Friday, 22 March 2013

It's back again.

This time last year (2012) I was sitting outside on the patio in the mornings to eat my breakfast. But this year, most mornings I am wrapped up like Eskimo Nell. Just lately though, I have seen a bit of a pattern emerging. Frost rain frost, frost rain snow, rain snow frost. So you can imagine my shock yesterday morning at 6.00am, when I got up to fog. It wasn't too bad though, I could still find the bathroom. Still, it makes a change from what we have been having.
Then as if to make me eat my words, this morning the white stuffs back. It started snowing around 10.00pm last night and it was still going this morning. It has made things a bit tricky as I have had some visitors here from Europe and this morning they came to pick up their trees before heading down to the Channel Tunnel. Crazy really because I had suggested last night that they load up ready for 'the off'. And that way they could have left their hotel this morning straight for the tunnel. Obviously the chance to have five more minutes with me this morning was just too much for them and they had to come back. Shame as we spent nearly an hour trying to get their vehicle back out of the village and all roads invariably are uphill from my place and I was not really much help as pushing a big van would not do me any good at the moment.

Thanks to those of you who have emailed messages of support and a time when, lets say, things could be better. A big thanks to Dave Martin who sent me an item on "under wired bras", great pictures Dave and so uplifting! And to my old mate Stewart Griffin who popped in a few days ago to pick up a tree that has been sat here a few years. I haven't seen Stewart since Best of British Bonsai # 1.
It was great to catch up with him again and talk family life, business and of course bonsai. He was on good form, although I was shocked to see that his head was growing through his hair!. If your reading this Stew, don't leave it so long next time. (I mean to visit not your hair.).
Hope you enjoy the book!

First day back at the gym yesterday morning after my recent MOT and service. I had to take things easy, just easing myself back into things again. But it was great, especially the soak in the jacuzzi at the end. It spoils it a bit as they won't let me take my battleship and ducks in with me. The place was a bit quiet though, possibly a sign of the times, or just that not everyone is as stupid as me to be in there at 6.30am.
When you get to my age; and I like to think of myself as an antique, and not as some would call me, bric a brac, you have to keep all the moving parts and the engine in working order. And I do my best to stay in reasonable shape, it's just that my shape is a sack of spuds. However sometimes a valve sticks, something creaks a little or something just needs sorting, but its best to get it done early rather than have a big job on your hands. I am fortunate in that I heal faster than a Chameleon. In fact from a very early age my Mom thought I could have been mistaken for a mutant or a member of the XMEN. So I am on the mend and looking forward to the Shohin event that takes place this Sunday in Bristol. Whether the drive down will knock me about remains to be seen, but I am determined to have a great day out. Or as Freddie Mercury said; "The show must go on".
Check out this link;
By the way the show is being held at Failand in Bristol.
Failand is not well known for it's entertainment, in fact the last time I was there if I can recall, it went, red, amber, green. Green, flashing amber, red. But the show promises to be great!

Originally I was going to be doing a demo on a shohin or chuhin sized Chinese Juniper / Itoigawa at the event. However since confirmation of my demo I have sold the trees I had ear marked for the day, needs must and all that.
So I have chosen a real ugly 'frogs legs' piece of yamadori. It's a Sabina Juniper that I have had lying around the garden for years. I started to work on it about 4 years ago, and on the day I started, a visitor asked me if I would sell it. I said yes of course and I was instructed not to do anything more to the tree as the guy wanted to do what I was going to do with it. So with deposit in my hand I stopped work. That was 4 years ago and the guy has disappeared.
So my intention for the demo is to show two things. First, how you can make something nice out of an ugly tree if you think outside the box and you have the technique. Secondly this material is not shohin or chuhin size. However I am aiming to make it into a chuhin sized bonsai, so I will be compacting the tree. I think kifu size will be pushing it a bit but chuhin should be do able, but we will see on Sunday.

Here is the material from one side.


And from the reverse side.

I really hope everyone thinks that this is a really ugly piece of material because then the styling should speak for itself. And for all of you who have walked past this material in my garden these last few years, shame on you! You should know that there is a bonsai in there just waiting to express itself. TRUST ME!
It is never going to be a Kokufu Ten winner because it just does not have the potential. But it will be nice when it's finished and it's not an obvious demo tree if you follow me.
Obviously I will re post these images plus a couple of images of the tree after the first styling on Sunday.
Message to the guy who reserved the tree and disappeared. Keep watching this spot!

Although the body has been taking a rest recently, the brain has been working overtime. Suiseki, new styling projects, more trips planned, new poly tunnel etc. have all been topics going around my head.

I have been going through all of my suiseki and looking at them closely as I think I am starting to get too many and so I have decided to sell a few on and now concentrate on just high quality stones for myself. Initially I used to buy stones for myself and also stones to sell, and I have sold quite a lot of stones over the years, and I have also given some nice ones away as gifts to special people I know. So before I get over taken by too many suiseki I am going to thin out my collection.
Like other things associated with bonsai, suiseki has not really caught on here in the UK in a big way unlike in Europe, and here it has a small but committed following. Whether that following is as an association with bonsai or as an art form in it's own right I do not really know.
I don't know what it is about people in the UK but we always seem slow to pick up on things. So I have been looking at all my suiseki making the painful decision of which to keep and which to let go. Many of my students and clients have bought stones, mainly for bonsai display, but not many yet appreciate suiseki as a stand alone art form which is a shame.

This stone is one of those I will be selling in the future.

The daiza is just incredible, and the craftsmanship speaks for itself.

At the moment I won't let this suiseki go as I am waiting for a guy in Japan, who is incredibly knowledgeable on Japanese suiseki, to identify who the daiza maker is so, that I can let potential buyers have that information with the stone.

 This close up image shows the quality of the marriage between the stone and the daiza.

The daiza is just incredible, and the craftsmanship speaks for itself. Here is a close up of the signature or mark of the guy who carved the daiza.

There is a similar situation with the bronzes (Ten Pei) in the UK. I must sell at least 4-5 times more abroad than I do in the UK. People are slow to look at the bigger picture and so currently people are focused only on accent plantings to display with bonsai. And yet I can remember a time when prominent people on the UK bonsai scene were saying that accent plantings would not catch on. One guy even said 'whats all this flower arranging got to do with bonsai?' Now look where we are with accent plantings. They have gone from being looked on as a gimmick, to now being the focus of attention and THE must have accessory for displaying bonsai.
But there is more to 'display' than just accent plants and of course more recently scrolls which have caught on now. But I am ever hopeful  that the UK scene will gradually become more educated as to the need for more in terms of display, i.e. good tables, correctly done accent plants, ji ita, scrolls, suiseki and Ten Pei. And I will continue to try to high light this when ever I display a tree or when ever a client or student asks me to help with their displaying of a tree or stone.
This is one of the reasons I post pictures here of new display table, ji ita, bronzes, pots etc. Firstly to spot light other peoples talent, but also to make others aware of what is out there.
Like this wonderful bronze Crane Ten Pei.

I recently posted this image on FACEBOOK, and it was amazing how many people messaged me about it. Thank you to Mark Cooper for letting me know the name of the artist. It was something I had completely forgotten over time as I bought this bronze second hand from Dan Barton many years ago and had not really payed attention to who the artist was at the time. He in turn had purchased it at one of the very first Ginkgo events in Belgium.
More to follow after Sundays SHOHIN UK event.
Polytunnels, travels, new projects and that ugly Sabina.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Who killed cock Robin ?

For those of you who have been following my blog, you will be well aware of the trials and tribulations associated with my recent efforts in securing new material trees for the nursery. I think this culminated in the trees with no roots saga, and the trees that were delivered but weren't delivered story, which sounds very much like a line from Peter Kay. Remember the 'Tour that didn't tour - Tour!
Well to quote my Mother bless her "Well Steve, look on the bright side, it can't get any worse".
Well on Thursday it got worse. I might as well give you the full story.

The consignment of yamadori trees that I had secured from the Pyrenees were to be delivered on Thursday, and the depot in Birmingham called me to ask if I would need a tail lift to unload the 7 tonner they were sending. My first response was to ask them if they had not read my delivery instructions that I had given them. Which specified, "your smallest vehicle that has a tail lift and a fork lift for the crate". They had already tried to deliver a consignment before at the end of last year expecting me to unload the lorry. And now they were about to deliver a second time not even having read my delivery instructions. So reiterating my delivery instructions to the guy at the Birmingham depot, i.e. "you will need a tail lift and pallet fork lift". I waited for the arrival of the consignment in a few hours time.
Well the delivery company arrived two hours later with the container. There was no tail lift or fork lift to unload the container, here we go again. So rather than send everything back and wait another day I opted to unload the container a tree at a time and then push the container of the back of the lorry or let the guy take it away.
Anyway pinch bar and hammer in hand, I jumped up onto the back of the lorry to take the lid off the huge case. I noticed straight away gaps between the lid and the sides where someone had tried to force the lid. I commented to the driver that this was the case and I foolishly suggested that it was probably Customs officers looking for illegal immigrants stashed away. However on taking the lid off the crate it was obvious that there were trees missing. There were blank spaces where trees had once been and the steel securing wires used to stop any trees moving about and getting damaged had been cut.
So yes it just got worse.
Kath and Malcolm Hughes have kindly put out a flier to everyone in their email address book just to make people aware of the theft and I also posted on FACEBOOK.

To clarify the situation, it is yamadori Scots Pines Pinus sylvestris that have been stolen. They were taken somewhere between the South of France and my home. The police are unable to assist unfortunately, but understandably I guess.
So with my Mother ill, my daughters mysterious 2 month illness, trees with no roots and now stolen trees, things occasionally feel a bit shit! I sat down the other day and thought to myself I must have killed cock Robin. But you know what, it's not all about me.
For those of you who have sent get well wishes or simply enquired how my Mom and daughter are doing or  who have expressed shock regarding the tree theft, thank you for your concern. And those of you who haven't, your silence speaks volumes! Yes I am pi..ed off at the moment.

For all you picture freaks, here are a couple of the new Sabina Junipers.

I think both of these will make very very good bonsai in the future. These are two of three I have left, the others are now all sold.

Last Sunday I was up with the Wirral guys for a workshop which was a nice distraction for me and it was nice to catch up with them. There are some serious bonsai lovers up there, who want to learn and improve and their club show is a credit to them. I think I have judged the last two annual shows for them, and it is always good to see a good level of trees from such a small club.

Here's some faces you might recognise.

Here Bill Gordon and Sean Dring are deep in concentration. Please save this picture to your desk tops as it captures that rare occasion when Sean is not talking bonsai! Or just talking for that matter.

On the right here we have Doug Mudd working on his Taxus. Doug spent quite some time with a chisel in his hand working on the deadwood on this tree. I expected him to end up with a nice table, such was his concentration.
Anyway guys, thanks again for your hospitality.
For those of you who have never been to the Wirral BS show, check out their website for the date and put it in your diary. It is not a big show, but it's lovely and the guys are friendly and welcoming.

Before I go, just a short note to all you guys who either emailed me or sent text messages about my negative comments about your trees at the Swindon show. Go back and read that particular blog again several times please and then email me or text me again to apologise as I did not mention YOU!
However if you got the impression I meant your trees, then ask yourself why you would think that. Maybe I touched a nerve or got you thinking, and if I did great. That is what I want people to do, to talk, discuss, rethink and debate.

Do any of you remember this tree?

Well if you do, this is me getting it all wrong!
There is an obvious disparity in the 'texture' of the foliage and the crown is a bit too wide for the tree just for starters. Although this tree has won awards, I exhibited it prematurely. This tree was the big turning point for me not to rush. But just so you know, I am my biggest critic!

Here are two pines that were stolen on route to me.

This one here on the right is in a cut off plastic barrel which gives some idea of scale. Two people would have been needed to take this one.

Photo of Pinus pentaphyla courtesy of Willy Evenapoel, Noelanders Trophy .