This month I am reflecting on what being a member of a bonsai club has meant to me. In previous blogs I mentioned my earliest clubnight attendances where some of my trees were critiqued and that I left feeling somewhat disheartened, but that how being thick skinned I continued to go return. I am pleased that I did.
(right): Our club’s display at the Bonsai Traders’ Association annual show at Elsecar, near Barnsley.
Club membership is not for everyone; there are certainly enthusiasts in all sorts of activities, not only bonsai, who never join a club. I, myself had been dabbling with bonsai for several years before I learned of the club’s existence and subsequently joined after attending a number of the club’s annual displays at a local garden centre.
So what have I gained by being a member of a bonsai club? I have met like minded people with the same interest, gained knowledge from some of those individuals and had the opportunity to see some interesting demonstrations. Most of all I enjoy the humour, discussion, shared experience and social side of club life.
I decided to become a committee member a couple of years ago as I thought that by doing so I can influence the direction of the club.
As I said above, my earliest visits to the club were a little disheartening and this was something which I thought could be changed for the better. Fortunately, our club chairman and other committee members are determined that the club should be welcoming to new participants and we strive to ensure that it is. We recognise that not everyone has the same levels of skill, quality of trees or available finance and we try to support this wide range within the club as well as trying to ensure that our meetings are informal and inclusive.
Interestingly I was recently shown a press article from ten years ago about the club in which some myths about bonsai were covered. One such myth is that bonsai trees are very expensive; of course they can be (top left) but equally they can be created from garden centre stock (top right), garden shrubs, cuttings or seeds (bottom left). I have a honeysuckle which I am training from a plant rescued from a skip! (bottom right).
As a small club, finances are always a consideration (just mention money to our treasurer) and in
order to supplement the club’s income from membership fees we have a monthly raffle
and a club shop from which we try to make a small profit and we hold an annual bring and buy sale. These activities mean that we can provide guest speakers more regularly than we otherwise could and our members readilly support these.
IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN BONSAI AND THERE IS A CLUB NEAR YOU, GIVE IT A TRY.
I have a book which I found useful when I first started bonsai: The Bonsai Year Book (Paul Goff, in association with the late Harry Tomlinson), which gives some guidance about bonsai activities throughout the year, referring to the seasons experienced in the UK.
The section for January is extremely short. There is no mention of repotting, pruning or wiring, although it is possible to do some work on conifers at any time of year!
So does that mean that there has been nothing for me to do in the past month? No! Our good old British weather had its own ideas, warm and wet followed by very cold frosts then warm and wet again, which has meant that I have had to monitor my trees quite closely as I am sure most bonsai enthusiasts have done. (If you haven’t, you should have!)
Fig 1: (right) Winter months are a good time for considering future design of trees so I have started to prepare for the coming year, making a list of those trees which will need to be repotted, or at least examined and considering some changes in design on some. In particular, I have been having a close look at some of my deciduous trees, such as the Acer shown at Fig 1, which has several branches crossing and the internodes which are long.
Fig 2: (left) Last month, I included a picture of a Lonicera which I rescued from a skip. I repotted it in spring last year and have let it grow since, this is one of the trees which I will further train in the spring.
I have moved some trees into winter protection; in my case that means the garage which I have used throughout the years that I have grown bonsai… not brilliant but the best I can provide. I have also moved some other trees into more sheltered positions in the garden to protect them from wind and excessive rain (too late for one of my trees, which was blown over smashing the pot. Never mind – some ‘super glue’ and an Irish mile of sticking tape later and it looks like it will survive until I replace the pot).
So what else have I been doing, ah yes, I found that it is twenty one years since our club was founded and decided that this milestone is worth some kind of recognition starting with an article in the local press (thanks to our club chairman, who corrected my spelling mistakes and grammar – (I must learn to proof-read things before he sees them).
As spring has arrived slightly earlier than expected, I have been able to carry out repotting of several trees as well as to start some restyling.
This has included a Scots Pine given to a neighbour some years ago and neglected since due to lack of knowledge. Almost two years ago I offered to attempt to rescue the tree which was severely pot bound and weak to the extent that I believed that it may not survive. However it has done so and I considered that it was ready for some restyling. Fig 1: (right) This is the tree prior to commencement of the work which involved lowering the apex and repositioning several branches.
Over the years I have predominantly carried out wiring using wire directly applied to branches. In the case of this tree, Figs 2 (above left) and 3 (right) I used that technique as well as the use of raffia to support some branches during bending, the use of tourniquets and a branch bending jack.
Over the coming weeks I will increase the tension on the tourniquets and the bending jack to create the basic structure for the tree.
The last month has really been somewhat mixed as far as my activity with bonsai was concerned.
Some of my flowering bonsai, such as this forsythia which is a plant seen regularly as a garden shrub around the UK, have come into flower and have subsequently been subjected to some strong wind and rain and as I write, are suffering the effects of a hailstone storm.
Early in the month I attended a workshop, arranged by our club with Corin Tomlinson at Greenwood Bonsai. I had intended to buy something to work on but I had also taken an Itoigawa Juniper for which I hoped to purchase a new pot to replace the broken pot in which it resided. (The gaffa tape with which the pot was held together was a source of some humorous comments).
I really did not recognise the work which Corin said the tree needed when he pointed out that the lower branches were much heavier than the ones higher up, of course he was correct.
Corin quickly identified some excess foliage which he removed and we discussed removing one of the three lowest branches, I was not sure about this and agreed to look at it after wiring the other branches. I subsequently had to agree with Corin that the branch was no longer needed and decided to jin it, although this may ultimately be a temporary decision.
Fig 1, left: front of tree before restyling.
Fig 2, right: Rear view of the tree. the now new front of the the tree, showing the newly jinned branch.
The uppermost area of the tree still needs further refinement which I will undertake in the coming weeks.
Like other bonsai enthusiasts, spring is a time of anticipation, hope and some times disappointment and May has been a month of wait and see how my trees grew as spring continued. As the month progressed I was somewhat concerned about a beech tree which had dropped quite a lot of its leaves at the start of autumn last year, which was unusual for the species and for this particular tree which I have had for about 16 years. (The tree holds some fond memories for me and my wife, since at the time I bought it as raw material from Willowbog Bonsai nursery, the only way I could transport it was to put it on my mother in laws lap in the rear of my car for a long journey home. Honestly, she really did not mind the inconvenience or being poked by branches at every turn or bump in the road).
Hopefully, my blog recounts some of the benefits of joining a club which includes not only learning from others but also the opportunity to do things you would otherwise not.
During 2014 the club had a talk and workshop with Steve Kitchman of China Mist Pottery during which we had the opportunity to make a slab, which Steve then took to his workshop and fired it etc. I had checked the roots for rot or disease at the time the leaves had curled up and dropped but saw no issues and hoped that as it had retained a small proportion of foliage it would recover. I repotted the tree in early April and was relieved during the third week of May when the buds started to swell. A number of small branches have died but the tree is otherwise looking okay.
I recently decided that I would use the slab to plant a group of small cotoneaster, which I had purchased last year at a local nursery at minimal cost as an experiment.
Remembering some of the things I had heard during a recent Corin Tomlinson demo at the club, I mounded the compost around the plants and spaced them so that all of the stems are seen. It won’t ever be a brilliant tree planting but I have enjoyed doing it and that is important to me.
I recently saw a wall plaque in a local garden centre with the following quotation, “Life is like riding a cycle, you have to keep moving to maintain your balance.”
This is true of any organisation, including bonsai clubs which need to ensure that they are inviting and interesting. Our club has a core of members which can be depended on to keep things going and a bit of light hearted heckling among ourselves helps to add some humour to our nights.
At our June meeting the recently elected Vice Chair (Ian) was taking charge of his first club night and prior to the meeting I was unloading my car, club shop, raffle, my trees, tools, etc., when he said he was nervous about critiquing members trees. I tried to reassure him and said he would be okay. On entering the meeting I saw three new faces attending the club for the first time which was great. Ian started the meeting and then announced that he was handing over to me to do a critique of trees. This was totally unexpected and I jokingly made a comment that he had ‘sloping shoulders’ which brought a round of laughter.
Realising that Ian needed support, I took over from him, addressing most of my comments to the newcomers, starting by saying that none of us at the club are experts, that we learn from each other and by our mistakes as well as speakers and workshops. I talked in general terms about some of the trees and basic principles of bonsai and gave a brief intro about tools, etc.
To finish I did a bit of pinching on a juniper, explaining the difference between pinching and pruning and that some practitioners (but not all) now promote pruning rather than pinching which was the recommended practice for many years. I accept that I still have a lot to learn and that the best person to talk about a tree is probably its owner, so I was happy to have Lindsay talk about two of the trees which he had brought along. I can only hope that the night was interesting.
Just as clubs need to progress, keeping a bonsai is ongoing. Earlier this year I included images of a Lonicera which I rescued from a skip; here it is again: it is starting to develop into quite a nice tree considering that it was destined for the local waste dump and importantly I am getting some enjoyment working on it.
Looking back to my first meeting and the comments which were made about the tree I had taken with me I realise how much being in the club has developed my knowledge of bonsai.
You can read as many books or watch as many videos as you want but in my opinion, there is no better way than being involved with a club.
My activity over the past month has been mainly around watering and feeding with a little bit of maintenance work on a few of my trees.
During the time that I have had an interest in bonsai I have become increasingly aware of the need to watch for insect infestation and disease during the summer months. This year I have had to deal with aphids infesting trees such as Acer, powdery mildew affecting Oak and wooly aphid affecting Crab Apple and other species such as Cotoneaster, and white fly infestation on beech in particular.
Last year one of my oak trees was badly affected by powdery mildew and Bill, one of the club members, advised me that I should treat the tree before the fungus took hold rather than wait until it was evident. Powdery mildew responds to fungicides and by following Bill’s advice by using early and repeated application of a fungicide and changing the location of the tree to provide better air circulation, I have reduced this problem this year compared to last. I have not yet rid the tree of the problem as can be seen in the image shown here but it is better than last year.
Wooly aphids are persistent little blighters getting into the smallest gaps between branches and leaves or buds and I control them by physical removal with a toothbrush. I have done so on three occasions so far this year which is an indication of their persistence but I will just keep going at them. Aphids are even more persistent and I resort to the use of insecticides in their control and this year my early use of an insecticide on the white fly on my beech tree has paid dividends and I’ve seen no further evidence of the little pests so far this year.
Previously I have covered the effect of leaf cutter bees and again this year I have seen evidence of their activity on roses and a field maple. These insects are rarely seen but while in the garden one evening I noticed a bee against a fence near to a rose, on looking closer I saw that it had a section of leaf which it was rolling. Needless to say it did not stay long enough for me to grab a camera, but it was fascinating to see.