Saturday, 29 September 2012

Bit chilly out

When I look at artificially created deadwood 99% of the time it looks very poor compared to naturally aged sections of the tree. I dont mean the initial carving to add a basic shape to the wood but the finishing as this stage needs to show the effect of weathering where the manual methods used seem to remove it. Even sandblasting goes against convincing aging as the method removes the surface layer that has the cracks forming, although blasting is a good initial stage to make definition between the hard and soft wood.

Nature makes a maze of cracks, splits and grooves that vary in width and depth while following the grain perfectly, while power tools often make uniform grooves that follow the hand of the operator ! A scalpel is good for making a few slices in the wood surface but if overused looks just as false and uniform as power tools. Over the years I've noticed how the weather conditions directly effect the appearance of the deadwood - in wet weather the wood is swollen, the large cracks are smaller and the fine cracks have often disappeareed completely and when the wood dries in the sun it shrinks back, opening the cracks up again.

After a good cold winter I've noticed how much better the wood has aged and I think this comes from wet wood freezing so the ice opens the existing cracks up and also makes new ones. With this in mind I have been developing a brand new tecnique to put the deadwood through as many freezing winter days as possible, in a much shorter time scale.

This little can directs an icy blast of -50 degrees onto the deadwood - freezing it absolutely solid in moments.

(If you are working with new wood add a few score lines with a scalpel, working with the grain.)
First off the wood needs to be saturated, so spray it well or better still start the work after a few days of rain. - Give the wood one more fine spray so the existing cracks are full of water, then shield or protect the foliage before directing the spray onto the area being worked on.

 After treating for a minute at most, working is short bursts, the jin is frozen solid and the cracks are visibly full of ice. I then spray the jin again to thaw it out and repeat the work four or five times over an afterrnoon working on the trees.

 After one final freezing of the working area I let the wood thaw naturally. You can speed the cracking up at this stage if you use a hair dryer to dry and quickly shrink the wood, or you can just let it dry in the sun.

These two pictures are genuinely taken one hour apart - top one before treating and lower one after 5 freeze treatments - This is probably more weathering than an entire Cornish winter on one September afternoon

Even the colour has improved - I think this visibly proves you can help nature and weathering along a bit

Friday, 14 September 2012

A bonsai weekend to remember

We had a really good bonsai filled weekend down in furthest Cornwall a few days ago. Peter Warren had made the epic journey down to my place to take a couple of small group sessions on the Saturday and Sunday, and each day 3 friends and I were entertained and captivated by the best bonsai teacher we have had the pleasue of working with. This first trip was completely open regarding species, tree stages and what the owner was hoping for - so we had Scotts Pine, Black pine, san hose junipers, white pine, hawthorn, juniper sergentii ..........and that was just day one !

We spent the morning session looking at each tree, discussing options and absorbing a medium sized books worth of information, while steadily Peter was pruning a bit here and there, preping trees for the next styling stage. After a quick lunch out came wire, tools, turntables and a hive of activity gave the material trees initial shape or the required tweaks and pointers for their next stage. All the time a wealth of information flowed, and through clever questions everyone was thinking too. All too soon evening arrived, trees were loaded up and the BBQ fired up, bonsai and non bonsai chat flowed until ???o'clock before the next morning came all too soon.

Famous tree - The late  Ruth Stafford Jones's black pine - japanese import from the late 1950's
Second day came with junipers, cryptomeria, Scotts pine, Black pine and satsuki., plus local made pots, display tables and another wealth of great help and advice. Trying to make bonsai from just books and the internet will give very 2 dimensional results, but to make really good bonsai needs far more - Being reminded how to look properly again, and how to make a tree that you like more than making a tree you think just looks good to others were good lessons learnt on day 2.

I think this is the type of 'workshop' I've wanted for years - the large group of people styling a pre bonsai and going home with a tree none the wiser isn't really that helpfull - not that I've been to one of those! These days we want accurate and up to date information - not rehashed old folk law from 30 year out of date books, and Peter certainly delivered a wealth of hints and tips relevant to the trees and people present.

Day two came to an end with everyone happy, heads full of info and buzzing with the bonsai bug. Trees were loaded up and the BBQ was fired up again to do a whole smoked chicken, and while we waited one of my junipers was changed from a tree done for last week to a tree set up for tomorrow. Peter saw the conflicting bits and complicated bits that were going against the trees better features so  branch angles were changed, the foliage re-arranged into softer open pads and bits that were not needed were pruned out. Soon it was dark so we got some light shining through the windows to see what was  going on, and then the smell of bbq chicken wafted across the garden and it was time to finish.
Personally I think Mr Warren is an asset to this country and his quiet modern style was a breath of fresh air in the current bonsai world - The biggest thing I learnt ?.........When a tree is not at the final stage you need to style it so it reaches that level of refinement and can be maintained easily - there is no point making hard fiddly work for the future, or making a tree that will be a struggle to maintain. And make sure a proper tree has a proper pot  - haha, and do the right jobs at the right time, and dont fiddle about for the sake of it................but luckily i am happy to sit back with a beer and watch the buds grow rather than pinch them off .......... 
We all gained a lot from the days, and I'm pleased to say it will be the first of many.
March 25th, 26th and 27th 2013 (that last one is news to you Peter haha)
We have a dedicated conifer repotting session starting with my Cuspidata on Monday then a group day with a max of 5 people for the Tuesday, primarily looking at juniper and pine root pruning, root placement, soil mixes, tree position in the pot etc. Wednesday is a surprise atm.
**3 places already booked for the Tuesday**
Special thanks go to:
Peter Warren
Satomi & Mandy
Frank, Phil, Roy, Owen, Colin & Gordon
Peter Norris Pasties
Stella Artois
French Chardonnay
Californian Zinfandell
Tesco Food counters
Illy coffee
Yorkshire Tea
Willowbog Bonsai Copper Wire
eco deck Uk
weber BBQ's

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Taxus Cuspidata - a winter project

In the later years I have tried to concentrate on a small collection of nicer trees of varied species rather than too many of one kind. This also spreads the workload and seasonal interest to the collection.

One gap in my trees was a really good big yew, added to which I had never owned a japanese variety cuspidata so my radar has been tuned to keep an eye out for one in my travels. My choice when buying material is to try and get a mature tree that still needs the refining, fine wiring and a reasonable amount of styling rather than a more finished tree. Also I don't really go for very new material that needs 10-12 years to grow branches on, so I guess I look to shop in quite a narrow band classed as nice material trees, and even more so if there is a chance to make a transformation. This type of shopping does get you lots more for your money as you are noy paying for hours of proffessional wiring, or a final pot which can easily add 10-20% to the cost of a tree

I knew of this one for a while having seen pictures of it for sale in the past. It came from Shinji Suzuki I believe - it has had 3 UK owners but unbelievably the tree remained as unstyled but preped material - some of the deadwood had a bit of nice carving but most is just aged naturally. The live veins are natural and well swollen while the foliage mass has been kept pruned to maintain plenty of dense inner growth.

We nipped off in the van Friday as the tree had been reserved for a few weeks so needed picking up

Here she is - plenty to work with ! and the tree was surprisingly big too ! .......... mostly untouched trunk with quite a bit of soft dead wood to clear out - particular attention will be placed on making sure water can drain out of all the trunk hollows and into the pot - otherwise the rot will be impossible to control. This type of water rot hollowing in Japanese trees may be an intentional method as I have a couple of trees  that would be impossible to hollow in the intricate places where long spiralling holes go down the center with no machine 'access' holes.

I want the tree to be a classic twin trunk - the smaller section with its own tree like image to complement the larger trunk. There is a critical big bend to make this image though as the small trunk angle is flat, completely horizontal when I need it vertical for the tree I want to make. This is just like the juniper rigida from earlier in the year - but this branch was twice as thick !  The distance the branch needs to move is quite a lot so 2 torniquet wire strainers were connected together and secured to tree and pot with  3mm copper wire - doubled up.
The winding started and soon there were lots of little cracks and creaks as the flat branch was cranked up to become a trunk. I have not used raffia on this one as there is no twisting involved, just raising. The raffia does a great job of keeping the cambium layer from seperating from the under wood if you need to twist a branch, but yew is a flexible wood used for longbows so I decided to just keep the process neat and simple.
At 45 degrees the live vein feeding the entire trunk started splitting away from the dead wood - this was perfect as the bending got a lot easier so one single 10 minute stint saw the trunk bent 90 degrees upright. All the cracks were covered in sealer and the tree will be left untouched for a week or two while it accepts the new position.
 A new better viewing angle and the 2nd trunk is up - compared to the first picture there is now far more usable foliage on the right. This foliage could have been just wired up maybe but up close the appearance would be poor as viewers would see the 'trunk' bending away and the branches poking up. Now the job is done properly 
More to follow soon, but now the tree can have a little R&R