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

Friday 29 March 2013

A first but yet another...

WTF moment this year...continuing the unpredictable weather and the frankly appalling conditions in which to try and cultivate bonsai, I was mildly shocked yesterday morning when I got back at 5 a.m from a long drive back from Cornwall. Having spent three days in the company of Marcus Watts, talking bonsai, fishing and fertilising, I drove back for a day at home where I thought I could get some stuff done. First job is to always go out and check on the kids, and despite the weather, they were fine. The polytunnel was a toasty 0.3 degrees C, which isn't an issue, but by torch light I found these critters all over my deshojo maples, and starting o have a go at a few other trees.

I could barely believe my eyes, 0.3 degrees and aphids all over my tender shoots. After rubbing my eyes to make sure I wasn't seeing stuff, I went to bed for a few hours before coming down to sort them out.

Using a polytunnel or green house is fast becoming an essential part of bonsai in the UK and for many of youze lot around the globe. For those in warm climates who don't need one...aren't you lucky. One of the problems with using such a contraption and creating an unnatural micro climate and then cramming trees in there is that problems can and will arise. Insects will wake up early and fungal spores can spread like wildfire. What can be done then?

Prevention is better than cure, especially as we are hamstrung by Defra in terms of effective chemicals over the counter, so Provado is your best friend. It is a systemic pesticide, which means it gets into the system of the tree and works from the inside out. Any critters who start to suck sap, take a dose of poison with it and then shuffle off this mortal coil. So, how do we get this into the system? Spraying on the leaves won't work because there aren't any...so we must use a root drench. The most effective way of using Provado is to dunk your trees, pot and all into a bath of diluted Provado and allow the soil to absorb it, subsequently the roots will suck it up and we are all systems go. If this is impossible then make up a watering can full, or a sprayer or whatever and carefully drench the soil. This should prove effective for 6 to 8 weeks, which will see you through the spring period when aphids et al. tend to attack. A trusted source (Ken Leaver, nurseryman extraordinaire) assures me it is good all year round. Most trees will benefit from it, although there are some which are much less likely to be affected by insects.

Curing trees with infestations is more difficult, as contact killers are less available. Pyrethrin is your best bet in the UK, although it is unstable in sunlight and high temperatures so be careful in storing it and also the time of day you spray it. I have some and some ahem...slightly err...older chemicals stockpiled, so I can kill them. Which is hopefully what I did yesterday. I sprayed the tops with Pyrethrin and did the roots with Provado, so next time I see the trees, they should be ok.

Fungal issues are also a major, major concern for polytunnel users. Moist conditions, stale, stationary air and higher temperatures = fungal heaven. Preventative spraying of fungicides is recommended from whenever the temperature inside gets above 10 degrees. Also ensuring airflow with either a fan or opening the doors, will help. When you water the trees, don't water the foliage unless it will have a chance to dry out before the temperatures drop of an evening. Spraying pines once a month between now and august/september with two different fungicides will help if you suffer from any needle cast or more serious fungal issues. Try not to get too much in the soil if you can, but a little will not be of any harm. Alternate between two products, the only two out there. Always check the active ingredient and do some research online if unsure.

For those who are totally organic and want to use soaps and oils and stuff, then by all means do. I live as much in harmony with the environment as I can, but no masterpiece bonsai in Japan ever got that way with Neem Oil. Sorry...

Health and Safety warning. Be careful with chemicals. Mask, gloves, goggles. Measure the concentrate and do exactly as instructed on the tin. Do not spray in the direct sun (ha!) or wind as this reduces effectiveness and gets all up in your face, leading to spluttering and a nasty aftertaste and potential reduction in male sperm count...for blokes obviously. If you look at the dodgy scientific facts, almost all bonsai masters who are careless with their chemicals...they all have daughters. The Chief, 3 girls, Reg Kimura, 2 girls, Akiyama, 2 girls...the list goes on. Me? Well no nights at home = no girls.

I'm now halfway through the spring season and only got a few more hectic weeks ahead. I'm off to Athens next week and I am truly truly looking forward to it. I may even get chance for a little bit of sunshine.


Tuesday 26 March 2013

What to do with the endless winter?

Apologies for the long delay, I'm sure many of you got used to regular blog posts. Well you should know by now that I am as reliable as the British weather. Sometimes good, invariably dodgy.since the last post I have been clocking up the domestic miles with trips up and down the UK. A workshop up at willowbog and a trip down to the very successful exhibition Shohin UK down near Bristol, sandwiched by working with a number of clients, days repotting in the cold and nights wiring trees and trying to stay awake in hotel rooms. Still it's been fun and some good trees have been worked on. More on that if I get the chance.
The main reason for writing is to belatedly mention the need for extra special attention to your trees because of the weather. Extreme weather conditions are hitting us all over the UK and now trees are waking up despite the freezing cold and bitter winds. Why? Daylight hours. As the days get longer the trees think, well now is normally the time I would wake up and grow...sadly the arctic winds and freezing temperatures have a different effect on trees, especially the tender new growth of deciduous trees. Make sure that all your trees are out of the wind as much as they are protected from the cold. A freeze on those tips and a years growth is lost, resulting in a weakend tree and branch faliure.
What kind of a knock on effect does this have? Combined with last years poor summer and long dark winter, all of our trees are in a state of misery. Like me, they need sunshine, they need warmth and they need a rest. Do not expect to be able to do the same to your trees this year as you did last year, or five years ago. Take your foot off the pedal a little this year otherwise it could be a little too much.
Rather than investing in another new tree or a new pot, perhaps now is the time to start looking at grow lamps for the winter. Those of us who them will swear to their effectiveness and the difference they make to the trees. Combined with an insulated polytunnel or green house and undersoil and frost pritection heating, these are fast becoming essential elements in the arsenal of any serious enthusiast in the UK. More on this in the autumn.
I despair at the weather but not at the enthusiasm of the bonsai community. The recent Shohin show was very well attended and supported because it was well planned, organised and executed. My congratulations to the Coopers and Bob Bailey for putting on a great show, perhaps next time for the whole weekend? The thing that struck me was the positive atmosphere in the air, there were no people strutting around complaining or tearing others displays and trees to pieces, just a group of like minded people enjoying it. Good stuff.
Anyway, its midnight, I should be asleep...and for once it isn't me asleep on the sofa...
Resting up before the big EBA new talent battle next weekend, it's Marcus Wattzzzzzz
Inside and towards a heater people...

Friday 15 March 2013

Meeting an old friend...

One of the benefits of my recent trip to Spain was to meet an old and dear friend of mine, although it was a little painful, with a deep sense of regret and remorse. It was like running into an ex girlfriend who you were just about over, but in reality you would jump straight back into bed with, relive the old times and then feel dirty in the morning. What or who could induce such emotions in a grown man? It could be said that we are at our weakest when in love and I have evidence of this...

I tried to play it cool and pretend that I didn't want to run my fingers through her foliage and breathe deeply her fragrant scent, and after a day of denial, I gave in to her siren like calls and brought her to the work table. It is times like this where my pseudo-buddhist leanings of not becoming attached to material things is seriously tested. I don't care for many objects and possessions, but there are some which I covet.

As things stand with this tree, there is very little to be done other than let her grow to recover. Last year it was transplanted and pruned a little too hard and as such it has suffered. The trick with Rosemary, as with most women, is to not beat down on them too hard. They respond well to compliments, encouragement and a gentle hand and so they are the polar opposite of the majority of trees which are used in European bonsai and definitely not a tree for macho, macho men without a sensitive side.

Thankfully however, the tree, which is still, and always has been, awesomely strong, has recovered well and is growing all over, and most importantly even the internal branches are growing. She was due for a slight redesign in a few years anyway as the external branches are getting coarse, thick and old, so it needs a prune back and redevelop from youthful shoots. Not today however, just a tidy up, remove dead branches and thin out anywhere super dense.

It needs to grow to put on some highly photosynthetic young foliage or it will run out of energy. After getting back into a positive net energy state then we can look at pruning back hard and asking weak branches to become the new leaders. One of the tricks to getting and keeping them growing is to...come to a workshop and I will tell you...or quite simply, use some common sense and never stop it totally from growing and drawing water and nutrients to the tips. Growingtips people, growing tips. I have said it beforeand I will say it again. Doing bonsai is fairly logical really. There is no mystery or magic to the technical side of it, just an application of common sense and understanding objectives, plants and stuff like that.

The mystery and the magic come from falling in love....

Tis better to have loved and lost,than to have never loved at all...

The after shot...or is it the before shot? There was hardly any noticeable difference but it was sweet relief to play with her again, and the memory remained long after reminding me that Beth Orton once sang, "And I can still smell you on my fingers and taste you on my breath... "

I need a cold shower...

Well that wraps it up for a while...im already on the road around the uk, working night and day to bring bonsai of dubious quality to the world. Next stop Willowbog!


Disclaimer. I am not in any way implying that Willowbog are purveyors of anything but bonsai of the highest quality. In fact undoubtedly I will walk away with another random purchase...and then in the cold light of morning, it all goes a bit Gregory Mitchell...


Wednesday 13 March 2013

Twisted and exposed...

Well it seems as if the last post got a lot of people commenting. Thanks for that, it is always nice to receive compliments but I will just say that I don't take them well. Never have done...I think I may have a masochistic streak in me.  I would also like to point out that if I am not careful, then I am at risk of becoming the king of monkey mountain. God forbid I start listening to the praise and then start strutting around like cock of the walk at shows. Quick, someone make fun of me for being overly pretentious or messing around with cheap trees....anyway thank you for the continued reading and for reaffirming me that maybe I should continue to drivel on...so back to the post...

Twisted and exposed root Black Pines such as this are not overly common in Europe, so it was a pleasure to do a little work on this one, especially as it appeared to be a black pine grafted onto white pine root stock,something I have never seen before. I may be mistaken but there is a definite change of bark texture half way along the contorted trunk of this tree belong to a client. I had seen it a few years back and liked the unusual nature and so this time I got permission to work on it as it was getting a little out of control. Not massively, but on the verge of becoming a serious problem with some weak areas which would be beyond saving if not looked at soon.
As usual when working on a tree that isn't mine, I began with asking what the owner saw in it, then made some suggestions based on what I saw, what they saw and any other valid options there may have been.

This side gives us a compact, more Japanese looking tree...
With such a unique shape, finding the right possibility proves more difficult than with a more regular piece of material. Considerations than must be taken are not only the lines of the roots, trunk and branches, but also the health of the branches with a view to how likely they are to grow and be healthy. There is no point basing a design around a branch that has little likelihood of surviving. When developing a tree, balanced growth is by far the easiest to manage and so achieving that should be one of our first goals. If one branch on the tree is weaker or more vigorous than the other ten branches, then by the time the unbalanced branch is "finished", the other ten branches will be too coarse or still too young respectively. How is this achieved? Balance vigour in roots, foliage and bud density. Be a socialist and assist the weak by taxing the strong.

With this tree, the lowest branch was weaker because of a lack of sun and aggressive needle reduction and candle cutting in previous years.
Here it is after having been rough wired and pruned. Given the ability of the owner and the environment, and should the correct course of action be taken, namely do nothing for a year to that branch but allow it to grow, then chances of survival are high. In which case, using such a branch for design purposes is valid.
The discussion process revolved around what the objective was, and how quickly it would be ready to show. Such a tree is ideal for the kifu size category and would be a certain head turner at the Noelanders trophy. With size considerations not much of a problem, as it fit easily in 35cm, it would be a case of do we make it small, compact and dare I say, Japanese-y, or do we go for a little bit more dynamic, stretched out and less compact. I refrain from saying European or Western, because the opposite of the Japanese compactness is not by default Western, as there are plenty of ridiculously compacted trees in this part of the world. For true dynamic trees, look to China and some of the funky stuff they are creating now. Anyway, I digress.
This side would give a more dynamic, tree, especially if tipped up like so.
The decision was made to create a more dynamic tree, using the weaker branch. In the back of my mind I decided to have an insurance plan for the possibility it went tits up on the weak branch and so, kept the back side, the Japanese-y side, a possibility with a little tweaking.
The problem of the competing sides and apexes (apices?) was solved with some pruning, and the branches rearranged and tweaked with minimal wiring. All of the branches were weakened due to candle cutting and lack of bud selection, so there were three of four small buds at one node across most of the tree and so I refrained from over wiring the tree. Given time schedule for it, there was no need. A year or two to set main structure, first year selective candle cutting on strong areas only, second year complete candle cutting and then refinement wiring
First styling. It looks even more dynamic from 5, 10 degrees further round to the left but I'm not a very good cameraman...only one major branch was removed around the base, this opens up some space to see the roots and also the main branch which is currently lying on the soil surface.
The back side, which given a tweak and the removal of the weak branch, plus a load others at the back, would make a super compact tree. I prefer the first front to this one, this would just be a blob of green on a twisty trunk, whereas the first and true front has some space and undulations in the foliage.
So in short...erm, think long term.

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Operatic inspiration

After the train ride which almost turned into a disaster as I was engrossed in a very moving book, "A life too short", and almost missed the fact that I had to change trains; I arrived on time at my final destination where I spent the weekend with the owner of some outstanding trees who had asked me to give him a hand with one tree in particular. I don't usually like to show off too much, but earlier this year a good friend told me (in this edited version) to "stop messing around with little trees and show off a little", so after the recent bargain basement trees, here is a slightly more impressive one just to show that I do work like this and try and dispel the rumour that certain people still like to try and promote...although nothing will stop the insecure from trying.

I think that it is fair to say that one of the big differences between Japan and the west is the ability to refine trees to a high level. The creativity that exists in the west is outstanding, and if most of us are honest with ourselves, there is much more enjoyment in creating from raw material rather than the slow progression of subtle improvement such as the five years it takes of careful defoliation and detailed branch selection to create ramification on a deciduous tree for example. We want the immediate rush of creation, not the tedious work of refinement. This is why there is a relative lack of truly refined trees in the west, we are too quick to redesign, prune back too hard, remove a trunk simply for the sake of doing something.
Refinement of trees takes a certain amount of suppression of ego and that desire to redesign. This is something I talked about in an article way back when in Bonsai Focus where I styled a literati taxus. There was a deliberate and conscious attempt to not redesign the tree, but to create the foliage pads in a way that would in three years become refined and easy to manage. Not glamorous work, but essential for creating mature looking trees, and that was the brief with this picea abies.
It had been styled a few times by the owner and had some major work done to it to bring branches down, apex up and back, but the final stages were proving elusive. How to bring maturity and a sustainable branching structure which would be pinched and pruned into becoming a developed tree. This is achieved by careful selection of branches and shoots, wiring where necessary and maximising the volume covered by the foliage in a natural way. This means no "tako-zukuri" or made like an octopus but rather using branches which move in a spruce like way, fairly straight, but give a sense of balance and perspective to the composition.
I won't go into the ins and the outs too much here because I only have another 20 minutes until we start to descend and to be honest, it takes too long and I notice that people prefer short blog posts, not the lengthy prosaic text which I have a tendency to write. What I will say is that the result came after a good day of listening to opera at high volumes and occasionally helping out with the repotting of some monster trees.
"And the monkey's getting grimmer, But his his eyes are on the ground, He's just hanging around..."
This is why I like medium sized trees. Reminds me of the Herniator, but that is another story...
Anyways, after a day of listening to opera and wiring, something which I haven't done in an age, the results were pleasing to the owner, and I must admit, I enjoyed it.
It is difficult to get the best angle and front, but for a tree of this size it is important that it isn't created with just one specific front and angle in mind, the two levels will be viewed almost independently, so height is a consideration. It is a big old tree. One thing that surprised the owner a little was the fact that I pulled up the apex of the second tree rather than squeezing it down, as he had been doing. When you have such a tree, with two very distinct sections, there needs to be some kind of connection between the two. With this tree, the cascading branch suffers a little from a lack of interest, the dead wood is poor in comparison to the gaping wound above it or the base of the trunk. As such our eye is unlikely to leave the interesting mid section and drop down to the lower section, so creating a large apex down there and attempting to bring it up a little was my solution.
All in all a very pleasant weekend passed and there are a few more posts about some trees to come, however I did develop a liking for the lyricism of Opera and found it pleasing to work with, however I felt a little like Morgan Freeman in the Shawshank Redemption...
I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I’d like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can’t expressed in words, and it makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a great place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man felt free.
It has been a while since I sat down and styled out a tree, this was a rare and refined pleasure for me. Subtle changes which will hopefully take this tree to higher and farther places. The work required to take it there from here is just as difficult as the intial styling but requires less creativity and more logic, more observation and more dedication. I'm hoping the combination of my refinement knowledge and experience and the initial styling ability of the owner will create some impressive trees in the future.

Monday 11 March 2013


This was written and supposed to be uploaded last friday but I entered a wifi wilderness...and to be honest it was quite pleasant...

A terribly ham fisted title, but I struggled to think of anything else. Today, after a week at home dealing with various domestic and vehicular problems, tidying up the garden and doing some repotting of my own trees, I find myself in Porto, having spent a few hours walking around the city. I'm now knackered, my back aches and I wish I had stayed at home for a few more hours. I'm on my way to a private client in Spain, close to the border with Portugal and as direct flights were a pain, having to change in Madrid and not good from a timing perspective, I have flown to Porto and will get the slow train up. It all sounds very romantic and wonderful but to be honest I have spent the day half in a state of pleasant surprise at the architecture and faded, almost wabi-sabi glory of a what was once a thriving err..port, and half in wondering if I will be able to repot all the trees later in the season. The weather in the UK is turning cold again, so after a few days of spring, we are moving backwards. Next week I am out on the road pretty much until the end of april, so my own trees will wait I guess. Hold on for a just a little while longer...

That said, I am looking forward to the slow train journey as I am a bit of a train geek. Not in the sense of standing on Doncaster platform with a flask and a notebook, but there is something quite pleasant about being on a train. Not having to worry about driving, looking out at the world slipping by and enjoying the journey. One of my dreams is to travel across America by train, although having done it in a truck and seeing the vast swathes of flat wilderness, maybe I will reconsider. The trans-siberian express was a vodka and borsch fuelled mess back in the day, although it was during a drunken haze on the train that I decided once and for all that I would return to Japan and become an apprentice, so maybe long train journeys are not such a good thing. Too much time alone with myself.

This week I did spend a day with the first person I ever met in Japan from the UK bonsai scene and who has become both a friend and a good client/student, namely Les Storey. We met late one day in 2003 when I was still a fresh young apprentice at Shunkaen. He was on a teaching trip and I was still eager, full of enthusiasm and had a head of hair. Since then he has been a close friend and has done his best to support me and the bonsai scene in general. This time it was a general tidy up of his trees, preparation for the upcoming shohin show and setting a few new bits of material off in the right direction.

Continuing the theme of cheap and cheerful bonsai, I was very pleased with Les (and angry at myself for not spotting it sooner) when he purchased a small chojubai at the Noelanders Trophy earlier this year. It was a rough piece of material, but had great potential and Les had spotted it. A great purchase for only €50 from Ken Leaver, who you can always rely on for good stock at ridiculously low prices. Personally, I would have snapped this up for more than 50, as within a few years of not too difficult work, this will become an exhibition quality tree. I would like to think that in some way Les has listened to what I have said over the years, but seeing as he always complains that I mumble and he can never hear me, I doubt that I have had much influence.


Here it is from one side....

And from the other.

Now after writing this and bigging up the tree to make the transformation sound so great, I just realised that I don't have an after picture. You should think yourself lucky I took some before ones. Anyways, the tree turned out great and I'm sure Les will furnish me with an after picture if I ask nicely. Watch this space.

And as if by magic...Les sent me this earlier...cheers.

So you can see there is great potential for a little shohin in there. Chojubai are quick to develop and respond well to defoliation and pruning. Couple of years and it will be well ramified, full of flowers and the ideal accent tree in a larger display.

He did furnish me with some pictures with a wonky background of two deshojo maples that we worked on. Remember just over a year ago I helped Zac with potting up some field grown deshojo's? Well they all grew like Billy-o and after leaving them a year to put on a lot of roots and develop some strong branches, it was time to go back and make some styling decisions. Now if you think I have a wonky eye, Les took these pictures and bear in mind he has had eye surgery last year and just had them lazered again...

This is tree one before...a twin trunk with strong movement to one side. A straight section in the upper trunk on the second tree, a strong root at the front and the relationship between the two trunks will play the largest part in the styling decisions, so it was turned around to give the best trunk lines, and the branches played right into our hands. The strong root comes directly out to the viewer, but with a little work, this can be reduced and so as I believe Meatloaf once said, Two out of three 'aint bad. I'm not au fait with the back catalogue of the hairy behemoth of rock, so apologies if I'm wrong, in which case two out of four is distinctly average.

The after shot. No wire was placed on the branches as they were still very brittle, being at the end of dormancy and also they are going to be cut back to the first node anyway. When allowing maples to grow rapidly, the internodal distance increases to an unusable length, so branches which were not only positioned well, but also had a short first node length were chosen. After another burst of growth to heal the new wounds in the apex and add a bit of girth to the branches, they will be cut back and new shoots then controlled by pinching will form the secondary branch structure. Although we still suffer from a little straightness in the top section of the taller trunk, given time and thickening on one side, this will soften. One of the most important jobs this year will be to ensure that we don't get growth where we don't want it. There will be masses of new shoots coming from the trunk, from the nodes where existing branches are and from around wound sites. It is imperative that these are removed as soon as possible, so it will be a weekly task to remove these as soon as they develop. If not, we will end up with a tree that looks like the before picture again and create new scars. Energy and resources will also be channeled away from where we want it to be. Little and often. Little and often.

Tree two provides us with another multiple trunk situation.

The biggest issue with this tree is the thickness of the secondary trunk to the right compared to the main, taller trunk on the left. The strongest line is definitely on the right. We had a little discussion with regards to this tree and I'm not too proud to admit that my first impressions with this tree were wrong. Having to make snap decisions can be difficult and often you can miss out an obviously better tree, especially if you stick to your guns. Asking Les what he saw in the tree, he saw a much smaller tree than I did. I tend to favour taller elegant deciduous trees and I was all in favour of keeping the taller trunk as all as possible. After a coffee break in which we discussed options and Les was quite in favour of reducing it much further than I was, I looked again at branch placements and decided that he was right and I was being a little too rigid in trying to keep it tall. Although cutting it back further adds another year to the development in terms of thickening up the new leader, it will make a better, more compact tree.

There is still a lot to work on but the bones of the tree are there. This is what searching for good material consists of, looking for good bones...a term which I have picked up from Japanese and struggle to translate other than directly. "Hone ga ii" is often said about a badly styled tree or a piece of raw material which looks poor at first glance but actually has the fundamental structure required for making a good, if not world class bonsai. It is relatively easy to take a styled tree and make small improvements, equally it is very difficult to take a styled tree with bad bones and make it superb. Developing your eye to search for good material requires patience and the purchase of a lot of bad material first, but there are shortcuts, such as asking somebody who has a good eye to help you get good material. This is where developing a long term relationship with a professional whose tastes match yours comes into play. (This is turning into a sales pitch)

Long term planning in logical stages and finding good material is the bread and butter of bonsai and it is something that I suggest for all. Even if these two deshojo's take twenty years to reach fruition, that time will not be wasted, and even if you are not around to see it, somebody will. Just think about all the styled trees you have in your own collection, somebody, somewhere started those off on the path that these trees have been set along. Technical ability will widen the scope of what is possible and so the more technically proficient you become, the more possibilities will arise and what at first seems like a tree with a 90 degree bend bought at a car boot sale becomes a respectable looking literati tree.

Anyway, we have departed so I shall sit back and enjoy the view...

Its supposed to improve as get out of the industrial wastelands...


Tuesday 5 March 2013

Un week-end de vin alimenté

Or for those linguistically challenged...a wine fuelled weekend...thankfully it was not down my gullet.  No alcohol for the monkey at the moment, despite everyone pushing me to drink.

The club I was working with was quite an old club, Bonsai Pont du Jour based in Issy les Moulineaux, on the  south western outskirts of Paris.  Like most of French bonsai, it is very well organised, and there were some aspects that I thought very well thought out.  A detailed schedule, regular workshops and a club policy of buying the same tree for each member to work on throughout the year so that a species or a technique can be investigated in detail just being two of them.

As you can see from the programme, a lot of thought has gone into it.  This is the polar opposite of any club that I would create, so it is good to see how the other half lives.  French Bonsai in general is very well organised with a strong association which organises exhibitions and pulls in a general direction as opposed to being pulled in all directions by personal politics.

I was a little nervous about having to speak French, but as it turned out, everyone spoke English and so my rusty A-level french did not get an outing, although I understood 50% of the conversations.  My thanks go out to
Vincent Bobée who not only helped organised it all, but sacrificed working on his own trees to translate.  I think by the end of the first day he was more tired than I was.
There were too many trees to go into loads of details, plus I only took a few random pictures, so hey, what do you expect..so thanks to Sébastien Coulon and Joseph Lebrave for sharing their photos.

The weekend started with me talking for ever and a day about the trees.

One of the club trees, a taxus purchased from nursery stock and worked into a very convincing bonsai, which was only changed slightly.  Creation of the foliage pads through layering was the main theme.

A collected Pinus Sylvestris which was styled(and owned)  by the president, Francois.  It turned into a very french tree, as we kept the lower branch, creating an F, although there is a problem with the balance of t hetree which could be solved with a unique pot, but that depends a little on the root structure, so we gave ourselves options.

Here I suggest some improvements to the pot design by Francois.  A little more space under the heel of the pot, and a lower toe section.

A juniper picked up from Ginkgo, Poor foilage type but an interesting trunk that with a change of angle would make a great kifu sized tree. 
Something along those lines.  We repotted it but the roots were dry, compact and 75% dead.  Fingers crossed.
Creating a shari on a juniper, courtesy of the Bonsai Focus video , so at least some people are watching it.

Oh yes. Check out the branch on that.  if only there was some way of keeping that....
A big feature of the weekend...food glorious food.  I didnt take a picture of the wine, but there was plenty drunk at lunch time.  I cannot drink and bonsai, especially if I am on duty so I did not partake. Plus I'm off the booze. and cheese. and bread...

Although it was a large group (14), and it was difficult to get around to everyone, all members were on the ball and if they didnt have anything to do, they would be listening in, and following the other work going on.  Made a difference to those workshops where people just sit and wait for me to do everything, and sit chatting about nonsense all day long.

All in all it was a great workshop and although I didn't have any before and after pictures, some great trees were improved, and some raw material styled.  One tree in particular struck a chord, and that will come up again soon...a youthful tree with a youthful styling. Something I am really into at the moment.

Hopefully I will have the chance to go back to Paris again, but hopefully a little information has been passed on and those people can take their trees to a new level...onwards and upwards.

Saturday 2 March 2013

To Paris and beyond...

After half a day at home where I managed to spend a day and seemingly achieve nothing but a load of washing and picking up a new bed (my non bonsai reward for kokufu), it was an early start to catch the train to Paris. Im doing a workshop here for the first time, so there is a little bit of nerves beginning to creep in, but that is mainly due to my French ability. Although I studied it to A-Level, whenever I attempt to speak, it comes out in Japanese. Still we shall muddle through somehow.

I came early so I could spend half a day in Paris looking at stuff. Most people would go to museums and see works of art but I tend to start walking in one direction, then change if some back street looks interesting.It can lead to some interesting discoveries and also some back water scary high rise housing estates in Stockholm. This time it was a city I know relatively well and I walked and I walked. I think the most impressive thing I saw was this.

It was worth the trip just to see that. Pure genius.

I also saw an interesting pruning/planting arrangement in the gardens near the Louvre...

Plant trees in squares, then cut them into squares. The precision of the tops reminds me of the bottom of some foliage pads on Junipers that you see in exhibitions. Now I see where it comes from. Maybe I should make a group planting like that...and if anyone questions it, just whip out the picture and say " well, you see it in nature", because that is the stock answer when criticised.

Other sources of inspiration included lamp posts....

And furniture shops...

Not sure what it is, but I want it...

Loving the texture on the wood. Could almost imagine a tree cascading down from on top of it...or perhaps even half way down.

The Japanese mentality, for better and for worse, to do one thing only, but to do it with such intensity and focus that the everything else becomes out of focus, outside of the minute world in which you exist. To achieve full mastery of a practice, be it bonsai, kendo or carpentry; the practitioner must do that and that alone for a lifetime. I understand that this is absolutely necessary, I experienced the learning curve during my time in the dark place, but at the same time, I can see the potential damage that it can bring by failing to see the bigger societal picture. In the modern world, and this equally applies to Japan, it is essential to move with the times and to utilise modern practices, modern ways of communicating and new ideas. The Nippon Bonsai Association doesn't have a website or facebook presence to speak of and then it wonders why there are no young people getting involved. The first port of call for anyone searching for someone is now the internet.

The question I ask myself is, how much time should I devote solely to the pursuit of bonsai? Should I make room for other things such as a social life or is the path to true enlightenment one of dedication and sacrifice? It is not good to be a jack of all trades and master of none, but if I don't look to other fields, to other walks of life for inspiration and guidance, then what I do could very easily become irrelevant. We claim in the bonsai world that what we do is an art, and proudly call ourselves artists. Yet we do not exhibit in the same way as other artists, we do not ask an art appreciating audience to judge our works as pieces of art, so in the modern world, can we claim such a thing?

Looking back throughout history however, the literati painters/scholars who achieved the dizzy heights of true genius where those who rejected their contemporary worlds. They became hermits living in the mountains, getting drunk and just doing what they did, but doing it and doing it and doing it well until the actions just flow through you in a state of mindlessness. This for me is the path to achieving a zen like state. A word or a concept which has become so badly distorted from the reality of the situation because of the post war disneyfication of Japan and the modern buzzword phenomena. I didn't realise at the time, but one of the reasons I love Ronnie O'Sullivan so much is because he had moments of being in a zen like state, the effortless 147 break in next to no time being the pinnacle of it. For those of you who don't know anything about snooker, it's like pitching a no-hitter, only throwing strikes. For those of you who don't get either of those references, you have reached a state of blissful ignorance.

Getting back on track, striking the balance between external influences and becoming distracted by them is the challenge for myself and to a few others I'm sure.

I'm tired so I will sign off. Thanks for all the comments of late. I flicked a switch that allows anonymous comments, but if you don't put your name, I may think its my mum trying to boost my publicity.