But I think we may have turned the corner on this current path we seem to be on and there are new adventures and I am sure some more tests ahead.
Due to trying to fit so much in and not let anyone down, many days over the last few months have been a blur. And I have to confess to not recording very much, especially to camera. Sometimes I think you can do too much but I have tried to be there for family and still full fill commitments. Or as Bilbo Baggins said in the Lord of the Rings; "“I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”I think that sums it up nicely.
Today I should be at BBC GARDENERS WORLD LIVE at the NEC where BOBB 2013 has been staged but you know what, they can manage without me today. The hard part is done, Dan Barton has judged the BOBB Awards, the RHS have judged the stand as a whole as it is their event and the public are now visiting in their thousands. Its time to relax a bit I think.
In the last couple of months I have been at the annual shows of two Midland Bonsai Society's.
The Midland and the South Staffs BS. Both clubs held their shows at Birmingham Botanical Gardens as they both have a long affiliation with the place.
The South Staffs Bonsai Society (SSBS) held their show in April, earlier in the year than is usual for them.
For my troubles, I was judging their show as I did in 2012.
Although only judging, I arrived early on the Sunday morning to see the set up.Unfortunately, all the members were still outside on the car park waiting to get in as the building had not been opened early. Just as I was thinking I could have had that extra cuppa and slice of toast at home the doors opened.
Despite the fact that entry to the botanical gardens had been held up, things started to come together as many hands make light work.
The back drops used were designed by Dan Barton and work on a roller blind principal. I believe the originals were made by Dan's son Daniel who is just amazing with anything wood.
As things progress, you can feel anticipation building as people prepare to set up their trees.
These very same back drops would be used at BOBB in June.
Here some of the members are bringing in the first of the trees for setting up.
One of the club members Dick Turner was on hand with a selection of his bonsai wire dispensers and stands for sale. And many trees in the show were on Dicks stands.
As with most club exhibitions the standard of trees in any one show is varied. It is rare to see all the trees of a similar standard. And there is usually a big gap between the best trees and the lowest trees.
As a judge at one of these shows, apart from the obvious, actually judging the trees. I try to encourage those with the trees at the lower end and where possible I like to critique the exhibition. This way people can see why trees have succeeded, what needs to be done to develop trees for the future plus they get an insight in to actually why certain trees were chosen that day.
Some trees were exhibited prematurely, but sometimes this is encouraged at club level as there are 'Trees in training' classes. However sometimes there are trees that should be in the 'In Training' class that find themselves in other classes. Unfortunately if I am honest, some of the aspects of UK bonsai club culture stifle the development of the level of bonsai here. Tackling the problem though is not easy as it has been this way from the 60's and many people do not like change or to be told they have been doing it wrong for so long.
My pet gripe is the BEST IN SHOW vs the BEST IN CLASS. Now this is a UK thing which makes me cringe. A juniper might win BEST CONIFER. But a White Pine may win BEST IN SHOW. Surely if the White Pine is BEST IN SHOW, by default it has to be the BEST conifer. But as it was once pointed out to me, 'We can't have a tree winning two prizes'. No wonder we are being left behind by the Europeans when we have such archaic rules at grass root level.
This tree on the right here, belongs to a guy I know very well so I hope he will not mind me repeating here what I said on the day.
The tree has great potential. It has a really interesting trunk, interesting deadwood areas with potential, and dramatic taper. However the maturity of the branch structure is a long way off. For me this is great material, but it is not ready for exhibition just yet.
Here are two of the higher level trees in the exhibition. They are both Juniperus chinensis var. 'Itoigawa'. Originally supplied by myself, they have super potential, BUT!
Even though these are two of the better trees, the owner (same owner) needs to get to grips with the foliage. So they show pleasing images (not my design) but they need to be refined more, to take them to another level. I do not want to critique the aesthetics of the design here but merely to point out the aspects of refinement or attention to detail.
What do you think?
For me it can be a little frustrating, because I know the potential of both of these trees.
Certainly if the owner went the extra mile, they could go to the Noelander's Trophy in Belgium. Maybe now they will, fingers crossed.
Of course I have to take into account the skill level of the owner and their level of understanding of what is A GOOD BONSAI. How much time the owner has to spend on his trees, how much they can spend on their hobby etc etc. And many people of course are happy with their trees as they are, they do not have aspirations to have trees that can be exhibited at a high level. In fact many people in the UK never show their trees at even club level and do not like to have their trees "competing" or criticised as I am doing here.
However as a bonsai educator I feel the need where ever I can to try to open people eyes to what bonsai can be.
John Naka once said "you can't make a chicken salad from chicken shit" or words to that effect. So Silk purses and sows ears come to mind. However in many cases, like these two junipers here, we have starting off with great material which is glaringly obvious. But as good as they are, they have more to give and only by getting more people to see and to understand this, can we continue to raise the standards in British bonsai or in fact bonsai anywhere.
Bonsai, the art of seeing beyond today!