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At the recent Australian Association of bonsai Clubs (AABC) convention in Canberra I was lucky enough to see Ryan Neil both demonstrate and conduct work shops over the course of three days.

Ryan works on a juniper.

Ryan works on a juniper.

For those that didn’t make the convention, you really missed out. We are very lucky in Australia in that we have a large number of foreign demonstrators and teachers visit. In fact, during a conversation at the convention we counted 5 foreign bonsai demonstrators alone this year who were coming over the pond to share their bonsai skills and passion.

What set Ryan apart from most other demonstrators I had seen was the clear way in which he explained concepts. All the demonstrators on the world circuit are capable of creating good trees, but very few of them are as excellent at communicating their ideas and methods. Ryan was excellent at this as well as his obvious skill in bonsai itself. In fact he talked non-stop throughout his presentations and demonstrations while moving between the tree he was styling and a white board, where he would draw diagrams to further make clear concepts.

Ryan and a red pine from the National Bonsai and Penjing collection.

Ryan and a red pine from the National Bonsai and Penjing collection.

Ryan’s skills obviously did not stop at presenting, he had a confident and logical approach to styling, wiring and bonsai health that he was also able to convey both through his work and interacting with the audience.

He worked on 3 trees over the course of two days which my camera only really captured the final image of one well. He styled a Juniper, a scotts pine and an old red pine from the national bonsai and Penjing collection.

The red pine after some structural wiring.

The red pine after some structural wiring.

I think it would be safe to say that every one in the crowd learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed the weekend. Ryan has certainly left Australia wanting more and hopefully we will see him return at some stage in the future. Perhaps he can revisit this red pine once it has seen some further refinement in his absence.

The finished Red pine demo tree.

The finished Red pine demo tree.

The results obviously speak for themselves. Ryan put on a great show and openly shared his knowledge over the course of the 3 days. For any one that has the chance to see him or learn under him I would suggest you take up that chance, I certainly will again should I get the opportunity.

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Things have been a bit slow of late on the blog as I am in the process of moving both offices at work and houses. The good news is the house I am moving into has a bigger backyard and the office is closer to home. Both these factors should make for more bonsai time.

That being said I have still been thinking about Radiatas.

I had received some information that some growers in the USA were classing the Monterey pine in its own 3 needle group along with Ponderosa pines. So, i started looking for information on Ponderosa care to see if the techniques would cross over.

I was looking for ponderosa information when i came across Ryan Neil’s website. (Have a look if you haven’t already). After seeing the amazing work he is doing on ponderosas I decided to send him an email seeing if he was willing to share his techniques. He was. An excerpt is below.

Ryan Neil wrote:To answer your question about ponderosas, I do a few things that seem to help. The main thing is to focus on increasing the number of needles on the tree. With ponderosas, much like white pine, they are only geared up to produce one flush of growth/year. As a result cutting buds or needles is not an option and so the energy of the tree must be distributed amongst a large number of needles in order to dilute the strength put into any single needle. On very old Monterey Pine the same is true. This means not plucking any old needles until the fall and always feeding and fertilizing well during the development stage so as to increase bud and needle count. On most trees I have years that are sacrificial of needle size in order to get budding and density, after which I am able to control needle length much easier. I fertilize heavy during these sacrifice years and care little about needle length. However, once a reasonable amount of needles are present, I will not fertilize my ponderosa until September and only give them small amounts in the fall so as to not overly increase their vigour. Again, this applies to trees that have the bud and needle density I’m after.

I was really impressed with Ryan’s generosity and eagerness to share information. He has already demonstrated that he has a lot to give to the bonsai community and i am sure he will help to raise the standard of western bonsai further.

He did mention that he would at some stage like to come out to Australia so fingers crossed for the future.

What do people think about using his ponderosa techniques on Radiatas? His techniques seem to make a lot of sense and from my own experiences i had found that they do not respond very well to black pine techniques so treating them more like a white may be the next step.

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