I am often asked what is my favourite bonsai. As always I can’t offer a straight answer. We move more than two thousand bonsai a year here and I love the day new trees arrive. I also love the day they leave because KB got paid. However I am not as mercenary as that, I have a collection of bonsai and raw material I have kept to myself now and some of those trees have been with me for nearly 25 years.
I do not have a favourite species of tree to work on. Tree species all have unique characteristics and many change throughout the year making them very interesting to work with at different times. So my favourite bonsai? A very good one that looks it’s best and has been developed to bring out it’s unique character. The other thing I love (being a Brit’) is an underdog. Most of my bonsai journey has been about making ugly trees into pretty ones. Some trees I see are beyond hope but others just need a caring hand and a skilled eye to reveal their inner beauty.
When you keep bonsai trees you have to come to terms with the fact that not everything can look it’s best all the time. Many folk believe it’s possible to have a collection of bonsai that look like pictures lifted from magazines, IT”S NOT. Bonsai need to be allowed to grow and as such most cannot be perfectly manicured all year around. However it should be possible to have a tree come to perfection at least once a year or perhaps every couple of years.
So my favourite bonsai tree changes throughout the year. Even with 3000 trees in the garden there are rarely more than two that are peaking at any one time. At this time of year I do have one very special bonsai that helps reinforce my conviction about what I am doing and, just for good measure the tree is a bit of an underdog too.
I bought this Chinese elm about 15 years ago from another bonsai nursery. It was a typical Chinese tree with balls of foliage on the end of each branch. However underneath I could see something very special. This elm lives outside all year around. I have to re-pot every year and about every 5 years it has to be cut back very hard into old wood and re-twigged. The bark is stunning now and the tree has never been wired. In February every year it drops it’s leaves and for about 3 weeks is stunning. This is, to me, the epitome of an old English woodland tree and today it IS my favourite bonsai.