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.

Credit where credit is due

Before this gets lost in the miasma of posts on the show day at Humbees, I'd like to thank Robert for the loan of his stands for these photos.

Most of the bonsai you'll see here were lifted off their display stands and put on spare tables provided by Robert. Some of the shohin and kusamono were part of larger compositions that would never have fit into a Sony Ericsson's depth of field.

Nor do I think the individual clubs would have been too thrilled at me taking apart their hard-put-together displays in order to filch photos of their trees for this blog... :o)

Robert was also kind enough to lend his display tables to other clubs, and I'm sure those concerned wouldn't mind my mentioning that as well. All part of the fun of a more informal club show.

Studies in Ivy

Finally, down to the first set of heretofore unpublished photos from the show at Humbees of Marwell last weekend.

I'm surprised at the number of pictures I actually managed to take, testament to the quality of the light that day. As all I take with me for photo opps is still my Sony Ericsson mobile phone, if either the background or lighting don't cooperate, then I don't push the issue. Experience over the past months has shown that the end result isn't worth the effort of trying to compensate. Still, I feel the need to break things down into chunks and avoid a conga line of a post.

Looks like a lot of ivy in pots came out that weekend. Here we go with a sample, in decreasing order of size.

This first one was one of the 3 trees put forward by Eastleigh Bonsai Society for the Jack Bellinger Cup. The marvelous thing I found out from Robert is that his bonsai only has a single - and very long- root which has been wrapped around itself over a period of years. Here is the rootwork detail:

And here is the entire composition (well, I didn't really want to include the accent plant in the pic, however I couldn't find a way of cropping it without losing the balance of the branchwork). From the base of the pot, I'd figure it's around 22in / 56cm high :

Down to shohin level, this 8-year old Ivy was grown from a cutting and is in a pot about 4.5in/11cm in diameter:

Even smaller is Robert's mame ivy in a John Pitt pot. The whole planting looks very delicate, thereby calling for steady nerves and patience to set on its base. Giving an idea of scale is a bit difficult, as the pot is a modified crescent and the ivy cascades out of it by about 4.5in / 11.5 cm. So take the width of the pot as a reference point, being about 3in / 8cm:

Although I said I took a lot of photos, I really only managed to take about 10% of what was on display. Space limitations at club shows can constrain the display to tiered staging, which in turn often means photographing trees with other trees encroaching from behind. I balk like crazy at taking photos where the background is too busy and detracts attention from the tree. Taking the compositions that you see here off the club stands, bringing them to the photo area and then putting them back on their respective stands took most of the day, so I guess you'll have to catch the show next time to see the length and breadth of the clubs' offerings!

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Design = science, horticulture = art?

Don't blame me if we never get to last weekend's show report - someone had to ask an intelligent question. Not to be outdone, I have to try and pretend to give an equally intelligent answer.

So here is Sage's comment from the previous post, which sparked this off:

I was at the meeting getting a bit of design advice and a bit of horticulture advice. Everyone was giving me pretty much the same design advice, and every person had different horticulture advice. Design = science, horticulture = art?

I can only speak from my experience, but would be interested to hear from anyone who has a dissimilar (or not) point of view.

On the surface, I would have assumed it would be the other way around. But isn't talking horticulture to a certain extent a bit like talking to doctors - every time you see a different specialist you get a different answer. And yet, we all view medicine as a science; and science, because it's - well - science, has to be an exact and well-defined thing - like maths, right? (If anyone mentions fuzzy maths at this point I will shoot them, OK?)

Let's just take the growing medium bit, which has nothing to do with design. Everyone has their own mix which they will defend to the death and beyond. A good friend who has been doing bonsai for over 20 years told me the story of 2 British bonsai old-timers who, in the 1990's, got into an argument over the perfect soil mix. The argument put a big dent in what had been a long-standing friendship and I believe they never really made it up, although after 10 years they did start acknowledging each other. One of the old gents has now passed away, so it's just as well that breach had been mended.

Every serious gardener that I know has their own understanding of how the horticultural universe rotates and, while they are generally free with dispensing their knowledge, I think if one combined all the various growing techniques and applied them all to a single plant, the poor thing would be dead within a week. I actually do know a person who flits from bonsai expert to bonsai expert, asking for advice on said person's trees. Said person is perpetually dissatisfied with the trees' development. Which IMO is only to be expected of the trees, after having been subjected to a mishmash of what are probably contradictory techniques over several years. My take is this: if experimenting with different growing methods, confine a single set of teachings to a single tree, and never mix-&-match trees & teachings unless you are totally sure of what you are doing (and even then I wish you luck). So if you want to test whether the pine candle-plucking vs the candle-breaking method produces better results, do one or the other on a specific tree - and follow it from beginning to end (e.g. watering, light, feeding, needle stripping vs cutting, etc). Doing a bit of one with a bit of the other is my idea of a recipe for disaster.

I personally solicit advice only from a very small number of people, each one having a different horticultural specialisation. I have known these people for years and have seen their work develop over time. You could count these people on the fingers of one hand; none of them are considered 'superstars' of the British bonsai scene. This isn't to denigrate the Brit big names at all, some of whom I've known for yonks and have been down to speak at our club several times. (Our club can tell you stories like you won't believe... which is beside the point here.) Anyways, it's about proximity and access to information - I've identified the gaps in my skills/experience, decided what sort of specialist knowledge I need to fill these gaps, and chosen the best people I know who hold said knowledge and with whom I'm in constant contact. While I do listen to new theories that come along, I only put these to the test when I've heard glowing reports from someone that I trust.

And, all things considered, it's all a bit situational, isn't it? What works in Japan where they have longer growing seasons & high relative humidity will not produce the same results in the UK climate. Which is why I still stick to Alex Kennedy's satsuki growing methods, even if newer books have come out (but have been written for a climate like California's, for example). It's not that one's wrong, it's just that is what will work best under a given set of circumstances.

The same goes for the pruning-to-maximise-auxin-and-cytokinin-effects school of thought. The knowledge of plant hormones and their functions has been around since the early 90's AFAIK, but it's only in the past couple of years that I heard of it in practical application to bonsai. And I know of bonsai old-timers/big names whose eyes just glaze over when anything this technical is brought up. The basics are fairly simple to grasp, all it takes is a certain open-mindedness, I guess.

Design is probably a bit more limited by the existing material: the tree's existing shape, the habit of that particular species, placement of existing branches, etc. And, if you're like me, I go for the solution of facility: what's the most pleasing style that's easiest to achieve within the shortest period of time? I'm not the type of stylist that will drag out the rebar and bend a 6-inch thick trunk over a period of months. Although I have a great deal of respect for those who have achieved spectacular results in this way.

Searching back in my mind, we've had club members bring a tree along for styling critique and then been offered 2 or 3 options by the resident 'experts'. The subsequent consensus from the rest of the club has generally been towards the result that is easiest to visualise with the mind's eye. The tree's owner tends to gravitate to the solution that sounds the least drastic. Whether this is just the culture within my club or a reflection on human behaviour, I don't know.

That said, how much is influenced by the classic tree styles that we associate with bonsai? Perhaps it's this that subconsciously drives how people design a tree. Then again, sometimes a tree is so obviously growing in a particular way and its potential is so easily identifiable - it does happen with raw(ish) material now and again. If this is you, then you are a lucky, lucky person; especially if you got the tree for a song. It happens. And the rest of us just go green with envy.

I will leave you with TOH's description of bonsai as an art, a craft & a science, with horticulture spanning the latter two, i.e. the craft being the real-life interpretation of the science. In a simplistic example, the science bit would tell you the plants will die without water but doesn't tell you exactly how to water them within your garden's specific conditions. The craft bit will be taking the knowledge of the plants' vegetative characteristcs, an understanding of your garden's 'microclimate', mishmashing all the above and eventually not killing your plants by either over- or under-watering.

Display is another matter again.... but I think I've waffled enough about that already, right?

OK, so the photos of the show at Humbees are delayed even more than ever. They're coming, they're coming.... sheesh. ( Personally, I blame Sage :D )

Monday, 20 July 2009

When brown is not brown is not brown...

Okay, so maybe I got out of the wrong side of bed this morning. Or maybe I'm just a hard taskmaster. Or even a perpetual grump. Or all of the above. Does that surprise you? If you've been dropping by regularly, are you here because of the rants or because of the pretty pics? Be honest now...

And to be fair, negativism on its own, without any means of redemption, is just one big let-down. May as well watch the evening news. So where I can offer what I believe to be a light at the end of a tunnel, I will do so. Beats watching the Beeb, right? Must be worth more than what we pay for our TV licence anyway.

That out of the way, let's get on with the gripes.

In a previous post, I talked about what I'd look for when deciding whether or not one of my trees would be good enough to put out on show. This post is all about the opposite - what I so do not want to see in a bonsai display.

Having been to several international shows for at least the past 8 years and local club shows for even longer than that, there are some things that have started to wear me down, making me more and more fastidious (AKA bloody nit-pickety) in my appreciation of bonsai display. So here I come to my BIG PET PEEVES when it comes to presentation of trees. No holds barred, OK? Tune out now if you are of a tender disposition.

Putting out an unfinished product. Unless we are dealing with a display which shows bonsai under development, I really don't believe trees with obvious signs of 'Work In Progress' should be put on show, especially when the show is about the best you have to offer. Defoliated branches sticking out, guy-wires big enough to support a cathedral, enough wire to deter even Houdini... you get the picture, right? My answer to this is: leave the poor tree at home to get on with the business of growing. Have enough trees so that you can rotate those that need a holiday with those that are primped within an inch of their lives. Then do vice versa next year.

Messy, dirty-looking topdressing. This merits a big I HATE YOU. Get rid of the weeds, dudes. And unless you can sympathetically marry any adventitious plants into the overall composition, get rid of them too. It's generally obvious when things have self-sown themselves into the soil and you just can't be assed to get rid of the buggers. (OK, I have seen some get lucky - but they are a MINORITY.) And if the soil is looking tired & unhealthy, full of the ugly bubbly algae, bloody do something about that too. Cover with moss. Possibly fine akadama. Or do you need new glasses? Whatever.

Distracting topdressing. As opposed to the above (which is soil that hasn't been primped), this is soil which has been well laid out but screamingly calls attention to itself. The purpose of the display is to make people view the tree as an integrated whole. I've seen bonsai on show where my attention kept being drawn back to the topdressing, either because of colour or texture. Go for something discreet, not the highly colourful stuff. Having pink kitty litter floating around the topsoil is so tacky - integrate it into your soil mix if you must, but do you really want to shout out its presence to the whole world?

Moss plonked on the surface of the soil. Okay, so the diatribe above has made you start reaching for the moss. Please shave off the crud under your moss so that it lies flat. Then please, please, please do not set various bits of moss like individual islands on a sea of soil. That so does not mimic the look of an old, established tree in its natural setting. Again, all the bobbly, moundy moss islands become just as distracting as colourful topdressing (see above). If you have ever actually combined the two effects, I believe we should send some sort of bonsai fashion police out for you.

When the pots and display table do not marry themselves to the image of the tree. Like I said, brown is not brown is not brown. Just because a tree trunk is 'brown', and the pot is 'brown' and the table is 'brown' does not mean they go together. Any colour in real life will run the gamut of warmer to cooler tones, depending on the pigments/glazes/tints/whatever used. But, as with clothes and artwork, using disparate tonal shades together is so unharmonious. And so detracting from the overall image. On top of that, a low/squat tree really needs to be set on a higher display table. Looking into the tree is so much better than looking down on the tree. Bite the bullet and invest in a proper table if you are serious about displaying your tree to perfection. If not, why are you even reading this?

Accent plants not in proportion to the tree. I know there are practically volumes and volumes written on appropriate size ratio of tree to accent, whether flowering accents should /should not be used with a flowering tree, placing of the accent in relation to the bonsai, etc. And I give ratshit about it all, to be more than honest. If there were a way to instill an immediate comprehension of composition (lines, shapes, appreciation of space, rhythm, etc) to bonsai enthusiasts, then I would have gone on a crusade a long time ago. But 4 years of art school have shown me that this is not something that is learned by osmosis. Or by a single club talk. So, the simplest guideline I can give is to remember that the tree takes centre stage. The accent should complement the tree and never steal attention away from it. Too small or too large an accent and the overall effect is incongruous. My solution is to keep accents of all sizes and do a mock-up before putting a bonsai out on show. Yes, you will probably get there by trial and error. Also, remember to stand back when viewing the overall image.

Farking lose the scrolls, OK? Unless you have a decent enough backdrop that will hold the scroll without sagging, and unless you have an environment that immediately calls to mind the intimacy of a REAL tokonoma, forget it. It just screams putting a scroll out for the sake of putting a scroll out. And why in a Western/British/European show we have to try to be Japanese is beyond me. And if you're going to pretend to be Japanese (or perhaps you just want to pay homage to what you believe are bonsai's Asian origins) - then do it bloody right or not at all. In which case, do the research and find out what Japanese tokonoma display is all about. You may decide never to put out a scroll with minimal forethought again after that.

Having gotten this far, someone is bound to tell me that, in nature, some of the above really does happen. Bobbly mounds of moss do happen to lie around mature trees like islands under the sun. And leaf litter and assorted crud like dead squirrels lie around trees on a forest floor. And my answer is this: bonsai is an art form as well as a horticultural undertaking. Consider it as horticultural sculpture in the round. Part of this calls for the principle of perspective. Everyone knows that trees are big buggers and that bonsai are smaller versions of said big buggers, but in pots. As such, viewing a bonsai is a similar experience to viewing a real live tree from a distance. And from this vantage point, fine detail will be lost (e.g. mounds of moss and leaf litter) to the naked eye. No one has vision that good. So the various elements that go into creating the overall image of a tree or group of trees from a certain distance have to work together in harmony. There's a certain amount of conscious visual training that needs to happen before someone can automatically do this sort of mental juggling, which is probably why the detail work behind this is often overlooked.

Another principle is what I'd call artistic licence. Which sort of goes hand in hand with the perspective thing. When creating a landscape painting, for example, the artist can't include into the painting all the things he sees with his naked eye. He has to discard bits that will render his landscape too fussy (thereby ruining the illusion of distance) and include the bits that give his landscape character. The choice of what goes into the landscape and what doesn't is all up to the artist. The same goes for bonsai. To wit, some deadwood work is an idealised version of what happens in the wild, even though it may not be to everyone's taste. We probably have diverging schools of thought as to whether bonsai can be treated as a pure art form or whether it only really works when a tree looks like a tree.

Teacher-san once told me that bonsai is all about illusion and telling a story without words. Viewing a bonsai should paint a situational picture of the tree in the viewer's mind: is it precariously perched atop a mountain gully? Is it standing majestically in the middle of a field? Has the tree been buffeted by wind and storms? Let me tell you that dirty, weedy soil so does not make me think of any of these scenarios. It just makes me think of dirty, weedy soil that someone couldn't be assed to clean up. Oh, was that the story without words you were trying to tell me? My bad.

To be fair, I have seen this in big shows as well as in small club shows. I have seen judges overlook this sort of thing and wondered why. I suppose that is a reflection of what is important to them in a bonsai. Not everyone will share my opinion, I accept that. But the teeny-tiny advantage I have is that I have this blog - and you've been sat there reading it as well :D

Yes, yes - I promised a show report on our club show at Humbees of Marwell last Sunday. It's coming, OK? A bit of patience never hurt anyone.... sheesh. (Har, har har.)

Sunday, 19 July 2009

A Feast of Accents

Accent plants and kusamono bonsai, that is. Given their size, some of these below are designed to be shown on their own, as the central figure of a display. In Japan, kusamono bonsai is the primary bonsai display material during the summer, while the trees are left to get on with the business of growing.

Starting it off with a little drama; Hosta 'Fire & Ice', about 8 in / 20 cm in height (excluding the flower spike). Always a joy to see a hosta that has managed to remain slug-free, whatever the time of the year:

An arrangement for drier conditions: Raoulia and Saxifraga stolonifera planted (with great patience) into aquarium rock. Planting about 4 in / 10 cm in height:

I believe this one here is Thalictrum kiusianum, whose origins are the mountains of Japan. Unlike its taller cousins, this variety is a little tuft about 3 in / 18 cm high (excluding the flower spikes):

This is an Erodium with an unidentified variegated plant (that eventually goes woody) in a striking Ian Baillie pot. Diameter of pot is about 6 in / 15 cm:

A study in greens and browns, this smaller kusamono has two types of grass (one a Japanese Acorus that has more to do with diva than herbaceous) and Viola hederacea. Pot is about 3 in / 8 cm across:

For some reason, this year, Robert's Sempervivum (normally tiny) accent plant came out with the longest flower spike ever:

Standing a little over 1 ft / 30 cm high from the ground, the rootball of this Japanese painted fern kusamono lifts itself about 5 in / 12.5 cm out of its pot:

One of Robert's miniature Hostas, in a small (2 in / 5 cm diameter) Walsall pot, perched rather creatively on a flint rock:

Rather a large planting, this kusamono is Hakonechloa grass and Astilbe just coming out in flower. The actual base of the planting is only about 10 in / 26 cm across, but with the astilbe in full leaf, the whole kusamono overflows a tray which is about 15 in / 38 cm in diameter. From base of the tray to tip of the tallest flower spike is nearly 18 in / 46 cm:

All the above were on exhibit at our club show at Humbees of Marwell, courtesy of various members of the society.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Positive ID needed for Satsuki Azalea

This is a project born out of Chie-san's kusamono classes; in April she put together a Satsuki azalea in a kusamono moss ball and the result has always intrigued me.

At this point I feel I should clarify terms: I tend to use kusamono as a catch-all for anything and everything that isn't a bonsai tree but not what I intend to use as an accent plant. I suppose technically I should be calling this a kokedama, but what the heck. On with the show.

Another thing I should clarify is that I don't really want to go into a step-by-step 'how to' of creating this. Partly because it's a dead bore to write and also because it's so easy to miss things /get it wrong / leave things open to misinterpretation.

So my best advice is, if you're dead set on making something like this and are in the UK, either contact Chie-san or Windybank Bonsai about classes. If you are not in the UK, please feel free to start headbanging here. :o)

I got this satsuki from Windybank at the Capel Manor show, unfortunately the variety is unknown. If anyone recognises it, please drop me a line.

So ignoring the crappy pot, this is what I had to start with:

No root pruning was done; the actual root ball once I took the plant out of the pot was really rather small. I also had to wet it quite a lot, otherwise the keto mix wouldn't stick to the kanuma. Sticking the keto on was a total pain in the neck.

Here is the finished product, as seen slightly from behind. Sticking the moss on to the keto was just as big a pain in the neck, as the slightest pressure on the keto tended to create fissures. Another problem was the weight distribution. Until the bottom of the sphere flattens out, the planting tends to tip over. If you look closely, you can see the little black ceramic disk I use to prop the kusamono up. Here then is the detail of the moss ball from the rear:

As well as needing to stand the moss ball up on its own, I also had to tip the whole thing over without damaging the satsuki, in order to moss up the bottom of the sphere. The most expedient way being to grab the whole thing by the trunk and work one-handed. Wear clean gloves when you do this, is my advice.

This is the view of the planting from the right hand side:

At the moment, my idea of the front is going to be roughly about here, showing just a bit of the trunk and the downward curve of the cascade:

And just in case this will assist in identifying the variety, here is the flower detail (colours leaning more to the vermilion rather than the pinks):

Despite what I've read elsewhere, there are still loads of bonsai traders in the UK who are selling satsuki azaleas that are way more developed than mere cuttings, and at very affordable prices. Links to some of these guys are above.

Another thing - IMO, the flower size of this satsuki is way disproportionate to the actual size of the trunk; were this a bonsai tree, we'd probably all be looking for ways to fix this. But with satsukis, all sorts of shortcomings get excused because of the flamboyance of their flowers. Several people have told me that in Japan, it is because of this flamboyance that satsukis are not held in particularly high esteem by pure bonsai connoisseurs. Whatever. I knows what I likes and I don't cares.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Real Bonsai Kitty (AKA Cat in a Bonsai Pot)

We interrupt our normal broadcasting to bring you this utter bit of fluff.

This is Billie and, no, she is not a bit of fluff - she's too damn fat for that.

Together with cardboard boxes, one of her favourite places for a nap is in a large bonsai pot. This pot is about 27.5in / 70 cm long. And it suits madam just fine. So much so, she has even condescended to share her pot with a pile of suibans.

No, Billie is not my pet. But she is obviously not a maltreated kitty as she is evidently pear-shaped. Billie has a brother named Ben, who is beautiful but hasn't got two brain cells to rub together. Nor will he sit still and pose for the camera. Those of you who have been to Bonsai Trees Southampton will know of Billie and Ben.

That done, we now return to our normal programme of moaning, huffing and snark. Thank you.

(And why there are still so many people out there who fall for the Bonsai Kitten thing is beyond me... it's an old, old hoax, dudes! Can we get all irate and bent out of shape by something else now? Pleeze??)