My Bonsai Chronicle– A lot of this page consists of links to my news blogs at various times concerning my trees, new trees or progress reports. There are also some sections written solely for this page. Possibly tedious for some readers but mainly a record of my bonsai progress for my own reference
My Bonsai, what started it all off.
When I was only a little chap looking through the books in my father’s bookcase there was one of his gardening books which contained a fascinating minuscule photo which was referred to I think as a Dwarf Japanese Pine, a Bonsai, that was when I decided I wanted one. Many many years later my dear Wife Sue gave me a small Bonsai Acer which has long since departed I am afraid, with what I now know was probably Acer wilt.
That started me off though and during the the 1980s I started playing about with bonsai in a small way. Some trees were just seedlings that I started off or collected from the wild, some others were acquired from the widow of another bonsai dabbler. Some of those seedling have survived and are now small trees, others have failed and have taught me some hard lessons. Amongst those first trees were two Japanese Pines. One a Black Pine and the other a Japanese White pine. Sadly due to the pressure of work that followed running my own business for years they were greatly neglected and though kept alive were sorely left to their own devices and it is only now since I have shrugged off the responsibilities of a gallery, staff, PAYE returns Vat etc..etc. that I have been able to try and give them some of the care and attention that they deserve and sort them out a bit.
Both pines were in danger of fast becoming bushes and loosing their bonsai characteristics and now I am endeavouring to knock them back into some sort of shape, Pruning and wiring them and restyling both of them is proving to be a slow task and at certain times seems rather drastic but one hopes that the image one can see in ones mind will one day be accomplished.
You can see why so many artists take up bonsai, it is the same challenge of trying to create something beautiful, striking,elegant or interesting which started out as an image in the mind inspired by nature.
The 2014 Black Pine picture shows a tree which is looking better but has the cardinal bonsai sin of having a branch, the lowest one, coming almost straight out at the viewer and obscuring the good line of the trunk behind.
After lots of advice offered at the Bonsai Club I had joined I eventually plucked up courage and removed the second branch and wired the lower branch up and around to the left. Now I am just going to hope that I have done the right thing.
The club is the Taunton and Somerset Bonsai Club which meets once a month and has a small annual show usually in May at the Willowbrook Garden Centre near Wellington. Further details about the club can be found on it’s website. Newcomers are always welcome
Other trees from those early days include the following three which I started off as young seedlings in the years 1985-9 approx. So that means that they are either approaching thirty years of age or more.
The winter Silver Birch was chosen as First in our club Tree of the Month competition in March,mind you we had only just started that event, I was in the novices class and there weren’t many entries. It was a First later in the year in June when in full leaf.
Meanwhile what had happened to the other pine the Japanese White Pine? Well that as you can see from the first photo was well on the way to becoming a bush.The next photo shows it after a lot of work later in 2014.
Wiring a tree to style it involves bending special bonsai wire in spirals around the branch and then bending them into the shape you are striving for, alternatively wires can be used as sort of guy ropes to pull a branch one way or another. The things to avoid are very straight branches, branches that come out of the trunk at the same level, sometimes referred to as handle bars and whirls of new growth in pines have to be discouraged in order to try and emulate a mature tree.
Bonsai trees have to be re- potted fairly frequently, young ones generally yearly and older ones every couple of years or so with the exception of the pines which can be left longer.
As to the compost that they are planted in it is a subject of great debate among bonsai growers. In essence it must allow the tree to drain well and give the roots some room to breath so to speak. So one waters frequently and they drain fast. Liverwort growing on the surface is a sign of poor drainage. This task is done in early spring just before the buds burst.
In the past many people myself included used composts that were far too heavy, they retained too much water and compacted into a solid mass restricting the root’s efficiency.
You can buy special imported Japanese Akadama (not cheap) or like me follow the advice of bonsai guru Harry Harrington at Bonsai4Me who recommends Tesco’s Low Dust Light weight Cat Litter which is cheap and does the job well. On his website he has almost written a dissertation on the subject.
I used to add about 20% of pine bark to the cat litter but am not doing it so much now and from the picture of this Hawthorn you can see the healthy root growth from one year in that mixture.
those roots are then cut back, the tree does not need the long anchorage roots only the fibrous ones that do all the work taking in nourishment and in fact this tree went back into a smaller pot which was more correctly in proportion to the tree.
To make up for the anchorage roots it is often best to take some bonsai wire up through the drinage holes and through or over the roots and back down through another drainage hole and tie it off to secure the root mass in place whilst it gets re-established.
When I first re- potted one of my pines I was horrified to find that the roots were covered
with a type of fungus. Fortunately one of the books Sue had just given me banished my fears as it explained that this mycelium is really good for a healthy tree and when re- potting make sure to transfer some into the new compost.It can be seen easily in this photo of my Black Pine being re-potted.
Group Planting on a Slab
One of the things that I have long wanted to do with bonsai is a group planting, what one is trying to achieve with that is to create a cluster of trees such as one might see in the landscape of the countryside.
The great advantage of such a project is that it can be done with some really young specimens with trunks only a pencil or so thick and within a short time have a display that could easily be a scene in nature reminding one or say a group of young trees on a skyline. Such an accomplishment is possible at my age whereas I probably haven’t got the years ahead of me to embark on the cultivation of a great single specimen tree, that is something for the younger enthusiasts.
The drawback to starting this though was the price of the large rock like slabs that are needed to make the base.However I did a bit of research and set about making one myself.
Using Kiln Dried Sand in a large deep tray, I fashioned out the shape I had in mind and then lined the hollow with cling film to make it easier to remove my concrete. A mixture of fast drying cement and sand with some peat taking the part of some of the sand ratio, in the hope of making it a bit lighter. Making sure to leave two good sized drainage holes.
The Mark 1 version in the first picture broke soon after taking it out of the sand though I had laid 1″ chicken wire in the mixture for reinforcement. The Mark 2 had less peat in the mix worked quite well.
Before it set really hard I hollowed out the planting area with a painters scraping tool and made a number of small holes to take wires.
It then had to be weathered and cured so I left it over winter out in the elements which should have done the trick. Someone seriously suggested I submerge it in water and after a while add a goldfish which if it died would show that the slab was too toxic.
The trees for this planting were Acer Palmatum ‘Golden Dream’ which I had bought at our local Morrisons supermarket last May for about £3.5 or less each. The great thing about them was that they had been reared from seed or cuttings and had no ugly grafts which are often seen on trees costing considerably more than this.
The above planting was done on the 27th Feb as there were signs of the buds beginning to open a bit the following photo shows there is already some progress now four weeks later on the 25th March. I am looking forward to the summer now.
My Trees June 2015
It is always good to keep a photographic record in order to compare with previous years and in case of theft. So here are my June 2015 photos. I appreciate that some of them a hardly worth taking a photo of but if one records their early boring years then it is easier to note the differences as they mature or are re-styled.
September 2015 Tree Progress reports.
As the colour of autumn leaves appears on the trees I have taken some fresh photos to compare with earlier ones to see how well or how badly certain trees have done . These were posted on the blog so just check it out by clicking on above.
Many of the further articles, updates and reports on my Bonsai are via links to postings on my News Blog about my trees during the year.
Click here for progress report on the Acer group planting end Sept 2015
Click here for progress report on this Juniper
My smaller trees – Shohin Bonsai
Click here for this article on modest trees on modest means
From Novice to Advanced Class a gradual progression
Having done pretty well in the Club’s Tree of the Month Competition for a year I am now being pushed up into the Advances Class so there won’t be much chance for me there up among the big boys. See Really Pleased Dec 2015
Blog about the purchase of a Fuji Cherry starter tree in Jan 2016
Bare rooted bonsai starters
The purchase of some bare rooted stock Jan 2016
Progress Report on the Larches and details of two tree purchases
Larches and new trees update
I know I have already posted a picture of this Acer my Wife has given me but the way it caught the sun today made me feel that spring is really here at last
Bonsai Day Workshop
This month I attended an all day workshop organised by our club at Taunton I took along a few trees and benefited from the advice of Ade and Roger a couple of our club elders. Ade has compiled a report of the work done that day and it includes my White pine and Fuji Cherry
Link for Ade’s detailed report on the trees at the workshop
A Cheap Pair
Report on two modestly priced additions a young Hawthorn grown from self seeded sapling found in my daughter’s garden
Penny Pinching Pensioners supermarket purchase
June 1st 2016
A couple of pounds at Morrisons and now this
cascade pyracantha to show for it.
Anniversary Acer a whole progression article
From purchase in the spring to restyling and defoliation in the summer
Old ones and New Ones
12th August 2016
Including my new Wisteria my largest bonsai
and an update on some others.
Bonsai Progress Autumn
Larches on the Cheap
October 18th 2016
The progress of my bare rooted Larches purchased at the beginning of the year
Auction Acquisition – The progress of a Hornbeam
November 13th 2016
Bonsai Pot Project Continued
Craftsmen made Bonsai pots Dec 16th 2016
Bonsai Club Tree of the Month Competition 2016
Really lucky as having only moved up from the Novices Class a year ag I have won this years Advance Class for Taunton & Somerset Bonsai Club Tree of the Month Competition overall winner for the year. It all sounds rather impressive but it was more a matter of being an example of Aesops Hare and the Tortoise Race in that I run by steadily plodding along entering reasonable trees each month whereas some members had entered amazing specimen trees but only on odd occasions, so the steady plodder won.
Three new additions to the collection
December and Jan 2017
Tree of the Month Competition at Taunton and Somerset Bonsai Club
Purely due to the fact that one other tree,which should have won with ease, was so badly displayed on the night I won the Advanced Class with this Juniper Cascade that I have worked on for many years.
To look out of the window at this Wisteria every day at the moment really cheers one up
My Juniper Project
This link brings progress on this project up to March 2017