In between Christmas and New Year of 2016 I took a trip to John Hanby’s bonsai nursery for his end of season sale. I didn’t go looking for anything in particular but when I got there I was tempted by a number of different trees. I spotted an Oak which I have had a hankering for for some time and that is the subject of another blog so please do have a look. I also spotted this decent sized Blaauws Juniper (see Fig. 1). I was happy to pay what John was asking for it, so along with my Oak, I came home that day with a silly smile on my face.
Now, whenever I buy a new tree I am never in a hurry to get it re-potted. That is, unless the soil is so obviously compacted or broken down it is serving no purpose other than keeping the roots covered. I always like to let a tree get established in our garden and used to its new surroundings before starting to do any work on it. I have found that all gardens can have very different micro climates. Our garden is quite heavily planted with numerous trees and shrubs of differing species. Because of this, it has quite a humid micro climate even in the heat of summer. I suspect having a large pond probably helps with the humidity as well!
Anyway, I stood it on a monkey pole and left it until the spring. She finally arrived a few months later and I excitedly saw my new Juniper begin to grow.
I love spring and all the magnificence and colour of new growth it brings. Seeing deciduous tree buds swelling until they finally burst under the pressure of the fresh new leaves that are tightly packed inside fills me with a sense of anticipation and wonder every year.
Junipers are not so exuberant with their spring growth, but as the growing season progressed I gave it a weekly drench of liquid seaweed and fertilised it every 4 weeks with organic fertiliser. It grew very well that first year and I was pleased with its progress.
Now, although I’m currently the chairman of the North East Lincs Bonsai Society one meeting a month didn’t satisfy my passion for all things ‘little trees’. So at the beginning of 2018, along with another of our members, I decided to join the Humberside Bonsai Society. They are relatively close by just over the Humber Bridge. It also occurred to me that being a member of both we could maybe, at sometime in the future plan some joint events together. We were made to feel very welcome and have made some good friends on the other side of the river. Anyway back to the subject in hand, my Blaauws Juniper. I decided to take it along to Humbersides March meeting in 2019 as I liked a Juniper that one of their members had styled. I was hoping to pick his brains as to what to do with mine. He and I wired it completely and gave it its first styling that day (see Fig. 2). In hindsight it wasn’t a great deal different from its original design! We did however, remove a reasonable amount of foliage to allow light and air to gain access to the inner parts of the branches so the tree could gain vigour. I continued with my fertilsing regime as per the year before but adding a spray foliar feed of liquid seaweed every 4 days. With all the extra light and air getting in and around the foliage pads it went mad becoming really bushy during the growing season of 2019 (see Fig. 3). As the year was drawing to a close I decided that this tree really needed a change of style as it was looking more like a garden bush than a bonsai with the way its branches and foliage were growing.
Now, a couple of friends from the North East Lincs Society and I have been attending John Hanby’s bonsai classes over the course of 2018/2019 and as one would expect the trees that John has had input on are in a much better place stylistically than the ones that haven’t. I’m able to provide their horticultural needs much better than I can style and as such need help from this side of the hobby. I’m not saying I can’t do it, but John is obviously considerably better at it than me and I suppose it’s like all things, the more you do it the better you get! I thought to myself, if I can learn from a professional, what better way to do it.
I stripped all the existing wire off and took it along to John’s class in the middle of December to discuss the design I had in mind. He said what I suggested wasn’t practicable because of where the existing branches are on the trunk. He made an alternative offering based on the placement of the branches as to what we could hopefully achieve. I liked his thoughts and asked if he could at this point remove any branches and foliage that he didn’t consider that he would need in the final design. It never ceases to amaze me how much more foliage bonsai professionals are prepared to remove than the owner of the tree would ever dream of removing! (see Fig. 4 & 5).
I took it home minus around 50% of its foliage and during the festive season I completely re-wired it from top to bottom ready for my next trip back to John’s. I spent around 3 days during Christmas and New Year applying the wire taking care to make sure wire was applied correctly and each branch had the correct size of wire on (see Fig. 6). No point in putting it on if it isn’t going to hold the branch when its bent or moved!
I returned to John’s class at the beginning of January and he set to work on its styling. The first thing he did was to mark out two long Shari down each side of the trunk (see Fig. 7). They started under the two main lower branches with foliage on and ran down either side of the trunk past the two lower branches which had been removed to add two small Jins to the lower trunk (see Fig. 4). He then marked the second apex at the back of the tree for another Jin along with a couple of smaller branches that would also be Jinned. He left me to remove all the bark from the Sharis and Jins whilst attending to other students on the class. Removing bark from Junipers is not as sticky as removing bark from Pines, but it comes in a close second and by the time he came back round to me I was in a right old sticky mess! No matter! It was a means to an end.
John set to work on manipulating the branches where he wanted them. He did point out to me that although my wiring was nice and neat I could have used the next size of wire on one or two of the heavier branches. There was me thinking I had done a good job! Still, teacher is there to teach and the student is there to learn. I will try not to repeat that mistake.
After a substantial amount of twisting branches and moving various pieces of foliage around John seemed to have reached that point in time where all bonsai professionals know when to stop bending and twisting.
He looked at me and gave a little wry smile and stated “Yes, I think we’re there with this one”.
I shut my mouth quickly as I had suddenly become very conscious that I was sat there with it wide open!!
For me, John really has captured a classic Japanese Juniper shape and I shall continue to give this tree the care and attention it deserves going forward.
From bush to bonsai in the masterful hands of Mr John Hanby
Thank you John.