Another Busy Day @ KB World Headquarters

I know I bang on a lot about being busy, it’s not a subtle ruse to drum up more business. Subtlety is NOT a characteristic I possess. Just to prove my point I thought you would like to see some of yesterdays orders going out. This is 6.30pm and our carrier is about to turn up. There is three quarters of a ton of soil products and fifty boxes. After this Catherine still has to process another 30 or 40 Royal mail small parcels. Today we have to do it all again, next week we are covering for staff holidays and just to spice up the mix I have four hundred new trees arriving, four tons of soil and two tons of Green Dream which will quickly be followed by an entire lorry load of yamadori tree stock.

All I ever wanted was a couple of nice looking bonsai to stand on the side of my pond! Be careful what you wish for 😉


A Day At Kaizen Bonsai

Everyone who knows me will confirm I am a glass half empty kind of a fellow. I have found that hoping for the best and preparing for the worst has worked for me. Now that I am getting older the world is increasingly more confusing and seems to have no place for the values with which I was raised. I increasingly feel like an outsider and judged by comments from some of our “special snowflake” customers I think they would like to see a tyre put over me whilst being doused in gasoline and set on fire. When did the world become such a hateful place? We do bonsai because it offers a solace from the maddening world and helps us connect with the eternal rhythms of life. However it appears to me that bonsai is becoming a competitive blood sport.

Thankfully most of the folk we do business with are decent and understanding. Kaizen Bonsai is run from our family home and there are just three of us involved and my parents (well in their 70s) do half days and home work for us. This time of year is exceptionally busy, coupled with a cold I collected in Belgium, yesterday for instance was a typical day……

4.30 am start with two hours of emails and web site updates.

6.30 to 8am outside in freezing temperatures working on a new maple

8.00 to 9.30 down to the warehouse to collect a ton of soil and a quarter ton of pots

9.30 to 10.30 packing parcels and humping soil

10.30 to 11.30 back to the warehouse to receive a delivery of two tons of soil products

11.30 took delivery of a car for my daughter that we bought unseen off Gumtree the previous evening. Her old car detonated and I have no time to go shopping for such things, spent half an hour figuring out how to put gas in the stupid filler neck from a can

12.00 to 12.30 dealing with someone ripping off our web site and attempting to offer our products to customers for 60-80% off. At the same time spent half an hour trying to get a typo corrected by Ryanair (don’t fly with them!)

12.30 to 16.00 Packing parcels, humping soil, web updates, purchasing stock Loaded the days parcels and a half ton of soil into the carriers van

17.00 to 20.30 Packing parcels, preparing goods for sale, assembling carving tools

20.30 First meal of the day washed down with a half jar of moonshine put a smile on my face

21.00 Fell into bed in my clothes

3.30am Up and repeat.

That’s a fairly typical day here and of course that was just me, Catherine did much the same. She also spent the last two weekends working from 10am to 11pm preparing VAT for the last quarter. We really could do with another member of staff or two but there is not anywhere near enough profit in what we sell to do that. So, to that end you will be seeing some changes here at Kaizen Bonsai. We will be reducing our offering and services over the coming months because if we carry on like this there is no future. Expect to see items disappearing from our web site. This year I have also stopped doing demonstrations, there will be no workshops and we are no longer open to visitors. If you are reading this and happen to be a very skilled business consultant or a person in need of some very hard work in exchange for minimum wage or less give me a call 😉


Today’s soil (van is completely full) ready for mixing and packing.

All of this is moved several times before it leaves later in the day. Watch out for Vito’s story coming soon.



Strange Goings On!

So much for a holiday. This year for Christmas, as I do every year, I got a skip. I spent every waking hour battling the garden and digging a drain (as you do). How many people spent Christmas morning digging a hole? Then once we got back to work we had to deal with a literal avalanche of orders, over two hundred and fifty parcels went out in the first four days back. Finally last friday we got caught up and now we are all behind again after the weekend. Just for good measure we are now getting ready for the upcoming Noelanders exhibition following which I am away on buying trips, it’ll be summer before I get caught up! I need to find another member of staff but more wages means more price rises unless I can find someone who want’s to work for free to support the cause of UK Bonsai. Any volunteers?

Anyhow, I did get four hours doing something I really wanted over the holidays. There is something quite unusual growing in my poly tunnel amongst the recently worked trees. My garage is now full and as it turns out a poly tunnel makes a very nice spot for a bit of dirty work 😉 Trouble is I keep getting distracted between wiring and spannering, carving and welding.


More Keepers

A while back I published a post about a juniper I had a particular fancy for. After our biggest year ever selling special trees of all shapes and sizes my head is spinning a bit. As I said before it might seem like a dream job to many, buying bonsai and raw material all the time but, after a while it’s very easy to get a bit blase about it all. It’s just human nature that we take the familiar for granted. After such a busy year I feel a little punch drunk but even through my misty haze I can still spot a good un’. I also think it’s important to have trees that feed your soul and keep the fire burning.

I figured it was about time I treated myself and having a passion for yamadori and raw material this stonking great oak fitted the bill and wallet just right. I am not responsible for the dodgy styling job but am very pleased to have this in the garden.

I also have this nice old scots pine which has been here for over eight years now. When it arrived from Norway it was in a poor state with almost no root and so old and tired I had resigned myself to losing it. However it did survive and has now developed really well proving me entirely wrong in the process. This is only the second time it has been wired (By Ramon this time) and is now beginning to look as good as I hoped it would when I first bought it. If you don’t have any patience don’t do bonsai 😉

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Our New Harley

Underneath this brusque socially inept exterior is a little lad who just want’s to live in a decent world. I believe we reap what we sow and doing good wherever possible will always come back to us one way or another. Now I am older I have swapped out my rose tinted glasses for shades, I don’t want to see a lot of the things that are going on in this increasingly insane world we have created. I have made it my mission in life to try and spread a little understanding and, hopefully, respect for the world around us particularly in relation to trees. Few things generate a love of trees more than bonsai does. Without trees we are all doomed. I always think you can judge the ‘health’ of a nation by how they treat their trees and forests. There are several cases in history where invading forces laid waste to territories by cutting down all the trees prior to their retreat. A country without trees is indeed a desolate wasteland. I am constantly saddened by the almost total loss of trees in our country compared to what was once here and the scant disregard for which ancient survivors of those better times are treated.

I also think you can judge the ‘health’ of a nation by how they treat their animals. Sadly there is a heartbreaking story being written at this exact moment right here in Blighty. Visit any dogs home in the land and you will see row after row of sad neglected and abandoned faces staring out at you. These belong to various types of so called ‘bull breed’ dogs. In particular at the moment the nation has turned it’s face against the Staffordshire bull terrier, commonly known as the staffy’. Personally I adore these dogs. My first, Max, was with me his entire life and in a turbulent time was my rock. My daughter was born prematurely and could be laid in the palm of my hand, Max loved her as much as I do and in all his days was noting but a joy to live with in spite of the hysteria being spread by the ‘views media’ just now. A while back we opened up our home to George who many of you will know. Earlier this year we had a lovely lady visit for the day but she was terrified of dogs and staffies’ in particular. However by the end of the day she was in love with our George.

In the summer we took a good friend of ours to the local dogs home as she wanted to re-home a dog (seems like the place to go). I am a big softie at heart and seeing all those beautiful sad faces choked me up and bought a tear to my eye. The result was a new charge and, whilst not exactly being a Staffy’ he’s suffered the ignominy of being abandoned thanks to the current shit storm of hype around dogs. As if life was not busy enough already!

So, I am please to introduce little Harley. He’s now settled into his new home and taken to his job of door security like an old hand, not a single step is taken on the property that this little fellow does not know about. We have no idea what sort of dog he is but an educated guess is a staffy’ crossed with a bit of whippet and something else. All we know is that he’s the sweetest mannered little boy (10 months old) and smart as a straight razor. HOW could anybody abandon such a beautiful little boy?

There was another Harley turned up this summer of the wheeled variety but that’s not half so interesting.


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Sadly we can’t always have what we want.

New Green Dream Fertiliser Products

The trouble with bonsai is that everything takes so long to achieve, but then that’s what we love about it. After all there is very little satisfaction in achieving anything that is easy. Without wishing to sound maudlin most everything I have ever done has been difficult. Maybe that’s because of my lack of talent, maybe it’s because I set myself too high a standards or maybe that’s just how the world is. I am no philosopher and leave the deciphering of these things to others and as we say in these parts, ‘just keep a troshin’.

In order to make the creation of bonsai a little easier I have spent the last twenty five years figuring out better ways to do things including improving the growth rate of plants in pots as we grow them. Back in the day a bit of garden soil, grit and leaf mould and an occasional dash of Phostrogen was all that we were told was required. However we have come a long way from that and just look at the results. Comparing the average bonsai of today to those of thirty years ago is quite an eye opener. Part of that equation is obviously fertilisers and what we have today is vastly superior to what we had years ago. It’s not that the technology has changed, after all plants still grow exactly as they did since the beginning. The difference is that today we can tailor our fertilising regimen very closely to the plants needs in relation both to what we want to achieve and what the plant needs to make that happen. This is all such a fiendishly complex area that much of modern science is still a bit in the dark. However little by little there is an understanding beginning to emerge.

As a mad bonsai gardener I want to see my trees grow to the best of their ability and because they are all so dammed expensive I want to see them do well but am not prepared to just throw something into the soil hoping for the best. As a business owner what I want to be able to offer my customers is simple solutions to complex problems, after all most of us do not want to have to go back to school and become amateur scientists just to grow a few bonsai trees. On the other hand it’s quite hard for most of us to trust the producers and purveyors of products these days on account of all being up to our necks in hyperbole and bullshit. After all WHO can trust an industry which came up with such an equivocation as ‘plant food’.

Over the last two years I have been working on a couple of new Green Dream products. Green Dream has, after more than twenty five years, become the UK’s most popular bonsai fertilising product selling many tons every year. We think it offers the best value for money whilst categorically NOT containing ANY SHIT in any form. We KNOW it’s the best product of it’s kind available because we have, and continue to, test it alongside all it’s competitors. Green Dream gives the best results in the safest form for the best price, No SHIT! However as the process of developing bonsai goes, it’s very hard to offer one product that does it all. Plants have different nutritional requirements at different times of the year and at different stages of their development and to that end I have been testing and developing various elements in order to create a couple of entirely new products which, finally, are now available.

Green Dream™ Nitro + is a high nitrogen (15%) natural organic fertiliser with the full spectrum of nutrients but higher in organic nitrogen than the other products in the Green Dream range. Perfect for developing raw material and yamadori and increasing the growth rate of all your plants. Traditionally used in spring and early summer high nitrogen feeds produce good firm growth. If you need to see rapid dynamic growth of any potted plant this is the ONLY product you will need. For further details follow the link above.

bonsai in a pot with four months growth


p1240978Green Dream™ Soil Source Micro-Biological Soil Additive is an exciting new product that we have developed over the last few years. This is a ground breaking microbial soil additive product unlike anything else available that is simply added to your chosen soil mix or growing media at repotting time. The product, which on the face of it looks like our Green Dream Original product (small dry crumbs), is packed with beneficial micro-organisms like Trichoderma harzianum which are very well documented as being supremely beneficial to the cultivation of plants and the development of roots in horticulture. In the last two years we added this unique new product to well in excess of four hundred repotted plants at various stages of bonsai development. The results were surprising to say the least. Every plant has thrived, regardless of the growing media or species involved, every plant started growing much earlier than normal and much more strongly and once good growth was under way we noticed a significant improvement in the plants uptake of nutrients from fertilizers with improved growth rate, foliage colour and robust appearance. Over the summer period we also saw a dramatic reduction in problems with pest and disease reducing our use of  chemical sprays by over 75%. For further details follow the link above.


Green Dream™ dry fertiliser products in large pack sizes are currently available with a half kilo free of charge as we have changed the pack sizes for buckets from 7Kg to 7.5Kg at no additional cost whilst current stocks last.


A Little Clipping Is Not Going To Cut It…

Styling bonsai using wire has, in some quarters, always been a bit controversial. I guess it could be viewed as quite invasive but done properly it can work wonders. It would be nice to just sit and look at our yamadori and clip over it from time to time, given enough years this COULD make a nice bonsai. However when you have as much junk around your garden as I do a little clipping is just not going to cut it, excuse the pun. These days I don’t get anywhere close to the time I would like to spend working on trees, there is always just so much to do. However we have sold so many trees this year that the garden is looking a bit thin and so I am having to mobilise my old arse to get some of the old lags whipped into shape.

Over the last couple of weeks, as well as having a few interesting dental challenges I have been trying to work up this old scots pine. Sadly I had to break out the big wire, which I try to avoid these days but this lump needed a strong hand to get it squared away. It never ceases to amaze me doing this type of work. About half way through the wiring I had a picture in my head of exactly how I wanted this to look, the final result is not even close, I’m sure these old trees have a mind of their own. It’s a bit of a weird one and it took way longer than I had thought at the outset but squint at it a bit and I think it worked out Ok.

More coming soon.


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Peace Amongst The Oaks

When you work from home there isn’t much peace to be had, it’s pretty much seven days a week. The only time I can find a bit of peace is by being out before dawn which at this time of year is not too hard. After my tribulations of the previous week a little escape for an hour was very much needed.  Last weekend I headed out with the dogs to a little spot just down the road where a little grove of evergreen oaks overlook the sea from the cliff tops. Ignoring the cold and squinting a little I could just be in Italy.



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A Rough Week & A New Article

It’s been a pretty rough week just gone and one I would like to forget pretty quickly.

I am no stranger to pain, for example when I was a young teenager we used to have a big rope swing that all the towns kids used to play on. Down by the harbour are some low cliffs with big trees. Some bright spark nicked a 3″ rope from the docks and strung it up in one of the trees creating the mother of all tree swings as it reached out over an extremely steep slope with a fifty foot drop below. We put a couple of hugh knots in the rope and one fellow would jump up onto the highest one and swing out, on his return another foolhardy fellow, in this case me, would grab the bottom knot and swing out at arms length. With a good push this put you into space, or at least that’s how it felt. On the second swing outwards from terra firma we got into a spin and once we got out towards the horizontal I was launched into the aforementioned space. Back then my head was probably the heaviest part of me (no longer sadly) and not unlike a shuttlecock i tumbled towards the ground head first. After about twenty five or thirty feet, with my arms outstretched I plugged myself hands and face first directly and neatly into the ground ultimately being stopped by my face before the rest of me followed, not surprisingly I was knocked out cold.

Some time later as i regained my whits I noticed some kids at the top of the hill being very amused and some others looking on in horror. Remember this was a time when it would have been Ok to hurl abuse at me for being so feckless. Nobody came to help and in my dazed state i didn’t really know what was going on so I got up, wiped the blood and mud from my face as best i could, climbed back up the hill past the onlooking crowd and threw a leg over my bike in order to go home. As i pushed into the road and attempted to steer something went wrong and I face planted into the road over the handlebars. When I got back up i noticed both arms were broken and the right one was about six inches shorter than it had been earlier and had a huge bump in the middle. Unperturbed I picked up my bike and pushed it way from the scene. Apparently I got about half a mile before I collapsed and passed out in pain. Next thing I new I was surrounded by police who had been looking for a bunch of troublesome kids before finding me all busted up. Turns out I completely snapped my right arm in two and smashed one bone in my left as well as grinding a lot of skin of my face and other extremities. I ended up with both arms in plaster for six weeks, then just for good measure I unset the right arm again even though it was in plaster and had to go back to hospital and have it re-broken in order to straighten it our.

Overall this was one of the more painful experiences I have had. However getting high-sided on a very large bike at over 70mph was up there too, So was the time I hit three cars at over 60mph before landing full weight on my chin, ripping the skin off it and smashing a whole bunch of teeth. This week some of that came home to roost. A tooth, most likely damaged from some silly escapade or other had died and developed a massive abscess which failed to make itself known to be before quite literally blowing up in my face. I ignored it for a couple of days, as best I could, but eventually it bought me to my knees howling in pain and floods of tears. When I did eventually get to the dentist begging for needles it took eight to ten injections before the pain subsided. Out came the tooth along with a small bucket of horrors but not before I came off the bench at least three times. Another couple of hours of that pain and I would have taken a header off a high spot.

Be that as it may business goes on and for the self employed there is no choice but to keep on working and soldier on through. Sorry if you got a hold of me this week and I was a little more grumpy than usual.

Anyway I did manage to get some work done between popping pills and swilling crap out of my new cavity. A new article on carving tools, their use and selection.

Graham’s Guide to Selecting and Using Carving Tools

This was first done in about 2008 but is now all new.

I also managed to secure an exciting new shipment of yamadori, 30-40 trees in total I think. Should be here next week, stay tuned!