Monday, 25 May 2009

When vroom, vroom meets bloom, bloom...

Marketing clever? The RHS has often seemed to me like one of those aircraft carriers: monolithic and unable to change its course at the drop of a hat. Yet once in a while, they can actually respond in a manner that seems almost timely.

In a previous post I pondered the implications of the RHS' recent vacancy advert for a person to head their Membership Development. According to their ad, the RHS is 'undergoing a major transformation... with a focus on growth and cultural change.' I did find it significant that, within the text of their ad, the RHS linked the increase of their membership very closely with their funding.

Recently, at their most prestigious flower show, the RHS had elected to allow James May to display a garden without a single plant in it. Which caused no small amount of talk, dare I say it. But controversial talk is better than no talk, right? And as the plasticine garden is actually part of a greater TV series that Mr May is running, then Chelsea will be talked about even after the gardening show season is over, and to a potentially wider audience than purely horticultural folk. After all, Mr May is better known for shifting gears rather than rolling wheelbarrows. Not too bad going in the awareness stakes, is it?

I can understand the backlash from the gardening community. Just as I can understand those who say it was a breath of fresh air. However, honestly, the light bulb that went off in my (jaded) marketing brain was that of concepts beloved of all marketers: Greater Publicity. Increased Budget. Better Funding.

Pundits opined that ticket sales were down (apparently not selling out as quickly before the show) and less exhibitors (the Great Pavilion seeming not as full as in previous years) were supporting the Chelsea Flower Show due to the recent hard winter and the pervasive credit crunch.

Perhaps that could have been the instigator. Perhaps the Membership Development exec needs to get on board really quickly before they run out of quirky non-garden talking points. Or perhaps Mr May's crusade to wean children away from the dreaded Xbox just found its perfectly virtuous alliance?

Have I just hit the nail on the head here? Is this why the BBC gives so little air time to bonsai during Chelsea coverage? What does it take to be controversial enough for you lot, then? Or do we have to jump on some bandwagon associated with: (1) Better Funding. (2) A-List Celebrities. (3) Do-gooder Causes. (4) Better Funding.

Note: The picture above was taken on the Sunday afternoon before the opening day. Getting close enough to capture the detail of the work was a relatively insurmountable challenge, given the amount of people working and filming the activity.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Chelsea, what's Chelsea?

The Great Spring Show, this most flamboyant of the Royal Horticultural Society's many flower shows, is held every year on the grounds of the Royal Hospital in Chelsea, London - a retirement/nursing home for former members of the British Army:This picture was taken with the Great Pavilion to my back. The pathway is blocked off from show attendees during the week.

Long before the opening of the show, the heavy machinery comes in to build the large show gardens synonymous with the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. My understanding is that after the show, everything on the Royal Hospital grounds must be put back to right within a fortnight - which would also explain the cost in building these showpieces.

Another thing I hadn't realised is that some of the most-photographed people in London are actually the Chelsea pensioners, when wearing their distinctive scarlet coats. This lovely gentleman told me that they're always being asked to pose for photos but they never get to see them. Mr P hasn't really gotten to grips with Blogger, so I've promised him I would print out this post and send it to him:

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Gold. Yes.

Yup, it's official, folks.

Congratulations to the Federation of British Bonsai Societies who garnered a gold medal for their display at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

And the same goes to all those who worked long and hard to get their displays up. Chelsea always represents a big effort on everyone's part.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Sneak Peek: RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2009

A cold, windy, rainy Sunday was the last day for build-up activity for this year's Chelsea Flower Show. Early afternoon London traffic was pretty dismal as well.

We had a couple of things to deliver for the display of the Federation of British Bonsai Societies, so this looked like as good a time as any to give you all a preview of the stand.

This is what it looked like when we arrived, tools still scattered around and the front row of shohin trees still to put up:
Labels still had to go on, pots needed to be given another once-over and then a last-minute check for even the most minute debris on the gravel.

And this is how it looked after all the primping had been done, tools put away and coffee cups in the bin.

Several of the RHS judges and the Moderators with their clipboards were walking around on the Sunday afternoon, inspecting the stands.

The guy next door with his man-eating fishies

The piranha in the stand across from us were being kept under wraps to give them time to adjust and de-stress. Still, the nice man next door agreed to peel back a corner and give me a look. Little buggers then swam off; you can see the rear end of one of them by the greenery.

And here they are after the black-out cloth was removed. For din-din, these guys get frozen whitebait. Nope, live animals do not get chucked in there at Chelsea Flower Show.

And on the water/underwater theme, the Cayman Islands Undersea Reef Garden has to be seen to be believed. The blue glow and the movement from the reflection of the water give it an eerie but arresting look:

And this here is their mural. Check out the detail in that!

Moochin' round the Great Pavilion

While a lot of the hard building is now over, there are lots of areas at Chelsea that were left unfinished, presumably for final touches to be put in just before judging. So here's a quick tour around the Great Pavilion as people were working on their stands. I took lots more photos than these today, however, for your sakes and mine, some of them may have to wait till later this week to get posted - if at all. Peeps, not all angles are flattering, get me?

Anyways, on with the tour. In no particular order.

Ken Muir has to have - IMO - the most fragrant stand in the entire Pavilion. Imagine standing beside them the whole day, smelling the strawberries, thinking of whipped cream...

They're lovely people as well. The guys were giving me the most ogle-worthy poses until I told them this was going on my blog called Rent-A-Man-dot-com. Harrr. Look, can you see a bloke in this photo?
The flower-arranging ladies have what looks to be a whoppingly massive stand, although it's hard to tell who belongs to what when the signage isn't all out. Here is a fraction of the display - some very intricate floral hats:
I check these guys out every time I come - the auricula display:

And to finish, here is a lovely hawthorn at Bushukan Bonsai's display. They were still wrapping up as we were leaving, so to see the final product, I'll have to wait until Friday when we are back.Judging is tomorrow, Monday. Wishing everyone the best.

No. Wait. To end this post - I want me one of these. Seriously. Precious.... my precious....

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Another newbie: Lipstick & Golden Jubilee

Although I've been growing the plants for over a year now, this accent composition was just created this spring: Fragaria chiloensis 'Lipstick' and Agastache foeniculum 'Golden Jubilee'.

Both plants came from the same alpine nursery in Austria.

I've always liked playing with lines and colours, and what perhaps doesn't show as well in this photo is the marked difference in the shades of the leaves, plus the contrast of the shocking pink flowers vs the almost-yellow leaves of the agastache. And the pink tones of the strawberry are echoed by the stems of the agastache, complemented by the reddish-brown colour of the pot. (Pot is by Walsall, BTW.)

The Golden Jubilee looks very much like a coleus, so I had to look it up to check if it was of the same family. Internet search shows that 'A. foeniculum is a herbaceous perennial with mid-green, lance-shaped leaves that taste and smell of licorice. In summer, it bears spikes of lavender-blue flowers that are attractive to butterflies and bees...' and that it is '... neither Anise (which is Pimpinella anisum, not even in the same Plant Family) nor Hyssop (which is Hysoppus officinalis), although the scent is the same as Anise.'

As for the strawberry, apparently F. chiloensis will produce large, edible berries. Hmm. Wonder if they'd come out the same shade of pink?! Imagine that on a pavlova.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Can we have a surfboarder pleeze?

And that question set the tone for the evening. David Penny was guest speaker at Eastleigh Bonsai Society and started off doing a coastal scene for his saikei (Japanese tray landscape) talk. The coastal theme naturally sparked off requests for little figurines which included sharks, surfers and sunbathers. As opposed to clay figurines of fishermen and temples. Nope, not for saikei, folks.

However, the trees dictated the mood of the planting, and said coastal landscape morphed into an alpine lakeside. Still, requests for a surfboarder to replace Jaws were nixed in the bud. Or so David likes to think. (The seeds have been planted and the germination of an idea is starting to take place. Be very, very afraid...)

It was a relaxed evening, full of banter and one-liners. Note how at the start of the evening, the seating arrangement of the room was orderly; people comfortable in their chairs and enjoying a cuppa as the talk started:

The whole club really got into it as the evening progressed; no-one hesitated to get up close and inspect the planting:

Ah, but what was the general consensus on the finished product? Note the solemnity with which David's planting is being analysed. Or are they just waiting for the surfboarder to materialise?

Everyone weighed in, drawing closer and gathering in groups to discuss the merits of the evening's entertainment. It was now musical chairs all around:
The whole place became Paparazzi Meets Changing Rooms, and every electronic device that remotely resembled a camera came out. Here you have the first line of photographers, with several behind waiting to take their turn:

And here's the front runner of the second batch of digital-imagery-makers taking their turn to record the moment:

And just so that you know what everyone was queueing up to photograph, here is the coastal scene/alpine lakeside, albeit without the famous surfboarder:

Saturday, 9 May 2009

All that primpin'

All my Twittering and blogging about preparing trees for show had prompted Andrew Nicolle to ask me what it takes to get a regular-sized tree ready to go on a show bench. Show veterans will all have their own styles of dressing trees and their particular methods for doing these, so all I can tell you is how I do mine.

Only a certain number of my trees go out on exhibit at any given year. Maples generally only get shown in their winter/early spring image as I feel they are at their best when the branch structure is visible. Most of my trees stay home to either get on with the business of growing or recover from successive years of going out on show. Others are victims of marauding caterpillars and bored blackbirds. A certain degree of laziness makes me tend to choose those that are easier to prepare than others. So those in glazed pots are big show favourites.

Towards the end of January I have a good idea as to which trees will be in top shape for Spring and are ready to go out for the Swindon Winter Image show, which kicks off the bonsai event calendar in the UK. Work commitments make showing abroad difficult, except for the EBA convention since that's in the calendar years in advance and we take the UK entries over anyway. With regards to the evergreens: I keep my junipers outdoors so they are still in winter (that drab olive) colour at this time; on the other hand, my pines are generally OK for show this early in the year. By early March, all the conifers are good to go. Deciduous trees are chosen according to how much their new buds are swelling in Spring. Oh, plus flowers and fruit later in the year: Prunus mume, chaenomeles, crabapples, forsythia, lilacs, Japanese bush clover, cotoneaster, satsuki azaleas, not to forget all the flowering accent plants and kusamono.

Limescale is removed from pots (and their feet), even the undersides of the pots are cleaned. Vinegar is a good one for removing limescale. Then the pots are given a coat of camellia oil, which is by far the easiest to work with that we have found. When we first started, only vegetable (cooking) oil was available, but that used to go sticky and then there'd be dead flies and stuff sticking to the pots before the end of the show. Way yuck.

The surface of the soil is prepped by removing ALL weeds. Liverwort, algae, oxalis, dandelions, grass - all gone. I sometimes think some people will try to get away with using weeds as a companion planting, however that is a ploy that very rarely works. Give it up, dudes.

I cover my soil surface with either very fine akadama, moss or a combination of both. I try to 'weave' the moss patches into each other, overlapping them (a bit like you'd lay turf) and pushing them into the soil. That way I avoid the look of 'fresh blobs' plonked on the soil - if this makes any sense. The look I'm going for is that of moss that has been there forever.

On the other hand, I remove the moss from the tree trunks and branches. Anything dead or crispy is stripped off. I also choose pines where the new & old growth are roughly similar in size. Generally, I find that conifers that were show-ready in one year tend to carry that quality over for about 2 or 3 years in a row. As I'm in a hard water area, limescale is a problem with trees kept in the greenhouse. I use Leaf Shine to deal with this (only on broadleaf trees!), sprayed in spurts from a very great distance so as not to inadvertently damage any leaves. I've been told cotoneaster are not partial to this product; so far my long-distance spurt/spray method has worked for me.

Time spent on doing this depends more on the condition of the tree/pot than the size of the bonsai. I find larger specimens easier to clean, despite the greater surface area. 'Mossing up' stuff takes forever to do properly, so rock plantings are not something I jump on with alacrity. Very tiny pots are quite difficult, unless you have small fingers and lots of concentration.

Here's Reg prepping his beech before the 2007 EBA at Ostend. This tree has probably seen all the big shows in the UK, and a few abroad, I'd guess. Note the bottle of camellia oil and the fine akadama in the tub beside it.
Like I said earlier, these are the techniques that work for me. There may be better ones out there, and if you think you have any worth labelling 'Best Practice', let me know!

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Ageism in Bonsai

Yes, in some things, age matters. Take the case of Freckles & his mate here.

Freckles aka slug bait is a Viola sororia that came from one of the local garden centres. A couple of quid it cost me, at the time. If anyone recognises the pot, I'd be grateful if you gave me a shout. I got it at the Ginkgo show in Belgium in 2003 or thereabouts. Freckles went into the pot about a year later and has never been out since, despite the numerous attempts on its life and well-being. 5 years have given Freckles a bit of maturity, presumably which is one reason he took second place in the Accent Plant class at last week's Open Competition.

On the other hand, this kusamono planting was made last year at Chie-san's kusamono class - she holds one or two a year at Windybank Bonsai. This composition is made up of brunnera, the Japanese Hakenachloa grass (beloved of so many accent plant compositions) and a fern or two. The suiban is Japanese. So although this planting is a year old and the plants have all bedded in, it still has a ways to go before it acquires the character that Freckles has.

At this point, I feel obligated to defend my reputation. In relation to paying the correct amount for the number of entries in the Wessex Show's Open Competition, it seems I had overpaid. I believe at the time I was filling in the forms, I wasn't sure if I was going to do a 3-plant display or a 4-plant display in my 5-tier composition. I opted against 4 as it isn't an auspicious number to a lot of Asians - no sense in freaking anyone out.

No matter, as the Wessex Chairman tells me I can't count anyway. Feh. What's worrying is most everyone agrees with him.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

A testament to your what???

Well yeah, and that wasn't even the best part of the discussion. What discussion? Check the previous post.

(Things heated up after this part of my argument below...)

'All forms of gardening are about the gardener's testament to his own cleverness. After all, in most cases he'll have taken a plant out of its natural habitat and manipulated the environment in order for that plant to flourish. If that isn't a sign of his talent, what is?'

(Wait for it....)

'Yes that covers ALL aspects of gardening - even mowing the lawn is a demonstration of your cleverness as a gardener.'

Now that was the bit that sparked off debate for some reason. Cutting the grass as a statement of your own personality / creative intelligence? Let's see; the hypotheses set forward were:
- It's more about our obsession with tidiness than any true artistic skill.
- It's a desire to conform to the general look & feel of the neighbourhood.
- It's an effort not be seen as less influential or upstanding as the neighbours.
- It's a reflection of personal aesthetics - some people go through the trouble of putting stripes on their lawns and others don't even bother.
And so on....

Yet aren't all the statements above 'me, me, me, me' statements? I know I don't get my lawn tended to for the visual pleasure of the folks next door.

After all, how many people would take on an endeavour with a view to this being a monument to their own stupidity? Personally, I don't think there are a lot who would admit to that, but just in case you actually have done it, would you raise your hand? Pleeze? In an effort to edify the rest of us?

Go on, you know you want to....

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

To compete or not to compete?

Or even, to show or not to show?

Sitting with the Show Judge after his work was done, we started musing on the inevitable reactions that come after the judge's decision is handed down. Most people take things with good grace, and then again, sometimes things can get a bit iffy. I should know - I'm surrounded by people who have been required to judge bonsai for at least the past 5 years

The Show Judge commented that perhaps people who take things too personally should refrain from entering into competition. And my little breezy reply so hit a chord with him, that he asked me to put it in a blog post. And of course I did.

So why do I show my trees? Or even enter them in competition?

A long time ago at a club talk, I remember Reg Bolton once saying that joining contests is one way of determining how much progress you have made with your bonsai, a concept which I embraced immediately at the time. I've won some, done indifferently in others, and will probably still continue to show my trees and compete for a good long while to come.

However, things have changed and my benchmarks for progress and attainment of bonsai nirvana have moved somewhat. And perhaps I'm older (wiser doesn't come into the picture) as well.

There are times when I've refused to compete when I didn't agree with the rules, but I don't recall ever contesting the judge's decision. Simply because that's the way things go - why accept participating in something beyond your control, if you're going to fight the result at the end of day? Doesn't seem like a load of fun to me. And if I didn't think the judge was competent, then why would I bother competing in the first place? Bloody waste of my time, IMHO.

So yes, I'm very laissez-faire about that bit of it. 'Cause as far as I'm concerned, once I've put up my little tree or accent out for show/competition - that is the end of my achievement. Showing my bonsai is my testament to my own cleverness, that's all it is. I put the little thing out there, on its little stand, and say, 'look at how ingenious I am.' If I get a prize for it, that's good (well actually, it's another thing that gathers dust but hey, there you go). And if I don't get any awards - well, I've had my fun anyway. It brings warm fuzzies if people tell me they like my stuff. They must think I'm clever, too. (Harrrrr.) But if no-one notices, well, that's just too bad, isn't it? I should be old enough and ugly enough to take it. Does it make me any less of a person if I don't get kudos for my cleverness? Gaahhh - what planet are you from? *Barf*

But yes, I put a lot of thought and effort into putting the best display I possibly can. I would refuse to insult a paying (or non-paying for that matter) public otherwise. Conversely, I would feel insulted if I were in their shoes and be forced to look at something sub-standard. And yes, that really is how strongly I feel about it. But do I expect a medal for it? Gawd no, get away from me, you fool. Is it a ruthless drive for perfection? Probably. But my standards are my own and I wouldn't dream of forcing them on anyone else. It takes all kinds to make a world, and I need to learn to accept that, just as a lot of people out there probably could do as well.

Rare jewel - a Gertude Jekyll garden

Monday was Open Day at the Gregg School in Southampton, a fundraiser by the Friends of Townhill Park Gardens to help support the ongoing maintenance of the school's heritage. As the local bonsai society having a long association with the school, we support their Open Days by putting up a small display. A bonus is that it's a great venue with coffee and cakes to be had. (Of course I have ulterior motives.)

But I digress. The schools gardens are more than noteworthy. Alas, my history of the place is sketchy, but here goes with what little I can remember. So don't jump on me for any inaccuracies, OK?

Lord Louis Swaythling engaged Gertrude Jekyll to design the gardens in 1912. The estate was sold in 1948, with eventual degredation to the premises resulting over time, before the school took over what was left of the property. The restoration to the garden started in 1977. The house is a Grade II listed building, so any changes are strictly controlled.

At what would have been the old house's main entrance and courtyard (now a parking lot), stands this magnificent cedar. Imagine this big guy as a bonsai:

Or even this horse chestnut situated along the drive, which is so old (and so very ginormous), the bottom branches have to be propped up. But what a magnificent sight in spring with all that blossom:

Very few of the 400 gardens designed by Gertrude Jekyll are still in existence today. Here is a view of the main path, with the apple orchards to your left. At the bottom are the Herb Garden and the Italian Garden.
In spite of the cold, these students were gracious enough to play us a couple of blues and jazz tunes. The 7-man band hasn't been playing together long, and over time a musician or two leaves on graduation.

The bonsai display was just behind the jazz band, but as the school's gardens are not easily accessible to all, I think we can have a break from the trees now and again, right?

Monday, 4 May 2009

Commercial break for unseemly gloating

'Scuse the lack of self-restraint a moment, peeps.

This is one of the added bonuses of driving all the way to the EBA convention in Arco, Italy in a Land Rover.

This vigorous climbing rose was growing in practically every garden that we saw in Arco. So what better souvenir to bring back from our first trip to Italy?

The best bit is that it only cost A FIVER.

Yes, a fiver and 4 years in the ground. It now covers most of the wall, frames the window together with the pyracantha, and comes down on the other side of the window near the front door. Oh, the blue flowers below it are aquilegias.

One of the uppermost shoots has found its way into the loft and will have to be pruned. But that will have to wait until later in the year when the blackbirds have stopped using the nest that is somewhere in the pyracantha. So after the yellow roses are gone, we have the white pyracantha blooms together with the white & blue clematis in mid-summer. Then come the red berries at the end of the season, which the birds feed on all throughout the winter. Not that they leave the moss on my trees alone for all the good things I do for them, ungrateful little porkers.

All it takes is time and a cutting

There are many people who have made a significant contribution to the development of British bonsai; some of them don't carry labels like bonsai master and their names are not necessarily by-words in bonsai books and mags (although photos of their trees are). Of these, there are a few bonsai people I really have time for; Terry is one of them, partly because we share similar views on what a decent fried breakfast should be like.

Terry has 3 (yes, you may commence weeping) Siberian Elms, 2 of which he started from seed and this one here which started life as a cutting from the guys he grew from seed. This was back in 1989.

In those days, Broadband & the Internet were nowhere in sight, books on bonsai were unavailable, bonsai pots had to be fashioned by drilling holes in trays, and so on. Think of the Wild West or something. Lack of available bonsai pots led Terry to take up pottery at evening classes, and to this day many of his trees are in his own pots.

The advent of the now-defunct 'Bonsai Today' magazine was the moment of enlightenment in Terry's bonsai life. Which pretty much sums up how we all feel when opening a book with Japanese trees, I guess. Most of Terry's foundational knowledge has been through trial-and-error, and he's had to revise a lot of his learning along the way. And he will admit that he has still room to grow ('scuse the pun/innuendo).

So, do not despair if all you have is a single stick with leaves. I remember Terry telling me the story of how he started and it's very much like that. But you will need time and patience. Terry once vowed to give it all up if he couldn't manage to keep his scrawny twigs alive. And we are so glad he persevered instead.

If you want to see more of Terry's trees, look here. There are histories of several trees, which makes for very informative reading. If you want to catch Terry in person and get to interview him like I did, you'll have to come down to one of the shows.

John's Amur Maple (no, not that John)

This is an Acer ginnala, which is native to northeastern Asia and north to southeastern Siberia. Apparently its core is fairly delicate and is susceptible to rotting(not surprising in this climate). And this particular specimen has gone and rotted all the way through, leaving what looks almost like pure bark in a ring, topped by branches and foliage. You could imagine wearing it as a vegetative bracelet, if you had a wrist big enough, that is.

I saw this tree for the first time last year, before it was out in full leaf, and it was quite spectacular then. I must say though that I prefer the proportions when it is in leaf like this, as the foliage mass balances out the trunk - or what there is of the trunk.

'Cause this isn't a little tree, folks. Check out the size of the trees in relation to John in this post. No, that's not the same John as in this post, that's the other John - have I confused you yet?

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Round robin of the club stands

There were a lot of beautiful trees / accents, many of which I will have failed to photograph during the show. Here is a quick re-cap of the various pretties I noted on the club displays. Unfortunately I take the opportunity to again malign my trusty Sony Ericsson; I was unable to take photos from a couple of club stands, either because the lighting or the space were severely testing my phone's capacity as a roving camera.

Robert has been guest speaker at Meon Valley Garden Club this year, an event which they qualified as one of the more enjoyable talks they have had at their club. Here is one of Robert's shohin satsuki, one of the earliest in full flower that I have seen this year:

And below, one of Robert's accent plants; this is sheep sorrel. With a campanula that has self-seeded into the pot. Which sparked off a culinary discussion (but not on the merits of cooking with campanula, OK). However, no one can tell me if you can cook with sheep sorrel.

Eastleigh Bonsai Society also had this delicate needle juniper as the central tree of their display; again, one of Robert's that he had re-potted, re-styled and re-worked this year (it was given to him by another member as it kept dying back on her - the roots were the problem):
A lovely little Iris found on the Solent Bonsai Society stand. Note the long silhouette of a cotoneaster just coming out into flower in the background.

There, now will pack myself off. Nighty-night!

Smile (not), you're on candid camera

Here's Gordon Duffett laying out his pots at his sales table in the traders' area. Had a good long chat with him about his time as an art student here in the South.

Most everyone must have spent the bulk of the day in the coffee area. Here's Mike the show judge after having gone 'round the competition hall dispensing red, blue & yellow ribbons.

And below you have Dave and Terry who are apparently comparing assets. John of the beautiful wisteria looks like he is studiously ignoring their shenanigans. Or protecting that last bit of cake.

Malcolm was elected to the office of Chairman this year, after having served as Show Manager for a long time. Now he's got bigger headaches to manage.

A big round of thanks to Wessex Bonsai Society for an enjoyable day in your company.

Sweating the even smaller stuff

Well, the alpine ajuga in the post below was small, but these three accent plants here are even smaller. This is a Chinese stand intended for a 5-item display, standing about 9 in / 23 cm high. The 3 pots it contains are smaller than thimbles. The plants are kept in a cold greenhouse in a seed tray filled with sand, intended to catch water and prevent the plants drying out completely, given the size of the pots. As they are practically sitting in hard water for most of the year, the algae and limescale build-up on these little pots is horrendous, which explains why it took me 45 minutes to clean up 3 little pots with a bit of vinegar and a chopstick.

Here is a bit of detail behind the display. The largest accent is a sempervivum arachnoides, pot is by Ian Baillie. The bronze snail is about 1.25 in /3 cm long. I've had this plant for a year now - another alpine souvenir from EBA 2008.

The accent on the left is moss growing in a thimble pot 0.5 in / 1.5 cm high (pot is Japanese, with a delicate hint of green at the rim), and the one on the right is a Ranunculus ficaria 'Brazen Hussy' in another Ian Baillie pot. Both are at least 2 years old.
Transporting the accents was a problem, given the propensity of the ranunculus to fall over. Having only 2 leaves, it would have been dramatic if one of them were to break. The solution? Cut out some holes in a kitchen sponge, fit in a plastic container, slot accents in the holes and add a drop of water at the bottom. I took a fourth accent just in case, which was a single sempervivum in another Ian Baillie pot; in the end it was this latter that I used for the competition entry.

The ranunculus sulks when it isn't in bright light, so I wouldn't advise a display of this fragility in a darkly lit hall.

Still, one lives and learns. And it just had to be done...

Update: too tired to do anything after the show yesterday, we left the lot in the car, ready to take to the Gregg School for Open Day today. All of these were practically bone dry, but have all recovered after a bit of water. So if you want to give minutiae like these a go, best to choose species that are extremely resilient, or just very pretty weeds. Like ranunculus. But beware the self-seeding, invasive lot (assuming you can keep them alive, of course ;o).

Setting up the show stands

Hard at work at 08:30 or so this morning. Building their show stands are Phoenix Bonsai at the right and Dragon Bonsai to the left. The Dragon guys drove down from Wales, leaving home at 04:30. Yes, in the morning.

The lads' hard work paid off, here is the finished product for Dragon:

And here's John shaking his booty for me on the Phoenix Bonsai stand while cleaning up his very much-photographed wisteria:

Beside the wisteria is another John's Amur maple. Beautiful, or what? We all know I'm not talking about John's booty...

Alpine ajuga, from the Alps no less

When I say small, I mean small.

This little guy is a souvenir from our trip to the 2008 EBA convention in Vienna, Austria. Wolfgang Putz was kind enough to point me in the direction of 2 fantastic Alpine nurseries on our way home, and it was an experience I will be talking about for years to come. (Wolfgang Putz is a cool dude.)

This is a green, very small-leafed ajuga in flower. I realise the picture doesn't give any idea of scale, but I have expressly forborne putting coins, matchbooks or any other object as a visual reference. Ruins the composition of the picture, that does. Drives me bonkers when people do it.

So, here are the stats. The pot is a Walsall, standing 1 in / 2.5 cm high. The total height of the planting is 2 in / 5 cm. Inlaid wooden table & red lacquer tray are Japanese. Green leafy ceramic thing is something I made at one of our club meetings. Bronze heron is also 1 in / 2.5 cm high.

This entire composition will go into the Open Competition later today (it's in the wee hours as I write this) but not with the little heron as this bronze is way too fragile (and nickable). This will be an entry in the Accent Plant class.

I don't really expect to be taking home any prizes, that's not the reason we enter competitions. I love the aspiration to perfection in the display of bonsai, I love challenging my brain to come up with different and radical things each time, and I love sharing my creations with people. Ratification from my peers is a plus, but not essential to either my well-being or good humour.

I think we will be in Salzburg for the 2013 EBA Convention, and no matter how big the detour, we will be going back to visit these 2 nurseries again. Anyone interested (I couldn't recommend them enough), let me know and I will dig up their details.

UPDATE: got a 3rd for this display and 2nd for another accent plant - a viola. That's nice... am knackered...

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Cozy Evening at Solent Bonsai

Last week, Solent Bonsai Society decided to host a small club show, and a great many trees turned up. With people accompanying them. Of course.

The atmosphere at the local club shows I have attended is always something else. Very friendly, just hanging out with the guys (and gals) sort of thing. Checking out the other people's trees, accent plants, pots, etc.

And if you're like me, you're probably going to take the opportunity to try and cadge a plant or two from someone else. Or they like something you've got gazillions of and you're going, 'Pleeze, take some, take them all!'

I wasn't able to take individual photos of trees as the lighting and background weren't cooperating with my Sony Ericsson (that's right, blame the equipment). But I hope I've managed to capture the intimate and wonderful informality of what is essentially a gathering of like-minded friends.

That for me is the appeal of a smaller show. Oh, and what I believe to be one of the most unique awards in British bonsai history: Best Tree in a Blue Pot.

Don't ask.