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.

G.

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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 Dreamâ„¢ 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.

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USING GREEN DREAM NITRO+, FOUR MONTHS GROWTH IN A POT, IN THE UK. THIS TYPE OF VIGOUR WE CAN WORK WITH.

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.

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Green Dreamâ„¢ 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.

G.

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.

G.

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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.

Enjoy.

G.

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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!

G.

Saburrtooth® Bonsai Carving Tools

In the light of my previous blog post about price rises I am very happy to say we have good news about our range of carving tools previously branded as Termites. We have invested heavily in this range now known as Saburrtooth® wood carving tools. The range has almost doubled and now offers a great deal more scope for all you carvers out there. As well as increasing the range we have managed to drastically reduce the price increase we were facing to less than 10%, it should have been a good deal more. The price of these has remained unchanged since we first introduced them in 2009.

When I was first sent samples of these tools back in 2008 I have to say i was extremely sceptical about how useful they would be for bonsai work. Now I never carve a project without using these for at least a few operations. I really couldn’t work without them these days. The cutting action of these tools is second to none in it’s smoothness and controllability. There is NO better tool for removing dead bark or rotten wood which is easily cleaned away without cutting the underlying material. I have also found many of the larger burrs to be supremely efficient for external shaping and sculpting, nothing else comes close for that type of work. So, if you have not used Saburrtooth® burrs before, buy one, there are options for every power tool out there, you WILL be delighted.

Our new range of tools includes the Extra Coarse 1/4″ shaft items that are superb for getting to grips with large projects and those requiring rapid stock removal with a minimum of loading. This range includes some larger tools for die grinders that I would certainly not want to be without.

The 2″ range of Buzz Out wheels includes new abrasive grades making this versatile tool even more useful.

For Dremel size machines there are additions to the Small Shaft range including an extremely useful new Needle Point tool.

If you have an Arbotech machine we have a superb round faced edge cutting 2″ Disk option in a variety of abrasive grades.

For those of you who like to tackle big projects, carve big lumps of wood or ever work with fibreglass there is the 4″ option for angle grinders. Incredibly efficient cutting tools with the very nicest of manners, even for inexperienced wood carvers. These are BY FAR the cheapest option open to those who want a big but safe carving tool.

Saburrtooth® wood carving tools are 100% made in the rust belt of the USA where supreme manufacturing skills second to none still exist. You can be sure that every tool you buy is going to do exactly what it should. Ours is the largest range of Saburrtooth® burrs currently available from stock in the UK. These tools are very rapidly gaining an excellent reputation amongst the worlds leading wood carvers. Put some in your tool box today, you’ll be glad you did.

G.

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Price Rises – The GOOD news.

Coming off the back of our most successful year ever you would think I could allow myself the luxury of easing up a bit but that’s just not possible. As a business we are facing new challenges all the time and have to constantly be innovating, developing new products and finding smarter ways of doing what we do. I am always working on what we will be doing next year and beyond, this year is already ancient history. At the moment we are being mauled by unfavourable exchange rates. For instance the cost of the Yen has increased to us by over 35% since spring. That effectively means Japanese goods are now out of our reach as the increased cost would mean the retail cost of a typical pair of Masakuni scissors would go from around £75 to £98 even though the Japanese offer price remains the same. In my opinion that’s not going to fly. I am not about to go and spend large amounts of money on goods I can’t sell. It’s not the fault of the Japanese, they have not really had any price increases for decades now. The problem is that in the face of political uncertainty around the western world spineless currency dealers made a run for the safe and stable Yen and increased the value of it. Alongside that most large world currencies have taken a bit of a hammering this year. Don’t expect many bargains from Japanese tree importers next year!

I am not worried at all. We have been in this position before. The Yen is currently around the 130 to 1 GBP, in 2008 it was as low as 115 to 1 GBP and we survived just fine. What I think we, and the western world as a whole, have seen this year is the end of stable or falling prices. I know everyone thinks bonsai stuff is expensive and it may well be in relation to some other hobbies but then everything is produced in small numbers by comparison. It’s estimated that 20% of the UK population has been freshwater fishing in the UK in the last two years, that’s about thirteen million people. Kaizen Bonsai have been trading for close to fifteen years now and are by far the largest UK mail order bonsai company and our extensive mailing list, which stretches back to the mid 1990s has around twenty five thousand previous UK customers listed. There are a lot more people buying floats and maggots than buy bonsai stuff. But, here is something interesting…..

Money is constantly devaluing. Anyone over 50 remembers when you could fill you car up with petrol for £5-7. I used to drive a big three litre car to work every day, about seven mile round trip and it cost me £4.50 a week. I bought my first house for £16,000. My first job paid less than £50 a week. However my dad who is in his mid seventies bought his first house for £1800 and his first wage was less than £4 a week. I would say that on average money decreases in value (what you can buy for it) by half every fifteen to twenty years. However the price of most retail goods has been steadily falling since the last war relative to wages, times have been good.

I have right here in front of me a Bonsai Mart catalogue from 1996/7. Some of you may remember that was the business set up by the renowned Colin Lewis and run by his then wife Imelda before being acquired by us in 2004. This was pre internet, there is no web site or email address or even a cell phone number printed anywhere, wonderful times for those of us who remember 😉

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The business was not VAT registered.

Here are a few examples (of many) of prices for products we still offer alongside the current price….

500g Aluminium wire £14.75 – Now £11.00 to £9.50

Green Dream 1Kg £7.99 – Now £7.25

Soil sieve set £19.95 – Now £15.95

Moler/Biosorb 25L £16.99 – Now £10.99

Akadama £14.99 – Now £14.45

Black branch cutter 210mm £24.95 – Now £25.95

Black plastic turntables £12.99 Now – £3.95 to £2.40

NOW HERE’S THE SHOCKING BIT! Our prices include a whopping 1/5 or 20% VAT so working that back a 500g roll of wire now actually sells for as low as £7.92 (that’s the price Kaizen Bonsai gets after VAT) WHICH IS ALMOST HALF THE PRICE IT WAS 21 YEARS AGO! It’s actually less than the wholesale price was back then too.

The way we have managed to do all this is my little secret. The end result is that creating and keeping beautiful bonsai trees has NEVER been cheaper than it is today. Price rises are inevitable over the next few years but we are beavering away behind the scenes to make sure the effects of global economic turmoil are mitigated as far as possible. If you look back over some old bonsai magazines from the last twenty years notice how many of the vendors advertising have disappeared. That’s, by and large, because they did not make enough money to stay in business. Profit is a dirty word in bonsai circles but any company that does not make it will quickly succumb. Rest assured we will still be here for decades to come and most of the profit we do make will be ploughed back into our business so we can continue to develop new products and continue to offer our great range of products at fair prices. All thanks to you and your support of course!

In conclusion, don’t be fooled by media coverage of the global financial situation. They like to create hysteria about such matters. I recently heard a BBC reporter telling of a one day “collapse” in the value of the British pound against the Euro. In actual fact the daily loss was less than 0.5%, hardly what I would call a collapse, and two days later there was a 1% nett gain which, not surprisingly, they failed to mention. Unlike politicians and media pundits business people and manufacturers are a canny bunch and ALWAYS come up with creative and clever ways of doing business and keeping the world working. We don’t need ‘trade deals’ or political interference, as long as there is a demand out there we will be meeting it in an intelligent and ultimately profitable way for the good of everyone concerned so, ignore the scaremongering and be happy 😉

G.

 

Heathrow Bonsai Show 2016

It’s becoming a bit of a tradition now, us polling down to Heathrow every autumn (4am start) and with good reason. This show has turned into what I think is currently the UKs premier bonsai clubs show. The team here are tireless and have excelled themselves this year with a cracking event. A nice new big sports centre packed to the rafters with largely well presented trees representing some of the most active clubs and bonsai enthusiasts in the country. I have nothing but admiration for Mark and his team who put on this annual show that has topped out at over five hundred visitors this year and in the process raised £853 to the Royal British Legion. Fantastic! Long may it continue and, if your weren’t there shame on you 😉

I managed to talk myself hoarse with a constant stream of enquiries all day, sorry if I didn’t get to you. Early in proceedings everyone went outside to take a photo so I had a minute to rush around and take a few snaps of trees that caught my eye. Here are a random selection……

The date for next year is 22 October at the same venue. Put it in your diary and be there, you’ll be glad you did!

G.

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Forget That ISA

Now summer  (such as it was) is solidly behind us it’s the time of year when we get busy whipping some of our stock into shape. Living out on the coast the next three months will most likely be very mild and experience has shown it to be an ideal time to work evergreens of all kinds. It also tends to coincide with an ominous lull in activity prior to the Christmas madness kicking into high gear. Not that we are exactly quite around here, I live in hope there might be a quiet few days to get caught up but it’s avoided me so far in 2016.

Third tree of the week was this scots pine. I bought a whole forest of these a year ago and their growth over the summer has been quite exceptional. This is one of the less exciting examples but I fancied letting myself into all this easily. It never ceases to amaze me what can happen with a scruffy tree in four hours. These scots bend beautifully at this time of year and are a joy to work with. My advice to to bust out those savings which are not earning you a penny and buy one of these, work it up nicely and sell it to one of your mates, then buy another. That’s all I have been doing for close on thirty years now, how hard can it be, it’s just a green triangle on a stick 😉

G.

Now available to buy – Click here 

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