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

Monday 30 April 2012

A holiday in...

Cambodia, it's tough kid but it's life...thankfully this song, which got me through many a night during the apprenticeship days (don't send me back t' dark place) was not reflective of the recent jaunt that me and Lady Saruyama took to Italy.  A weekend away from the trees was booked in and I spent a while checking for the cheapest flights around...Ryanair all the way to Pisa.  We also went on the train to Florence, which I didn't realise but is a massive tourist hotspot...loads of pretty old buildings and that...ignorance is bliss as they say.

Highlights of the trip included lots of waiting...including two hours to get tickets to watch the second half of a pretty appalling game between Fiorentina and Inter...it finished 0-0 but I did get to see one of my favourite players do nothing...

He's a Japanese lad, goes by the name of Nagatomo, pretty legendary little left back for those that are interested.. 18 Euros for 45 minutes of pretty much non action...personally I was hoping for a bit of Ultra Violence...in a city renowned for historical buildings and culture.  I know how to live...and so it seems does a certain English Pot Maker.  Not doing any research or using guide books always means that surprises are around the corner, so you can imagine my astonishment when I found out what John has been spending his earnings on from making bonsai pots...

For those not conversant in European, "Palazzo Pitti" means "Pitt's Palace".  A regal building it was too, it's amazing what a bit of hard graft making pots will buy you these days.  Nice garden as well, and it was free that week to enter so enter we did, which is a good job because other wise I would have missed out  on this masterpiece in the garden.  A piece of art (possibly by the man Pitti himself?) which I saw as a scathing commentary on the bare faced cheek of some yamadori collectors who will collect anything for commercial gain. I have no problem with ethical and morally sound collecting practices but I have seen some crazy short termism in the bonsai community which will eat away like a cancer and destroy itself unless self governance and an ethical code is adopted by everyone, but lets face it, I have more chance of making enemies than friends with crazy ideas like that.  Every man for himself and I'm all right Jack.

Can't go anywhere without work following eh? Where do ya draw the line?

Stay Classy.

Friday 20 April 2012

I fear change...

Blogger has changed the editor bit, it's all different...have I been away that long? Why do they feel the need to change everything so often? Anyway...

Rain is stopping play at the moment, I am in the middle of clearing the new garden, all I seem to have done is create more mess, but least it is centralised in the middle of the garden.  I am waiting on some people to do the fences and for a shredder to get rid of it all...then I can do the ground work etc...it is all good fun.

Seeing as I haven't posted for so long, it is a catch up situation...

So my time at the Chiefs was very different this year, mainly because we have both moved on and I am no longer needed...which is good because I had begun to resent the fact that I had to go back so often and there were older apprentices closer who should have been doing more to help out.  Every garden goes through periods, eras where a certain type of apprentice was present and that continues for a few people and there could be a sudden change in a different direction.  I was always on the receiving end of senior apprentices telling me "it wasn't like that in my day" and telling me to do things in a certain way which they had learned ten, fifteen years previous.  It wasn't as if either way was better or worse, just slightly different.  A clash of eras was always on the menu at Kokufu time and to a certain extent there was a little of that this year with the prodigal apprentice Fukita-san returned to take a tentative place at the top of the family.  He is nice enough to me and very talented at Bonsai but there is more to life than that you know...but not much more.

So my era has finished, things have moved on both in my world and Chief Land and I felt out of place, as did a lot of the customers who I had become close to including one chap who is one of the coolest 60 odd year olds I have ever met.  He used to be very active in Bonsai, displaying at Kokufu most years but that fell by the wayside for various reasons, one being the economy. Whenever I am back, ha calls me up and brings trees for me to work on, although they are mostly just stuff he enjoys playing with. He does have this Chuhin sized Juniper (well it was originally)  that I had wired a long time ago, one of the trees that I trained on when I was still super enthusiastic about wiring everything to the tips.  Thank god I got over that quickly.

It is an Itoigawa originally made by Mr. Kimura, (you know him, Reg Kimura from down Mansfield way) and it was grafted with a variety which he used extensively due to it's ability to grow fast and long.  There are several types of Itoigawa foliage, each has it's own plus and minus points, the negative on this type is that it grows quickly, which is ok if you want to make a tree quickly, but it also leads to the tree getting big quickly if not properly dealt with.

 This tree had not been worked on for at least two years and not seriously for at least eight.  It had been pinched a little last year but had developed a lot of juvenile foliage...

The reason for this was the tight compacted soil putting the tree under undue stress.  Juvenile foliage comes for a variety of reasons,avoiding imbalance is the fundamental thing to remember.  Do not prune too much, do not leave the repotting too late, do not pinch too hard...keep the tree on an even keel and it will keep on sailing.

So it was left with me and after telling the customer that it needed a severe prune back, possibly removing half or more of the branches, he said, "I will leave it to you"...now that is not always a good idea...but he trusted me and up to that point, I hadn't failed him yet. It was transplanted as soon as I could and I looked at the tree with a view to doing what I wanted to do for the good of the tree and for what would be best for the client in terms of shock value.  I asked Akiyama what he though about the main dropping branch, he immediately said it had to be removed, I asked the Chief and he said leave it, don't do anything drastic that the customer could complain about and Fukita said that I should do what the Chief said, but if it was his tree then he would cut it...I had wanted to cut it off about five years ago and here was the opportunity....welonce the Chief left for Italy I would have....I just had to get the tree done, finished and out of the garden before he got back!

The day the Chief flew off I called up the client and double checked that he was ok with me cutting off the main branch.  I explained why and he said he was playing golf and that he was ok if I was....so bish bash bosh and half the tree is on the ground in about 5 minutes.  I had just finished going through the rest of the foliage, cleaning out the dead, the weak and the straggly when who should walk through the door but the owner...now he had given me permission but it still felt like I had been caught in flagrante and I looked as guilty as OJ. Half way through such a drastic transformation, it never looks good.  There are plenty of trees where you think yourself, can I actually pull this off and make it look ok? Doing demonstrations up on stage especially.  
I did my best to kick the biggest branch under the table so he couldn't see it but it was useless, half his tree was missing.  I just had to explain again why and what was going to happen.  Thankfully he was more interested in complaining about his golfing partner and then lying to his wife about being stuck in traffic.

In the end, it took a few nights wiring to get it in shape but there was a serious structural reworking, not immediately obvious but the branches were wired and pruned in such a way that they would grow into shape in the next six months or be able to be pruned back into shape.  The immediate styling was very rough because we were working with weaker internal branches which had just been dewired, repotted and pruned.  Not the greatest idea to then subject them to another stress.  It still needs another serious pruning once internal shoots have strengthened and sent out newer shoots, however as stage one of redevelopment, the destruction and building foundations, I was pleased with it.  The apex is still a big green mushroom but now we have the ability to get some definition in there within a year...before it was a case of "how big do you want you shiitake, sir?"

In the end, the customer came to pick it up before the Chief got back, but Fukita saw it once it was finished and was surprised that I had done it, but said that it was good.  He would say that though.  Most importantly the owner said that I had done a good job and to give my regards to Lady Saruyama...and to buy her something nice.

See I do some work every now and again, just fail to take pictures of it...and when I do they are appalling quality.

Other trees that got done are the little Aozora Satsuki that was featured a while back.  Ue-san brought it back and said sort it out.  A year since it was planted from raw stock and time for the first wiring...

Initial styling of Azaleas is always like this, branch selection and set a skeleton.  New shoots this spring will begin to fill up the branches, after flowering the whole tree will get pruned again, new shoots will fill up the tree....within three years it should be up to being exhibited.  This sort of work was my bread and butter for so many years, Although I don't work on many raw azaleas outside of Japan, I could still knock that one out in less than twenty minutes.

Even quicker than that was this one cut transformation....showing that 90% of making a good bonsai is finding good material.  I rather randomly found myself at some garden centre in the middle of nowhere on the request of Morimae (a long story...) and found a few little gems, including this white pine which after looking at it from different angles, I soon put in my shopping trolley.  The Garden centre was full of material that was over grown, a bit untidy, a bit ugly and some that were just plain weird...so you can imagine I was in heaven. I managed to pick up quite a few trees that I was able to do a little work to and sell on immediately in Japan.  This little bad boy is staying with me...or I should say girl because the folaige type is Nasu Musume, (Literally Daughter of Nasu), which is a great tight little foliage type which doesn't get too long with excessive watering and it back buds fairly well...and it is better than Zuisho or Kokonoe because it feels a little more natural.

Here it was as I bought it. As Yannick was Kiggen around at the time, I asked him if he liked the tree, he looked at it and said it was so-so, but he was sparing my feelings...I berated him for his inability to see the possibilities that one cut could make...and that he needed to look more at poor quality material as they can offer greater opportunity for making profit.  Most people can take a £1000 tree and make it worth £1100, but a true professional can take a £100 tree and make it worth £1000...and that isnt to say that you are ripping somebody off, charging over the odds, it is to say that you have the ability to find something that no-one has seen and to bring it out.  Look at Mario Komsta's widely appreciated Red Pine, that was in Kokufu 80 and Noelanders this year.  Humble beginnings but worked with a professional eye and ability it has turned into a show stopper.  Now this bad girl won't be at that level, but one snip of the scissors later and...

That is Yannick in the background seriously reconsidering his earlier response.  One clip of the scissors is all that took.  It has a bright future as a tight little shohin and will not require much work.  Lesson of the day, take your time looking through the "bargain basement".  Don't dismiss material because it is cheap, dismiss it if it has no good future.  There are plenty of trees at £1000 that have no future for one reason or another.  For once, this tree is not for sale and will be featuring later on I hope.  I have begun to stockpile some of my own trees...

Well...anyone who has made it through to the end of the post, well done.  I will carry on catching up at some point soon...next time it will be the BSA show which was a month and a half ago.  Up to date and finger on the pulse as always.

Sunday 1 April 2012

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

I hope. No excuses this time...I have just been busy, really busy since before Noelanders and it has been constant...I have only just caught up with myself and got a little free time. With that free time I have just watched three back to back episodes of "Storage Wars". I am not sure if I can recommend it but it was strangely enjoyable.

Regular readers of Peter Snarts blog will have read about the antics at what is fast becoming the premier show in Europe. The digested version of what happened was...planned to offer service of prepping, transporting and returning clients trees a la Kokufu, had a great response from people, lots of trees involved. No major problems getting there except for me absolutely falling apart with nerves about an hour before we got there only to get my game face on and get everything sorted satisfactorily. To be honest it was a massive adrenaline rush and one I have no felt for a while as the excitement surrounding the judging and setting up at Kokufu disappeared a few years ago for various different reasons. It was refreshing to actually do something make or break and have it make, above and beyond expectations.

At the show I got to meet many people including the hottest ticket in the Bonsai world...Ryan. As per usual his demo was outstanding, sometimes I feel like just giving up after seeing him work but then...I know he represents a different school of thought to me and I am better at making a fool of myself drinking, which I did. There have been some character assassinating pictures on the net of my disgraceful behaviour and I guess this is the point where I should apologise for my shameful besmirching of the good name of British Bonsai.

But I can't see that happening. Roll on next year, I'm going to raise merry again.

Immediately after returning from Noelanders, Saruyama Towers moved...to a secret location with a small but perfectly adequate and secure garden. It was the first time I have ever moved house properly and it took far more effort than I expected. I did however realise just how many pots I have collected over the last few years...they came out from underneath the bed, the sofa, in cupboards, from the kitchen...as I keep telling myself, they are an investment. I will take some pictures at some point...but dont hold your breath.

The annual trip to Japan was immediately after the move, literally. Kokufu was a little earlier than usual this year and I won't lie, it was pretty awful. The location changed last year and this due to renovations at the museum and it is not a nice place. Akiyama and I got lost on the way there and were the last but one to set up the trees. Cue evil stares from those who put the ass in the Nippon Bonsai Association. The sales area was as always far more interesting and expectations were high as always, only to be dashed by an appalling first day which was followed by a daily grind through the week. There was a distinct lack of customers and especially foreigners. In total I must have seen around 20 over the week, and at times there were more foreign apprentices than visitors. I think this is down to the large numbers of visitors the Aspac and Taikanten last year...well I hope it was. I was kept fairly busy but for the first year in ages I barely had to do anything of an evening, so it was quite a relaxed kokufu...but cold. This last winter is Japan was cold, so cold that the Prunus were only just flowering at the end of February when I left...normally they are finished by Kokufu.

The situation at the Chiefs has changed dramatically of late, two of the apprentices quit at New Year and there are two new ones, one of whom was a trained chef and the son of an old school bonsai pro, the other a kid fresh out of uni. Fukita-san the eldest apprentice has also been helping out at the garden and will be for the next year at least. This makes for a very interesting dynamic as we have never really spent any time together and it was both difficult and relaxing for me to give up responsibility for the day to day running back over to somebody else when I have been doing it for the last five or six years. It was a good learning experience however and many tricks and tips were passed down.

It should also be noted that Yannick Kiggen, the young Belgian Bonsai artist whose help was incredibly well appreciated at Noelanders, came out to stay at the nursery for 10 days during kokufu. He was as popular with the Chief for his manly muscles as he was with the ladies. A bright future for the lad.

After Kokufu, the chief was away for the majority of the time and the hard work began, repotting half the nursery it seemed. On top of the normal work given by the chief "Do that one, that one and....just do them all", I had a lot of work from clients who always ask for me. Always nice but the work piled up and up until the last week where I was working until past midnight most days.

One tree I worked on was one I had been itching to work on for ages...

And a welcome return of a tree which featured on the blog a year ago...the Aozora of Uematsu-san although for some reason the pictures seem to have disappeared from the older pages.

More on both those trees next time...I have to sleep its 1am...