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I’ve been trawling through some of my old photos lately, pictures of previously sold or styled bonsai or trees that I’ve worked on over the years.

It’s been good to look over them with a fresh set of eyes, noticing all the mistakes, problems and weaknesses. Trees that I was once proud of now show bare my shortcomings during that period.

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A tree I styled almost 10 years ago while in Japan in 2007. When cleaning the foliage I was overly keen on stripping old growth from the first branch, leaving it weak, and was reprimanded accordingly. I didn’t do that again.

Some of those trees still bare signs of those errors years later and it will take many more years to correct them. It is a good reminder of just how far my skills have improved over time and how this art we pursue is an ever evolving learning process.

Just when you think you think you are getting a handle on what it is you are doing, a new avenue of possibility opens up and challenges your understanding.

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A huge flat bottom pad. I would approach that differently these days.

The beauty of bonsai is that the trees we work on evolve over time along with our skills, vision and understanding of the art. Your actions on the tree, right or wrong, shape both the bonsai and yourself.

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I was overly concerned with needle length over health and candled pruned when I shouldn’t have. It set this tree back years and is only really just getting back into it’s rhythm again 5 years later.

There are trees that I have worked that have shaped the way I look at bonsai as much as I have shaped them. I am constantly challenged and surprised by trees I see which keeps the art fresh and engaging.

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I tightened the bends in the deadwood, leaving it less interesting than when I begun.

I’ve enjoyed digging back through time in this way and I look forward to gazing back in another few years time and seeing how my understanding of the art has once again changed, improved and ultimately furthered my approach to creating bonsai.

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The idea of using Australian native plants as bonsai has been gaining momentum over the last few years. Bonsai growther in Australia are very excited about developments and experiments with various local species to the point where dedicated native bonsai clubs have been established.

This is all good news in my books. We have a great range of interesting plants and while I personally think that many that are used as bonsai currently are not ideally suited to bonsai there are some species that not only are suited to bonsai cultivation but thrive under it.

Having said that, I haven’t owned any natives in my collection. It’s not that I didn’t want some, it was more to do with the fact that I haven’t come across any stock that grabbed me or that I was willing to collect.

Most stock i see is converted from normal nursery stock and has never really grabbed me although i know of at least one grower that is now putting in the hard yards to grow high quality native stock spefically for bonsai.

I also have mixed thoughts on collecting natives from the “wild” and personally would rather remove the many exotic weeds that are damaging the bush rather than remove the few interesting native bonsai specimens that i might find. I personally have enjoyed stumbling across contorted native material during hikes into the bush and Ithink it is somewhat selfish to remove this opportunity for others just so i can have something in my backyard.

My native  bonsai situation changed however this past winter when a good friend allowed me to dig a plant from her garden. It’s a Baeckea and has some amazing features that should see it becoming a top tree in years to come.

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Twisting deadwood, extreme movement and tight foliage should all work together to form an interesting bonsai in the future. 

It was my first time digging a Baeckea and while it suffered some die-back after collection the remaining growth is now putting out new shoots which is always a comforting sign. I will not be in a hurry to develop this tree as it really needs to recover, put on new growth and develop new roots prior to me doing any work.

I will then be looking to down-size the container it is in and begin working on the structure of the tree. This is probably a number of years off but I am looking forward to the journey from this early starting point. I will keep the blog updated as it progresses.

Well it has been a big year for me. I have spent it studying japanese full-time, while teaching, demonstrating and working on bonsai and client’s trees. This has all come with its challenges but all in all has been a great experience. On top of this, a couple of weeks ago I returned from a trip to Japan for both language immersion and bonsai which was the best way I could imagine to see out the last months of the year.

With all these things going on though it has not left much time for me to update the blog. Hopefully in the new year I will have more time to dedicate to posts and of course my own trees.

While I was in Japan I was lucky enough to visit the Taikan-ten exhibition. This time around they allowed photography by the general public so I was able to take many photos of the trees on display and as I process the images I will upload them over a series of posts. The show itself was a bit of a mixed bag with both extremely high quality trees which were sometimes next to trees that looked like they needed further work and developement. Of course the entire show was well worth the visit and as was the sales area.

For the time being I have included a teaser of future posts. Enjoy the photos and happy new year!

At the moment I am studying japanese and I came across my first bonsai related exercise in my text-book and thought I’d share.

Not a bad informal upright by the looks of it.....

Not a bad informal upright by the looks of it…..

私はおじさんに怒られました。 – My uncle got angry at me.

I’m guessing it must have been a nice antique chinese pot to get smoke like that appearing!

I am currently growing two species of Australian deciduous orchids. Both are known as ‘green hoods’ although they vary in habit a little from one another. I think they both show great promise as accent plants as they are interesting without being too bright or showy to take away from a tree they might be exhibited with.

Pterostylis curta is an upright form that sends up flower spines of about 20cm upon which small flowers sit.

Pterostylis curta

Pterostylis curta

Pterostylis nutans on the other hand sends up slightly shorted spines and has flowers that bow over or nod which is why they are also refered to as the nodding green hoods.

Pterostylis nutans

Pterostylis nutans

The best part about these orchids is how easy they are to care for. They are deciduous and require very little water over their growing season and none whilst they are dormant. They also reproduce easily and produce new bulbs each year which you can separate at re-potting time to make new plants. They seem very happy in pot culture which is another plus for the species.

Pterostylis nutans

Pterostylis nutans

Potted up they make interesting accents although once this pot fills with a few more tubers it will make for a better display.

Interesting shapes.

Interesting shapes.

Close up they are very pretty.

Close up they are very pretty.

You often find these orchids available  at orchid shows and specialist nurseries, but as they reproduce so easily if you can find someone who has them chances are they will have some spare at re-potting time.

Well worth a look if you are after a native accent.

Things have been a little slow on the blog of late. I have been busy with work and have just had a wrist re-construction on my dominant hand. It is slowing me down but I have a bit of time off work now to recover from the surgery so hopefully I can get  a few posts written.

My wrapped up hand.

My wrapped up hand.

As for my bonsai, they havent slowed down a bit.  My new fertiliser regime seems to be working as I have a whole lot of healthy growth.

A well fed pine.

A well fed pine.

The problem this time of the year is finding room to add more fertiliser. Most of my pines have their soil surfaces pretty much covered. I will be starting to replace the older fert bags with new ones in the coming weeks.

With all this feeding I have got strong healthy pines with lots of new growth. All this new growth will be coming off in a few weeks once de-candling time arrives. I am still not sure how this will work one-handed but I should be able to get it done one way or another. I will make sure I have a few pics taken to document the process, in the mean time I will try to get a few things done around the yard and get a few posts uploaded.

 

Balance of growth and strength is a concept that should be applied to all your bonsai. Weakness should be supported and strength should be held back to result in an even growth pattern across your trees. Maintaining balance ensures that inner buds survive and that exterior growth does not get to course. It’s what I think is one of the most important factors to take into account when growing bonsai.

What I have been noticing lately in my garden is that a few trees are out of balance. Pines readily let you know areas that are strong or weak. During spring, candles that grow long are strong, and those that remain short are weak. Pretty simple. In my gardens case, I have re-potted most of my pines this year and some trees are reacting differently to others.

Strong growth

The bonsai above has started to extend its candles. They are about 50mm long and are beginning to form their needles.

Weaker growth.

The second picture taken on the same day of a tree beside the first shows the much weaker growth. there are some healthy candles but overall this tree is much weaker than the first. The candles are extending very slowly and the needles have not yet started to form.

Although both trees have a couple more months of growth before de-candling time, i have found that often the early growth is a good sign of the state of the tree and rarely do weak candles become strong enough to de-candle over the course of the spring.

What does this mean? Well identifying balance issues between trees can help you decide wether or not you will do certain task to particular trees or not.

For example, this year I will de-candle the first tree while leaving the second to grow freely and build up strength.  By identifying overall strength this will allow you to identify weak trees and exclude them from stressful techniques such as de-candling, styling etc. that may further weaken the tree and or even kill it.

So go out and have a look over your trees, look for areas of in-balance and look for trees that are not as healthy as the others. That way when you apply techniques across your collection this season you can be sure that you will be furthering their developement rather than hindering it.

It’s spring in my garden and I am enjoying watching my trees wake up from their winters rest.

One thing that I noticed was that I seem to have two distinct types of trident maple in my yard.

Left: Red new growth. Right: Green new growth.

The above photo shows the differences nicely. Some of my trees leaf out with red new growth that slowly goes green, where as the other tridents new growth is green from the start.

The trees with red new growth tend to form better ramification as a rule where as the green new growth trees it is a bit more course and they are less likely to form fine growth. I know another local grower, Neil of Shibui bonsai has had made similar observations. He was saying that the red growth trees formed good ramification where as the green growth trees trunks and roots tended to be better.

Does anyone have any experiences similar to this? I am pretty sure they are from the same seed source but I guess they could be from different places? Maybe just seed variation?

Is this a common observation across the globe? I would be keen to hear people’s thoughts. Please comment below.

I had been waiting for my quince to flower for the last few seasons and this year it finally set flower buds. As luck would have it though as they were opening we had a few days of heavy rain which damaged the blooms. I should really have taken the tree inside to avoid the rain but I totally forgot about it until it was too late.

Budding left and rain damaged on the right.

On the bright side at least the quince has begun to flower so hopefully next year it will set more buds and with the ramification I hope to build this season it should make for a better display.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While digging trees out at Shibui Bonsai I was very aware of the need to stay well hydrated. As a small part of my planning I made sure to bring sufficient liquids to help keep the digging crew’s liquids well replenished.

Bonsai Wine?

A month or so ago I did a demonstration at one of the local clubs which is located in the Yarra Valley, right in the heart of some of Victoria’s wine country. The Yarra Valley Bonsai society had presented these bottles as a thankyou gift. It turns out, it was their very own wine! Since recieving them, they had been sitting on the mantle piece waiting for the right occasion to drink them. I figured that there was probably no better time to enjoy a bonsai wine then over a bonsai weekend, so I put them into the car when I headed up to Shibui.

Some of you may recognise the tree on the label from the recent AABC convention. It’s a big Banksia owned by one of their members. Keen eyes will also notice it has been mirrored!

The Label.

Is this the only wine around with a bonsai on the label? It must be the only one with an Australian native!

Thanks Yarra Valley Bonsai, the wine was delicious and much appreciated afer the day’s digging.

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