During one of the now countless lockdowns our state has been through, I enrolled myself into a Tafe Engineering (Machining) class as a point of difference in what at the time was a fairly monotonous pattern of “covid normalcy”.

It’s been a great change of pace and learning to run Metal lathes, mills and other machines (that seem to always be plotting to kill you or remove you digits) has been very enjoyable.

As re-potting season is gearing up, it was about time to steal another of my wife’s chopsticks to aid with soil settling. This year however, I decided that with 100’s of thousands of dollars worth of machines at my disposal that I should make a tool to do the job rather than raiding the cutlery draw.

So I fired up the lathe and started turning down some steel and brass.

I turned a handle out of some brass stock and made the shank from some 6mm mild steel bar. The two pieces are fitted together in a low tolerance fit and are held together with thread lock. That way should I ever want to change the shank (or switch to a stainless one), I can heat it up, break the bond and swap it out relatively easily.

I’ve repotted a number of trees with it already and it seems to work well. It’s certainly heavy in the hand and feels solid.

I enjoyed making it and there is something really nice about doing work with tools you have made yourself. Which brings me to a question back to who ever is reading this:

Does any one have any good idea for bonsai tools I could try to make in the future? If you have a good idea, please comment below. If it is something I could see myself using I will more than likely have a go at making it.

Another tree that has been worked recently was this Japanese Red Pine.

It was a tree that I styled for a friend that later found it way onto my benches. I really love this little tree and enjoy working it and getting lost looking at it.

The tree had a fairly dramatic first styling back around 2016. The before after shots of that work are in the bloc post below:


It was also displayed at the 2018 AABC national convention where it was in great health and form. It’s the last tree you see in the 6 trees I displayed in the below video:

The work this time around was more of a maintenance styling and of course I forgot to take a before image as i got carried away in the work. The tree like many others had suffered with my poor water issues and has lost a few branches and shoots so I had to be a bit creative to fill the gaps once more. That said, I am pretty happy with how it all turned out and I am looking forward to the next couple of years as the tree develops further.

As per my pervious post, this tree is also a little thin in the canopy. That said I am fairly confident that this will fill in nicely this next growing season. It may be due for a repot also this year so I might see what containers I have on hand to mix up the image a little. Pretty sure I have a nanban style pot hidden away somewhere…. I just need to find it.

I don’t grow cedars myself but I have worked a number of nice ones over the years. The tree below is no exception.

It is owned by a good friend of mine who had just got it back after it spent a number of years with someone else. It was a little weak when he got it so he had spent some time letting it gain strength once more…….. which gets us to the below (terrible quality phone pic) image.

I’d love to take all the credit for this tree but really all I did was follow the bones that were there. I compressed the apex a little and moved some things about, all in all I was just bringing out the qualities that already existed.

The tree still has a ways to go but it is covered in buds in all the areas you would want to fill out (like the bottom branch) so I’m pretty confident that even after one year the tree will look full and much more developed.

On a side note, the roots remind me of a hand grabbing at the soil. Try to un-see it.

I’ve been working through some of my trees. Two of which are these black pines that were featured in the below blog post earlier this year:


Those two trees had their yearly needle work done and I now finally got around to wiring them.

Due to my water issues I had let many of my trees grow out (without doing the usual candle work etc) to gain some strength, and as a result their styling looks a little more sparse than it might otherwise. That said, I am happy with the strength they are now displaying and this styling will set them up for the next few years where I will work towards some more back budding and ramification.

Before after’s below:

I discovered on the tree above some significant rot had formed on the left side of the trunk. I dug out what I could but I will have to further investigate / treat it during repotting in the next few months.

This next tree was fairly straight forward, it was wired out and it’s branching spread to allow for the in-fill budding and ramification that I will hopefully build over the next couple of years. With any luck, this tree will fill in fairly quickly and present a dense canopy.

There is something to be said about the different ways in which you might approach styling depending on what stage the material is that you are working on. Trees like the two above, I tend to try to spread things out much more than if I was to style something that was more “finished”. You need to make a guess as to how many future buds and branches you need to make room for. If you style developing material as if it were a display tree (tight, dense branches) you end up having to re-wire almost yearly to re-distribute the branch ramification to make room for the new shoots.

All in all nothing ground breaking with the above two trees but I suppose it tracks the often mundane nature of the slow improvements over the years. Not every styling is a dramatic transformation and in fact the real skill lies in the fine tuning, not the dramatic, which is something I am still trying to perfect……….

I’ve had a spur of motivation lately. In my private life i have changed jobs and am now working a 4 day week. It’s given me the hint of a day a week i can spend on myself and thus far i’ve been dedicating it to Bonsai.

One of the trees that has benefited from this work is a Japanese Maple that i begun work on several years ago. You can read a blog post about it below:


Its been a slow road, mainly due to my lack of attention but I have been slowly removing course growth and re-growing better branching.

It has a long way to go but finally I am beginning to see it growing into its final form.

The upper areas of the tree have a lot of length to add to the branching and there is the start of another trunk (which will be the fourth, shock horror) on the bottom right of the trunk.

That said I am pretty happy with where it is at and with a little more time up my sleeve I hope to get some more mileage out of it this year.

This post will hopefully be the first in a run that i have been preparing and working on. I have a couple of pines left to un-wire before repotting season hits us so i will try to cover off some of that as it happens.

I am thinking that when I repot this tree it will likely get a change of pot to mix things up a little.

Until the next one………

A few days ago Mr. Nobuichi Urushibata passed away.

I met Mr. Urushibata back in 2007 when I first came to his nursery to study. I arrived in Japan with little to no language and managed to negotiate myself to Taisho-en.

My first interaction with Oyakata (A word that means something along the lines of teacher, mentor, guardian in Japanese) was a chat where he warned me in broken english with a stern face that my time at the nursery would not be a holiday and I would need to be “like samurai”. He maintained the stern face for a few moments then broke out in laughter.

From that point forward I learned about how kind, caring and passionate he was. Over many visits and much time he guided me through my bonsai learning and provided me with much life advice.

At a base level I was always blown away with his child like enthusiasm for bonsai, whether that was finding new trees and stock, styling or just generally carrying out maintenance. He always carried out his teaching with a smile and could see the humorous side of things when they went wrong.

I would see him out in the garden in the early morning, just walking around looking at trees before others arrived to begin work. I never got the sense that he was working a job but rather following a passion and it was inspiring to watch.

I feel very lucky to have met him and spent time learning under his guidance. I owe so much to him from what I have learnt and I feel that he played a large role in shaping me into the person I am today.

I will miss him a lot but I carry with me many fond memories of our time together.

Rest in peace Oyakata.

One of the recent trees I worked was the below Pinus sylvestris or Scott’s Pine.

It’s a tree I have gone on a rollercoaster ‘love-hate’ relationship with over a long period of time. The tree was originally owned by a woman in my local bonsai club. From a very early stage she had told me she wanted me to have the tree when it became too big for her to handle.

I had never really loved the tree but I got along really well with the owner and was touched that she wanted me to take on her tree. Each time I saw the tree we talked about it’s future and health. The more I saw the tree the more I liked it and could see a future in it.

Fast forward a while and the tree declined in health and lost some branches. It was brought back to health to a point where it was offered up as demonstration material at a local club. During the demonstration via a visiting tutor, a number of branches were cut off and the tree was styled as a wind swept style. Now the styling was fine enough but I really dislike windswept styled trees, and the styling removed many of the branches apart from those at the upper most section of the trunk. The tree was then again left to grow out and several years later I inherited the tree.

At the time I had no idea what to do with it but wanted to hang onto it due to how much the previous owner had wanted me to have it. So I stared blankly at it each day as I watered it and wondered what to do.

Fast forward a few more years and I was selected to demonstrate at the Australian Association of Bonsai Clubs annual convention (2018) along side Bjorn Bjorholm. I decided that this tree would be a good contender for testing my skills so I began to prepare it and get it strong for the convention.

It was wired and styled as per the images below over the course of an afternoon (having been pre-wired)

I was pretty happy with the outcome given where it started and the tree grew on me a little more.

Fast forward a few years and the health of the tree had gone backwards due to some water issues I later discovered I had (see HERE) .

So I let the tree grow out as I dealt with the the pH problems.

I decided it was time to re-work it and begun to pull old needles and fully re-wire the tree. I also removed a number of branches that may or may not have been required (i cut one off that i didn’t like but probably should have kept in the short term….).

The remaining needles were a little shorter than i would have liked having been somewhat knocked about by my water issues and the overall styling is much more tight than that of the AABC demonstration (which I prefer), but as i see it this tree has a few years to grow out, extend a few branches, develop the ‘second apex’ etc. For this styling I focused on a tighter styling so that it sets a solid structure to then build future stylings upon.

All in all I am happy with where this tree is at and where it is heading. Its certainly a weird tree in the grand scheme of things but it is one of those trees I find myself starring at in the garden against some of the more ‘normal’ bonsai shapes.

You may have read my previous post on my local water pH (HERE) where i discovered that the water I had been using on my trees was very alkaline. Well I developed a simple solution in that i installed a rain water tank and bought a pressure pump to deliver near pH perfect rain water to my trees. The results the change in water had on tree health was nothing short of amazing! Greener foliage, a reduction in other health issues etc. all were welcomed changes.

But then the tank ran dry…………………………

Luckily I had a plan B although i had been dreading implementing it. Turns out it was much simpler and easier than I had imagined.

I decided to refill the tank with tap water and then adjust the pH from there.

To adjust the water pH I decided to use household white vinegar to add more acid to the water in the form of Acetic Acid. I did some very basic tests to work out the dosing rate and came up with needing 12L of Vinegar to dose the 2000L tank.

It turns out my tests were not very accurate because I used half that rate and ended up with a pH close to what I wanted.

So from 3 bottles of vinegar (2L a bottle or 6L total) I was able to take the water’s pH from ‘8.something’ to around ‘6.0-6.something’. This should work well as it is on the acidic end of the range that is good for growing most plants.

Being only $1.20 a bottle it was a very cheap way to re-fill the tank with water of a suitable pH.

I think in the future I will try 2.5L of vinegar and see if I can get closer to 6.5-7.0pH but the levels I have now should be fine. As we are heading into Autumn and Winter, the coming rains will dilute the tank water further and bring me closer to these numbers anyway.

Also on the way is a digital pH meter so I can confirm exact pH of both my town water and that of the adjusted water in the tank. While the coloured chemical test kits are OK they are a ‘close enough’ type of accuracy only. I will update again with a post documenting the exact pH numbers when it arrives.

The below tree is bonsai i have had on my benches for a number of years. For some reason i hadn’t really worked it much over that time and was putting it off so it could be used as demonstration stock. With covid hitting and my calendar being cleared i thought it made no sense to put it’s styling off any more. I think this tree was last worked in 2012 so it was certainly due for a re-visit.

The work revolved around framing the trunk movement and shortening / compacting the lower branch. Most of that was accomplished with a handful of guy wires and standard wiring.

Not the neatest job on the planet but as the new needles were still a little delicate i left more on than i otherwise might in case i damaged some during the styling. All in all i am pretty happy with the results and will begin hunting a new pot for this coming re-potting season. (probably means i will have to dig through all the boxed up supplies….)

Another in the series of updates i will be posting over the next few weeks. The tree in question in this post is a japanese black pine that was originally a demonstration tree styled as part of the Central Coast bonsai societies Touch of Japan festival back in 2017.

I ended up liking the tree and purchased it post demo.

A year or so later a friend drove it from Sydney back to Victoria where it sat on my benches and it slowly deteriorated. The tree was in a plastic grow bag and on further inspection the root ball consisted of a sticky clay bulk that had been top dressed with good bonsai soil. I had assumed that the bonsai soil went the whole way through the bag but it didn’t and as a result a large percentage of the root mass had rotted off. I did an emergency repot into better soil and a smaller pot and soon the tree showed signs of growth and recovery. The tree continued to gain health and was re-styled as per below:

And now the tree has grown out for a full season without candle pruning to build strength, needles are a touch on the long side but i am happy with the level of back budding and strength the tree is showing considering it was on deaths door a couple of years ago.

Looking at the above image there is certainly room for fine tuning, but i will likely do that towards the end of Autumn / early winter while i am doing pine needlework.

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