Saturday, 4 May 2013
For not the first time and sadly not the last, I find myself waiting for a Ryanair flight back home. Still, I come back having spent three days of bonsai fun and three nights of stress due to leaking water tanks at the almost forgotten Saruyama HQ. Due to the efforts on the home front, disaster should have been averted, so less of the stress, more of the fun...
I have been visiting Ibuki Bonsai for a number of years now and seen it improve and expand. Many of the trees I have worked on have improved and only a couple have died...So I take that as relative success. On my latest trip it was still on the verge of transplanting trees so we had a day of repotting including this white pine which although is not an awesome tree, it is still a pretty little thing worthy of some attention. Apologies for the poor photography. I was there to repot, not to do a photoshoot.
A fairly standard looking literati-esque white pine from over grown material...the branching is poor in places, especially the apex but it just needs to bud back and fill in, which under the excellent horticultural care it is receiving, is doing nicely. So it needed a new pot...I asked Mariusz to go and get me one, and he went for a nanban style pot. Not too dissimilar in size to the existing pot...to which I replied, "Try and be a bit more imaginative...lets create a scene" (As in a vista rather than a domestic in a supermarket). After a little cajoling, he came back with a couple of pots, as did I. Now for those of you who think that you know my taste and style and haven't seen Mariusz's facebook page, you can try and guess which one it went in...answer at the bottom of the page. The present is...the satisfaction of being right.
Maybe it was this kokagami or antique mirror shaped pot? A little on the funky side I know. The name certainly is. Size wise ok, unglazed, feminine...not bad. Especially as it was made by Mariusz himself....
Or maybe this? Shallow, long and excessively off centre planting angle? Pot too large? Certainly not too powerful. A well made modern chinese pot.
Or maybe the corner on square approach? Now I love squares at an angle. One foot forward, thin end of the red wedge and all that. It certainly is the right size, creates a different appearance and does not overpower the tree. A definite candidate...and another Ibuki original pot.
Answers in a minute folks...
I did come back from (or is that am coming back) Poland with two fantastic presents...one is a bag full of meat.
My breakfast on day two. I didn't eat meat again for another 48 hours...although it was some delicious local sausage. The other present was this...a little accent plant which will soon get planted up into something more appropriate.
Or maybe I should wire it? It is a Cassiope of unknown origin. I will be getting a few in soon for sale. Lovely little bell flowers on the ends.
So...for the reveal...which pot was it?
Oh yes...the excessively off centre planting position, or as Akiyama calls it Shochiku-en style...referring to the previous owner of the old school garden in Tokyo, Mr. Shinkichi Koide who loved to go classical. Negative space in planting position is essential for creating a scene, so if we wanted to display in a tokonoma or exhibition and want to create a flow in what is essentially a cylindrical up and down tree, then we must push it to one side or the other.
As it happens, we had a tokonoma to put it in...
Isn't she lovely?, isn't she wonderful?...
My flight is boarding soon...until next time...
Tuesday, 30 April 2013
For those of you who are interested in funky rocks or old pebbles, then this article in the outstanding California Aiseki Kai newsletter may be of interest. In another shameless self promotion exercise, (or should that be "sharing the wealth" exercise?) it was written by me. It is a seriously abridged version of the 90 minute lecture I gave at the Stone Show in October of last year. I was at the time struggling to think of what I could talk about, but lo and behold, I was able to waffle on for ages about tables for rocks. The convention is the only one of its kind and I always learn something there, even if it is to not line dance after a few too many gins on a crowded dancefloor of super serious rednecks.
Much of the information is equally as applicable to the similar field of bonsai display and many of the table makers mentioned and aesthetic ideas discussed within are from the bonsai world. The two, suiseki and bonsai, are wheels on the same bicycle, to quote some old bloke. Where that bicycle is going and who is pedalling it, nobody knows. At times it has a flat tyre and at times it speeds downhill before crashing into a mangled mess of trees and rocks.
Enough of a tired metaphor...here is the article in jpeg form for you to squint at, or you can read it as a pdf here...
The Californian Aiseki Kai is probably the best non japanese stone group out there and under the leadership of amongst others, Nina and Larry Ragle, they attempt to practice and embrace stone lovin' in a true and dedicated manner, be it pure Japanese suiseki, American stones, stone appreciation, suesok, scholar stones or pebble polishing. Recommend regular reading for real rockers.
(If you think I have a rather glib attitude towards suiseki, then you really don't know me, I do in fact consider it to be a supremely interesting pursuit, but I tire so much of the endless arguements about names, categories and all that nonsense...)
I am sure there are better pictures out there...but Akiyama did this Juniper....
I started with this Larch
And Ryan did these two, a Pitch Pine
Obviously, the camera skills were top quality. Nothing is in focus, at the right height or the right angle.
All in all it was a good weekend and it was enjoyed by us all.
I followed that up with a couple of days in New Jersey which was an interesting sight into an old part of the States. I must admit though that I grew up in a house that was built in the 1600's so it is all relative. Seeing some of the destruction that the Hurricane created was a shock, some houses destroyed and others left almost untouched.
One of the highlights of New Jersey was coming across this in a park..
And so for the last time in a month, and the second time in two days....I am on my way to stansted airport.
Onwards to Katowice!
Tuesday, 16 April 2013
The pace continues with an average of 18 trees a day, the majority of which have been potted into a variety of western pots. It is interesting to see how some of the pots are very easy to use and others not so, but somehow there is always a tree for a pot. Akiyama-san has been very impressed with some recent John Pitt pots and also the clay texture of Ron Lang. I fear that after a week here he maybe turning American, I really think so...
The other highlight so far was some drowning frogs in the pool, hanging onto each other for dear life. They were just floating around on each others back hoping to reach dry land all day long. I hope they made it out safely.
They seemed to be enjoying it anyway.
Keep on keeping on...
Saturday, 13 April 2013
I'm running the risk of falling back into old habits again...not blogging as regularly as some would like and also doing my back in for the sake of little trees. I'm not a sprightly young thing any more, but I am going for it hardcore over the last few days. I'm currently in the US with my senpai, Akiyama-san. He is my older brother and we get on very well. At the moment we are currently working our way through repotting a lot of trees. Some big, some small but we are trying to keep up a pace that we could both do five years ago, but are finding it difficult now.
We are both in America for the upcoming Mid Atlantic Bonsai convention. It will be held near Hershey in Pennsylvania not on a ship in the middle of the sea...Or at least I hope it is. 15 to starboard - 15 to starboard sir.
Working together has been fun so far, catching up on things, setting the world to rigts and discussing what can be done to improve our lot. We both have some ideas for the future which will be interesting to implement. In the immediate future we have to up or repotting rate to 22 trees today and brush up on presentation skills.
I'm waking up at 4.30 on the dot every morning, it's most annoying but it gives me some time to do some computer based time wasting. I will write a report about the superb Greece trip soon, trying to catch up on emails first...
Onwards and upwards...to becoming a hunchback.
Saturday, 6 April 2013
Not wishing to make people feel bad, but I have seen the sun, and I can confirm it is there, it is warm and it is good. Oh yes. Our time will come.
In a brave and bold move, the fledgling bonsai enthusiasts of cash strapped Greece have asked me over for a weekend of bonsai education and a workshop. I thought it important then to give them the highest level of education possible. So in the spirit of Socratic learning, I posed the question below.
And I call myself a professional...
In fact, there is not much more to bonsai than that. It is just a tree in a pot. Doesn't that freak you out sometimes? It does me.
I'm loving Greece and think I will have to take a trip to the countryside. I fell in love with the country as a boy, reading Going Solo by Roald Dahl and Odysseus by Tony Robinson during the heyday of Jackanory.
Must try and read some more of them there books because as of them old Grecian dude once said
Ignorance is the root and stem of all evil.
And as Morrissey once said, "Is evil just something you are, or something you do?"
Tonight I'm going to the Parthenon...rock on.
Friday, 29 March 2013
WTF moment this year...continuing the unpredictable weather and the frankly appalling conditions in which to try and cultivate bonsai, I was mildly shocked yesterday morning when I got back at 5 a.m from a long drive back from Cornwall. Having spent three days in the company of Marcus Watts, talking bonsai, fishing and fertilising, I drove back for a day at home where I thought I could get some stuff done. First job is to always go out and check on the kids, and despite the weather, they were fine. The polytunnel was a toasty 0.3 degrees C, which isn't an issue, but by torch light I found these critters all over my deshojo maples, and starting o have a go at a few other trees.
I could barely believe my eyes, 0.3 degrees and aphids all over my tender shoots. After rubbing my eyes to make sure I wasn't seeing stuff, I went to bed for a few hours before coming down to sort them out.
Using a polytunnel or green house is fast becoming an essential part of bonsai in the UK and for many of youze lot around the globe. For those in warm climates who don't need one...aren't you lucky. One of the problems with using such a contraption and creating an unnatural micro climate and then cramming trees in there is that problems can and will arise. Insects will wake up early and fungal spores can spread like wildfire. What can be done then?
Prevention is better than cure, especially as we are hamstrung by Defra in terms of effective chemicals over the counter, so Provado is your best friend. It is a systemic pesticide, which means it gets into the system of the tree and works from the inside out. Any critters who start to suck sap, take a dose of poison with it and then shuffle off this mortal coil. So, how do we get this into the system? Spraying on the leaves won't work because there aren't any...so we must use a root drench. The most effective way of using Provado is to dunk your trees, pot and all into a bath of diluted Provado and allow the soil to absorb it, subsequently the roots will suck it up and we are all systems go. If this is impossible then make up a watering can full, or a sprayer or whatever and carefully drench the soil. This should prove effective for 6 to 8 weeks, which will see you through the spring period when aphids et al. tend to attack. A trusted source (Ken Leaver, nurseryman extraordinaire) assures me it is good all year round. Most trees will benefit from it, although there are some which are much less likely to be affected by insects.
Curing trees with infestations is more difficult, as contact killers are less available. Pyrethrin is your best bet in the UK, although it is unstable in sunlight and high temperatures so be careful in storing it and also the time of day you spray it. I have some and some ahem...slightly err...older chemicals stockpiled, so I can kill them. Which is hopefully what I did yesterday. I sprayed the tops with Pyrethrin and did the roots with Provado, so next time I see the trees, they should be ok.
Fungal issues are also a major, major concern for polytunnel users. Moist conditions, stale, stationary air and higher temperatures = fungal heaven. Preventative spraying of fungicides is recommended from whenever the temperature inside gets above 10 degrees. Also ensuring airflow with either a fan or opening the doors, will help. When you water the trees, don't water the foliage unless it will have a chance to dry out before the temperatures drop of an evening. Spraying pines once a month between now and august/september with two different fungicides will help if you suffer from any needle cast or more serious fungal issues. Try not to get too much in the soil if you can, but a little will not be of any harm. Alternate between two products, the only two out there. Always check the active ingredient and do some research online if unsure.
For those who are totally organic and want to use soaps and oils and stuff, then by all means do. I live as much in harmony with the environment as I can, but no masterpiece bonsai in Japan ever got that way with Neem Oil. Sorry...
Health and Safety warning. Be careful with chemicals. Mask, gloves, goggles. Measure the concentrate and do exactly as instructed on the tin. Do not spray in the direct sun (ha!) or wind as this reduces effectiveness and gets all up in your face, leading to spluttering and a nasty aftertaste and potential reduction in male sperm count...for blokes obviously. If you look at the dodgy scientific facts, almost all bonsai masters who are careless with their chemicals...they all have daughters. The Chief, 3 girls, Reg Kimura, 2 girls, Akiyama, 2 girls...the list goes on. Me? Well no nights at home = no girls.
I'm now halfway through the spring season and only got a few more hectic weeks ahead. I'm off to Athens next week and I am truly truly looking forward to it. I may even get chance for a little bit of sunshine.