We can’t all achieve trees like Roger W’s glorious Acer above straight away, it takes a long time or a deep pocket to get such results but as there are a number of new members within our group now tonight’s talk and demonstration by T & S B C member Adrian Taylor had beginners in mind. How one might go about acquiring or starting a tree and a few worthwhile tips on the journey that is Bonsai.
Adrian has himself been following the bonsai path for many years and he gave an examples of the way one might go about growing ones first bonsais.
Note: There is no species of a tree that is a Bonsai, bonsai is the art of cultivating trees of all sorts in pots and controlling and styling their growth to achieve a tree that is pleasing in shape and character.
Growing from Seed
So many people start their first bonsai by growing from seed, the internet has such a large selection of packets of seed to choose from but Adrian pointed out it could be years before one has a tree of any age and character.
Sadly due to the time it takes a lot of people give up then as they were expecting something like the photograph on the website or on the packet within a few years or even less.
To illustrate the patience required Adrian brought with him a Black Pine which he grew from seed forty years ago and said that he is still working on it, bonsais are never finished they are always a work in progress.
Adrian has let the upper half of the tree grow on to encourage a thicker trunk below and that he intends to remove later, the only foliage then will be the smaller needles which he has been carefully looking after to encourage denser pads and smaller needles unlike the long younger ones above.
The next way in order to save a few years is to grow from cuttings. Hardwood cuttings may be taken from the autumn and through the winter whilst soft wood ones from current growth are taken in the spring.
Very often successful cuttings are just taken by planting the growth pruned off ones trees. Good results can be achieved with cuttings taken up to finger thickness, which obviously help get a tree going quicker. The examples brought along were these young Acers.
For his growing substrate/soil Adrian uses Cat Litter, now don’t rush out and by any old one there are only a few that are suitable. Tesco’s Low Dust which has a small grain and Pets at Home Sophisticat Pink Lightweight, which has a larger grain .They are both non clumping and are made of molar clay, which retains moisture but at the same time drains freely. Many composts in the past were heavy peat based or solid muddy mixtures which gave the fine fibrous roots no room to do their work. As cat litter is an inorganic mixture one must of course feed trees planted in it with a fertiliser, Adrian uses a slow release capsule .
Cat Litters, Tesco Low Dust (Left) Sophisticat Pink ( Right)
The molar clay cat litters do not break down when frozen and thawed , the Tesco one is ideal for smaller trees, they can be mixed, or the larger one can be used as a lower layer above the drainage holes (which should have a plastic netting grid wired in place over them).
Another source of starter trees can usually be found each spring in the plant section of the larger supermarkets. Morrisons and some of the others usually have for instance Golden Dream Acers. These young plants cost a few pounds, have trunks a bit thinner than a pencil and to their great advantage generally have no ugly graft. One of the best things about these is that they make really good group plantings and a very pleasing display can be seen within a very few years.
The larger tree in this group was the result of planting one of the purchases in the garden and letting it thicken up a bit in order to create a centrepiece for the group.
Note : Group plantings follow the Japanese principles of artistic display and are planted in odd numbers from 3 upwards though once you get beyond 11 folk can’t count or get a lot less fussy.
Garden Centre or Nursery Stock
For a wider selection of trees and older or more substantial specimens a hunt round the Garden Centre can prove very worthwhile. Their trees are usually far too large but a great number of well known shrubs make ideal material for bonsai. Adrian showed how you can pry with your fingers around the trunk base and look for the ones with a spread of roots just below the surface as some have all their root growth way down at the bottom of the pot.
Be prepared to cut back considerably to style your purchase and within a couple of years you can have something very presentable.
Adrian can be seen above with a Japanese Holly and Spindle Tree grown from such a source.
This is a method of creating a new plant with an already thickened trunk by taking an air layer off an existing tree and can be done on quite a thickness of branch.
Two cuts with a sharp knife are made around the branch, about one and a half times the diameter of the branch apart. The bark between the cuts it is then scraped down to the wood leaving nothing to link the bark above and below. Wet sphagnum moss is then wrapped around the gap, rooting compound can be added, and the sealed over with plastic well secured at the top and bottom. Adrian said one can use clear or black plastic or one over the other so one can remove the outer black to see what root growth is happening within.
The after a few months if all has gone well the when it is full of healthy growing roots the whole thing can be sawn off at the bottom, planted up and you have a new tree having by passed the slow, seedling or cutting stages.
The untidy specimen here is one of the editor’s I am sure Adrian’s would be a lot neater.
The tree Adrian brought along as an air layer example was a Laburnum, not often seen as a bonsai and past it’s best after a good display of flowers earlier in the year.
Originally in Japan trees collected from the mountains but now it can also include trees such as an old Hawthorn or Privet rescued when an ancient hedge is grubbed up, so you get a rooted base but the branch growth may well have been sawn off or cut well back. At first they are usually planted into a large box and left for a year or more to get over the shock and start recovering and establishing a finer root growth within the smaller area of the box.
Hedgerow or purchased Yamadori
Adrian brought along a Privet that he had purchased at the settled down and ready to start work on stage but even then Adrian said that he would be taking it slowly and leaving plenty of time between work and letting nature help design the tree as well.
At one time bonsai enthusiasts would only enhance the dead and bare wood of coniferous trees but now growers are seeing the possibilities in the old dead wood on deciduous trees.
Where a large branch has been cut back, working with the right tools one can get rid of the straight saw cuts and create a weathered and natural looking end disguising what was an ugly stump .
Collecting Yamadori from the wild
Every year ours, and a lot of other clubs, organise trips out into the hills or woods looking for bonsai potential. This can only be done with the land owners permission and preferably with a member that knows his onions when it comes to trees, here at the T & S B.C we are lucky enough to have a member Jon B. who is a professional forester who knows the academic science of trees and has local knowledge of our landscape and the best places to look, usually somewhere on the Blackdown Hills. Sadly for some of us it is a physically demanding day and some of our old bones are not up to the task, Adrian however is still fit enough to go clambering around and then lug his finds back to his distant vehicle and as a result was able to bring along a Beech and a Western Hemlock as two of his finds.
The evening then turned into a demonstration workshop as Adrian set about the Western Hemlock. This progressive sequence of photos shows Adrian selecting the branches he wishes to remove and within a short time the tree hidden within begins to emerge, he has altered it completely and it is ready to rest again for a year or so before refining further.
Adrian also devoted some time at the end to the Spring time care of Beech in order to promote a second growth and some tips on Pines. Personally I would like to see the club ask Adrian to give us a further talk on the slightly more advanced techniques with trees later in our programme of meetings.
Our Club Chairman Howard thanked Adrian for a very informative session and once again it just shows the benefit of joining a club and that learning from the ‘old hands’ is sometimes so much better than books or YouTube. Thank you Adrian.
Tree of the Month Competition
Following his talk Adrian, who organises our monthly competition then did what we have never had the advantage of before of showing us how he went about compiling his critique notes of the competition. These notes are sometimes different from the members votes for a winner and we soon learnt how detailed he was in hunting out the flaws and errors our entries.
Adrian marks trees on the following basis-
1.Overall appearance 2. The pot suitability and size 3. Roots 4. Trunk
5. Branches and foliage 6. Health and Vigour 7. Surface
The following photos show Adrian assessing some of the entries in the advanced section as that is all there was time left for now.
M. C’s Mulberry
‘Is this a Mulberry I see before me?’
which attracted one of his most usual comments ‘Pot too large’.
Geoff O’s Windswept Larch
and Geoff H’s Pyracantha
The winner in both members votes and Adrian’s Critique was Roger W’s magnificent Acer. Adrian’ s only suggestion here was one we have never heard from him before
‘It could do with a bigger pot’
Advance Class Result
By member’s votes
FIRST Roger W’s Acer SECOND Geoff H’s Pyracantha both shown above
Three trees tied for Third place.
FIRST Adam’s Chinese Elm
SECOND Richard M’s Cotoneaster THIRD Audrey’s Privet
Adrian’s Critique notes for the September meeting at full of useful tips
ToTM Critique sheet Sept 2018.docx
Howard also thanked four members, Roger, Brian, Sara and Adrian who drove down to Lupton House in Devon to put on a display for our Club at the Bonsai in the Park Show organised by the South Devon Bonsai Society.
I am very grateful once again to Andrew Storey of the Exeter Bonsai Society for allowing us to use some of his photographs of our member’s display.
That’s it for this month folks, don’t forget our next meeting
10th October- A workshop evening- Do your own thing
Tree of the Month Competition- Autumn Colour