Saturday, 21 November 2009

How A5 really sticks in my craw

Got another club newsletter in the post today, which made a nice light read with my morning coffee.  So now that the coffee's gone and the reading content has been digested from cover to cover - what do I do with the newsletter?

I always feel guilty about chucking these things in the bin since I am supremely conscious of the amount of effort it has taken to put a newsletter together.  Often the editor works on his own and has to beg, borrow and cajole information out of people just to make enough 'news' to fill a decent number of pages.  Often there just isn't enough new material to make a regular journal interesting, which is a constant battle for the editor especially when this is part of a membership package.  Often the newsletter is the most visible part of the benefits of being a member of an association, so the appearance of its value-add is even more important.

And not only is there the gathering-of-information chore, there is the laying-out-and-formatting-the-information chore on top of that.  Then printing.  And postage.  Sticking on all those labels.  Stuffing into envelopes.  Queueing at the post office. All on one person's head.  Thank God for admin people, is all I can say (and I did, in this post).

So while I am very conscious of the editor's hard graft, I still am stuck with several issues in various formats (single sheet A4, A4s folded into A5 and stapled together, whatever) lying around my home in various piles.  Some of the information is useful (display, grafting, taking cuttings, etc) therefore nice to keep on hand as reference.  But accessing reference material at a later date would mean some sort of efficient archival system.  Who the hell thinks of that after reading a newsletter with their morning coffee?  More to the point, who would even have the time to do that?  And for every single club paper they receive?  Daunting, dudes, daunting.

But why can't all this go on a website, locked in a Restricted Member Access section if necessary?  Then subscribers can just look this all up online without having storage and retrieval issues.  Added value too for new members - they now have access to issues that pre-date their membership.  Admittedly the work gets shifted onto another admin person (let's hear it for the website people out there) - at least for the initial set-up - but I believe the long-term benefits outweigh the downsides.  Keep the club costs down and use the dosh for something else.

I believe there are some societies already doing that; kudos to their governing bodies for being forward-thinking, and kudos to the membership for taking the plunge with them.

And yes, there also are (what is steadily becoming) a minority of people who don't have Internet access and who have no intentions of going down that route.  I also believe the club should have hardcopy provision for these people.  My belief is that clubs should be a disseminator of information, and if hardcopy is what it takes, then so be it. 

But at the very least, let paper be an option rather than a default. 

And while I'm at it - to all the club people out there who are sat on their nice cushy sofas enjoying their membership benefits: try pulling a finger out and at least submit photos of your trees (or plants or whatever) to your newsletter editor.  Or send in questions. Your thoughts to questions.  Whatever.  Think they don't need newsletter contributions?  Well, when was the last time you asked what they need???  If you've read this far, then you will hopefully have realised there are people out there who would probably welcome your contribution.  Or have you even thought about it while reading your newsletter with your morning coffee?  SHAME ON YOU.

There. Because I couldn't really go this far in the year without offending anyone, could I?  Hurrrr.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Black Ruby: ur doin' it rite

At least there's one plant that's doing what it's supposed to in the garden. 

This Saxifraga cortusifolia 'Black Ruby' was part of the annual plant swap that me and my mate Bruno have had going on for several years now.  Since there is a queue a mile long for this plant's offspring, I've been cultivating it for the past 3 years or so, trying to get it big enough to break up into (hopefully) gazillions of baby plants.  As you'll probably have noticed, it's not planted in an accent pot - again hopefully by next spring I'll have a large enough stock plant to have both giveaways and accents.

This Saxifrage doesn't seem to be very popular in the UK, although there are a couple of UK sites that have it on sale. On the other hand, it seems to be more common in Holland, as Stef and his other half recognised it immediately when they saw it in the garden in July.

Either as a function of its size or of its age (or both), this is the first time this plant has flowered.

Flowering time for this particular Saxifrage is September - November time, so for once, there's actually something in the garden that's actually following the seasons. That would just be too much to ask of the Trident Maples for example, right?

Sunday, 15 November 2009

... Or is it just that they don't get caught?

Amazing where my reading habits take me, sometimes.

Going through an article on the theft of a collection of bonsai trees, I was struck by the author's assumption that the thief was male.  Aside from the fact that moving multiples of trees in pots would make more sense if it were a group effort - in which case why couldn't this be a whole misguided Sorority thinking they could fund their University education with ill-gotten gain, for example.

So before I logged off with the S word (that would be 'sexism' of course) in my head, I decided to do some checking on the likelihood of a bonsai thief having the XY chromosome deal.  Now I wasn't about to do hours of trawling, but let me share with you what I found out in the course of an hour. 

Statistics gathered by the US Department of Justice showed that 'in 1998 there were an estimated 3.2 million arrests of women, accounting for 22% of all arrests that year'.  I couldn't find more recent stats than that, so if you can point me in the direction of newer numbers, by all means feel free.

In Psychology Today, The Scientific Fundamentalist blog ran a series of posts dated July 2008 on criminality and men.  The bit that interested me, of course, being the motivation behind property crimes of robbery and theft:

...If women prefer to mate with men with more resources, then men can increase their reproductive prospects by acquiring material resources. Resources in traditional societies, however, tend to be concentrated in the hands of older men; younger men are often excluded from attaining them through legitimate means and must therefore resort to illegitimate means to acquire them.


And female criminality?

... Apart from their tendency and inclination to avoid physical risks and danger altogether, this is another reason that women commit fewer crimes than men. Women only steal what they need for them and their children to survive, whereas men steal to show off and gain status as well as resources. In other words, women steal less than men for exactly the same reason as they earn less than men. Women generally earn less than men do because they tend to make only what they need and usually have better things to do than earn money, whereas men are motivated to earn far more than they need to survive in order to use the money to attract women. Similarly, women steal less than men do because they tend to steal what they need to survive and do not use crime for other purposes, like showing off and gaining status.

OK, I realise I've only scratched the tip of the iceberg here.  Nor do I necessarily agree with the views expressed above.  And don't take things out of context; if you want to fly off the handle, read all the blogposts first.

There are probably tons of number crunchers out there who can corroborate or disprove what's written here.  And the DOJ stats still tell me that there's at least a 1 in 5 chance that the bonsai thief could've been a chick.  Still, I'm now curious enough to wonder how things have evolved over the last 10 years.  For years women have been encouraged to believe they could do as well as men in all areas of their lives.  Has that spilled over into the criminal world?  So what would the numbers say - is the disparity still as great?

And no, I don't think it's just because women don't get caught as often as men.  No matter how inefficient some may believe the criminal justice systems to be, 78% is just too big a gap to be explained by that; even if the stats are over 10 years old.

Hmmm. Should I only allow women and older married men (or at least co-habiting ones) to come into the garden and view the bonsai?  Single, childless young dudes need not apply. :D

On a lighter note, what about what I found on this Forum?

It's because men are, plainly put, the cause of all misery:
MENtal illness
MENstrual cramps
MENtal breakdown
GUYnecologist (too bad it's not spelled that way)
and when we have real trouble it's a...

Yep, found all that in the space of an hour. 


Saturday, 14 November 2009

Howling Wind Casualty

This accent plant, a hardy Geranium in a Lotus pot was the first (and hopefully, the only) casualty of the strong wind we've been having all day today.  We've had this plant a long, long time - it's one of the first accent plants TOH ever put together.  The whole thing stood about 3 in / 8 cm from the base of the pot.  Said pot has now gone the way of Humpty Dumpty. 

I suppose this is where you're supposed to make lemonade when life gives you lemons.  I'd been saying for a long while that I'd like to convert this plant into a kusamono ball, but the thought of having to hoik it up out of the pot had put me off - THAT is the hassle with strongly incurved pots.

Well I won't have that trouble now, will I? 

Just as well I took photos of the geranium while it was in a pot, I guess.

But being me, I always have to look at the other side of the coin; which is, where am I going to get another cheap Lotus pot like the one that got broken?

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Sum Moar Bonsai Trees? I Haz Dem!

So it's not quite the most seasonal set of photos.  So what?

Call it an autumn clear-out, when I've been going over the e-mails and photo folders to catalogue all the stuff people have sent me over the year.  All photos courtesy of Stef, who came to visit us in the summer with Joke, his other half.

This is the staging where a mix of shohin and bigger bonsai live.  There isn't a lot of science involved in our placement of trees - more like finding enough space to fit the things in without using a crowbar.  However, if something starts looking unhappy, then a new home has to be found.  Take the Trident Maple on rock (upper left-hand corner) and the large White Pine on the opposite side of the staging: they've been in the same spots forever and somehow seem to be doing all right, even if they don't really want the same growing conditions.  Somehow their little microclimate seems to work for them, and they've been there ever since.

A section of the central staging showing a large collected Scots Pine, some Junipers and whatnot.  And my favourite thing in the whole garden - the Pushpins!  Which are actually things that prevent the watering hose from bumping and coiling around the bonsai.

A shadier section of the central staging: another large collected Scots Pine, beeches, oaks and maples.  The guy at the very top is a triple-trunked Japanese Maple 'Chisio'.  Slightly to the right of him is a Weeping Willow that we have been working on for yonks....and we're still at it.  Oh - another Pushpin at the bottom right-hand corner :D

One of TOH's experiments - a group of little larches on a slab.  The variation in trunk sizes still needs working on (among a whole load of things), so this forest may not go on show for another decade or so.  Hurrr.

This group of small Chinese Elms somehow never goes deciduous in the winter, which probably just goes to show how mild our climate is.  Ignore the weeds though.  One problem with this group is that, although the pot is so large, the whole thing is really quite squat; so any display table it goes on needs to be both wide and tall.  Not many of them walking around, and the very few times this planting has gone out on show, we've had to borrow one of Robert's stands.  The group started with 7 cheap Chinese Elms and went through around 3 subsequent 'additions' whenever we found trees of the right height and girth.  The tallest tree stands probably no more than 7 in / 18 cm high, and we've probably had the group for at least 8 years now.  I think there are 19 trees in there now, but it really is a bit difficult to count them...

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Nope, nothing to do with my phone

A Twitter link from Sarah of Smart Bitches Trashy Books led me to Columnist David Brooks' Op-Ed on Cellphones, Texts and Lovers.

While the bulk of his column may not have a lot of bearing on my particular soapbox (but go read it anyway if you want to be enlightened on what people can get up to with a phone on a Friday night), this particular bit did resonate (emphasis is my own):

This does not mean that young people today are worse or shallower than young people in the past. It does mean they get less help. People once lived within a pattern of being, which educated the emotions, guided the temporary toward the permanent and linked everyday urges to higher things. The accumulated wisdom of the community steered couples as they tried to earn each other’s commitment.

This blog goes on a lot about bonsai club activities for a reason - the knowledge I have acquired in this hobby is primarily because we sought out a local club when I started getting interested in bonsai almost 14 years ago. Since hooking up with Teacher-san and a group of very enlightened (AKA geeky) friends, my store of specialist and horticultural knowledge has grown radically. But I would never have gotten there without the baby steps taken in the little club we still go to.  So, if I have ever helped anyone out there take their own baby steps in their journey of discovery, then well and good.

TOH and I are inveterate book collectors and the number of bonsai books at home probably rivals the size of a club's library. On top of that, we have videos. DVDs. Whatever. But we have always felt that nothing replaces the ability to ask someone a question, study a tree together and discuss possibilities.  To this end, private lessons are fantastic, but not exactly cheap.  A club meeting or workshop with more-experienced members is a reasonable alternative, especially for a beginner who isn't sure of how much commitment to make to the hobby.

But the downside to any collective is evident: it's full of OTHER PEOPLE. Which could mean politics. Or personality clashes. Or differences of opinion. Well, if you don't want a repeat of your own family, what can I say?

Don't think that confining yourself to surfing the 'Net is going to shield you from all that, though. I have read many a diatribe on public forums (OK 'fora' if you are a stickler for the correct use of Latin) which make evident that backscratching, brown-nosing and backstabbing are not purely face-to-face activities. (Or back-to-back for that matter.  Hurrrr.)  I also remember talking to a Spanish enthusiast whose beef with Internet forums was that any tree could be made to look good depending on the angle that a picture was taken.  So there's always video.  Maybe in a few years' time the technology will catch up with us, but at the moment the time it would take to integrate all the media involved just to do a quick Q&A - it makes my head spin.  We do a lot of virtual meetings in my day job and believe me it's got a ways to go yet.  (And yes my patience factor is VERY VERY SMALL when it comes to waiting for software to perform properly.)

Nonetheless, I find it significant that, while the Internet has opened up a Whole Wide World to us without the need to ever leave our armchairs, the success of social media shows that we still have a tendency to congregate.  Yes, into groups.  Only our congregations are not necessarily held together by time or face, but by a similarity of interests and etiquette.  We are still appreciative of help (if not necessarily actively looking for it); so what would be more logical - or even easier, for that matter - than the accumulated wisdom of a non-virtual community, if there actually is one to hand?

Bonsai isn't the only thing I do, and from time to time on Twitter I touch on the other interests and related congregations that I subscribe to.  And I've made new friends, kept in touch with old ones, learned new things and shared on others.  All the same sort of thing that I do at the clubs I go to physically, actually.

Huh. And you thought I'd tell you about what I do with my phone on a Friday night, dincha?

What? Didn't you read the title of this post???

Monday, 2 November 2009

Someone's been busy

And it wasn't me. Nossiree.

So here is a photo tribute to all the hard graft TOH has done by way of winter prep in the cold greenhouse where most of the shohin and mame are kept: tidying up and clearing out all the dead leaves and what not, laying down slug pellets and giving a winter prune to the deciduous trees that have done a leaf dump.

Not that it's the best-looking greenhouse in the world, mind.  Note that we are in a hard water area, witnessed by all the limescale marks on the shelving and the pots.

Here's what you see of the cold greenhouse as soon as you walk in.  Evergreens or those still in leaf have been moved up to the light.  Those that have fully shed their leaves have been moved to the bottom shelves.

And to your left as you walk in the door.  The fun will be in Spring when everything bursts out into leaf - then it will be Changing Rooms in the Greenhouse all over again.

And on the right, with the neighbours' dead leaves and the grape vine just visible beyond the glass.

And because it looks so striking, here is a close-up of the red maple and primula kusamono on that last top shelf.  The pot is Czech (Isabelia?) in case you're wondering.

Of course, there are still the warm greenhouse and the coldframes to go, but I'm just being nitpicky now...