Monday, 31 December 2012

New Years Eve

I hope everyone had a great Christmas with friends and loved ones and that Santa brought you what you asked for.
My wife has critisized me for being a gadget man, new iPhone, iPad and iPod. So for Christmas I bought here the new iRon.

It's been a few days since my last post, and what a stressful few days it has been.
My daughter Amy who some of you will know is teaching out in Nepal, had to be airlifted to hospital in Kathmandu after being taken seriously ill. As you can imagine, it was the not knowing what was going on that was the killer. Your imagination runs wild. I am pleased to say that she is out of hospital now and it was great to speak to her on Christmas Day. Thank god for SKYPE.

Well it's continued to rain and rain over Christmas, there has been no let up where we live. Every where has standing water. Even our chickens have started quacking.
My hands have ballooned up with the damp. Years of abusing my hands doing Iron Fist and Tigers Claw kung fu techniques have left me with phenomenal grip but the side effects are arthritis. Bummer! So on a morning like today the hands that were trained to rip a mans throat out can't do up my flies! Go figure! So no wiring of delicate branches at the moment. I may as well be wearing boxing gloves. Considering we started off the New Year with a hose pipe ban, we have certainly made up for it. I wonder how far into 2013 we will be before they say there is a national water shortage.

I wonder what 2013 has in store us. What ever it is will be a bonus, after all according to the Mayans we should not be here now. Right!
We have the Noelanders Trophy in Belgium coming up in a few weeks in January on 19th-20th and then the Swindon Winter Image show in February. Always a good start to the year. I will attend the Noelanders for a few hours on the first day and then I will be off on my travels picking up new trees.
As I was sat here writing this, the postman just turned up with a parcel from Belgium of promotional posters and flyers. It's a bit late for me to do much promotion now but I will do my best.
So here goes.

The Best of British Bonsai event as most of you know will now be staged at the NEC Birmingham in conjunction with BBC Gardeners World Live. There have been some technicalities to sort out regarding available space, layout, screens etc. But most of that has been ironed out now as Kath and Malcolm Hughes have had a meeting with the RHS down in London.

Of course there will always be the problem of people submitting entries for the exhibition at the last minute. But this year they could come unstuck as there will actually be less trees in the exhibition, and once I have the lineup, that will be it. Entries will close.
But of course you can't put on an exhibition without someone wanting to bye pass the selection process. You know the ones, "I will put trees forward but Tolley's not selecting them". Or "If I put a tree in can you guarantee I will win, only I could ruin my reputation".  But Hey Ho, you know what, they just make me smile when I think how ridiculous that whole thing is.
I have already selected a lot of trees for my short list of trees for the exhibition and certainly as things stand the overall event should be of a higher standard. Also there will be a lot of good deciduous trees which I am pleased about.

Tomorrow is New Years Day and I am looking forward to working on styling a tree tomorrow, starting the new year as I mean to go on.
There have been a lot of downers and a lot of heart ache in 2012 for me, but I am staying positive after all despite everything I am a very lucky guy.
And so as the young fella said' "Keep smiling".

See you all in 2013!

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Merry Christmas!

For all my friends around the world, old and new.
I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and may 2013 bring you peace, happiness and contentment. 

Saturday, 15 December 2012

An easy post.

As I am a little crocked at the moment I thought I would take the easy way out for my next post.
The idea came while trying to archive the thousands of images I have on my PC. As I was going through some of the images I thought to myself,  I bet everyone will be checking back to see if I have posted the Scots Pine styling images. Not yet! So then I got the idea to post some stylings you may not have seen. These were all from 2-3 years ago.
So here's the first one, a Scots Pine of course.
This was a really healthy tree but the foliage was quite sparse on some of the branches. Also it was not my intention to use all of the branches. So with branch removal and structural pruning, quite a bit would end up on the floor. 

And after the first styling.

This is it's first day on the road to being a bonsai, but that is still a long way off.

The second is a Mugo Pine that I bought in Switzerland. It was bought from me for a workshop by a guy who put a lot of faith in me. He is now not just a customer but a friend. This is the Mugo before work commenced. This tree was in my nursery for quite a few years. Lots of people looked at it, including a few bonsai professionals and the comments were always the same. If only the foliage was nearer the trunk. The sticking point being the very straight, as thick as your wrist branch which held 90% of the foliage.

Fortunately Neil who bought the tree asked me what I would do with the tree if I styled it. After giving him my vision for the tree, he bought it. That's showing faith, because here's what we did.

It was just a case of folding the branch 180 degrees and then folding it back again in half on itself the other way. (So fold it in half to the right, then back in half to the left).
Because of the placement of the branches on the big branch and because of their length, I could not quite get the desired image. But it's close. In the future, shari will be added to the main heavy branch underneath which is very straight, to give visual taper. And some branches will be extended to the right to also break up the straight line. But that's all for next time.

The last tree is a Chinese Juniper I styled for a client. I supplied and styled the tree. This is pretty straight forward stuff that I see as more of a bit of heavy refinement work. But many would call this styling.
Before work started and as received from Japan.

And after a wash, shave, shampoo and set.

The two main alterations were to twist the tree clockwise in the pot so that you see the live vein leaving the pot rather than having the live vein emerge half way up the trunk which is undesirable and to be avoided if at all possible. And to lift the tree up to make it more elegant, hence the prop. If you look at the before image the tree is hanging it's head.

That's it for today folks! Time for bed!

And the rain returned

Well it's back, we lost the freezing temperatures and got landed with heavy rain again. Our bottom orchard is flooded once again because the 'Gladder Brook' has burst it's banks, and the courtyard in front of the studio is swimming. I am beginning to know how Noah felt.

To add to my misery, I slipped on ice carrying a huge Taxus headed for Latvia and tweaked my back. Now I have pain at the base of my spine down through my thigh and into my knee. So I have obviously pinched a nerve. And on top of that I have picked up a vomiting bug. But on the positive side there are lots of people worse off  than me who will have a very different Christmas this year. So I am not feeling sorry for myself.

I have been around checking all the trees this morning as I have not been able to get around them for two days. I like to keep my eye on everything on a regular basis so that I don't get any surprises. One of the problems of travelling as a bonsai professional, is that I worry about the trees while I am away for any length of time. Even though I treat the trees prophilactically you can still get problems and if so I like to nip things in the bud as they say.  That saying is quite appropriate considering the subject.
So vigilance is the key.

I get quite frustrated when people bring me sick trees when they have waited until the tree is at deaths door before bringing it to me. Firstly, why not bring me the tree as soon as they see something is amiss. This gives me time to try to correct the situation. And of course the sicker the tree, the harder it is to bring about a reversal in the spiralling decline in the health of the tree.
Secondly if they bring me a tree on deaths door, what happens when the tree is too far gone is you hear, "took this tree to Steve, he killed it". Yes really!!
You never hear people talk of all the ones I have saved. But "Hey Ho", it goes with the job I guess.
But the worst scenario is when a guy whose collection you maintain has a tree off colour who instead of following your advise, after all you are the professional. Instead rings twenty different people and gets twenty different answers as to what is wrong with their tree. Because all of his friends are experts aren't they! And then proceeds to loose the tree.
Because then the emails and calls start coming in. "Joe Bloggs lost his tree. Don't you look after his trees?"
So anyone reading this, if you get a sick tree, take it to whoever you go to for help straight away. Don't waste time messing with it yourself or following a mates advise unless they have a proven track record. Because if you leave it until the last minute to get help, you have just made the job difficult or even impossible for who you have gone to for help.
Would you leave taking a sick pet to the vet? No I don't think so.

On a less serious note, there is a great article in December 2012 issue of National Geographic magazine by David Quammen with Photographs by Michael Nichols called "Forest Giant".
A tree climbing scientist and his team have learned surprising new facts about giant sequoias by measuring them inch by inch.
The article features "The President", a Sequoia or Giant Redwood Sequoiadendron giganteum. Sometimes called the Wellingtonia  It is 27 feet in diameter at the base and rises to 247 feet tall. It is the second largest tree known on the planet Just behind the famous "General Sherman".
This is a fascinating and inspiring read and the images are unbelievable.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Well they certainly got it right again....NOT!

"And this evening we will have lows of  -3c". Well that's what they said on the TV for my area.
However I woke up to -9c. God help us if they predict lows of  -9c.
Obviously the Met Office computer is playing up and they have gone back to hanging up seaweed and pine cones for their weather predictions.
Well they certainly got it right again.........NOT!

Well not much has happened bonsai wise since my last post. Considering I have taken time off  to have time for myself I am busier than ever and inundated with visitors who obviously think 'Steve's having a break so lets go visit him'. But I can't grumble as I have sold several trees and bronzes and a suiseki through having visitors.

For those of you looking for that special Christmas present to buy yourself, you could do worse than a suiseki or bronze, although you might be running out of time to drop a hint to your partner of what you might like for Christmas.
The severe frosts have curtailed my continuing with the Scots Pine that I mentioned in my last two posts. Someone said to me, "Why don't you keep it in your studio a few days?". I said "I did but it froze up". And there is no way I am working in gloves scarf and hat, huddled close to a fire just to style a tree. But once I get the heating situation sorted I will be back in gear and you can be sure I will post images of the first styling.

However I have been busy in other ways and I have secured some wonderful yamadori material for next Spring. A lot of good Scots Pines, some Taxus, Mugo and Uncinata Pines, some Cupressus. Some Phoenicea and Sabina Junipers, some more Quercus faginea, Olives and Prunus mahaleb (wild cherry). And few unusual species such as collected Pomegranate Punica granatum and Tamarix.

Also after Christmas I will be flying to Europe as I have arranged to visit some collectors to secure more material for mid and late 2013. There will be a lot more well established trees this time that can be worked straight away.

Yesterday I received a very nice Chinese stone. It is a Ying stone and my first of this type.
It is from Yingde,  Guangdong province, China.
Size: 21.5 x 9 x 6.5 cm, stone only. (h x w x d) Height when on it's stand is 26 cm.
The stand is carved in the Jiangnan style and features a stylised Lingzhi mushroom
Dave Sampson said"  this is a favourite among Chinese scholars and is quite often depicted in paintings, ceramics etc. It represents longevity/immortality"

A big thank you to Dave Sampson firstly for giving me the chance to obtain this stone, and also for supplying some information relating to the stone.
My photo's do not do the stone or stand justice.

And the carved mushroom in the stand.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Response to a question

Well someone responded to my question at the end of my post on Monday 3rd December.
I asked "Can you guess what I intend to do with it?"
I was referring to this Scots Pine.

Well someone offered their idea and it's a nice effort.
What do you think. It's certainly do able.

I wonder how many of you like this design?

If you draw the centre of gravity through the design sketch, you can see that the tree reaches equally left and right of the line. Unfortunately this tree is neither formal upright or broom style and therefore should not be symmetrical. It should be asymmetric. So we have several options to put this right and two very obvious options. First of all we could remove the first branch up from the pot on the right hand side and shorten the next branch up above it by about 20%. This would have the tree directionally going to the left. Or we could pull in the first three branches on the left side so they hug the trunk line more but retain their relationship in space to each other have have the direction of the tree going to the right. Of course there are many more options.
For instance instead of removing the bottom right hand branch maybe it would be possible to pull it in close to the trunk?? This would again give direction to the left.
What I wanted to point out with this exercise here, was that the tree was not going either left or right in the original design and so directionally both sides were competing with neither giving strong direction.
So which one do you think I will go with. At this point you can go 50/50, ask the readers or phone a friend.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

A beautiful morning!

It was really crisp again first thing this morning. Defrosted the windscreen on the Tollster mobile at 6.15am then off to the gym. It is always great to be in the centre of Kidderminster so early when the place is so quiet. It was like a scene from the film "28 Days later" or "Dawn of the Dead" this morning. No people, no traffic, no sound.
Only the chatter of hundreds of Pied Wagtails roosting on Debenhams roof, waiting for the rays of the sun to warm them up, told me I was not an extra in an apocalyptic film. Came out the gym at 9.00am and as I walked across the car park to the Tollster mobile, a Raven 'kronked' from overhead. Yes Ravens in the centre of the town. What a beautiful morning!
Back home, I was straight out with the dogs for their first proper walk of the day. The sun was out, and although it's weak rays did not feel particularly warm, just the fact that the sun was out made me feel warm. The bottom meadow which is still under water from the swollen brook was covered in Mallards all calling their heads off, no doubt invigorated by the sun just as I was. Walking on the margins of the flooded field were two Muntjac deer. It is not easy to see Muntjac, they are a secretive little deer about the size of a Labrador. To see two out walking together on the white frost covered grass with the sun illuminating their beautiful red coats was something else. What a beautiful morning!
The day flew by with several people popping in. I could not get started on the Scots I have ear marked for styling. Dave Cheshire and Mike Saddler from Ambion BS came late morning. It was their first time here and as always it is entertaining for me to see how people respond on their first visit.
Mike had brought along his huge garden juniper for advice on and hopefully I sent him away with lots to think about after my critique.

School night was a full house, and it was great to have Peter Harrison make the trip over as we had not seen him for months due to commitments. He also left with a smile on his face and a nice yamadori Spruce in his car. If your reading this; Great to see you again mate. My thoughts are with you.

Some images from the evening.
This is Phil Holroyd (right) working on his newly acquired Sabina Juniper. This was one of the new trees from Spain. Established 3 years and ready to go. Originally assumed to be a twin trunk, it is in fact two separate trees in one pot. I really slipped up with that sale.
Click on the image to see a close up of Rod (left) working on his larch. The facial expression say's it all. But the question is, is it grim determination, intense concentration or simply constipation?

Some more of the guys.
Just in this small room shot, there are ten different tree species being worked on.
Sorry about all the cups in the right of the picture but the guys needed their coffee as it was a cold night, bless!

Monday, 3 December 2012

Christmas draws near.

Only 21 sleeps to Christmas, jeepers this year has flown by.

Tomorrow will be the last 'school' night for this year as the last Monday and Tuesday of the month fall wrong for the majority of people to attend. The school has gone from strength to strength and there are some nice trees coming through, but more importantly there are one or two good people coming along too. It can be difficult keeping the school going because as we all know, everyone on an internet forum is a 'Master'. Unfortunately most people never stop to think can the teacher/expert actually do bonsai and does he have trees to back up his advice. No they listen to the guy who makes the most noise.
As I said in an interview for "The Art of Bonsai" internet forum....
If bonsai was a sport, maybe more "experts" would be judged by their results. In Japan, Masters are judged on their trees. It is the trees who do the talking. Would you get a guy to teach you to run, who never won a race? You need to learn from those who can do bonsai. If I took up acting, I would be knocking on the door of Robert DeNiro or Al Pacino begging for lessons. 

You can read the full interview here;

Over the years I have had one or two people leave for whatever reason and new people have taken the vacant slot. But I think now the attendees I have are in the main serious enthusiasts. The ones who originally came for a night out, cup of tea and a biscuit have left.
I have had several attendees leave for pastures new to try out elsewhere but they have nearly all returned. One or two were too embarrassed to ask if they could come back which is a shame.

One of the things that benefits those who attend is the vast variety of species that we work on over the year. This gives everyone the chance to learn not just on their own tree but also to learn from what the others are doing with their trees. Also we work with the same trees through the seasons and over the years. This is not fast fix bonsai, we don't do McDonald's bonsai here.

Here are some typical examples taken on a typical evening.

Richard working on a Japanese Yew, Taxus cuspidata.

Darren working on a Redwood,  Sequoia sempervirens.

Peter working on a new Itoigawa Juniper.

Several people have emailed me to try to persuade me to discuss certain topics, almost as if they want me to discuss taboo subjects. Since I did the 'dispelling the myths' entry, people are saying talk about who is the best at this or that etc. Please guys I am not trying to be controversial. I am just saying what I feel, what I know to be true, what really works or as I see things.

I received a new stone today from Mr Zhang Xi of Shanghai China. The stone comes from Guang Xi.
It has a natural bottom, it has not been cut. The daiza is carved from softwood but is quite fragile.  
The stone measure 14 inches x 7 inches x 5 inches high.
Mr. Xi describes it as "a LaiBin stone, it is a water stone". I assume from this that it was collected in a river in Guang Xi somewhere and the type is LaiBin. I cannot as yet find any information on LaiBin stones. But I like the stone irrespective of that.
Here are a few images;

I have now managed to find some information on Lai Bin stones and they are found in central Guang Xi.
This morning I started work on another yamadori Scots Pine. I should be able to post the final image later this week as I have quite a few people visiting which will make progress slow.
Here is the tree, it is currently about 4 feet across. Can you guess what I intend to do with it.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Jet lag!

12.47 November 28th. 2012. and I have just got up. I feel like I have jet lag but without the pleasure of having travelled somewhere nice. This last week has caught up with me badly. So this morning I was up at 6.00am, took Kathy to work, came back and walked the dogs and loosed the chickens and geese out then went back to bed.
I feel a bit fresher but not much. At least I have an easy day today. Just need to collapse the cage pallets to send back to Spain and then I have a meeting with Kath and Malcolm Hughes over at Sutton Coldfield tonight to discuss the Best of British Bonsai event. I know what you are all thinking! It's not often you hear the words 'easy day and Kath Hughes' in the same sentence.

Only 25 sleeps till Santa according to the radio this morning. I think I will have to get my list done for Santa soon as I have been a good boy this year. Well I think so! I have even praised a few of my club attendees this year despite picking up the tag 'brutal' when critiquing their work. So I think I will ask Santa for a nice suiseki (I hope he knows Dave Sampson), or maybe a nice tree from Japan. Or maybe even a new piece of yamadori.
Unfortunately at this moment I do not have any trees coming from Japan. The yen/££ situation is just ridiculous making buying trees in Japan difficult. This is especially difficult when looking for a tree or trees for myself as I am not looking for commercial trees I want something a bit special. And the special trees come with special prices. So I am putting my money into yamadori mostly as I can get far more for my money.

When you can work with material like this, it gives greater scope for creativity. I am sure you will agree.

Mega frost here this morning, -4c so winter is officially here.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

It's been bl...y hectic!

It has been 5 days since my last post I think, so I apologise for the delay. But it's been bloody hectic here.
The trees from Spain arrived amid a lot of initial excitement. The driver called to say he was in our lane but could not find the property. I gave him directions to our driveway and waited in anticipation. However as soon as the truck turned up my heart sank. There was no tail lift on the truck and immediately I thought, how are we going to get the pallets off the back. And then just to confirm my fears, the driver asked me if I had a fork lift truck. Unbelievable!
Apparently in their wisdom, TNT assumed as the address was Shades Farm, that I was a farmer living on a farm and therefore would have a fork lift truck about the place!
Or even a tractor would do.WHAT! I said to the driver that the neighbours house is 'Seafarers Cottage' but if your looking for the beach it's about three and a half hours drive due West as the crow flies. I think he appreciated my humour........not!
A quick call by the driver to headquarters, and I had the assurance that the trees would be delivered on Monday as all the truck's with tail lifts were booked. As it was Thursday, I was not leaving the trees another three days before getting them. So another chat with the depot took place and they said the trees would be delivered later that day as the driver would go back to the depot and move my pallets onto a truck with a tail lift and a pallet truck. So, off he continued with his delivery's, and my trees still on board.
As evening arrived and no trees had been delivered I was on the phone chasing my delivery, which no one seemed to know anything about at the depot. However after one of my calm, deep and meaningful conversations with the guy in charge, I was promised the trees would be delivered at 10.00pm that night.
At 10.30pm the phone went, and yes you guessed it. "This is TNT here, I can't find your property."
Well eventually the truck pulled up outside and I set to work unloading the pallets and checking on the trees in the torrential rain.
Next morning I was up at 6.00am unloading the pallets and taking the trees into the studio to check them over.
Here's some of the trees in the studio. Notice the unfinished Scots Pine in the middle of the floor.

All the trees had arrived in perfect condition and I could breath a sigh of relief. I spent most of Friday unwrapping the trees and taking photo's for the website.

Here are a few of the trees. First an Olive

 Then a nice Oak.
 And a nice powerful hollow trunk Oak.

Saturday was chaos as people arrived throughout the day to pick up their reserved trees. With several clients buying two trees once they had seen them in the flesh.
I would like to thank all of you who took me at my word and reserved trees from the images I provided and from my descriptions and reassurances. Thank's for showing faith!
Late Saturday afternoon we got another shock as Mo Fagan turned up out of the blue. For those of you who know Mo, you can understand seeing Mo would be a shock for anybody. Just joking Mo..........NOT!
Anyway, it was really great seeing Mo who had driven all the way up from Bristol on speck to see the oaks. He said as the oaks were Quercus faginea or as he saw it Quercus fagin, he just had to have one. And he did too, taking home a really nice twin trunk with a massive nebari. So Fagan left with a Fagin. All I need now are some Juniperus evans, Carpinus williams, Pinus smith and some Fagus jones and they should sell like hot cakes. I was really pleased for Mo as he went home a happy chappy and I am sure the tree will have a good future.
By Sunday I was shattered. But there were still several people popping in to look at trees. Marcus Watts popped in on the morning. He was on his way back to Cornwall after making a delivery near Birmingham. He also left a happy bunny taking with him a nice Itoigawa Juniper. By the way Marcus is the UK representative at the European final of the NEW TALENT competition which will be held in France Easter weekend 2013. Good luck Marcus.
Well Monday was my wedding anniversary so in order to keep the day free I decided on Sunday that I better get the Scots Pine finished. Oh did I mention it was 11.30pm Sunday evening when I had the idea. So at close to midnight I went over to the studio and set my sights on finishing the initial styling of the Scots Pine. At 2.45 am and after lots of Earl Grey tea, I finished the Scots Pine and went to bed content.
In case you forgot, here is the tree.

And after the first styling.

Sorry about the photo, but I was tired.
This first image is OK but next time I wire it I need to compact the foliage on the lower right branch more to the left and possibly shorten the pad as well by about two inches. But for now it's OK, Rome wasn't built in a day.
Another one in the bag!

Thursday, 22 November 2012

A Scots and some stones!

In yesterdays post I said I was experimenting with some new photography back lights. Well I conceded defeat today and put it all back in the box and decided to get on with styling a tree. So today I brought an established Scots Pine into the studio and made a start.
Here is a picture of the tree.

 I have had this tree three years now since collection and it has not missed a beat.
The stick through the foliage is a quick and easy way to stop some of the thinner branches from hanging. Leaving branches to hang facing the floor only makes them weaker, so I just prop them up to receive the light and to keep the energy flowing to the branch. I am sure you are aware that when you create a cascade tree from a tree originally upright of form, it can be difficult to get the energy down to the lowest branches. The energy naturally going to the crown. Well it is the same with collected trees. It is important to keep the energy flowing to all parts of the tree and this is very difficult if the buds are aiming at the ground.

Here's a close up of the trunk.

The base and trunk show interesting form now that the tree has been tipped on it's side. You can see that there are several cut off branch stumps that need to be addressed.

Here are a couple of the jin I created today.

I have more jin to create and then I will look at pruning the branches for correct structure.
Just a tip for creating jin. It does not matter whether you carve using a machine or if you carve using hand tools. But please try to avoid merely sharpening the tip of the branch to a point, try to add movement or character to the branch. There is nothing more annoying than jin that look like a sharpened pencil.
I can recall the first demo that I witnessed in Europe when on my travels This guy created the worst pencil style jin on his tree that I have ever seen. I remember thinking, either this guy was the class pencil sharpening monitor in his school days, or else he was a descendant of Van Helsing and was carrying on the family tradition of vampire slaying. Well he did a great line in sharpened stakes anyway.

It is important to get the structure of the tree right early on. It is in the first styling that we create the skeleton of our design. Then over time we 'flesh out' the skeleton by growing new branches, generating more buds and slowly filling in all the gaps and where necessary extending branches to fill the desired profile of our design. It is interesting when watching demonstrations, how most people just cut off what branches they don't need for their design, but then wire everything else on the tree. There is no structuring of branches.
In the image below you can see the nice healthy buds with their protective wax coating.

I said in my last post that I would post some photo's of some recently acquired stones. Here is the new Furuya Ishi from Japan, courtesy of Dave Sampson. It is only a small stone, but as with most Furuya Ishi it has great detail.

The two Chinese stones were very different. The first is a Red River stone or Dahuashi. It is not my normal type of stone but I like it. Unfortunately it arrived with the daiza split in two. However I can get another daiza carved but a broken stone would have been a disaster.

The second stone from China is a Lingbi stone. I like the stone but the daiza is very poor and I will definitely be getting it replaced.

Tomorrow is another day. I have the Scots Pine to style and my trees from Spain are being delivered  so a busy day ahead.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Good news!

Last night I had a lovely surprise when my eldest daughter Amy, called from Nepal where she is on a teaching assignment for nearly a year. She has just returned from a two week trek which she had scheduled into a break from teaching while the children are on holiday.
Amongst the many interesting and exciting things she related to me, was her description of seeing shohin size cotoneasters with beautiful craggy bark growing at 4,000 metres near Annapurna base camp. That's my girl!
However she took no photo's for her old Dad and there are non boxed up and in the post. So I will have to hold off posting her Christmas hamper just to teach her a lesson. You just can't get the staff nowadays!
But readers of my blog fear not. I am in the process of organising a 50 man Sherpa led expedition just like the old orchid collectors of the 1800's put together, to attempt to find and collect some specimens from my local garden centre. I am just waiting for my altitude sickness pills to arrive!

I had some more good news in the form of an email confirming that the new yamadori trees from Spain were in transit and well on their way. I am really looking forward to receiving them later this week.

Well I am well and truly on wind down now for Christmas and the New Year. I have one more One to One workshop booked and then I am downing tools so to speak and taking some time to reflect on this past year, the good the bad and the ugly. (That would be a good title for a film, Ummm).
I have a number of styling projects in the pipeline for myself, both Japanese imported trees and yamadori, and I am going to work my way through some of them slowly at my pace without having to watch the clock.

We had horrendous winds here yesterday and two shohin were blown off the benches but fortunately they were fine, no damage done. We have had three mornings of really good frost, then high winds and mild and now today it is hammering down with more rain. Still I guess it keeps us guessing!

I have just bought three nice stones. One is a Furuya Ishi from Japan, and then one is a really nice Red River stone from China. The final stone is a Lingbi stone also from China. I will try to post some photo's tomorrow when I have more time. At the moment I am experimenting with some new photo back lights for the studio as I want to be able to take good quality studio shots to illustrate my work better. I also have two different back ground cloths as well so I am playing around at the moment to get things right.
It's great fun!

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Busy but productive

Since my last post I have been really busy. The highlights of the past few days however has been the  Stourbridge Bonsai Renshukai "Stourbridge Bonsai Practise Group" show held on Sunday 11th November and my trip to Spain looking at yamadori.
The Stourbridge group is what is left of a once quite large and active bonsai club. Originally it was the Stourbridge Bonsai Society. Then after infighting and a big split, it became the Beechwood Bonsai group. Then a few years ago, for whatever reasons, several members just gave up leaving literally a handful of members. However it has recently had an injection of a few serious new members who are now getting the group back on track with the help of the current Chairman Dave Jackson.
As most of the members are close friends and or students of mine, I offered to give them my time and do a demo at their show free of charge. I styled a genetic dwarf Spruce Picea abies on the day and a raffle was held to raise some funds for the group with the tree as the prize.
Here are the guys setting up.

Several of the trees on display were seen previously at the Ginkgo and Noelanders exhibitions in Belgium. Hopefully some of the other members will be inspired by the show and I am very hopeful that the group will go from strength to strength and I will support them where ever I can.

Here are two of the members preparing my Spruce for the demo by removing all the inner dead branches for me while I checked on the exhibition. I must say a big thank you to Jeremy Haddleton who tirelessly and selflessly worked to make sure the event went well. Even to the point of carrying my gear in and out and parking my car so that I could concentrate on displaying the trees. And in the image below (guy left) helping prep my tree. And to Richard Swatman and Kevin Homer for giving up part of their day to help with a bit of wiring, and expertly done too. But then they have a good teacher, what did you expect.

I think for future exhibitions the guys either have to do something about the lighting or find a different venue, but then I am sure they realise that. There is already quality and depth in numbers of good trees which should ensure an even better display next year. In fact four of the members could put on a great exhibition just by themselves with proper preparation.


Well after the Stourbridge event, it was straight home, pack a bag, something to eat and then an early night as I had to be up at 2.30 am to drive to the airport for my trip over to Spain.
The reason for my trip this time was to visit some guys who collect yamadori with a view to securing new material for 2013. Well it could not have gone any better and in fact the first trees should be here next week.
Driving from the airport to look at the first selection of material, I was astounded at how beautiful the granite mountains were and my mind went off on a tangent thinking of how they resembled suiseki, but big ones at that. As we drove past one particular out crop of granite, I thought, I would not like to make the daiza for that! I regret not stopping to take photo's as it would have been a great reference for the future plus a fun exercise to put them into daiza using PHOTOSHOP or something similar.

In between the friendly chat about bonsai in general and yamadori collecting I could not help thinking that I hoped this trip would be worth it. As well as my trees from Japan, I get yamadori trees from all over Europe and in the past I have had my fingers burnt by unscrupulous collectors. I feel another name and shame idea coming on.
So it is no surprise that I felt a little apprehensive. But once we arrived at the first address, all negative thoughts drained from my mind as soon as I saw the first trees.
One of the topics on the agenda was growing conditions and weather. It was interesting to hear that when we were experiencing some of the wettest and most prolonged bouts of rain during the summer. Over there they were experiencing  heat of 40c and having to water 4-5 times a day to stop the trees frying. So we are not the only ones experiencing freak weather, but of course these extremes can manifest themselves in different ways. When we experienced the winter of 2010 (we had minus 20c here for two weeks) and then the three months of rain this summer. I console myself by thinking about the tsunami in Japan or the hurricanes that devastated parts of the US and this puts things into perspective. We really get off lightly, although sometimes the trees don't.

This is the first batch of trees that greeted me as I walked into the garden. These are Portuguese Oaks Quercus faginea. This is a great alternative to the Cork Bark Oak Quercus suber, as it will tolerate cold down to minus 20c. In fact these trees have gone below that. I can't wait for them to arrive now. Although the bark is not as extreme as suber, they still show wonderful old bark texture as you can see. 

Here's another example. I am quite sure that these will be a favourite among UK bonsai growers who love deciduous trees.

Here is a close up of the bark quality.

Of course being into conifers, I homed in on the junipers and pines. It was nice to see a few Juniperus phoenicea as well as the ever popular Sabina Junipers Juniperus sabina being collected. They are both very different. The Phoenicea tolerates salt water and so is found closer to the sea even growing on sea cliffs. It is characterised by having ridiculously hard wood as it is very slow growing. The natural deadwood areas are as hard as stone. They are sought after for their spectacular deadwood but not for their foliage which is quite coarse when collected. But over time the foliage can be reduced in size and made more compact, however in today's race to get the next tree on the bench rather than learn how to work with the foliage, many graft Itoigawa on to it to capitalise on the deadwood and get that quick fix. The branches are very stiff to move, even ones only a centimetre in thickness show great resistance to bending. So any serious bending requires sensitivity and experience.

Here's a Phoenicea to show the foliage. This one had plenty of deadwood but not much in the way of movement.

All of the Sabina Junipers I looked at had some movement. Many were spectacular with fabulous deadwood and superb movement to rival anything you would see in Japan.
One of the interesting things for me was to see the variation in foliage on the Sabina's. Some looked like Shimpaku, some would have passed for Itoigawa. Some of the softer open types looked like Juniperus thurifera. I think the best Sabina's are the nearest thing we have in Europe to Itoigawa.
The wood of Sabina Junipers is not as hard as the wood of the Phoenicea, or indeed the Juniperus chinensis. So care is needed to preserve this deadwood.

Here are a few examples of some of the Sabina's. And these are not the best!!

And here's one showing interesting movement.

These unique trunk forms are an artists dream. These junipers will make master pieces in time when in the right hands. I have reserved some Kifu and Chuhin sized junipers and a few larger ones and over the next few years I am only going to style yamadori trees for myself. I have a few Japanese trees that I am developing that no one has seen yet. But all my new projects will be European yamadori. Watch this space.
So for those of you who are all junipered out, you will be pleased to know I also went to another place to see olives. When I went over to Angel Mota's in Majorca to work on his trees, he described the Olive as the king of trees. I can still remember him placing his Ginkgo winner on the ground and sitting on the top to show me how strong they are. I must confess to being fond of Olives. They are a dream to work with. You can cut all the branches off leaving only a trunk and start all over again if you wish. The best ones have fabulous natural deadwood and for a non coniferous tree, they can have very interesting trunks and movement
Here are a few examples.

Here's a close up of some deadwood.

Finally here is a close up showing how small the leaves can be reduced to with the correct technique. Quite incredible.

Olives now feature heavily in European bonsai and rightly so. I think that as more people grow them in the UK and people realise how versatile they are, we will see more and more featuring at the top UK exhibitions. I feel it is important that we grow species from our own country and Europe as well as the classic species of Japanese bonsai. And as I travel around the world teaching and demonstrating, I try to encourage people to work with their native species. I really think this is important.