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

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Oh forgot to mention this...

For any bonsai enthusiast out there who wants a Christmas present, I recommend this book. It is kind of by the Chief in that 95% of the pictures are of his trees and the majority of the text, which is expertly translated into English (not by me), was ghost written under his guidance. It features trees by month, history and culture and is a good read.

It is a superb book and cheap as chips, in fact this retail price is cheaper by £4.50 that the wholesale price which we can buy it at in Japan. Go figure...

In the UK, you can get it through the Book Suppository for £18.73....For those in the US, buy through the evil Amazon or support a local book store, Bill Valavanis or myself. Both Bill and I can get the book signed by the Chief (but not in time for Christmas)....that is the only thing we can offer that massive monopolistic empires can't...well that and a cheeky grin.

Other good books include this one and this one.

I earn nothing from this promotion other than a sense that we cannot compete against capitalism. I suppose to destroy the machine, you must be part of it...

Once Again, Merry Christmas everyone

Monday, 12 December 2011

Its not all doom and gloom

Many thanks for the messages of support and condolence, I just want to point out that I am not, nor ever have been on the verge of insanity/packing it all in, just being my normal cheery self. Some of us were born to always look on the bright side of life, others were born to chew on life's gristle in a steak and ale pie.

Life isn't as bad as it may seem...i did get to work on a tree this weekend, or at least supervise the work...and when I say supervise, I was watching the snooker final whilst grunting approval. It's a tree that I last worked on about a year ago. I am not sure of the future of the tree, it never seems to change much or get any thicker. I think the 11 and a half months of darkness may have something to do with it. Anyway here is a before
and after
I personally prefer a bunjin styled tree but...'tis the season for goodwill and peace to all men, especially Mrs. Saruyama who styled the tree and so I kept my mouth firmly shut. Not sure if it will look best in a round John Pitt pot or an antique square chinese one though...

Merry Christmas and happy styling

Saturday, 10 December 2011


Only sometimes...I question everything, I am the first to admit, then when you catch me in a mood like this I can be tiring, even embarrassing..

What a week it has been...the van has clocked up a few miles, I have seen a good number of friends and there was Armageddon at home. A swing from high to deep, all in the course of a single day...my very own black thursday.

As a warning, this week I have mostly been listening to 80's music, particularly dark and depressing stuff so there will be some influence here. My apologies.

I had promised that I would get back to working on trees this week and I did manage some, but more importantly than that I managed to see a few friends and catch up. Some things are more important than little trees in pots, not much admittedly, but health and happiness are.

On Wednesday I managed to get up to Willowbog Bonsai to drop off some trees and to see the resplendent Mr. Snart. A man after my own heart we sat and complained about the state of everything and had jolly good fun doing so. I did a little work up there, but not much as I was interrupting Peter's day off which had been allocated to sitting and thinking. The results can be seen here on the Willowbog blog, which, unlike this organ, is regularly updated. I worked slightly a few trees for sale which is something I enjoy doing. Not pushing them towards what I consider to be the only future but giving options to those who then purchase them. When working from a commercial point of view it is important to think of all the different possibilities that a tree can have, for example what somebody who likes ultra compact modern Japanese style trees would make, or what somebody who likes more free flowing "naturalistic" trees would prefer. In many ways this makes you question your own tastes and preferences and keeps you on your toes, rather than falling into a rut of always making the same style of tree. That doesn't apply to trees made for myself though...my rut is deep there.

After an evening meal of the highest quality (behind every miserable bonsai professional there is a superb woman who sees the potential in inferior material ;-) I fell asleep on the sofa as is my modus operandi. Awaking the next morning, the beginning of Black Thursday, I set out in pitch black over the sullen misty moors along winding roads and snow covered passes. It would have been a beautiful drive if there had been daylight and it wasn't raining and blowing a gale. As it was I survived. On to the M6 in the torrential rain I pulled in at the first service area I could and bought a coffee, it was here that I realised a certain age of my life had come to an end. Unshaven and looking ruggedly bald in my normal way, one of the ladies behind the counter gave me a special smile which would have brightened my morning had it been the attractive twenty year old blonde who completely ignored me. Sadly, I have graduated onto MINLF territory.

Anyway, moving back to more important matters, I made it John Pitt's place and got down to business. I had kept a few trees at John's which I had picked up before going to Japan, some well established European yamadori. I worked on one which I think has an outstanding future. Sadly that future will be at least 20 years away but it is one of the few scots pines that I think will make a genuine bunjin tree...but for that to happen, I will need to starve it for a good number of years and just keep plugging away with the scissors



Now, you may think that I have done nothing to it, that it looks messy and untidy, that it needs wiring and pads need to be created. If I wanted to create an instant image then maybe so. For this tree, I am in for the long haul and have decided to try for something which takes time and patience and not wire. In order to create a true bunjin tree, there must be a lack of artifice, a natural feel which stems from experience of suffering and severity. That can only be created with time and patience. It won't be close to being ready until the branches have started to develop bark and the needle size has reduced after being grown in a tight pot without repotting for at least ten years. Watch this space as they say.

Speaking of experiencing suffering, my already long day took a turn for the worse as I got a phone call from home saying that the gale force winds had lifted my poly tunnel up, flipped it over and it was threatening to take flight. My little brother, bless him, was holding onto it and trying to remove the plastic from the frame. After going to the planned Christmas dinner with the Ashfield Bonsai Massive I made the long drive home fearing the worst. It wasn't until I got close to home that I felt the wind, coming off at the junction, I was blown halfway across the road. Wearily making it home, I assessed the damaged...which was surprisingly little. The electrics were all messed up, the under soil heating cable has pulled out and snapped, the poly tunnel a mangled mess, a pane of glass or two broken but seemingly none of the trees were damaged in anyway. Thankfully there was no frost and the temperature stayed above freezing but the wind was horrendous. Behind the house is about two miles of flat farmland without a wind break in sight. The first wind break was the polytunnel it seemed. Despite the frame being firmly staked and pinned into the ground, weighed down with bricks and everything I though necessary, clearly nature played this trick on me...she is too rough and I am too delicate.

After a few hours sleep the clear up operation began in the dark...as the frame was mangled, it was impossible to unscrew and so I literally pulled it apart with my bare hands whilst thinking of alternatives...I considered burning every tree and then doing a Reggie Perin. Sometimes life has a habit of just kicking you full square in the knackers. No matter how hard you try, somebody or something just comes along and pisses on your bonfire. Here I was, all cock of the walk with my super high-tech polytunnel and mother nature just laughs in my face and says " that serves you right for wiring so many trees and thinking you can make them more beautiful than me...what are you going to do about it now baldy?"

Despite what you may initially think, at times like that, doing bonsai is a god send. The whole point of bonsai is to enjoy nature...even though she is a harsh mistress. Without the severity of the winter we would not enjoy the freshness of the spring, without the eternal struggle against the elements then there would not be beauty such as this...
One must take the rough with the smooth and accept that with one hand, nature giveth, and with the other hand she slaps you in the face and causes chaos in the garden.

A day spent tidying up the glass greenhouse and maximising space in there allowed me to find a home for everything that was small enough and delicate. Other trees which can survive outside were buried in the now non-heated bed and covered with the plastic from the poly tunnel skin. Whatever will be will be. Miraculously, the delicate light bulb from the glow lamp survived and I was able to put it up and the trees didn't even skip a beat...or at least I hope not.

A few problems with the heater and thermostat were sorted out that evening as temperatures plummeted to minus 5. Let us pray to any god that is listening that the glass greenhouse doesn't get blown over in the winds next week. If it does then...I don't know what I will do. Always remember that there is only so much suffering a tree can take before it dies rather than turn into a bonsai. We walk along that knife edge everyday.

After sorting everything out, the drive down back to the warmth of my long lost bed was uneventful, except for the depressing disco in the van...The Smiths, the Cure and Depeche Mode on a constant loop, with me seat dancing to stay awake.

"Let us have a black celebration, to celebrate the fact that we have seen the back of another black day"

Merry Christmas

Saturday, 3 December 2011

A long month....

And so a silent November has drawn to a close and those following me may have wondered why no posts...well one thing my mum always told me was "if you can't say anything nice, then don't say anything at all". That is not to say that life has been terrible or there has been nothing good happening but sometimes life just conspires against you.

To say I was busy was an understatement...arriving in Japan at the start of November I, along with the long suffering younger apprentices spent two weeks, day and night preparing the garden for the arrival of all the international visitors for the 11th Aspac convention which was held in Takamatsu. During those two weeks I managed a day and three hours of working on trees. As per usual no pictures were taken but I did manage to continue working on a Needle Juniper that I had saved from death a while back and had repotted earlier this year. It was good to see it growing well again and the customer made a special point of bringing it in for me to work on which was a high point. The rest of the time was spent building a pond and reworking the garden.

The Takamatsu show was good but very tough. We had a trade stand and had to be down there to set up from 7 am. It was an 11 hour drive through the night of which I drove 9 hours...needless to say I wasn't in the best state of health when we arrived. The car was loaded up with what we estimated to be half a million dollars worth of stuff in there, just pots and stands etc, no trees...although we did come back with a load...so crashing was not an option. The Chief, in true Chiefly fashion flew down and arrived the next afternoon after we had set up the stand...and nervous that the arrangement was not to his liking, I awaited his arrival with dread. He turned up with a smile on his face and just said "Yeah, looks good...we won't sell anything though". For those that don't know him, he can be a great motivational speaker.

Picture of the Aspac crowds, courtesy of S-Cube. You can find more here on the IBC forum

As it turned out though, we did sell stuff. Quite a bit actually. My personal tally was higher than expected and if I had helped to sell the $250,000 pot on the neighbouring stand to a Singaporean gentleman then I would have trumped the Chief...not that anybody keeps score. Sadly/Thankfully the expensive pot stayed unsold, not that I did anything other than translate...the buyer had been studying pots since before I was born...

The show itself was good in the sense that I met up with old friends, made some new ones and I managed to survive the onslaught of the Chinese. They arrived in their hundreds on several tour groups and it was an intense experience. It is difficult when there is no common language and the only words I know in Chinese are "expensive, Ming Dynasty, No problem, brown noser and delicious". You can imagine the quality conversations that went on there.

Hanging out with some of the younger members of the bonsai community was a highlight and I also got to spend some quality drinking time with my senpai Akiyama who is at this moment in time, enjoying his second Prime Ministers award at the Sakkafu-ten, pictured below. Sadly I couldn't stay in Japan for it, but the time we had together, drinking and talking about Bonsai was great. There are some people in life who understand implicitly exactly what you mean when you say something and he is one of them.

Akiyama's prize winning tree...been in the family for 30 years. I had the privilege once to touch it.

Anyways after driving back to Tokyo (six hours drive this time), I also managed to go to Kyoto which was disappointing in many ways, the autumn colours were poor and the Taikanten was a little underwhelming. Once again though I managed to chat with a load of Bonsai people and learnt some stuff. I also managed to pick up a scroll very cheaply that is an original from 1704 which is great. One day it will make an outing...until then.

One of the reasons that I felt unmoved to write was due to the raging egos that have been dominating my life for the last month or so. All problems in life seem to arise from the presence of other people, especially those who are unreasonable and think that they are the most important person in the world. I often wonder if it is a disease specific to Bonsai, like Sphaeropsis Tip Blight or it is something which affects the world at large...I turn on the TV and see X-Factor and realise that there is no escaping it. For Sphaeropsis there is a cure, broad spectrum fungicide (ideally two or three varieties) applied monthly throughout the growing season, ; but for rampant ego related problems?

For the rest of the month I will be getting back to what is important in Bonsai...concentrating on my own trees, my own people and trying to enjoy Christmas. Noelanders is just around the corner and preparations for that are going to be in full swing.

Apologies for the depressive tone of the blog, its not all bad, it's just the black monkey visiting but as a great man once said..."Inside every bag of sh@te there is a speck of gold, it might just be the wrapper off a Caramac, but it's there"

Friday, 21 October 2011

Satsuki a-go-go redux...

Following on from the previous post, here is a before and after.

The tree is a kaho or gyoten of considerable age, estimated at 80 years which makes it a granddaddy...but it was in very healthy condition. It had been repotted earlier this year, pruned then and again at the end of june. Both times had been half for balancing the vigour and half for creating the style. The work now was to take that balanced vigour and use it to redevelop some serious problems.

The apex had two major branch structures in so one was removed and the remaining apex spread out as much as possible. There is still a gap on the top left but it will fill out. The pointing branch on the left was accentuated and other branches lowered and spread out. The second right branch was bent severely (for an azalea) and so i used raffia and 6mm alumi wire. When wiring satsuki, go big or go home on wire thickness....the thicker the better and wire it loosely. As previously mentioned a much more clip and grow style approach is being taken but that involves some wiring.

Once again poor camera shots but it is an attempt to do before and afters, even if it is just daily work. I realise this is what people want to see and there are a good number of professionals out there who do it and get a lot of love for it. I have been thinking about this for some time because i consider the work done here to be nothing special, like a lot of other published stuff. Still there is value in it so enjoy...

I guess this kind of pine styled azalea grown in a typical way into a triangle outline is the kind that was being criticised on the forum posts, and there is admittedly a standard shaping to many azaleas but therewithin lies a different aesthetic and appreciation of details rather than purely form alone. While the shape may be regular the quality and distribution of the flowers, the construction of the branching structure, the lack of scars and the overall health of the tree offer the possibility for appreciating technical and horticultural prowess as much as artistic ability.

A lack of obvious artistic input does not immediately mean the work is worthless as a bonsai. If judged on different criteria then it has value. The devil is in the details.

Anyways after a knee shattering flight i am in Birmingham for the weekend. Will be workng on a tree i demo'ed on earlier this year so maybe get some pics of that as well.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Satsuki a-go-go

Once again it has been a while, but there you go. I have been mostly busy with work, here and there, did some more work in Poland. I have pictures somewhere when I get around to it...and now I am in the US. I have been working on Azaleas at a large collection, if not the largest collection outside of the motherland and it is a difficult task to get through them all. The work at this time of year is corrective wiring and pruning back vigorous shoots, thinning out the new growth since the summer pruning.
Due to the sheer number of trees here and the fact that there are only 24 hours in a day, I have had to modify normal techniques to fit with the client's situation and try to use a less labour intensive styling method. By that I mean no fine wiring. With Azaleas however with patience, long range planning and superb horticultural care then this is possible. I have the first two, the client provides the third. Since I begun to thin them out and they were repotted in the spring, they have responded very well and we are succeeding in keeping them in shape with mainly scissors alone. For many trees the styling has been done in stages so as to keep the tree from stalling. One common problem with azaleas and bonsai in general is that too much gets done at once and the tree cannot recover, so like an engine with a faulty clutch, it stalls. Ideally the engine should always tick over at fairly high revs, so even if you know a branch needs to be cut off, if it needs hitting back hard, then do it in stages, cut half back, wait for back budding, let them harden a little, then cut back and you get even more branching. That way in two years you have a finished branch structure whereas cutting back hard initially would cause a stall and you end up stationary.

Make sense? If not then apologies. It does in my head at 5 am.

Anyways, I saw this post on the interweb where Satsuki are described as kitsch and almost always styled as Pine Bonsai. (Note to all, this is not in any way an attack on the author, just a comment in general) Now, regular readers will know of my love hate relationship with Azaleas but they are very very misunderstood from a western perspective. It is a shame to see that people do not have the same, albeit a strange and slightly trainspotteresque appreciation of them as they do in Japan. The fact that they are just called "Satsuki" and all lumped together when in fact there are over 800 varieties used in Bonsai, each with their own special traits and growth habits shows a lack of understanding...but the same culture and mentality doesn't exist in the West (thankfully in some ways) so I guess I am barking up the wrong tree...speaking of which...this is an azalea styled like a pine

Apologies for the photo, it was taken by me, using an ipad...not exactly fit for purpose and the ipad has a terrible camera. Plus I was in the middle of a days work which is more important.

This is a Kinsai which was half dead so when I repotted earlier in the year , I ripped all the dead wood off it, changed the planting angle, put it into a John Pitt pot and reduced the number of branches. Most of them are unhealthy and may possibly die and so not much effort has gone into it thus far. I pruned it back a little more this time, did a little deadwood work and wired a few branches but no more than an hour spent on it. It recovered well and looks ok, but once a tree has started to die back, then on most varieties, it is a question of time. Kinsai is borderline, if the tree is healthy then it can survive with deadwood, if not so vigorous then the rot has gone deep. I am still hedging my bets.

The wood was cleaned up and treated with wood hardener and lime sulphur but the work on it is all natural. It is pretty cool actually and the best dead wood I have seen on an azalea. I hope it survives. Still, a few years enjoyment is better than none....but it is contrived and styled like a pine so I guess there is no value to it whatsoever?

Last day here and then I am off to Alabama for the weekend. Looking forwards to it....always fun in the south....kind of like the north in England.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Paris by easyjet...

This was supposed to have been posted on wednesday but the wifi cut out on the bus...

Yesterday was a very long day just for two hours of work...and when i say work, i mean having lunch. Earlier this year while at the Chief's I met an American professor/artist who lives in Paris and was exhibiting in Tokyo. He was brought to the garden and I showed him around, explaining a little about bonsai and display etc. We hit it off well and briefly discussed doing a show in Paris at the gallery space he curates in the university. After an email conversation i decided to go and see it and discuss in person.

It was a last minute decision and as there was no immediate financial reward, i was looking to do it on a budget. However i wish that i had stumped up the extra £25 to go on the train because the 3am start to drive to Luton was not pleasant...nor was the 2hour delay, half of it in what can only be described as a cow shed next to a service road. The huddled masses of budget cheapskates watched on as a Servisair baggage handling truck drove around a corner and about ten bags flew off the bag of a dangerously overloaded flatbed truck. With no regard to the watching passengers, the driver threw the bags back on and carried on slowly. Might want to rethink the perspex wall there...or just keep us in the warm until you are ready to let us on the plane. Apparently the delay was due to "technical reasons"...two hours later we took off and flew uneventfully to Paris.

The £25 i saved by flying was now put into single figures because of the cost of a bus ride into town. Didnt figure that into my sums did I? I made the meeting on time and we discussed the space, what could be done and of course, Health and Safety. We ent most of the time however eating sushi (naturally in Paris :-) and discussing the joys and hell of living in a foreign culture.

After finishing, i had 7 hours until my return flight, so i walked for 30 minutes, looked at some big buildings...took a picture or two and then texted my mum to check if there was an earlier flight home. There was one at 6 so it seemed like the best thing to do and i went straight to the blemish on french architecture that is Charles De Gaulle airport and asked the easyjet people to change my flight. It is a little publicised service but they will change the return section of the journey free of charge. This is the second time i have used it and it saved me 4 hours of trudging around Paris on my own, or sitting in the terminal...so i deleted the mental letter of complaint i had written earlier and sat down for a well deserved sit and a cup of coffee.

Returning back and doing my sums, i saved nothing...it cost me more in terms of stress and hassle but was it worth it? Watch this space.

Today is ryanair to katowice...hell in a handbasket. Well the time there is good, just the flight is hell.

On a further note...today, monday, the news is out that cold winters are due to the sun...which is having a rest.

Monday, 3 October 2011

They seek him here...

It has been a busy few weeks since the lazy summer, just getting back into things. I have picked up a few new converts to the cause and seen some positive signs for the future. Maybe there is light at the end of the polytunnel after all.

I had some workshops in Cheshire and up in the wabi wastelands of Northumbria recently, held up at Willowbog. I don't take pictures myself as I have a tendency to lose or break expensive electronics, so I will point in the direction of a site where you can see them....Bonsai Eejit. It is a good blog as well, so I suggest following it. I wish he had photoshopped this picture though...

Baldness as well all know is a sign of great virility.

Anyway, the workshops all went well and I think most people went away knowing more about Bonsai than they did when they started, which is the main thing. I have a slightly different approach to workshops than many others, sometimes it works, other times it doesn't.

Friday and Saturday were spent at the EBA event near dusseldorf in Germany. There were some Japanese over promoting Omiya and the possible world convention in 2017 there. I was asked to help out, but I ended up just sat chatting with John Pitt and Dave Prescott for the most part. There were some good trees and some not so good trees. One which took my breath away was a potentilla grown from nursery stock over 35 years. Absolutely awesome. I didn't take a picture but believe me it was great.

The trip was good for networking, I met some new people, including the chief of the French Association who was a great bloke. From the sounds of things, French Bonsai is on a very sustainable upward curve...I am going to try and get over some time. I also had chance to discuss the plan to take over the trees of around 8-9 people from the UK to Noelanders and display them in a similar way to the professionals do at Kokufu. The organisers of the show were enthusiastic and open to the idea. It is the future....i've tasted it.

If anybody in the UK wants to display at Noelanders but doesn't want the stress and hassle of taking it over, or needs help prepping the trees, then get in touch. Minimal fee is being charged as we need to get the UK back on track and pushing forwards.

I have also been fixing pots, a couple of pics here...but I'm only half way through because I broke the cheap diamond burrs I got off ebay and almost set fire to my kitchen with a propane burner that was a little on the powerful side. I will get it finished in snowy december and post it up.

Off to Paris tomorrow. I have to take the camera...otherwise there is no point me going.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Winter Protection

After the devastation of the last few winters, it is essential that bonsai enthusiasts in the UK take precautionary steps to protect their trees from the harsh winter that will be coming. It may snow in October and we are likely to see some very low temperatures. Lots of factors are causing climate change, man made and natural, however what is certain is that if we have another harsh winter and trees are unprotected then we will have a lot of dead trees on our hands. I will admit that over the last two years I have lost close to £10,000 worth of trees. I cannot let that happen again. This happened because I didn't prepare for both the weather and my absence from the country during it.

Having learnt my lesson the hard way it seems perverse to me that many people are unwilling to invest a little time, effort and money in creating winter protection when they may have spent lots of it on their trees. Bonsai is a continual investment, if that is lost at any point, then all the previous work and effort has been wasted. Just for the want of a little extra spending, everything goes to waste. The same is true for soil, pots, fertiliser etc.

Bonsai are more susceptible to the cold as the roots in a pot will freeze much easier than those in the ground. The earth retains a lot of heat and only the surface layers of soil are seriously affected by the frost. In a pot, the entire root ball can freeze and cause fatal damage to the tree. This must be avoided....but how?

Trees must be protected from cold soil temperatures, over watering, and wind. To this end, for the few trees I own, I have constructed a small poly tunnel, in which there is a heating bed to maintain soil temperature above freezing, a fan heater to keep the air above freezing and hopefully settling on the tunnel itself. All delicate trees will be buried within the heating bed which contains a heating element attached to a thermostat which will activate the heating once the soil temperature drops below 3 degrees C. The idea is not to keep the trees growing but rather to stop any damage. The lack of air flow through the poly tunnel will also keep moisture loss to a minimum and so I cannot imagine that any water will be needed over the winter.

Poly tunnel frame, ground prepared for the bed etc. My mum wasn't overly pleased.

Constructing and choosing the materials was relatively easy. A little though was required to find the most cost effective way but carefully searching the internet and recalling some long forgotten physics helped.

The poly tunnel was purchased from ebay for £90, 4m x 2m, with careful packing it can fit a good sized collection. The heating element and thermostat were also purchased from the internet at a price of £80. A cubic metre of perlite and expanded clay was delivered to my door for £120. We had some old fence boards at home which helped but timber to build a bed can be acquired for £30. A fan heater £20, plus RCD breaker and extension cable for £10. The electricity used over the winter will be minimised through setting the thermostat as low as possible. In total, around £400 spent to safeguard the current financial investment and six, seven years of work and some future masterpiece trees....even if I do say do myself.

The bed was constructed and the path of the 25 m cable planned out. It was just as planned. The walls of the bed are old fence panels fixed together and held in by posts. It isn't the most permanent of structures but it will last the winter

A very thin layer of perlite was spread out over the base of the bed and the heating wire set out. On top of this, about 15 to 20 cm depth of perlite. If the temperatures were much higher, then over heating would be an issue, however we are aiming at minimal temperatures, just keeping it above freezing

I chose Perlite as the medium for the heating bed as it came out on top in several important factors; specific heat capacity, thermal conductivity and price per volume. It requires less energy to heat up, it retains heat and moisture incredibly well and is cheap. I will reuse it for my potting mix for freshly collected trees, whips, sick trees etc. I am a firm believer in Perlite for certain situations and having a cubic metre next spring is not a problem, I will keep the bed for problem trees I think. I topped off the perlite with a layer of expanded clay, slightly more expensive but heavier and larger particle sized, offering another layer of insulation and stopping the perlite from blowing away either from the wind or the hosepipe. The only issue with Perlite is the dust that comes with it, breathing it in is not a good idea, so I opened a hole in the bag, stuck the hosepipe in and made it damp. The hosepipe was used to stop any more dust from flying up when pouring out as well. A dust mask is advised.

All the trees in, some are buried in the bed pots and all, other stronger trees are left unprotected but will be wrapped when the weather turns.

You may notice that the deciduous trees are still in leaf and it is incredibly early to be preparing, however I am away almost all of October and there have been long range forecasts which predict snow soon. Better safe than sorry.

Heater and grow lamp. Heater is not pointing towards trees, on the lowest frost guard setting and on 1KW rather than the max 2KW setting. Lamp is above pines, junipers, yew and rosemary trees Still a considerable distance though, at most 1.5 m, closest is 1m

One other feature I have included which I have used every year in the smaller greenhouse is the grow light. A 250 W system which gives artificial sunlight, as close to the normal spread of wavelengths from the sun as possible. Why do this? All deciduous tree which lose their leaves do not need sunlight whatsoever and could be kept in a pitch black garage until close to spring time. Those evergreen trees which still have leaves are slightly different and require a little sun to see them happily through the winter. The idea is not to keep the growing throughout the winter, but just to keep the engine at idle and not stall. Once spring begins and we have natural sunlight, the trees start off quicker and grow much better. Mediterranean species and Japanese pines and junipers are not used to the grim Northern winters and so a touch of sunlight is essential for happy trees. It is not essential to keep them alive, but just to keep them happy I would advise investing in one. Prices start from £80 for a small system. I run mine on a timer, giving around 3 hours of sunlight a day, from November through until end of February. At around 1 Kwh of electricty per day that is roughly 15 p a day, lets say tops £20 a winter. The bulb has a tendency to blow or need to be replaced every four months, so thats another £15 a year. I'm still well under the £10k and years of work I threw away over the last few years.

Protect the electrics...the big white box is the ballast for the light. The other box is the thermostat. They are splash proof but use a safety RCD at the main socket just in case. With a 250 W heating cable, a 250 W light and a 1 KW heating fan, there is a lot of potential power going through there.

In conclusion...the basic rules for winter protection are to:

  1. Keep the roots from freezing, expanding and dying. This is achieved by insulation and minimal watering. Regulate water intake, bury or wrap trees in something...even snow is better than exposure to wind.

  2. Shelter from winds, especially the cold north winds

  3. Allow the trees to go dormant. Do not over heat the greenhouse and keep the trees from going dormant.

  4. Get as much natural sunlight as possible. Ideally supplement with grow lights.

Please give more consideration to the winter...even if it is just burying the trees in the ground, you don't have to go too far...just act now before it is too late.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Autumn is here...

It has been a while since the last post and I have been up to a few things, including another outing. This last weekend saw an interesting event in Crawley, namely Bonsai World 2011. It was the first time it had been held and was a good weekend, I got to meet up with the usual suspects and catch up, have a chat and look at some trees. There were some lovely trees on show, some at a high level, others not so, but all well presented and everyone had fun with it, which lets face it, is the point of doing bonsai. It was a well put together show and congratulations to all involved.

In an unusual turn of events I chose to put on a display, a favourite tree of mine was just about ready to go and it seemed appropriate to get it out. Although not quite in colour, there is a hint of red coming through there and it is perfect for the season as we are just about to start autumn and soon the leaves around us will be on fire...not literally I hope. The tree I displayed has previously been seen at a never to be repeated exhibition up North a couple of years ago around the same time. It is a sadly not often seen variety outside of Japan and one of my favourite trees...this Sumac or to be a bit more specific, Rhus succedanea.

It is potted in a Shidei or purple clay Chinese pot from around 100 years ago, there is no seal but it is a Meiji period design. It has been well used and has developed a good patina around the whole pot without sustaining any significant damage. It has taken on quite a shine which does not come from oiling the pot up before exhibiting which is something I am not keen on. The black lacquered board it is displayed on is the same one used in my Joy of Bonsai display a while back. I do have other boards, including a bamboo one I did think of using but it seemed slightly unseasonal and also clunky. The simplicity of the black rectangle appealed to me...and both Apple and Samsung apparently.

Only one person asked me why I didn't use an accent or a scroll, and the answer was that it didn't need it. The space was small enough as it was and the feel of the tree would have been destroyed if there was anything else going on there. To have created a busy display which conformed to a three item combination would have destroyed the simplicity of the tree and left it feeling mechanical and contrived. I had an ideal early autumn scroll but it was slightly too long and the colour too much of a contrast against the white back drop. It was a shame as I wanted to use it. I was happy to be on the end of the row as the extra space next to the display was helpful. It also helped to have some stones on the other side so I wasn't over powered by some massive tree.

The art of bonsai display is the art of successfully using space to create the impression of something larger than what is seen with the eyes. Space can be oppressive if seen with preconceptions of "tree, scroll, accent", there is a desire to fill it up. If freed from such self imposed conventions, the space can be liberating, allowing the viewer to imagine.

I am not sure how the displays that I have done in the past have been taken and I don't know if people expect for me to be displaying big impressive trees to show off my skills and professionalism and win prizes. I personally take the opportunity to show that there are alternatives, different aesthetic ideas and motivations for doing bonsai...

And then show off on the Blog.

Thanks to everyone at the show for making it fun, but especially to Simon Haddon who let me use his camera because I typically forgot mine.

If you think all the above is a bit pretentious and speaking in riddles, it's because I have been reading some books. Aye...proper ones. Been very enlightening.

"He who only knows, without seeing, does not understand the mystery. Even should every detail of beauty be accounted for by the intellect, does such a tabulation lead to beauty? ...The scholar of aesthetics...tries to make seeing proceed from knowing, but this is a reversal of the natural order. The eye of knowledge cannot, thereby, see beauty"

from The Unknown Craftsman by Yanagi Soetsu

So does that mean I wasted all my time reading books?

"A man should avoid displaying deep familiarity with any subject...it is impressive when a man is always slow to speak, even on subjects he knows thoroughly, and does not speak at all unless questioned."

from Tsurezuregusa or Essays in Idleness by Kenko

Oh...I will shut up then.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Chinese Drunkard

In the course of my recent writings, I have found the internet a constant source of amazement and time wasting. None more so than reading the poetry of Li Bai, one of the great Chinese poets of the Tang Dynasty so I have come to learn. Now he is a man of great distinction in my book, possibly due to his incredible fondness for alcohol, the moon and rambling around in the mountains.
I sometimes look back in history, see the simple and pure lives they had and wonder how far we have actually come with civilisation. Sure, we have ipads and can now watch sky sports for free, but are we really happy?

Maybe if we take Li Bai's advice we will be...

If heaven loved not wine,

A Wine Star would not be in heaven;

If earth loved not wine,

The Wine Spring would not be on earth.

Since heaven and earth love wine,

Need a tippling mortal be ashamed?

The transparent wine, I hear,

Has the soothing virtue of a sage,

While the turgid is rich, they say,

As the fertile mind of the wise.

Both the sage and the wise were drinkers,

Why seek for peers among gods and goblins?

Three cups open the grand door to bliss;

Take a jugful, the universe is yours.

Such is the rapture found in wine,

That the sober shall never inherit.

I will buy a pint for the first person to tell me how I got to reading that poem....

Friday, 12 August 2011

Planning for the future

So a small window of opportunity in the weather and schedule allowed me to finally get around to working on the juniper that featured in a few posts ago. Many thanks to Les Storey whose tree it was/is , the tea and sarcastic comments.

It is a big garden juniper which was rescued from a garden up in the Wirral many years ago, then languished in a pot for many more years before I got my hands on it. It was very weak and had almost no roots, so for the last three or four years after repotting it has been just building up strength (that is another way of saying I have not found the time to work on it). Now it is strong enough and has a good root mass in a loose soil mix (20% garden compost, 80% Perlite). More importantly the live veins have settled down and thickened along the main arteries up to the only living branch. Although there is a lot of green and wood up top, only one thinish branch remains which needs to be fed. This leads to thickening of the live vein along the section feeding it.

My plan, right from the start had always been to graft some Itoigawa whips into the trunk and redevelop the tree with branches lower down and with a workable foliage. The lower trunk is actually quite powerful and if the bottom section only can be used then there is potential for a very powerful, chunky little chuhin sized tree.

Obviously a lot of dead wood carving to be done in the future, but the main job now is to get the live vein thinned down to close to where we want the final vein to be and get the grafts in. Any detail work on the dead wood can be done once I am certain of graft success and the top of the tree is removed. I will want to use some of the jin up top as well and there will be some sand blasting to be done once it gets into a bonsai pot. The carving today was simple to reduce the live vein down and then allow it to dry out.

Here you can see me hard at work. It does happen every now and again and yes, I do use power tools.

Graft point and whip are prepared. The channel is deep enough so it is at least 50% buried. Cambium layers are revealed and best attempts are made to join the two together.
The whips are screwed into place. I found some mini-screws in Japan which are the absolute best for this purpose, they are only a few mm thick, long and strong. You just have to be careful with the impact driver and not go to quickly. They will never be removed but a few didn't go all the way in before the head got mashed up. They will need to be cut off carefully later.

The finished tree. Two grafts, one front,. on back were done, just before a torrential downpour of rain, hence the roughess of it all. The main job was to get the grafts done now, so it has a bit of the growing season left to help join up. I'm hoping that I'm not the only one to see some potential in this. Obviously it will never be a masterpiece compared to a mountain tree but it was better than throwing it out.

The foliage on top was reduced to allow sunlight in and also to stimulate the tree into growing. It has realised that half the foliage is gone and puts effort into growth. This will help us with the callusing. The reduced live vein up top and also around the back, is helping to channel the majority of flow around the whips. If this does not happen then the two wont join up.

Due to the rushed nature of the job, I am dubious as to the success rate, I think the back will take but not the front. Still I have more whips and plenty of time. I doubt we will see this tree anywhere near finished in the next ten years. Still, step two in the plan is achieved, we shall have to see how effective it is. It has benefitted from several years of being ignored, now in order to allow it to join and then gain strength, it will be ignored for at least a full season. This time next year will be the next time I will look at working it. If the growth is very vigorous on either the top of the tree or the whips then it may require attention.

If we are successful, further reduction of the foliage up top initially to next to nothing, then nothing, along with further thinning of the live vein will be next on the list of jobs to do. It will need to be put into a bonsai pot and more suitable soil mix in the near future after the grafts are full taken. Although I foresee no problems with that, there is a small risk and it is not until I have reached a relatively risk free point will I spend the necessary time on the dead wood. As it is, the deadwood being fairly soft will rot away if too much is done too quickly. So waiting is the key for the moment.

I will do a proper article on it later (if I get chance)

There are some trees which can be made quickly, there are others which require a little more long term view. There are very few trees that have nothing good about them or any redeeming feature. It just depends how long you are prepared to wait and to what lengths you are willing to go.

Text for the book comes slowly at times, quickly at others...possibly due to the fact we are absolutely thrashing India at the moment in the Cricket.

This morning before play started I wrote this, which seems apt...

The fundamental point to remember when appreciating Bonsai is that you are looking at a natural object which has been artificially styled and maintained. The lengths to which this is taken are aesthetic and philosophical decisions, yet the most important fact remains that bonsai is a natural object that is being appreciated, albeit a highly stylised one.

I need a harsh editor I think

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Shohin on acid

Doing some research for the e-book, I came across this page which is about tickets and posters of shohin shows from 40 years ago onwards...love it.

For people who think that the Japanese are too formulaic and stuck in their ways...
The red text up in the top corner says "The sound of spring bursts forth" or words to that effect. You can bet the hand that is holding the mike belongs to some lovely young model as well...

Sunday, 7 August 2011

In praise of British Craftsmanship....

and also a British inability to update the blog. I can assure you that it is not because I have been sat around doing nothing, but rather having my hands full with a lot of non bonsai related things and also doing a lot of translating and typing. Regular readers may be looking forward to an update on the proposed e-book...they will also be very aware of the fact that I am all talk and no trousers and it is very slowly forthcoming. I get side tracked to easily and have been doing too much research on various different potters, kilns and ceramic techniques from the Edo period.

I have been trying not to work on trees too much of late, concentrating on the books is my biggest priority, I have people counting on me which is always a bad thing, but the pressure does produce results. The trees I have been working on lately, I always forgot to take before and after shots, plus a lot of the work wasn't that impressive anyway. A few new customers and new workshop converts to the Saruyama way. I was in Poland recently doing a workshop and apparently it went down very well. Hopefully they will come to the next workshop scheduled in October....hopefully the Mugo I bent seven shades out of will still be alive...if it is, I will post a picture. We did discuss the fact that the tree had no future otherwise...but still, I absolutely hate to kill trees...especially ones that are not mine.

I do have a few new things to talk about though, namely some stands which have found their way back into my possession. One of the important aspects of the development of Japanese Bonsai was the relationships between craftsmen and the objects that was commissioned specifically for a purpose. Take the development of display stands for example. Before the Meiji period, they simply did not exist in the way we know today. Bonsai was an outdoor pursuit and stands were not necessary. As the development of Bonsai took things to a level where they were being displayed in exhibitions or in the home, there was a need for display stands. Master craftsmen, I guess we would call them cabinet makers, were commissioned to create stands that would suit the purpose of display. It would appear that the first attempts were so sturdy that they would withstand the weight of a garden tree. After a consultation process, a happy medium was reached between utility and beauty. The process continued and soon several master craftsmen were producing some superbly crafted pieces which are still used today.

In order for western Bonsai to reach the highest possible level, the same kind of consultation and patronage must occur between craftsmen here. Thankfully, we have some very skilled table makers and potters in the UK and some very beautiful pieces are created. I am lucky enough to know Doug Mudd very well. he is a table maker based in the North West and has been steadily improving with every table he makes and is now responsible for about half the tables on display in most UK shows. I have asked him to create several tables for me, each one a specific commission but with a little room for his own personal touch. One table was for a display that I had hoped to put on at a Suiseki exhibition in Madrid a few years ago.

Sadly, my request was a little on the impossible side; I had asked for the top to be made from a single piece of wood and to be as thin as possible. At the time, Doug had discussed his concerns and they were duly proved to be correct as the table warped and cracked within an hour due to the humidity and warmth of Madrid. I returned it to Doug for repairs and just the other day it made it's way back here...looking better than it did originally. It now has a brass rail to keep the legs from warping, and a couple of pieces of wood in the surface to stop it from cracking and warping any more. It is not quite flat but there is the beauty of it. The damage and the repairs have made it better. My hat is off to the man.

Hopefully I will get a chance to use it. I have one thing in mind but it is a few years off completion and it may be a little weak...oh well, another table will be necessary then.

Another two stands which have pride of place in my collection are by a long time friend and student of mine, John Brocklehurst, who turned his hand to making some root stands in his spare time. You will see more of his trees coming up in the future after already having won a few merits and commendations. You will also see some of his stands no doubt...after asking for advice on the designs and finishes, the results were pretty spectacular for a first few attempts. I was impressed at any rate.

If anyone is interested in commissioning any works, or indeed there is anyone who is looking for advice on designs or anything then get in touch. The only way forward is through working together.

I will be sat in front of the PC for the most of this coming week, although I will be going to work on a tree of mine (kind of) on Thursday. A garden Juniper rescued from the Wirral and has been awaiting my attentions for some time. I will give you an update afterwards, but here is the before shot...
Don't expect any miracles...

Sunday, 3 July 2011

The only constant is change

"All is flux, nothing is stationary"...this is true for everything in life, including Bonsai. Everyday our little trees change and grow, we see the changing of the seasons reflected in our trees as we watch the new shoots grow, flowers blossom and finish, candles grow and leaves turn colour before dropping off. The cyclical nature of the universe is wrapped up in our trees, they are constantly in flux, as are we...believe me, I am totally fluxed at the moment.

Apologies for the lack of posts recently, it has been a very busy two weeks. The photo shoot will Bill Valavanis and Jonathan Singer went very well but it tested my bowing skills to the max. Running around to all the big names in the Bonsai world and trying to balance the needs of the photographer with the need to be polite and respectful of The Chief's (and therefore my) standing with everyone was an interesting experience. Not at all negative but it required some serious consideration and carefully chosen words. I think that I did a good job and even had a bit of a laugh with Mr. Kimura...a first in my Bonsai career. He was actually pretty friendly to me, except when he too criticised my Bonsai Focus article for not being dramatic enough...you cannot win I guess. At least it meant that he approved of Ryan's work, which lets face it, was pretty damn good.

After a week of very interesting photo shoots I made the long trip to Kennet Square in Pennsylvania, home of the finest single collection of trees in the US, if not the western world. I have been here for a few days working on Satsuki, getting them into shape after flowering and back on track for a good wiring and styling session in October/November time. Now is not the best time to be wiring satsuki as the bark is very tender and tends to scar very easily, especially when using heavy wire. As time is limited and the trees numerous, wiring is being left until a later date and I am just pruning my way through them. I had repotted a good number of them in the Spring and so it was good to see that many had responded well and had grown dramatically. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing a good outcome to your work. It is always a concern when working on customers trees that after you have left they go down hill. Thankfully that is not the case here and several trees which were on deaths door are now pushing strong shoots and looking good.

Pruning satsuki can feel very much like topiary at times but it should not be...the essential idea is to remove as much of the woody, thick and short branches in favour of new green shoots, prune back to stimulate new growth and to prune in such a way that it will grow into shape. There are some advanced techniques for doing that, but at 3 am after several Heineken and a flight to catch tomorrow, I won't go into them. Plus, I have to keep a few secrets to myself ;-)

Tomorrow I will be in flux again, finally returning back to the UK and home to my own bed. I have slept there less than 10 times this year. 10 times. It is enough to cause divorce proceedings. Thankfully I will be at home for some time and will be basing myself around a computer for a vast majority of it. I have text to write for two books now after being asked to write some high level text for the photograph project. This will be a challenge as I have to appeal to a non-bonsai audience who is erudite and highly critical. Explaining Bonsai ideas to a bonsai audience is hard enough. I will have to get my serious organised hat on and schedule everything so that I am not wasting time catching up on missed TV and the Women's world cup, which by the way is phenomenal value for money. Maybe it is just the great coverage in the US, or the genuine heart with which they play but I'd rather watch Jill Scott than John Terry.

There will be changes afoot on the saruyama homepage, I have been going over my bandwidth limit so things are getting fixed. Keep a look out for that and also some postdated blog posts. I have about four or five little projects that I haven't gotten around to.

Stay fluxy (San Diego).

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The People of the World Will Surely be Victorious

Yesterday the Chief went off to China and I got sunburned cutting candles outside before going to a home depot style shop called Joyful Honda to buy some miniature screws. I mean tiny screws.

I am supposed to be back in the UK by now, sat watching rain affected sports events and thinking about which flavour crisps to eat next but due to a fantastically interesting project under the guidance of Bill Valavanis, I have extended my stay for another week. Bill arrives tomorrow with a famous cameraman to take pictures of Bonsai to create a very artistic picture book. All profits are going to charity to help the Tsunami relief so it is all for a good cause. I am very much looking forward to it, even if it means my reunion with Cheese and Onion Walkers is put back a couple of weeks. The sacrifice will be worth it.

Candle cutting continues apace, I have had to keep reminding the youths to cut cleanly and true, no strange angles or the new buds will form in strange positions. Another important thing that they fail to do is to clean and disinfect their scissors after each and every tree. This prevents the transmission of fungal infections from tree to tree, all the more important of late as there is a new type of Pine fungal infection raging in Japan at the moment. Dont know what is called in English but it is pretty bad on the trees.

Lots to do today before they come so I will leave you with this, from which the title of the post was taken... a wonderful song from the Cultural Revolution....

(For any Americans that may take offence, there is a more than a slight hint of irony in the use of communist propaganda in relation to a country of which the elite wealthy are buying more luxury goods than they can stuff in their suitcases while the peasants which make them stupid amounts of money starve in the countryside. Please do not take it seriously ;-)

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Here on my own...

All on my own...How good it feels to be alone...Tonight. I haven't felt so alive in years. Only click the link if you love the 80's...which quite frankly, everyone does.

The reason for such indulgent reminiscing in the past is that I have just spent a very enjoyable night working alone, listening to Depeche Mode, The Cure and The Smiths whilst Candle Cutting the Chiefs most famous Black Pine, the infamous Seiryu, and then working on fixing a customers azalea which was in need of being sorted.

It was a very refreshing experience to actually sit and enjoy doing Bonsai again, something which has been missing from this and the last trip to the Chief's...and I realise why. I was sat alone without having to worry about what the other apprentices were doing or not doing. The Chief popped out around 9 and poked his head through the door, smiled sheepishly and said "I'm off to bed...I'm knackered". I smiled back and said "G'night". Those are the times where nothing is said, but everything is understood. It is hard to explain the relaitionship between a master and apprentice, but I have spent more time with him than I have anyone else except my own parents.

That is pretty crazy when you actually sit down and consider it. It's like being married...except you can't get divorced.

Anyway, I had decided to push on with getting some important work done because frankly, nobody else is capable or willing to do it. The Chief leaves for four days in China tomorrow, then from the 22nd I am busy with another project, so all the important stuff needs to get down before then. Things have been stressed of late, mainly due to the entire lack of application, effort and common sense of the younger apprentices. I don't want to sound like an old man but if the idiots that I am surrounded by are representative of the youth of today then I despair for the future of the human race. It's not that they are bad people but they just have a complete lack of desire and difficulty following the simplest of instructions. I always check with them to see if they have understood what I said...making a point of getting them to repeat my request, but stlll it all goes wrong somewhere. The next day, the pont I tried to teach them the day before is forgotten and the same mistake is repeated.

It drives me to despair which is then made even worse when the Chief rips into all of us, especially me recently for some stupid mistake which could have been so easily avoided by either asking me, or thinking before acting. There is only so much you can do and I seem to spend all my time looking after three children aged 40, 29 and 22....none of whom seem to listen to a word I say. I ask myself if I am at fault.

One thing is for certain, it is putting me off ever having an apprentice of my own...if that ever arose.

Anyways...enough whinging, back to the Bonsai. At the moment we are finishing off the Satsuki pruning, working on the late flowering varieties and customers trees that are brought in. The general rule of thumb is to get it done by the end of June, then you will depinitely have a good set of flowers next year, leave the pruning into July and the if the weather turns bad, there is a chance not as many flowers will be set. We are also working on Candle cutting Pines.

I had to properly shout at the two youngest apprentices a couple of days ago for not coming to me before starting Candle cutting. Not only had one of the cut them candles of a tree I am in the process of styling and wanted to do myself, but they also started from the strongest trees. Both of which are signs of a lack of brain function. After shouting at them for a couple of minutes, during which they actually got a bit scared as it doesn't happen that often, I sat them down and we had a twenty minute discussion on how to make Bonsai, particularly with regards to the seemingly dull aspects such as candle cutting, which they approach as some kind of horticultural necessity rather than an essential technique in the styling of a tree.

I asked the youngest lad to tell me how to make a Bonsai...he couldn't come up with a decent answer. The other lad made an attempt to explain but was off the mark a little. It is a difficult to answer question because there is no one technique, no one area that is any more important than the other. As I tried to explain to them, it begins with something as seemingly unimportant as the little metal staples we make to keep the fertiliser cakes in place and ends with displaying the tree at the highest level possible.

If effort is found lacking at any of the steps along the way then the tree wil not improve. If the legs of the metal staples are too short and the wire is too thin, then the sparrows will flick the fertiliser cakes off the pot in search of insects, then the tree doesn't get any food, doesn't set strong buds, branches die and it needs to be restyled from scratch again.

Wiring, carving and bending big branches are not the be all and end all of making a tree, they are simply the starting point. The real creation of a tree comes through carefully applying the correct techniques, both horticultural and technical and paying attention to details. Everyday details make the difference between success and faliure, not wiring and finishing a tree in day.

Anyways, back on track...After finishing of the Blue Dragon, I began work on this Azalea. It is a Matsunami, an old variety which doesn't thicken very much and has the tendency to grow thin, long branches. It has multi coloured flowers and is one I like. I bought one a couple of weeks that will feature soon. The problem with multicoloured varieties is the dominance of one parent or one colour. If the tree is allowed to grow au naturel, then within a few years it will all coe one colour...red. Red is the dominant colour and once it starts to grow, it spreads. Withina couple of years a white flower can become red, slowly working it's way through speckled, striped and then full colour. It is a one way transition, once it has becom red it can't go back.

Apologies for the poor pictures and makeshift back ground but I was trying to get finished. As you can see the main branch on the right has a lot of red, an awful lot of very strong red. A mistake was made when the tree was early in development and that branch was made from a red flowering branch...a school boy error. As the tree has developed. the red flowers have gotten redder and spread to other branches. there are entire branches on the tree which are red. If possible, the best ting to do is to prune out the red branches entirely as you find them.

Sometimes, the entire branches needs to be replaced, but that takes time if there is thickness to it. In the case of this tree, the character branch is entirely red, but in order to correct it, two branches of "normal" non read Matsunami have been grafted in. The grafts are of the normal multi coloured variety and so there will be variation in the flowers. Sadly it means removing large sections of the tree.

Once the red branches have been removes, the branch appears very bare and slightly lacking in volume and ramification. This will take three years to fill back in, unless the grated branches go gangbusters on us and grow like crazy. After a rough prune, then more detailed pruning, cutting out the hard, thick areas and unnecessary branches, The main branch was very carefully wired and set roughly in position. As it is a grafted branch, extra care needs to be taken so as not to tear it off at the base. Grafts are generally only attached by the cambum layers and there is a lack of structural integrity to the join, so they can often pull apart easily, even after several years of healthy growth.

The finished tree looks like this. A few years of development on the character branch and it will be quite a nice tree. As it stands, anybody who looks at it simply says, "too much red". This is a particular characteristic to Satsuki enthusiasts and half the fun of growing them.There is an obssessive nature to getting the perfect mix of flowers, a perfect example of that variety. We are not to this level of concern at all in the west, which may be a good thing!

Anyway, it is past 1 am and I need to be up in the morning to drive the Chief to the airport. I have a week left in Japan and to be honest, I can't wait to get back and away from the stress of looking after younger apprentices. That said, I will definitely miss working on trees, going through the different stages of creating a Bonsai. Especially enjoyable when done alone...