Monday, 30 April 2012

Magical accents - or Just Weeds in Little pots ?

Those that know me from the club will remember a few years ago, when the general chat  was all display and accent related I said that accents were just the weeds that grow under nice bonsai ! It was slightly tongue in cheek but probably reflected I felt that my trees were not really ready to show to anyone so didn't need any little pot plants to go with them .

I guess times change a bit, and there is something to be said for a nice balanced display now and again so gradually little pots of bits and pieces start appearing in amongst the trees on the benches. Recently our club treasurer - who happens to be a potter - has been making some lovely little pots, and he has been getting some really interesting textures and colours. I had a few things I wanted him to make to add further interest to a couple of plantings I had planned and over the last few weeks these little plantings are starting to look quite nice.

This is the 'chairmans challenge' pot - planted and left outside to begin the ageing and patina process.

 This beautiful pot has a matching jitta - another unique feature and to me the composition looks much better than just a pot on a slice of wood

Most of the plants were just things that looked small growing in the garden and a few were some little alpines from a recent trip to the garden center. These should give the little bit of added interest to my tree display at the upcoming Bonsai South West event in Exmouth, Devon.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Acers @ Exeter

This afternoon was spent as a guest of Exeter Bonsai Society doing a practical  demo & talk on all things Acer. In previous visits we've done an in depth practical session on pine care, a follow up meeting working with the members pines and have now booked a further visit for the future to work on Junipers.

Back to today..............

Today was a perfect time to cover the early season work that needs to be applied to Acer bonsai so I popped 2 trees and all my tools in the car and headed into Devon for the afternoon

We had an excelent selection of trees -including katsura, deshojo, beni maiko, shisigashira, mikawa yatsubusa, palmatum sp., a likely seigen, trident, field maple and sycamore !! This alone shows what a variety you can have within one species meeting.
The opening half was spent on the stages of pruning and pinching applied to the first flush of growth - from removing the inner shoot that bears the second pair of leaves, then, as I had a tree 4 weeks on from this 1st prune it was perfect for showing the results you get. We then dealt with this inner growth and discussed how to preserve and strengthen the inner buds that are formed from this style of pruning.

I always like a 2 way demonstration with plenty of interaction from the hosting club as the talk can then evolve to the actual members needs and requirements, and I like to actually do realistic and relevant work on trees at the same time rather than just talk theory. I had a tree in full leaf (as it had not been repotted this year) to show pinching, secondary pruning and finally the cutting back of long outer growth to developed inner twigs. My second tree had been properly root pruned so the growth was about 4 weeks behind and was perfectly indicating where the strong areas are. This tree was a good candidate for getting the tweezers out to get the tiny inner shoot from between the first pair of leaves..........  By coffee break we were up to wiring and styling.

After coffee we talked about the timing of wiring and  how best to get it off again in a leafy tree before any scaring occurs. Then we stopped with theory and moved onto the members trees - I love this part of my talks as you do not know what will be presented, what advice the owner is looking for or what  work they are happy to have done. It is always very pleasing to get follow ups about trees that have been worked in previous meetings.

At this stage we are running nicely over time !!! but not too many members have had to disappear for their roast dinner so the talk must be going ok. A final flourish let us transform a lovely airlayed tree with just one main cut and 3 or 4 snips and the meeting drew to a close talking about grafting branches where they are needed.

This was an excelent demo afternoon and I am looking forward to attending the main show hosted by the Exeter society - 20th May at Exmouth Pavillion - the Bonsai South West event with many displays, styling demos, traders and the famous styling challenge.

Later this year I've got a pine follow up talk with my local Cornwall Bonsai Society, a mixed species Juniper and Acer booking with South Devon society in September and the TBA Juniper 'hands on' day with Exeter. Hope to meet up with some of you there

Saturday, 21 April 2012

A bit of a bonsai video

Here is a first attempt at a quick film - early March so most trees are a bit bleak, but the BBQ is alight and its not raining so its a good evening ahead - and the bell ringers of St columb blend with the Doors really well !

Booty-ful but prickly

This is the story of the actual tree that inspired me to enter and love the hobby of bonsai. For a totally unknown reason one day 20 odd years ago I went to visit the Japanese Garden and bonsai center at St Mawgan, near Newquay, Cornwall. I came away with a little £5 tree as you do ! and the desire to return again to study the trees. There was a row of the owners trees there - the 'inspirational ones' that make you go out and buy a little one - every nursery has them. Most of this row of trees had come from one collection that had been sold a few years prior - all Japanese imports - a deshojo, a trident, a taxus cuspidata, a kiyohime and a Juniper rigida. They were totally inspiring, especially as I was new to the hobby and good trees were thin on the ground back then too. The tree had been in the UK 25 years at this stage so was certainly acclimatised and was probably not going to die

As the years moved on (18 more years) the tree was hanging in there but always out of my price bracket - the bugger kept getting more expensive !! To be fair the tree was not getting the exact methods and techniques needed to refine it so it had the more natural appearance of thin weeping growth which was very sparse due to the tree sitting under shade netting. Circumstances changed a bit and I also could see tree material like this becoming very hard to get in the future so I saved up for a year to buy the tree. As it was basically mine but not paid for I started feeding the tree and turning it every couple of weeks. Late summer 2009 and a row of new buds popped all along the old bare branches so the tree was paid for and put in the car.

The tree was too weak and too sparse to do anything with really so I fed hard and pinched strong terminal buds for a year, repotting it the following spring into my prefered open texture soil mix. We then moved house so tree work went on hold for another season but the tree was getting much stronger and putting on lots of new growth.

 Year 3 - June 2011- this is 100 times more foliage than it had!!         And more improvement by Sept

Over wintered and its spring 2012

Completely by chance I was corresponding with Peter Tea of Aichi-En about pots and their rims! when I sent him a couple of pictures of this tree for a few hints. He passed on some great advice and said to consider the back as the new front  - so it is time to expose the trees booty

Tucked away at the back of this tree was a lovely section of natural very aged deadwoodand this is the trees area of beauty and interest so the tree was turned, tilted and strapped to my turntable.
There is a dragon or a wild boar in the wood too

reading between the lines Peters advice was to understand and work with the differences between Needle Juniper and shimpaku rather than to confuse or mix the styles -so with the needle juniper use the sharp spiky deadwood, make the pads quite sharp and rigid looking too, make the needles, pads and deadwood complement. With the shimpaku juniper the scale foliage is soft, the pads are styled rounded and cloud-like and the flowing lines of the deadwood and live veins work as soft curves. He sent me two pictures of trees from this years Kokufuten exibition to show the differences in styling and they are the most perfect way to see the different way to style the two varieties so I will share them here for everyone to see.

Here we have a world class needle juniper and I studied it and found a similarity I could use with my tree - above is a twin trunk design and my tree had a long bottom branch that was due to be drastically shortened. I decided to take a chance and try to raise the angled down branch into a new upright trunk as this would give lots of foliage to make the right side of the tree from. I wrapped the lower branch with raffia and attached a fence wire strainer with doubled up 2.5mm copper wire, gradually tightening the strainer and slowly winching up the branch. I was very suprised but over a few hours it is up and the only main crack is 'safe' as its gone length wise with the sap flow rather than across it.
This one change has transformed the potential outcome for my tree as the number of potential branches on the right side has more than doubled, and the new 'branches' all have foliage close to the new trunk too, a great bonus. Now I am shortening the long straggly branches and starting the basics of the new pads - but no fine wiring to the tips of every shoot yet -just pointing the tree in the right direction

Halfway through the work and the rough idea is coming through now

April 23rd and the initial wiringand placing of the branches is done - the strainer has been taken off now it has done its job and been replaced with a copper tension wire - much neater ! I'll let the tree recover from the wiring and concentrate on pinching and shaping the individual pads from now on.


Quite a transformation and the tree has a new front and style for the first time in the 45 years it has been in England. Lots of refining and pinching to do from now on .
A few more tweaks to the pads and lots of little hanging shoots were cut off and here we have the styled tree

                                  2 weeks later and the tree is repotted at the correct angle

you havent seen Peters Blog check it out - its a great read .....Peter Tea Blog

Monday, 9 April 2012

Juniper Styling over Easter 2012

Back in January I was looking for a nice juniper to fill a gap in my tree collection. I was after a shimpaku, quite large, aged and with a little room to refine and finish off myself. These trees aren't easy to find in the Uk so my day started with a 400 mile drive to visit John Hanby at his Newstead Bonsai center. This is one of the few places I visit where you can find a fair selection of great imported material. I wasn't disapointed as there were at least half a dozen trees to choose from and I had a great few hours narrowing the choice down to just one.

This tree came from Japan to Ginko bonsai Center in Belgium and was selected personally by John to go onto his nursery in Yorkshire, where it arrived in 2008. This is the ealiest picture I have of the wild Juniper Chinensis sergentii.....July 2008  and in August 2009 with some branch wiring started

The following year (2010) the tree was included in the Newstead 4 show and was fully wired and had a new pot too

This brings us up to January 2012 and the tree has come home with me to Cornwall. Since the show the tree has put on a fair amount of growth all over and John passed on many great tips for keeping these trees strong. Here we go on my bench, in a custom made Walsall Ceramics pot that John had made for the tree.

I let the winter pass while just studying the tree and the pictures I took to see where the tweaks would be made and on Good Friday I set to work defining the pads better and making some spaces. The day flew by and at the end I was happy - but the top of the trunk looked thick and heavy so just before dark I started a little carving and took a quick picture.
Saturday morning and the carving was done, the wood painted in lime sulphar and allowed to dry. Here is a picture from Easter Sunday - my favorite Juniper

I think there are a few areas under the pads to clean out further and I'll include the tree at the one day Bonsai South West event this coming May. The drum pot is just off center too, so the other evening I popped the tree out of the pot, just tilted it forward a touch and lined up the gap between the pot feeet, the rivet and the front of the tree. This also had the bonus of making the trunk base appear wider.

Here's the tree all lined up and the pot clean!

Thanks for reading.... Marcus