Thursday, 26 December 2013

Show time is coming

It's the Christmas Holidays and the bonsai enthusiasts of Europe are getting ready for the Noelanders Trophy Bonsai Show. Everyone who made submissions has been keeping an eye on their inbox for a confirmation email listing the number of their selected trees.

For the last year we have been preping my chinese Elm ready for submission and we even located a 250+ year old chinese pot. Trying to convince the pot owner to sell it for a realistic value has taken a bit longer than it could have though, and it was looking like the tree would need something else finding. Then fate took a turn and Mark Noelander spotted a couple of trees while on a visit to the UK back in the summer that he wanted in the show - one of which was earmarked for my collection so it became our show entry for this year.

There have been a few pics of the tree on the blog recently, starting when it was sat at  M Kimuras Nursery in 2012, then when we got it here after QT. We have been undertaking pre show work in the last month - I took off a fair bit of older wire that had set branches and was now getting on the tight side, then a few sections of the tree were rewired with fine copper.

Even trees from such good nurseries as this one can be improved - I'm not one to keep a tree exactly the same just because thats the way it was imported. If it had stayed in Japan it would have been worked on annually and continued to to be refined in a permanent cycle. I see many trees that arrive in the UK looking nice but they are basically mature material in often though a new owner thinks they have a 'finished' tree so the future stages that would make a tree even better get forgotten - biggest culprits are sacrifice branches low down on trunks that were only there to add girth and trunk taper. 

Back to this tree: bits I didn't like

poor flat apex
pot too fresh and formal
several large foliage masses were making it look small

Peter Warren was coming down for a few days so a few hours were spent addressing the apex and pads.

In japan the planting was in an even smaller pot that unfortunately broke in half in transit. It was repotted into a new Ian Bailey drum that is a lovely pot but I felt it was too 'smooth' and a bit too bright for this tree. The Bailey drum should be used for the Manuel Juniper from the previous post if the owner wants it.

I scoured and hunted a lot of online images and web sites and facebook picture albums of lots of potters before stumbling on a gallery of pots from a facebook friend Philippe Torcatis

I instantly liked the textures and rustic finishes so made contact to get a suitable pot. As we only had a couple of weeks before the show I needed a pot off the shelf rather than commissioned but I actually prefer shopping this way - when you commission a pot you begin by thinking you know what pot you want, then you get it made and hopefully it looks right when you get it. When you look for a ready made pot it leaps out at you when you finally spot it, so the match with the tree is often more successful.

In discussion a few of us thought the drum was a little small for the planting, and I wasnt convinced by a round pot for a directional tree so I chose a rustic textured oval. The pot came safely with all the christmas post and was repotted xmas eve. Followed by a few more little tweaks to the lower pads this is where we are today

subtle changes but it makes the tree so much better - and a couple of side by side pics show where the next tweaks need to be.

 moral is don't think a tree is perfect and ready for show just because you bought it that way

Even though the tree had been requested months ago I still officially entered it and the confirmation email came through the other day so now we have the registration number etc.

Tree transport to the Trophy
I've only entered a single tree twice and both times the accepted tree has been trusted to the Peters Snart and Warren. They run an excellent service taking the trees, stands, accents etc to the venue, doing all the queueing up, getting the trees through the photography stage and then setting up the final displays. For the sum charged it is a superb service - thoroughly recommended

Customer Styling projects (1)

As well as the normal tree and accessory sales, workshops and maintaining our own tree collection I am doing an increasing amount of wiring and styling for customers and friends. One friend has a large number of very healthy material trees that he wants to enjoy a bit more tweaked to be better bonsai,with the best 15-20% brought up to show readiness for the various club and West country events on his calender.

This tree was part of the collection of the late Manuel Gonzalez and was auctioned off recently. My client bought the tree but has not been excited by it since getting it home so I went to have a look and assured him there was a very nice bonsai hiding in there. Like many trees that come from people with very large collections, or trees from individuals that have had a period of ill health, increasing old age etc the tree was very overgrown and was very oversized for the trunk diameter.This was the 2nd Juniper from the same auction I've worked on recently and both were very much the same showing 4 or 5 years of free dense growth and a solid silhouette with way too many branches and hardly any spaces.

This great big mop of foliage was destroying any image of a delicate bonsai because it overpowers the slender trunk and the eye is so overwhelmed with greenery that all the the trunk movement is lost. The beauty of getting a very healthy but neglected tree to work on though is having the luxury of selecting what to keep and what to prune out.

I had been given total free hand to style the tree as I wanted so my main consideration was making a bonsai my client could enjoy straight away - he is getting a little older so does not want me to make a tree that will need another 5 years to look nice....this is the most important thing I weigh up when working on customer projects - what timescale are they happy with.

This was my work plan:
Prune out what is not needed
Thin all remaining foliage
guy wire main branches
wire everything else that needs it, styling branch by branch from bottom to top

Material transformed - 9.5 hours and a kilo of copper wire

Now we have a trunk and branches that complement each other and the tree can be put into a much better sized pot this spring

Tree two was a garden center yew, still in its plastic pot, but this time many branches had already been removed so it was a case of making a better bonsai from what was left

This tree has an additional consideration in that the time (and therefore cost) put into it needs to be representative of the material and in keeping with the value of the finished tree. The bottom branch was just too low so off it came, leaving a good jin to attach guy wires onto so the branches above could be bent down in a convincing mature conifer image.

I've left a little extra foliage on the lowest branch for now as the tree will bud back over next summer and we can cut back a bit.
3.0 hrs, 250gr Copper wire 

Some first styling work was done on a collected Korean hornbeam stump where very poorly placed branches were removed and better branches selected, pruned and wired. 

Basic styling work like these projects are charged by the hour plus wire and materials. Estimates to give a fairly accurate idea of potential costs for styling projects can be given from pictures emailed through to 

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

winter workshop Dec 2013

Hi Everyone,

just a quick update on our latest bonsai workshop. This was the 3rd time Peter Warren has travelled down to Cornwall to work with me and some friends on our trees. Each trip is roughly 6 months apart and some of the regular attendants are now seeing the early works starting to pay off as their trees recieved a better underlying structure and are now turning into decent trees with promising futures.

Day one was spent here, initially working on a few of our stock azaleas as he certainly has more satsuki experience than anyone I've met and I was eager to learn as much as possible in order to maintain and improve our personal and stock trees. Once they were done it was time to have some fun with the good trees. We have a very nice Zelkova that came from Kimura in japan and I have been weighing up the short and long term plans for the tree - the tree had a UK show outing as a summer image and went down very well with the people who saw it in the flesh so to speak. Some people believe Ramification is everything when it comes to a winter image deciduous tree and I already knew what stage this tree was at having defoliated in the summer - i must admit to becoming a little obsessed with the plan of creating super dense twig ramification over the next few years before the trees next public outing at a winter show, but luckily the thoughts were short lived - Peter has a habit of making simple statements that make sense and it reconfirmed my true feelings from the heart......a good deciduous tree can become great if it is totally balanced and appears completely natural. Over ramification is fake when seen up close, the tree looks forced and false with lots of ugly multiple shoots and lumpy bits.... With this in mind he set to work studying the trees structure from inside to out, removed several branches that were spare, removed lots of multiple shoots formed from previous years prunings and wired the best branches into the spaces left where the worst ones were removed from.

Watching and learning about the refinement stages of deciduous bonsai was brilliant - it all made total sense when you watch and listen - almost a grounding experience to remind you that a tree done properly is the only tree worth remembering for the right reasons

The next tree to come in for some work also came from the nursery of Kimura and is a product directly of his own hand - it begins with one of the rocks that are a form of natural soft stone, carved and fashioned by kimura (i think when you see the bonsai up close the rock is partly carved to take the intended tree as the match up is incredibly close - bordering on a perfect fit). The tree was selected in Japan summer 2012 and now, 18 months later it had become a lot more lush and in need of some thinning. It is a juniper planted on rock not in rock so the main roots are all in the pot. This makes for a more vigorous tree as there is more root room and since getting the tree from the QT area I had been removing the stronger growth tips virtually weekly. The original pads were now quite large and dense and i felt it made the tree look smaller than it could be so a week before I fine wired a fair bit of the tree. 

The wiring needed to be neat and sympathetic as the tree was requested and is being shown in the new year at a very professional exhibition so out came my finest copper wire and at the same time the jin and shari were seen to be quite green too, so these were scrubbed and rewashed with a very toned down lime sulphur. I like working with Peter the way we do because he asks questions, quizzes tree owners, makes us look at the material properly etc so you see what needs doing and then can work out why. Over the next few hours the tree had a bit of a restyle !! for the better too. The missing apex was created, the undecided direction was defined and the pads softened and restructured into more, smaller, interesting forms. This refining session was a joy to be part of as it showed how a tree ready to be styled for show looks when done, rather than a tree 5 years from ready being pushed too soon

the 'after pic'? not yet, after the show maybe  Twisted Evil 

Our final one to one tree was a Peter Adams styled pine in my collection that was bursting with health but was also too vigorous. I felt it was at the limit of width, density, 'lushness' etc so it was pruned back but done while maintaining shape as this was another tree that had reached mature show readiness. Here is a before pic, my tribute to an early UK bonsai pioneer

after pic will wait as the tree is due to be totally unwired, repotted, given a relaxed summer then wired back up in Autumn 2014. ....Patience again is the key to everything - the biggest mistake in bonsai is keeping every tree you own looking manicured all the time.

Day two was a small group open workshop at the bonsai@16 unit. Four attendants arrived bright and early with cars full of material for a great day of pruning, wiring, carving, assessing, wiring and styling. These days are great as so much can be learnt - even if you just bring pines it it better to listen when the tree being assessed is a juniper or other as you will take so much away from the day to then apply to the rest of your collection. We had scotts pine, black pine, white pine, juniper, larch, redwood, cedar so lots of variety and lots of information flow.

Thanks to all the guys for collectively traveling a lot of miles for the day, hopefully you enjoyed it as much as i did being the assistant  Laughing 

Day three:
We travelled to a friend of mine for a one to one day assessing, styling and refining some of his mature bonsai collection. In contrast to the day before it was deciduous porn - beech, hornbeam, hawthorn, metasequoia, acer.....and a juniper ! lol.

Many of these trees were superb material ready to be given the point in the right direction to remove bits that were holding the trees ultimate quality back, and with lots of directional pruning they all have a planned structure to match their trunks and maturity. The owner wanted to move his best trees towards the standard needed for the best shows we have available to us and I think we are well on the way to that goal.

I was wiring assistant most of the day so not many pics !

"this wood is bloody hard"

Thats it for another few months......send me a message if you fancy coming to a summer one

cheers Marcus

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Winter Watching

Here are a few films that caught my eye and once you watch one it opens up plenty of equally good links. A nice way to pass a few hours on these dark cold nights

Here is one of the Kimura Juniper rock plantings in our collection in the UK. There are a few articles both printed and online talking about the rocks and trying to guess their origins, are they real, are they man made, are they resin ? ....I think the tree below could be the only one of his rock plantings outside Japan and because it is in our garden it has allowed me to have a very close look at the rock structure from every angle.

The core of the rock is cellular - full of small irregular chambers - making it very light. There are smoother fused, almost melted areas too, and these are on the raised surfaces. The mosses, lichens and micro fauna are growing on the rough cellular parts while the smooth sections remain clean, making an unbelievably natural blend of textures. The rock core reminds me of coral inside,or old weathered bone when you see it broken open. I can't see that  it is totally man made as in a cement product mixed with sand and water, I think it is a type of weathered and then carved limestone or similar, potentially with another material randomly added to parts of the exterior.

What else has been going on ? It is December - UK winter, but still very mild here - most days are 9 or 10 deg C. The trees are dropping leaves, the conifers are looking happy, it has been a really good year for growing plants - slow start but then great light levels, low rainfall, stable temperatures. Here are a few of our larger stock trees and a few of our personal ones too.

Taxus Cuspidatta - great colour, you see so many poorly weak ones with yellowing foliage - feed, moisture levels and light levels all play an essential part

Zelkova - all the leaves taken off with tweezers, a little pruning still to do to shorten the outer shoots to a bud or two and to tighten up the silhouette a bit. We'll do a decent winter image picture of this one soon as I heard 3rd hand it didn't have any ramification ! lol. got to laugh sometimes.

Scotts Pine - Beauvonensis. This tree is a bit special as it received its first real styling and was put on the bonsai path at a workshop with the original owner and the late Peter Adams. We have the tree and some prints of pencil sketches and a colour drawing of the tree done by Peter. 


It has taken the black pine 2 years to change from yellow/green needles to happier green needles....hindsight is a great thing - I styled the tree straight after buying it, then when repotting 4 months later realised that the wet compost based or at least compacted core soil held hardly any roots. The first soil mix I used was not right either - too many varied particle sizes, bark chips, unproven ingredients 1....the tree was lime green, then faded to yellowy green over 6 months so I repotted again - not one new root tip was visible either !! We fed our fertiliser formulation from March until Sept, did not needle pluck or candle cut and now only one small weak branch remains. 
Phew....lesson learnt - dont dive in and fully style a tree of unknown strength

The large slanting juniper has been allowed to grow and relax - junipers need foliage to gain strength and this tree needed lots of new inner shoots to let us build nice new foliage pads from. Maintenance has been just removing the individual long shoots and piling in the feed - baskets still on...junipers are still slowly growing here

The  Chinese Elm - been with me 25 years now, its come one quite a long way from the imported pom pom tree

The rigida - happy with this one too - foliage mass has doubled, branches have thickened, the wire needs to come off in some places already. Good colour all over the tree, plenty of density, such a hungry tree, after a decade or 2 of starvation it cant eat enough now. 
Quite a simple care plan
  • let the tree flush out 
  • cut off all but 1 or 2 mm of the current growth
  • let it bud out again
  • pinch this 2nd growth off from all strong and medium areas
  • keep the weak 2nd growth and all growth that comes from the 3rd flush of buds
  • feed, feed, feed, water, water, water, do not treat them like junipers !! 

Here you can see the lowest branches retaining longer growth to add bulk and strength

Hinoki - the tree desperately wanted to go back in its larger pot after being at Noelanders and Best of British. 2 shows 5 months apart is just about ok for a strong healthy tree but it sets them back a bit. Looking great now though, I've let the tree keep a fair bit of new foliage so it recovers inner strength. Next year will be hard pinching to keep the foliage compact and keep the light penetration high.

I don't have a Norwegian bonsai yet ;-)

And to finish

Sunday, 10 November 2013

when life impregnates art

"When life impregnates Art" was an amazing T shirt I bought at Mambo Headquarters in Sydney Australia a very long time was true Mambo - Original art by Reg Mombassa,  risque for the time - the mambo dog dry humping the statue of Micheal Angelo........I wore it to the point of disintegration so must have got 10 yrs out of i know the final burial should have been in a frame to depict ten years of my traveling surfing beach based life, but the memory of the T shirt lives on so all is good...................

........leap forward 24 years and the title has finally found an equally fitting scenario - A brave and very personal exhibition by my friend Peter has been staged this week in London under the title Natural Flux at the Brick Lane Gallery. It is a collaboration of bonsai art from Peters own trees combined with ceramic art from several artists, with a sprinkle of sculpture, some very high class photography and a jaw dropping pencil drawing - then you add in wood work, forging, smithing, printing and plinth construction to finally produce a finished exhibition!

I drove up from Cornwall with an open mind, setting off at 3.30am, completing a little bonsai@16  stock buying on the way to finally walk in mid morning. I purposely brought no camera - the true essence of the show for me was to appreciated it in real life, 3D, not a frozen image depicting 500th of a second from a supposed 'front', and I didn't want to reduce the real art to a small selection of low res internet images. Also I feel the people who go for real deserve the experience first hand but a blog with no pics is a bit too much like hard work for some so I've pinched a few pictures from other web sources.

Fine Art has universal acceptance from a wide audience


Bonsai has a somewhat mysterious, secretive, even insular image - within the hobby we feel it is artistic but the public perception is far closer to 'strange gardening practices' than understandable artwork. Why? I think it is the sometimes stuck in a rut slavish way we feel we have to style the tree, pot the tree, display the tree in a set way, in a set place.......following rules that work within our (bonsai) world but mean nothing to the wider audience. Take a sharp intake of breath now ......potentially, if not done very well a traditional bonsai in a traditional correct pot can appear quite boring to someone hoping to see an artform. Natural flux has taken publicly accepted art - (the ceramics, sculpture, photography) - and married it with a lovely collection of bonsai trees - none macho, few commonly seen in our UK scene, and placed them in the heart of an area that really appreciates true art for its uniqueness - I probably spent 4 or 5 hours absorbing the two rooms and revisiting the displays - there were some instantly impressive pieces - the larger, brighter, more intricate artworks, but they actually lacked 'calmness' and I found myself revisiting the simple trees, the clever and balanced pot/tree combinations more often.

Sitting here now I can still see the displays in my minds eye, the curved pot with very simple young beech sapling remains clearly in mind, the Sessile Oak in a Jo Woffinden concrete pot was so balanced and natural I have bought it for our collection here in Cornwall. The subtle details - variation in soil surface, the tree is slightly off center but OMG it is on the 'wrong' side of the pot to get the purists turning in their forthcoming graves, the bark is superb in such a small tree that it needed the power of textured concrete to equal it. Imagine this tree in delicate fluid porcelain - it wouldn't work ....the Oak is the solid strong backbone of everything that is British so the composition is truly balanced

The distinct contrast in ceramic choice has left a profound impression - Claire Wakefields work was detailed, fluid, organic and was easy to 'see' . I feel this piece makes bonsai art appreciation easy for the wide audience - it's coastal, wave battered and a lovely combination of rosemary and ceramic

Then we come to a far more subtle combination - using concrete Jo Woffinden has created pots you want to pick up, rub, touch.....the concrete pots are robust and powerfull in contrast to the delicate nature of the one above

Here we have a 'traditional' one - a lovely juniper, an antique pear skin pot, but displayed and viewed from the trees best front - not the pots front. We had a really interesting chat about the physical restraints that the material tree may impose on us - sometimes the roots and buried trunk sections on wild material will not fit into a pot at the angle we want it to. There are options like use the wrong pot so it fits in, use a 2nd best viewing angle for the tree so it can be viewed from the traditional pot front.....but then the question is why ? the right tree, the right pot,who says if it is right or wrong to view is off center 

An excellent exhibition - it worked on every level and has shown a different view of bonsai that actually has achieved wider appeal than formal rows of trees on tables with cloth backdrops. The beauty of our hobby is that there is a place for both types of exhibition - but I think for one artistic individual to showcase their trees this show wins hands down. I hope there is another, I hope there is a book, I'm so glad I made the effort to attend the first one and it was great to meet and chat with a few like minded people - it was a refreshing day that restored my faith in part of our bonsai scene

The art of noise - moments in love

Sunday, 3 November 2013

it's in there somewhere

This tree was dropped round recently by a customer for a complete styling session. It is a quite unusual 5 trunk juniper group formed many years ago so the trunks are all well fused together now but as you can see the foliage has remained basically unstyled. The tree has been kept very healthy and the foliage has been kept nice and compact by nipping off all the strong extension shoots but doing nothing but this results in the pom pom type foliage blobs forming over time.

Here is the tree with its current front as it was dropped off

first impressions - 1) you cant tell there are 5 trunks, 2) the apex is behind the center point

This is the current back of the tree

All the foliage masses were thinned out and wired, then they were broken up into smaller elements. One guy wire was needed to move the 5th trunk into view and here is the result of the first styling.

It is very important not to massively reduce foliage on junipers in one hit so the new smaller pads retain a reasonable amount of green bits. Now we can see it is a 5 trunk tree and the trunk movement is nicely exposed.

There is one more sitting of fine wiring to do in the future but for now the tree can rest

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Fingers crossed............and toes

Well the gale of the decade is about to descend on us.........westerly 80mph winds hitting in the middle of the night with 6cm of rain in the first 3 hrs. Today was spent in the garden moving all the trees onto the ground and under the benches, all the shohin have been put in crates in the lee of the house and all the potted non bonsai plants have been gathered together tucked up by the back door.

Forecast of the storm over Britain

we considered taking down all the shade netting but decided to leave it up and test out the structure. if it blows down i'd be in the same position anyway.......needing to put it all up again ! but if it survives this it will survive anything. Only 2 trees remain on the bench the cuspidatta and the very large white pine - both weigh over 45-50kg and are hard enough to move by hand let alone by wind. Hopefully all friends and customers have been able to protect their trees in readiness.

Yesterday I took an hour to tidy the firethorn - brushing moss from the aged bark and using tweezers to remove any yellow leaves from the interior of the tree and the soil surface. This year the tree was pruned quite hard all over so flowers and berries are minimal but this ensures a bumper crop for next year and a potentially stunning winter image for 2014/15.

This beautiful tree has been grown and styled by Nobuichi Urushibata at Taisho en nursery in Japan and was hand picked by a friend as part of the shipment of incredibly high quality trees that came into the Uk this year. Fortunately we not only have this tree available for sale but the Kimura broom Zelkova and a very very special Kimura Juniper rock planting - probably the only one in existence outside Japan. I'm both proud and honoured to have these special trees here to offer for sale, to enjoy with customers and visitors, and most importantly to share at various exhibitions.

The Broom - displayed at the NEC as the winning 'Best in Show' & 'Best in Class' tree. The tree was part of a 50 strong exhibit that also won an RHS Gold with a perfect 100% score - something that the RHS haven't done for bonsai very often.

Here is our juniper rock planting at the nursery in June 2012 with M. Kimura before it was shipped to the UK in the forthcoming winter.

The 3 trees are all very special and totally unique and are available to supply to serious discerning bonsai enthusiasts

We have a long term (10yr+) plan here to source, maintain and supply some of the finest specimen trees we can, along with keeping up our stocks of hand picked imported Japanese trees in all price brackets. These trees are just the beginning of that plan.

hope everyone (and their trees) stay safe over the next 24 hrs