Good Bye My Old Friend

It’s been 25 years, near as dammit, since I started bonsai with my first serissa. Those early days were a heady mix of excitement and ignorance that drove a roller coaster of emotions as I summited highs of success and plummeted into the depths of failure. Ignorance decrees all things are possible, trust me, they aren’t. Bonsai is a journey without a destination. Once you create goals and try to take control of your own destiny a very unrewarding cycle of events are put into motion and unless you are a very “special” individual with above average density failure will hunt you down.

Over the last few weeks we have seen unprecedented demand for our trees. This has resulted in me having to part with some very special and memorable trees. There has been a shit storm of argument in recent weeks about one of my Youtube videos in which i made a passing comment about working with special yamadori and the need to preserve the ‘soul’ of the tree. A lot of the comments are not suitable for publication here. They would serve to show most folk do not grasp the concept of a metaphor and simply underline how ugly and uneducated some people are. I’m no animist but we are a funny species and attach value to things in strange ways for infinite reasons. To me it seems perfectly intelligent to spend the value of a mid-range BMW on a plant but I simply cannot understand why anyone would do the same for a Star Wars action figure or a watch.

David Hume’s Essays, Moral and Political, 1742, include:

“Beauty in things exists merely in the mind which contemplates them.”

Literal meaning – the perception of beauty is subjective.

So for the dullards out there lets just say that when working on special yamadori it’s nice if we can keep the interesting bits and not shag up the patina of age.

Today I parted company with a very old friend. In my early days of infinite possibility I would have a crack at just about anything. One winters afternoon I was returning to my car, dog in tow. Out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of an ill placed pile of detritus recumbent within the prickly enclosure. What I saw was not a pile of old shit but a hedge! Being a curious fellow I had to investigate and even my ill-experienced eye could see the magic buried beneath the old tyres was an English Elm. A few days later the tree was secured and headed off into an uncertain future in my fists of ham.

At the time I was told by those of weight that such trees didn’t make bonsai. Deadwood was a sign of imminent demise. Deciduous trees should never feature deadwood and so much other ignorant blather that I pretty much gave up on the spot. However, as is the way with elm, this one survived with a capital S. I have always been bull headed and, in Norfolk parlance, ploughed my own furra’. Once I had recovered from the assault of the neigh-sayers I became aware this tree was crying out to be beautiful. Along the way this tree has taught me more than all the workshops I have ever done. We have had our ups and downs together and the memory of all those experiences gives this very special bonsai a ‘soul’ as far as I am concerned…. and now she’s gone.

Over the years I have parted company with thousands of bonsai but two or three will live with me for the rest of my days because of what we went through together and that’s the definition of friends, we go through things together. Those that don’t come through are victims. Friends stick together and work things out. Friends make a commitment to each other and even when it’s costly remain by each others side. Friends ride out the storms caused by misunderstanding and defend one another against all ills.

Bonsai are not simply something we buy and sell or own. Given TIME they become valuable and deeply personal reminders of a road traveled in life, lessons learned, obstacles overcome, times of joy and times of sadness. After all these years I believe this is what ‘bonsai’ is all about. Hopefully some of you have, or will, experience this on your journey. Today I lost a little piece of my soul for the sake of a few quid. Now I have to go away and decide if I really want to sell some of those special pieces in the garden. I’m thinking not…..

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6 thoughts on “Good Bye My Old Friend

  1. Beautifully silhouetted tree, Graham. I understand the journey completely. In reading your blog, I came across one that read something along the lines of “why waste time when you can spend money and buy a finished tree.” That is what I understood it to mean at the time. Now I do spend good money to get good, well grown, stock to work on. I spend money on proper tools and soil and wire, but the tree and I are together on a journey through life. They grow better as I grow better. They pass the seasons with my attention and care. They provide a form of meditation, something to focus on when civilization goes haywire. I aspire to create the level of trees you create and have received inspiration and education through your videos and website. Too bad I cannot purchase the quality stock offered on your site. Perhaps someday ship to USA. Keep up with the constant and never ending improvement my friend, you are putting forth something valuable and needed in this crowded world.
    Tim from Boston, USA

  2. A truly amazing tree as Walter Pall would say a tree of the fantasy type… trees like this are far more interesting and almost magical in appearance.. my first tree that I collected back when I was about 8 years old some 25 years ago now has similar feelings… it was just a simple English oak and after being told for years that oaks don’t make good bonsai the end result proves many people wrong 🙂

  3. Bonjour Graham,
    Often we can hear that bonsai should look like (real) trees.
    This one is evocating to me the trees in which we loved to climb and we kept in our memories like, when i am grown up, this garden will be mine and i will build a wooden hut in its branches.
    Thanks for all you give to us through this web site.
    Not to say love, So ” with leaves from Paris”, Emmanuel.

  4. I can understand your sentiment of losing an old friend.Recently I have been reducing the number of Bonsai Trees I have, many to be honest will never achieve a worthwhile image but seemed a good idea at the time when purchased.When coming to a conclusion on which trees should go I come to a Maple that was the first tree I ever purchased 30+ plus years ago.I can remember where I bought it Bromage and Young Nursery at Worplestone.Dennis Bromage was one of the first people importing trees and associated items from Japan after the Second World War and the person who served me Adrienne Weller really started my Bonsai Journey. I regularly visited the nursery to gain more information.So bearing in mind my memories and the journey this Maple tree has ‘endured’ with me I put the tree back on the bench.Luckily I am not influenced by commercial factors so sentimental feelings take precedence in the decision what should go and what can stay.

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