Monday, 17 June 2013

Recent events part 3

During the 'BEST OF BRITISH BONSAI' event this past week, a guy came up to me and said he had just started reading my blog, and would I talk more about my travelling. By that he meant flights, hotels, airports etc. Well what could I say, I was a little stumped really as I have never thought of myself as Alan Whicker. But personally I find travel, THE most boring part of my bonsai experiences. There is nothing so wasteful as spending hours in airport lounges or sitting next to someone on a long haul flight while they exchange their current flu germs with you. I am a DOER, I like to be doing and not sitting around wasting time. I even begrudge going to bed because there is so much to see and do and so little time and so I like to cram as much into my life as I possibly can.
If only science would move faster so that I could say, "Beam me up Scotty". Bam! I am in the USA, then Bam back home with the family having my tea. If only.
Damn it would revolutionise yamadori collecting. But probably not for the better as it would remove the best parts, the hunting, hiking and trekking before the FIND!
But back to travel. When I go long distances I have my iPod, iPhone and a portable DVD player with me so that I have music, downloads and my favourite films with me to ease the boredom. I love seeing new towns or cities and I love meeting new bonsai people, and if there is one thing that bonsai has done to enrich my life, it is the friends I have made around the world, and the kindness, generosity and support I get.
But I am a home person, I just love being at home with my family. Yes I love helping people to learn  to do bonsai (notice I did not say teach *), I love demonstrating and imparting whatever knowledge I have and at that particular moment in time I am really enjoying myself. But when the gig is over I want to be back home. So that bit in between the finishing my work and being home is the bit I hate.
I once went to the US and they flew me around the world to get there. From leaving home to seeing someone at the airport in the US was 23 almost 24 hours! It could have been a third of that time, and for me its time I could be with my family or at least working on trees. Simply wasted hours.
I am sure many people think that all this travel is glamorous, well its not. Its for young guys with no ties who can go here and there and live out of a suitcase. Also who looks after your trees when you are away weeks on end??

So beam me up Scotty, lets see Sabina Junipers in Spain.

It was a bit of a bumpy landing here among the rocks and boulders. But fortunately there are no Klingons as I am wearing fresh underpants!

Back to reality now, here is the view across a nice patch of Sabina Junipers growing in the mountains. From this photo you would possibly be fooled into thinking that Sabina's have a prostrate growth habit. Well that is not quite true, however they do have a compact form due to the environmental extremes here that they are subjected too and in particular high winds. The rocks and boulders that form a maze of obstacles that they must manoeuvre through to grow out to reach light, helps to form the dramatic trunk and branch lines that make the Sabina Juniper such an incredible species to work with. Offering endless potential for creating unique and wonderful bonsai.

Here is an example of a juniper in situ among some scree and quite large rocks. The contorted and twisted form of the trunk pokes out hinting at the potential that this tree could have. However it is a mistake to get too excited until we have ascertained if this particular juniper is collect able. Some trees are just not viable for collection, but with experience you can have a good idea of what the survival chances are for a tree and whether you should even attempt to remove it from its home. Better to leave it, take a picture and keep the memories than to risk killing something so beautifully created by nature.

Here the spine of a leviathan rises out above the sea of green.
The problem that such incredible material creates for the owner of such trees, is being able to arrange the foliage in such a way as to complement the incredible movement and deadwood that nature has already provided and not to stifle it with technique and formulaic design.
In the US they have an expression ' cookie cutter bonsai'. Well I have always been against what I call bonsai by numbers. You have seen it many times when irrespective of the trunk line or mass, we get the old 'China mans hat' silhouette or triangle of foliage planted on a tree. Now that tree could resemble a ballerina or a sumo wrestler but we get the same blob of a silhouette on both. Creative? No! Easy? Yes!.

This final image shows Sabina's growing over a cliff, not for the faint hearted. But I hope you can get a feeling from these images of the internal and external influences that nature forces upon these trees in their natural habitat. The rocks and boulders, rocky substrate, high winds, freezing temperatures in winter, baking temperatures in the summer, massive fluctuations in seasonal rainfall, ultra violet rays at altitude etc.

So I think that before we collect these trees, step back, evaluate, show respect. It is not your right to collect. So do it responsibly and when the odds favour the tree surviving.


One of the things that has typified this season so far has been the slow start. Many different species have been slow to come into leaf, with bud swell being very drawn out and in some instances non existent until into May.
Also many people have emailed regarding their pines with many experiencing pollen sacks and cones in the place of nice healthy candles. But this is not just something that us Brits have experienced, many bonsai growers in Europe have also experienced similar anomalies.
When I bred raptors professionally there would be times when everyone in Europe and sometimes around the world would have a disastrous breeding season, with everyone experiencing the same issues. And its the same with the start to this years growing season. And the one thing that links us all is the weather/climate. However do not think it only affects our bonsai. It is affecting trees and plants in nature just the same.
On a recent walk in the Wyre Forest where I live and more recently in the Clent Hills, almost every pine tree, both Lodge Pole and Scots, were covered in pollen sacs and cones.
So sometimes it's best not to panic and think what am I doing wrong, because sometimes things are just out of our hands.

Sometimes we are forced to accept what nature throws at us. It is how we get over these obstacles and adapt our husbandry to cope, is invariably what makes us successful.
This image shows Scots Pines on the Clent Hills. It was taken with my iPhone so sorry for the quality, but I just had to capture this image as every tree could be seen to have issues. It was interesting that a lot of deciduous trees and the Larch  (deciduous conifer) were very slow to show any growth and were well behind their normal growth cycle for the time of year.

Nature is by far the most destructive force on the planet as well as being the most incomparable  creator of beauty. And we can learn a lot from it if we only take the time.

* I do not teach people bonsai. I merely help them to learn. They teach themselves.

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