Monday, 20 April 2009

Remember the overpotted hepatica?

In one of my very early posts, this blue hepatica nobilis was shown in flower, and I mentioned him as being overpotted. Follow the link to see how puny it looked just a couple of months ago. Now I know why the root ball was so freakin' large.

Well, I guess sometimes you need to leave a little room in case of a late spring flourish. Amazing what changes can take place over a matter of 2 months.

This year, all my nobilis have been quite assiduous in flowering and in setting seed. One of the blue hepatica that I brought back from Poland is still in flower. See all the little seed heads dangling at the bottom? They go all the way around the plant, probably another 10 stalks hanging off in the back. As the success rate of germination is quite high with the nobilis, I have a feeling I will be doing loads of hepatica swaps next year...

BTW, this is probably the first photo where the grey ceramic tray is (almost) fully visible. That's one of my favourites, by Morea.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Pure coincidence or a sign of the times?

I find it curious that in the same week, both the Royal Horticultural Society and the British Museum have vacancies for Heads of Membership Development positions.

The vacancies under question are both Customer Relations-type marketing manager roles. The RHS ad says they are '...undergoing a major transformation at the RHS, with a focus on growth and cultural change...' and the increase of their membership is 'one of the organisation's key driving goals', being linked very closely with funding. Without having seen their annual report and without any knowledge of their sales activity, I wouldn't even want to speculate on whether the merchandising, garden entrance fees, or any other tactical campaigns the RHS runs, are effective and/or profitable. Rather I would take the RHS statement that 'members' subscriptions are the mainstay of our funding' at face value.

The British Museum ad also mentions 'transformational growth', again linking up front the income from membership and the continued growth of the organisation.

So why am I fixating on these two entities and their need to hire a CRM specialist? While both fall under a Charities / Public Sector categorisation, their non-profit profile is very similar to a lot of bonsai societies in this country. One difference, of course, would be the size of these 2 charities. They have a greater number of resources (as opposed to committees of, say, 5 retirees that do everything from running the club to making the tea during meetings). Yet differences of scale aside, other parallels could be drawn between these Goliaths and the more humble local bonsai societies - and possibly many specialist interest clubs in the country - today.

Seeing these ads makes me wonder, are even the big boys feeling a drop in membership given the current credit crunch? Many local bonsai clubs have been laboring under the 'dropped membership affliction' for around 3 years now. I've often wondered aloud what could be done about it, and many times have I had the answer, 'well everyone's in the same boat'. Which I've always found to be a non-answer, but then, I was never the fatalistic type.

Significant to me is the focus on increasing membership - getting more bums on seats, so to speak. And once they're sat there, how do you keep them there? Now that you've got all these new members, you've got to keep them encouraged, interested and willing to commit to supporting the club. A tall order, isn't it? No wonder they need high-priced CRM gurus. No-one in their right mind would do the job for peanuts.

Another thing that struck me was the juxtaposition of the words membership, transformation, growth and funding. Whatever the challenges these 2 giants may be facing in this economic climate, they have identified membership as an item that needs addressing, acknowledging that the funds raised from subs goes a long way to the continued health of their organisations. So if the big boys are saying they can't do without more members, what should the little guys be focusing on?

My view is that the local clubs should be more focused on doing the conversion marketing, i.e. getting more new members in. And also get smarter about retention of these new members - once you let them go, I believe you'll have a lot of trouble getting them back as the competition is fierce out there. Competition not in terms of other bonsai clubs, perhaps, but in terms of other calls on people's time: the Internet, other hobbies, family and work.

If anyone out there has any 'win' stories to tell on increased membership or reclaiming 'lost' members - let me know. I'd be interested to hear what your club did, the decision-making process (if any) behind the actions they took and what the results were. And if anyone actually has a strategy (gasp! what?! we're doing a hobby, not running a business!) behind retaining membership, pleeeze spill the beans!

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Pleione tongariro

There are actually 4 flower spikes to this one, but I've hidden the fourth spike (not fully open) in the back as some effing little blighter took a whopping big munch out of it.

Said effing little blighter is now a squished blot on my garden landscape.

This orchid came from Mr Ingwersen, at the garden show in Broadlands a couple of years back. Mr Ingwersen is now retired, so there are less and less specialist Alpine nurseries in this part of the world. A situation I continually bemoan on this blog

Pot is by John Pitt. I'm not quite sure what the potting compost is, loads of bark from what I remember. This guy has been in this pot for a while; several baby pseudobulbs have decided they wanted to break off from the fold. They've been (over)potted on now, let's see what they're going to do about fending for themselves...

Update: More Pleione pics here.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Award-winning Chamaecyparis

Absolutely had to get this photo out there, as I had originally tried to post a photo of this tree while at Swindon show and failed miserably.

I believe the owner said this chamaecyparis is a 'Boulevard'.

This bonsai took a first at Swindon (didn't get an award at BoB) and if you click on the photo, you can see the detail that went into the creation of this image. This tree makes me think of redwood forests and things like that.

In the confines of a bonsai show and displayed in proximity with other trees, the redwood forest image does tend to be more difficult to call to mind.

Which is the downside really, but bonsai were never created to be displayed in rows and rows. I've had loads of discussions with people who feel that bonsai shows should be crammed with trees as that's what the general public want.

Gimme a break, peeps. Show me the stats that say you polled the general public with the view of finding out what their preference was in terms of bonsai display, i.e. the comparative of a hedge style vs an open/airy style. Show me you took the time and effort to poll a statistically valid sample (not just 10 of your mates). Show me the guided/unguided questions you asked and how the poll was taken. Show me the numbers and how you arrived at that conclusion. Yeah, throw in some qualitative narratives as well. But other than that don't tell me shite, 'cause all you have is conjecture from where I'm looking at it. And your opinion is only as good as mine, 'cause that's all it is - an opinion. Back it up with some proper marketing stats, then you have a leg to stand on as far as I'm concerned. There, gauntlet thrown.

'Cause all I can say is that it's either ignorance or a crime to display a bonsai like this in conditions that would never give you the possibility of looking at this and saying to yourself, 'yes I can easily see the forest and this tree standing majestically in it'.

Wait... how did those guys get into this photo?

Me being a lazy sort of blogger and only having a dinky phone as an excuse for a camera, I decided to shoot 2 birds - no I'm not referring to the 2 blokes in the foreground - with one stone, OK? Sheesh. Get your mind back on track.

That's Paul Goff and Peter Warren. You could interpret the body language as saying "who is that weirdo taking a photo of us?" and "shut up mate and just smile for the camera". Or it could even be "should we move out of here 'cause that person is trying to take a photo of the trees"and the reply being "yeah but we're added value so just shut up and smile for the camera mate". And all that conjecture would be sort of right!

So, these blokes in the foreground and in the background, there's the trees in the smaller exhibition hall with the better natural lighting. Traders in the back room (see far left corner of photo) again were not as favoured in terms of brightness. Then of course they could have been illuminated with Paul's wit (he certainly threw out brilliant one-liners when I was stood beside him) but at this point it was being expended on Peter. Hmm... don't the two of them look positively apostolic?

No, actually they looked sort of uncomfortable as I was taking the photo. Thanks guys for being such great sports.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

It's not all laughs, y'know

They do manage to get a bit of work done from time to time.

Seriously though, many bonsai shows in this country rely on a large volunteer task force to make it happen. These are mostly composed of local societies. And within these small clubs, it tends to be a small nucleus of people who will consistently volunteer their time and effort to the furtherance of their hobby.

Here are some of the guys who made it happen; in case they never have the spotlight shine on them, here's a big 'Thanks for all your hard work, guys'. After all that hard graft, it's time for a little photo op. Ask the dudes what sort of hours they put in.

And BTW the larch group looking on these jokers is by Craig Coussins.

Blackthorn in flower

Pot: John Pitt.
Owner of bonsai: John Pitt.
Oh yah, the Pitt boss is doing good out of me today, even put his mug on a blog. What's surprising is the computer hasn't keeled over yet from the strain.
Seriously, this tree looks glorious, all that white blossom just starting to break out. There were two flowers fully open on the top of the tree when this photo was taken. (Most people said one flower, I actually looked at the top of the tree to count. So there.)
The rest of the branches are covered in flower buds. This is a larger tree, about 2 feet high, I'd say. Don't want to take my word for it? Go ask the Pitt dude to pull out his measuring tape. Then leave me a comment. I can take it.

Shohin Potentilla (?)

Part of a shohin composition by Ian Warhurst. I understand this is in an Ian Baillie pot, but I've not had this confirmed either by the owner or the potter. Total height from base of the pot is about 6 inches.
I'm fairly sure this is a potentilla but didn't manage to find out before we left. Probably was too busy yakking anyway.
What grabbed me was that this guy is in a literati sort of style; most potentillas of this size that I've seen (commercially-available ones, that is) are root-over-rock or cascade styles.
Never seen this tree before so I wouldn't even to pretend to know anything about its history. Just liked the look of him. Would be great to know (assuming it is a potentilla) if the flowers were white, yellow, pink, orange, whatever.

Windybank Bonsai hard at work

Ignore the subtle botanical wallpaper, it's probably a Grade 2 listed building or something anyway. Look at the trees. No. Look at all these people. Who are they anyway? Can't you focus your camera properly?

No, 'cause it's a phone, smartass.

Seriously, have you seen so many bonsai traders in one location all having so much fun? For many of us, part of the attraction of a show is the occasion to catch up with people you'd never see otherwise.

Here Ken and his missus Pat are catching up with their mates, probably entertaining the clients as well. Perhaps the guy with his back to us was entertained, more like he was really busy looking at the trees. And wishing I'd get this silly phone out of the way. Sorry dude...

The Pitt Boss having a chin wag

That's John Pitt in the foreground. And possibly Ian Baillie (in black with his back to us) in the far background, down this far South from Scotland after practically ages.
This is presumably a very metaphysical discussion that has these two guys totally engrossed. Like fishing. Or the price of petrol.
Just maybe they're actually going over specs of a newly commissioned pot?
They would never be - dare I say - just gossiping, right?

The Walsall Dudes at work

Just in case some of you haven't met Walsall Studio Ceramics in the flesh (which will mean you haven't been to a lot of shows in the UK), here are the guys at Best of British.

David takes notes of an order as we sneak up alongside to snap this photo. That's Mark at the far end attending to a client. What, did you think David was doing a crossword and Mark was admiring the wallpaper? Shame on you. Mark has better taste than that.

The recurring theme being the subtle botanical wallpaper that is presumably a stylized rendition of a paphiopedilum. Duh have I sent you to sleep yet? Why do you think these guys have their backs turned to the wall? No, don't answer that.

There are a couple of earlier entries with photos of only a few of the Walsall pots that I've actually used for my bonsai. Walsall figures as a large part of my collection but some of the trees that are in their pots are actually too large for me to photograph with a Sony Ericsson phone. Yes, it's a phone, dude. I'm a 'secret' phoneblogger. Har.