I recently went over to the Netherlands and Belgium to work with Bonsai Focus and Marc Noelanders respectively. I had a few moments of understanding about the state of the Bonsai market at the moment. One of the reasons you don’t see me in the magazine so much is that I am working on some long term projects. When I graduated/got kicked out of Japan in 2007, Farrand and I discussed doing articles for them, which of course I was very happy to do. One of the problems he faces is that there are too many instant Bonsai articles, just as there are too many demonstrations in which a tree is presented only in the initial styled state. I was not particularly happy to continue this tradition and suggested that we work on some long term projects together where I would come along several times a year and we would work the trees through to finish. This takes the pressure of both me and the tree.
Several of the project trees have worked superbly, several will never see the magazine, but such is the nature of Bonsai. Of the ones which are working well, including one which I styled this trip are some collected trees which are being taken slowly yet steadily to completion. Here lays the trick, allowing the tree chance to grow and put on roots, something which freshly collected trees inevitably lack. They are being gently guided into the shape we want, rather than forced and pushed.
Over dinner we discussed the current depressed state of the Bonsai market and what can be done to stimulate it. Talk turned to what I think is the seriously inflated prices in the Yamadori market and my disbelief that people are prepared to pay vast sums of money for something which has, literally in some cases, just been ripped off a mountain side with barely any roots and no guarantee if it will live or die.
Arriving in Belgium to do a demo at the club in Hasselt, which Marc Noelanders arranged, we again discussed the state of the Bonsai world. He said that he was trying hard to teach the club members and people who he gives workshops to that whilst the best results can be obtained from Yamadori trees, they are not something which will happen overnight, they are long term projects based more upon careful horticultural practice than artistic prowess. In order to fulfil the artistic whims and fantasies of many bonsai enthusiasts, it is better to look at material which is well established. Garden centre material or imported Bonsai material which has been well established in a pot, with plenty of roots and usable branches. This is something I whole heartedly agree with and we both spoke of the problem faced when doing workshops when students turn up with some piece of collected material that wobbles in the pot, has branches with foliage at the end of very long branches and has been planted at the wrong angle by a collector more interested in making a quick profit than a decent piece of usable material.
The ideal process for dealing with most Yamadori is to develop a pot full of roots before working the rest of the tree. This can be done at the same time as gradually chasing back the foliage from the branch tips, creating back budding within the tree. This requires an incredible amount of self control to not rush ahead and create an instant image, however if done correctly, the final result will be much better and a sustainable design, not one which will spring out of shape once the wire is removed.
I do not disagree with the use of Yamadori, I have many myself, but I do disagree with the inflated prices for rootless, freshly dug trees that have very little chance of becoming a decent finished tree. I hope that a modicum of self control and long term planning begins to become apparent in both the buying and selling of material before Bonsai self implodes.