Regular readers may remember that I work at Ibuki bonsai in Poland three times a year and generally it is a few days of sausage fest (pfnar pfnar) and the chance to continue helping the owner, Mariusz Folda improve his rapidly expanding collection and give some advice on business, his pot making and how to expand. I know that I am probably the last person to ask for business advice but it is very much a case of do as I say, not as I do. Many of the trees we have been working on have continued to improve year after year and hopefully soon some will be gracing the benches of top exhibitions across Europe as Mariusz dives headlong into the financial black hole that is the bonsai business.
Regular readers will also remember that associated with my trips to Poland is the unfortunate requirement of a trip to a fancy shed in Essex (a.k.a Stansted Airpot) and boarding a Ryanair flight. Generally it is a nightmare which I am loathe to repeat but this time it was actually quite pleasant, despite the fact that the airport was packed with budget holiday makers even at 5 a.m. It was quite stressful with all the security hassles you get with infrequent travellers trying to squeeze half a hundred weight of make up into one of those tiny zip lock plastic bags and leaving belts on, mobile phones in pockets and generally holding up the queue. I try to remain above the stress and go to my happy "zen" place but it fails miserably every time.
This time however, the stress was worth it because the flight was not packed and as I sat down, I noticed that there was a very attractive girl sat across the aisle from me who looked like the Polish version of Katy Perry. I was stressed about squeezing my bag in somewhere but after I sat down, she smiled at me and it was like a teenage dream. So much so that I reverted to my clumsy, awkward sixth form self and accidentally dropped some stuff in the aisle which she picked up, handed to me and I just kind of felt uncomfortable. This happened three times over the course of the flight, all completely non intentionally but all I could do was smile like an idiot and think of Geoffrey Boycott. I am not the type of bloke to start chatting up ladies as I am somewhat of an introvert (and Lady Saruyama would not be best pleased, especially as I woke her at 3 am) but the appreciation of beautiful woman is undeniable...especially one that looks like Katy Perry. I know that Geoffrey would agree with me on that point.
After that rather embarrassing incident, I focused on the job in hand, how could I keep up with events at the Oval whilst working on trees? As many of my readers are based in non cricketing nations such as anywhere but England and Australia this may be complete nonsense and of very little interest to you but it is as important as important can be to those unfortunate few. Thankfully the wifi in the workshop was working well and we were able to spend the days listening to Australia put England to the sword a little and for us to reply with a day of terribly dull batting...all of this via the joy of live streaming Test Match Special. For a cricket lover there is nothing better than listening to TMS all day and during my time in Japan, especially during the 2005 Ashes series, I stayed up pretty much all night listening to it. It was interesting to see that a certain American apprentice at Reg Kimura's also got very much into the Ashes that year although he watched it online rather than immerse himself into the radio. Imagine my surprise one evening when we met up and he told me out of the blue how impressed he was with KP and Freddie Flintoff.
Mariusz himself spent a long time in Australia and so he understands the game and was happy to listen along. It was very interesting to see his reactions to both the ramblings of Blowers and the afore mentioned Geoffrey Boycott. My favourites were..."He is very difficult to have a conversation with" and "Was he a good player? Because if not, people must hate him for how critical he is". It is amazing how even across cultures and with a lack of knowledge, somethings still shine through.
So why have I gone on so long about all this TMS nonsense? Well, because it did in fact take me to a happy place and I was able to work in a very unthinking way. Normally when sat in front of a tree I am concerned about all sorts of non bonsai related rubbish, doing this or getting that done by a deadline, got to book a flight or email that person, but with the radio on and Boycott and co. babbling away in the background, I was able to drift away and let my mind go free. I actually really enjoyed doing bonsai for once, and felt like I did way back in the day. It seemed like the perfect time to work on a tree which I had been thinking about for some time.
A collected Mugo from somewhere Alps-y. The first time I saw this, it was like a missing puzzle piece...a proper Saruyama tree, I fell in love and that was it. The natural movement in the trunk combined with the aged bark and dead wood are just exquisite. It may not have all the impact, power and aggression of some of the big mountain Mugo that are around, but in case you didn't already know, I like elegant and unusual trees and this fits perfectly in that category, also known as "trees that will never win awards or sell for large amounts of money".
There was still a lot of work to be done, especially as it was upright at the time of collection . Looking at the mass of soil and sphagnum moss on the roots, you can see this. The planting angle was decided upon and Mariusz planted it when I wasn't around. It was left for over a year for the recovery to take place and due to correct cultivation it has grown well, with plenty of adventitious budding. After looking at the tree for two days, it was time. Inspiration, which has at times been lacking, was flowing and all the stars aligned.
Sat in front of the tree there was not much that needed thinking about and with TMS in the background I set to work. After just an hour and a half, the first stage was finished. It was good to get into that empty state of mind and just rely on instinct and muscle memory. Wiring just came naturally, branches pruned off without hesitation and in the correct places. This comes not only from practice but also those two days before hand. Every time I walked past it in the garden, I had a little look, made a plan, gave it some thought. By doing this, a clear process can be developed and there is no need to wire everything and then chop half the tree off or spend hours trying to figure out how to make the apex, twisting it round and round hoping that eventually it will look good. Too many demonstrators at the highest level are guilty of this. Making it up as you go along does not cut it. Same as going out to the crease to face a bowling attack...have a plan of attack (or defence) built on studying the opposition's strength and weakness and also your own.
The result is a tree I am pretty pleased with and will look forward to it's further development. Not every tree you work on as a professional touches you in the same way, some are instantly forgettable, others are not in a particular style you like, but you work on them the same, to a high standard, trying to make them the best the can possibly be. Then you find a tree which resonates with your aesthetic ideals and it's just perfect. One that you would work on for free, go all the way with, no regrets...
A slightly smaller pot, work on the root base and built up adventitious budding and ramification leading to smaller needles and a slightly more compact feel. The floating foliage pad to the right needs a little work on, it doesn't feel quite right but this was created by heavy pruning on some very elongated branches back to some weak shoots and buds. Once they develop it will be a chance to look again at it. The little stump at the base of the trunk need to go as well, but there is a high probability this may be used for securing the tree at next repotting.
It's a cracking tree, one which I am happy to count as one of mine...even though it isn't. Rock and roll.