Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Benefits of the Sun

In only about a week the benefits of that glowing ball of fire in the sky we call the Sun can be seen all around us.
The birds are singing, insects are emerging, flowers are pushing through and buds on trees are opening. Just look at these;

Japanese Katsura Tree
Cercidiphylum japonicum

Flowering Currant Bush
Ribes sanguineum

Winter Hazel
Corylopsis spicata

This morning I took a look at one one of the Mugo Pines that is receiving the poly treatment, to see if there were any signs of root activity on this particular tree.
In the following photo, you can see new roots around 3 inches long (7.5 cms) emerging from the trunk where I have teased the substrate away. This Mugo Pine is one that arrived having no roots earlier this year which I mentioned in my post "My last post for a few days".

Here is how it arrived (image right).

As you can see great care had been taken to ensure the tree had a good root ball to sustain it after collection. NOT!
This tree had just been ripped off the mountain 

And here are the new roots (below) indicating that this tree may now be on the right path. There is still a long way to go just yet, as these may be being generated by residual energy in the tree. However one thing in my favour, is that from my experiences with working with Mugo Pine over many years, is that I know it is the easiest pine to air layer or make roots as a raft' of all the pines readily available to me i.e. from Europe, UK and Japan. So from this I know they put out root readily and hopefully this may be the species specific attribute of this tree that saves it.

Image left; 
Only small beginning's I know, but it is a start.
However it is important to not get too carried away at this point because the residual energy in trees can be quite amazing. I have a lot of experience with Mugo Pine and they can do things that are unreal!.
As an example I have removed a major branch on a Mugo Pine during a One to One workshop held here in September one year. The branch was put on my compost pile along with other plant cuttings. In March the following year, when I went to add some more trimmings to the pile, I noticed the buds on the amputated branch extending. Now that is residual energy.
It also goes some way to explain how unscrupulous collectors can collect a Mugo Pine, and give the potential customer the sales talk it was collected threes years ago. When in fact it has not even been collected a year. The problem is, the tree looks healthy and if you are not experienced you are not to know!  
I think I can confidently say that I have learned so much from working with ancient yamadori than any other aspect of bonsai, although I continue to learn in all areas and it is this constant learning that fires my interest. Working with regular trees, by that I mean 20 year old imported White Pines or trees collected in forestry plantations etc can only prepare you so much for working with ancient collected trees. At the end of the day all the theory in the world can't beat hands on experience. And it is amazing how much information in print is actually wrong. This is possibly due to people generalising when imparting information, a blanket statement covers all idea. E.G. pines retain needles for three years. Some species for 5. From that  you know they have never studied Mugo Pines centuries old.
In the days when I bred and lectured on breeding birds of prey, artificial incubation and artificial insemination, similar things occurred. Over night experts would make sweeping statements on various topics immediately labelling everything similar. If they succeeded at something once, they thought they had it in the bag and if they couldn't do something then it couldn't be done.
However my way was if I have done something and been successful, then I needed to do it again and again to prove it to myself before broadcasting it to the world. And likewise if I failed to do something I would not say this or that can't be done. I would 'say as yet I have not been successful at this'. And I would persevere.
Something like this happened when I introduced Taiwan Junipers to the UK. Nobody could maintain the adult foliage on them which looks just like chinensis foliage. People would treat them in ways not suitable to that species and so they would revert to juvenile foliage rapidly. Because of this, many people in possession of Taiwan Junipers could be seen on various 'tinterweb' forums extolling the virtues of the deadwood and decrying the quality of the foliage. Many well known names have been party to this declaring that they will have to graft their junipers with Itoigawa instead. Well they grew well in Taiwan and for me in the UK, so why couldn't these guys just say ' do you know what, I really struggle with those Taiwan Junipers'. But of course it saves face to say they cant be grown in Europe.
If I can impart one piece of advice today it would be try to learn about the characteristic's or idiosyncrasy's of the species you keep. By that I mean Itoigawa Juniper, Sabina, Taiwan Juniper, Blaaws Juniper look similar. There are some  characteristic's which they share and where they are similar. But there are some characteristic's that are species specific.
Likewise Mugo, Scots, White Pine, Black Pine, Red Pine etc are all pines and therefore some characteristics they share or are very similar and some characteristic's are species specific. And remember, a 25 year old tree is not a 525 year old tree.

On the subject of ancient trees here are some images of some old Scots Pines I have coming. ENJOY!

Fabulous bark quality.

Nice powerful and compact tree with great bark quality.

Interesting movement!

And finally this Sabina Juniper.

This one is a little different from many of the other Sabina Junipers I have sourced as there is not at first glance any obvious movement or lots of natural deadwood. 

It is the power and compactness of this tree that interests me. It is different!.
In this close up you can see that actually there is movement and I think this will be something a bit different when it is styled.
I wonder what surprises are hidden away waiting to be exposed.

Friday, 19 April 2013

It's been a long time coming!

Following on from yesterdays blog, I would like to say a little more about the pines that I have wrapped in polythene. In simple terms it is a way to increase the heat in the substrate to stimulate root movement (growth). It is not to force root growth or to produce roots rapidly on mass.
I see many times talk of hot beds and such and their use for months on end. Which is simply forcing growth with the associated problems. It is important not to push trees like hot house flowers, as this simply means you are generating rapid but weak growth. We want to stimulate our trees to perform naturally not force them, and their is a big difference.

This technique is not something that I would do necessarily with all of my collected trees. This treatment is problem specific. In the case of these Mugo Pines we a have a little root/no root scenario and unusually very low seasonal temperatures. Trees are stimulated by temperature and lengthening photo period. Here we are experiencing the longer daylight hours (lengthening photo period) but not the associated warmth. So one of our triggers for normal growth is currently missing.
It is important here to mention that the polythene should be removed to remove condensation build up and that of stale air. These are good growing conditions for less desirable things like moulds, fungus etc. So it is important to monitor what you do.

 It's been a long time coming but we are at last experiencing some sun. Or should I say, we are where I live.
In this photograph taken yesterday 18/04/2013 
you can see how the moisture evaporating from the substrate due to the warmth of the sun is trapped inside the poly bag.
This means that humidity will be higher than outside the bag. However it must not be allowed to become stale. High humidity and non circulating air can work against you.

Using a laser thermometer I can at a glance check/record the temperature of the tree. A probe thermometer can record temperature deep into the substrate. Over time with practise you can quickly ascertain not only what temperature the tree is at but also what is a good range for your needs depending on what you are trying to achieve.
Here the trunk was reading 73F in the sun, the substrate surface was 97F, the internal temperature of the substrate was 68-69F. The most important temperature however was the surface of the needles, these were around 58-59F, so much cooler even though in the sun. This is what I wanted. It is important when acclimating or in this case re acclimating pines, that the needles are cool. WHY? Well if they are cool then it means that transpiration is taking place which of course cools the needles. The same would apply to taxus or junipers in fact any non deciduous conifer. So it is a good indicator at that given time, that the trees system is functioning. With the pine in the photo, had the foliage been up in the high 60's or worse 70's then you have an indicator, thanks to Mother Nature, that all is not well as the tree is struggling to transpire. When the tree is operating as it should, water should be evaporating from the needles of the pine. It is this water leaving the needles through evaporation that keeps them cool.
One of the greatest things about nature that I have found whether growing trees, breeding birds of prey or parrots, breeding reptiles or whatever. Is that nature provides all the clues, the signals and all the answers. You just need to be receptive, because it is all there in front of you. 
Having an empathy with nature is a great asset. 

The Mugo Pine here in this wooden box has had the polythene removed for an hour to allow fresh air around the tree and to dry off the polythene.

Here you can see that the wax coating of the bud is breaking down and that the bud is swelling. This action is stimulated by warmer temperatures.

This past week I have done my fair share of driving and flying. Last weekend found me in South Wales. On Saturday I had the pleasure of staying with Jeremy and Emma Wheeler as Jerry had booked my for a One to One workshop. We had a great time and it was nice to see that Jerry was ready to get back into bonsai in earnest after his long commitments to his studies. As usual with Jerry there were lots of questions. We had a great time talking about everything from bonsai and collecting trees to reptiles, parrots and keeping Sloths as pets?

Yes we covered some varied topics during our discussions which went on late into the evening. But what do you expect in a house where there is a Leopard Tortoise using a dog bed in the kitchen. I was in my element !

I can highly recommend Emma's chicken dish too. So an all round good experience for me.
Thanks Jerry and Emma for your hospitality and for making me feel welcome.

Sunday morning saw me at Dragon Bonsai based at Chris Thomas's nursery. This was my first time at Dragon and so I was interested in seeing how the day would unfold. Chris has got a great group down there, not too big, but with everyone committed.

On the left, you can see some of the 'Usual Suspects'.

The idea behind my visit was for members to bring trees along and for me to answer any questions they may have and also to give my thoughts on each tree, almost like a critique. After lunch we touched on how I develop and prep a tree ready for exhibiting. Due to time constraints it was difficult to go into great detail here, but I hoped I gave them enough to go away and think about. It was an interesting experience for me, as the group has both Japanese imported trees and native species and there is a lot of collecting of native species going on within the group which is encouraging.

On the morning I arrived at the Dragons Den', Chris had put on a display, I am not sure if it was for my visit or something that happens whenever they meet. But it was a nice Larch planting on a slab in three pieces which Chris puts together for display purposes. But which breaks down into three more manageable pieces for transporting.
The slab/slabs were created by ceramic artist Dan Butler who is a young member of Dragon Bonsai and I am sure a welcome member and asset. One to watch for the future!

Can you tell from this photo that the the slab is in three pieces.
All the Larches were collected locally and developed by Chris.

I hope everyone got something out of the day and hopefully people got to see or got a feel for my approach to bonsai. Hopefully feedback will be favourable. If nothing else, everyone made my first visit very enjoyable and I was made most welcome. This is a group that has great potential and I really enjoyed myself.

I left Dragon late afternoon and made the long, nearly three hour drive home. It helped that it is a lovely scenic route starting through Llandovery, touching the Brecons and then the book town of Hay on Wye. With mountains, rivers and trees on route and glimpses of Red Kites and Buzzards adding to my enjoyment. I would be touching base at home only for a few hours before another three hour drive to Gatwick Airport in the early hours and then off to Spain to visit friends, reserve new yamadori, to check on trees reserved last year and to relax. I have to admit I slept the whole flight there and missed breakfast.

Spain this trip turned out to be very hot in the high 20'sC. However I had been pre warned it would be hot. So did I go in tee shirt, shorts and sun glasses. No! I roasted.
When you are confronted by lots of yamadori, it is difficult to focus on anything else. Well it is for me! But I did mange to turn around on the spot every few minutes to make sure I cooked evenly all over, shit it was hot! I felt like a McDonald's quarter pounder without the bap!

It was great to catch up on what is happening in Spain which is a very bonsai active country. And of course it is very nice to see how your trees are doing that you reserved the year before. Spain of course has it own set of problems for growing trees and specifically for establishing collected material. Strong winds can desiccate foliage, high temperatures coupled with low humidity are a big problem and of course they have low temperatures in winter. Also a big problem in the area that I was in is that the water from the tap is very hard. So when misting collected trees they soon get covered with calcium deposits, which although may look attractive on the pines with their newly acquired silver bark. But it also clogs up pores slowing transpiration. Rain water if possible, is the best way to go.

The bark quality on this Quercus faginea is undeniable.
However it is not silver naturally, this is build up from the hard water.

Compare the bark on this Oak right, to the one above left. It has the same fabulous character and quality but this one has its natural colour.
Quercus faginea is great for the UK as it  tolerates freezing conditions much better than it's more popular cousin Quercus suber the Cork Bark Oak which is more tender in winter and must be protected far more. The Portuguese Oak has a great future in the UK for anyone interested in deciduous trees with 'real' age, character and potential for great bonsai.

On my last trip I secured a lot of top quality Sabina Junipers and it was good to see them all growing strong. There were only two which looked slightly pale green in colour and so obviously not fully established yet, and so these will be left at least one more growing season to give them time to pick up.  Here are just a few images of some Sabina's that will be arriving soon.

This juniper is a nice compact chuhin size. Lovely natural deadwood.
This will make a superb powerful little bonsai of great character.

Great natural movement is just one of the qualities of these junipers.

Again, compact movement and fabulous deadwood in a nice chuhin size.

Here is a more elegant juniper juniper, with graceful movement but again characterised by wonderful deadwood and fabulous compact foliage. Think European Itoigawa and your close to the mark.

For those of you who prefer deciduous trees or who simply love to see flowers, these Malus 'Evereste'  would be a lovely addition to any collection.
Enjoy this close up of the flowers.

These wonderful little apple trees would add interest and brighten up any garden. If anyone is interested in owning one of these, please get in touch. I think they will be a popular alternative to imported Crab Apples. I love them!

Earlier I mentioned the bark quality and temperature tolerance of the Portuguese Oak Quercus faginea. So it only seems right that I show you a couple that I have on their way to me soon.

 I think the photo says it better than I could.
Can't wait!

All of the Oaks have 'real' age as opposed to the implied age that we inflict upon many of our trees.
The bark quality speaks for itself. With a little cosmetic carving to blend in some of the cut ends, these will make incredible bonsai for the future.
This one on the right is only propped up to stop it falling over. This is not the intended planting angle. (I have to mention it just in case you all think I have completely lost the plot).

I have some other deciduous trees arriving soon which you would probably not associate me with as people tend to 'pigeon hole' me as the pine guy or the juniper guy which is a bit short sighted. Ten years ago I was the maple guy so it just shows how peoples perceptions change over time.
I have bought some nice pieces of Pomegranate Punica granatum var. Neji - Kan. which are raw material
These are not advanced trees or polished bonsai. They are raw material with great potential for people to develop themselves.

This one stands over two feet high and shows great potential.
Once they arrive I will go over them and prune for branch line and branch taper and then they will be ready to go.
I am actually very excited by some of the deciduous trees that are coming. I feel that now as more people have a better understanding of how to develop deciduous trees in the UK, that people are not simply looking for that finished tree. Instead they derive satisfaction from developing trees from an early stage up to show level.
Unfortunately I don't have the time at home to develop deciduous trees to a high level of refinement at the moment. But who knows what the future holds.
It needs someone like Terry Adams (Swindon BS) to develop one of these so that people can see first hand what can be achieved and to hopefully be inspired.

Well you all 'pigeon hole' me, so I could not really finish on a deciduous tree now could I.
So to finish, here is a .......................wait for that should be here in the next week or two.

This is a Phoenicia Juniper Juniperus Phoenicia that I have bought as a demo tree. Actually that is not quite true. Its a tree to use for a demo, but then later to sell. It is quite a large piece, at least 6 inches diameter at the nebari. (Usually at times like this when I want to emphasise the size or calliper of a tree. I say something on the lines of as thick as your wrist or as thick as a mans thigh. But I was recently asked by Dave Martin if there was some man fetish that I was hiding). So 6 inch diameter it is..............for now.

Here is a close up of the trunk.
As you can see there is a lot of nice natural deadwood thanks to Mother Nature who is the best bonsai artist ever.
The wood of Phoenicia Juniper is particularly hard, much harder in fact than Sabina Juniper. A trait it shares with a close relative Juniperus oxycedrus. For this reason, the wood will last a long time with proper care and maintenance.

Here is a nice close up of the deadwood.
Because the wood of Phoenicia Juniper is hard, branch bending must be approached with sympathy and good technique. There is no room for the macho approach.
The foliage on collected specimens is quote open and in some ways reminiscent of some of the junipers found in the USA. However good maintenance and technique will see the foliage tighten over time. But it will never be as tight as Itoigawa or even Sabina Juniper. But then Procumbens or Sargentii are not as tight either. So think of Phoenicia as offering something different. Personnally I can't wait. I have not brought in any Phoenicia Junipers for 4 years.

And to finish todays entry, here is a view of a distant mountain.
How easily it could be a Seigaku - Ishi suiseki from Dave Sampson. Enjoy!

'Malus Evereste' (correct spelling now).
On their own roots not grafted!

Thursday, 18 April 2013

How time flies

Since my last post a lot has happened, some things memorable and some things I would rather forget.
Several of you have contacted me to point out I have not been active on my blog and updating it regularly. Well guys and girls several people have also made a point of telling me my blog was very negative recently and so I thought I would take a break and try to be positive with my next entry, after all, you are probably fed up with hearing about me having trees stolen, my daughter being ill, my Mom fighting cancer etc. But unfortunately, that's life or to be more specific, that's my life. I'm sorry if it doesn't read like a Mills and Boon novel.

But if I am perfectly honest, time can be at a premium sometimes and I just don't get the time to sit and write a blog. And sometimes I am just not in the mood and I must admit recently I have been on a downer and not in blogger mode as I think you can appreciate!
Here's me last week. My friend was trying really hard to cheer me up!

You can see from the expression on my face, bonsai is not on my mind and I feel sorry for myself.

But not for long!


For those of you who made it to Failand, Bristol for the Shohin show that was organised by Mark and Ritta Cooper and Bob Bailey, you are probably aware that I did not make it. So unfortunately I was not able to demonstrate on the Sabina Juniper that I put on my last entry.
From the feedback I received from friends who attended, the show was a great success attracting the biggest turnout to a Failand bonsai event ever. Fortunately Mark Cooper sent me some great images of the show, and I would like to share some of them here with you.

BSA Best shohin Award
Acer palmatum - Andy Jordan

BSA Best Chuhin Award
Trident Maple - Reg Bolton

Best Tree and Pot combination
Boston Ivy / Koyo Pot - Duncan Hield

BSA Best Mame
Lonicera nitida - Bill Gordon

Shohin UK Award
Best Chuhin display
Martin Shepherd

From the credited images that I received from Mark Cooper, it seems that there were awards given by FOBBS, BSA, BCI and Shohin UK on the day, so awards a plenty.
Please go to the SHOHIN UK website for full coverage of the event and many more images of the trees.
A big thanks to Mark Cooper for supplying me with the images and for letting me use them here.

Hopefully due to the success of this event, Mark, Ritta and Bob will be staging another event in the future. And judging from the attendance figures, they are going to need a bigger venue. 
Circumstances permitting I will get to the next one. This time the weather, by that I mean heavy snowfall, conspired to stop me getting to the event, in fact I could not get out of the village. With all good intentions I loaded the car the night before and tried to make it out of the village at 6.00am on the Sunday morning, but instead I ended up stuck in the lane not far from home. I had to leave my car in the lane nearly all day and things got worse as several trees came down over the drive and a huge oak tree took out the electric and phone line to the house.
Having no phone and therefore email, it was difficult to contact anyone to let them know of my predicament. Living where I do mobile phone reception is limited at the best of times, but it was my only hope of letting people know I could not make it. As I did not have phone numbers for Mark and Ritta, I took a chance and tried calling Mo Fagan who I knew would be attending the event, but I could not get a signal. So instead I typed out an SMS message, put my phone in the bedroom window upstairs and put the message to 'resend' if it failed. Of course I had to hope that Mo could decipher my message as he is only used to carrier pigeon and smoke signals for communication. Luckily my message got through and I was very relieved as at least people knew I would not be attending. It is only the second time I have not made it to a demo.

The phone line was down for 6 days which was a real pain as it makes checking emails difficult. Good old British Telecom, and they even had the nerve to send me a questionnaire to fill in commenting on their service. It was something on the lines of; Were you happy with the service you received from us. - NO. Would you recommend us to your friends and family. - NO. How can we improve our service. HOW LONG HAVE YOU GOT.    I'm sure you get the gist.

Fortunately the electric got reconnected a little quicker than the phone line despite the heavy snow. Funny how Western Power could get here and yet BT took 5 days longer. As much as I loved the chance to improvise due to our circumstances, the novelty of cooking and making drinks on a camping stove on the kitchen table soon wore off. However I was really glad of the old log burner in the inglenook in the living room, otherwise we would have froze. Kathy and I burnt a few calories splitting and carrying logs.
And of course the weather not only stopped me getting out, it stopped people visiting too.
After the first night of heavy snow, there were a few casualties to, with several trees ending up on the floor due to the weight of the snow. I even had two branches on trees ripped off by the weight of snow which I have never experienced before. These were branches growing at acute angles to the trunk and the snow had literally ripped them away at the base. But things could have been much worse, I have had benches break and shade areas collapse in the past. But this time damage was to a minimum, although at the time I was feeling a little deflated to say the least.
What puts things into perspective is when someone sends you a text message saying; ' Been trying to ring you, phone dead. Are you in. Any new trees?'. When you have to go upstairs and hang out the bedroom window to get a signal to reply and say sorry were have no phone line and we are cut off due to snow. You get a surprised, ' We only had a couple of inches here'. So much for living in the sticks.
Once we had the electric restored and the TV back on,  you could see on various news programs what the farmers up north were having to contend with. Stark images of them digging out sheep and dead lambs makes you realise you got off lightly.

Due to the never ending cold here I have put plastic over several trees to generate warmth to stimulate root growth and it's doing the trick. I have used this technique for many years but never in April.

It is a particularly good technique for junipers which need warmth for the roots to grow.
The tree on the right in this image was one of the rootless trees that you will remember from an earlier post. The buds are moving on it all over with no areas of weakness so far. Whether it is from residual energy time will tell. But at this moment I am optimistic. A little digging around with a chop stick has revealed new roots emerging and so I think the warmth around the pot generated by the plastic sheet plus the root stimulator I am using sporadically is doing the trick. At least I am giving the tree a fighting chance which is more than the collector did.

I would just like to take this opportunity to thank Dan Barton for his offer of having a break away from all the turmoil of recent times down at 'The Acers'. I know you still care!!