Sunday, 25 April 2010

WIPs: Pseudocydonia and a Malus

Well... if you could see them, these are a couple of trees that TOH has been working on for years.  Both of them sit side by side in front of our patio doors and are protected somewhat from the worst of the weather.  Not that we think they particularly need the protection.  It's more a case of finding enough space to fit them, as they both have quite a spread when they are in leaf (and flower, as we just found out).  As it is, the trees don't look like much but their flowers do, so that's what you're getting.

The Pseudocydonia sinensis has been a Work In Progress for at least 10 years and last spring was only the second time it was re-potted since we've had it.  The first time, it was planted into neat akadama, I think this time some black (Fuji) grit was added into the mix.  It must have liked the root intervention work because it's never flowered so profusely before.  Either that or it was thinking of flowering big time this year anyway and the root work just shocked it into doing something.  Either way there are about 15 flower buds in various stages of opening.  This picture was taken a week ago and the warm weather has caused it to move on a bit since then.
It's actually a rather large tree (nearly 3 ft / 91 cm) from the base of the pot so you can understand why I didn't lift it out of its space to take the photo.  When the branch work is looking better (which could take years so don't hold your breath) I probably will, as there is an interesting hollowed-out feature in the trunk.  TOH discovered that when it was first repotted about 10 years ago, and finding tons of rotted trunk was not the best surprise at the time.  We don't know much about the habits of Chinese Quince and this guy has sort of been our guinea pig for the species. 

I can't say Pseudocydonia is the Speedy Gonzales of flowering trees but it does seem to be a fairly forgiving tree in terms of neglect (i.e. tough as old boots).  The flowers take weeks to open, so you do get a fairly long display season.  Getting good ramification is still a bit of a challenge for us, so I can only imagine how long it's taken for the guys who get to show off their Chinese Quinces at the Kokofu-ten, for example.

This Malus has been with us for about seven or eight years.  It's possibly a halliana or something similar and is also what I would call a butt-ugly tree at the moment, so it could be a WIP for a looooonnng time.  You can see the Chinese Quince's bright blue pot just behind it, and the legs of a couple of chairs as well, through the patio doors :D
As usual, we've lost the label so positive ID is a bit of a challenge.  Similar to its neighbour, this is the first year since we've had it that it's flowered as heavily and the flowers are rather pretty (which is why we got the tree in the first place) and a slightly stronger pink than the photo would suggest.  If only I could focus my phone properly.

I don't recall ever re-potting this tree, and it is in a rather boring unglazed dark brown pot which will get changed at the first opportunity as far as I'm concerned.  Our focus for the past two years has been to get it as healthy as we possibly could, so I've been more cautious with the watering and it also got fed heavily (like way heavy) last year.

Apparently the flowers are scented as well, so I guess I can't focus my nose either.  Hurrr.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Small Bonsai, Small Work?

TOH and I were recently talking about the amount of maintenance needed for shohin and mame bonsai, and this particular case came to mind as being a good illustration. 

This is one of our shohin Cotoneasters that has quite a history.  It started its bonsai life as a cutting, given to us by a former club member around 1998.  TOH put it into a shallow training pot in akadama and then... bear in mind that we were just starting to seriously learn about growing trees in pots back then.... horror.  The roots had somehow rotted out and the whole thing fell out of its pot, practically rootless.  Emergency situation: TOH wrapped up the whole thing - plant, pot and soil - in a clear plastic bag, stuck it in the greenhouse and left it there to recover.  It was a much smaller plant then, the trunk measuring about 3 - 4 inches in length (8 - 10 cm) and already trained as a semi-cascade but sort of in a straight line rather than with the downward arc that you'll see in these photos.

Evidently the plant recovered, our watering skills improved and the Cotoneaster has even been deemed worthy of living in this Japanese pot with a vaguely celadon-ish colour and a lovely crackle glaze.  This is one of the earliest trees I practised my wiring on, which is how the downward trunk arc was induced.

But this is one bonsai that still needs a skillful hand with the watering as it is prone to the annoying condition that I call frickenmossalloverthefrickentrunkandbranches-itis.  And it is a right bugger to de-moss the trunk, believe you me. And conversely, it can be easy to underwater this one as well, given the shape of its pot. 

For some reason or other we've not really paid a lot of attention to this guy's pruning recently.  He's not gone out on show for about 2 years now, so I'd say the last time he was re-potted was at least either 3 or 4 years ago.  Water still drains freely so he'll just have to let us know sooner or later if his roots are in need of a soil and refresh jobbie.

So anyway, here is said shohin before its first spring clean, note the moss growing on the trunk and rear branches.  I think we also missed summer and autumn pruning last year, which is why the branches are rather overlong.  The one good thing is the pot is a doddle to spruce up.

These photos were taken about 3 weeks ago; the new leaves had only just started showing themselves so I'd not pruned as heavily as I would've liked, erring on the side of caution.  I did thin out quite a few branches and had shortened the rear considerably.  The moss was removed with a dry single-tuft toothbrush, which I get from a periodontist (and is also available online).  Here we are about three-quarters through the moss-removal + pruning process, the birds-eye view giving a better look at the branch structure:

We are still going to have to work on improving branch lines and acquiring tertiary branch structure. Hopefully the long branches can be shortened even further by this autumn.  And I will have to get rid of the old leaves at some point.  I'll either be lazy and wait for them to fall off, or I give it a couple of days and see if I'm feeling industrious.  Hmmm....

Now I may have implied that this shohin is larger than when it came to us, and indeed today it stands about 6 in / 15 cm high from the feet of the pot.  But getting a toothbrush, much less a finger between branches is still not a job for the fainthearted, as sometimes the gap between branches is practically millimetric.  And it requires a relatively steady, un-rushed hand to remove the moss without damaging any new shoots.  No shoot casualties when this was done, I'm happy to report. 

So despite being a small-ish shohin, the little bugger still took over an hour to prune and clean up:

Again with the ubiquitous moss thimble accent plant to give an idea of scale.  The sticky-out branch on the upper left will go once I'm sure there are more shoots that have backbudded behind it.  I tend to leave a minimum of 3 shoots (not leaves) when doing spring pruning.

At some of the shows in the past, people have judged this tree in the mame category, but really TOH and I think of it as a shohin.  I suppose it is smaller than a lot of the shohin that go on display, but it is still way larger than the stuff we grow and consider as mame in our heads.  (Please let's not get into the sizing debate here since that is just an old, boring story as far as I'm concerned.)

Because the point I'm trying to get across is that, for all that they are small trees, shohin and mame do require a lot of attention to detail.  The upside of their small size is that they are easier to lift, carry and display.  They take up less room in the garden.  On the other hand, they are a bugger to transport over long distances unless you are kitted out properly.  Losing (or having to retouch) your top-dressing can be a nightmare.  Cleaning limescale off the smaller pots is not a fun job, particularly when you have a lot of them to display.  Then there is the daily maintenance - keeping them alive and watered properly throughout the year does require a keen eye.  Over the 10 years or so that we've been growing shohin and mame, we've developed a rhythm and a system that seem to have worked for our lifestyle and growing environment but that has also meant a lot of trial and error.  Possibly more of the latter. 

Our bonsai are checked twice a day in the summer; on really hot days I will arrange to work from home so I can water thrice in a day if necessary.  Most of them are in pure akadama, except for some of the fusspots that like a bit of organic matter thrown in - big trees or small.  The shohin, mame and thimble pots are placed in the shadier parts of the garden or greenhouse but on the other hand, I don't run out there to check on them specifically during the day.  The day job has to come first, unfortunately.

TOH started growing tiny trees after seeing one of Gill Taylor-Duxbury's displays in the late Nineties, and took it on sort of as a challenge rather than as a desire for respite from bigger bonsai.  I sort of picked it up by default.  But if ease of life is the primary moving factor, I'm not convinced that specialising in very small trees is the way to go.  My choice would be the medium-sized trees as the simpler compromise.

So. Fast forward to yesterday.  After a bit of warm weather, this is what the cotoneaster looks like after another clean-up.  It's still hanging on to a lot of last year's old leaves, but it really is too much of a pain to remove them all as there isn't a lot of space between branches to get cutters in there.

Now I don't hold any of our trees up as shining examples of bonsai perfection. As a matter of fact I showed these Cotoneaster photos to TOH, whose first words then were, 'Still got to work on that branch structure, but we'll get there....'

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Moar Pleiones? O yez, moar!

Pleiones have started becoming popular among the aficionados of accent plants in recent years, and several members of our local club have started growing and showing them in bonsai pots.  When we were members of an Orchid Society over 10 years ago, I got the impression that Pleiones aren't as popular as the epiphytes (or the equally showy Cymbidiums), but perhaps that has changed over the years as well.

For some reason, last year's Pleione tongariro post is one of the most visited on this site, but so far the lazy bugger still hasn't fully come out of bud.  Saving grace is that this year I've managed to lay slug protection down before he got munched.  Fingers crossed.  So this spring, we get piccies of other Pleiones.  These two varieties were purchased last year but we had to wait until this spring to get them into these pots by John Pitt. 

This pink-flowered one with the red spots on its frilly yellow lip is Pleione Shantung, although we are unsure as to the exact variety.  Possibly 'Ridgeway' - but I'm no expert.

We don't know which variety this white Pleione is, unfortunately.  It was also supposed to go into the green pot that the Shantung is in, but it was a tad too big.  Luckily I had picked this brown one up at a recent show.  Unfortunately the splashes of aqua and other shades of brown on the pot aren't visible in this photo.

TOH uses a mix of akadama, gravel and wood bark as potting compost for the Pleiones.  We have one variety that lives outdoors (for no good reason other than we keep forgetting to pot it up and bring it into the greenhouse), has now completely outgrown its pot and is in no growing medium whatsoever.  It's doing relatively well given its circumstances, but it comes out in leaf much later than the ones that get mollycoddled in the cold greenhouse.  Maybe this year it'll hit the jackpot....

Red, White & Blue... well, -ish.

I have bazillions of pics floating around in my Sony Ericsson just waiting to get downloaded onto this blog, so you'll have to excuse me if the next couple of posts read a bit like a text message.

Here are some pics that I took earlier in Spring but never got around to posting on this blog.

This Japanese Quince (Chojubai) is one that we've had for several years but rarely goes out on show, simply because it's rarely been in flower at the right time.  It's one that can go out on display as a shohin (it stands about 5.5 in / 14 cm high) but it can also double up as an accent plant for a larger tree.  I've seen Chojubai used in Japan as a companion (or shitakusa I believe is their term) planting to great effect.
Pot is generic Japanese, I believe.

Okay, not quite red.  Sort of red-ish (hence the title).

And although most people would say this Japanese Quince is a white-flowering variety, it actually has a sort of a greenish tinge.  Not sure about the pot of this one, I think it could be Northern Chinese.  This one is still a WIP, and is intended to be used as a mixed accent planting rather than as a stand-alone bonsai.  Again it would be in the shohin size, roughly about 8 in / 20 cm high.

Here's a closer look at the white... er, green ... er, white-ish flowers.  If they look yellow to you, don't blame me - I'd say it was the screen resolution!  Are you saying it's my lighting?  Nevah!! :D  

This one is a Veronica that came out of a local garden centre; it's a variety commonly used as ground cover for borders.  IIRC, the pot is one that I made at our local bonsai club night; we have Reg Bolton over every year to do 2 sessions on pot making.  At the first session he brings over the clay and helps us shape the pots; then he takes them home to fire.  During the second session, we glaze our pots and he takes those home again to fire.  Just a bit of fun, and one thing I'd highly recommend as a club activity.
What is nice about Veronica is the length of the flowering season.  I took this pic way before Easter and it is still in flower today.

More on the blue (although I suppose someone would qualify them as blue-violet) are these Grape Hyacinths that TOH picked up for less than a quid several years ago.  They completely filled out the pot they were planted in; I think I broke these up into 5 batches.  This batch is in a Bryan Albright pot. 

And another blue-ish guy is a Soldanella carpatica which we bought in Poland in 2006.  This self-seeds fairly freely and we had also managed to break up the original plant into two.  This is one of the offshoots.

Yeah, I know. He looks purple, doesn't he?  So I got it wrong. 

Oh well.