Wednesday, 23 December 2009

What does the letter P stand for?

For the past 5 days, TOH has been having trouble with the Norton AntiVirus Helpdesk.  It had gotten to the point that it is so bad it's started affecting me.  So of course I had to blog about it.  Because yes, I am going somewhere with my (seemingly) disjointed rants.

TOH's computer woes started when a worm got past Norton AntiVirus' version 2.  Which necessitated a call to their Helpdesk; a techie comes along, sorts it out and all is supposed to be well.  And in a few hours the problems start again.  TOH's computer starts running slower then stops dead.  So the calls to the Helpdesk start again.  13 calls later, TOH has accumulated 10 priority numbers, spoken to 13 techies, repeated the case history 13 times, and seen the computer die each time.  Techies went into TOH's registry and modified it, then suggested TOH upgrade to version 3 and taken TOH's money for it.  This is where good faith and desperation can be the undoing of you.  Because after AV v3 went in, the shit really hit the fan.

Now several days and daily phone calls later, TOH's computer is worse off than when the first call to the Helpdesk was made.  The techies started suggesting it was due to clashes with other software on the computer, so they started uninstalling other stuff.  The problem persisted and the case was passed up to the 'elite team' who were apparently defeated by it all.  Because in the end, they started telling TOH that it wasn't a Norton problem.  Never mind TOH's numerous reiterations that there were never any software clashes with the older version of Norton AV.

The long & short of it?  TOH manages to speak to a manager who says the same thing; essentially, it's not Norton's problem.  No matter that a virus got past their AntiVirus software, no matter that their support team had a hand in disabling a computer; they simply said, oh well, it's not our fault, guv, you'll have to sort it out yourself now - and walk away.

No mention of apology for the inability to resolve an issue (because they refused to acknowledge it).  No mention that they took somebody's money for software that isn't usable or even the offer of a refund.  No mention of having taken someone's time up - because most nights TOH was on the phone to them until 03:00 AM, which seriously screwed up my sleep patterns.  But that isn't Norton's problem, is it?

I am accepting of human fraility.  I can understand not being able to solve every problem in the world.  But do you have to pretend it isn't there?  Feign having had no hand in exacerbating a situation?  Wouldn't it be better to accept defeat gracefully and try to placate the customer somehow?  Because turning around at this point and acting like it's the customer's fault is only going to piss them off even further.

And while I may have no problem with placing technical support services in areas where costs are low, I have every issue with Helpdesk personnel who are (a) supercilious, (b) do not listen to and talk over the customer while they are explaining the problem, and (c) do not man up and acknowledge their shortcomings and don't even make any concessions to the damage left in their wake.  That sums up as unhelpful and a shitty attitude in my book.  I understand that they may be faced with a lot of customers who are barely computer literate, but that does not mean that ALL their customers are in the same boat.  And even then, so what?  Does that justify giving people attitude?  Isn't there a clue in the word 'HELPdesk'??

What they don't seem to realise is that theirs is essentially a customer-facing role.  They are the voice of Norton AntiVirus that I have indavertently been listening to for the past 5 days.  Most companies may not have a face anymore in these days of remote working, but their employees are still the embodiment of their company values. 

And this time, the embodiment of Norton AntiVirus has demonstrated that Norton only wants our money but doesn't give a shit about me or TOH.  Symantec, your values suck.  Ease of doing business with you?  A big fat ZERO.

So in this case, the letter P could stand for.... plonkers?  Phucking passholes?

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Borrowed Musings, #1: Me, me, me and mine

Reading over @bonsaibanter's Tweets (or Twitterings, whichever term you'd prefer to use - most likely neither) reminded me of conversations I've had with Teacher-san on the differences between the philosophies that drive Eastern and Western Art.  Of course these are gross generalisations that I put down here, and I'm sure someone will call to my attention that to every rule there is an exception.  So, point taken - I'm not stating any rules here.

Teacher-san's guideline is to '...see how the tree wants to grow and work with that, not against it'.  His observation was that in Japanese bonsai, the tree is the most important part of the creative work; the artist takes second place.  Essentially he is the temporary vessel charged with the care of this particular tree during his lifetime.  It's pretty much an accepted fact that - unless he buggers it up completely - the tree will outlive him and pass on to the hands of another artist who will go on to leave his imprint on the tree.  And so on ad infinitum.

Western Art tends to be primarily about the artist showcasing himself and his talent, so the artist's work would tend to be a statement of how creative / clever / avant-garde  he is.  I think this outlook spills over into Western hobbies (like bonsai), especially when there is a clash of me, me, me's.  And then it becomes all-out war.

@bonsaibanter wondered why '...the gentle pursuit of bonsai attracts so many negative people. Perhaps it is easier to be destructive than constructive which is a contradiction really seeing that creativity lies at the heart of bonsai.  Or perhaps it is merely human nature and this behaviour occurs in all types of hobby groups.  Perhaps bonsai just attracts stressed out people who then vent their frustrations on those around them.'

There's a lot of truth in those observations, IMHO.  What I do wonder though, is - it's a frickin' HOBBY, dudes!  Is it worth ruining friendly relations for?  Get a life.

Borrowed Musings, #2: Egos and Agendas

This phrase stuck in my head during a talk with another bonsai buddy on the turmoil surrounding British bonsai at the moment.  I claim no originality on this turn of phrase whatsoever.  That belongs to my mate.

But it does describe what to me seems to be the Number 2 Root of All Evils in the 21st century (the love of money being the Biblical Number 1, in case the allusion slips you by).  Especially in places in the West where the social structure can preclude the need for an income for those who wish to milk it in that way.  But let's not go down that route...

So where am I going with these musings?  Once upon a time, I would've expected that the law of the jungle ended within the workplace; one could then go home and de-stress with a nice cuppa (or a G&T even) and possibly get away from it all with a nice, creative hobby like painting or bonsai.  Not anymore.  The cutthroat attitude now extends to supremacy in the hobbysphere, I guess.  Or must one now reign supreme over everything - the hobbies, the kids, the in-laws, the pets, the golf buddies?  Or else, what?  A loss of face, a drastic decline in self-actualisation? 

So simplistically speaking - could this have something to do with compensating for the loss of status in the workplace?  Or similar?  Now that could lead to another random musing, like, should retirement be banned altogether as being hazardous to your neighbour's health and well-being?  Except that, I know lots of retirees who do bonsai, and not all of them are striving to climb up any status ladder of any bonsai-ic description.  Or perhaps psychological profiling should be done before people are allowed to leave the workplace?  Sounds like a really unpopular platform to me.....

But... what's wrong with having an ego?

Nothing really, as far as I'm concerned.

In fact, it would be really worrying if one didn't have one, I suspect.

But whatever happened to the win-win situations and the not treading on other people's toes?  Or the 'do unto others what you would have them do unto you' sort of deals? Don't those count for anything anymore?

Friday, 4 December 2009

Thought #1

While organising my thoughts on my RantyRantyRant (should I brand it Triple R?), it occurred to me that 'things' are very easy to break.  Like dropping glasses or plates. 

More 'nebulous things', like interpersonal relationships, take a longer time to break - these are sort of a cumulation of incidents that build one on top of another.  And when the straw hits the camel's back, it breaks anyway.  As broken as plates. 

Sometimes, broken 'things' are easier to mend.  On the other hand, who wants to eat off plates glued together?

But mending more 'nebulous things', like interpersonal relationships?  In my experience, this often happens as the result of either a lot of time, an extreme amount of drama, or both.  And who in the world likes drama?

* Shudder *

Thought #2

So broken 'things' don't always get mended because it's become cheaper to replace them.  Unless we're talking priceless antiques.

But what about broken 'nebulous things' (yep, still thinking interpersonal relationships) - since these aren't priceless antiques and since we tend to avoid drama at all costs, do they just sort of get left alone to fester?  In the hope that time heals all wounds? 

Or more to the point, in the hope that people will forget and move on, as they often do.

My feeling has always been, it's the coward's way out to rely on the shortness of people's memory.  Grow a pair and admit your shortcomings, dammit.  And fix things.

Interpersonal or otherwise.

And this proves what?

That I can string more than one thought together, of course. 


And as @bonsaibanter told me today, it's all a question about cost and how much we value things. 

Interpersonal or otherwise.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

The Calm before the Storm

This here is an unhappy bunny getting ready to give a good rant.  But before I incinerate anyone, I may as well break up the multitudinous lines of text with a few pretty pics.

One of several Camellias in the garden that we will never convert into a bonsai.  Why?  Check out the size of its leaves and the flower.  Not unless the bonsai is going to be 4-foot tall.  And we already have one of those (and no, that bonsai is not a Camellia, it's a yamadori Scots Pine).  AFAIK, nothing will reduce the size of that flower - no matter how small the pot you put it in, no matter how little food you give it.  And if you are starving your bonsai you ought to be ashamed of yourself.  (Although I suppose we could get into a technical discussion about whether plants really 'eat' or not....)

And on the other end of the scale, here's a 2-year old Blackberry (Rubus fructicosus) accent plant that self-seeded itself in the garden (yes, thank you blackbirds) and is about 3 in / 18 cm including the pot.

OK, so the lay-out artist in me is satisfied.  Back to my fuming and fulminating in my corner here....

Saturday, 21 November 2009

How A5 really sticks in my craw

Got another club newsletter in the post today, which made a nice light read with my morning coffee.  So now that the coffee's gone and the reading content has been digested from cover to cover - what do I do with the newsletter?

I always feel guilty about chucking these things in the bin since I am supremely conscious of the amount of effort it has taken to put a newsletter together.  Often the editor works on his own and has to beg, borrow and cajole information out of people just to make enough 'news' to fill a decent number of pages.  Often there just isn't enough new material to make a regular journal interesting, which is a constant battle for the editor especially when this is part of a membership package.  Often the newsletter is the most visible part of the benefits of being a member of an association, so the appearance of its value-add is even more important.

And not only is there the gathering-of-information chore, there is the laying-out-and-formatting-the-information chore on top of that.  Then printing.  And postage.  Sticking on all those labels.  Stuffing into envelopes.  Queueing at the post office. All on one person's head.  Thank God for admin people, is all I can say (and I did, in this post).

So while I am very conscious of the editor's hard graft, I still am stuck with several issues in various formats (single sheet A4, A4s folded into A5 and stapled together, whatever) lying around my home in various piles.  Some of the information is useful (display, grafting, taking cuttings, etc) therefore nice to keep on hand as reference.  But accessing reference material at a later date would mean some sort of efficient archival system.  Who the hell thinks of that after reading a newsletter with their morning coffee?  More to the point, who would even have the time to do that?  And for every single club paper they receive?  Daunting, dudes, daunting.

But why can't all this go on a website, locked in a Restricted Member Access section if necessary?  Then subscribers can just look this all up online without having storage and retrieval issues.  Added value too for new members - they now have access to issues that pre-date their membership.  Admittedly the work gets shifted onto another admin person (let's hear it for the website people out there) - at least for the initial set-up - but I believe the long-term benefits outweigh the downsides.  Keep the club costs down and use the dosh for something else.

I believe there are some societies already doing that; kudos to their governing bodies for being forward-thinking, and kudos to the membership for taking the plunge with them.

And yes, there also are (what is steadily becoming) a minority of people who don't have Internet access and who have no intentions of going down that route.  I also believe the club should have hardcopy provision for these people.  My belief is that clubs should be a disseminator of information, and if hardcopy is what it takes, then so be it. 

But at the very least, let paper be an option rather than a default. 

And while I'm at it - to all the club people out there who are sat on their nice cushy sofas enjoying their membership benefits: try pulling a finger out and at least submit photos of your trees (or plants or whatever) to your newsletter editor.  Or send in questions. Your thoughts to questions.  Whatever.  Think they don't need newsletter contributions?  Well, when was the last time you asked what they need???  If you've read this far, then you will hopefully have realised there are people out there who would probably welcome your contribution.  Or have you even thought about it while reading your newsletter with your morning coffee?  SHAME ON YOU.

There. Because I couldn't really go this far in the year without offending anyone, could I?  Hurrrr.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Black Ruby: ur doin' it rite

At least there's one plant that's doing what it's supposed to in the garden. 

This Saxifraga cortusifolia 'Black Ruby' was part of the annual plant swap that me and my mate Bruno have had going on for several years now.  Since there is a queue a mile long for this plant's offspring, I've been cultivating it for the past 3 years or so, trying to get it big enough to break up into (hopefully) gazillions of baby plants.  As you'll probably have noticed, it's not planted in an accent pot - again hopefully by next spring I'll have a large enough stock plant to have both giveaways and accents.

This Saxifrage doesn't seem to be very popular in the UK, although there are a couple of UK sites that have it on sale. On the other hand, it seems to be more common in Holland, as Stef and his other half recognised it immediately when they saw it in the garden in July.

Either as a function of its size or of its age (or both), this is the first time this plant has flowered.

Flowering time for this particular Saxifrage is September - November time, so for once, there's actually something in the garden that's actually following the seasons. That would just be too much to ask of the Trident Maples for example, right?

Sunday, 15 November 2009

... Or is it just that they don't get caught?

Amazing where my reading habits take me, sometimes.

Going through an article on the theft of a collection of bonsai trees, I was struck by the author's assumption that the thief was male.  Aside from the fact that moving multiples of trees in pots would make more sense if it were a group effort - in which case why couldn't this be a whole misguided Sorority thinking they could fund their University education with ill-gotten gain, for example.

So before I logged off with the S word (that would be 'sexism' of course) in my head, I decided to do some checking on the likelihood of a bonsai thief having the XY chromosome deal.  Now I wasn't about to do hours of trawling, but let me share with you what I found out in the course of an hour. 

Statistics gathered by the US Department of Justice showed that 'in 1998 there were an estimated 3.2 million arrests of women, accounting for 22% of all arrests that year'.  I couldn't find more recent stats than that, so if you can point me in the direction of newer numbers, by all means feel free.

In Psychology Today, The Scientific Fundamentalist blog ran a series of posts dated July 2008 on criminality and men.  The bit that interested me, of course, being the motivation behind property crimes of robbery and theft:

...If women prefer to mate with men with more resources, then men can increase their reproductive prospects by acquiring material resources. Resources in traditional societies, however, tend to be concentrated in the hands of older men; younger men are often excluded from attaining them through legitimate means and must therefore resort to illegitimate means to acquire them.


And female criminality?

... Apart from their tendency and inclination to avoid physical risks and danger altogether, this is another reason that women commit fewer crimes than men. Women only steal what they need for them and their children to survive, whereas men steal to show off and gain status as well as resources. In other words, women steal less than men for exactly the same reason as they earn less than men. Women generally earn less than men do because they tend to make only what they need and usually have better things to do than earn money, whereas men are motivated to earn far more than they need to survive in order to use the money to attract women. Similarly, women steal less than men do because they tend to steal what they need to survive and do not use crime for other purposes, like showing off and gaining status.

OK, I realise I've only scratched the tip of the iceberg here.  Nor do I necessarily agree with the views expressed above.  And don't take things out of context; if you want to fly off the handle, read all the blogposts first.

There are probably tons of number crunchers out there who can corroborate or disprove what's written here.  And the DOJ stats still tell me that there's at least a 1 in 5 chance that the bonsai thief could've been a chick.  Still, I'm now curious enough to wonder how things have evolved over the last 10 years.  For years women have been encouraged to believe they could do as well as men in all areas of their lives.  Has that spilled over into the criminal world?  So what would the numbers say - is the disparity still as great?

And no, I don't think it's just because women don't get caught as often as men.  No matter how inefficient some may believe the criminal justice systems to be, 78% is just too big a gap to be explained by that; even if the stats are over 10 years old.

Hmmm. Should I only allow women and older married men (or at least co-habiting ones) to come into the garden and view the bonsai?  Single, childless young dudes need not apply. :D

On a lighter note, what about what I found on this Forum?

It's because men are, plainly put, the cause of all misery:
MENtal illness
MENstrual cramps
MENtal breakdown
GUYnecologist (too bad it's not spelled that way)
and when we have real trouble it's a...

Yep, found all that in the space of an hour. 


Saturday, 14 November 2009

Howling Wind Casualty

This accent plant, a hardy Geranium in a Lotus pot was the first (and hopefully, the only) casualty of the strong wind we've been having all day today.  We've had this plant a long, long time - it's one of the first accent plants TOH ever put together.  The whole thing stood about 3 in / 8 cm from the base of the pot.  Said pot has now gone the way of Humpty Dumpty. 

I suppose this is where you're supposed to make lemonade when life gives you lemons.  I'd been saying for a long while that I'd like to convert this plant into a kusamono ball, but the thought of having to hoik it up out of the pot had put me off - THAT is the hassle with strongly incurved pots.

Well I won't have that trouble now, will I? 

Just as well I took photos of the geranium while it was in a pot, I guess.

But being me, I always have to look at the other side of the coin; which is, where am I going to get another cheap Lotus pot like the one that got broken?

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Sum Moar Bonsai Trees? I Haz Dem!

So it's not quite the most seasonal set of photos.  So what?

Call it an autumn clear-out, when I've been going over the e-mails and photo folders to catalogue all the stuff people have sent me over the year.  All photos courtesy of Stef, who came to visit us in the summer with Joke, his other half.

This is the staging where a mix of shohin and bigger bonsai live.  There isn't a lot of science involved in our placement of trees - more like finding enough space to fit the things in without using a crowbar.  However, if something starts looking unhappy, then a new home has to be found.  Take the Trident Maple on rock (upper left-hand corner) and the large White Pine on the opposite side of the staging: they've been in the same spots forever and somehow seem to be doing all right, even if they don't really want the same growing conditions.  Somehow their little microclimate seems to work for them, and they've been there ever since.

A section of the central staging showing a large collected Scots Pine, some Junipers and whatnot.  And my favourite thing in the whole garden - the Pushpins!  Which are actually things that prevent the watering hose from bumping and coiling around the bonsai.

A shadier section of the central staging: another large collected Scots Pine, beeches, oaks and maples.  The guy at the very top is a triple-trunked Japanese Maple 'Chisio'.  Slightly to the right of him is a Weeping Willow that we have been working on for yonks....and we're still at it.  Oh - another Pushpin at the bottom right-hand corner :D

One of TOH's experiments - a group of little larches on a slab.  The variation in trunk sizes still needs working on (among a whole load of things), so this forest may not go on show for another decade or so.  Hurrr.

This group of small Chinese Elms somehow never goes deciduous in the winter, which probably just goes to show how mild our climate is.  Ignore the weeds though.  One problem with this group is that, although the pot is so large, the whole thing is really quite squat; so any display table it goes on needs to be both wide and tall.  Not many of them walking around, and the very few times this planting has gone out on show, we've had to borrow one of Robert's stands.  The group started with 7 cheap Chinese Elms and went through around 3 subsequent 'additions' whenever we found trees of the right height and girth.  The tallest tree stands probably no more than 7 in / 18 cm high, and we've probably had the group for at least 8 years now.  I think there are 19 trees in there now, but it really is a bit difficult to count them...

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Nope, nothing to do with my phone

A Twitter link from Sarah of Smart Bitches Trashy Books led me to Columnist David Brooks' Op-Ed on Cellphones, Texts and Lovers.

While the bulk of his column may not have a lot of bearing on my particular soapbox (but go read it anyway if you want to be enlightened on what people can get up to with a phone on a Friday night), this particular bit did resonate (emphasis is my own):

This does not mean that young people today are worse or shallower than young people in the past. It does mean they get less help. People once lived within a pattern of being, which educated the emotions, guided the temporary toward the permanent and linked everyday urges to higher things. The accumulated wisdom of the community steered couples as they tried to earn each other’s commitment.

This blog goes on a lot about bonsai club activities for a reason - the knowledge I have acquired in this hobby is primarily because we sought out a local club when I started getting interested in bonsai almost 14 years ago. Since hooking up with Teacher-san and a group of very enlightened (AKA geeky) friends, my store of specialist and horticultural knowledge has grown radically. But I would never have gotten there without the baby steps taken in the little club we still go to.  So, if I have ever helped anyone out there take their own baby steps in their journey of discovery, then well and good.

TOH and I are inveterate book collectors and the number of bonsai books at home probably rivals the size of a club's library. On top of that, we have videos. DVDs. Whatever. But we have always felt that nothing replaces the ability to ask someone a question, study a tree together and discuss possibilities.  To this end, private lessons are fantastic, but not exactly cheap.  A club meeting or workshop with more-experienced members is a reasonable alternative, especially for a beginner who isn't sure of how much commitment to make to the hobby.

But the downside to any collective is evident: it's full of OTHER PEOPLE. Which could mean politics. Or personality clashes. Or differences of opinion. Well, if you don't want a repeat of your own family, what can I say?

Don't think that confining yourself to surfing the 'Net is going to shield you from all that, though. I have read many a diatribe on public forums (OK 'fora' if you are a stickler for the correct use of Latin) which make evident that backscratching, brown-nosing and backstabbing are not purely face-to-face activities. (Or back-to-back for that matter.  Hurrrr.)  I also remember talking to a Spanish enthusiast whose beef with Internet forums was that any tree could be made to look good depending on the angle that a picture was taken.  So there's always video.  Maybe in a few years' time the technology will catch up with us, but at the moment the time it would take to integrate all the media involved just to do a quick Q&A - it makes my head spin.  We do a lot of virtual meetings in my day job and believe me it's got a ways to go yet.  (And yes my patience factor is VERY VERY SMALL when it comes to waiting for software to perform properly.)

Nonetheless, I find it significant that, while the Internet has opened up a Whole Wide World to us without the need to ever leave our armchairs, the success of social media shows that we still have a tendency to congregate.  Yes, into groups.  Only our congregations are not necessarily held together by time or face, but by a similarity of interests and etiquette.  We are still appreciative of help (if not necessarily actively looking for it); so what would be more logical - or even easier, for that matter - than the accumulated wisdom of a non-virtual community, if there actually is one to hand?

Bonsai isn't the only thing I do, and from time to time on Twitter I touch on the other interests and related congregations that I subscribe to.  And I've made new friends, kept in touch with old ones, learned new things and shared on others.  All the same sort of thing that I do at the clubs I go to physically, actually.

Huh. And you thought I'd tell you about what I do with my phone on a Friday night, dincha?

What? Didn't you read the title of this post???

Monday, 2 November 2009

Someone's been busy

And it wasn't me. Nossiree.

So here is a photo tribute to all the hard graft TOH has done by way of winter prep in the cold greenhouse where most of the shohin and mame are kept: tidying up and clearing out all the dead leaves and what not, laying down slug pellets and giving a winter prune to the deciduous trees that have done a leaf dump.

Not that it's the best-looking greenhouse in the world, mind.  Note that we are in a hard water area, witnessed by all the limescale marks on the shelving and the pots.

Here's what you see of the cold greenhouse as soon as you walk in.  Evergreens or those still in leaf have been moved up to the light.  Those that have fully shed their leaves have been moved to the bottom shelves.

And to your left as you walk in the door.  The fun will be in Spring when everything bursts out into leaf - then it will be Changing Rooms in the Greenhouse all over again.

And on the right, with the neighbours' dead leaves and the grape vine just visible beyond the glass.

And because it looks so striking, here is a close-up of the red maple and primula kusamono on that last top shelf.  The pot is Czech (Isabelia?) in case you're wondering.

Of course, there are still the warm greenhouse and the coldframes to go, but I'm just being nitpicky now...

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Lee Verhorevoort at Solent Bonsai Society

Lee Verhorevoort has been coming down to bonsai clubs in this part of the UK for probably over a decade now and his talks are a mix of care/styling of trees interspersed with his dealings in Japan with growers and specialist nurseries over the years.

Last night's talk was on Junipers although the things that struck me most personally had less to do with the species itself as Lee's insights on the ethos that drives enthusiasts in Japan.

The first thing he started banging on was the health of the tree. Some club members had brought their junipers to be critiqued and he pointed out that all bar one of them had spider mites or juniper scale. One tree had both.

This may not be the best illustration in the world, but hopefully you'll see the yellowish discoloration indicative of a juniper that's being attacked by pests. The colour of a healthy juniper would be more like the bright green tips on the branches.

The owner of a well-infected tree got told to get the tree healthy first before even considering doing any styling work to it. I always thought that tough love never hurt anyone, to be honest. But maybe that's just me.

Touching on yamadori, one difference pointed out was that European collectors will tend to do 'heavy' work (e.g. major bending of big trunks & branches) within the limitations of the material they have collected, whereas the Japanese will just overcome these limitations by 'creatively' adding/grafting branches wherever they may want them. Fair enough. A quick explanation followed on various grafting procedures, with Lee saying that he knew of one grafting specialist nursery in Japan that had done over 200 grafts on a single tree, all at the same time. On the basis that if a certain percentage of grafts doesn't take, there'll still be a lot left to work with. Again, fair enough.

But what struck me was, he went on to say that - if you have trees that have started acquiring value, and you are already struggling to find time to devote to these trees' development, then don't mess around with stuff like grafting. Expend your energies on your better trees and don't spend time 'playing' if it's to the detriment of your higher-value bonsai.

A bit like the 80-20 rule, where you spend the bulk of your time and resources on the 20% that will bring in 80% of returns.

Another thing Lee pointed out was that Japanese bonsai enthusiasts tend to believe that, in 10 years' time, their trees should look 10 times better. They expend their time and effort in species that lend themselves to achieving this result. A contrast with many British enthusiasts who are less targeted in their approach and less precise in the choice of growing methods used to achieve this end.

Most important point of the evening for me was Lee's insistence on REFINING a tree. The work of styling can sometimes be instantaneous, but it is the day-to-day work - the endless routine of correct watering, feeding, pruning, caring for the health of the tree, etc - that matters more in the long run.

A lot of information was disclosed over the period of a 3-hour meeting, so I've had to condense into a few sentences what I gleaned over this time. I've tried not to misrepresent anything Lee has said in these paragraphs, so before you go flying off the handle over any perceived disconnect, do try and bear that in mind.

Other than that I preferred the cream-filled biccies to the chocolate chips.

And while this pic may look like acting out 'drilling for oil' in a game of Charades, it's actually Lee explaining about grafting on a yamadori.

Keep digging deep, guys :D

If you are interested in finding more about Lee and his nursery in Kent about a half-hour's drive out of London, this is the place to go.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Running your Bonsai Life on a Handshake

Chatting online yesterday with @bonsaibanter had brought up an interesting point where the hobby of bonsai in the UK is concerned.

Our discussion touched on big bonsai shows, and @bonsaibanter was of the view that these '...demand a good deal of labour and I wonder how sustainable that is in a volunteer based organisation'.

Now there's the rub.

Most bonsai clubs/associations are run by people who earn bugger-all from the work they put into it. In general, clubs and societies will have started out as a group of like-minded people wanting to share time and resources around their interest. Things tend to go upwards from there, especially if there is already a centralised body that's able to facilitate things for them like speakers, show insurance, resource directories and so on.

And this happy little group of people will continue meeting in a backyard and work on their trees, and their reputation will grow, and more people will come and join them. So they'll move to a larger venue where more people will hear about their happy little group which is now mushrooming like a monolithic blowfish. (Talk about mixed metaphors...)

Which is all well and good until administrational demands kick in, involving the dreaded F-word 'finances' and the other dreaded 4-letter word 'work'.

In my experience, of the number of attendees/members in hobbyist societies, only a very small fraction will volunteer to go onto the steering committees and face the administrative grind that keeps said happy little group alive, functioning and out of trouble. And - again in my experience and especially in artsy-fartsy hobbies like bonsai - the majority of people involved in steering committees tend to be shite at real-world skills like administration. Or possibly they just won't have the experience to be 100% efficient. 'Tend to be' being the active qualifier here, of course.

What about the rest of the club members?

Well, the bulk will probably be people who are of the middle-of-the-road persuasion, willing to chip in if co-opted but preferring to stay out of doing any more work if they can help it. Their primary focus is getting on and developing the skills of their hobby. There's also a smaller group that's primarily in there to socialise. Acquisition of skills is less of a priority than the actual fun & fellowship package. Then there's the artsy-fartsy lot who like to shine. They'll be the ones who'll always want to front giving talks and schmoozing up to 'big names', because their nature is to look for the spotlight. They may accept a figurehead position, but heaven help you if they actually want to run something.

Because, let's face it - the good administrative talent will not be spending their free time doing more admin. They'll already be earning the big bucks at their day job, doing nitty gritty that a lot of people suck at. But for their free time? Very few will be willing to put in the same hours or effort for zero amount of remuneration while staying in the background. Admin is neither fun nor glamourous, peeps. It's just that the people who're good at it have figured out how to do it faster and more efficiently than the rest of mankind.

But the number of people who excel at anything, who are truly GIFTED and TALENTED at it - be it bonsai styling, horticulture, arts or admin - they are few and far between. They probably have the temperament to match their talent, but that's the risk you run with anything. There are also lots of people with monumental ego and bugger-all talent, which is all by the bye.

So if your club is lucky enough to have one or several of these suckers who are willing to give up their free time to do your admin, I'd really suggest you start thanking your lucky stars. And figure out how to drag more of the same in. Because the downside of volunteer work is they can give you the finger and sod off anytime they want to. The upside of course being that you get their time and effort for free (just in case you still haven't figured this out by now).

We are lucky in our little local bonsai club. Many of the members are retired professionals who no longer have the over-arching need to prove anything to anyone, several are very knowledgeable in niche areas like horticulture and styling, and there are also a lot of willing hands to go around. However, when we lost our Treasurer, a Committee member's wife had to be co-opted into doing the role even though she's not a bonsai enthusiast. But she is both faithful and efficient at what she does. Not all societies are as fortunate in having as much talent to hand within an active membership of possibly less than a dozen people.

Lots of people still associate bonsai with big money and cash cows. Wake up and smell the coffee, dudes. The hobby's heyday in the UK is about 10 years past and the market has since matured. The leisure market is full of competition, and in times of recession the average customer isn't going to be chucking his hard-earned cash left, right and centre. No matter how big your UK bonsai club is, it's still going to be dinky small fry in comparison with the gaming industry, for example, which is far better at being enticing. So running a club like a backyard operation will bring you backyard results, and if you aren't good at leveraging whatever freebie resources you have... well then, over time backyard starts turning into backward.

You get the picture.

The people that win in an overcrowded market are those with a lot of savvy... but I'm sure you've had enough of me banging on about marketing and savvy, haven't you? :D

Well if you haven't, and if I haven't posted on it in the next couple of weeks or so, you're just going to have to remind me. Hurrr.

What? Disagree? The Comments box is open...

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Autumn Colour, yet again

Looks like more autumnal pics are coming out of the garden after all.

We're still having this mixed sort of weather, with sun one day and rain the next. The temperatures are still rather mild, which means that a lot of trees are still green and growing while others are starting to let out the ZZZ's.

Here's a pic I took of this Toad Lily (Tricyrtis) in the summer. You can just see a bit of the maple in the edges.

And here it is again in the autumn, flanked by a fern and the same Japanese Mountain Maple. Whether the Toad Lily should still be in flower in October is anyone's guess.

And this little guy is a Field Maple (Acer campestre). The contrast between the yellow leaves and the little red Walsall pot is nothing if not charming, if I may say so myself. It's been in training for about 2 years now - still a long way to go in the ramification area, though. The planting is about 5 in /13 cm high from base of pot.

And this is a shohin Cotoneaster which hasn't got a lot of berries this year. It stands around 6 in /15.2 cm from the base of the pot. We've had this guy a long time. The pot was purchased at the 2007 EBA Convention in Belgium and is by a lady Danish potter whose name escapes me and whose website I forgot to bookmark. Slapped wrists!

I'm not one for naming my trees (sorry, just not my thing) but this guy is an exception - given that his pot looks vaguely like a Viking boat. So Bjorn he is, when I can be bothered to remember.

And although I don't give names to my bonsai, all my compost bins have names. Go figure.

But that is another post for another time. If you can twist my arm. I dare you.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Another day in the life of...

Or shall we say the continuing saga of the travails of a bonsai grower? Here's an update on all the plants and stuff you've seen so far.

The grapes in this post are still hanging in their bunches and aren't quite ripe yet. We are near the end of October, you guys. Hurry up and get a move on. If this rain continues, all I'll have are big bunches of mildew hanging on that pergola.

The rose in this pot got knocked over by the guy doing some work on the garden. Pot and bonsai are intact. Phew! A yamadori Scots Pine suffered the same fate and its Northern Chinese training pot is now Humpty Dumpty.

This buttercup and a couple of his cousins think it is spring (I told you this weather is screwed up). As they are now out in leaf - alright, they are sheltered in a cold frame - I suppose they are going to stay that way until the REAL spring arrives (that's 2010 to you).

As mentioned in the earlier post, the seven-lobed maple is now denuded. Billie the fat bonsai cat has been upstaged by a kitten and is establishing territory and the ground rules. Neither feline is mine.

The Cyclamen we use as accent plants self-seed every year in the strangest places - into the gravel inside the greenhouse, under the leaf litter on the bonsai staging, everywhere. This year it's between the patio paving slabs. I've dug up a couple (of Cyclamen, not the paving slabs - doh) and put them into thimble pots, a bit like these ones here.

The blackbirds are still uprooting all the moss and liverwort they can find. Between them and the cat crap all over the flower beds, it's enough to make one consider violence. Grrrr.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

More Bonsai Autumn Colour (among other things)

Like you could trust the great British weather.

It all started so good this Autumn, being cold & dry - as the seven-lobed maple will attest. Then a couple of days ago, it started to go downhill, with the rain coming in and the temperatures actually rising. So all I have in the garden are either bonsai that are still green & growing, or stuff that's decided to go brown, crispy and drop off.

The shohin and mame in the greenhouse are of course doing their own thing regardless. I've got a couple of shohin maples that have gone into wonderful colours, but their ramification looks like crap. So, no piccies of them for you. Live with it. :D

On the other hand, will these do?

This is a mame Japanese Bush Clover (Lespedeza), which stands about 6 in /15.2 cm) from the tiny feet of its dinky Tokoname pot. I've been growing a few Bush Clovers for a couple of years now and this one is the smallest. I think it's been in this pot for at least 5 years now. And the pot is a bloody bugger to clean. What you cannot see is the whopping thick wire (under the pot's base) which has been used to hold the fine anchoring wires that keep Mr Lespedeza from being blown out of his home. This is because the pot is so small, it only has one large drainage hole. Hence the fat wire running across the hole. Still confused? Tell me and I'll draw you a picture. Sheesh.

Now this guy is more recent; I probably acquired this shohin Crab Apple about 3 years ago. It stands about 11 in / 27.9 cm from the base of its pot (which BTW I think is an Erin but cannot say for sure. Have tried looking under the thing and nearly lost all the topsoil.) Anyways, it went into this pot last spring, and the ramification is not there at all yet. Its saving grace IMHO being three crab apples hanging there - but as I picked it up off the bench to take the photo, the one little bugger fell off. So I have stuck it in the photo as a prop. Waste not, want not; I've always said.

So, not a lot of good things among the bonsai & the kusamono to take pics of so far. And yes, where blame is attributable (especially onto something as nebulous as the weather), I will jump on the chance to do so. After all, the fine art of whinging can only be maintained by practice, right?


Sunday, 4 October 2009

Hiding a multitude of sins

Aside from the seven-lobed maple under the pergola, the first bits of autumn colour have shown themselves in the garden among the accent plants. Among the first to turn was this Thalictrum:
And then of course there's this Astilbe (one of my finds in the Alpine nurseries of Austria):

And the multitude of sins that are (hopefully) being hidden?

The pots (especially the first photo) are sh*tty dirty. So NOW you notice. Feh.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Bonsai vs Grapes: The Garden Wars

So what exactly did the summer bring me? Trouble & strife in the garden, is what. All under the leafy shade of the pergola where several bonsai maples, a couple of yews and rather a few Satsuki azaleas were quietly minding their own business.

Which of course the grape vine was doing as well.

Except, when the interests of the two groups collide, then we have - the vegetative Clash of the Titans. You got it.

After all, some would say the whole of Nature is just one big fight for territorial dominance. And as the photos taken a few weeks ago show, this corner of the garden was no exception.

The Kiyohime maple is visible in the top photo, and a few seven-lobed Japanese maple leaves (we are still trying to identify the variety) are barely visible in the foreground.

One of the yews is in the rear of the photo. And the big ole grape vine is just protecting these guys from the wind and the scorching sun. Not that that's stopped the Kiyohime from leaf burn this summer.

The grape vine was planted about five years ago, and it started seriously producing fruit in abundance last year. The second photo shows the other side of the pergola, where the grape bunches are a lot fuller, given the lack of competition for light, space or air.

Third photo along just goes to show what a little good weather can do for ripening fruit. Although, the Med we are not... yet.

The freakish sunny weather that hung around for most of September and into the first days of October has seen a lot of late spurts of growth in the bonsai and kusamono.

Most of the maples in the garden are still in full leaf. The seven-lobed maple was the first to go into glorious autumn colour and is now starting to lose its leaves. All the other maples have ignored it and are doing their own thing, i.e. growing like crazy. A few lazy sods like the chaenomeles and wisteria have just rolled over and are now doing the plant equivalent of snoring their heads off.

Bonsai shows have slowed down a bit in this part of the world. Our local societies have done a few appearances in conjunction with local craft & trade fairs - which I feel is a very good thing. Better to bring the word to the general public rather than preach to the converted.

Last photo shows the seven-lobed maple as it started to turn into its autumn colour. There's still a lot of work that needs to go into this tree before it's even remotely show-ready. The ramification is nondescript and the crown of the tree is blah. So all it has to recommend itself at this point is a few weeks of fiery display. Of course, it keeps getting bombarded by falling grapes, which sort of cuts the autumn display time down by quite a bit as well.

Nothing like getting clonked on the head by some rotting fruit to get your status in life in perspective, is what I say.

So what's in store for the grapes? Not wine, in any case. For nothing am I rolling out the oak barrels to tread on these suckers barefoot. But apparently they are quite good eating grapes, so there you go.

Oh, hai.

Yup, it's me again.

Back from a few weeks' blogging inactivity. Like, a lotta weeks :D

Which could be explained by a summer holiday, except that - as I mentioned to lilmissmaya on Twitter - in the UK, summer is something like 4 days in May, 8 days in June & 6 days in September. Except that our Indian Summer has seen fit to make a liar out of me.

September has given us almost 3 weeks of continual sunshine & warm-ish weather. October is here and the freak good weather is still on a roll. The forecast for the beginning of this week isn't fantastic, but... that's just par for the course.

Too much of a good thing and all that.

So, didja miss me? HARRRR.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

What I like, what I really....

... really like at all these bonsai shows I go to - if I'm being very honest - is not so much the trees, as the wonderfully quirky personalities I have met in the the past 15 years.

Lots of the people I like and talk about on Twitter and on this blog would not consider themselves as 'big names' in the British or international bonsai scene. But many of them have been growing and displaying trees longer than I have; many of them have a lot of specialist knowledge in both horticultural and unrelated areas; and many of them are able to convey that knowledge with passion and humour. And many of them are great for just standing around and chewing the fat with.

Unfortunately I haven't sought out their permission to tell you of what each of them have told me in the past weekend - for example - so no names named, OK? Let's see... the juicy bits started during the lull after lunch. Things went quiet so a bunch of us just gathered around to chat. I think we started with someone receiving a proposal of marriage from two (yes, plural!) inebriated young ladies; then on to cross-dressing, which led to gay bars in the area. For some reason that went on to the feasibility of doing a bonsai demonstration with scantily clad assistants (don't ask), then on to nude sculpture, which led back to the gay bars (we have one-track minds). Which of course went on to the television programming that the BBC lays on us - whether for good or ill - and to the TV license fee that we have to pay over here.

Not bad - from the ridiculous to the sublime, isn't it? Or not, I guess, depending on how you feel toward paying your TV license.

And no, it's not all scandalous gossip, unfortunately :D

The rest of the day was spent discussing how to correctly ascertain if one of my needle junipers is a rigida or a communis (verdict - check the big Hilliers Encyclopedia), interviewing the holder of a 6th dan in Iaidō (oh my, oh my, oh my; not many of them walking around) and receiving a wonderfully insightful description of historical vs modern-day usage of netsuke, inro and ojime. Not to forget coffee and cake, and of course, lunch. Far be it from me to attend a bonsai show and starve. *shudders*

Not bad for a day's (non)work, right?

Sussex Bonsai show at Hove

Okay. At this point of the year I am definitely starting to feel blasé and all-showed-out. We've been going since the Noelanders show in January and the end of the bonsai show season couldn't come too soon for me now.

But here I am once again, having done the 1.25 hour trip to Hove, saikei in hand for the International Saikei Association's display at Sussex Bonsai Society's show.

Several bonsai/horticultural clubs from the South turned up for this show: Chichester, Sutton, Solent, Swindon, Crawley and Celtic Knot (Wales). Apologies if I've missed any other clubs - I'll admit to being a mite distracted by Antique Netsuke's wares that day.

Unfortunately I've not got as many pics from this show as I'd normally have, since the lighting within the hall was severely testing the limits of my Sony Ericsson phone. We've been through this before, right? If you don't know what I'm talking about, feel free to go over the Archives. Attribution of blame not being the object of this post, here is what I've got and that's it, dudes.

So here are several views of the display hall, taken from the balcony above. To the left of the island displays are a couple of trade stands, with more of the same - and some club stands - towards the rear of the hall.

All the island displays belong to the Sussex Bonsai Society. Again, more trade and club stands are visible in this photo below, towards the rear of the hall (to the right of this display). Lighting was too dim for me to be able to take pics of those stands.

Here's a view of the rear of the hall, with the trade stands as a quadrangle in the centre, and the societies ranged against the walls. Unfortunately all the natural daylight was up in the tiered seating in the balcony.

And this is the view of the other side of the balcony, where the demonstrations were being held. Just beneath are another set of club stands, with another island display from Sussex Bonsai.

I did manage to take some individual pics of the bonsai and suiseki. The photos below don't necessarily mean they were what I would have considered to be the best in the show. In fact, none of the photos I post in this blog necessarily mean that, unless I specifically indicate a preference. But, if they are here, it is because I believe there is something worthy of interest. Whether positive or negative, I leave that up to you.

Above is a damson in fruit - the only one I've ever seen as a bonsai. Below is the detail of the fruit, which are the size of small plums. This was in the display of Sutton Bonsai Society. The owner wasn't at the show when I took this pic, so I don't have much more info than this. Tree stands around 2 ft / 61 cm from base of pot.

Below, in one of Sussex Bonsai's island displays, is a cotoneaster planted in a large driftwood. Getting a pic was very much trial-and-error as this was on the floor. The only way I could have focused the phone properly would have been by prostrating myself fully on the ground, and not even for this blog am I doing that!

A shohin cotoneaster from Sussex Bonsai Society. Noteworthy to me is that, with a black background and a black base, you could almost make a bonsai appear to float within a void.

I think the Welsh lads should be given a medal for driving all the way down to shows over here. Celtic Knot's was probably the society stand most fortunate in terms of lighting. Here are the suiseki they had on display.

And the one that brought me the most amusement, a sort of stony gangsta-rapper look with shades:

Friday, 31 July 2009

Willow WIP still In Progress

Back in February, I posted a picture of this Willow in its winter image, which really didn't make much of an image at all.

Which is why this is very much a WIP.

Back then I also called it a 'Study in Squiggly Lines', which it still is - particularly without any leaves - although there is now some filling out of what will be foliage pads.

The first photo is what I think will be the rear view. The munched-on Hosta (a large variety that self-seeded in the garden) is just visible at the base of the tree.

The biggest challenge so far has been keeping slugs, snails and caterpillars off this planting, which I've only managed to do with minimal success. Watering isn't much of an issue, although I do need to remember to get the other side of the base, otherwise I wind up with a brown spot of dry moss.

The second picture shows what I intend to develop into the front, with the hosta and a primrose. Of course, all three plants could develop into huge monstrosities which would totally ruin the image I'm trying to create. At which point it will be a total return to the drawing board and start from scratch. Or I could decide to only bring out the planting at the times of the year when it's looking its best.

This is now the start of this planting's second year. I don't remember what colour the primrose is, although I vaguely recall putting it in. I have a feeling it's one of the pink ones, which hopefully will go well with the lavender hosta flowers.

Another challenge with this planting is the balance: the whole thing tends to tip over, partly because the base of the pot (by Petra Hahn, BTW) is rounded and partly because all the weight is towards one side. Any prospect of flowering is therefore viewed with some trepidation. The plant distribution was done deliberately (yeah, right), however I cannot say that any consideration of the laws of Physics was involved. Newton, I am not.

Like a lot of things in the 'craft' side of bonsai, this project is a live-and-learn, trial-and-error sort of deal. It may very well be that in two or three years' time, this project could be subjected to total revamp. Or it could become something better that I ever thought it may be. Then again, I'm not really holding my breath for that one.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

The Continuing Saga of the Pear-shaped Bonsai Kitty

Yes, Billie the fat cat is a continual source of amusement for my infantile side (as if I had any other).

Here she attempts to make herself comfortable in a glazed bonsai pot while supremely ignoring the photographer. Who in this instance is not myself.

Still, one does wonder whatever was going through the cat's mind when it decided it wanted to fit its remarkable posterior in this little pot.

Pushing one's luck has also become something of a national sport in certain areas of this country (often in the proximity of felines with sharp claws). So here is Billie being subjected to another photo opp, this time with the expression normally associated with 'get out of my face before I jump down your throat.'

The results of this encounter between grumpy cat and the tempter of fate remain a closely guarded secret. Nonetheless, you may rest assured that no animals or teen-agers were harmed in the making of this blogpost.

Photographs courtesy of Graham Laidlaw.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

All the Pot's a Sphere (well, almost)

One of the bonsai on display at Humbees last weekend was this rose: bought from a garden centre and planted in a pot commissioned from John Pitt.

The idea for the pot came from one of Marc Noelanders' bonsai that I saw in January this year, although his was a perfect sphere. I hadn't wanted the hassles of properly balancing the weight of the plant in order to keep the whole thing upright, so this pot has a flat base - nice and simple solution.

The quirky bit about this pot is it actually has a feature built into it for anchoring the plant with wires, as one should do with bonsai. Yup, Mr Pitt thought of everything.

In this photo, said feature is invisible to the naked eye as it is inside the pot, just above the drainage hole and directly opposite the opening. All very clever actually, but my uncomprehending questions, loaded with innuendo (don't ask - I refuse to explain), caused a great deal of hilarity among the women and made Mr Pitt threaten to take the pot away from me.

As usual, this pic has been owing the Pitt-boss for several months now, but my excuse is that it wasn't worth photographing until the rose was actually in bloom, right?

What Joe Public doesn't really get to see...

... is the set-up and tear-down of each show. And why should they? Ruins all the front-of-house mystique, doesn't it? For that matter, would you really want to see all that back-of-house stuff?

Well, since you're still here reading this, then the answer must be 'yes', right? Read on, then.

Day before the show and the polytunnel that Humbees had set aside for our use looked like this. The staff were accommodating enough to help us set up (and make endless cups of tea & coffee), laying out pallets and sales benches to be converted into bonsai display:

Below is the other end of the polytunnel ('twas a big bugger, wasn't it? Camera was at about the level of the lady setting up the palettes in the pic above.). The big challenge of the day was rendering the gaps in the lower tier of the staging suitable for display. So a whole load of 2x1 wood was wedged in - using brute force & ignorance - between the gaps. The 2x1 'bridges' were only good enough to use for the lighter, smaller plantings, but at least they did the job and we didn't lose display space that day. The one let-down was that the cloth tended to sag over these bits. Oh well, learning curve. That will be addressed next year, we're told. Yay!

Hanging out the backdrop cloth for a couple of stands had to be curtailed as we had run out of safety pins(!). My job for the rest of the afternoon was to get the biccies and coffee, plus some more safety pins. A trip to the supermarket later and I had bought enough biccies to feed an army and completely forgotten the safety pins. We made do with ordinary pins in the end. And while the pre-opening set-up had only involved a few people, more hands the next day meant quick work of the remainder of the preparations.

For how it all looked after that hard graft, see the following posts.

And here we come to the end of the show, when all is in the process of being broken down and packed away. The shohin display stand has been stripped of bonsai and accents, all the clubs have removed their trees and safely stowed them in their vehicles; now everyone is pitching in to take the display cloth down and help set the polytunnel back to rights. To the right, with her back to the camera, is Collette Harrison of Bonsai Trees Southampton. Both chairmen of Wessex and Eastleigh are in this photo: Eastleigh's being the arm packing away a bonsai table, and Wessex's being the person behind the crates walking to the door. Solent's chairman did drop by in the morning but had to get back to their other show venue, thereby missing out on the wonderful lunch. The sausages passing him by was the biggest blow, apparently. Was it the camaraderie between clubs that led us to put together a decent doggy-bag for him? Nope, it was too many left-overs from the spread that Lynn had brought over. Harrr.

The ethos that governs our club has, for a long time, been that of informality and, dare I hope, friendliness. The standard of our trees has developed (for the better) over the years. I've heard critiques of clubs in general as being cliquey and difficult to penetrate. It may perhaps be true of larger gatherings desiring to attract members of a certain status. I've never been to one of them, so could not say yea or nay either way. Not that I would care.

Somehow, this display of organised chaos in a polytunnel, with people walking around munching on biccies and coffee, some pruning their trees and others just lounging around and chatting - well that does blow the elitist image to bits from the get go. Just as well no-one tries, I guess.

The Jack Bellinger Cup

The Jack Bellinger Cup has been running for several years now as an inter-club competition, in memory of Jack Bellinger and sponsored by David Glew. Originally it comprised Eastleigh and Wessex Bonsai Societies. More recently, its scope was widened to include Solent Bonsai Society. The competition involves each society putting forward a panel of 3 trees, representative of the best they have to offer that year.

As I mentioned in a previous post, tiered display staging always poses a problem for me when photographing trees on a stand, so in some instances, I only took a single photo in an entire panel. Third picture down in this post gives a view of the Bellinger entries, and hopefully illustrates why I balk at photographing individual trees displayed this way. Therefore, taking a stab at equitability, I've only included one tree from each society's entries. As I wasn't walking around with a tape measure in hand, all dimensions given are as best as my memory serves me.

Solent Bonsai Society included this larch group in their panel of three. The tallest tree would be around 2 ft / 61 cm high:

Of the panel of 3 trees from Wessex Bonsai Society, here is a white pine in the region of 22 in / 56 cm high:

Eastleigh Bonsai's panel included a Japanese Ivy which was already covered in an earlier post.

This year's judge was Collette Harrison of Bonsai Trees Southampton, and the Cup was awarded to Solent Bonsai Society. Congratulations, guys.

I would've liked to include a photo of my personal choice (simply because I could :o), which was Robert's Itoigawa Juniper. However it was on the lower display tier - which precluded my photo opp - and getting it off the stand to the photography area would have been too much disruption for me. So I will have to content myself with a mention (a bit like waving candy in front of someone's nose, isn't it really). If I ever get a chance, I promise to update this blog with a halfway-decent photo.

Friday, 24 July 2009

The ups and downs of an informal show

Being hosted inside a polytunnel has given us a lot more display space than in the past years, but it's not without its little challenges. Still, the venue is relaxed and sets the tone for the entire show.

Weather that day was on the variable side (that being the norm for a British summer) with a nippy wind blowing. Note the skirting of the shohin display table billowing in the breeze. Possibly not a sight you'd see in a hall, but not something glaringly incongruous in a plant nursery. Right next to the shohin display is the Wessex Bonsai Society stand, with two of their contingent that had come down for the day. Note the billowing of their sails as well. Way down to the right is Solent Bonsai Society's stand.

And this had to be a definite upside: the lunch spread that Lynn put out for all of us. The salads were contributed by another club member, but the lion's share (and how) of the work was all down to Lynn. As she didn't want to be included in the pic, I've cropped out a bit of her - but not all :o)

The use of a polytunnel also gave the room for everyone to gather around and enjoy a very relaxed picnic lunch. The display on the left is the Jack Bellinger Cup competition; the order of the trees (in panels of 3) is: Solent Bonsai, Wessex Bonsai and Eastleigh Bonsai. The Cup resides with Solent again this year. Display on the right is Eastleigh Bonsai Society. Another challenge was 'seamlessly' converting plant sales benches into bonsai display stands, something that's being worked on with the proprietors for next year, to avoid a few kinks in the overall presentation.

Like all things, I guess, practice makes perfect. Generally, small club shows are an occasion for socialising among club members, and also a chance to meet up with Joe Public. To this end, I sometimes wonder if these shows shouldn't have a 'warts & all' type display as well as the 'look how pretty' section. In previous venues, we had an area where club members could work on their own trees, thereby giving the general public a chance to ask about the why & the wherefore, and how it gets to the 'stonking tree' stage. Perhaps we'll move back to that format again as time goes on.