Look at me...blogging regularly and everything! This week has been as always, full of fun and excitement. On Tuesday I went to a Satsuki auction with the remit from the Chief (who was in China) to buy anything on his tab. I bought wisely, also picking up things for myself for customers here who wanted smaller trees. I also managed to finally get a pot for an Italian customer who had been patiently waiting for something of the correct size to come up.
Needless to say, all of the things I had bought for the Chief were WRONG! I was describing them to him in the car on the way home from the airport and without even seeing them he was tearing me a new one so to speak. It now turns out that I was not buying for him, but rather have to now pay for a lot of azaleas myself. Thankfully the ones I did get are saleable and hopefully will go at the Kokufu sales area. If not then I may have to work longer than I expected.
I did buy a beautiful little tree for myself, hoping to make it and display it in a few years, however, one of the old hands here took a shine to it. Uematsu-san, a man who has taught me that even as you reach 80, it is still possible to work like a trooper, play like a sailor and have a laugh and a joke while you are at it. He comes almost every day and sits, drinks tea, makes fun of us but is always looking out for the apprentices. A kind word at exactly the right time and sharp wit and dirty talk at all other times.
The tree in question is an Aozora shohin/chuhin sized araki (fresh from the field). I love Aozora, not just the flowers, but the word itself. It means Blue Sky, or rather the brilliantly deep and shimmering azure sky that you get in the late winter early spring in Japan.Both the word and the sky have a freshness and a sense of new beginning about them. The song, Kaze wo Atsumete by a bunch of 70’s Japanese hippies, featured in (the terrible) film “Lost in Translation” kind of sums it up perfectly, longing to soar into the empty blue sky.
Back to earth, the tree was soon marked as sold before I even had the chance to try and persuade him to take one of the others. Still, we made an agreement that I would work on it whenever I came back and in that way it would remain my tree (kind of). Being a good friend and having received plenty of unwanted pots and much appreciated good advice in the past, I let him have it for a little more than I paid for it, and included the styling and repotting.
Styling a satsuki araki is getting a balance of not cutting off too much foliage and creating the absolute base framework from which the rest of the tree can be created. Araki are generally made in one of two ways, literally in the field or in growing beds of Kanuma soil. Some are trees which are initially styled in pots and then placed in growing beds to thicken up. When they are collected they are full strength and have enough power to be seriously pruned back and bare rooted, root washed and potted up at the same time. The one point to be careful with is to ensure that there is enough pulling power in the branches, by that I mean foliage at the tips, to create the desire for roots. With a pot grown Satsuki that has a fine root system it is possible to complete defoliate, prune back to branch stumps and expect it to bounce back immediately. With an araki that will have almost no fine roots, there is the worry that the engine won’t start and it will not get started in the spring. Leaving foliage, even if it is unwanted in the final design, will give the initial kick start to start growth at both ends. Once roots have established, new shoots have sprouted it is then possible to cut back to the desired shape. So with that in mind, I removed some of the major branches, many of the smaller branches and created the basic shape. It is not advisable to wire initially, particularly as there will be another serious prune back in the next year. The first year after this process should be devoted to pure growth, both on top and below.
The main branch placement was good, the bend in the trunk is a little forced and unnatural but that can be hidden or helped by the foliage placement. A lot of work still needs to be done, the first branch on the left needs to be seriously cut back and remade from a shoot coming from the underside of the branch. Apart from that there was not much to worry about as the material was good. 90% of creating a good Bonsai is choosing the correct material, the other 9% is horticultural ability, the last 1% is artistic and technical ability. The most important thing is to choose a good starting point, for most people, you cannot make a silk purse out of a sows ear. I have made a few silk purses into sows ears though...
I have full pictures of the repotting which I will make a mini article out of, once the time presents itself. Anyway, the tree turned out well and although I wanted to keep it, both me and Ue-san are happy with the outcome and it gives us an excuse to continue our slightly bizarre friendship.