Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Bonsai - Let's begin with my trees - #1 Picea albies

"If you want to practice Bonsai, you need a lot of trees"

I can't remember which of my Bonsai guru's imparted that gem of knowledge, but it's certainly true. Once you've done a piece of work on a tree, you must let it recover, if you have only one tree, then that's a long wait until the next job can be done. You can't build skills and confidence like that.

In the few short months since I decided to reconnect with Bonsai I've amassed a small collection of trees and shrubs, spanning deciduous, evergreen, flowering, fruiting, hardy, tender, tropical. Hopefully that will give me a range of jobs I can do throughout the year. Here's what I have (so far!) ...

I had a Japanese Maple too...but I killed it #sadface

So you can see (maybe, if you zoom in!) that I have 18 trees right now, and knowing how 'invested' I get in hobbies, I expect that number to grow.

"You have to kill a lot of trees to make a few decent ones"

I can't remember who said this either, but I know I've killed quite a few trees in my time, mainly through a lack of learning during my teens.

Let me start to introduce you formally to my trees...

Picea abies (Norway Spruce)
I bought this for about £5.00 in early January, it was left over after Christmas.
Picea abies Norway Spruce Christmas clearance stock
A leftover Christmas Tree - Picea abies (Norway Spruce)
My first important job was to get this little tree out of it's bucket. It was planted straight in it, and there were no drainage holes. I was certain that the roots would be poorly formed, as a) the mass production of these trees means that time is money, and b) the non draining pot could have caused the roots to avoid filling any the sodden areas.

Picea abies Norway Spruce before after initial root pruning
Left - Before root pruning      and Right - After!

I was right! The roots were a disaster. The tree had clearly been pushed down into the compost, causing the roots to be forced upwards, and to wrap around the neck of the trunk. Roots had then formed at the top of the trunk, immediately below the branches (left hand photo). 
I decided there were no kind ways of working on this root system, so clipped off the high up roots, all the upwards growing roots, the tightly wrapped ones and the overly thick ones (right hand photo). That operation also removed most of the fine roots too.

There were a large number of branches growing from the same points on the trunk, so I thinned them out, but left the remaining branches unpruned, so the tree had some foliage to aid recovery and healing.
Picea abies Norwary Spruce Bonsai initial pruning repot recover
Post-pruning and repotted.

Now this isn't a styling - this is damage limitation. Too many branches coming from one trunk location, moving resources to and from the foliage can cause the collars (where the branches meet the trunk) to swell together, and overly thicken the junction. When this area gets to the point where it is wider than the rest of the trunk (nb it can happen on branches too), it is referred to as inverse taper and becomes a fault that is hard/impossible to recover from.

After this initial work, I'll leave this tree well alone and see how it responds. You can see in the final photo (above), repotted it in approx. 75% Akadama (granular clay-like material used widely for bonsai), I've indicated a potential front for the tree (white pointy piece of plastic), and I've had to stabilise the tree with crocks on the soil surface, otherwise it was just falling over - not surprising really, now it has so few roots.

I've got the tree in an unheated greenhouse to protect it from cold, frost, snow and wind, and when I start to see signs of growth, I'll begin feeding this little Spruce with omakase japanese bonsai feed pellets.

Right! 1 down, 17 more trees to go!
See you soon
PB xx

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Holly's Succulent Fairy Garden

In this week's Youtube video, we're using copper, succulents and fairies to create a super-cute miniature garden...does it get better than that?

Hope you enjoy,

PB xx

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Early Spring Sunshine

The sun was so warm this weekend, that I took full advantage to get some jobs done in the garden, join me ....

Monday, 5 February 2018

Returning to my Gardening Roots with Bonsai

My garden path is a wiggly one

My mother was very protective of her garden, when I was young, she would try to let me 'have' bits in an attempt to nurture a love of gardening in me, but things took too long to grow from seed, I never remembered to water, weeds took over, and before I knew it, my area had been assimilated back into Mother's garden.

I liked making mud pies next to the dustbin :)

In 1988 at the tender age of 14, I was flicking through a copy of my mother's Amateur Gardener magazine, and saw an article written by someone called Clive Jones. The photo accompanying the article was a tree...and it was in a little ceramic pot.

first Bonsai article read Clive Jones Amateur Gardener magazine 1988
This is the very first Bonsai article I ever read, it's probably an antique now!


Imagination captured!

After that, I scoured Mother's garden magazine collection for more information and articles. The author of the articles then changed to a gentleman called Peter Chan, a Bonsai artist living in Surrey, with his own Bonsai nursery called Herons. Mother didn't need much persuading to arrange a family day out, so on a sunny summer's day we went.
Bonsai article written Peter Chan Amateur Gardener magazine 1989
Peter Chan wrote in a different manner to Clive

I was star-struck by Peter, and tried asking him a question, but I don't think he took me very seriously.
My dad and I were completely captivated by the glorious forest plantings on Peter's display benches, and at the end of my visit I bought two little Swamp Cypress starter trees in 3" pots.

My 1st Collection

Back then, we didn't have much money, so alongside my two Swamp Cypress, I had a fuchsia, a couple of little seedlings from the garden, a pyracantha, and occasional evergreens, which I would get overly ambitious with...and kill...very quickly (I gave up on evergreens after a while!). I did have a Scots Pine in a big bucket as well. I loved poring over Bonsai catalogues, and would send off for price lists. In those days catalogues were mainly typed lists of plants and descriptions, so you were very much buying blind.

ancient collection Bonsai catalogues circa 1988
Bonsai Nursery catalogues from the late 1980's

Learning about Bonsai in the 80's

I wasn't terribly interested in learning as a teen (I was doing enough of that at school), so I would grasp a couple of concepts and cling to them. Such as;

to thicken a tree's trunk, grow it in a standard plant pot rather than a bonsai pot.

Perfect! I'm creating Bonsai!

I had some nice Bonsai books, one was a school prize for attainment, but in all honesty I was afraid to prune anything off my trees for fear of ruining them, didn't understand how often to tend or feed them, or that I should be tailoring their soil to their individual needs, I just used whatever compost Mother had, or I'd take soil straight from the garden.

Somehow I kept my trees going for about 4 years until I went to Art College, started a part time job and discovered night clubs! Sadly my little trees couldn't survive this deep neglect (even though Mother was watering them for me), and one by one they died.

If you read my page How I came to Gardening you'll see I have now found space in my life for many aspects of gardening, and I've documented my growth in knowledge and achievement here in this blog as well as on my YouTube channel. I'm also enjoying the actual act of learning far more than I did back then, especially as it's just for me, I don't have to prove anything to anyone, or take exams or anything.

Fast forward to Autumn 2017

As research for my own YouTube channel, I'd been seriously exploring the garden-based YouTubers to see what sort on content I could create; I had my garden itself, my carnivorous plants and my succulents. Then I stumbled on some amazing Bonsai videos, and quickly realised that things had moved on an awful lot in the world of Bonsai since my last attempts, and long-held techniques were being discarded. Being able to watch a current Bonsai artist, amateur or professional, assess their trees in real time, make decisions, prune, wire and repot trees was an absolute revelation It occurred to me that now might be the perfect time to go back to where I began my journey, back to Bonsai.

My Favourite Bonsai YouTubers:

YouTube is a huge source of information, but for truly educational Bonsai videos - I would highly recommend searching for Nigel Saunders The Bonzai Zone, Graham Potter at Kaizen Bonsai and Ryan Neil at Bonsai Mirai.

  • Nigel is based in Ontario, Canada, and enjoys 'cut and grow' Bonsai techniques, has lots of trees in his collection from all different climates, of different ages, and stages of development. His plethora of videos are gentle, calm, informative, friendly and he takes you carefully through the pros and cons of each decision he makes for his trees. He breaks the videos into libraries, so it's easy to search for species or techniques. Nigel also takes you for walks around his local area, to study the natural shapes and quirks of different trees as they grow out in the landscape.
  • Kaizen Bonsai is in Norfolk, UK. Owned by Graham Potter who seems to get much joy creating sculptural deadwood on pines and conifers, he also has a good quantity of videos for inspiration, though most of his work seems way beyond anything I could ever hope to approximate. He is very good at demonstrating confident use of power tools on deadwood.
  • Bonsai Mirai has free content on YouTube and their website, then if you want to learn even more, you can subscribe to their live streams. There are 3 tiers of subscription, I've recently signed up to Tier 2. Ryan Neil is a Bonsai professional who trained for 6 years under Mr Masahiko Kimura in Japan. He doesn't just look at styling and design, but gives you complex horticultural knowledge that you didn't realise you needed to know, but gives you a real *lightbulb* moment on your own successes and failures. Bonsai Mirai is based in Oregon, USA.
These three channels together provide a perfect balance for me to learn from, each with their own speciality and way of imparting information - watch Nigel's Lara Croft video and tell me you weren't totally absorbed by it!

Peter Chan also has a number of videos on his website and YouTube, his Bonsai skills are undeniable, but personally I find his demonstrations too fast to be able to learn anything meaningful from.

So here I go again

There is a Chinese proverb...
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

If I'd been able to keep my first trees they'd be about 33 years old now, but I must not lament their passing, just remember that they taught me many lessons, and that I am now ready to begin my journey over again. My trees and videos will reflect my skill level - enthusiastic beginner! I can promise you no more than that, but it would be nice to think I might inspire someone else to try their hand at this beautiful art form.

Love PB xx