Thursday, 8 August 2013

take your medicine and don't make a fuss............

funny old game isn't it? - I think everyone has a bonsai wish list - be it a species we would love, a style of tree or even a specific individual tree that floats our boat.

Going back to my first bonsai year - 1990 - I was captivated by a needle juniper (J. Rigida) that sat at a commercial nursery near home - it was an interesting tree having been in the UK over 20 years and had been sold to the nursery to fund an engine for a power boat ! Back then I had 3 chinese elms and the usual pile of tortured garden center conifers to practice on so this Rigida was my inspiration but out of my price bracket. Jump forward 10 years - it was still there, still alive, not improving at all but the nursery is one that has a habit of sneaking the price tags up every few years on the existing stock so it was certainly going up with inflation, keeping it out of reach.................5 years later it's still there, still alive etc etc but I decided to do something drastic -  I looked at an old endowment policy that had 7 years to run - they wanted another 7 grand or so in payments and it was forecast to grow by a further 6k !. Easy sum to do - cash it in and be £1000 better off as part of the bargain.

Mandy and I were about to start living together so Ikea and the new landlord got a chunk but with canny shopping skills a bit remained so I visited the juniper to really look properly and see if the object of desire was actually good enough to buy - it was alive top to bottom but only had a handfull of weeping weak shoots on every branch. I started visiting the nursery and feeding the tree as they go unfed here, also turning it every few weeks to let the back see some light. 6-8 weeks into the care plan a complete row of new buds popped open along the main branch so I bought it there and then before the price went up ! It took 4 full years of growing foliage before the tree could be styled and finally 12 months ago the tree was wired, repositioned and repotted. One year on and the tree is coming along well. I dont have the day one picture, they were lost, so my first picture is yr2 - foliage volume doubled since purchase

I love this species - hungry, thirsty and vigourous - and this tree is slowly becoming the bonsai I envisaged 20 years ago.

The above tree was a specific bonsai on my list, the next was a species - I have wanted a prunus mume, Japanese Apricot for a long time - but really the wish list was a little more detailed - black cracked bark, red flowers...........jump back 12 years and it was an easy tree to find and buy as they were freely imported - regulations changed, import was banned and many owners had their trees die off - it is a tree that will attract no end of problems so needs spraying without holding back - moulds, mildews, leaf curl, gals, you name it they will get it !! 

Out of the blue a bonsai trade occurred - I'd put some nice trees onto our ebay shop  Bonsai@16 and after a few emails with a fellow bonsai enthusiast we ended up arranging a swap of an excellent Japanese acer for his prunus mume. In the end a couple of trees went to London in the car and a couple came back to Cornwall - with a quick visit to a wholesaler in the area as well the car was wedged with 8 large hinoki cypress, my new prunus, a chunky Yew, more akadama and goodness knows what else - tools, wound sealer and chinese elms were filling most gaps I remember !

The apricot had leaves on the ends of long branches as old trees tend to be - they seem to refuse to make back buds on old barked wood so always get bigger until grafted back inside again to continue for another 2 decades. The tree had several fruits too ! but i removed most as some thin branch tips had bunches of 2 or 3 fruits that would certainly weaken the shoot or even break it with the weight.

The fruits are used in chinese medicine to cure bronchitis, mouth and throat problems etc and once you eat one you can tell its medicine ! After sharing the first fruit with Mandy ;-) I've read they also soak the fruits in alcohol for several years to make plum this sounds delicious and needs to go on my xmas list haha, they dry and salt them, pickle them and make sour plum juice too - I can't actually find any reference to eating them raw though. 

The tree has red heartwood - showing it is part of the  japanese hibai family, and this red heartwood is also an indication to the flower colour.

A quick application of my bark cleanser is needed .....this will kill off the algae encouraged by the tree loving moisture

I plan to let next years foliage shoots grow freely to make a supply of grafting scions, then we will graft new shoots back on the long branches to see if we can build a great branch structure onto a aged trunk that has great movement and fantastic bark texture. 

In early spring i'll repot into a 75% akadama mix to keep moist, reposition to the new front and I think a wish list tree should have a proper pot so the crackle glaze Gordon Duffett rectangle I've had waiting for a nice tree will be used. Its an inch or so bigger than the Mo pot the tree is in so will be perfect to leave the tree settled over the next few years of growing and grafting. 

It will be interesting to see if the local bees are flying around in Dec or January and are attracted by my sweet smelling prunus blooms so we get fruits again next year.......

now the was a close thing, you nearly got 'spoonful of sugar' from Mary Poppins
but I don't want to lose readers !! so try THIS, pure UK quality.

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