Sunday, 28 June 2009

A Sunday at Capel Manor

Getting myself to the Bonsai Traders Association's show at Capel Manor in Enfield (J25 on the M25) on my own turned out to be a bigger production than I thought it would be. Not just because my Tomtom and I have different ideas of how the English language should be used when giving directions, but the stupid cow also has a crap sense of timing. Whatever.

Anyways, this was the first time I made the journey to Capel Manor while awake, and I have to say it's no less tedious when driving. It seems like the M25 is just one perpetual set of roadworks that just keeps getting recycled from one junction to another.

I make a big deal of underlining that I was on my own by way of explanation as to why I only have a few photos to share with you. Simply because I spent most of my time having to explain to practically every other person I met that TOH had double-booked and couldn't get out of a commitment that involved fishing hooks and trout. In the end, I should've just had a sign made. Or passed out pamphlets (and asked for donations :o)

So here we go. Photos from the show.

One of the many pathways winding round the Capel Manor gardens has made a feature of discarded exhaust pipes. One of many ways to recycle with whimsy, I suppose.

And this must be the prettiest Virginia Creeper I ever did see, courtesy of Mike & Nobu. The lighting probably doesn't do it the justice it deserves; the pot (by Alan Harriman, I believe) is unglazed reddish-brown with black, which would probably look quite good when the bonsai is in autumn colour.

One of the accent plants in this display (again by Mike & Nobu) is this geranium kusamono, which incidentally is sitting on a suiban, without the benefit of any pot to hold the soil in. The picture doesn't give an idea of scale; I'd say the plant is about 8 in / 20 cm across.

In Swindon Bonsai Society's display, Bob had a lovely shohin Yakushima rose. The week before, it had been covered in blossom, however the flowers only last a day. I decided to take a photo (seeing that Bob can't be bothered - right, Bob? :o) while there was one bloom left.

Here's the detail of the Yakushima rose, which somehow reminds me of a white/pale yellow potentilla.

The best part of the show was all the banter and people taking the mickey. I should've gone round taping conversations rather than with a phone masquerading as a camera.

TOH's defection to the fishy side also meant that I wound up having to do more schmoozing and less shopping. That didn't stop me from getting some very delectable pots and a satsuki azalea that will shortly get converted into a sort of nearai kusamono. Photos, do I hear you say? Possibly....

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Setting the record straight, again

Following on from my indignant reaction to the "shallow root system = a tree's ability to hold out in freezing temperatures" statement.

So here is the skinny on how cold dormancy works, i.e. what a deciduous (in this country, used to refer to trees that shed their leaves in winter) tree does to prepare itself for winter beddy-byes.

Actually cold dormancy; the process by which a deciduous tree prepares itself for winter is quite an interesting topic in a geeky sort of way.

Its starts with the absorption of chlorophylls which exposes the autumn colours we are familiar with. Then as nutrients are absorbed a whole range of other processes begin including cell wall hardening and increase in respiration as sugars are stored around the plant. It would seem that the tree has shut down initially but far from it. Then as daylight and temperature decrease there appears to be a timing mechanism that prevents the tree from emerging from winter too early. It would be disastrous for the plant to produce leaf just to be lost to a frost so the tree needs a degree of certainty that this is not going to happen. So a substance in bark and stems called phytochrome detects light levels, as these increase along with soil temperature and as long as at least 300 hours of low temperatures has passed, the tree will emerge in Spring. Amazing stuff.

There. Before anyone else starts spewing a whole load of crap.

Thanks to bonsaibanter who is a fantastic source for horticultural facts. (Get the hint? Keyword = FACTS.)

Friday, 26 June 2009

Stop talking rot... pleeze??!

OK - so the Internet allows freedom of speech and circulation of information. Fine, I accept that.

Ergo, my freedom of speech presumably also allows me to call a spade a spade when I see a spade, right?

Via Twitter, I see a lot of links to sites that promote bonsai in some way, shape or form; some of these sites are (thinly) veiled commercial sites, others can be more overtly so. Whatever. That isn't my beef. I have no problems with capitalism whatsoever.

What I do have a problem with is when statements are made that are erroneous, misleading or just plain crap that has never been verified for accuracy.

For example, this statement:
Temperate bonsai trees are able to hold out in freezing temperatures because they have a shallow root system.

So I check with a friend who has a horticultural degree, here is the reply:
Your intuition is correct the statement is tosh.

Cold hardiness and separately, Cold dormancy, are dependent on a number of factors which does not include shallow roots.

I will take it that the author is commenting about Cold hardiness rather than dormancy.
Trees have a number of physiological and morphological adaptations to cope with winter; shedding leaves, cell wall hardening, wood substructure as an insulator, morphology of vascular system, morphology of evergreen leaves, storage of nutrients, movement of solutes into/out of cells and probably others that I cannot recall.

One interesting adaptation is that of pines. These have a tracheid vascular system (long and narrow cells) as opposed to vessel elements in deciduous trees.
These cell help reduce transpiration losses as well as being structurally stronger in cold conditions.

So, if you are a newbie to bonsai looking for help/advice/whatever - be warned. Find a reputable source of information and, even then, check your facts.

So I'm not the equable, tolerant person I should be. And apparently it doesn't take a lot to wind me up (so you've noticed??). But, sheesh, give me a break. In fact, give the rest of the world a break.


Saturday, 13 June 2009

Whazzat? Show-worthy? You're having me on...

Well maybe it's not the best English, that's what. But the sentiment is there.

At some point in our lives, especially if we've just been to a bonsai show, we start thinking to ourselves, 'I've got trees in my garden that are as good as those in the show.' And I think it's just natural (for most people anyway) to want to share what we've created; as a form of self-expression, I suppose. I personally don't view it as an ego-trip (although it's likely there's some of that as well, as I alluded to in my previous post).

Anyways, this isn't about the 'why' of putting a bonsai tree out on show. It stems more from a question by Andrew Nicolle as to what I would look for in my trees before I considered them worthy of being put out on show. So again, this is only what pushes my buttons - there is no intended value judgment on other exhibitors whatsoever. (Let's get that straight right here, 'Kthxbye.)

So, on with the show-worthiness. First thing I'd look for is a tree in good nick: unhealthy-looking trees on a show bench do not appeal to me at all. So they not only have to be healthy, they have to look it as well. There's one white pine in my garden that's in excellent health but hasn't been out on show for years, simply because the coloration between new growth and old on one side of the tree is way evident. Nothing wrong with it, it's just that the colour discrepancy looks... un-pine-y.

Health OK? So on to the style bit then. I actually don't have a lot of trees that are in the classic bonsai shapes as we know them; most of my stuff is what we would call 'self-styled'. (Many being classic styles that went wrong and were recovered over the years through a you-live-and-learn process.) But just because they don't correspond to a pattern doesn't mean I can blithely ignore the guidelines of bonsai styling. Well-developed ramification and the amount of space between branches; the choice of pot to complement the overall image; branches crossing one over the other and shoots or twigs sticking out upwards or downwards - these are some of the things that can either add to or detract from the quintessential image of a natural tree. And I guess this is what the styling guidelines are about: helping one achieve the look of a mature tree as it would be in nature; that in the first glimpse of the bonsai - no matter what the shape of the tree - the viewer immediately believes this is a snapshot of a tree within a particular situation and habitat.

Nor can anyone afford to ignore the rules of composition (I can feel the soapbox coming on here...). Notice I use the term, 'rules'. There is a certain amount of leeway whereby one can stretch the guidelines for styling bonsai - but not by much. One can disguise bar branches and get away with even numbers of trees or trunks; if the overall image is not distracting... brownie points aren't lost by visual deception. But stomp on things like visual weight, perspective, rhythm and proportion... not only do you need big balls, you need a heck of a lot of talent to get away with it.

And I'm so very sorry - but there aren't that many who are that talented (having the other requisite physical attribute does not compensate whatsoever). Believe me.

These guidelines weren't arbitrarily set by a specific group of intellectuals who didn't have anything better to do. They will have evolved over time and been codified as understanding of an art or craft developed. I have no problem with bending rules. Not taking any risks is the shortest way to boredom and stagnation. What I do have a problem with is when people break too many rules so that the execution looks like crap, then try to excuse it by saying, 'just accept that it's different' and 'it's my own particular style'.

By all means create your own style. But first learn what the basic conventions are before picking and choosing. There is a whole world of truth to the saying 'you have to learn to walk before you can learn to run'.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

And as a testament to my own... ahem... thick skin

In a series of posts, I waffled on about the ramifications / consequences of entering bonsai shows and competitions (you can check out what I said here and here).

Having thick skin always helps, having a sense of humour is good, too. But understanding where our little hobby sits in the grand scheme of life, death and the cosmos is probably even better still. (If that was too subtle for you, then get a load of this: it's just a frickin' hobby, OK? It's not the end of the world if judges don't give you any prizes or if nobody likes your trees. You like them, that should be good enough. There.)

I wasn't actually there when this happened, although it did involve my trees. The story was recounted to me by fellow members of the Satsuki Azalea Society, during our display in 2007. I had left the stand to go off for a coffee and a satsuki enthusiast was viewing the display with his friends while providing them with some commentary on the finer points of the species. They get to this Gyoten and he tells them, "This one is beautiful."

They go along the exhibition bench, see this one (another Gyoten - but I still want to believe it's a Kaho) and he says, "This one's lovely."

Further along is the ballerina (Kaho-no-Hikari I think; anyone recognise this pic?) and he says, "That one's good too."

And when he gets to this one, he tells his companions: "And that one's just shite."

Had I been there as the situation unfolded, or if he had said it to my face point-blank, perhaps I wouldn't have been as amused as I am now.

Still, I acknowledge that everyone is entitled to their own opinions and setting out one's trees on display does make one a target / recipient for said opinions. I myself have been as forceful - and more tactless - in the expression of my views (as many regular readers will know by now).

But life's too short to take everything to heart. My take is, if you can't take the heat then flippin' stay out of the kitchen.

We will be back at the Satsuki show next weekend (I don't get a lot of free weekends in June, really) and these trees will not be shown this year as they haven't been as heavily in flower as in 2007. Part of the beauty of bonsai is the temporalness of a tree's perfection - enjoying a moment in time and never knowing when and if it will revisit you with as much bounty as previously.