Monday, 16 June 2014

Honoured and in awe - when a tree finds you

Special Trees find you, not the other way round. ...... I went on a bonsai@16 mini one day road trip yesterday to collect some spanish Yamadori that my friend Peter had selected but more of that later....... Poking up among the sabinas I spotted the unmistakable green foliage colour of a white pine on its own roots and on having a peek I was greeted by a truly ancient tree, silvered flaking bark, cracked natural deadwood and amazing elegance - this was it ! the white pine I wanted as my 'keeper'.

The tree was one of several supplied directly by Seji Morimae of S Cube Bonsai in Tokyo for an exhibition in the UK back in 2007. It is true white pine yamadori and is in the region of 200 years old, the wood is solid, the branches are like stone and the balance of fresh new needles emerging from the weathered tree is just about the most perfect way to sum up true bonsai ......

Age doesn't always manage to balance with elegance but this one does it with ease - I guess thats why S Cube has a reputation for sourcing and supplying some incredibly high quality trees.

Once the needles harden in their sheaths the tree can be wired and the pads formed - so I have a few months to just wait and appreciate the tree as it is - the sign that white pine are ready to be worked is the brown sheaths falling off the new needle clusters - then the needles have hardened in their bases and are not so fragile they damage or fall out

Pot was interesting - for half an hour I was considering putting the tree in a round shallow rustic one, but it very quickly faded as I started to look at the tree in its pot - this is the one - it was the one 9 years ago when it was repotted in Japan and nothing has changed

I've had white pines on their own roots over the last 15-16 years and all are still looking great with their current owners  - good soil components and protection from prolonged wet weather in Autumn, winter and spring are the main considerations - and letting the tree weather properly in winter is essential - best way to weaken one is to put it in a greenhouse for the winter, they need to have a winter dormancy. xxx (Season care and observations I've made over the years relates of course to my home climate, zone 8, Atlantic coast of Cornwall UK )xxx

It is funny how we mature along with our trees and tastes - for years I was totally into big chunky trunked bonsai - the bigger and heavier the better !! I think a time comes where you start to appreciate other qualities in bonsai and so trees that grow slowly, take time to ramify, require special care and techniques etc begin to really shine through - I still have a few chunky ones of course, a good one has its merits and if it is unique or very unusual like the Japanese Yamadori taxus from Hokkaido, the crepe myrtle in our stock etc so much the better.....but a truly unique bonsai tree with special qualities or a story / history will always do it for me over a tree grown in a fixed style that can be commercially produced in large numbers.  

Bonsai as a hobby is a path - we go from one tree, to ending up with dozens or even hundreds, then for many people large ones give them the buzz, then some people enter a stage of aiming for refined quality, others get a little slack round the middle, a bit lazy with the wiring  and they claim to love naturalism ! lol, and then the path ends at shohin !!!!! hahaha  - hope we all can nod but also smile at the bonsai path

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Crenata chronicles II

My favorite bonsai species  - fagus Crenata - Japanese white bark beech - I've had one or more here to look after at all times for a decade now - from a naive first purchase of a European one grown from seed - they have big leaves, terrible coarse growth, smooth browny grey bark and never go white unless you paint them with lime sulphar. After that I realised you only get a good one from Japan so I've sought out such material since, learning and practicing on less expensive ones and now furthering my learning on nicer ones.

My friend and customer had picked the tree he liked from the two specimen trees on this years shipment so it was decided by him really which one I was going to keep - I purposely hadn't studied either tree too much so that way I was happy with either.

I let the tree leaf out and start to harden off without touching it then pruned out some over strong branches that were crowding the apex. Now the leaves were harder I added our fertiliser pellets so the tree can replace the energy spent leafing out and build the strength needed to form next years buds - with crenata the feeding we do now makes very little visible difference to the tree as the cigar buds were formed last year - if we get the tree care wrong this year the buds will be weak and the tree will be poor next year. If you plan on buying a really weak one with a few leaves miles away from the trunk on bare branches be aware it will take many years to rebuild the tree - 

often weak trees lose important lower branches and end up looking like this:

sorry to the seller on ebay trying to sell this tree for using their picture as an example of what a ruined and beyond rescue white beech looks like but this shows just about everything that can go wrong with them - every lower branch gone, a mop of long apex shoots surviving on top with a few leaves on the tips. 

Apically strong

Crenata are so apically strong that left unchecked the lower limbs will be dropped so top pruning is essential

The future of all branches lays with the inner shoots and not with the outer leaves so they have to see some light, and get some air movement - thin the apex and outer canopy , cut leaves in half or more to reduce shading and remove all blind leaves (leaves with no bud at the base).All branches on even the best trees get too old, tired and thick near the ends eventually so a supply of viable inner sub branches are essential to cut back to.

Remember we own and grow these trees to be seen in winter so we need convincing ramification, natural lines and we need to see the trees structure. You see a few poorly ramified trees in exhibits with the brown leaves left on - trying to add a bit more volume and hide the fact that the trees are poor inside where it counts. If we spend the time to do the tree properly they make the perfect winter image tree

When the tree is vigorous the branches tend to rise up - driven by apical strength again - They set quicker if wired in the growing season but we must not scar the bark so I use lots of guy wires and as looser traditional wiring here and there in June

Here she is....................loving the sun.......they are lovers of warmth and need a lot more than our native beech - lack of sun & over proteting is another reason these trees get leggy and weak. (the tree is not yellow on one side, the evening sun is shining through the leaves)

Looking at the above picture we can see the tree is solid with inner leaves - they key point is we can actually SEE them - so they can see the light too. The outer shoots that were shading inner sections were cut back to 2 leaves bearing buds at their bases, as many blind leaves with no buds in these sections were cut off too - they just take up space and offer no help with refining our tree - hangers on if you like

The new buds are forming well now at the leaf bases - I will cut back to 2 in areas where the outer one points in the right direction to continue the branch - if it doesn't you must decide whether to cut back to bud 1 or 3 - The safest method is to cut back to 2 or 3 buds for now and cut again later when you see the number 1 bud is swelling and viable.

The final bonus on this tree was buried under the weeds - a boom nebari, fused roots, the lot. it was like finding buried treasure


There is still a lot of years work on this tree to get it where it needs to be - the first real work will begin this winter when we can see whats going on inside

Has to be this one.........

its in there...................................

but there are others worthy - has to rate as one of the best opening riffs

and as its a great day we'll have one more....oh yes, just one more

getting some stock ready

Todays plans were changed and I had a few free hours so decided to get the next batch of material cleaned so I started  up, photographed and uploaded to various online sales sites we use

Shohin conifers were order of the day
Scots pine cascade, a little bit of wiring with our super soft 0.8mm copper soon had it in shape. Lovely tree, very shallow compact root ball, 23cm height from apex to bottom of cascade - Sold already

Curly raw material Itoigawa junipers from Japan - these make superb shohin junipers and are great for workshops, practice, for wiring by the TV etc. Purchased from the safety of our ebay store they are £85.00, directly from us £70.00. I've cleaned up 2 for now but have some more.

Here is another similar tree but chunkier, next size up type of thing

Listed on ebay it costs £95.00, buying direct £80.00

Then we have three really good junipers - all are itoigawa, multi trunk clump style trees with compact mature foliage (made in Japan from air layering branches from old mature bonsai)
Tree one

Tree two

Tree three

Once these little babies are wired out and layered a bit you will have a brilliant little mature shohin bonsai - all three are 16-17cm tall and 22-23cm wide. Directly from us they are £120 each

Tucked in with the Junipers was a great little dwarf Japanese Black Pine, I love it when that happens ! £115.00

Above tree just sold, but nice to see it anyway 

We now have 20-25 pieces of  raw collected and field grown part trained material here. One by one I'll style them and add them to the bonsai stock for sale but a few can be offered as material in case anyone wants project or workshop trees. Here is a spruce, wild, quite aged, very compact from grazing and completely settled from collection - ready to style, £100.00

This is a tidy cork bark elm - 20cm tall, excellent variety with the dark green leaves, compact shoots etc. Great trunk size on such a short tree - rough pruned branch structure ready to be refined more to make a really high quality shohin cork bark elm. I bought this tree to keep.......but you cant think that with every tree you spot £85.00 bought direct.

With so many tempting trees I needed to bring payment methods up to date so now we are taking credit and debit cards - our service is fully mobile so we can process payments here in the garden, at shows, when delivering trees, when meeting in car parks etc

and now some tunes for my favorite readers

More treats to follow soon 

Wow - that was quick - the man is a bonsai machine............

29" tall san hose juniper - wire free at the moment, ready for work -a nice inexpensive juniper with really shallow root ball, very very healthy foliage, nice carved shari, aged and dried out
Bargain piece of material - collected from the garden £180 gets it

And a similar juniper but different species - 26" tall, just as shallow a root ball, equally nice carved shari

you know when you have a workshop session booked with a bonsai professional and you get the wicked thought pop into your head - I wonder what I've got that will really challenge him ? ........but it must have a bit of potential so you go home with a reasonable tree at the end of the day ............THIS IS THAT TREE! £145.00 for a very reasonable material juniper

For now

Friday, 13 June 2014

pine time

We have all the main pine bonsai here as they give variety, they all basically require different methods and techniques to maintain and it also spreads the workload over several months. If all the trees were the same type I'd have loads of repetitive work to do! 

Today the black pine and red pine were looking perfect to start the decandling process. 

The point of cutting the first shoot off is to cause a second set of smaller buds to form that will give finer growth, to hopefully produce several buds in one place so we can select the best ones, to trigger back budding so we can make the tree appear denser and to eventually give strong inner branches that we can cut back to.

The picture above shows the needles extending from the sheaths and beginning to point out away from the shoot.....this is the time I remove all the medium and weakish ones, but not the extremely weak or the very strong

The strong shoots are left on the tree for the next two weeks.........
Here is our bigger black pine showing the strongest candles in the apex still in place.....this is done to give the cut areas a head start in forming their new buds. If we cut off the strongest areas now they will form big strong new buds first making the strong area even stronger and the weak areas will be held back even further.

Because the strong shoots are in place the tree will not try to form new buds here, but in all the cut areas we have triggered the budding and back budding process. As we know bonsai is not calendar lead but dictated by the trees so I expect to remove the strong shoots in 2 weeks time, but if the weather turned colder than expected I would add a few more days to the waiting time.

In the top picture are two different sets of shoots. The pale ones are red pine and these trees are treated the same as the Japanese black pine. This tree was quite balanced so it had very even strength all over, probably due to the fact it came directly from japan this winter, so all the shoots apart from any tiny weak inner shoots were cut off. In the picture below I'm working up the tree 

Here's the black pine

The black pine has taken 3 years to become strong enough after purchase to even consider candle cutting. It was in poor condition as far as strength goes - pale, leggy, terrible soil so very poor roots etc. with hindsight I made a mistake and styled the tree straight away so it had a poor year following the wiring until I could repot it into a proper soil mix . Not candle cutting after the repot and not needle plucking either was the quickest way to help the tree recover, needles  photosynthesise and this feeds the tree. The energy generated by foliage strengthens roots, and as the roots were poor the tree needed foliage to aid recovery. The feed pellets we designed have helped a lot too, the tree has bounced back and now we can begin the refining. The pellets are reduced now but the tree gets a fish emulsion drench every week.

We sold a proper white pine this week, and I had the option to make a few improvements before delivering it so out came the power saw. ......... It was a grafted white on black, we'll over 50 years old lovely twist in the trunk but still had the big low branch in place, now styled into a pad. These low branches on grafted pines are there to keep the trunk taper on course so you don't see a big ugly step down, but this one was right inside the curve and it had already well and truly done its job so it was time to come off

Sorted !!,!

I've had this tree here 16 months on and off so you get used to seeing the older image but a couple of buyers came to the garden and loved the tree without the branch

The Peter Adams workshop scots pine is off to a new owner tomorrow so being a different species it is not candle cut like the trees we started with. It will make new buds if we cut off a whole shoot but it will not open this year so the tree would have no 2014 needles and a pine needs some needles from every year. The strong shoots were shortened and that is all that needs doing, basically I balance the shoots across the whole tree 

Sunday, 1 June 2014

pearls of wisdom

I think this echos the way I hope to go in bonsai

The link above showed me a man with belief, self assurance and more than anything else the absolute commitment to making and supplying good trees while trying to ensure they stay that way when sold. I'd say he also has the ability to market himself and his trees very well - and there is nothing wrong with any of that.

There are also a few clues in those few paragraphs that following the way of the book and the self proclaimed expert is not always the best route - by now 90%+ of the books are out of date and there are so many internet bonsai experts with lots to say but hardly any decent trees of their own to share - I cant be the only one to find the endless re-sharing of images of lovely trees boring, especially when the virtual writer has had nothing to do with them apart from a 'copy and paste'  from google, or worse still from the owners site but without credit where it is due.

What's been occurring in our bonsai Garden recently ?

Replenishing fertiliser pellets - the first feed has been in place a couple of months so it is now leached out from watering, rain and general weathering. The pellets we now have are performing very well - leaf size and growth vigour has been controled but incredibly healthy - tree colour and resistance to attacks from nasties has been the best in years....and very interesting to see the junipers that have historically flowered heavily this year have virtually no flowers and are covered in perfect new tight growth tips.

Even with the stock selling well it needs 1.5kg of pellets to do the job but healthy strong bonsai make the job so much easier - this taxus cuspidata has new growth on basically every single shoot that has already extended and been scissor pruned back to a few new leaves, ready to trigger more new buds and even finer growth - this followed a proper repot with Peter Warren and a total wiring and styling last shows how a tree does not sulk or suffer when everything is done properly

2 weeks ago the trident group was defoliated and is now budding out again, the biggest palmatum here was defoliated last week so a bit too soon for signs of new shoots yet. Once it does shoot out it is essential to tweezer out the little extension shoot that follows the first 2 leaves - if you miss this the point of defoliating was lost 

On a sales front some lovely trees have moved on to new owners - the triple trunk acer, the beech raft, several quality shohin sized trees, my needle juniper, a large white beech, black pine and several deshojos - plus all the new shohin azaleas are gone. We built a new large bench to house all the workshop and native trees - this now holds 7 hinoki, 4 scotts pines, 5 junipers, a yew, a spruce, lonicera, several beeches, a few acers, cork bark elm and a very nice silver birch...trees priced from £30 - £360 on this bench - most are £100 or under, only one is over £300. 

Bottle 1 of our fish emulsion is just about used - this is the key combination supplement to go hand in hand with the pellets - every Sunday all the trees get watered with this and now thanks to a birthday pressy I use a really cool can - surely the trees can tell ?

Moving on to products that we needed to sort out for our own use and for customers needs I have sourced and spooled our own copper wire - after rolling it is annealed in the factory under one of the gas fired cookers  - going for the quick cool option has given me the softest easiest to work with copper wire I've ever used since starting bonsai.

how do you improve something so basic ? first off the biggest pain with it up until now was the roll diameter - everyone loves the size of 500gr Aluminium wire so I spooled the copper the same - coil size does not effect the wire as the annealing is done after rolling. Then the biggest problem with copper wire is the fact it slowly gets harder again the longer it hangs around and most people take ages to get through a kilo so i've spooled the lot in 500gr rolls but kept the price right where it should be

they fit on most wire holders now too so no getting bashed around in the tool bag (this makes annealed copper hard again too)
single rolls are on ebay at £13.50 + pnp but please contact us directly though so ebay dont take their fee and I can pass on the saving for 2-5 rolls. Bulk users / pro's etc who need 10+ rolls can contact us for a price

sizes ready now are 0.8mm, 1.1mm, 1.5mm, 1.75mm. 2.0mm (A couple of larger sizes will follow in a few weeks) 

2 weeks time the red and black pine decandling will start, then it will be beech pruning once the new buds are properly visible at the base of the leaves