Thursday, 4 April 2013

My best Bonsai week...........ever

Here we go. My count down and lead up to the EBA final

My EBA pictures are just some snaps on my phone but I have included a link to a french bonsai site that has lots of nice pictures of the exhibition, lots of pics of people talking but alas no pictures of the talent contests yet. English visitors were very few and far between - Malcolm and Kath Hughes were there as event judges, Reg as chairman of the EBA and John Pitt was in the traders area. There were lots of photographers covering the event, a japanese Bonsai TV crew, plus a journalist for the french bonsai magazine taking lots of pictures and doing interviews.

Expo pictures :
More EBA 2013 coverage on Bonsai Eejits excelent blog

Sunday was spent at the Failand shohin show seeing how all the nice big trees start off their life ! haha -  It was a really good day out and the variety and quality of the shohin exhibits was good to see - it showed me there is more to shohin than a stand that looks like the mother in laws sideboard with 5 or 6 trees sat in their little spaces too so food for thought for the future........ the social day was great too - catching up with many friends and seeing quite a few west country club members there was really encouraging. At the end of a long day we set off home with Peter Warren following an hour or so behind me back to Cornwall for his second series of South West workshops.

pre final lesson learnt - classic lines and shapes please the eye so hopefully please the judges

Workshop Day (1) This was a day spent repotting and styling big conifers - fellow club member Colin and I shared Peters' full day and we worked through Colins hinoki, pine and yew before all tackling my big cuspidata yew which needed quite a bit of intricate root work to get the new potting angle I wanted and the smaller pot proportions needed for a future show tree. We didn't have a pot the right size yet as we didn't know until seeing the roots what was possible so we added polystyrene sheet to the existing pot to make the soil space smaller. Now we have the perfect proportion a perfect pot can be hunted out at leisure.
 Second repot was the big raw material juniper that I see a total masterpiece hiding in  :-)  ). In the afternoon we started styling  - several of Colins trees and one of the two big white pines I picked up as eye catching specimen trees for the new shop stock.

pre final lesson learnt - wiring with correct technique and neatness is better than just speed

This little lot was squeezed in my car the week before ! The raw juniper 110cm tall+pot and two big grafted white pines imported a few years ago but not worked on since. Both will make really good trees at surprisingly reasonable prices  ;) haha!

  Workshop day (2) - the full day was shared by 4 club members and a great variety of conifers were brought along for advice, potting, styling etc. I was assistant / soil siever coffee maker etc and in between making sure the attendants has all the stuff they needed I carried on working the white pine from the day before. Another superb day was had by all and the cars went home with many improved bonsai sat in them, plus everyone had received plenty of information and help. The proof of how good these days are is given by the fact know-one has time to take pictures ! either that or it is because we all learn really big secrets hahahahahaha  ;-)  ;-)  ;-) . I feel the best way to get the most from a day like this is to listen to as much advice as possible on all the trees and not just your own, then you can learn about 5 or 6 species rather than one or two.

pre final lesson learnt - it is easier to complete the wiring quickly if you realise not every branch needs moving to form our design

Peter and I had a really good day making a start on the big juniper - I had a vision of a future masterpiece and let Peter work out how to make it possible - but that is for another day.
The before image.....................remember this one !

 Then i got back into the white pine while Peter thinned the unnecessary bits from the cuspidatta to make my wiring simpler and neater in the coming weeks. The day was spent chatting away about bait, bonsai, music and fertiliser - with so many hints and much helpful advice coming my way both for the final and for getting trees to proper show standard. The evening was Cornwall Club night and we were entertained by PW superbly before he set off home at 10.30pm to drive through the night....I can't repeat enough how good his service is. So far 4 days had been spent doing bonsai tasks - the wire was going on really well and my work was looking neater added to the fact I had learnt more efficient ways to work so things were taking less wire and less time to get the same results.

pre final lesson - even guy wires have a right and wrong way - the convenient way is not always the best or strongest way

Made some bait, wired some of the yew for a change and sharpened my tools. The tool kit was packed, checked and some screws and a screwdriver were put in just in case.
I had 7 sizes of top quality copper wire from Willowbog Online shop  in the tool kit plus 2 sizes of turntable, my trusty masakuni tools and of course raffia, wound sealer plus all the other odds and sods that lurk in the bottom of my bag.  We left Cornwall that afternoon, dropped the dog off at my Mums and we were soon waiting at the Euro tunnel for our 3.20am was a bit delayed due to the bank holiday but 5.30am local time we were on french soil but very tired. I pulled over for a sleep and 2hrs later was ready for proper coffee and breakfast.

pre final lesson - it's too late now to worry so time to relax and enjoy the experience - a weekend in France woohoo

The venue was in the North East corner of France close to the Swiss border and we were under no pressure with time so after a bit of motorway driving we dropped onto smaller roads to enjoy the changing countryside - soon the vast fields became vines and then the vines became steep wooded hills dusted with snow.
We signed in at the venue 'La filature' and collected passes etc  -  another wow venue - amazing floor area and brilliant lighting - I'm liking European bonsai events more and more haha

We were doing a friend a favour and had a delivery of wire and tools for one of the French traders in the car so an hour was spent checking out the trade stands until we found the man - I wanted a Rosemary (wonder why :-) or an olive with good potential. The were 2 rosemary in the exhibition but none for sale and the olives felt way too expensive for one little green shoot on a lump of knobbly wood so my pocket money stayed safe. After dropping the wire off we spotted Malcolm and Kath Hughes and said hello so they knew we were there safe and sound before driving to the neibouring town Belfont where we were booked into the Best Western hotel. A quick stroll and we'd found a place to eat dinner that evening so went to our room and promptly fell asleep until after 9pm - the missed night of sleep finally caught up so dinner was skipped.

pre final lesson - nerves or ego will beat you before the tree does so go with the right frame of mind

This was my favorite tree in the exhibition - and later I found out it was judged best in show so the eye wasn't letting me down - hope it keeps that way for tomorrow

We arrived at the venue first (bit keen I guess) and spotted a pallet being wheeled across the far carpark with some really big juniper bushes - surely not!! they were in nursery pots that looked 15 or 20 liter size and tree plus pot must have been close to 3ft. Mandy & I thought they were for the all day workshop so we just got on with our morning.
Soon a room packed with contestants, well wishers and organisers were assembled and we had lift off - I picked a table at the very back of the room and there were the great big junipers we'd seen earlier ! I drew tree 12 - it was very straight and very bushy but I purposely had not looked closely at any of the trees so was not worried that others may have better trees. The original 3hr contest was instantly extended to 4hrs due to material size and complexity and I could see every minute would be needed. The organisation was brilliant - the public were allowed to enter the far end of the room a few at a time to watch but not to walk around the competitors.

I did go with half a plan

  • hope for a juniper
  • keep 2 low branches and do semi cascade with branch 1 and a nice layered crown from branch two
  • find a dynamic and unique angle by using my 'British Bonsai stands'  ball socket turntable 
So much for a plan !

  •  it was juniper -tick
  • I had a very thick low branch then a straight upright trunk with thick branches mostly pointing up - no tick
  • the pot was bigger than my large ball socket turntable so No Tick in that box either

With hindsight i'm glad the tree didn't fit my plan as it required a fast appraisal to see the materials' best and worst features.  I had to draw the eye from the trunk as it was the ugly bit - the opposite really of drawing the viewer to the trunk - so I decided to make a dramatic dropping branch going one way and a leaning trunk going the other way - it made the design feel "European" (those at the Ryan Neil demo will know what i mean).


Its funny how a 2D picture makes a tree look as the odd little branch that seems to come from inside the trunk is actually the back branch and it was raffia'd, curved around a jin and placed so it framed the lower jin a bit. It looks a bit odd in a picture but gave some depth to the tree in real life.

Soon time was up and we were sent out to let the 16 judges do their bit - glancing around as you do I could see 4 other trees that looked good so I was hoping to make top 5 with luck. The results were not going to be announced until that night so time to relax and mooch the trade stands before a wash and change before the dinner.

some of the trees had lovely curving trunks

The gala time came and all the contestants took to the stage - 3rd place was announced (not me) - that left me well in or well out basically - then Reg said "no problem pronouncing this name" and I was second ! What a great sense of relief, pride and just pure joy. First place went to Martin from the Nertherlands and what a nice guy - and he did the tree i liked the most too so all was good. We were actually at the same table for dinner so it was a brilliant evening for our group.

The spoils of war :-)

Quite a path to get here - Tredegar House in Wales for SW heat, Capel Manor for the UK final and then to Audincourt for the EU final 

special thanks to Malcolm and all at Fobbs for putting on the competition, providing good material and supporting me to the final and to Peter Warren for the advice, help and wisdom passed on along the way.


  1. Well done Marcus, a great result and great looking tree! Like the look of your prize! ;)
    A great week and you truly had your bonsai fill! Also a great day with Peter Warren and even better having him at the club for all our questions.

  2. thanks m8, the prize was just perfect haha Yes I think we all had a good few days last week, thanks for coming and hope you can make the Dec workshop - we'll find some material you like before then ;-)