Saturday, 26 January 2013

Emails a plenty! And answering some of your questions Part 1.

First of all a big thank you to all the crazies who despite the weather, made the effort to come and see the new material. 4 X 4 vehicles or not, some people will pull out all the stops to cherry pick from the new trees. You nearly cleared me out of tea and coffee and and the odd packet or two of chocolate HOBNOBS but it was great to see you all and I don't think anyone noticed the foul weather. Thank goodness the bad weather that was forecast did not arrive, as I did not fancy having to put you all up for the night!

My recent posts on my blog have triggered a lot of private emails on several topics. If nothing else, it shows that the blog is getting people thinking. It may simply be coincidence, but there have been a lot of conversations back and forth on similar topics on FACEBOOK too, so to all those who emailed me, you are not alone with your thoughts or questions.
Obviously it is difficult to air many of the subjects in depth due to not wishing to embarrass certain people. So I have been thinking about how to write about some of the issues that people have raised in emails to me, without getting personnel. And it's not easy. But I would like to discuss things a little here if only to impart my thoughts and what bit of knowledge I have on a few subjects.

One of the subjects that gets raised a lot is that of showing/displaying trees in an exhibition. What do you do, how must the tree look. How do you prepare it, is it OK to have wire on a tree, must it be mossed etc etc. So here goes.

One of the objectives when showing/exhibiting a tree or trees, is to present and/or be able to appreciate a mature tree in all it's glory. The word to pick up on here is mature as that is the image and feel we want to convey. Now by that, do I mean a mature tree or a tree that is mature as a bonsai?
If you are thinking " It is the same thing" then you are wrong.
As an example, I can collect a Hawthorn of a hill which is let's say 100 years old. I grow new whip branches on it and after 4 years I think I have a bonsai. Wrong again, I have a bonsai in training! It is now 104 years old and 4 years old as a bonsai!  It has REAL age but not age as a bonsai. The relevance of this is that the calliper and therefore proportions of the branches in relationship to the trunk are wrong. They are too thin, and this combined with a lack of ramification (because believe me you don't have ramification after 4 years) exposes the tree for what it is, a bonsai in the making. I have deliberately chosen the Hawthorn for this example as it is one of the trees I have seen the most exhibited prematurely in exhibitions certainly in the UK but also in Europe. But of course this practise is not limited to the Hawthorn alone. Blackthorn, Privet, Elm and others get given the 'fast track to the show' treatment and unfortunately it is most seen in trees from the UK.
So if I play 'Devils Advocate', does this happen because people are in too much of a hurry to exhibit their tree, and because it now has a nice shape they feel they must show it off. Could it be that people do not understand what a mature bonsai should be and therefore ignorance of what is required is to blame for the premature displaying of the tree. And of course there is the need to display a tree at every given opportunity that is driven by ego. It's almost as if people will forget you if you don't have a tree on display. We must not forget the ego as it has a lot to answer for. However ponder this. If you enter 99 excellent trees into 100 shows, people will always remember the 100th tree which was poor. I can hear them now "Did you see that crap tree Fred Blogs put in that show". They forget the 99 excellent trees!
I personally think that ego, ignorance of what a truly mature tree is and haste are all to blame for having an affect on the quality of the trees exhibited from the UK. (Before someone shoots me down in flames this is not just a UK thing, but it is common here).

Then of course we have what I call the "Benjamin Button" syndrome. For those of you who have not seen the film; Brad Pitt aka Benjamin Button is born an old man and then gets younger and younger. i.e. ageing backwards.
This title I give to peoples trees when they have superb mature bonsai in every sense, but who insist on thinning them out so much that they look like they were styled the day before. There were several trees like this at the Noelanders Trophy again this year. Very beautiful superficially but close up they left me feeling indifferent because they were worth so much more. But many many people did not pick up on this and in many cases they were in raptures over these trees. What was interesting was that in several cases these trees have been exhibited around Europe before by previous owners looking mature and established bonsai and the new owners have given them the old Harley Street nip and tuck and the trees have joined the 18/65 club. An 18 year old face on a 65 year old body. Am I painting a picture here? What makes people regress a tree so much so much I do not know. Again could it be a lack of understanding of what a mature tree should be. Maybe they think it is too overgrown or full. Or could it be a desire to put that personal stamp on the tree to say look I have improved it. (But they haven't).
But a mature tree with mature branches and the foliage thinned out and miles of wire visible is also not a good combo as you get this feeling it has just been styled.

Here is a nice example of a mature tree presented for display.

This tree has most the secondary and tertiary branches wired. However the foliage pads are full and mature. The tree had a little cosmetic work done to clean up it's lines for display so that the image is crisp. However it has not been manicured to the point of not looking 'alive'. You often see very pristine trees that are manicured to the hilt. Manicuring a tree to look nice is one thing. After all we don't want it looking a mess. However people will often manicure a tree so much it looks plastic and without any life. It is important to know when enough is enough and technique for techniques sake is pointless. You have to find the balance so that the tree is manicured but is still allowed to express itself rather than look stifled and without soul. The difference is in those people who only have technique and those people who have technique but who understand and 'feel' a tree.

This brings me nicely on to the next item, should trees have wire on for exhibition ?
The answer is simple. Yes if they need it. Unfortunately in the UK there is this myth that trees cannot have wire on them if they are exhibited. This is something that seems to be perpetuated in the club scene even today. I remember being told that a tree I had styled and prepared for exhibition in the Noelanders Trophy was not 'good just yet' because it had wire on. And that comment came from a UK bonsai trader. As you can imagine I was shocked when it won!!
So in some ways I can understand the confusion surrounding the wiring of trees for exhibition when professionals are giving out misinformation. Oh misinformation, don't get me started.
And yet trees in the Kokufu - Ten and Sakafu - Ten exhibitions in Japan have wire on them.
And just to emphasise my point, at the 2008 Kokufu - Ten exhibition there were two talking points on the lips of everyone on the opening morning. The first thing was that Saburo Kato who for many many years was the President of the Nippon Bonsai Association, had passed away. The second thing was that there were two pines in the exhibition without wire! Wow! Yes even the Japanese were surprised.

Wiring is permitted and is in fact necessary to some degree if you want to present a tree, I am talking conifer here, in pristine shape. But of course the quality of the wiring plays a part and bad wiring should be avoided. What is the point of wiring the tree to make it look good if the wiring is ugly. We are applying the wire to make the tree look beautiful and if the wiring is poor we are not achieving that. It's a bit like the wife applying make up and she has got lipstick in her ears. It was pointless putting it on.
However we don't want to be seeing guy wires and scaffolding on a tree that is presented for an exhibition. And yes I have seen this in an exhibition several times.
Presenting and preparing a tree for exhibition is a bit like getting dressed up to go out. It is no good wearing your best suit if your shoes are dirty or your hair is a mess. So when you have worked on the tree, removing needles that break up the trees profile, cleaning live veins, lime sulphuring deadwood etc. We still have to pay attention to the pot and the surface of the potting medium. One of my students and two of my clients remarked on some pots in an exhibition in 2011 being dirty and how I would not have let them get away with it, if it were their trees. Too right! There is no excuse for a dirty pot. Only laziness!
Try to dress the surface of the potting medium with a small size particles, especially on the smaller trees like shohin and kifu. Nothing looks worse than builders rubble on the top of a pot especially if there is no moss. And speaking of moss, try to use no more than one or two different colours of moss.
In nature you will not find the 'Joseph's Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat'  effect that you see adorning many pots. Not only is it unnatural, but it detracts from the tree in many cases.
More to follow.

Just as an aside, I appreciate peoples comments on my blog but please leave your name. I can't see the point of anonymous posting.

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