Welcome to the Saruyama Blog, intermittent and generally off topic. Occasionally you might see some trees...and weird ones at that.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Between a rock and a hard place

Somebody told me that blogging is only effective if done on a regular basis. I must have missed that lecture. The complaints department has been steadly filling with comments and so I have been compelled to pen a missive to the faithful. Meaningless I know but apologies...Im currently on a Ryanair flight back to the motherland, the flight is as usual full to bursting (except for two empty rows in front of me which are necessary for balance aparently). I have had to squeeze in between a kicking and screaming child and a lady who is flying for two to put it politely. The life of a bonsai professional is oh so glamorous...

Still, it hasn't all been budget airlines and infant induced stress since the last post...the garden is finished to a certain extent, polytunnel up, watering system in place and related problems a plenty. I think most of you are aware that I was the judge/demonstrator at the midwest show earlier this month. It was held in the Botanical gardens in Chicago, a beautiful location, but unfortunately it meant a flight through the immigration nighmare of O'Hare which is fast becoming my least favourite airport. The show itself was a good experience, having heard a little of the issues around the previous years show, including the hate emails and venomous comments towards the judge (That bloke Bryan summat or other), I must say that I was a little nervous. In retrospect, there was nothing to be worried about, the organisers, especially the indefatigable Cat Nelson were outstanding and although I was pretty busy (12 people in a three hour workshop), it was good fun alround.

There is a video taken of the critique I gave, shot in flattering black and white by OfBonsai, thank you for that, old school style. I haven't watched it, nor looked at the comments, but my inbox is yet to be filled with bile that Ryan received last year so I guess I didn't try hard enough to be offensive. Admittedly I have been off the grid for 4 days so it maybe. The demo tree was a massive spruce, grown in the gardens since '64 and destroyed in less than 4 hours. It was a messy tree at the end, but all things being equal, it will survive because of that, despite cutting off around 90% of the foliage.

There was, as always, some controversy at the show, with some people claimng moral high ground or jealously sniping away at the fact that a professionally styled tree was entered into the show in the professional category, with an amateur owner. A forum thread has been running on this which makes for some interesting and disturbing reading. I often wonder if and how bonsai will progress and where my place will be within the brave new world. I think one of the biggest problems, but also a deeply interesting aspect of Bonsai is the cross cultural issues that arise with the practice of what is essentially an eastern pursuit, within the cultural and societal framework of the west. Double edged swords aplenty...the need for professionals is essential in order to facilitate the movement of trees, pots and knowledge, something which is considered normal within the Japanese and Chinese Bonsai world; yet for some people, it is seen as cheating to use the services of a professional or in some way wrong for people to profit from their hobby. Do small trees attract small thinking? Sadly It often seems that way.

The professional - enthusiast relationship is not one often discussed openly for various reasons, but it is an absolutley essential relationship without which, Kimura, Kobayashi and Suzuki (or Neil, Noelanders and Valavanis) simply wouldn't exist in the way that we know them now, and there would be far fewer masterpiece trees. This relationship is an essential one, as long as it is mutually beneficial and is beginnng to be understood and accepted in Europe and the US but still there are some who think of it as cheating or are against the idea of an enthusiast displaying a professionally styled tree at an exhibition under the name of the enthusiast owner. This should not be seen as a haves or have not argument or a snake oil salesman pitch in order to drum up business, rather a call to stop and think a little about what we are hoping to achieve with Bonsai, to improve the art form as a whole, or to accumulate personal glory? Although pessimists will say the latter is the reason for buying a professionally styled tree, it is in fact the former which can be achieved a lot quicker with a symbiotic relationship between the enthusiast and the professional artist.

Anyway time for bed. Just had to get that off my chest. I had in fact written a page more but deleted it because it could have been interpreted as too much like a sales pitch. Will have some pictures this week for those who are still looking. My senpai Akiyama is cming for a few days next week, so i will be busy working on getting stuff to a presentable condition.

Autumn is coming...make sure to fertilise accordingly...lay off the nitrogen so no new growth is induced that won't have time to harden off, let the tree expend any nitrogen it has in the system and look towards high P K fertilisers, especially bonemeal for an autumn to winter fertiliser regime. Get the roots, foliage and cell walls hardening ready for winter.


  1. Hi Peter. I had a great time meeting you and having you help me with my trees! And I thought you did a great job judging too. Maybe next time you're in town, I'll have the gang meet here at my house for a party...and have Matt do the grilling lol

    Glad you made it back safe!

  2. you are likely to be preaching to the converted here ! still lots of truth in what you say , in my experience of this subject, the modified saying ' there are none so deaf as those who do not want to hear '

  3. Peter i was directed to the video by bonsai eejit and I really enjoyed the critique. I don't think you held back and those people will display better trees because of it. A lot of the things you talked about made complete sense to me. Good luck on finishing the nursery and keep posting!

  4. hi Peter,
    I'm sure you will agree there are huge cultural differences between East and West - and for a well trained and skilled bonsai professional to succeed here long term they need to perfect the skill of adapting one skill set to fit the other. In my early business years I tried to tell Eastern European buyers our (my / British) products and technology were best for them and their market place....while in my heart I was and still am right I would be out of business if I didn't listen to the customer and then slowly steer them down the path - this path is long and needs great subtlety to navigate.

    Within the usual poor responses expected in the forum post you high-light there is a real insight into how a quite large majority of bonsai hobbyists feel about shows - to read & digest the better made points will give an invaluble insight into where the income making, bill paying future is in this current worldwide economic climate.

    I think a few bottles of red will be a good way to enjoy a great discusion soon ! Really looking forward to it already. Cheers marcus