Last week I managed to catch up with my old buddy Dan Barton and spend the day doing what we used to do best, talking all things bonsai.
Now for those of you who don't know Dan well, he is 74 going on 13.
Need proof? This is Dan watching my demo in Switzerland at Schinznach - Dorf in 2008. Only he could find a new use for raffia. Here's me trying to style a huge Taiwanese Juniper and he's larking about.
However apart from acting like two kids and putting the world to right, we mainly talk bonsai, bonsai and more bonsai. Aesthetics, techniques, philosophy, UK scene etc.
Of course for sensible conversation and great food there is also Cecelia (Ci to everyone) Dan's long suffering wife. So when when I am down Bristol way I get to be with two of my favourite people in the world, and just occasionally (read every time) I come away with a pot or two or three! I was fortunate on this visit that Dan had just emptied the kiln and so I got to see some of his recent ceramic work which is something I have missed out on alot in recent years. I really appreciate good ceramics and especially bonsai and accent (companion plant) pots. Dan and Ci had produced some really special accent pots in this batch and it was nice for me to see some of the new glazes Dan has been working on including a new red and a yellow that are 'in your face' glazes and also to see some of the more creative 'spontaneous' pots that only Dan can produce.
I bought a lovely crackle glaze pot while I was there which I will share with you here. It is for a tree not a companion plant. Stunning!
I also came away with six pieces that I can only describe as ceramic Ji ita. More on those in another post.
Although Dan sold off nearly all of his major trees many years ago now, there is still a nice peaceful atmosphere to the garden. Dan is still taking air layers and growing from cuttings and seeds, but then is that not how it should be. Creating new life, and new trees for others to experience and enjoy in the future long after Dan has gone. This creating of life and a love of life and of people is very much what bonsai is really about, but unfortunately this ideal is little followed or understood by many people. The bending of trees prevails unfortunately.
It was nice to catch up with a few trees that I have known since the first year I started on my bonsai journey.
There is a semi cascade or Han Kengai Japanese Black Pine Pinus thunbergii that was grown from seed by the late David Joyce and which Dan has continued to develop in Davids memory and it is really starting to come into its own now after maybe three decades or more. There is also a lovely Guelder Rose Viburnum opulus from a cutting also started by David that Dan is also continuing to develop. Both of these trees have a special significance for me because David Joyce was a friend of both Dan and myself and when David was really ill battling cancer, Dan and I along with Ci would go to Ledbury to work on Davids trees for him because it upset him to see them not at their best. And I can remember clearly being there one day and although it was not warm, the sun was shining on the back of the house and David sat in a chair on the patio with a big blanket wrapped around him and as we worked on the trees he had this gentle smile on his face. And these two trees that Dan is now the custodian of, bring the memories of that day back to me every time I see them.
Dan also has a raft Mountain Maple Acer palmatum that started life as a small air layer taken off a tree in his garden. The first time I saw it, the trunks were like pencils and I can remember Dan saying to me, "One day this is going to be nice Sunshine". I looked it up and down and walking away dismissively said "I can't see it myself". (That's beginners for you, what a pillock!).
Now it is looking the part, a very natural maple image not bonsaied to death showing a maturity in the trunks and branches. Of course Dan never misses the chance to remind me of the comment I made when I was a beginner. And of course I was reminded again on this visit. I would gladly run off with the tree now but don't tell Dan! So it was great for the two of us to stand in front of the tree now discussing it's merit's, it's progression and what will need to be done in the future for the once little air layer to reach it's potential. That my friends, is what bonsai is all about.