A Busy Week at Kaizen Bonsai

As you might expect with the Big C on the horizon this week has been a busy one at KB. Everyone is doing a good job and pulling their weight so I had a chance to pull my, not inconsiderable, weight out to the workshop and passed the time digging some holes.

Anyone who stops by here regularly will have heard me banging on about how tough it is to sell raw material. Still, that means more for me 🙂 This week I made a start with a trident maple that had some seriously ugly pruning scars. A few minutes spent hollowing and the tree now looks a lot more interesting. It may not be pretty but that’s a matter of personal preference and besides it’s early days.

Next up was a tree I bought in the spring, a beautiful craggy old prunus mume. I love these but in all the years I have had bonsai never got a hold of a decent one. This ball of rot came in from Japan over last winter and has been growing like a weed all summer. All I had to do was clean out all the soft material and the beautiful natural (and very hard) wood simply appeared. By the looks of the buds this is going to be in flower in just a few weeks time.

My next project was always going to take a bit longer. A couple of years ago I bought a number of these massive oaks. I guess they were a little intimidating to folk because we didn’t sell a single one. This particular lump intrigued me because there were some holes in the bark with no wood beneath. Turns out the trunk was hollow top to bottom. Once I poked a hole with my Terrier & Dremel all i had to do was link it all together and rough up the outside a bit. An hour and a half of ugly wiring (first work on oaks needs some heavy metal work) and the tree was all good. Not a bad start if I do say so. Given another couple of years this just might be a star.

Lastly I thought you might like to see an unsung hero of the Kaizen Bonsai payroll. This is Harley who works security doing a bit of quality control…….


A Fun Couple of Days.

If you stop by here from time to time and listen to my dribblings you will be familiar with the fact we are always busy. It has been said that I have the best job in the world, mucking about with bonsai all day and getting paid. ANYONE who runs a business in the UK will know that ain’t the case. In summer I spend a lot of time watering and pruning in a topiary kind of way and in spring I typically re-pot around four hundred and fifty trees. However finding the time to actually create bonsai from our hundreds of yamadori trees or properly prune and refine mature bonsai almost never happens any more. Being successful is always a double edged sword and as much as I love edged weapons of all kinds, ending up on the sharp side of one was never in my dreams as a young boy and yes, I was a boy once, a long long time ago.

Last week was the first quiet week we have had in 2017. Orders were all simple and quickly despatched which freed us up to go do some bonsai “which was nice”. I buy a lot of what I believe is nice material. Sadly often times folk can’t see the bonsai tree for the wood and so, in order to keep stock moving, I have to get the ball rolling. Even after all these years it never ceases to amaze me how an hour spent carving and wiring will transform a grizzly stump into something half presentable. Here are a few of our projects……..


Hornbeam, carpinus betulus, a beautiful British native but a tough challenge.

Early days but everyone is always banging on about getting smaller trees. Small enough?

5 years on the nursery and not a sniff. Seriously, what’s not to love?

Again early days and scope for refinement but it got dark 😉

Another of those hornbeam stumps.

British native trees work up well.

Siberian maple that was about twice the size before I clipped it out.

Massive evergreen oak with tiny leaf. Two years from collecting in Spain.

Garden sabina juniper. I did the deadwood on behalf of the previous owner.

Ramon did the wiring and most of the styling. A little sand blasting and a tweak here and there. Who said garden junipers are no good?

A Brilliant Little Carving Tool

I am forever on the lookout for useful new products to add to our not inconsiderable range. Trouble is there’s a lot of old tat out there. I have no interest in selling junk, the juice ain’t worth the squeeze. Carving tools are a prime example, there are a lot of products out there that might politely be called ‘function of profitability’. In other words great looking worthless junk just designed to take your money. Anyone ever bought a Dremel with a 120 piece accessory kit? How did that work out?

I have been using power tools since I was nine years old. I doubt there is anything I have not used at one time or another. There are few things I have not done with power tools including cutting bits off myself. In that time I have learnt to recognise a good useful tool. I have also figured out that what might look pretty useless can often be mis-appropriated to do a different job from which it was designed. I have a box full of failed products, things that just didn’t cut the mustard. I also endlessly tinker with tools. Sometimes they become scrap but just occasionally I make them better, more efficient or more useful.

These days I find it increasingly hard to find significant new items that do a job that just can’t be done with something else. I mean, who in bonsai doesn’t cut wire with pruning scissors? Just last week I was busy on my lathe making some bike parts and needed to do a milling cut. I don’t have a mill but figured out a Terrier mounted in the chuck with the work bolted to the tool post turned my lathe into a milling machine. I recently had need to turn a chainsaw into a saw mill, job done and fingers intact so that’s Ok. I think it’s what the Australians call ‘bush mechanics’.

A couple of weeks ago a new little tool came across my desk and straight away it had ‘winner’ stamped all over it. In bonsai the process largely involves making big trees smaller and sometimes we need to resort to wood carving to get rid of ugly cuts and chops. Being a ‘dumpster diver’ I have always had need of such techniques and tools. The idea is to incorporate cuts and chops in a natural looking way to represent deadwood we might see in natural trees. This takes SOME time and practice to master and also a lot of time and work in order to complete. A full range of tools is important but it’s also important to know all the little tricks those tools can perform, this can take a very long time to master. Good tools are important but less so than the skill, experience and imagination behind them. The best carvers I have seen at work normally have a laughable tool kit, to the untrained eye. For example a brickie turns up on site with a bucket of scruffy tools in one hand and builds a house.

Part of creating natural looking deadwood in bonsai is in creating the initial shapes and hollows, what I call block carving. The next bit is the subject of infinite wrangle everywhere. Detailing deadwood is something that everyone does differently and with different tools. Ultimately, in my opinion, the goal is to make our work look so natural there is no hint that we were ever there. That’s a lofty goal I have yet to attain. This little tool, now available from our web site just might make a very tedious part of carving a bit easier and more enjoyable.


A Bonsai Master at Work

Brit’s, by and large, are an angry bunch. If you live here you will largely understand why. If you don’t live here you will know us by reputation. If you were thinking about moving here I would certainly think again. There is a reason why, as soon as we are abroad, freed from Blighty’s oppressive climate of weather and political rule we drink a lot and go nuts. Most of us are so fed up and repressed we take every opportunity to have a go. Email is a great vent for such frustrations, one day I will post some of the horrors and abuse we get almost daily.

A Brit’ at home will do most anything to avoid face to face confrontation. We are, again by and large, thoroughly pissed off, frustrated and angry. The list of reasons why would, if written down, double the size of the internet. Getting hammered and having a good fight is all we need to restore order and a sense of well being it seems. Trouble is, kicking seven bells out of some similarly pissed up locals in some far flung sunny clime tends to come with consequences.

NOBODY get’s it more than me. I am a horror to work for. In modern Britain it’s almost impossible to do anything. Running a business is so bogged down with bullshit I think it makes ‘The Office‘ look like workplace utopia. Getting anything done here in the United Kingdom (a clanging misnomer if ever there was one) is almost impossible simply because so many people are doing the bare minimum they can to get paid and avoid getting the sack. Our entirely misplaced sense of entitlement means we all feel under appreciated, under paid and in modern parlance ‘abused’. All I want to do is provide a good service, have happy customers, pay my taxes and live my little life. Sadly that does mean I am entirely reliant on others who do not share my modest ambitions. For instance look at this pallet of Akadama that was supposed to have been delivered yesterday. This cost me almost the whole day to sort out including a 60 mile round trip and about 6 hours wages for two people. Just because folk are too bone idle to do their job properly, there is ABSOLUTELY no profit on this product now. The supplier offers to help out but there is no way of making up for this sort of crap and the transport guys just laugh and walk away. I have a story like this to tell at LEAST twice a week. There really is nobody out there who gives a shit so long as they get paid.

Quality British workmanship if ever I saw it. Whatever happened to the pride in a job well done?

As a business it’s tough to meet peoples expectation when we rely on a (fu**ing stupid expression) ‘broken’ system of business. All I can do is bust my hump every day to try and do what we say we will do. That does not mean we will fulfil a customers expectation because we all have very high standards we expect from others and also folk tend to make their own interpretations of what we say. For instance, if I say I will ‘try’ to get something done folk take that to mean it’s a cast iron guarantee so and so will happen. Trouble is if I am relying on someone else, a delivery company for example, I have absolutely no way to be sure they will actually do what they say. An example…… a couple of weeks ago we had a very busy day and the house was packed with parcels we worked hard all day to prepare. Our carrier is supposed to turn up at 3-5pm and take away our orders. Anyhow the dip-shit turns up at 6.45pm with a van full, sees our almighty heap and says he can’t get them on. I have to get in HIS van, re-stack all HIS randomly scattered crap and low and behold all of our packages fit in with room to spare. Sorted! Only trouble is the numbskull gets back to the depot too late, misses the overnight trunker and our stuff is stranded for twenty four hours. That was after their ‘system’ sent all of our customers an email or text saying their parcel was on it’s way and would be there the following day. Needless to say we had thirty customers on the blower wanting to know why WE were such a bloody shambles. The carrier company charged us the normal rate (next day delivery) even though they took two days to do their job. No recourse or recompense for KB unless I want to fill in all the forms and make a claim, however doing that will cost MORE than we lost so the fraud continues and all of the carrier companies, with the possible exception of the very expensive DHL, are as bad as each other. It’s like a coalition of crap, welcome to modern Britain.

When I sat down here an hour ago I actually had some good news, seriously! I don’t get involved in punch ups any more I just write long. It strikes me that we waste a lot of energy being frustrated, annoyed and uppity. Just the hot air alone could power the lights. Better to use that energy for something creative. If you know me this next statement will cause much tutting and rolling of the eyes. Bitching and moaning about the injustices and annoyances we suffer will never make those things better. Better to just accept that the pigs (politicians) have their noses in the trough, the only certainties in life are change, taxes and death and the only thing to which you are ‘entitled’ is a hole in the ground when it’s all over. If along the way we can learn some fulfilling skills and make a few friends we should be grateful.

This ideal is entirely personified in my long term mentor, inspiration and friend from down south. Mr Willson who is ENTIRELY responsible for me being in bonsai at all. I had one foot out the door back in 1998 when we met. Now I am very pleased to have my mentor living close to hand and honoured that he visits us once in a while. Sadly I am largely too busy to do the bonsai work I once did and Kevin as been a sterling help in our getting some trees worked.

As someone who sells trees daily I spend a LOT of time taking pictures and preparing write ups to go online to present our stock to the world. Sadly but entirely understandably folk seem to think that I am a liar because I am trying to sell something. I get that, in the light of where I started this diatribe. Every day we are bombarded with a deluge of bullshit trying to sell us worthless crap that mostly does NOT do what it says on the tin, does not work, is not fast, easy, cheap or the panacea for whatever ill it was sold in order to cure. Coke is not the real thing! It’s a sugary acidic drink that will rot your teeth and turn you into a tub of lard. Even when they have taken all of the sugar and calories out it still costs the same and to describe the taste as “great” is a travesty of English language. I could go on but won’t. What heartens my soul is how our customers are, 99.9% of the time thrilled to receive the trees they buy from us. When they arrive safely (never had a single loss in 15 years) they always look MUCH better in the flesh than in pictures. No doubt someone will post a comment to the contrary but after fifteen years I am supremely confident in the use of my percentage above and have the emails to back it up.

Because we are largely cynical about any form of sales presentation it’s hard for KB to sell some trees. I often write that this or that tree will make a fine bonsai when worked. I do not say that lightly and hope folk have enough respect for my thirty years of experience to believe me. Evidently that’s not the case because some very special trees just don’t sell. When that happens we have to put our money where our mouths are and get to work. That brings me back to the eminent Mr Willson.

A few months ago Kevin took a couple of scots pines away. This week he returned with them all nicely worked up and reminded me just WHY I believe he is THE most creative mind in bonsai today. Even after all these years and endless discourse I have absolutely no idea how this mans head works but work it does. Absolutely NOBODY even looked at these two scots pines we had for sale on the nursery, even though I knew they were going to be good and presented them to the best of my ability I think it must have looked like BS. You be the judge and next time please give me the benefit of the doubt i’m doing the best I can 😉

Kevin Willson can (and should) be found at kevinwillsonbonsai.com.


Little scotty from Sweden left homeless and ignored by everyone.

Wood and trees spring to mind. This is what happens when you apply a little effort and creativity.

Scotty from France. A few hundred quid and everyone laughed at me.

I am sitting here scratching my arse wondering how he did this. Classic Kevin Willson! Master of Scottys.

Warning – Here Be Monsters!

I live out on a limb, nobody knows that better than me. I live exactly eighty nine miles from the nearest motorway. Personally I like that, ninety percent of traffic holdups I become entangled in are on motorways. However the way most folk talk you would think we were situated in the outer Hebrides. The upside is I don’t have to waste lots of my time dealing with knuckleheads or low-lifes who just come to scope the place before robbing us blind. What is sad is that driving a couple of hours remains such a massive hurdle for genuine folk to come and see us. As you get deeper into Norfolk there are signs variously declaring “Danger : Here Be Monsters“, seriously! Perhaps that’s got something to do with it?

Most of my bonsai career has been spent looking out the windscreen of various vans. Bonsai is never going to be a mainstream pass-time and if you want to learn what to do or see good trees you are going to have to travel, “simples“. I never get the reluctance of folk to travel in order to further a pursuit that we all love. There are bonsaiists within thirty minutes drive of where I live who have dedicated more than thirty years to bonsai who have never visited our nursery. I know I am an ornery, irascible old bastard but really? Here’s a surprising fact, over the last two years I have had more visitors from Australia (10500 miles) than I have had from my local bonsai club just fifteen miles away. Perhaps I AM an ornery old bastard after all?

If you do take the trouble to get here (appointment only), and assuming I actually let you in, I have been told we have about the best and most diverse range of trees in the UK. Me having a bonsai nursery is about like a big drinker owning a pub. I buy a lot of trees, I can, it’s my business. Trouble is I have a habit of hanging onto things. Sadly I don’t get the time I would like to actually get many of the trees worked up into something presentable but I just love having great yamadori around me, I am long past the stage of having to have every tree perfectly styled and manicured. Yamadori brings the wilderness and mountains right into my back yard without me having to travel, that suits me just fine.

This week I had a quiet walk around the nursery in the sunshine contemplating a nice cigar. I started to notice a few trees I had failed to list on our web site for sale. Later I pulled out a note pad and started a list, then I added up the cost before falling over. Looks like I have been a bit of a scallywag hoarder. Time to have a bit of a clear out, there are TOO many monsters here. All of these trees will be listed on the web site for sale next week including UK delivery.

I also have a lot of other trees that for various reasons I am not listing just yet and there is a LOT of great trees in the pipeline for later this year and early 2018. Starting to think I might need an intervention 😉




Scots pine.

Scots pine

Scots pine

Portuguese oak

Barbary oak

Barbary oak

Scots pine

Scots pine

Scots pine

Scots pine

Scots pine

Olive – oleaster

Trident maple

Scots pine by Kevin Willson

Scots pine

Scots pine

Wytch elm

Elm – Ulmus campestris

Scots pine

Japanese maple

Yew – Taxus

Hornbeam – Carpinus orientalis

Heathrow Bonsai Show 2017

4am Sunday saw me up and out the door for our annual autumn trip to Heathrow. Now, I have a rule by which I live my life which involves me not entering the inner circle of the M25 (London ring road/long stay car park). I was 13 the last time I purposely visited my nations capital, i didn’t like it then and I imagine I will like it even less now. However seeing as the show is only a couple of miles inside the M25 and then only a step off the M4 (another impromptu car park) I make an exception to my rule. As a country boy any road without grass growing down the middle makes me as nervous as a cat in a dogs home.

Mark Moreland and his dedicated team have done a simply REMARKABLE  job developing this show from a dark damp tent affair into one of the best club type shows I have seen. Every year the palpable sense of excitement and friendly banter that pervades the event seems to increase along with the attendance and quality. Well worth the early start and late finish alongside running the gauntlet of our capitals embarrassingly pathetic road system.

I was so busy, mostly talking my head off, I really didn’t have time to peruse the club displays to the extent I would have liked. Trees on display were the usual mix and a broad level of skill was on display as well as a huge range of species. One or two trees were a cut above the rest but for me nobody really bought the big guns. One thing that did impress the socks of me was the quality of accent plants. I have nothing but admiration for folk who put these together and manage to keep them looking so good.  Around here they just get lost and torn to shreds by birds.

Here are a few snaps I did manage to take. A few trees that caught my eye or I just happen to like. There were others but sadly due to the press of admirers I was unable to cut in a take pictures.

Make sure you pencil this one in for next year!


Thieving Bastards

This year we have been the target of an unusually high number of attempts to nick our stuff by thieving bastards using stolen cards and the like. Sadly one of these low life scum bags got away with it. In August we sold a juniper to Mr Darren Deschauer of Clyde Vale, Old Perry St, DA11 8BT (Actually in Gravesend, Kent) – 07484871120. Only now does our payment provider demand their money back and so the little guy loses, that being me. Not to worry because I am big enough to get over it. However I am hoping nobody has been offered this stolen tree for sale. If you do, let us know. You could call the police but based on previous experience they won’t be interested. If you know who has our juniper let me know so I can feed my dogs 😉



Turns out that Mr Darren Deschauer is the owner of the card in question and not the perpetrator of the fraud so please don’t find him and bash him over the head on my behalf. On the other hand if you feel inclined to pop down the the address in Gravesend and peek over the fence, in the unlikely event you spot my bonsai I have a posse that would like to know 😉

Hats off to Uncle Albert

They always told me when you get older time seems to pass much faster. I have no idea what constitutes ‘older’ but time now seems to pass me by like money slipping through a politicians hands. Bonsai is very good at marking time for us or, should I say bonsai is very good at making us aware of how little time we have. I remember when I started all this malarkey thirty years ago I had real problems getting to grips with how slow trees grow and how long it was taking my trees to develop into bonsai. In retrospect it was the fact I did not have enough trees to work on and those I did have i was intently busy killing, slowly. With two to three thousand pots now there is literally a lifetimes work here for a small band of workers and we will NEVER be done with it. The great advantage of so many plants it that some just lounge around developing really nicely all on their own without my bothering them. Sometimes bonsai need to be left alone and, assuming you kept some piccies, the rate of progress can, on occasions, be quite alarming. These days a lot of trees I had a hand in starting as bonsai are in the hands of good folk who like to look after them and once in a while they come to visit.

One such visit happened today, a sabina juniper I sold last year came back to see me and get a hair cut. To see the original story go back and read – Demo’ Result & A Dumb-ass Deal.

I am still reeling from my own stupidity and now I have salt in the wound. My good mate Tim (aka Uncle Albert ,now 85) does a very good job looking after trees when he’s not torturing them having gone away on holiday for two weeks in the summer. That being the case I was very happy to see this sabina juniper return looking so hale and hearty. Since my demo’ back in May 2016 no work has been done on this tree other than careful siting in the garden and water management. Over that period the tree has had chance to settle itself and recover, make foliage, wood and roots. The result is a tree where the wiring has done it’s job and once removed everything is staying in place. The tree is drinking water and the beautiful foliage is soaking up the sun  producing lots of energy for more growth.
Now that the tree has filled out so well and settled down we can take a small step forward. Today there was insufficient time to prune the foliage as much as I would like but then, in the UK, I have found that taking away too much foliage from a juniper will put a crimp in it’s ability to develop further. Now is also the time to review the style of the tree. We have removed the larger wire and taken out a couple of branches that are no longer required which has helped balance the design. We started thinning the foliage and cleaning the underside of the foliage pads. Finally, as the tree has done so well and been in this pot for five years I was happy to make the move to a more maneagable pot. Early autumn seems to be the best time for this where a sabina juniper is concerned. These is no need to go mad at the first re-pot, it’s not required to strip out all of the old soil, every time I have done this in the past  junipers go into serious decline and often take several years to come back. Just a little tickle around the sides and the bear minimum of root reduction. This tree will never notice the difference and will maintain it’s momentum.
I am very resistant to putting trees into bonsai pots. I have said before that putting a tree into a bonsai pot does not make it bonsai, just like living in a garage does not make you a car. Bonsai pots look nice and help us to slow the growth rate of a tree in order to achieve beautiful refinement. In most instances putting an undeveloped plant into a bonsai pot means it will never develop well or reach it’s true potential. Save bonsai pots for bonsai trees! That’s the secret to this junipers amazing development over the last eighteen months. It’s nice to feel we are getting somewhere with our bonsai and the secret by and large is not to do anything unless your tree is ready, what YOU want to do is entirely immaterial and irrelevant. For me the joy of bonsai is the process not the result but if you fall in love with the process and master all it’s complex elements your trees will be more beautiful than you could ever have imagined. My bonsai came from a love of nature and the magic of our natural environment only exists in the absence of meddling humans. Creating a little piece of natural magic in a pot ultimately means we have to allow it to happen, not get in the way. Once finished there must be absolutely no evidence our intrusive hands were ever involved. Sadly many bonsai we see, and those that get the most attention, are overly affected by those meddling hands creating pretentious, loud and showy images that are far removed from what nature, and time, left to their own devices created that inspired us in the first place. It’s very easy to get bogged down in the noise and clamour and suffocate ourselves in the complexities of technique. The plants we have for creating bonsai desperately want to be beautiful and, by and large, all we have to do is let them. Learn to be a gardener, outside in the sun and rain, and forget the rest!

May 2016, cleaned up ready for working

May 2016 post demo’.

Autumn 2017 and ready for some more work

A very light prune and a couple of branches removed result in a more open balanced appearance.

A little tickle around the roots and into a pot. Amazing what largely doing nothing can achieve.

Time To Get To Work

In the UK summer is such a precious commodity we have to squeeze every drop of goodness out of it. By and large we don’t work trees over summer except for a few maples and the constant pruning back of fast growing broad leaf varieties. Making the most of that tiny handful of long warm days so our bonsai make the most growth possible, by and large, means leaving well alone other than watering and fertilising. After thirty years of constant disappointment in the summer weather I have come to the point where I am just thankful for small mercies.

This summer started of with GREAT promise, an early spring, beautiful clear sunshine and temperatures ten degrees warmer than normal. Living near the coast the spring is typically much later arriving than it is inland but by June this year we were in the twenties and I don’t remember that happening before. All this bode well for what is traditionally the hottest period of the year here, July to mid-August. A couple of days into July I opened the door early in the morning only to be greeted by a slight chill (normally happens at the end of August), the first harbinger of autumn. Incredibly since that day the temperatures have been falling. In thirty years cultivating bonsai this is the first time I have seen autumn colour in August! I kid you not, we had trident maples turning yellow and red nearly a month ago. The parthenocissus on the garden fence is, as I write, turning red at least five weeks early.

Being a glass half full kind of a fellow ( ?????? WTF) and putting a brave face on the cruel British climate we may have lost some growing days but at least we can get to work a bit earlier this year. Because trees are busy growing in summer we always wait until that’s all over before we begin working lots of our yamadori into bonsai. That way we have a lot of new foliage to use and the trees energy levels will be high. I normally have a pretty frantic autumn trying to get a bunch of trees worked whilst getting ready for ……..CHRISTMAS (yes you heard it here first in 2017). However this year I have started a month early with this evergreen Barbary oak.

Lots more to follow this fall.

Also a nice Sabina juniper from last weekends workshop.



Where’s me tweed ?

Anyone who knows me will know that next to bonsai and my family my great passion in life is motorcycles. I have been very blessed to be able to assemble a nice little collection over the last few years. I thought it was high time I put one to good use and so this weekend will be joining thousands of riders around the globe on the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride. Raising awareness and funds for men’s mental health issues and prostate cancer. You may not have seen me in a shirt and tie before but if you are in the Bury St Edmunds area this Sunday it’s your big chance 😉

Please visit this great event if there is one near you or donate here.


Had a great day and collectively raised over £12k for a very important charity. SINCERE thanks to those of you who sponsored me 😉 It’s not too late to donate!

DGR 2017 – Bury St Edmunds

Now back to work