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.