Monday, 22 March 2010

Trees, People, Bath and Rocks: My Day at the Joy of Bonsai

Rather than tell a story from the beginning, let me commence sort of a third through the way and wind my way back up to the start.  

The GPS (AKA 'That Biyotch' to a friend of mine) took us to Bath via the A303 which led us through some lovely scenery, particularly when we got closer to Bath.  Quaint cottages, woodland scenes - all very picture book English countryside, which made the opening vista of the city with its straight lines of limestone architecture seem extremely regimented to me.   All the creamy yellow/gold Bath stone architecture under the morning sun as you drive down the hill is impressive - but I guess it is a 'you love it or you hate it' sort of thing.

In my last post I said that catching up with people was probably going to be the priority of the day (second to getting my morning coffee, of course) but actually - despite feedback I had heard on the Saturday saying the lighting wasn't very good - I did manage to get some pics of the trees and accent plants.  I could've taken more pics, but to be perfectly honest I was more caught up with gassing with the owners of the trees.  Especially as some of their stuff are bonsai that I probably already have pics of in previous posts on this blog.

I first saw this Willow by Simon Temblett at the Swindon Winter Image show two years ago, and he says it's now starting to look more like how he wants it to be.  Pot is also by Simon.

Also by Simon is this composition entitled 'Blackthorn Juggling on a Unicycle', which is almost self-explanatory.  You also get a fairly good view of the branch wiring in the photo.

Framed in black and floating in space is John Pitt's 'Beyond the Moonshine'; no prizes for guessing who the potter is:
However you can get a better view of the entire composition here, courtesy of @ExtremeWork.

This one, called 'The Lightning through the Clouds', was one that people couldn't resist touching, particularly when they were told the tree wasn't real.
Paul Finch (UK New Talent Contest winner and UK candidate for the 2008 EBA NTC at Vienna) modelled this on one of Kevin Willson's trees.  The woody bits are out of modelling clay and the foliage is from bits of fake Christmas trees.  An excellent piece of work, IMHO.  And in case it isn't legible, the notice to the left says 'please do not touch the exhibits'.

We oohed and aahed over this little accent Contorted Hazel by Russ Farley. 
I didn't manage to get the potter's name, but if you do want to know, then you have to ask this guy here.  His wife tried her best to edge out of the picture but one day there will be no escaping my Sony Ericsson...
We have been bumping into Russ and Julie at bonsai shows here and on the Continent for over 10 years now, and I've seen their son grow up, in almost a stop action punctuated sort of way, over a series of bonsai shows.  Kinda makes you feel old, after a while.

Obviously these two take bonsai extremely seriously and the one on the left is Bob Bailey whose shohin and mame have appeared several times on this blog.
This display of bodily assault could have been a forerunner of the Karate demonstration that afternoon.  And that is really all the innuendo I am able to spread on Mr Bailey, even though I have threatened to do so several times over the past years.  That said, he has taken quite a lot of stick over the colour of his shirts....

More dirt was being dished about by the Welsh lads; here we have Chris Thomas showing off his moss....
.... and proving he can multitask by entertaining us with a lot of smutty hilarious jokes while finishing up a group planting....
.... which eventually wound up like this:

Another demo here, possibly of interest to those who want to give the root-over-rock style a go: Simon Temblett taking a tube-grown maple (to achieve the long roots) which was destined to go over the red 'pebbles' on the lower right hand side.  In the background you can see the other demonstrators at work.
I missed the rest of the demo as I went to have lunch (my next highest priority to my morning coffee).  By the time I had demolished a steak and complained about its size (on the small side) to an unsympathetic Mr Bailey, this particular demo was done and Simon had gone on to doing a Tanuki, achieving the bark colour with a solution of soot and water.  The finished root over rock maple is on the lower left hand side of the photo, wrapped in sphagnum moss to protect the roots.  Over time this will be removed once the roots have settled.

Another of the demonstrators, Serge Clemence, here doing an illustration of what will eventually be the finished image of the tree he had worked on.
We first met Serge at the EBA convention in Poland where he had displayed a large yamadori pine that took the best in show prize that year.  That said, Serge was still immersed in plans for refining the tree into the image that he had in plan for it.  We saw the tree again at another show a couple of years later and it had acquired a more mature and finished look, aside from being a healthy specimen indeed.

Moving away from the demo area, I managed to grab these pics of the Pitt-boss John (and why is it all my photos of him are blurred?  Is my phone trying to tell me something?)...
and his wife Linda...
... who is my partner in hilarity at her husband's expense.  Only sometimes.  (Like at every show we meet.)  But he's a great sport.  And he gets his own back :D

And in reverse order (as this was the first photo of the day I took), let me leave you with a minute impression of one of the biggest piles of Suiseki I have ever seen in my life:
Them grey rocks in the middle of the field.  Click on the pic to blow it up.  That's right:  Stonehenge as seen from the A303.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Spring view of another WIP

Works In Progress, we haz dem.  Big time.

This root-over-rock Forsythia has been WIPping around in the garden for nearly 10 years and has never come out on exhibit, as you can clearly see why. 

I believe we purchased it as a bare-rooted item, then stuck it in a generic deep, round 'export-blue' coloured pot for the longest time.  Almost two years ago, it got put into this shallow oval that shows the landscape off better.

There's still a major piece of work to do on improving the branches, the crown of the tree and the appearance of the trunk.  On the other hand, it's flowering profusely despite the whopping winter it went through.  Or possibly because of it?  We did get a mega-lot of root growth, as there's a whole load of the little buggers trying to escape the edge of the pot on the right,

As usual the birds had a field day with the moss protecting the topsoil, so we will be back to re-mossing all the trees this spring, once we get a new food processor - the last one we got for chopping moss didn't quite survive a year.  I guess like everything else, you get what you pay for...

And BTW, we will be off to Joy of Bonsai at Bath tomorrow, but I cannot promise pics.  Partly because my recollections of the lighting in the hall do not inspire optimism, and more because we will be meeting up with loads of friends and socialising may just have a teensy-weensy priority.  Or maybe I could do only people pics instead of tree pics?  Now there's a thought - I could consider starting a new career as paparazzo, armed with a camera phone.

My chances of hitting the big bucks suddenly don't seem too high.  Feh.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Better late than... even later?

Well, in the last post I did say I would take pics at our club meeting.  And I did.

And I did say that I'd post said pics if the light was good to my Sony Ericsson.  And it wasn't.

So rather than put out some over/under/badly-exposed shots for you to go "huh?" over, how about if I make up for it with more pics of the accent plants that are starting to come out in the garden.  Some of these were my earliest guinea pigs subjects for last year's posts, so to a certain extent it is interesting (for me at the very least) to see how they've come along since then.

This is a white Hepatica nobilis which first came out in this post.  It's only started coming out into flower in the past couple of days and there are at least two more flower buds waiting in the wings.  Just to show that everything is late this year, my 2009 pic dates back to late February and the flowers were much further along.  This planting is due for a break-up fairly soon, as the seedlings are now in their second year (you can see them in last year's photo). 
You get a better look at the pot's colour in this shot, though.  I'm  not sure if the leaves should actually be there, as they are last year's foliage and are really rather manky looking.  Despite the hard winter, none of our established Hepatica (and most of the seedlings) went fully dormant; they just hung on to every last bit of greenery they could.

And only just out by a day or so is what I believe to be a Scilla (possibly siberica), although its flowers are looking a little pale so maybe it isn't what I think it is....
This is in a Walsall pot, about 2.5 in / 6.5 cm high.

Last year I wasn't so sure this plant would make it - the double flowered form Hepatica transsilvanica 'Mrs Elison Spence':
It was either vine weevil or the alpine mix which didn't agree with my plant.  I now try to transfer all of our alpines into an akadama mix, which seems to suit our watering style (and our garden conditions) better.  For the vine weevil, we use a mix of organic (nematodes) and chemical (Provado) control.  Or I feed the buggers to the birds.  Either way, I'm happy to report that I have managed to save the parent plant as well.  This one apparently tends to flower before the foliage appears, but I will also have to say that it hung on to its very large and not very pretty leaves all throughout the very cold winter we just had.  I'm not quite sure who the potter for this one is, so let me do a bit of digging first.  In the meantime, if anyone recognises the pot, do give me a shout.

This is one of my experiments at making multiple-plant groupings for a longer period of interest.  This is one of the first Snowdrops (Galanthus) that has flowered for me in a pot, so I'm feeling a bit more encouraged to try different plantings.  The rest of the composition looks like it will need more summer interest.

Oh, and before I forget - here's the blue Primula from the last post, but just two weeks along and its pompom is all out.  Well, almost.

Monday, 8 March 2010

It's Partayyyy Time!!! Bonsai Club night tonight...

And everyone's decking out in their finest - at least the bonsai and accent plants are.

And since we've been through an unseasonably cold winter for this part of the world, everyone in the club will be mad keen to show whatever has come out of hibernation.  Of course I'm no exception, duh.  But being the generous and giving (showoff - errr, wait, ignore that) person that I am, I thought I'd give you guys a sneak peek of what I'm taking to the club.  And if the light at the club hall is kind to my Sony Ericsson, I'll take home some more pics to show you later this evening. 

Here is a shohin Chinese juniper that started its life as an informal upright at least 10 years ago.  It wasn't a bad-looking tree then - as a matter of fact, when someone saw it a year after we had acquired it, he suggested we enter it into a very prestigious national show.  But we had already decided it would be better off as a semi-cascade, and since then the invitation to display the tree has never again been tendered.  Heh. But we still feel it was the right thing to do - if a bit drastic.  Achieving the change in shape also meant a lot of wiring (I did say I had gotten a lot of practice in an earlier post), and sometimes Junipers can sulk when treated this way.  Because he did get the heavy metal thing going back then. Yo.
He was also moved into this unglazed Walsall pot, which gives Teacher-san kittens every time he checks our trees, as the cylindrical shape is one that he feels is difficult to keep watered correctly.  Walsall have since stopped using this clay, so I do regret not buying every single one of these that had come out then.

Here is the detail of the rear of the tree, showing 2 jins which are the remains of rather heavy branches.  Had they stayed, we would have wound up with a pronounced lump in the middle of the tree, I bet.
This is one of our larger shohins, measuring 8 in / 20 cm from the feet of the pot.  I don't think it has ever gone out on public display - as it has taken forever for the juvenile foliage to sort itself out - but we have taken it out to the club a couple of times.  Club nights are more like family to us, they don't really count as public, if you see what I mean.

And here's the detail of the Primula in a Japanese pot.  I believe I have the plant's label somewhere, but there's bound to be someone at the club who'll be able to tell me what it is.  It will look better when it's fully out in flower, and even better in 3 years' time when it will have filled out the pot a bit more.

I did mention on Twitter that I would be bringing the microscopic Aquilegias, and I am.  And on the other end of the scale, I am bringing this Kusamono which is a green Ophiopogon variety, a tall bronzey grass whose label has gone the way of the wind, and some other nondescript grass that is only kept within the planting on sufferance (I just keep pulling it out when I have nothing better to do with my time).  Here is what it looked like in summer:

And these are the Ophiopogon fruit which have stayed all through the winter:

I took the Kusamono out of its pot nearly 2 years ago and it has spent all winter outdoors, albeit protected by a whole load of other potted plants around it.  Still, it was covered with snow like everything else.  One day I will find a suiban which will complement the colours of the planting better than this one. (In fact I do know of one potter who has this shade of blue... :D)  But still, this one is the right size, so it will have to do for now.

Unfortunately my Hepaticas and Soldanella are not quite fully out in flower.  My double Hepatica 'Mrs Elison Spence' is only just starting to come out and it doesn't look like anything much at the moment.  What a bummer. 

We are bound to have lots of accent plant lovers tonight, even some people from other local clubs.  Will be great to see if they'll have brought their stuff.  Maybe we can even start doing some barter.  Because boy, do I have some nice stuff coming out... Any takers?

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Charcoal in the Growing Medium

At our local bonsai club meeting sometime back, a couple of guys had an interesting discussion on the merits of using charcoal as part of a bonsai soil mix.  I can't remember what the outcome of the discussion was (probably more concerned about getting myself coffee and biccies, as usual) but this blogpost at Yamadori Passion may interest some of you:

Have a gander over there.  Loads of great photos from his travels.  My recent fave is his series of posts on the tools he uses for his yamadori.  Good stuff.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Anyone up for a guessing game?

Our friend Robert gave us several of these seedlings last year and they promptly went into these thimble pots.  Think you recognise what sort of plant they are?  No, they are not baobabs.

Okay, here's their big brother.  Does that give you a better clue?  No, it's not a cabbage either.

Just to give you an idea of scale, I've included the moss accent plant, which as I've mentioned in a previous post is about 1 inch / 2.54 cm high.  So although the 'trunks' look chunky in these photos (and I suppose proportionally they are), the plants are really rather minute.

I believe TOH got the two 'square' thimble pots from one of the potters at the now-defunct Southampton Balloon & Flower Festival, but cannot say for sure.  The moss planting is in a Japanese pot that we got at the Green Club during one of the Kokofu shows.  Absolutely no clue who made the larger round pot.

So a lot of our accent plants are starting to come out of winter dormancy.  And a lot of the trees as well.  Which will mean moving everything around in the cold greenhouse and making space for the more vigorous varieties.

Oh yes, I suppose you're still wondering what these plants are?  They're not a dwarf variety so here's what they'll eventually look like one day; well not precisely like these ones as this is a photo of my flower bed:
Yup, Aquilegias.  Don't ask me what colour - I'll either have to remember to ask Robert or wait to see what will happen if they do eventually flower.  Which will either be spectacularly great or spectacularly bizarre, as flowers or fruit don't reduce in size...

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Not Quite a Starting Line-up...

Well, I actually did forget some of the other plants I had put on display at the Swindon Winter Image show in my earlier post.  Not that I could've posted them on this blog any earlier due to my recent monitor problems, but better late than never, I suppose.  So here we go with the rest of my starting line-up of display trees and accents for 2010 - and then some.

Our accent plants are starting to wake up now and some of the compositions I put together last year are starting to show signs of rejuvenation.  So more photos to come in the next few weeks, hopefully.  But for now, this photo is the collection of accent plants that went with us to Swindon Show; all but one went out on display:
The Ranunculus ficaria 'Coppernub' (rear upper left hand side) is a slight disappointment to me, as it didn't flower any more profusely than it did last year, although the plant has bulked out considerably.  The other guy to the right of him is also a Ranunculus (another lost label jobbie, so don't expect a variety identification anytime soon from me) and still hasn't flowered.  Leaves are funky, though.  This second Ranunculus is in a pot by Alan Harriman.  The lighting in this photo is brighter than last year's so the colour of the Coppernub's Bryan Albright pot is a lot closer to the original.

This picture of a Shohin cascade Cotoneaster frigidus 'Cornubia' was taken before clean-up and show prep:
We've been growing this guy for at least 4 years now, and this Walsall pot is now its second home.  It started out with quite a large rootball, hence the slightly over-potted look; however as it only has come out on show when either the flowers or berries are out, then it also has these over-long branches which slightly compensate for the whopper of a pot.  Being a cascade, this is a difficult one to give dimensions to, so if I say that the pot is about 4 in / 10 cm high, that should give an overall indication of the size of the tree. 

This isn't one in our collection that comes out in public very often (although I have taken it to our local club several times), partly because we aren't 100% satisfied with its ramification.  Although the trunk is rather interesting.  Here it is at a slightly different angle, showing the trunk line and the berries:
 A little later in the year, I'm going to give this guy a massive prune. 

As an aside, the winter colour on our cotoneasters was gratifying this year.  However, we didn't get a lot of flower and fruit out of our shohin cotoneasters this time, although the larger ones did all right in that department.

Again another shohin that went through the popsicle stage this winter.  Here is how this Picea looked on show:
And here you can just about see it on the left-hand side in all its frozen glory.

The pot is a Tokoname, apparently by Bigei.  As I can't read the markings, I have no way of confirming this but I'm sure someone will give a shout if it proves otherwise.

And this last one is a shohin Japanese White Pine which will only go out on show if I'm really, really desperate as the branch structure still needs so much work done to it.  Plus that trunk line sometimes strikes me as being totally dire.
Another small tree that we've had for several years but really only a WIP for the past two.  This one also went popsicle during the winter freeze, and you'll see it on the right-hand side of this photo.

The reason I've got this White Pine in here is to illustrate a couple of things.  Rather than buy expensive trees, our bonsai acquisition strategy has been to pay for trees that - by our guesswork - will need about 5 to 8 years' work and fall into a medium (or more) price range for that type of bonsai.  We have been lucky with some and they have literally only needed a couple of years before they've been deemed ready for show.  We have also acquired dead cheap / unwanted trees that showed their potential in a relatively short space of time.  Others, like this White Pine, will need both time and patience - in spades.

But if you are mad keen on getting a 'finished' bonsai to go out immediately into competition (and win), then expect to pay the full market value of that tree. Whatever that may be. Because - in bonsai just like in everything else - you get what you pay for.