Wednesday 15 June 2011

To Sphagnum or not to Sphagnum?

That is a rhetorical question, for in no way do I wish to emulate the Bard. (Well, only a little :o)

Nor do I wish to make this a 'how-to' post.  That was never the purpose of this blog.  Loads of other sites on the interwebs for that, some with people advocating their way or no way.  And they probably do it with a lot more brio and conviction than I ever will. 

Once in a while, though, I will answer a question or tell you what we do and why.  What you do with that information is all up to you.

This one is a result of a remark a friend made, when TOH said we top-dress our newly re-potted trees with chopped sphagnum moss.  This protects the top layer from drying out, since this is the layer where the feeding roots tend to be most active.  The contention is that, this would encourage the roots to grow into the sphagnum (i.e. up towards the surface) rather than down into the soil (i.e. towards the bottom of the pot). 

The only time we've ever had the experience of roots growing towards the top of the soil is when we used to lay down the large cakes of rapeseed fertiliser.   This acted like some sort of root magnet but we have long since gone for other forms of fertiliser, since the decomposing rapeseed cakes are a blackbird magnet as well as a root magnet.  The blackbirds used to chuck the rapeseed cakes off the bonsai and go for the grubs that would inevitably come with the decomposition factor.

So, going back to the chopped sphagnum layer.  What we do is blitz the stuff in a food processor, so that it comes out in relatively fine flakes.  We first started out by grating it over a fine-meshed metal sieve, but ditched that for a more high-tech method.  'Cos I'm all about the user friendliness, y'know... :D

A thick-ish layer (about 5 - 8 mm) of this finely-chopped sphagnum is laid over our top dressing of fine Akadama, then tamped down and misted well so that the whole lot doesn't go flying off at the initial watering.  The newly re-potted bonsai is then given a VERY thorough drenching, then left alone until the layer of sphagnum starts to show signs of drying out.  Then it gets drenched again, then only re-watered until the sphagnum does its show-and-tell thing again.  And so on ad infinitum for the rest of the life of the bonsai (or until real live moss starts growing over the existing sphagnum layer).  Which is basically the same way we water every potted (or not) thing in the garden - accent plants, kusamono, et al.

To illustrate the sphagnum business, this is a 7-lobed Japanese maple (previously featured in this post) that was re-potted at the tail end of this Winter.  The top dressing of sphagnum moss is lighter in colour before watering, thus making it easy to identify which trees are in need of a drink:

And after watering (check out the water mark on the bark of the tree), it goes a darker colour (and so does the Akadama; click to enlarge the photo).  The moss also clumps together when it's wet:

Before watering, the top layer of akadama just beneath the sphagnum is only very slightly damp while the lower layers of soil deep beneath will still retain more moisture; hence the feeding roots will naturally find their way towards this source of water.  Another person I know used to call this 'making the roots work'.

The sphagnum moss layer prevents erosion of the top soil layer, particularly for people like me who use a watering hose.  Here is where we haven't bothered to replenish the sphagnum dressing on this exposed-root Trident Maple, which of course is not the most energised of bunnies at the moment:

I suppose, if I were less careful with the watering and kept the soil evenly damp all the time, the roots of our bonsai would probably work their way to the top layer of sphagnum moss.  I would probably also have lost lots of trees by now.  Still, we have been using this top-dressing method for the past 10 years at least, so there must be some merit to our madness.

Some people say the moss should be taken off after a time - I've never bothered as the birds tend to do that for me, either through boredom, foraging, nest-building or just the desire to cheese me off.  If anything, we wind up having to renew the moss layer after a few months as it gets eroded by watering and bird activity.  And it is fairly easy to tell if moss has started growing due to over-watering; it has this sort of manky look to it, plus the surface would always be wet to the touch anyway.

A word about the sphagnum-blitzing business, though: it really does tend to get blown away by the slightest breeze once it's finely chopped.  And watering - either with a hose or by dunking - is another quick way to lose the lot when it's freshly laid.  Hence our utter reliance on a good nozzle that has a 'mist' feature.  Never say you haven't been warned...

BTW, did anyone notice the gratuitous pun embedded discreetly up there?  Energised?  Bunnies? Yes? Yes?

Sunday 12 June 2011

Now WTF was that about?

Well Blogger, you've locked me out of here for over a month, but I'm too relieved to be back in - and too knackered from the almost continual frustration - to even get worked up about it.

'Cos I has pics! And had nowhere to post them while Blogger was doing its nut. Other than Twitpic, that is.

So there.  Don't blame me for the hiatus this time.  Wasn't my idea, folks.

Saturday 7 May 2011

A Smattering of Accents

These past couple of weeks have been so hot - and so dry - that I positively welcomed last night's deluge.  And since today isn't really that much cooler, I look back with a bit of nostalgia to the days when it actually was too damn cold... yep, there's no pleasing some people :D

Despite the uncommonly hard winter we had - which BTW makes 2 years in a row - everything in the garden came out in a rush last spring.  Or at least, everything that was going to come out, came out early.  Anything else that didn't, was not going to cooperate for the rest of its natural life. 

Among the precocious performers this year were a magenta-coloured Hepatica (seriously, magenta), Lily of the Valley that flowered weeks earlier than they should have, a Trident Maple that sulked after the hard winter of 2009 but didn't get any winter protection last year either, and a lot of Accent Plants that we didn't think would survive wearing a foot of snow on their heads for nearly 3 weeks. And the reality is that getting the garden geared up to face a similar hard winter will mean several weeks' worth of prep work.  Actually we have lost more trees from drying out while we were on holiday in the summer than we have from a hard winter.  And we have lost more bonsai pots to cats and birds going on the rampage rather than the ravages of the cold.  In point of fact, our broken Bonsai & Accent Pot score for this year is Birds = 5, Frost = 0.

So here was one of our earliest flowering Accents this Spring - a blue Soldanella (possibly carpatica) from Poland which we have had since 2007.

This one self-seeds relatively well and we have also broken up the parent plant several times over.  Being an Alpine, it may not be the easiest thing to keep alive in the wet winters of the UK.  This guy has been in the same (Japanese) pot since 2008 and is planted in neat Akadama.  It's probably also due a re-pot sometime, but at the moment it's still taking in water quite easily.  It lives on the shelving right by an exterior wall, and this is all the winter protection it has ever had.  I still check the Accent Plants almost every day in the Winter, but watering is done only when absolutely needful.

This second one started out as a planting of yellow Iris - possibly reticulata - in a 'dragon's egg' pot that Walsall used to make a long, long time ago.  (David Jones has since stopped making them and we only have three.)  I created the planting about 3 years ago and whatever was the companion plant to the Irises has since died; the Irises themselves have done absolutely bugger all, but 2 years ago, this Epimedium self-seeded itself into the mix.  This is the first year it has flowered.  The first picture shows the flower spike just coming out in February:

And these are the fully open Epimedium flower spikes, with the Iris leaves untidily lying around after having done bugger-all again this year.  The Accent Plant in the background is a clump of Hakonechloa, also in a Walsall pot.

And I leave you with this image of the earliest Accent to flower this year - something like late January; a Buttercup with a posh name: Ranunculus ficaria 'Coppernub' in a teacup-style pot by Brian Albright.

We have had this guy for a while now, you can see what it looked like in the Spring of 2009 in this post

Saturday 30 April 2011

Meon Springs - an Alternative to a Royal Wedding

Not being wedding-y type people (although we do wish well to every couple that ties the knot) and certainly not street party-type people either, TOH and I decided to spend the day fishing at Meon Springs in Hampshire.  Well, one half of this couple went fishing, and the other half chilled out with unlimited mugs of coffee and a laptop.  Up to you to decide which one was which :o)

But...I took pics!  Oh yes, 'cos it's really lovely country over there.  Meon Springs is within the South Downs National Park and is adjacent to a working dairy farm.  Unfortunately I didn't manage to get up close and personal with the cows, but as them heifers have two very big, very butch boyfriends, maybe it's just as well. 

Here's one of the vistas from one of the hills, as you drive up to the fishery:

And views of the fishing lakes as the afternoon draws to a close:

Imagine having something that looks like this tree but in a nice 12-inch landscape pot (with possibly a bit of depth in it for the roots, as I think this is an Oak):

And my personal favourite, with just the lone angler at the end of the day (double-click on the photo to enlarge):

A big Thank You goes out to manager Keith for treating us like royalty (or was I just a royal pain in the A?).  Even if you don't know one end of a rod from another, the whole area is really rather pretty and I would still encourage you to discover the villages of the Meon Valley in Hampshire.

Oh, and TOH bagged a couple of four-pounders.

Thursday 21 April 2011

Then and Now: Larches on a Slab

There is a plus side to blogging, I suppose.  While blathering nonsense to the ether, I've also wound up with an inadvertent photographic history of the development of some of our trees.  Take this European Larch group, for instance.  TOH created this planting using a bit of fake slate.

This was part of a blog post which dates back to the summer of 2009.  Almost two years later and - wonder of wonders - the roots have stabilised enough that moss has started to grow of its own accord on the surface of the planting. 

Which now looks like this:

The slab is faux slate, so actually not all that heavy (not that anyone is carrying this thing around).  The soil mixture is akadama, some organics (peat substitute of some description) and Keto to bind it all together.  The planting was top-dressed with some chopped sphagnum moss, but the birds made away with all of that almost immediately, and we gave up fighting a losing battle after a couple of seasons.  The Larches were some not-very-expensive saplings bought from one of the Bonsai nurserymen at a show, and TOH keeps threatening to add a few younger, thinner ones to get a bit of difference in trunk size (the close similarity of the trunk diameters make the planting look boring and a bit contrived, IMO).  I suppose it will happen one day, when we find the right size saplings. 

The curious thing about the whole thing is that the group is just sat on top of the slab.  There are no drainage or wiring holes.  Initially, wire was wrapped around the whole lot to keep the planting from falling apart.  Years later and the roots have knitted themselves together, moss has grown naturally and the birds have (fingers and toes crossed) ignored all that freebie nesting material.  Or they have decided that our nicer-looking, more mature trees are better objects for vandalism.  And gravity just keeps the whole planting sat on top of the slab.  Double-click on the photo to enlarge, you will notice the Larch roots sticking out of the bottom edge of the planting, just under the moss.  OK, so some of it is dead Larch needles (so what if I didn't tart up before taking the photo; bite me), but most of it is roots that have given up any attempts of encroachment.

Had we been a bit more anal about clearing out the dead needles, I suppose we would have more moss growing in the centre of the group.  As it is, I'm quite happy to see that what moss we have is thriving without any assistance on our part.  I will occasionally pull out the odd weed, but that is only when my conscience actually wakes up and takes notice of the world around me.

And one can only hope a big, fat pigeon doesn't decide to land on one edge of the slab.  Otherwise, boy will it be in for a suprise :D

The first photograph is courtesy of our friend Stef in the Netherlands, to whom BTW I still owe an e-mail along with a few hundred other folks.  Join the queue, Stef...

Wednesday 20 April 2011

Red Japanese Maple - in flower, no less

Last week ended with a Spring re-potting and pruning session with Teacher-san.  Almost a whole day gratifyingly consecrated to the trees - not just those that needed root and branch work but also those that just needed their top dressing refreshed; plus some weeding, clearing out dead branches, checking benches for pests, etc.  Everything in a pot got looked at, Accent Plants as well as this ornamental red Maple in a very large patio pot.

Although this would be considered a patio plant rather than a 'true' bonsai (unless you are one of those nitpicking purists so PLEASE let's not argue semantics here, OK?), the lessons learned are what are of interest.  'Nuff said.

This is the first year where this Maple has produced so much flower - you'll notice the little dangly things running all the way along the branches, right up to the very edge of the extending shoots.  Teacher-san took one look and said, 'pot-bound.'  Apparently when there is that much flower, particularly when it goes up to the leader shoots, then that's a sure sign that the old root pruners need to come out.

Sure does look pretty, though - a bit like an ersatz Christmas tree.  And when you think all that flowering effort is all about reproducing... oh yes, an oversexed red Maple.  Oh my, oh my , oh my.

Swiftly leaving that topic... in the background, visible through the Maple leaves, are rows of Accent Plants on shelving propped against a wall.  Although this gives them some protection during the Winter, the last couple of years have been pretty hard and we have lost a couple of the more fragile plants.  Even among the plants we keep in the cold greenhouse, we've lost some Shohin bonsai and Accent Plants.  This coming on after a holiday taken during a very hot May in 2010, where a lot of the smaller trees had dried out.  Lesson learned: when you have someone come to water your trees, make sure they REALLY REALLY understand what it is to water bonsai properly.  *sniff, sniff*

The Return of the Prodigal Blogger

Uh, that would be sort of me, I guess.  But more disappearing than prodigal, really.

So yes - another hiatus come and gone.  My excuse is that I was busy learning a trade.  Seriously. 

But, in the background, I took loads of pics - stuff done over the summer last year, a visit to a Yamadori collector's place in the Alps, a couple of shows... the trouble will be remembering what I did so long ago, and finding the photos in my archives.  Especially as I have officially defected from the Sony Ericsson camp and am now iPhoning my way around the planet.  Sort of.  Am I happy with the change?  Sort of.  I could wish for better Alarm Clock apps (being one of those people who want to be able to set a snooze for 04 mins & 26 secs for example. Don't ask me why I want that level of exactitude - I just do).  And I am still on the hunt for a good app that will let me download my Lotus Notes diary onto my phone.  I did get me a business card making app that I plan to play with sometime soon (which means less time spent on blogging, but that's the way it goes).

So, going back to the issue of prodigality.  Lots and lots of pics.  Would that equate to lots and lots of posts?  Guess I'll have to make lots and lots of time...

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.

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.