or model a tree from clay. It just happens that we are working with a living tree to create our image and so we must respect it's life. Unfortunately I feel that not so many people do.
Secondly, don't try to force some preconceived ideas on your trees. This, one shape fits all solution. Where can I hang my 'Chinamans hat' shape, or where do I fit the required triangle. Look at the trunk, and be guided by what it suggests to you. If you are lucky, it may suggest several design options. It is important not to stifle the tree with mundane quick fix styling, and I think especially when working with yamadori, it is important to respect what Mother Nature has given us when styling the tree. And to try to arrange the foliage to compliment the trunk and not just stick some formulaic shape on it somewhere. Nature has given us the trunk, and the tree has real age as opposed to implied age. We should respect this and we must try our best to compliment the tree when we arrange it's branches and not render the tree boring or sterile.
The first styling completed below. Remember this is it's first day on the path to being a bonsai.

This is as far as I want to take the tree this time. When the tree gets it's second wiring I will introduce a little bit more curvature to my design, at the moment it is a little too angular for me but I will not push the tree to get it all done first time.
I always look forward to successive wirings, because the trees is getting closer to the image I have for the tree in my head.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Winter closes in.

The last few mornings the cold has taken a grip on things and you can feel that winter is slowly closing in.
The baths for the geese have been  frozen over and the hose pipe has been solid. Fortunately all the trees that need to be, are under plastic now. Trees that need to be dried out for winter like the Olives, cork bark oaks, Sabina's etc have been in quite a while to give me a chance to dry the pots out before the arrival of frost. It is important that these trees are not stood in water over winter. Remember it is not the pot that freezes, it is the water in the pot. The aim is to prevent the trees roots being stood in a block of ice. Remember too that it is not just Meditteranean trees that need winter protection. Some of the Japanese trees also need protection in particular Trident Maple, Japanese Yew and Japanese Black Pine as they have succulent roots. This also includes grafted White Pine as they are on Black Pine root stock.
The new big poly tunnel is a godsend and has proved to be a good move and I have decided to put up another wider style tunnel before too long. We have already taken down the old shade net area and we have a narrow 10foot poly to take down next which will allow us to put up a 18-20 feet wide poly which will be great for all the new yamadori I have coming for 2013. Also it will give me extra space to work on some special projects under controlled conditions.

With all the rain we have had this year, keeping on top of the weeds has been a nightmare. They just beat us hands down. On the sales display area alone, we sprayed 6 times with weed killer and we did not even make them wilt. The rain just washed everything away. We have areas of gravel and areas with bark chips for walking on. The bark chips are used as a mulch by some to suppress weeds. Well here it just grows weeds, and next year we definitely need to do something different to keep the place tidy. The weeds definitely kicked arse this time! Kathy spent several days on her hands and knees weeding only to see them sprouting up behind her as she moved forward through the nursery. Has anyone read "DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS"?
But me being the ever caring husband that I am, pushed the boat out and got her some new gloves and knee pads, as you do. We definitely have to do something different for next year and review what our ground cover is, as I can't keep buying knee pads and gloves!

I am really looking forward to going to Spain to visit friends next week. It will be nice to be out of the cold and wet, even though it is only for a short while. Also I am looking forward to seeing how last years batch of yamadori is doing and to reserve some trees from the selection of newly collected yamadori. Hopefully I will bring a few shohin/kifu size trees back with me, but the bulk of the new stock will arrive in the spring. So there will be some nice trees available in all sizes from around March. I will have Scots Pines, Taxus, Sabina Junipers, Poenicea Junipers, Common Junipers, Cork Bark Oaks, Portugese Oaks, Olives, Cupressus, Mugo's, Spruce, European Larch to name a few.
Then the new trees from Japan should arrive in quarantine shortly after.

I hope that this problem we are having with the Ash tree in nature does not have a knock on effect for the movement of trees. It seems the government in their wisdom, are thinking of bringing in new laws and licensing for controlling the movement of trees around the UK and in and out of Europe.
Fingers crossed!

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Dispelling the myths Part 2

So here we are again with some more bonsai myths.
3. There seem to be several trees in particular which consistently attract misinformation (waffle).
The Larch is such a tree. Many people promote the Karamatsu or Japanese Larch Larix kaempferi as being a better species for bonsai than the European Larch Larix decidua.
So lets look at the facts. The Japanese Larch is a very fast growing species. This is why we grow it commercially for timber. The European Larch is too slow growing to be commercially viable. Because it is so rapid growing, two things make it unsuitable for long term bonsai cultivation. Firstly as with any species growing so fast, the wood is soft and any deadwood areas created will rot fast even when treated. OK so lets say we grow Larch without creating jin, shari or uro, then what. Well due to this species' rapid growth trait it obviously affects long term use for bonsai because in a matter of decades the ramification of the branches cannot be maintained. At some point the delicate branches in the crown will be just as thick and heavy as the first lower branches on the tree. Yes we can thin out and replace thickening branches with thinner ones to try to maintain taper but this strategy can only go so far. Invariably the trees branches will become totally out of proportion giving us a really ugly tree. Plus of course the Jap. Larch is also short lived.
I have hundreds of Japanese bonsai books, but I only have one black and white photo showing a Japanese Larch bonsai in Japan. That is because they understand it is only suitable for short term bonsai cultivation. It is not a species that can be handed down from generation to generation.
Try spraying them with water during the growing season and your Larch will have growth extensions like palm leaves, again showing it's rapid growth. (Actually scrap that idea as it will ruin your trees growth that year).

However Japanese Larch is a great species for people to learn bonsai cultivation and styling techniques and their spring green colour lights up any collection. But unlike their slow growing European cousin, they should be viewed as short term projects. And before you ask, yes I sell both species and occasionally hybrids of the two. So I am not trying to put you off buying or collecting Japanese Larch, I merely want to arm you with the facts. So enjoy your Karamatsu while you can, it is a great species. But just like dogs, they are not here for long enough.

4. The Japanese Black Pine is one of the classic species of Japanese bonsai and is viewed as the king of pines. About ten years ago various people were saying that Black Pine were no good for growing in the UK. Someone had started off this rumour and slowly it spread.
Now it seems that again a person or persons are telling people that Japanese Black Pine are not suitable for growing in the UK. Well, of the three Japanese Pine species; Black Pine Pinus thunbergii, Red Pine Pinus densiflora, and White Pine Pinus pentaphyla. The Black Pine is by far the easiest and most accommodating for UK cultivation.
This is probably in part due to the fact it is not a high mountain species and as such likes lots of water and feed in the growing season, unlike the White and Red pines where water control is very important as they do not tolerate having wet feet. It also back buds very easily and it is possible to more than double the amount of foliage on the Black Pine in one season if you know the correct techniques for the UK. Notice I said UK not Japan. Remember due to our lack of long, warm growing seasons and without decent humidity not all Japanese techniques work here and some give slow results. So all these people who start a sentence with "oh but in Japan they do this......", remember this is not Japan. We can learn a lot from the Japanese, both horticultural and technical. But remember keep an open mind. Many people go to Japan to study and return home and traumatise trees. The smart ones adapt their techniques to suit their own growing conditions as they gain more experience.
The last words Hotsumi Terakawa said to me before I left his home was "if you decide to have a nursery, to be a successful nurseryman, you must adapt your horticulture to suit your own climate just as I have had to living in Holland".

5. The Spruce's use as a great subject for bonsai are often questioned. I am referring here to Picea abies. Many people siting that the Spruce drops branches and in particular the branches in the crown when wired.
This only comes about when the trees habits are not understood. So it is all about doing your homework and learning about the requirements of different species. Spruce are not pines! Not all Spruce species are the same, just as pines are different and junipers are different. You would not treat a Rigida like an Itoigawa just because it's a juniper. The main problem with Spruce occurs when people insist on tying them in knots, zig zagging branches and more importantly re orientating the natural crown. This Spruce, do not like. So if this is you and you have had problems with Spruce, now you know why. You can only work with your tree if you understand it's requirements and of course it's limitations.
As another example of understanding a trees requirements, Hemlock do not like their roots being pruned hard. So it's always a gentle prune with them. Heavy pruning can give a very weak or dead tree. Often the latter. Cedrus are very similar.

6. Now two classics carried over from the sixties and still being passed on today.
Spraying maples on a sunny day will not lead to leaf scorch. The water droplets do not act like magnifying glasses and burn the leaves. I can't even believe this one got started. Did they stop teaching physics in the 50's?

Wet raffia shrinks as it dries! Really!
We do not wet raffia so that as it dries it tightens onto the branch. I think people were mixing this up from watching too many cowboy films. Where the hero was tied down by the Indians with soaked buffalo hide which slowly dried in the sun and as it shrank, it cut into the hero.
No we soak the raffia to give it greater tensile strength, that's it. However as a consequence of wetting, it is also easier to handle so this is good if you are not experienced in it's use for heavy branch bending. But most important is that raffia must be applied very tight and not just lazily wrapped around a branch otherwise you may as well not apply it.
I was once made to walk around a show with soaked raffia wrapped round my thumb to prove that as the day went on, it would not constrict and cut off my thumb. It didn't thank goodness but I was sweating all day. Thank God I only wrapped my thumb!


Friday, 2 November 2012

Dispelling the myths Part 1

Travelling far and wide as I do, I get to meet a good cross section of the UK bonsai scene. In fact I would go as far as to say maybe only Alan Whicker or more recently Michael Palin, are more travelled than I am. For those of you too young to know Alan Whicker get me to explain next time you see me. But anyway I am digressing a bit. Where was I. Oh yes travelling hither and thither.
So meeting so many people I get a feel for what people know, and more importantly what is being taught or what information is passed on to others.
Which brings me to one of my pet gripes. The propagation of miss information. Which if I was a farmer, I would call this 'muck spreading'!

As an educator, which I see as part of teaching bonsai, I get very frustrated when I spend more time re educating people or correcting inaccuracies before I can give the correct information.
Some of the misinformation, is at times comical. Other times it is just unbelievable. Although I must say it gives me great material to use when going round the clubs. It's like I have my own comic gag writer. However the obstacle for me as a bonsai professional, is to be able to say that the information is incorrect, without doing a character assassination on the perpetrator of such rubbish. It can be very difficult to show restraint however, when the same names keep cropping up as spouting this waffle. These I refer to as the serial offenders. There waffle knows no bounds. To the novice or inexperienced, this authoritative waffle sounds believable as it is so confidently regurgitated to the unsuspecting masses. It would be stopped straight away though, if we had a way to name and shame. However with everything so PC this would never work,...........would it?
And so Richard Craniam gets to preach to more unsuspecting hobbyists. (I know you are all wondering who the hell is Richard Craniam. Try the short version. Got it?).

Now I am guessing you are all thinking, "so what is it that gets Tollster so wound up". So here we go.
1. The best way to get White Pine to back bud is to wire them. Really!
The only way that wiring a White Pine will encourage back budding is if you are so ham fisted you knock buds, needles or candles off. But then ask yourself, why you would be wiring a pine at the time of year that this would encourage the tree to release bud forming auxins. At this time of year the tree should already be wired. Also this technique would be going no where. Knock em off to grow em again. Nice one.

2. Quote. "I am cutting the wire off my tree to let it have a rest.   
Well all I can say here is that all my trees live in a pot or similar container so that they can grow.
Non of mine ever go off jogging or leave to join a gym. Some have won Noelanders Trophy Prizes and Ginkgo Awards but non have ever won a marathon. So why the rest?
So to give you the Sesame Street version so that everyone can follow me. Wire is applied to trees to allow us to manipulate the branch structure and sometimes the trunk to the desired shape we desire i.e. styling the tree. The wires stay on the tree until the desired shape is achieved i.e. the branches have set where we want them. Dependant on species and age this may take only months or sometimes many years. Now the important part. Trees grow and so at some point due to growth and the tree swelling, we need to remove the wires so as not to scar the tree. Remember the wire does not cut into the tree. The tree swells into the wire, a big difference but similar results I guess. So at some point we must remove the wire to avoid ugly scars on our trees. Now if when we remove the wire the branches are set into their desired position, great. If not we must rewire the tree to maintain the position of the branches we are aiming for. We do not leave the wire off so the tree can rest for a few years so that the branches can revert quickly to their original positions. All the time the tree was wired has gone out of the window. So in effect all that time has been wasted. So a tree must be wired to achieve and until it achieves the desired shape. Simples!
This is one of the reasons it takes people so long to get trees exhibitable.
For those who don't agree with me please get your local crime liason officer to pop round and fit some tags on your trees. At least you will know where they have been and it may shed some light on why they need that rest.

More to come! 

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Thanks for dropping by...

Thank you for dropping by again after my last little rant. I am sure there will be a few more in the future. But as they say it's better out than in.

I thought I would share with you some of the pots I bought while visiting Dan and Cecelia Barton recently.
Here is a picture of  just four of the accent pots.

The pot second from the right, has what they call "Ci's cock up glaze". That is to say it's a glaze they mixed of other glazes but without keeping a record of what was mixed, hence the 'cock up'. When it's gone, it really is gone as Dan and Ci can't reproduce it again. So at some point I must put one away for posterity and to just appreciate it for what it is, rather than plant it up. Although I am sure Dan would rather me use it for what it was intended for. I actually gave one away recently as a special gift to some one or should that be a gift to a special friend? At the time I made sure they understood the relevance of the glaze on the sweet little pot.
I don't have too many with this glaze, but sometimes it's nice to be able to give. And I prefer to give things away I like rather than something I don't like or that has no meaning for me. Otherwise it is a shallow gesture.

The blue pot second from the left has the most amazing blue glaze. I feel I could swim in it. Dan has mixed some wonderful blue glazes over the years and this one is up there with the best.

This was the only large pot I bought (below). A really nice primitive suitable for a conifer.

Many of you who know Dan's pots will be surprised to know that this pot is by Cecelia. I do think Dans hands have also touched it, but all credit to Ci, sometimes Dan steals all the glory even though Ci has for years produced some wonderful accent pots, and her 'flying saucer pots' are world famous. So well done Ci!. No well done's mine now.

I mentioned in my last post I had been able to meet up with Dave Sampson albeit fleetingly at some motorway services. Even though it was a long drive and a short meeting I think it was worth the effort we both made. I got lucky and Dave made a sale. Actually, thinking about it, I got real lucky. It was great to talk stones with Dave over a tea and cake. It was just a shame we could not talk more. I downed COSTA coffee literally by the bucket full to keep awake. Anyone who has seen their large cups will know what I mean. Even Dave commented on the size of the cup,but I really needed the caffeine fix to keep me going.

For anyone interested in suiseki I would recommend them to contact Dave. He is a quiet guy, very honest, who gets great stones at sensible prices. I am happy to pass on his details and I am even more happy to know him.

This first stone is a small SEIGAKU - ISHI.

This is a nice stone and one I am happy to have in my collection for now. I think it compliments the Seigaku I posted earlier from David Goscinski. It so happens that the stone which I got from David in the USA was originally from Dave Sampson here in the UK!

And now a very good stone. This time a SETAGAWA - ISHI which was previously owned by a famous collector Chuji Sugii.

For those of you who may find this of interest, please find here some information supplied to me by Dave Sampson regarding this stone.

Origin: Setagawa-ishi. Shiga prefecture, Japan.

Daiza: Carved in Japan from rosewood, the quality of the carving is good. Fixed to the underside is the 'mon' (family crest) of Chuji Sugii, something he did to identify the suiseki in his collection. The mon depicts Paulownia leaves.

Chuji Sugii (1930-2007): Born in Tateyama City, Chiba and was Chairman of Sugii Kogyosho, a manufacturer of cardboard containers. He was introduced to suiseki in 1966 by Arishige Matsuura, the past President of the Nippon Suiseki Association and learned about the art under Teiichi Katayama of Ichiu-kai and received the penname “Utei”. Sugii became an instructor of the Katayama style Keido (a way of display), and was also Advisor to the Nippon Suiseki Association. He was an important suiseki collector who exhibited his stones at the major exhibitions and was active from the mid-Showa to the Heisei Period and is well known by collectors in Japan.
A big thank you to Dave Sampson for supplying a great stone and for providing the background history, thanks Dave. 

As with all the images on my blog, just click on them to enlarge.

Where do the days go?

Well, since my last post I have been flat out with work, so my apologies for not posting recently. It has been a case of, stop work, eat then sleep. I must also take this opurtunity to apologise to some of my hosts while on my travels over the last few weeks as I have not been much company in the evenings, the trend being to fall asleep in the first comfortable chair.
In between whizzing around Europe and spending a week in Scotland I managed to sneak time to meet up with Dave Sampson at some motorway services for a coffee, quick chat and to acquire some more nice suiseki. And I popped down to Bristol to catch up with the 'wise one', Dan Barton, and yes I even managed to come away with a few pots............ Well, what did you expect?
Unfortunately I have had no time in between to share with you either my new suiseki or Dan and Cecelia's pots. Dan by the way, has been busy trying to finish his second book on Bonsai with the emphasis on aesthetics. He has two chapters to go with the writing and then it's on to the illustrations for the book.
Time is not on my side at the moment and if there were 48 hours in a day it would not be enough.
So before I burn out, I have been advised to take some time out and chill and maybe work on my own trees a little. So I am taking most of November and all of December off .

I guess we are all different and different things will motivate different people and in different ways. As a bonsai professional, I style other peoples trees, I teach bonsai horticulture, techniques and aesthetics. I maintain peoples bonsai collections and I critique peoples trees, prepare them for exhibition, demo at clubs etc etc. Also I have to improve myself too!
At some point, I feel the need to do something for me. To style a tree for me. It is the only way that I can regain my enthusiasm when it starts to wain. Although occasionally I just need to walk away from bonsai for a while. To take a step back and re evaluate what I am doing, where I am going and what I want to achieve. Unfortunately there is a lot of negative energy in bonsai in the UK at the moment. Having to wade daily through the politics, egos, pseudo experts and generous helpings of bovine effluent can be tiresome. And of course no workshop would be complete without the guy who pays you to teach them but then disagrees with everything you say despite having nothing to speak of in the way of a decent tree themselves. That is also very much a British trait.
Although bonsai is my occupation, it is also my avocation and as such it should be enjoyable. After all, that's why we do bonsai in the first place. For enjoyment! Unfortunately sometimes it isn't enjoyable!
So now and again you just have to breathe in deeply and step back a bit and do your own thing. I refuse to get caught up with all the nonesense that pervades UK bonsai culture at present.
I have to smile when people ask me why do the Italians and the Spanish have great bonsai. It's not rocket science. They want to learn. So they get good tuition. They don't follow internet gurus who talk but don't do! Remember when the blind follow the blind, both end up in the ditch!
If bonsai in the UK is to progress, people need to stop and think just truly what is bonsai. Everything else should become clear.

I started to style a Scots Pine about 4 weeks ago, # 27 on my website. I bent the branch (there is only one primary branch) 180 degrees from it's natural growing position up and behind the trunk to down and in front of the trunk and I have not got back to it since. That is not me at all. Usually I can't put a tree down once I get my creative juices flowing. But I have had to leave this tree due to work commitments. It won't do the tree any harm though as the branch I have bent is as thick as my wrist and it can get used to this new placed position and of the need to send energy down hill instead of uphill which is more natural for the tree. Hopefully in a few weeks I can get back to it and post some images.

Well I just finished my first book. It took me 8 years. But I enjoyed the experience so much I am going to the library to take out another!