Looking For Trouble

In the horticultural world the subject of plant pest and disease is often known as P&D which is what I will refer to it as forthwith because I am not a good typist. Over the years my position in the bonsai world has been elevated, partly by some good work, and partly by the opinions of some nice kind folk who like me, or much more likely, like what I do. Thanks to those wonderful folk I have a voice and with it I like to pass on the benefits of my, now extensive experience. I like that I can do this for free too, so please keep buying your bonsai supplies from Kaizen Bonsai and I will keep writing ūüėČ

One of the big problems I have with my slightly elevated position is that I am called on for advice daily. This can be a big problem, spending an hour on the telephone every day is extremely inconvenient especially when I am paying for the call. I need one of those premium rate phone lines then I can retire and just sit in my old armchair chatting all day whilst drinking tea and talking bollocks. However, one thing this does allow me to do is become familiar with the problems folk are having with their bonsai. I don’t do social media and so this is actually one of the upsides of my hours spent on the blower.

Before I get into todays subject I have to just pop up onto my soap box here for a moment and vent a little…… I heard on the news recently that UK doctors are having problems with patients coming in to see them and having self diagnosed via the Internet of Cobblers are ignoring advice and demanding medications with, to sane people, obvious potentially serious consequences. I think I am on safe ground here when I say there is more sh*t on the internet than quality factual information. The nonsense, fake news, dishonest advertising, hyperbole, lies, hatred and insanity are a blight on the human race, by and large. We claim to have ‘evolved’ into something so clever and all knowing but seem entirely incapable of seeing our own stinking stupidity. The future of the human race on earth may well be shorter than the life span of our bonsai trees.

As a person who thrives on new challenges I am always up to something new. I spend a great deal of time on the web, sifting through the BS, learning new things I then go out and practice in order to perfect in the real world. With my, now, half a century of life experience I can apply a certain level of good old fashioned common sense I learned from my father and grandfather in order to filter out the attention seeking gobshites and the snake oil salesmen, with a little work I quickly get to the genuine folk who are good teachers expounding their real world skills learned over decades. Last year I learned how to use a metal working lathe and whilst it is an ongoing project I have, even though I say so myself, knocked up some very nice looking, functioning motorcycle parts and carving tool prototypes. In the past I learned hundreds of things from traditional lime plastering, various forms of welding, making Damascus steel knives to recreating 70 year old motorcycle wiring, fitting and removing big tyres, timing camshafts and sharpening straight razors. In fact I would say my most engaging hobby is learning new things. It is beyond me why so many folk only us the internet for entertainment and upsetting each other on social media (antisocial media?) which I purposely avoid like polonium tea bags. An opinionated old duffer like me is just going to get in trouble.

Please stick with me here, I have not forgotten my thread, it’ll be worthwhile when we get there. So, I think we can say the internet is good for at least three things….

  1. Upsetting folk we hardly know.
  2. Baffling ourselves with bullshit.
  3. Learning valuable new life skills.
  4. Finding out really helpful information.

I know I said there were three points but once I got there I thought point 4. was important too.

Going back to doctors, or at least the point I was making. If you have a symptom and look it up online chances are, within a few minutes, you will be very close to your last breath. People like to exaggerate and since grammar has begun to loose it’s power everything has been taken “too another level”. The modern tendency to use a sledge hammer to kill a fly means so many things are presented as so much worse than they actually are. Add plagiarism into the mix and the constant re-publishing, amendment and exaggeration of fundamentally flawed content and you have the ‘nutters running the nuthouse’ to quote a very non PC phrase (of which I know many and yes I know mental health issues are not a laughing matter). We end up where a patient sits there telling a doctor his job and sues the doctor when they don’t get there own way. Who DID open up the doors of that nuthouse?

This relates very powerfully to bonsai and IN PARTICULAR to P&D. As an example. A few years ago I sold a very expensive piece of Italian yamadori to a very good customer of ours. The tree did all the right things and with some outside help our guy was bringing this tree on in leaps and bounds. I bumped into him over the winter and he asked me for advice on his tree. He shew me a picture of some pretty fungi (mushrooms) growing around the base of the tree. Leaping to the conclusion that all fungi are the end of all life he panicked. After posting the images online he was advised (this is true!) to burn the tree. Seriously, I have heard some incredible shit in my time but this has to take the prize. Why would you burn a very valuable, beautiful and important bonsai tree because a few ‘shrooms’ appeared out of it’s soil? Who made the leap from mushrooms to such a virulent destroying toxin that fire is the only answer?

As it turns out estimates suggest there is more life buried underneath the surface of the earth than exists upon it’s surface. Kingdom fungi is the largest and most diverse group of organisms on earth with an estimated 2.2 to 3.8 million species of which less than 5% have been identified. A large proportion of those species we have identified have proved problematic to plants, which is why we have spotted them. However by far and away the largest proportion get on with their daily existence unnoticed and of little consequence to anybody.

Fungi are important. Because they do not photosynthesize their energy needs from the sun like plants do they have to gather their energy from other sources. By and large this is from dead organic plant matter. Some also work with plants in a symbiotic relationship, promoting plant growth whilst taking a little for themselves. Fungi, mostly, work tirelessly recycling organic rubbish, extracting energy from it and returning the rest back to the ground for re-use. Without fungi the world would be miles deep in dead vegetation and organic waste and the soil would be incapable of supporting plant life. All life on earth is dependant upon fungi doing their jobs. Sure there are some rogue elements that can cause harm but these are in the minority.

As humans we fear what we do not understand and seek to destroy those things through fear. As kids, fearful parents instil in us a sense of fear to do with any type of mushroom or fungi. Pretty red mushrooms look very¬†appetizing to small kids and it’s probably a good idea to keep the two apart. However later in life that fear stays with us even though, as it turns out, most red mushrooms are Ok to eat. The most dangerous in the UK is probably one of the most beautiful pure white mushrooms, the Destroying Angel (amantia virosa). Don’t eat this! In fact don’t eat anything you find unless you are familiar with what you have but don’t also assume that all fungi are bad, either to eat or for the health of your garden or bonsai trees. By and large fungi, like most P&D only attack plants that are weak, distressed or in some other form of environmentally induced weakness. Much like people, healthy specimens have an inbuilt resistance to P&D.

The Destroying Angel. Eat half of this and there is no cure, you will die.

Eat this and you may be high as a kite but you won’t die.

Just because you see some mushrooms around your bonsai tree or other fungal activity, don’t assume it’s bad, it’s more likely to be a positive thing and shows a good balanced and healthy rhizosphere. Part of the trouble with bonsai trees is that, due to the way we keep them in tiny pots they are always under some form of stress. There is too much temperature fluctuation within the root system, too hot in summer and too cold in winter. It’s also hard to regulate the right moisture level in the soil and all but impossible to maintain the perfect nutrient balance. Not only that but our little pots, mostly do not allow sufficient root mass to exist to give us any buffer zone. Bonsai are then all too often messed with via, excess pruning, poor sighting in the garden and too infrequent ill advised re-potting and it’s easy to see bonsai trees spend their lives under considerable stress. Most can withstand this but it’s really easy to see one of our trees dropping on the wrong side of the line. When this happens the plant is a sitting duck just waiting for an infection of some sort.

Another factor to bear in mind is just how many non indigenous varieties we try to grow. Everywhere in the world plant P&D exist and most of them are kept at bay by the local environment or other controlling factors. Take a plant out of it’s natural environment and there is always a chance that natural control will be lost and P&D can become very difficult to control. Many plants are a bit like a fish out of water in a foreign land and the stress of this coupled with a lack of environmental control of P&D can spell trouble.

By far the most important factor in keeping P&D at bay is quality care of trees, ensuring they are hale and hardy and that stress levels are kept to a minimum thanks to quality horticulture and good nursery practice. A sick tree is normally the result of poor horticulture and once on the back foot it often seems all but impossible to recover a trees equilibrium. Of the many sick trees we encounter by far the most significant number are junipers. This beautiful and very common variety is so significantly misunderstood that 90% of the seriously poorly trees we encounter are some form of juniper. I would go so far as to say that probably over 90% of all junipers imported from Japan survive less than ten years at the hands of UK bonsai hobbyists. Most Japanese junipers are not suited to the UK climate with it’s cool mostly dry summers and long wet mild winters.

Over recent years there is a significant problem concerning the health of junipers that, by and large, has gone entirely unnoticed here. Thankfully it’s easily controlled once spotted and just getting on top of this seemingly insignificant fungal problem will significantly help junipers growing in Blightly. In fact this fungi is detrimental to all genus cupressus species.

If you have seen this on your junipers please read on….

Whilst this may look like a simple case of scorch caused by summer heat or freezing winter winds it is in fact Phomopsis Tip Blight: This disease is caused by the fungus Phomopsis juniperovora and begins by infecting the tips of branches smaller than the diameter of a pencil, in particular new spring growth.

The new, immature growth becomes infected while the darker green, mature foliage remains resistant to infection. Infected twigs first become pale, then turn reddish-brown and finally become brown after death. Scraping away the bark will reveal a sharp line between discolored, dead wood and healthy wood. Watch for disease development during the spring or summer flush of new growth when warm, wet conditions are present.

Phomopsis blight is a common fungal disease and begins infecting young leaves at the tips of shoots. Small yellow spots appear first, and as the infection spreads, the leaves die, with the shoots fading to a light green and then reddish-brown and eventually dying back with an ash-gray color. Only new growth is killed, with dieback occurring in spring. Black fruiting bodies can form three to four weeks after infection.

Black fruiting bodies on dead foliage.

Repeated infections occur when temperatures are between 70 to 80 degrees, during periods of high humidity and when foliage is wet. Continuously wet foliage is needed for infection to occur. Areas with heavy shade and poor drainage allow for moist, slow-drying conditions ideal for the disease to thrive. Left untreated we have seen junipers die from this infection as the tree is progressively weakened over a few years. Thankfully we have found treatment to be very easy and also very effective.

For several years now we have been treating pomopsis as a matter of routine. So far we have not seen any evidence of the fungus in European sabina junipers but it has been observed in all other common bonsai juniper varieties including Japanese cultivars, garden varieties and cypress forms. We have had 100% success treating pomopsis using Rose Clear Ultra. Spraying at the recommended strength we thoroughly soak junipers from above and beneath with a fine mist, allowing the product to dry on the foliage. This is done one in May, June and July, one month apart and has proven 100% successful in eradicating existing infections and preventing reinfection. A very simple spring time task and something easily accomplished. However ignore this seemingly insignificant fungal infection at your peril.
There is no need to go out and set your junipers on fire ūüėČ

Don’t Know How I Find The Time

Just got back from a week away buying trees. A simple premise really, stockpile money all year, jump on a plane and come back without a penny. Sounds like the best job in the world right? This year I spent three times the price of my first house on hundreds of trees including some BEAUTIFUL Japanese specimens and top shelf yamadori. To be honest it’s absolutely exhausting, most folk spend hours choosing a tree to buy, try buying a hundred and fifty a day. All told we have the best stock of my life on the road right now. Stay tuned!

This being me things couldn’t really be that simple could they? Not content with buying my stock and catching up with some friends this turned into a trip from hell. I am antisocial to my core and hate crowds, even small gatherings and avoid most people like the plague. Whenever I get into a crowd I alway seem to end up with ‘the plague’. Last year I came away from Noelanders sick as an old dog. This year, on the second day of my trip I came down with what turned out to be a brutal bout of flu that I am still under the influence of, no doubt thanks to Ryanair. Poor Stuart, my long suffering best mate and travelling companion, what he had to endure was second only to what I had to. I think this is one of the first times I have had flu in my life and on the back of my other health woes this year things have not been good. Sorry Stu’, and thanks. Had Stuart not dragged me out of bed I would not have bought a single tree and would have still been languishing in the hotel room even now.

The trouble with owning a business is that you can’t go off sick. If you can’t stand there is sitting down work. If you can stand but can’t walk we will carry you to the work bench to get on. If you can’t stand or sit we will put you on the phone, in bed. It’s 22 years since I took a sick day, the small business owner has to work every day unless he’s dead which I am working on ūüėČ

So I have just about managed to keep the momentum going and despite hacking, coughing and shivering with hot and cold flushes and nasty joint and muscle pains I did get these two knocked out over the last few days. Please send medals to the usual address ūüėČ

First up is a privet we pulled out of a garden about 4 years back. This was the worst of five and just a chopped off stump. I knocked out the middle two years ago, selected a few branches and bent in the right general directions. Some wire and a little more carving and the tree has a future.

Next up was an elm I bought in Italy last year. Nobody wanted it so some work was called for. I hate having to work trees like this where someone has previously messed with them. The carving on this one was pretty pointless but with a little care I all but rescued it. I think this is going to come good in the end. In my book there is no such thing as a bad elm or privet, love ’em to bit’s, literally.



Oak Week at Kaizen Bonsai

Having been laid low for the last few weeks I have been severely limited in what I can get done around here. This time of year we start to get real busy buying new stock and preparing trees for sale later in the year. Over the last few weeks all I have been doing is working on oaks, carving and wiring one after another. Feels like I have been trapped in a recurring dream for a while now but at least the trees turned out Ok. Sadly there are still a whole bunch still to do but I have to move onto other things now. Here are some before and afters of the more impressive trees.



Quercus faginea. £895

Quercus faginea. £1595

Barbary oak. £895

Barbary oak. £795

Barbary oak. £750

Early days but coming along. Quercus faginea. £225

Quercus faginea. £975

Quercus Ilex. £550

Quercus faginea. £675

Just for a change. Crab apple.

Crab apple, Malus. £650

Still left to complete. £1800

Still left to complete. £1800


Better Late Than Never.

Firstly let me take the opportunity to wish everyone a happy and prosperous 2018. I know it’s a bit late but I have good reason. If you stop by here regularly you will know that our only holiday throughout the year is the Christmas week. I generally treat myself to a skip and spend the week grafting my ass off. This year though Christmas holidays came early and with some rather unexpected and unwelcome consequences.

The last couple of days before the holiday were quiet as we stopped shipping parcels and so I thought it would be a good opportunity to get ahead of the game. I moved here ten years ago and we constructed a bench out of waste pallets as a temporary measure which has been falling apart ever since. Now was the time and so with two absolutely awful dark drizzly days in prospect I decided to jump in.

Time for new benches (about 10 years ago). That pole weighs over 200Kg! Trust me I know ūüôā

Once we cleared all the rotten crap away we had to dismantle an overhead cover frame work we no longer used. This I built from telegraph poles and 6×2″s. It all came down nicely and the crap was cleared away but then we had to get those poles out of the ground. I figured out a way to pull them up but not to the full 3′ that was buried so I just man-handled them the rest of the way, should have done this in summer when they were not full of water! Still with everything laying on the lawn it looked like we had Eddie Hall over training at Fingal’s Fingers.

Fingal’s Fingers anyone?

Ramon busted his hump over the two days leaving me to finish off on the Saturday which I did, that rescued all of the Christmas week for me or, so I thought. Simple, a little expensive but should last longer than I will. We are on a slope so levelling up benches is important.

Sunday morning I felt a little worse for wear but carried on regardless. Christmas day the whole family turned up and Sarah cooked a meal fit for a king. Trouble is I was in a bad way and barely managed to stay upright long enough to eat anything. Then, come Boxing day morning it became evident that something had gone very seriously wrong. I know pain, the list of examples I could share would leave you wide mouthed and in hysterics if you share my cruel outlook. One time I broke both arms at once, the right one folded up and snapped completely. What made it worse was the face plant I completed on the road after I got back on my bike to ride home (as my right arm concertinaed up). The police found me in a bus shelter passed out. However this time the pain was worse. For all the world i thought I had ripped my own buttock off, the pain in my right side and leg was simply inconceivable and I was ABSOLUTELY unable to to move even a single inch. All the pain killers in the local Tesco store did nothing and so mid morning Catherine was forced to call out an ambulance since I could not move, there were no doctors available and 111 left us hanging. In a few minutes a couple of wonderful young fellas arrived and eventually (another shocking story) got me something very strong to take the edge off.

I spent 9 days unable to move and screaming the house down every time I tried to move. New years eve I passed out four times trying to get up. Now I am up and about a bit, no thanks to my doctor, and the NHS physio’ I have still not been able to see (nothing until February). The tales I can tell leave me heartbroken regards the state of my once proud nation. I really do not want to go into the details of all this further, it’s a supremely painful memory in every respect. However my absolute life saver has been a local osteopath who has been an angel. The laymans explanation was that I crushed the right side of my body (carrying telegraph poles on my shoulder). That resulted in everything going into spasm and squished all the nerves in my arse, leg and lower back. Time to loose some weight and get back to pumping iron again, unless I am broken in half i’m not giving in yet, FUCK PAIN!

I’m up and about a bit now and started lifting, which I have been threatening to get back to all year, just a shame i was a bit too late. Sorry if you have been trying to get a hold of me but I was occupied. I have to offer a sincere and tearful thanks to Catherine who has been more than an angel through all this and has been carrying the business these last couple of weeks (and 500 parcels). I have been doing my best, here is an oak I did in the midst of my suffering.

Happy new year ūüôā


A Quickie Up the Tunnel

It’s officially the shortest day today. I HATE this time of year with a passion, the cold, the wet and above all the dark, I really struggle to keep myself going at this time of year. The idea of drinking a whole jar of ‘shine’ and laying out on the freezing grass in my kecks until it’s all over often crosses my mind. However at 4.27pm today the year clicks over and the days begin getting longer. Maudlin aside there are folk that depend upon me so as my parents say ‘must get on‘.

Being as it is Christmas and all I thought I would share a secret I learned many years ago. It’s served me well and put money in my pocket. In some circles bonsai is something of a competitive sport. The drive to own a perfect tree and a better one than our peers is strong in many people, bonsai is a game of one-upmanship to those folk. Go to any bonsai selling event or nursery sale and as the doors open see what I mean. My opinion of that is to wonder why folk are so keen to own somebody else’s bonsai work. In the motorcycle world there is a t-shirt around that states “It’s not about what you can buy, it’s about what you can build”. In reality just splashing some cash isn’t that hard. With the right motivation anyone can get off the sofa and earn money. However if you are going to make something truly worthwhile and valuable to both yourself and others, building it is the way to go. A quality, and unique, build brings satisfaction of a job well done, demonstrates hard learned skills and dedication as well as respect and possibly even a little envy from our peers. Any skill mastered has the ability to open up a path for us in life that just could leave the world at our feet.

Take this message to heart, it could change your life.

That’s exactly how I ended up here. Nearly thirty years ago I started to keep bonsai. I had no money but just worked as hard as i could with crap, stumps and skip rats and after ten years as my skills got better so did my trees, strange that. A family friend who had done well in life imparted a simple gem of wisdom too me as a teenager that I hold as invaluable today and has been a guiding principle of my life. – “Use what you’ve got to get what you want”. I had a couple of broken down electric drills, a flexible drive shaft and some home made cutting bits and some absolutely crappy stumps i nicked off a demolition site. Not much of a start but a start none the less.

It didn’t take me long to realise my first “bonsai” material had it’s limitations. These were my very first bonsai and worthy of a photo!

Finding bonsai material is really easy, it’s literally everywhere even in horrible overcrowded Blighty. If you live in an urban area you have at your feet a massive variety of material in the gardens and parks around you and the scruffy sort of thing we need is easy to procure as the owners are usually keen to see the back of such things. I have been paid by property owners to remove some superb material. If however you are too old, infirm or bone idle to go out and find what you need there are plenty of folk happy to sell you such things including us. Whenever I put something a bit special on our web site it creates an almost instant response and will often sell in minutes. However our web site, and nursery are full to the rafters of what some might consider ‘crap’. That only serves to show how little some folk know. Because of how I started all this malarkey I still love a nice big stump more than just about any material I have, they are often a blank slate for our creativity. Remember, this is about what YOU can build and the process of creating bonsai is a building project just like a house, a car, a bike or any other complex entity.

Most folk go out of their way to avoid procuring trees with big pruning scars. As a general rule I go out to find those trees on purpose, the price is always better. All that’s required is to hollow out those big cuts and folk will fight to own the results. A scar is just that, a big shady hollow is an attractive feature that draws the eye and can be developed as a focal point of an otherwise sub standard bonsai. Trees where I live are very big, fat and the oldest ones are ALWAYS hollow and who doesn’t love the mystery of a deep dark hole?

Who doesn’t love a deep dark hole?

Last week this thumping great hornbeam turned up. I love hornbeam, a much underrated British native. It was a bit sad that that massive cut had been shaved down flush. Did someone really think it would heal over? This did limit my options somewhat but you have to make the most of what you have at hand. Carving took an hour as did the wiring and as hornbeam bend like they were make of French cheese some gnarly branch lines a easily achieved. Give the work a couple of years to mature and this tree will have doubled in merit and value. SIMPLES!


Hornbeam as delivered.

Elephant in the room? Who thought this was a good idea? Nice red wound sealant.

A good stump here would have helped a lot.

Bark removed prior to hollowing. Always keep in mind how future callous tissue will develop. This can really add some magic.

Big holes look good if they are connected by small ‘windows’ from other areas.

A bit of wire.

Two hours work and showing promise.

Christmas Came Early

Years ago I started keeping bonsai as a nice quiet distraction from a hectic lifestyle. For years I struggled with how slow everything moved, plants are indolent in relation to dragsters and big motorcycles. In time I came to terms with the pace of bonsai life and nowadays some might say I have slowed my work down too much, like I could care less.

The trouble is that my bonsai hobby spiralled into something of a tornado that sucked me into what i do today, I had no intention of that happening. Ironically my bonsai business now causes me all the stress I hoped it would ease over twenty five years ago. Whilst everyone is running around here dealing with the Christmas madness, 2017 is ancient history for me. I’m mucking about booking flights and cutting deals for stock for next year and the year after. It’s not even the shortest day but I have been busy making plans, juggling finances and getting ready for the new years exertions including plans for my Christmas holiday which will see me building new benches this year.

If I say so myself i am getting quite good at all this juggling and even though the fat bloke with the red coat and white beard hasn’t been by yet I have had my Christmas box, the first delivery of stock for 2018. A big truck rolled in last week in the pouring rain and this lot fell off the back. There are a few gems and some good low priced stock. Much of this will be progressed before the spring, some will be on the web site soon and just maybe a couple I will keep for a while.


Quercus faginea

Juniperus sabina

Juniperus sabina

Quercus suber

Quercus faginea

Carpinus betulus

Carpinus betulus

Carpinus betulus

Carpinus betulus

Carpinus betulus


Juniperus sabina

Juniperus sabina

Juniperus sabina

Prunus dulcis

Juniperus sabina

Juniperus sabina

Juniperus sabina

Olea sylvestris

Juniperus sabina

Juniperus sabina

Pistacia lentisus

Juniperus sabina

Junierus sabina

Juniperus sabina

Juniperus sabina

Carpinus betulus

Carpinus betulus

Carpinus betulus

Crataegus monogyna

Crataegus monogyna

Crataegus monogyna

Crataegus monogyna

Crataegus monogyna

Olea sylvestris

Tamarix spp.

Ulmus minor

Prunus Cerasifera

Prunus Cerasifera

Quercus ilex Subsp: Ballota, commonly called Barbary oak

Prunus mahaleb

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 ūüôā 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 ūüėČ

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.