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

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...



  1. I have still never succeed to grow a bonsai...

  2. Hi Peter!

    When You pass over there in Oporto again, please contact we have here a local Bonsai Club with good people and I will be very happy to chat a little and show the city! This Year we will have the Portuguese congress here in Oporto!

    Many thanks and best regards,

    Mário Eusébio