Archive for March, 2013

..Konnichiwa Nippon!

Posted: March 31, 2013 in Japan


Good bye ‘Dear Old Blighty’…

Posted: March 31, 2013 in Japan


It was an early start sunday morning and the roads on the way to Failand were pretty treacherous. There were three cars and a van which had skidded onto the verge (the van had flipped over too) due to icy patches near Bristol airport. Despite this we ploughed on and we made to the show. It was bitterly cold and I was glad to get inside. All the display tables were put out the night before and all that was needed was for people to set up the displays. After helping my mentor unload the car and partly setup his sales area I started with my display. I pretty much knew how it was going to go but, with a couple of helpful pointers from my good friend Mark Cooper it was done.

Photo courtesy of Mark Cooper

Photo courtesy of Mark Cooper

Close up of my accent

Close up of my accent

I was pleased with my contribution, I had some lovely comments from people, which I was very grateful for and thank you all.
This was my first time that I had exhibited any of my trees and it was certainly an experience I will never forget. I was never in a hurry to start to show tree’s but, I felt that these too didn’t look too bad and I was glad that they got excepted.
I’ve heard that exhibiting tree’s is like putting a part of yourself/soul on display to be scrutinized by the world and well it certainly felt like it. It was a strange feeling watching people looking, talking and taking pictures of my display. I just hope that most of it was positive and it was enjoyed.
The standard was very high and their weren’t any displays that looked out-of-place. This was a credit to the tree selection by Mark, Ritta and Bob.
The venue is on the small side but, this only helped to aid the atmosphere (I can concur that it was as every bit as good as the reports as well) and the lighting is second to none (Which is more than can be said for some venue’s).
All in all I was very proud to be a part if the show, it was a complete success and long may it continue.

I’m sorry that this post was so late but, with evening an evening class, club meeting and getting prepared for my departure it’s been pretty chaotic. Well my bags are packed.. Next stop.. Japan!

For my two tree display at the up and coming shohin show I had been allocated a half table size which consisted of a three-foot space. That was until a week last sunday when I was informed that I could have a whole table. This was good news because it should help me to exhibit to a higher potential (space is just as important as content). The only problem was that the jiita/wood slice that I had purchased at the Noelanders trophy to go underneath the cascade stand was too small and would look out-of-place with a larger display.
Finding decent large jiita’s with direction in the UK seem’s to be particularly difficult and the only person I knows who sells anything a long those lines is William (Samurai tools) from the Netherlands. That is who I bought my original slice from at Noelanders.
So, as soon as I got the new’s I was on the internet searching for something larger and more suitable. I felt that Japan was my best option at this point and if I had EMS delivery it should arrive the next week. Looking through Yosho-en’s website I found a suitable candidate. After contacting them I found out that the Jiita I wanted had in fact been sold but, they sent some photo’s of one a similar size and directional movement. It wasn’t as good as the other one but, this was reflected in the price. I thought this one would be ok and suitable so, I agreed to buying it and sent the money.
The package arrived safe and sound just in time yesterday.

New jiita from Japan

New jiita from Japan

First intended Jiita

First intended Jiita

I was going to work on this (sand it and stain it) for the show but, I’ll leave it for another time for now.

The two for comparison

The two for comparison

The size of the large jiita is about 57cm long.

Special thanks to everyone at Yosho-en for their wonderful service.

In between preparing one of my tree’s for the up and coming shohin show I mixed up some smaller grade substrate for re-potting some of my shohin. The substrate I’ve made is based on a mix that my mentor formalized a few years ago or more.
I know in japan that pure akadama is use a lot and there are several people here that use it as well. Personally I don’t think that it’s the best substrate to use here in the UK because our weather is very different from Japan’s. We generally have a lot wetter winter and harder frosts. This leads to akadama breaking down quickly and in the space of 2-3 years it’s a complete mush. The trees soon starts to go down hill and is in dire need of a re-pot. If I were to keep all my trees under cover and keep them on the dry side I think pure akadama would be ok. I’m unfortunately not in that position.
The mix contains small grade akadama, sharp horticultural grit, coarse sand, peat, small washed grade pumice, round Cornish grit, heat-treated fine bark and kyodama (a man-made absorbent grit supplied by Kyoto bonsai here in the UK).

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I’m please with the mix and I think my tree’s should do well in it.

Time has moved fast and I will soon be departing for the holy land (well at least in my eye’s anyway) that is Japan, the mecca of bonsai. It will be my first time their and Japan is somewhere I have always wanted to go, even before I got into bonsai.


I’m going for a month to stay at Aichi-en in Nagoya, with Mr Tanaka and Peter Tea.

Photo courtesy of Peter Tea

Photo courtesy of Peter Tea

I’ve been looking forward to this for quite a while and I’m glad that it is finally arriving. There is a purpose to me going and it’s for a trial to hopefully become an apprentice to Mr Tanaka. I’m a realist about these things, it is by no means a given and I know I’m not the only one to apply/go for a trial, for this position. So, I’ve not been blowing my trumpet too loudly for that exact reason. Maybe the odd’s aren’t stacked in my favour but, I’m certainly going to give it my best shot. If I can enjoy myself, learn as much as I can, work as hard as I can and represent myself, my family and the UK in a positive light I’ll be a pretty happy guy either way. It will certainly be an adventure and is partly why I started this blog to share my experiences whilst their.
I feel a very lucky, humbled and privileged person to be going and I have a lot of people to thank.
First I’d like to thank Mr Tanaka and Peter Tea for this amazing opportunity. Without them it obviously wouldn’t be possible and without out Peter’s superb blog, also. If you haven’t read Peter’s blog before, I highly recommend it. It is so informative and interesting I can’t really sing its praises enough.
Secondly I like to thank my family, without them and their support it really wouldn’t be possible.
I’d also like to thank Dan & Cea Barton, Mark & Ritta cooper, Mo & Martin (especially for Noelanders), Malcolm, everyone at CBC, Taunton club, BBS, people at workshops, friend’s and all well wisher’s for their constant encouragement and support. I really appreciate it and it goes a long way.
Last of but, by no means least I especially would thank my mentor. Without him I most certainly wouldn’t be in this position. He’s done so much for me I really don’t know where to start but, thank you.

So watch this space and I hopefully should have some great things to post about my time in Japan.

The Unexpected

Posted: March 15, 2013 in My Trees
Tags: ,


Itoigawa Jun.1

This is an itoigawa juniper that I bought about two years ago. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of what it looked like when I first got it but, it looked very similar to these pictures here. The tree originally was a lot fuller and was a complete mushroom/dom of foliage. This was the tree after I had separated the branches and thinned the foliage, to open it up a bit. The tree was also re-potted and set on a slightly better angle.

After this work the tree was left to grow freely through the rest of the year.
The tree responded well and this autumn(fall) I had another look at the tree. There were a couple of things that bothered me.
The first was the straight section in the top third of the tree’s trunk. It was totally out of character with the bottom two-thirds of the trunk which, is nice and twisting with interesting shari. This is what attracted me to the tree originally.
The second was the branch and foliage structure. It was still too much of a dome, it offered no depth and a lack of character to the tree.

I decided to do some thing with the tree a few weeks ago and I took it to an evening class that I do with my mentor for a couple of hours each week in the winter and spring. I feel quite comfortable working on my tree’s these day’s but, I find the classes still good to do. There’s always something to learn, it’s good to set specific time to do bonsai (it can be tough to with a job and everything else), it’s always good to get a second opinion and you can get some different perspectives.


Here is the tree prior to being worked on. After I explained what I was bothering me about the tree and some discussion. I decided to remove some branches, extend the shari and split the wood in order to give the top third section enough flexibility to put a bend in it. An Iron bar was pushed into the soil to use as a anchor point, with a wedge to bend the trunk and create some more movement. This was the result.

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In order to create a more delicate and more natural look to the final image a new angle was used. Something like a long these lines.

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I saved the wiring to be done at a CBC meeting last weekend which I had fortunately been ask a long too. CBC is run by Mr Dan Barton (and his good wife Cea), it is a group of friends/study group/bonsai lovers that meet once a month to socialize and work on their tree’s. I’m not a full-blown member but, I’m very fortunate to be on the fill in list (if anyone can’t make it) and asked occasionally.
I had a great day, throughly enjoyed my self and managed to wire most of the tree but, not all of it. This was the result after the day.



Over the rest of this week I finished wiring and placing the branches.

The Front

The Front

The back

The back

The right side

The right side

The left side

The left side

To bring down a fairly thick branch near the top I used a controlled split using a narrow pull saw to make a cut above the top inside of the branch. Which made it a lot more flexible and in time this will heal over and wont even be noticeable.

017 (2)

I’m pleased with the result but, I pushed the tree quite hard doing the styling. Because of that I will not re-pot to change the angle and secondly the tree really doesn’t need re-potting either. It probably wont be re-potted for at least a couple of years and probably more like three to four. It is straight in the green house for now because winter seems to have come back this last week with frosts down to -5, wind chill of near -10 and now north, westerly winds (cold-ish) with rain. Come back gulf stream, please!

When I was doing the final adjustments to this tree I had a moment of clarity and something clicked. I think that it has changed/adjusted my approach to styling and I understand a little bit more. It’s strange how these things come to you, I guess it is all about progression and a tiny step towards raising the bar. I really didn’t see it coming and it was totally ‘unexpected’ with this tree.

When looking for material for my bonsai collection, I’m always on the look out for a bargain. I’m not saying all I like to buy is cheap rubbish, far from it. I think we should always aim for the best material we can afford to aim for the highest quality collection we can have.
Sometimes though, if you look very carefully through some of the mass-produced tree’s you can spot a potential gem. When I say mass-produced I mean the trees which have been bought in as a job lot. They are all bought in at the same price each and no real attention is given to see which are better or not. Most the time these trees are pretty bog standard and there is little chance of them ever making a possible show tree out of them, without spending time in the ground and a long time developing them after.
However, last October at WindyBank Bonsai I believe I managed to find one such tree among the general riff-raff.

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It’s shohin sized cork bark chinese elm. Yes, I did say chinese elm (Ulmus Parvifolia). They are really looked down on but, in my opinion they are a wonderful tree and deserve more time & respect they are given. They have perfect attributes for bonsai, as good as any deciduous tree if not better than many. They have superb ramification (second to none), lovely mature bark on corked & normal, excellent leaf size and they develop fast.
One thing I have learnt (the hard way) is that whether they are corked or not they need some protection. especially if they start to grow and we get some particularly cold weather. They will start to swell at the meer smell of spring.

This tree is different and has a lot of potential in my eye’s, for several reasons.
The first was the taper, for one of these mass-produced tree’s the taper is good. So often you see mass-produced shohin cork bark chinese elm with a thick straight trunk with inverse taper and a hedgehog of foliage on top. There is no way of curing this, unless you air layer and go for an octopus style tree or maybe start taking chunks out of it. Either way its going to be long-term.
The second was the movement. It had potentially two good options for trunk lines both with good movement and taper.
The third was minor but, certainly a bonus. Where the main branch should start on the tree there was a nice thick enough branch to start one from. Which certainly would save me some time in developing the tree.

You can see on the left in the picture that I have already started to bring the main branch down. I did this a couple of months ago as I knew that this would be needed to be done, which ever trunk line I decided to go for. I decided to go for the trunk line on the right, you see in the picture and with this front. The other had reasonable movement but, it seemed a little contorted with a little bit too sharp an angles. Also near top the trunk line ran out of taper and would need to been grown more, takeing more time.
The picture was just before I did major work on Monday. The tree has been well protected and was starting to leave out. I needed to cut back hard but, where there were any branches I wanted to keep, I left opening leaves or at least swelling buds. Here is the result.

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I think it turned out well, the tree has good taper and reasonable branch structure. I changed the angle tilting it to left to improve the trunk line.
There are several scares which are hidden out of view which is a bonus but, they should heal quite quick.
There are certainly some branches that will need to cut back or go and few to be grown but, most are in good positions.
I’ve not checked the root spread yet but, my fingers are crossed there are ok. I do find that cork bark chinese elm do have a tendency to make good Nebari and I hope this one’s decent enough. In a lot of books they always say you should go for trees with good nebari’s. Which is true but, they can be worked on and developed with the right techniques.
In a few years if it grows well it should look fairly reasonable and in a few more probably ready for an exhibition. I certainly think it wouldn’t look out-of-place in a shohin composition, if it’s finished to a high enough standard.
Not bad for sixty odd quid.

It’s been a busy couple of months or so, with a visit to Belgium to see the Noelanders trophy to start off with.
It was my first visit to the event which turned out to be quite an eye opener. The general quality of the trees were superb and it was very well attended. Almost too well attended if you know what I mean because I certainly felt like a sardine fighting my way down the aisle’s but, it was awesome all the same. For that reason I felt the friday/setup day was the most enjoyable in a lot of ways. It was great wandering around watching people setting up and it felt a little surreal seeing so many great bonsai artists from all over europe & the world you see on the internet. The plus bonus was it was possible to get a table in the restaurant/bar there on a friday. The beer was excellent and went down very well after the long drive getting there. Whilst sipping a beer I was fortunately introduced to a Mr Steve Tolley. I was great to meet him, he’s lovely guy and a real good laugh.
Steve’s blog is certainly worth a read and I highly recommend it.
The winner’s of the prizes were certainly worthy of the awards. The best tree was a fantastic spruce that used to belong to Mashiko Kimura and the best deciduous tree was a massive white beach that used to belong to Saburo Kato. It was wonderful to see the UK rubbing shoulders with the european elite in the shohin category as well. Mark and Ritta Cooper took first and second prize with their two great exhibits which was certainly well deserved.
All in all it was a great long weekend and I can’t express how much it is worth going to and recommend it to anyone.

Before I knew it Swindon show was upon me and I was up at the crack of dawn with my mentor to help set up his display and sales pitch up their. Once we were set up I had plans to really go round on my own and study the trees in the exhibition but, my plans were soon scuppered. I started off ok, looked at about a quarter of the trees but, soon got interrupted with talking to acquaintances. I soon got a call that I was needed back at base because my mentor needed to do some judging, so I made my way back and held the fort. I did manage to get back around but, only to do some much-needed shopping before all the best stuff was sold. Strictly pots were on the agenda and most were gifts.
The attendance seemed as high as usual if not more. I’m not sure of the exact figures, whether it was more or not but, there was definitely that buz about the place.
There’s only a couple of things that let the show down. The first is the lighting in the main hall, which is sodium lighting. It’s not good at all but, I guess some sacrifices have to be made and it can be lived with. The second were the uninvited traders in the car park. I think it’s totally wrong them being there. The people inside the show had paid good money for pitches to sell their and people loading up vans full and driving their just to sell outside should have been moved on in my opinion.
That beside it is a wonderful show which is setting a bench mark in UK exhibitions and I thoroughly enjoyed myself as usual.

Soon after the Swindon show the auction of Manuel Gonzalez’s tree’s in Bournemouth.
I can’t say that I really knew Manuel personally. I only met him briefly a couple of times at some shows but, hearing what people have to say about him and how highly they speak of him he was a great guy & a hell of a character.
It was an early start, a nice day and the sun was shining brightly (when it came up). We had a good trip down and were there pretty early. We started looking round at the potential lots and comparing them to the photo’s online was a huge contrast. The photo’s certainly didn’t do them justice at all and I think a lot of people were re-thinking their bidding strategies. It was a good turn out and there must have the best part of 150 people their.
Bidding got underway and lots soon started flashing by. Chris Thomas was auctioneer for the day and a did a great job. The tree’s sold very well overall making more than I would have thought and were definitely priced out of trade range. I think many people were after a ‘Manuel tree’, which certainly boosted the prices made. The larger most expensive trees probably could have done better but, I think that it is a reflection of what bonsai buying trend’s seem to have taken plus, lot’s of money is not about at the moment. People seem be going for smaller trees these days if not shohin at least chuhin. I think it’s mainly down to an ageing UK bonsai community, a high percentage of people doing bonsai in the UK must be 50 plus. People can’t carry, move and manage what they used to. Popularity for Shohin has certainly increased as well and is still yet to peak in this country yet I think but, we are getting there.
All in all the smaller trees certainly made up for any short fall the larger trees might have had, plus a bit more I think. I hope that Manuel’s family were pleased with what the trees made and how the auction went. It was certainly one of the UK’s finer bonsai moments.

Now coming up is the shohin show that is at Failand village hall on the 24th of March.
I’m really looking forward to this event and I think the attendance will be high. It’s my first time exhibiting and I’m a little nervous yet very excited about it. I’m pretty bad at remembering my camera and takeing photo’s but, I will definitely take it for this one and I’m trying to make an effort to take more for other posts.

Large White Pine

Posted: March 3, 2013 in My Trees
Tags: ,

032This is an imported tree which was originally was sourced from Kyoto Bonsai for a client of my mentors in the UK. The tree was totally re-styled by my mentor for the client and was planted in a custom-made Dan Barton pot.

My mentors client decided to give up keeping bonsai trees and decided to focus on breeding his snakes instead (don’t ask me why). My mentor was offered the collection and he gladly excepted having worked on many of the trees over some time getting good results. He had a small yet great collection with mainly white pines (they were his ‘thing’) and a few other trees. Unfortunately, as is the case with many people who get tired of the hobby they were a little neglected and some looked a bit worse for the ware especially with the harsh winters we started to receive at the time. I was roped in as ‘muscle’ (which I don’t mind, it’s always fun and interesting on these sort of jobs) and looking at the trees I was pretty impressed.

My mentor decided to keep two of the trees which he felt quite close too having worked/developed them and wanted to sell the others. I loved this pine which was for sale and when I saw it, I knew I wanted to buy it. So with a bit of a chat I managed to secure the purchase of it. The tree had a dead branch, was looking a bit weak and because I helped out, I got a really good price for it.

The picture of it, is of the tree just coming up to three years down the line since I acquired it. Since then I only did some minor wiring and maintenance pruning. I decided that the tree was getting a little too out of shape and was due for total wire a re-style. The fact that I am going to Japan for a month in April was another factor but, that’s another story.

The health of the tree seemed to improve year on year that was until last year when I was a little disappointed at its progress. Understanding/reading a trees health is one of the key elements to keeping/developing bonsai and its something I think I’m only truly starting to grasp/understand. I belive the tree is in need of a re-pot. The soil isn’t too bad but, it stays too moist through the growing season especially with the weather we have been having. So, I’m going to re-pot in the next month.

White pine are a mountainous tree, which aren’t used too our wet winters in their natural climate and need to be kept on the dry side in the winter. I learnt from reading a post by Peter Tea, that in Japan that they keep white pines so dry in the growing season that the weeds wilt in the pot. That’s ok when the air moisture is as humid as Japan and the pine can get moisture from the air but, in the UK I belive they need to be watered more with our dry atmosphere. They don’t dislike water but, they appreciate drying out between watering’s.

Here is the tree, post me wiring it this winter. (If you are wondering about the actual size of the tree it’s about 27-28 inches tall with a trunk about 6 inches thick. The pot is about 18 inches across and 4 thick. It’s pretty hefty too.)

It didn’t turn out too bad, I don’t think. I know it’s a cleshay but, the photo’s don’t do it justice. I’m not much of a photographer, I don’t really have the setup to photo trees and light was fading at the time (well those are my excuse’s anyway).

I could have taken more needles off and neatened the image but, they are a weaker pine (especially in the UK) and I wanted to leave as many as a I could. The final image is not such a problem at the moment its more important to get the structure set and it will fill out in time. I would have liked to put more movement in the two first branches but, they are old and brittle and it was the wrong time to do that sort of thing anyway. Other than that I’m quite happy with it. My skill has certainly improved but, I still have a long way to go yet.