WARNING: The following diatribe includes personal opinion. If you are easily offended by opinions other than your own please don’t read any further. If you are minded to leave hostile comments or would like to tear me a new one I could’nt care less. Last time I checked I am still entitled to my own opinions (and this is my blog), what follows is based entirely upon my own opinion and the experience upon which it was formed.
I am on the horns of a dilemma. As is the way of these things the issue has been developing over time and has now come to a point that requires some thought, discussion and possibly even a decision to be made. Earlier today my daughter discovered a wasp nest in her bedroom as you do, it’s in a built in storage area under the eaves of our thatched house. It’s the size of a football and until this morning there was absolutely no sign it even existed. Trouble is it’s actually less that two feet from where she lays her head down at night. Personally I would leave well alone, there are no wasps in the house and so long as we don’t go poking it with a stick it’ll all resolve itself by Christmas. She’s not so keen so the extermiantors are on their way.
This evening I was outside in the sunshine watering as I often am at this time of year. As I went about my business a little brown wren popped out of one of my trees and sat two feet away from me on top of the fence with a lace wing in it’s beak. It sat there watching me for a while before disappearing into another of the large trees where I could just see it hopping from branch to branch looking for more prey. This got me to thinking but before we go further let me set the stage.
We are privileged (via a lot of hard work) to own a 400 year old thatched house. It’s the last house in the village next to acres of fields all bounded by ancient hedgerows. We are only a mile away from the Norfolk Broads reserve and less than two hundred yards from areas of ancient fenland, endless marshes and tidal mud flats. Our half-acre plot is entirely surrounded by very old hedgerow of mixed native species from holly, prunus, hawthorn, yew, a few modern conifers and the like. There is ivy everywhere and some of our hedges might be considered a tangled mess. In the garden are a couple of mature forty-foot larch, massive cherry trees, a 150 year old oak tree and a fifty foot scots pine. One of our boundaries consist of four hundred year old limes, a couple with trunks as large as a small car. We have a couple of ponds we have turned over to natural management (left to their own devices) that are breeding grounds for the fish that live in them. In spring we see more than fifty balls of frog spawn every year and they also support toads, newts, a great number of varied dragon flies and wildfowl including ducks who have raised broods here several times. I am no twitcher but we have nests of robin, wren, blackbirds, crows, pigeons, doves, magpies and a variety of finches and tits. We regularly see several different birds of prey and can hear owls at night. We see the occasional rabbit, squirrels, mice and sometimes a muntjac deer will wander in from the lane outside. I have seen common lizards and a grass snake as well as two daft Staffies. There really is a lot going on here despite it being fairly quiet.
I am 54 years old this year which means I come from simpler times. A time when common sense was just that and when hysteria was pretty much unknown, stiff upper lip and all that. I was raised by parents that went through the war as children and by their parents that kept a cool head and appreciated just how blessed they were to have a roof over their heads, food on the table and were free from the threat of death falling from the sky every night. Simple pleasures by todays standards which are often taken for granted. Every single day I am shocked by the stupidity and hysteria that has infected our once proud country. I fear it’s all going very wrong and that we will never be able to get back. Just think about how modern Britain’s would deal with what our grandparents had to deal with in 1939. Many Brits’ have gone soft in the head and we may have become a nation of dependant whiners incapable of dealing with life ourselves, taking responsibility and largely incapable of intelligent thought. Everything has become somebody else’s responsibility, the universal cry is “The government should do something ….”. Well, surprise, surprise, I DO NOT AGREE. The government and authorities are incapable of holding everyone’s hand and mopping up after them, in fact governments are incapable of much other than wasting money and cocking things up. If governments are our only source of help then God help us all, we’ll need him.
Bear with me here I AM getting to the point 😉 My big issue is with ignorance, it seems to be infectious and since we all got access to the internet ignorance has increased a lot, in fact since the time we all got our first dial-up modems the spread of stupidity seems to be relentless. Lately what’s been called ‘fake news’ has pointed a spotlight on the fact a lot of folk do actually believe the shit they read or are told online or via a million forms of media streaming into our heads 24/7. As a bonsai artist and a business man involved in the bonsai trade I have to say I am on the verge of leaving and going back to my first love, motorcycles. EVERY SINGLE DAY I am bombarded by frankly quite incomprehensible nonsense and trying to stop the tide like some King Cnut come lately, and educate, what feels like the whole world, has literally sucked the life out of me. I have never been so tired, depressed and lethargic, only my bikes are keeping me alive. Kaizen Bonsai may just be for sale but after reading this you might look away.
As an example to illustrate my point, last summer I sold a pretty little cotoneaster to a “lady” here in the UK. Not an expensive tree, just under £100 including the VAT and delivery. The lady bought the tree from our web site where it was listed under “Outdoor Bonsai Trees”. We shipped it and never heard any more, they say no news is good news and so we thought no more about it. This was around August time. Come October I got an email asking for my advice as to why the tree was not growing. I asked the logical questions about what she had been doing and where the tree was kept. I was told the tree was indoors on a windowsill and since the heating was turned on the tree had started to look poorly. I replied that it needed to be outside year round and what was she doing in regard to watering it. The reply? This is a direct quote! “Oh I didn’t realise I needed to water it”. After I returned from sticking cocktail sticks in my eyes I had to wonder whether my life was really worth anything at all. I did my best to be polite, anyone who knows me well will be grinning about now. After I pointed out her error she went on the attack calling me a crook, thief, charlatan, bandit and some other choice phrases I will spare you from. She then complained to Paypal who took the money off us and gave it back to her. This sort of shit happens almost every day.
Many bonsai folk have sadly fallen foul of the modern epidemic of hysterical silliness bought on by shit, published online by ill-informed, ignorant, unqualified, inexperienced idiots keen to look clever and pick up followers, friends, subscribers and generally be the centre of attention, nowhere is this more evident than in relation to the subject of pest and disease (P&D). The hysteria regarding bugs, fungi and bacteria leaves me completely speechless. I was once excoriated by a guy that re-potted one of our trees a year after he bought it because he found a single vine weevil grub. Bearing in mind these are endemic across much of Europe and will be found across the UK living in grassland and turf you ARE going to bump into one of these little guys from time to time. If you are growing soft tissue plants like Huchera or bedding plants in multi purpose compost and they go unnoticed there may well be an issue but if you grow bonsai trees in modern soil mixes they really will not be an issue worth worrying about and besides, how much of the contents of a 20” pot can a single 8mm grub possibly eat? If your bonsai get to a stage where there are a thousand grubs in your pot and a plant starts to suffer I would suggest you might want to pay more attention going forwards.
My issue is this. My little wren has a nest in our garden alongside a dozen other nesting varieties. Due to careful consideration we have a thriving eco system all around us. We have more bees than you can shake a stick at (and wasps in the roof), butterflies and literally thousands of species of insect. Many of those insects rely upon plants for their existence and many of them would be classified as “Pests” within the bonsai community. Some ill-informed individuals believe bonsai trees can ONLY exist in a sterile environment free of contact with fungi, bacteria and insects. I know this not to be true but in order to furnish such folk with squeaky clean trees should I bust out the chemicals and destroy a beautiful eco system that has evolved around our old house over four hundred years? If I worry about a few aphids (greenfly/blackfly/whitefly etc) and adopt a scorched earth approach to their eradication my customers expectations of a sterile bonsai tree will be largely realised but without those aphids I won’t have lacewings and the like and then my little wren won’t have the food source he needs for his young family.
Just today my good lady was fussing over the trash bin outside that has maggots crawling around in it and is full of condensation due to the warm weather. Inside the lid is absolutely alive with tiny maggots. What can we get to destroy these? My advice was to open the lid and leave well alone. Within ten minutes there were robins and other small birds having a feast. Perhaps surprisingly the world needs flies that come from maggots. Birds like robins eat maggots and birds like swallows eat flies and maggots eat rotting crap we do need to dispose of and what more responsible way is there of doing that?
Here’s another thing that bothers fuss pots. Slugs and snails, not my favourite thing but they do love a bonsai garden that’s constantly being watered and has lots of cool damp pots to hide under. I used to put out pellets to try and clear them until one day I found a hedgehog laying in the middle of the lawn. It wasn’t dead but it certainly wasn’t alive either. I had poisoned it with my slug pellets (via poisoned molluscs). After about a week of care it did recover but was a close run thing. Toads and frogs eat slugs and snails too as do thrushes that we have in the garden and when was the last time you were overrun with those? They used to be everywhere when I was a kid. What nine year old boy didn’t love to watch a thrush beating a snail on a rock? Sure if you are growing lettuce these slimy creatures can be a nightmare, so plant more lettuce and share and don’t poison all the predators and then you won’t be overrun with a slow-moving plague.
Thanks to my mother I have an inbuilt fear of spiders. I live in an old house and so spiders are a way of life. All my life I tried to rid my space of these pesky critters. One thing I refuse to do is be a slave to fear and so for a couple of years I worked hard to make my peace with spiders. Rather than pounding them into the carpet now I either let them run off or put them outside. For several years in summer time we were annoyed by little black flies buzzing around in the house, these are impossible to swat and extremely hard to ignore. Last summer I noticed a patch of spider web had appeared in the corner of our living room between two of the beams. It gave me the creeps when I saw two black legs sticking out of the hole in the middle and whilst watching TV from a safe distance I actually became quite enamoured with my new buddy. After a while there were no more flies and in time I guess the spider died or moved on, I kind of miss him now and the flies are back.
One of my biggest fears, since I was a kid, were those big fat bodied spiders that appear towards the end of summer. Apparently they are called European garden spiders (Araneus diadematus). Nasty looking fat bodied brown things that often end up looking like a marble with legs wearing a fur coat. Late summer every year and these would be setting up shop in our greenhouse and just giving me the chills. One year in a spirit of cooperation I decided to stop smacking them with a plank or spraying them with insecticide as I had done for years and just let be. The result was a lot less annoying critters in the greenhouse and cleaner plants, the greenhouse was also becoming a feeding ground for small birds again.
So, now hopefully you begin to get my drift? A while back I wrote along these lines in relation to soil What should be in your bonsai soil. Progressing on from there I have become increasingly aware of the responsibility I have to the little bit of the world I temporarily own. The dilemma is fairly plain, do I wreck everything like an angry bull in a china shop just to satisfy a few ill-informed folk? A blanket use of chemicals will destroy the whole show and probably go some way to poisoning me too. Chemicals are not selective they kill all the pests.
I am acutely aware that some pests do need to be controlled. See my blog post earlier this year about a pesky fungus bothering junipers . As I will explain P&D can get out of hand and particularly where something comes from foreign climes problems can occur. Again hysteria in this respect is rife but often unfounded and ill-informed. Much like the media going into overload about ash die back and blaming it on plants imported from the European mainland. This did massive damage to the nursery and garden centre trade. P&D are no respecter of national boundaries and ash die back has been making it’s way steadily here for a long time and it’s arrival was inevitable with the right east wind. The crazy thing is that more ash trees have been destroyed in an attempt to control the disease than have actually been killed by the disease itself. If a fungus is killing trees where is the sense in killing ALL the trees before it gets there? Truth is authorities are terrified of another Dutch elm scenario on their watch. Sure we lost most of the big elms but there are survivors and resistant strains are now being cultivated and ulmus procera are literally everywhere in southern Britain, sure they don’t get big but everyone in British bonsai loves them, I have two dozen myself. Often times these issues are little more than political footballs kicked about between the media and those same feckless (keen to be re-elected) authorities.
In spite of what some folk tell me I am not actually classified as stupid or whatever the modern parlance is for that term, though I do have my moments. Nobody wants to buy a tree infested with bugs. That’s not what I am talking about here. My point is it’s IMPOSSIBLE to have a plant that’s 100% free from any form of life other than plant. That is unless you submerge it in a vat of pervasive chemicals and then seal it in an air and water free vacuum. The way some bonsai folk run on you could be forgiven for thinking that is exactly how bonsai trees should be kept. Truth is that cosseted and mollycoddled bonsai trees are noting but trouble. Expose trees to the elements commensurate with their natural habitat, do not water or fertilise more than is necessary to maintain healthy growth and just let the tree do its own thing with an absolute minimum of your fiddling and trust me you will be surprised with the results.
Over the last fifteen or twenty years I made the mistake of making myself available to anyone who wanted my help and advice. Each year I spend over a grand paying the phone charges for people who call me for free advice that takes close to a day a week of my time. Clearly that won’t be continuing, especially as I am suffering abuse from some idiots who call me and don’t like what I have to say. Having done all that, one fact has become VERY obvious to me, 99% of ALL the problems experienced by bonsai trees are the result of the actions of their owners and, or, the owners perception of what may, or may not, be an actual problem. In the UK I have almost never experienced, or seen, or heard of a significant problem with bonsai that was caused directly by P&D that did not have an underlying issue related to the trees care in some way. That’s not to say problems can’t just spontaneously happen but it is very rare in my experience.
Much like us, plants have inbuilt defence mechanisms to help them survive in a hostile world. Much like us, where a plant is fighting fit it will happily resist the advances of P&D. However, get tired and run down and you are asking for trouble as I found out to my cost when I ended up in hospital with pneumonia. Living in a bonsai pot is a stressful situation for any tree no matter how good your horticultural skills. Wildly fluctuating temperatures, limited resources and imbalances caused by pruning and the like all make for a stressful time. Thankfully most species are super tough and just shrug this off and the stress serves to make the plant even tougher just as the stress of weight training will make you stronger. But, given time, constant stress will always prevail and cause problems, especially if we miss the almost imperceptible telltale signs of things beginning to go out of whack. The first many of us know that things are not what they should be is when we notice a pest attack or infestation. We blame the pests for the problem of damaging our bonsai’s health when in fact they are a secondary issue to an underlying problem, often of our own making. A few critters on a plant is perfectly natural an infestation (the state of being invaded or overrun by pests or parasites) is not. A few pests will not, in regard to a healthy plant, normally result in an infestation. Nor will a few bugs harm the health of a tree.
I have had folk call me, absolutely beside themselves in blind panic because they found a few leaf munching caterpillars on their bonsai. Much like the vine weevil how much can a few caterpillars eat? Well actually quite a lot but if you have the eco system around you they won’t get out of hand, much like our bin. Consider what a few caterpillars eat and then look at what’s laying on the floor after you have given your beloved bonsai a summer prune. To some, a few munched leaves will spoil their enjoyment of bonsai entirely. Personally I like to know my bonsai are accepted into the natural world and are providing a living for the inhabitants of my garden. Perfection is an impossible target in bonsai and the pursuit of that perfection has seen the disillusionment and demise of countless potential bonsai masters over the years I have been around. I got into bonsai first and foremost because I love trees and that means I MUST love the environment in which those trees live and that environment includes a lot of wildlife and that’s a part of what makes a tree such a magical thing surely?
I was recently listening to a radio program about gardening and there was a question about honey fungus, something that causes utter panic amongst gardeners. The expert was a senior gardener at the RHS’s most famous garden and explained that their very old garden was absolutely riddled with the fungus (which I thought was brave). He then went on to explain that honey fungus will only ever infect weak and poorly trees and those suffering stress from secondary infections or catastrophic damage. The answer to the question of ‘what can I grow in a garden infected with honey fungus’ was basically ‘healthy’ plants. Right plant, right place, right soil, simple enough right? Plants will always have a few stow-aways. A few bugs, caterpillars, spiders and the like is all a part of what makes a tree a tree. It’s estimated that a mature oak living in a British woodland supports three hundred and fifty species of insect and thirty different lichen species. By July the leaves will look worse for wear before the second flush but that’s how these things work. Ok for trees, not Ok for your brand new BMW! Just because a tree has a few bugs and some scruffy foliage does not prove it’s unhealthy, it’s just lived in. An unhealthy tree will invariably suffer serious attack and infestation and a spray may be important to clear away pests prior to other actions being taken in order to correct underlying causes, that’s just common sense. My issue is with the increasing hysteria we are finding in relation to all apparent or so called P&D issues.
For too long now humans have been trying to dominate the earth and force it to conform to our needs. Problem is that the earth has time on it’s side and we don’t, much like the P&D we are discussing, once we have used up all the resources of our host and it’s dead we will die with it because for us there is nowhere else to go. Time to start thinking about working WITH the world around us, subjugation has not worked either in the world that supports us or in bonsai judging by the thousands of carcases of dead trees I have seen on my travels.
So now I have got that all off my chest what about my dilemma? I plan to leave my trees here to get along with the world around them and to take their place in my lovely little eco system. Once they are sold we will give them a preventative spray just to clean them up where (rarely) necessary and send them on to their new homes. That way our customers get a clean tree and my wrens, hedgehogs and frogs get clean food to eat. I’m sure that will not suit everyone but trying to keep everyone happy has put me in hospital before now. We all have a larger responsibility to our world and the only way we are going to make it better than it is will be by taking personal responsibility for what WE do and what WE own and consume. Stomping all over the world telling other folk what to do is actually only making the problem worse, stay home and take care of your own, please.
Anyone who has spent any time with me at all will know that there is nothing on this earth that I hold in greater contempt than politicians. To say that the lunatics are running the asylum is such an understatement that I am rather ashamed to be using the phrase in this context but as this is a family show I have to be circumspect.
The latest bit of madness to come from the Westminster asylum has rendered me all but speechless. It’s to do with trying to control the spate of knife violence that has been going on for a while but the British lefty media has just picked up on. In order to try and curb the problem politicians have decide to go after the knives rather that the twats that are sticking them in each other. I have carried a knife for over 40 years now and nobody has ever been stabbed (well actually I have but that’s a whole other story). My grandfather taught me how to carve wood with a pocket knife at 6-7 years old and you will never find me without a knife. Now I do appreciate that nobody in modern Britain needs to walk around with an 18″ Bowie knife but they do have their uses, just not in the hands of inner city children who have no moral compass.
In typical style, politicians have got the cart in front of the horse and the proposed legislation – The Offensive Weapons Bill – to be debated upon the return from parliment’s insane extended summer holiday ????????? (I thought only kids got that, don’t grownups work?) and in particular article 15 proposes that no “BLADED” products can be sold other than face to face (no mail order) and anyone doing so will be committing an offence punishable by a year in prison.
The long and the short of that is you will no longer be able to buy knives, scissors, carving tools or any kind of edge bearing bonsai tools other than in bricks and mortar stores which largely do not exist in bonsai here any more. This article has HUGE potential repercussions for business and industry and will destroy the business of everyone from high end artisan knife makers to lowly folk like those here at Kaizen Bonsai. Without sales of tools, knives and other bladed products kaizen Bonsai will almost certainly be closing our doors along with a good few of our suppliers.
In an attempt to stop this bit of insanity we are asking you to stand up and sign a petition, simple enough right? Just fill in the form and reply to the subsequent email.
The Bill Committee convenes after the summer recess and we need a considerable number of signatures that will force article 15 to be replaced with a sensible solution. Please click the link above, sign the petition and then click the link it will email you to confirm your support. The share this with anyone and everyone you know, somebody has to stand up for the right thinking, sane and honest people of Britain.
ARTICLE 15 LOOKS LIKE THIS…..
15 Delivery of bladed products to residential premises etc
(1) 30This section applies if—
(a) a person (“the seller”) sells a bladed product to another person (“the
(b) the seller and the buyer are not in each other’s presence at the time of
(2) 35The seller commits an offence if, for the purposes of supplying the bladed
product to the buyer, the seller delivers the bladed product, or arranges for its
delivery, to residential premises.
(3) The seller commits an offence if, for the purposes of supplying the bladed
product to the buyer, the seller delivers the bladed product, or arranges for its
40delivery, to a locker.
(4) For the purposes of subsection (1)(b) a person (“A”) is not in the presence of
another person (“B”) at any time if—
(a) where A is an individual, A or a person acting on behalf of A is not in
the presence of B at that time;
(b) 45where A is not an individual, a person acting on behalf of A is not in the
presence of B at that time.
Offensive Weapons BillPage 15
(5) In subsection (2) “residential premises” means premises used solely for
(6) The circumstances where premises are not residential premises for the
purposes of that subsection include, in particular, where a person carries on a
5business from the premises.
(7) In subsection (3) “locker” means a lockable container to which the bladed
product is delivered with a view to its collection by the buyer, or a person
acting on behalf of the buyer, in accordance with arrangements made between
the seller and the buyer.
(8) 10A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable—
(a) on summary conviction in England and Wales, to imprisonment for a
term not exceeding 51 weeks, to a fine or to both;
(b) on summary conviction in Scotland or Northern Ireland, to
imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, to a fine not
15exceeding level 5 on the standard scale or to both.
(9) In relation to an offence committed before the coming into force of section
281(5) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, the reference in subsection (8)(a) to 51
weeks is to be read as a reference to 6 months.
(10) This section is subject to section 16 (defences).
16 20Defences to offence under section 15
(1) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under section 15 to prove
that they took all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence to
avoid the commission of the offence.
(2) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under section 15 to prove
25that the bladed product was designed or manufactured for the buyer in
accordance with specifications provided by the buyer.
(3) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under section 15 to prove
(a) the bladed product was adapted for the buyer before its delivery in
30accordance with specifications provided by the buyer, and
(b) the adaptations were made to enable or facilitate the use of the product
by the buyer or its use for a particular purpose.
(4) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under section 15 to prove
that they reasonably believed that the buyer bought the bladed product for use
35for relevant sporting purposes or for the purposes of historical re-enactment.
(5) In the application of this section to Scotland references to a person proving a
matter are to be read as references to a person showing a matter.
(6) For the purposes of subsection (5) a person is to be taken to have shown a
matter mentioned in this section if—
(a) 40sufficient evidence of the matter is adduced to raise an issue with
respect to it, and
(b) the contrary is not proved beyond reasonable doubt.
(7) The appropriate national authority may by regulations provide for other
defences to the offence under section 15.
I have been asked for workshop dates repeatedly but have largely been unable to oblige. However I have managed to squeeze in a couple of summer dates coming up soon. There are only two places left on each date so if you would like to attend please get in touch quickly.
Details here – Summer Bonsai Workshop Dates
By this time in the bonsai year we should would normally be relaxing a bit, sucking down some inebriating beverages and catching a few rays. Sadly that’s not happened this year, for a start we have been suffering out here on the east coast with biting north winds and late October temperatures, only a polar bear would be outside in those conditions sunning himself. Secondly it’s just been too dammed busy (which I know is a good thing) thanks to all your orders. There’s just never a minute to take a deep breath. Case in point I was dragged from my bed last Saturday at an unearthly hour (even for me) by a dodgy looking lorry driver with no front teeth and sporting a fine pair of flip flops. Standing there in my bare feet and not a lot else it’s hard to know which of us was the more bewildered and surprised as I opened the door. As the fog lifted and I saw the curtain-sider in my drive and the pink slip the driver was thrusting in my direction (no English) all became clear, it was my latest delivery of yamadori. So before the sun appeared over the horizon or I had a chance to get a cup of coffee in me I had to hump about a ton and a half of scruffy looking plants.
My blog posts of late are perhaps becoming a little boring (More new trees, yawn!) but there has been no time to compose witty prose since all I have been doing is sorting out deliveries. There has not been time to barely even start listing new stock for sale on the web site. Such is the demand for trees we have been fighting off customers with a big stick. So, if you have been waiting for pictures, prices or other enlightening details I must apologise for being such an awkward old sod but all good things come to those who wait.
This particular delivery includes a few choice bits and bobs. We will be sitting on some of these until the end of summer, others are available now and a couple won’t ever be available. There are some nice bits here and the prices are pretty good considering the quality. As always the more bent and twisted the higher the price, a constant source of wonderment to my dad who says “How much? For that price I would think you could get a nice straight one.”
Just taken delivery of another few, very choice, new yamadori trees. Fresh in from the Mediterranean these are feeling right at home in the unseasonally warm sunshine.
More new imported stock arrived over the weekend. Here are a few snaps to whet your appetite. This will all be appearing on the web site over the summer but meanwhile if something grabs your eye please send me an email with the relevant picture for reference.
Still plenty more to come yet this year 😉
I did post a picture of this plant a while ago and got a whole host of ideas on it’s identification, none of which I believe were correct. Not the most desirable tree in the world but I do love the challenge of something new. For anyone that was interested it’s looking like Phillyrea angustifolia rosmarinifolia now it’s chucked up some flowers. I might be wrong and I know somebody will put me right if I am 😉
Last weekend I had to drag my sorry old butt out of bed at 4am. We spent the day at the bonsai Expo at Heathrow which is a fair old shlep from here on a dreary wet and dark morning. Still, it was great to be able to catch up with so many friends and familiar faces and the bonsai weren’t half bad either. I did find a few minutes to take a few snaps. In no particular order here are a few of the exhibits that caught my eye. Sorry the pic’s aren’t brilliant please use your imagination 😉
Last week we had a little delivery of Mediterranean stock. There are a good few more of these to come but for now here is a glimpse.
This week (13 March) I did my first re-pot of 2018. This is an interesting one for a few reasons so I thought I would share it for all to see.
This is a very old yamadori hawthorn I bought off my mentor Kevin Willson several years ago when he was having a clear out. To be fair the tree was recently collected and there was a small element of risk involved on my part but the price was right and sometimes you just have to roll the dice. The tree was planted in a big wooden box, one of my pet hates in bonsai. I bought the tree back to the nursery and stood it on a bed of gravel in full sun.
The key to dealing with yamadori and particularly hawthorns is to be able to read the tree so you know when it’s possible to take the next step. Too early and the tree will either die or be set back, possibly years. Too late and you are getting old and valuable opportunities will have been missed. So, this tree did nothing much the following summer, it leafed out Ok but these were looking very sorry for themselves by mid summer, no second break and no extension growth. Combined, that’s a sure sign an old tree is struggling with a lack of vigour and too few roots. No fertilising that year and very little watering as the soil was not drying out significantly. All signs you have to wait!
Next year (I would assume 3rd year since collecting) the tree leafed out well in spring and by mid summer the leaves looked half decent and I got a couple of one inch extensions but still very little watering was required. Time to apply some more patience. In all this time the tree did not move a single inch and the box was quickly falling to bits so I just kept piling the soil back on top of it.
Now in the third year in my care and spring bugs were looking much better than in previous years, fatter and raring to go much earlier in the season. By mid summer I had too many four inch extensions to count, a second break and the leaves were twice the size of the previous year. The leaves also remained active and viable until leaf drop in autumn. It’s evident the tree had spent the entire previous season making roots rather than top growth and my patience was beginning to pay dividends.
With results like I had seen the previous year I would hazard a guess that ninety five percent of folk would be ordering a bonsai pot for the coming season and that’s why most ancient hawthorns never become bonsai. It’s true you can largely do what you like to the top of a ‘thorn but the roots need to be treated with ‘kid gloves’. The older a ‘thorn the slower it will be to recover and if you jump in too soon your world of hurt will extend far beyond the pain of a few thorn pricks. So here is what you need to see an old hawthorn yamadori doing before you go and get all mucky….
Spring 2017 duly arrived and my hawthorn was facing a very promising year ahead. It leafed out very early, the leaves were all an inch long (a quarter of that when we started) super shiny, deep green and held up high and proud like a Cruft’s champions tail. There was a decent show of flowers, the soil was drying out almost every day and by August I had two foot extensions (from the six months growth) as well as four to eight inch extensions everywhere. The tree was pushing new strong fat shoots out of everywhere including the big roots just under the soil. I even treated it to a couple of applications of Green Dream Fertiliser. The final indication all was VERY well was a complete lack of mildew or pest problems and beautiful strong autumn colour very late in the season. In my experience if your hawthorn is not growing like this it’s at best just surviving. I consider these signs and this level of growth to be an absolute minimum required before ANY work is done on a hawthorn, especially root work.
Fast forward to March 2018 and i would RATHER leave the tree for another year just to be sure but the box has now completely fallen apart and I have to get this thing moving, I am after all running a business here. I have sat on this for five years now and looking ahead there’s a long way to go before I can recoup my investment. I am confident in the trees ability to withstand having it’s roots disturbed but always approach yamadori hawthorn with an air of trepidation and respect borne of many failures.
First issue i had was choosing my time. Large swelling buds and easily visible tiny white root ends everywhere indicated the time was right. EVERYONE re-pots bonsai too early and even at this stage I could have waited at least three weeks more but I have a lot to get done and so have to take liberties sometimes. Second issue was moving the thing which is part of my issue with boxes. The tree was rooted into the gravel bed for a start so I removed as much soil as i could and then with many hands and a shovel managed to get the tree with it’s rootball intact onto a cart. If the rootball of a hawthorn falls apart it will often strip away lots of fine feeder roots and those are the most important to keep. When collecting, even a massive tree will be kept alive by a small teacup of root which could easily be removed with a brush of the hand.
Once in the workshop I raked out as much as I could to get rid of the weight. Turning the tree on it’s side let gravity help me along a bit. Once free of the remnants of the box and with almost all the weight gone I was able to wrap and strap it and suspend at a convenient height for working. With delicate rooted large trees this avoids wrecking valuable growth rolling it around on a bench. With a little slim stick I was able to fluff up the roots and shake out all the remaining soil. I NEVER wash the soil off the roots of yamadori, it carries away too much of what the tree needs, don’t be lazy and leave the hose until after. Once clean I could see just how much root the tree had developed and from what I saw i would guess about ninety percent of this had happened since it was collected judging by the small area of field soil, collecting hawthorns, particularly in rocks is tough.
Looking at the exposed root system it was evident this tree was never going to fit into a bonsai pot or even the oversize training pot I was hoping to use. Time to get pruning and this is where it often goes wrong for folk potting yamadori for the first time. These trees are normally old and respect needs to be paid to that fact. In an ideal world what we want is to gather up ALL of the root and put it into it’s new container with new soil so the growth cycle it’s taken so long to build up can continue. Forget about big flat nebari and everything you learned about re-potting bonsai, this is NOT bonsai, survival and future development is the order of the day. “Bonsai” root pruning is something that comes much later and where hawthorns are concerned MUCH later.
Now that the entire root system is laid bare I could easily judge what I had to work with and the only real problem was a long thick root sticking out the back about a foot long and with a massive amount of root on it’s end. There was no way this was ever going to go into a pot of any reasonable size. By isolating the roots this carried from the rest I was able to judge just how much of the precious root system I would loose if I cut it away. Based on experience I was not entirely happy but considering the current strength of the tree I felt there was only a small degree of risk and so away it went. I did manage to find a couple of small side roots below which I cut, this should mean the remainder of this root stays alive and ensures I don’t lose an important strip of bark or live vein further up the tree. NO other roots were pruned in any way.
With my big prune out of the way it was evident this would now go into a nice small pot but, over the years, most of the big problems I have had with bonsai have been down to small pots and so i rummaged around to fine a pot that was too big. I will say what follows with my last breath…. ONLY EVER PUT BONSAI IN BONSAI POTS – Putting any plant into a bonsai pot WILL NOT, EVER, make it a bonsai. Putting ancient yamadori like this into a bonsai pot, at this stage, pretty much guarantees it will NEVER, EVER, EVER…… become a bonsai tree. I estimate another fifteen years before this needs a bonsai pot but today it’s very important to begin the process of developing the root system (structure and size) it will need when we get there. I turned up this huge mica bath tub that had been cluttering up the greenhouse for years, it’s significant depth and large size was just perfect and a great improvement to mobility over that old box.
One of the most important factors in potting a tree like this for the first time is to secure the tree properly. It takes a hawthorn years to make a lot of root and so wiring the tree into the pot to ensure it is steady is absolutely vital. Most folk never really master this particular art. It’s important to have good thick wire which needs to be pulling the tree downwards at an acute angle and this needs to be pulling down on something strong like a thick root. This really needs to happen in three places around the tree for maximum stability. Conveniently mica pots can easily be drilled with holes so this was an easy task in this case. Hopefully the picture shows what’s required. DO NOT SKIP THIS STAGE.
Finally it was time to put some soil in the pot. As far as hawthorn go an alkaline mix is needed and this should be constructed from ingredients that will not break down over the long term seeing as hawthorn, particularly in large pots, don’t need to be re-potted above every ten years. Don’t use akadama in the UK, the frost will kill it in a few years and when you come to re-pot it will take most of your root with it. Our No 2 Bonsai Soil Mix has proven very successful with hawthorn over the years and in this case the addition of about 10-15% Pumice means this root system will be good for at least the ten to fifteen years this tree will take before it needs that bonsai pot.
Just one important pointer in relation to getting the soil into the pot. Add the soil slowly and use a slim stick to agitate the roots side to side in order to allow soil to get between them. We want a nice mix of soil and roots not a flat matt of roots squashed together with soil laying on top. Almost everyone I see re-potting bonsai uses a stick and stabs at the roots like a pshyco’ knife attacker. Move the stick side to side, not up and down. A lot more soil will go into the pot and the roots will remain in tact. Next use the stick, slid down the side of the pot to pull the roots inward slightly in order to leave a thin layer of soil between the pot and the roots. Roots hard up against the side of the pot will just trap water and encourage rot in the days prior to regrowth. Lastly a light watering, and I stress LIGHT and the job is done. No need to flood the pot, that’s old bollocks carried over from the practice of puddling in that gardeners do.
The last job I did to this hawthorn was a light prune to get rid of a lot of what I definitely didn’t need for the coming season. No point in growing lots of material where I won’t be needing it. It’s important not to overdo this, every bud produces solar panels that the tree really needs at this point. Don’t be tempted to get into a styling session!
Finally I would like to talk about what you do with a tree after re-potting. Where the tree is placed is important and largely mis-understood. This tree was out in an exposed spot in full sun. After the re-potting work it might seem a good idea to put the tree in the greenhouse but this will just bring the top on too fast, before the roots have had time to regenerate, it also creates a potential problem when the tree is finally returned to the great outdoors as the leaves will have developed to suit an entirely different atmosphere. Most folk would place the tree in the shade which is absolute nonsense, particularly in the UK. The only way this hawthorn is going to recover and resume normal growth is by initially using the energy it has stored up in reserve thanks to it’s recent strong growth and ultimately from the energy it creates from sunlight. Putting it in the shade will reduce it’s light exposure to a massive extent and once the leaves do emerge it will be left struggling. By all means put the tree in a SHELTERED spot out of the wind but this ABSOLUTELY MUST be in full sun (such as it is in a typical British spring). I simply put this hawthorn right back in the same spot as before, that won’t mess with it’s internal clock, it’s got all the light it will need, a hawthorn is not effected by wind exposure and the temperatures are perfectly suited to where it is today because that’s what it had yesterday. There is no need to move a hawthorn about after re-potting, even if the temperature drops drastically so long as you didn’t water-log that soil. Hawthorn is tougher than a junk yard dog, at least a healthy one is. The joys of working on a strong healthy tree are entirely worth the long wait to get there in the first place.
Unless someone manages to prise this out of my hands I hope to bring you an update next year.