Saturday, 20 July 2013

Tolleys tip and a bit more.

Tolley's tip of the month!
At this time of the year, creepie crawlies can be a problem and I don't mean the Mother In Law.
Look at the underside of this Taxus. You should be able to see Scale Insects. 

 They have always been a headache to kill with pesticides in the past and even more so since the EU deemed that it needed to save us from ourselves and made most of the best fungicides and pesticides unavailable to Joe Public. And of course what are left are the watered down versions. 
So when tackling Scale Insect, add a few drops of washing up liquid to the water when you make up your insecticidal spray (for topical use). This acts as an emollient allowing the insecticide to penetrate those armour plated little beggars more easily.  

Of course it will also help with Wooly Aphid as seen here on this pine. 

However at this time of year, it helps considerably to use a systemic insecticide rather than a topical one. If you have a lot of trees, then a considerable amount of time can be saved by using systemics.
While on the subject, recently copper fungicide has been withdrawn from sale. And all this at a time when the UK's trees are being devastated by various insect and fungal outbreaks.

We have the Ash die back disease, Chalara fraxinea. There is Dothistroma or Red Needle Band Blight devastating pines. Cannock Chase in Staffordshire, could possibly lose one million trees! Larches are in threat from Phytophthora Ramorum which has been found in North Staffordshire. And in a recent edition of Shooting Times, there is an article on Common Juniper and it's threat from a new fungal disease. The Common Juniper is now one of our most under threat native species. In southern England, the arrival of a moth from Central Europe is threatening our native Oak trees and this could also have an effect on public health as the caterpillar of the moth has tiny erticating spines which can cause rashes and if inhaled asthmatic symptoms.
You might shrug your shoulders and think so what, these problems do not affect me. However please be vigilant and please be aware because most of these fungal diseases are airborne. And so our bonsai, potentially could be very much at risk.
At this time of year, particularly when we are experiencing the heat we currently are. Our trees are put under stress. They may look healthy, but never the less, they are being put under stress and this leaves them susceptible to attack from insect or fungus. 


Please look carefully at the deadwood on this Taxus cuspidata below. (Click on the image to see it in detail).
Would you agree that nature is the best creator of deadwood and that no matter how we try, you can always see the hand of man when a tree has been carved.
If so, then you agree with my thoughts on deadwood.

However, this tree was carved by myself for a friend in Scotland.
In my next blog I will discuss some of my personal ideas and thoughts on deadwood and it's place in bonsai.

Finally, so that we end on a positive note.
Just look at this Wisteria growing in Japan.

Some people dream in colour, others colour their dreams!

Thank you to Jeremy Haddleton for the juniper article and Ray Beddow for the Wisteria image.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Considering the beauty of the trunk.

Before I get going with something new, I would like to take you back to my post of  July 7th, "July set to be a scorcher" where I posted a picture of a juniper I was just putting the finishing touches to.
Remember this one below.

Someone emailed me to ask why the deadwood on this juniper is the colour it is. Well the simple answer is, that is how I want it to look.  Or close to it anyway, because the look I want takes time.

But actually I think the question really meant was, A; Why is the deadwood not brilliant Dulux gloss white. or B; Why is the deadwood not grey i.e. painted with soot or ink or whatever.
So the longer answer is this. I do not subscribe to brilliant white deadwood simply because it is OTT, and not subtle. Just as I do not subscribe to juniper or taxus live veins that have been oiled or boot polished and rendered plastic. Or spraying foliage with leaf shine. If you want your foliage to look healthy, why not have a healthy tree rather than infer your tree looks healthy.  
Somewhere out there on the 'tinterweb' there is an interview with Masashiko Kimura where he makes a few observations on some of the artificiality of some displayed trees.

Anyway I digress. As this is a juniper and the image is of a high mountain tree then painting it with soot or sumi ink or whatever is also not logical. As anyone who has ever been at high altitude collecting trees will verify, as you are so much nearer to the sun, often several kilometres/miles nearer. Things burn pretty quick. So if you did what I did the first time I was in the Alps, running round like a loony looking for trees with no shirt on, then within 15 - 20 minutes you get badly burned and can't sleep on your back for days. So trees growing at these very high altitudes in the mountains, also get burned and bleached by the sun. However depending on the tree species the wood is grey white/silver white. So neither gloss paint white or sooty.
So you are looking to find a balance between the wood not looking plastic or attacked by sooty aphid. And for guys from the UK please don't think Mount Snowden or Ben Nevis are mountains, they are just speed bumps to slow cars down when compared to 'real' mountains.

It is difficult to find the right balance between too white and too dark and I would prefer the deadwood here right, a few shades darker than it is now. However it is best achieved simply by letting the deadwood weather for a long time and using diluted lime sulphur applications again and again over time, and I emphasise over time, rather than using other techniques. Let the diluted applications build up in the wood so you achieve a natural patina. It is always better I find to learn the correct technique rather than to look for an alternative before you have mastered the former. Of course if you are in a rush and need a quick fix solution, there is always  McDonalds fast fix Bonsai and you can get the brush and ink out. But try taking the time sometime to use the slow method. Remember the hare and the tortoise!
Of course if your tree is a tree growing in the lowlands like a yew within a beech or oak wood, then the deadwood maybe darker due to different humidity, algae (which gets fried at altitude) and of course from shade from the sun. But then our tree is telling a different story now.

A pointer on applying lime sulphur. Go over the deadwood that you plan on lime sulphuring with water first. This will help the lime sulphur which is crystaline in make up, to penetrate the wood better. Rather than float on the top. Do not spray the tree. Instead paint the deadwood. Yes it is a slow way. But it ensures that when you apply the lime sulphur it stays on the deadwood (unless you are clumsy) and does not bridge the live veins. If you spray the tree, the lime sulphur will follow the water. So wet live veins = lime sulphured live veins. Which we don't want DO WE?
Finally do not wait for the wood to be green with algae before you apply lime sulphur, do it routinely throughout the year so that it builds up in the wood.
On Sunday while hosting the Stourbridge Bonsai Society here. One of the points I made about selecting/buying a mature tree was to buy the trunk. Let the trunk be THE thing about the tree that attracts you. It does not matter if there is not a lot of foliage on the tree, we can grow that on or if need be graft it on. If branches are not in the right place again we can grow some on, graft some on or bend the branches with wire to where we want it. But the trunk is fairly static with most species within our life times. I also said just look around my nursery and you will notice the diversity of the trunk lines or forms. I do not have a nursery full of  trees all with trunks styled in a lazy 'S' shape.
Which got me thinking. Do we ever stop and take the time to marvel at the trunks of our trees. After all the trunk is 'the core around which we arange our branches in space'.
And so I thought I would share with you a few photo's I took very quickly with the camera to celebrate the trunk and what it brings to our bonsai.

The beauty and elegance of amazing deadwood.

The sinuous movement of deadwood and live vein intertwined.

Insane movement, mature bark quality and deadwood created by Mother Nature in this Mugo Pine.

Plate upon plate of mature bark that can only be the work of Old Father Time. Something that as bonsai artists or growers we cannot duplicate.

The twisting spiralling trunk of this Pomegranate Punica granatum var. Nejikan.

The contorted trunk of this Scots Pine Pinus sylvestris shows the conditions that it has endured growing high up in the Pyrenees.

 This sinuous and contorted Sabina Juniper shows no straight lines in it's movement. Again a product of the environmental influences in the mountains.

And finally the amazing trunk form, deadwood and ancient bark of this Mugo Pine.

I could have gone on with more images but I did not want to be showing image after image and make it boring. I hoped I have given you a taster so that it might make you think to go outside and look at your own trees and appreciate their unique forms. Whether it be the delicate bark of the Mountain Maple or the craggy bark of the pine. Or the inter play of deadwood and live veins of a juniper.
When you think of what the pioneers of UK bonsai had to work with in the late 1950's early 60's, we have come such a long long way and are so lucky for the position we are in today.

And finally. This Himalayan Giant Lilly Cardiocrinum giganteum has finally flowered after nearly 7 years in my courtyard. It stands about five feet tall and the flowers that it has produced have the most amazing scent. It is so intense that on these warm days with us having all the doors and windows open, the scent passes through the house.

But after waiting so many years for it to flower, unfortunately the flowers last only days before the petals fall and the flowers are finished. After flowering the plant dies, how sad. It has fullfilled it's purpose.
And it does put into perspective how lucky we are that our trees live so long, and how they can be enjoyed for generations rather than days!
It makes you think!

Steve Tolley Bonsai;        Reaching beyond the edge......... of  end!

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Bragging rights.

On Sunday I spent a nice sunny afternoon with members of the Stourbridge Bonsai Society (SBS) and a few guest visitors from other Midland based clubs here at the nursery.
Originally I was going to give a talk for the SBS at the Bonded Wharehouse in Stourbridge, on pointers in selecting bonsai or material, and by that I mean points to consider both horticultural and aesthetic for when you are looking at a tree for sale or when you are considering collecting a yamadori from nature. So in effect, how to evaluate the tree in front of you, where it succeeds and where it is weak or has 'faults' etc.
However one of the committee had the bright idea of  holding the meeting at my place and use my stock trees as examples as what to look for. It was a great idea and it worked really well as obviously I have lots of yamadori here, as well as pre-bonsai and bonsai that are semi styled or finished specimens of all shapes and sizes.
The more usual way is for members to bring trees along to their club for me to discuss when doing a critique. But the idea of this 'critique' if you can call it that, was to give pointers before your tree is acquired. And I think this idea of holding it at my nursery worked much better.
Obviously it helped that the SBS are quite near, so no real long distance travelling was involved for the guys.
If there was a down side to the afternoon, it was that it was too hot, yes really. The good old UK is being baked nicely at the moment, in fact unbearably so. Especially for me stood out in it's glare while everyone listened from under the shade area. I am currently waiting for a hose pipe ban to be imposed by the government.

What is the saying? 'Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid day sun'. Unbelievable!
But joking aside it was an enjoyable afternoon and what better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than talking bonsai with enthusiastic people and getting paid. Oh and they turned up with nice home made cakes, bonus!
For my part, the tea urn was on, and the milk, sugar, coffee and tea was on tap. Before you comment on the fact I am not wearing shorts like most of the other guys, I should point out that I was not being bitten to death by horse flies either!

Here I am discussing the pro's and cons of this Mugo Pine.
Although a very impressive piece, it has a major flaw to overcome to succeed as a good bonsai which is not obvious. Because of the trees size and because there is a lot of impressive deadwood. It is easy to be seduced by the tree and to be swept away by it presence. So it was great to be able to use it to show how the tree in reality, had a hidden problem, and to emphasise how it is easy to be distracted from studying a potential new tree thoroughly if you are immediately impressed with it. (I hope that makes sense).

When you can impart knowledge and discuss trees up close like this, it is much easier for the audience to see exactly the points you are making.
Also because it is more intimate and relaxed than the usual club setting, you get more questions, feedback and a better rapport from the attendees.
 Here we are discussing the merits of a large Juniperus pheonicea. This is also something I routinely do with anyone buying a tree from me. They get a full breakdown of the tree, warts and all before making their decision.

 For me it is important that someone buying a tree from me is making an 'informed decision'.

One of the good things that happens from people reading my blog is that when they email me to comment on a recent post, they very often give me ideas on what to write about next. And very often it is the same when I have visitors, we get chatting and kerching! There's the next topic.
Something that came up on Sunday was when I was talking about a nice White Pine in the nursery which came from Nobuichi Urishibata of Taisho- En nursery Japan. Someone mentioned that everyone in the UK seems to be buying bonsai from Urishibata San, which in actual fact is not true. Only a very few people have brought trees from Taisho - En into the UK and some of those only occasionally. But some people seem to think they have the bragging rights on being able to say 'this tree is from Urishibata San'.
Well I have never been one to brag but here goes, I was the first to import trees from Taisho - En in 2003, long before most people knew who Urishibata San was and long before some people even started selling trees. And I continue to do so whether directly or indirectly through friends. But I do not see the need to use a Japanese name to sell my trees.
Some trees recently posted on eBay as from Taisho En, were in fact cheap trees imported from Korea! And how do I know this, well the wholesaler who imported them pointed it out to me. So now it seems we have traders in the UK trying to mislead people too.
Of course sometimes we get a reverse situation with some people not willing to say where their trees came from.

This Procumbens Juniper from Urishibata San (picture taken in my court yard May 2006) I sold to a guy in Italy. When it was put on his blog it was captioned 'my new juniper from Japan. Not, my new juniper from Steve Tolley. So while some people trade on a name, others are reluctant to give another artist credit for providing a great tree. Bless!
Did I say this Procumbens came from Urishibata San?
However does the provenance of a tree really matter. So take for instance the Procumbens Juniper here above right. Urishibata San could have bought the tree in an auction a week before it was sold to me. Does that make it an 'Urishibata tree'? Does it really matter?
Or maybe I have got it all wrong and I should be making full use of my bragging rights.
Like these two Itoigawa Junipers from Takeo Kawabe below.

The Juniper above is still in circulation and in fact is owned by a good friend of mine.
The juniper to the right went through several hands before I think, it was stolen. These were imported in 2005. Both were grafted Itoigawa foliage, grafted roots with extensive deadwood carved and sand blasted by Kawabe San. Very much one of his trade marks. These were just two of many I have had of this quality from Kawabe San.

Oh and then of course there is Shinji Suzuki. This Taxus cuspidata of the northern form went to a former client.
This picture was taken outside my studio in 2008.
Unfortunately on arrival the tree was falling out of it's pot and it had to be repotted and due to the placement of the single tie wire, part of the root mass to one side had been ripped off. There was only a root ball the size of my hand remaining. But the tree picked up fairly rapidly.
Hopefully it will be exhibited in the UK soon by the current owner.
Very few people saw this tree when it arrived, only one or two people who visited the nursery at that time. There was no 'SUZUKI HAS LANDED' advertising. The tree came in, work was carried out on the tree, and then it went to it's new owner. Simply and quietly! Here it is in a pot by Gordon Duffet after I had worked on it and repotted it.
So bragging away as I am, we have had Urishibata San, Kawabe San and Suzuki San.

So next we have Imai San.

This chuhin Itoigawa from Chiharu Imai arrived in 2007. From day one I fell in love with this little tree. For some people there is too much deadwood on this tree, which I can understand, as we all have different tastes. But what people do not understand is how difficult it is to manipulate deadwood like this. This photo right, was taken when the tree came out of quarantine. The wire was still on and needed badly to come off, and the folded deadwood, which was old, had been allowed to unfold.

On the left, the tree in my studio after steam bending the deadwood closer to the tree.
This was a pains taking job, but well worth the effort. Did I mention this tree was from Chiharu Imai. Good.

This image was taken outside my studio after the first styling. I was, and still am dreadful with a camera and so I used to take lots of my photo's outside to capture the tree just right.
Did I mention this tree came from Chiharu Imai?
After this photo was taken the tree went off quietly to it's new owner.

And here is the tree exhibited by it's new owner Ian Stewardson, at the Noelanders Trophy 2008 where it was given Best Chuhin Award and overall Noelanders Trophy winner.
I christened the tree "The Little Samurai".
Did I mention this tree came from Chiharu Imai.
Oh and resurrected, restyled and refined by ME!

This is just one of many trees that have come into the UK quietly, been developed and refined without causing any ripples in the pond.....................until they are exhibited.
And then the people make their own minds up about the tree. Whether they like it, whether there's too much deadwood etc. But it is the tree speaking, QUIETLY !
Not someone talking the tree up.

But then of course there are those trees that I have had that are world class but that do not necessarily have any famous tag to them. Like this Taiwan Juniper Juniperus formosana. One of 57 I brought into my nursery.

This tree was in my nursery for a few months before being sold to a very discerning collector from the south of England. It later made it's way to Italy and later featured in a styling demo for BONSAI EUROPE (now BONSAI FOCUS). But unless you visited my nursery at that time, you would never have known about that tree until it popped up in the magazine.
Then of course there was this other Taiwan Juniper below that was eventually Noelanders Trophy winner in 2006.

Unfortunately the owner of this tree had it stolen not long after winning the Noelanders award. He had toyed with buying the juniper above but settled on the one here left.
A very special and unique tree, and one that would be impossible to ever display without being recognised, but alas this tree has disappeared.

Of course sometimes I have trees that have great provenance like this yamadori Mugo Pine.

Seen here at the start of the new millennium after being restyled by Dan Barton in Switzerland. The tree at this time was owned by Pius Notter and the tree in question was of course the famous "Swiss Dragon", so named by John Naka who was the first to work on it at Pius's home.
This is how the tree looked when it came to the UK. At this time it was in a pot by CERTRE from Italy.
Did I just mention Dan Barton, Pius Notter and John Naka then.
Can you see where we are going here.

I was offered the chance to buy the tree by Pius, but I could not afford the tree at the time as I was developing my bonsai business. However I brought in the tree for Ian Stewardson and I was fortunate in that I was to take care of this great pine until it was later sold to another client of mine.

This is the famous Swiss Dragon formerly owned by Pius Notter, styled by John Naka and restyled by Dan Barton, see how I slipped those names in again, sorry.
This is the tree after I restyled it for Ian Stewardson.
At this time it was in a new commissioned pot from Gordon Duffet. So now we have Pius Notter, John Naka, Dan Barton and Gordon Duffet all associated with the tree. Am I stretching it a bit including the pot maker?
For me the pot was a little too small. But Hey Ho.

And on the left here is the "Swiss Dragon" after I had prepared it for the Ginkgo Awards in Belgium.
This I think was the 'Dragon' seen at it's best. I was very proud when it was displayed in Belgium and I would like to think Ian was too.

What was really nice was wheeling the tree into the Ginkgo nursery on the trolley, and getting it photographed. Then sitting back and watching everyone as they walked in and saw it. Priceless.
No big fan fare, just present the tree and walk away.
This photo is courtesy of Farrand Bloch

And then of course there was this juniper which was sort of OK!
I reserve all bragging rights on this tree.

This juniper had no provenance to shout about and looked like a bush. But you know what, it didn't matter it turned out OK.
So the question is, is it OK to brag where trees come from? Yes if you feel you need to.
Does it matter where they come from? Not always. And the reason is because some people are good at turning bonsai into material. And some people can turn material into OK bonsai.
So what next.

Well there is always something new coming through quietly that I am developing.
Like this Shimpaku. As you can see the tree is a bit shy.

And of course there are always new trees with provenance that will need resurrecting and a bit of TLC. Or trees like this one below that need to be taken to the next stage of their development.

This twin trunk Scots Pine (above) collected in the Scottish Highlands and known as the "Twin Dragons" was collected by Jim McCurrach in 1981 and then later acquired by Craig Coussins in 2001. So again provenance here, although many outside the UK will not know the significance of the name Jim McCurrach. Even though he was without doubt the first true yamadori collector in Britain. And then of course you have the legendary, world travelled Craig Coussins as it's next owner.
So I guess the tree is having to slum it a bit now that it is here with me.
But a new chapter begins now for this lovely old pine.

And of course there are also those bonsai yet to be created.

Could this be the next "Swiss Dragon" ?
And in 100 years will people say this was from Steve Tolley. Probably not!
Does it matter. The potential is there in spades, the tree say's it all. It will be the finished tree that will influence people not 'who' styled it.

Or maybe it will be 'MEDUSA' that will be remembered in years to come.

So does provenance really matter? Is it something to brag about. I think the obvious thing you can see from the images here of all the trees is the quality not the invisible label saying where they came from. My personal thoughts are, that it is nice to know the history of a tree, just the same that sometimes it would be nice to know the true age of an old tree. But that does not make it a great bonsai. So I suppose you could ask the question would you brag about where a tree came from if it was average. Not all the trees in the famous nurseries are fantastic. If you visit Taisho - En or many other nurseries, you will see trees for sale at all levels, from starter trees to Kokufu level. So if you buy a starter tree from Urishibata San, remember it is just that.
I think the major difference however is that in Japan, the history of a tree or suiseki etc is appreciated as a record of that particular items history and is to be treasured and continued. Where as here it is more often than not simply a selling point.

But please remember first and foremost, bonsai is about trees!

This proclamation of provenance can be taken a step further. Just because you have been to Japan, does not automatically mean you are good at bonsai, a great artist or teacher. And there are thousands of Japanese practising bonsai in Japan who are not particularly good to prove it. Just as there are artists in Europe who are brilliant, who have never been to Japan.
But yes there are masters in Japan who are incredible and that will always be so, but they, like everywhere else, are in the minority.
So when someone tries to sell you a tree from Master X, just ask yourself first, is it a good tree and more importantly do I like it. Simple!
And if someone tries to impress by saying I have been to Japan, ask yourself can they actually do it! Have I actually seen them do something of note. Because for myself, also doing martial arts, I often wish bonsai teachers were judged in the same way as martial artists. By what they can do rather than profess to do. Craig Coussins say's these 'masters' work with 'smoke and mirrors', like illusionists.
In bonsai you can talk forever on the subject if you are well read. In martial arts you actually have to do it. Talk means nothing, you soon get exposed. Just my thoughts!

So I am sorry if I bored you with all my bragging, there will be no more in this lifetime. I have got it out of my system now. And it to think it all started because someone asked me about this pine.

 Did I mention it came from ......................

Thanks Chris and Jonothan!

Sunday, 7 July 2013

July set to be a scorcher

Well if the weather men are to be believed, July is set to be a scorcher in the UK. I have to admit, at the moment it is pretty good here where I live with temperatures this morning at 29C and I have even had my breakfast outside the last few days, and the temperature is still climbing as I type this.
Great! most people are thinking, but not if you are a Hay Fever sufferer like myself. It can be difficult typing with your nose dripping on the keyboard. 
Despite the heat and runny nose I managed to work on some trees this week. Here just putting the finishing touches on the foliage of this Itoigawa Juniper.

But Hay Fever apart I always look forward to July because it is at this time you can clearly see which yamadori are going to survive after collection/purchase last Autumn or this Spring. Because by now the summer days which translate as long photo period plus the associated warmth means that trees are having to perform i.e.grow. And so if they are not up to it, it is at this time that they start to struggle. It usually starts in June here or the end of May if we have had a warm early spring, but it is always evident by July. So trees collected last Autumn or this Spring which looked fabulous in April and which you thought were in the bag are now collapsing in front of you. It is one of the reasons why I will not buy trees that have not had at least one full growing season; although I have been shafted by people I thought were either friends or who I thought had good business ethics selling me trees after having told me the trees had been collected years as you may have read in a previous  blog.

Also July means that conifers imported into the UK from Japan or Korea have just finished their quarantine period (end of June) and are now available to be collected which is always exciting.

Updates on my reserved yamadori material are good, with only a few Scots Pines and one or two Portuguese Oaks Quercus faginea, not pulling through after collection. All the Sabina Junipers are growing well and I am looking forward to receiving them in a few weeks.
Here is a taste of what's coming.

This is a kifu sized Sabina.

 A nice chuhin size Sabina on it's way here soon!
As well as this batch of smaller Sabina's which range from shohin to just over chuhin size, I have been offered some larger well established junipers which are top quality and ready to style now.
Just look at these below.

With my friend stood in the back ground, you can get some idea of the size and scale of these junipers. Again they are fabulous quality, having great movement, natural deadwood, nice healthy foliage with great potential for creating superb bonsai. These will certainly make great bonsai for the future.

And from a different angle. You can see they are all very different from each other, which is something I aspire to when selecting material for styling. I like to have a variety in the forms of the trees so that things are not all the same, which is something I dislike about the mass produced Asian trees. However in their defence, they are being grown to satisfy a certain niche in the hobby. Where as I am looking for trees with individuality!

Here's a close up of one of the group. As you can see this juniper has individuality and in the right hands will make a superb bonsai in the future.
I am really looking forward to receiving these bigger junipers later in the year and I will keep you posted on their arrival here through my blog.

And one more just to wet your appetite!
Again this one is completely different to the one above, again a tree with individuality!
I think I am going to be very busy this autumn styling some of these for myself, but don't panic guys, I can't keep them all, can I ?

Today has been a great day, and I am not refering to Andy Murray winning the Mens Singles at Wimbledon. I have become the custodian of a new tree 'Medusa', a very special Hawthorn Crataegus monogyna. 
I think this tree has the potential to be a very significant bonsai for the UK in the future and I feel very privileged to own her.

It is possibly the best Hawthorn I have ever seen collected and I feel a real responsibility to ensure she reaches her full potential.
The circumstances under which I have been able to obtain 'Medusa' are sad, however I would like to thank Warren and Simon for giving me the chance to own her and for having the faith that I will bring out the best in her.
I can't thank you guys enough and I won't let you down. Thanks again!

Oh and well done Andy Murray!

Friday, 5 July 2013

Last week.

Last week I managed to catch up with my old buddy Dan Barton and spend the day doing what we used to do best, talking all things bonsai.
Now for those of you who don't know Dan well, he is 74 going on 13.
Need proof? This is Dan watching my demo in Switzerland at Schinznach - Dorf in 2008. Only he could find a new use for raffia. Here's me trying to style a huge Taiwanese Juniper and he's larking about.
So when we meet up it's like going back to my school days in more ways than you can imagine.
However apart from acting like two kids and putting the world to right, we mainly talk bonsai, bonsai and more bonsai. Aesthetics, techniques, philosophy, UK scene etc.
Of course for sensible conversation and great food there is also Cecelia (Ci to everyone) Dan's long suffering wife. So when when I am down Bristol way I get to be with two of my favourite people in the world, and just occasionally (read every time) I come away with a pot or two or three! I was fortunate on this visit that Dan had just emptied the kiln and so I got to see some of his recent ceramic work which is something I have missed out on alot in recent years. I really appreciate good ceramics and especially bonsai and accent (companion plant) pots. Dan and Ci had produced some really special accent pots in this batch and it was nice for me to see some of the new glazes Dan has been working on including a new red and a yellow that are 'in your face' glazes and also to see some of the more creative 'spontaneous' pots that only Dan can produce.
I bought a lovely crackle glaze pot while I was there which I will share with you here. It is for a tree not a companion plant. Stunning!

I also came away with six pieces that I can only describe as ceramic Ji ita. More on those in another post.
Although Dan sold off nearly all of his major trees many years ago now, there is still a nice peaceful atmosphere to the garden. Dan is still taking air layers and growing from cuttings and seeds, but then is that not how it should be. Creating new life, and new trees for others to experience and enjoy in the future long after Dan has gone. This creating of life and a love of life and of people is very much what bonsai is really about, but unfortunately this ideal is little followed or understood by many people. The bending of trees prevails unfortunately.

It was nice to catch up with a few trees that I have known since the first year I started on my bonsai journey.
There is a semi cascade or Han Kengai Japanese Black Pine Pinus thunbergii that was grown from seed by the late David Joyce and which Dan has continued to develop in Davids memory and it is really starting to come into its own now after maybe three decades or more. There is also a lovely Guelder Rose Viburnum opulus from a cutting also started by David that Dan is also continuing to develop. Both of these trees have a special significance for me because David Joyce was a friend of both Dan and myself and when David was really ill battling cancer, Dan and I along with Ci would go to Ledbury to work on Davids trees for him because it upset him to see them not at their best. And I can remember clearly being there one day and although it was not warm, the sun was shining on the back of the house and David sat in a chair on the patio with a big blanket wrapped around him and as we worked on the trees he had this gentle smile on his face. And these two trees that Dan is now the custodian of, bring the memories of that day back to me every time I see them.
Dan also has a raft Mountain Maple Acer palmatum that started life as a small air layer taken off a tree in his garden. The first time I saw it, the trunks were like pencils and I can remember Dan saying to me, "One day this is going to be nice Sunshine". I looked it up and down and walking away dismissively said "I can't see it myself". (That's beginners for you, what a pillock!).
Now it is looking the part, a very natural maple image not bonsaied to death showing a maturity in the trunks and branches. Of course Dan never misses the chance to remind me of the comment I made when I was a beginner. And of course I was reminded again on this visit. I would gladly run off with the tree now but don't tell Dan! So it was great for the two of us to stand in front of the tree now discussing it's merit's, it's progression and what will need to be done in the future for the once little air layer to reach it's potential. That my friends, is what bonsai is all about.