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.