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Enough Already!

It’s amazing to me these days how everybody knows everything about everyone. Seems anyone with a working mouth is an expert on most everything and the affairs of everyone. However in the case of what I get up to that’s evidently not the case. I get fucked right off by being told, by folk I don’t know, all about what exactly I am doing. So let me put the record straight before some dumb shits get the better of us.

It seems every year or so I have to deal with this bullshit and it’s pissing me off. Just so you heard it from me …….  Kaizen Bonsai is not closing it’s doors and we are definitely NOT retiring, ever. The next generation of the family is already invested in the business and committed to it. We have put an additional near quarter of a million quid into stock recently and our turnover is 10x what it was just 5 years ago.  We have fulfilled over 30,000 orders in the last year alone. We are only just getting started!

So, if you hear rumours contrary to the above you know you are dealing with a bullshitter and please feel free to straighten them out on my behalf.

Thank you! We REALLY appreciate your support.

Graham.

I would refer my dear readers to the following.

The Reports of my Demise are Greatly Exaggerated.

Waste Not, Want Not

As a young lad I was lucky enough to have some wonderful grandparents that were influential throughout my formative years. Waste not, want not was a phrase I heard regularly. On my fathers side my grandad served in the merchant navy  and ended up in the water at least once. On my mothers side my grandad worked in munitions manufacture in the midlands.

I have wonderful memories of summers spent with the latter. Whilst my parents were always busy putting food on the table and paying the bills they did their best for us kids. Grandparents however had a lot more time to give us. Summers spent with my mums parents consisted of gardening, cooking, woodworking projects and household chores along with trips to the nearby beach and ice cream cornets on the seafront over the long summer evenings.

My grandparents had a nice little bungalow with a well tended garden just a short walk from the sea. Nan worked part time at a little new agents that smelled wonderful thanks to shelves creaking under the weight of jars of sweets and the iconic smell of newsprint and tobacco. I never remember grandad working but he always seemed to be involved in some project or another.

They had a little car that only came out for their weekly shop or a Sunday afternoon excursion to the countryside or a visit to a plant nursery, we didn’t have ‘garden centres’ back then. By todays standard their footprint in the world was extremely small and their lives were simple. Every meal was home cooked and most of their produce came from the garden and little glass house. That glass house was a magical place with it’s massive grapevine and huge sweet smelling tomato plants.

Having lived through the war folk were, in general, much more content with the simple things in life. Whilst they were not poor they were very content to have a TV, a little car and a fridge. I don’t recall them going on holiday but would regularly entertain friends with afternoon tea. Sitting in the garden on a fine sunny day with a cuppa and a biscuit was a great delight.

Nan spent most mornings cleaning before heading to the kitchen to prepare lunch. I never knew anyone that could whip up a two course cooked meal in such a short period of time. They always did the washing up together before a leisurely afternoon was enjoyed. Grandad was a great fan of snooker and spent many happy afternoons watching Pot Black and enjoying a smoke with his afternoon tea. Nan’s greatest joy was always time in the garden pulling weeds and the like.

That all had a profound effect upon young Potter. I loved this benign quiet life of simple pleasures. They wanted for nothing except grandad who always hankered after a snooker table which he never got but then there was not a room in the house sufficient to contain one.

As I approach the age I remember my grandparents being, and as a grandad myself I am minded of those days and look back fondly at such a simple life. Today the world has become a boiling cacophony of noise and fury within which peace and contentment are hard to find. Technology has helped ruin society which moves too fast for most of us to keep up.

Speaking personally everything I do is aimed at restoring those simple pleasures and garnering appreciation of the privileged and prosperous position that I enjoy. That did however came at a cost. I never had a family holiday and in over twenty five years of marriage Catherine and I have not had a night away from home unless it was for business. We work twelve hours a day often six or seven days a week. Whilst that means we are significantly more prosperous than my grandparents or indeed my parents ever were, as the years pass I have to question the cost.

In the words of Chuck Palahniuck (Fight Club) “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.

The things you own end up owning you. It’s only after you lose everything that you’re free to do anything.

I can’t say that Tyler Durden was a significant role model for me, though I loved the book and the movie, I have to concede that he had a point. I may have fallen for the societal dictate that to have and achieve more is good and to go without is bad. As the years have passed I begin to realise that having a bit less is a bit better. Like all of us I have too much stuff, most of which I do not need. I am entirely at a loss to understand why I need more than three hundred bonsai or thirty motorbikes. I love everything I own and and bust my hump taking care of it all but why?

My grandparents were pass masters at living frugally, no doubt a result of living through the post depression years and the war. My grandad was a great woodworked and I remember we spent many hours dismantling old furniture and packing crates to supply the wood he used. We even saved all the old nails and screws for re-use. We spent a lot of time in the workshop with a little hammer straightening out bent nails. Today that sounds totally bonkers but it had a profound effect on me. I still save nails and screws and nothing is thrown away before I pull out anything of use. I recently had a knackered printer/scanner to dispose of. Having pulled it apart I had a box of useful bits and bobs including a piece of glass. That came in useful recently as I was fixing up window frames and used it to replace a broken pane.

I have tried to extend my hatred of waste to our business over the years. I consider creating bonsai a form of re-use and have always loved garden rejects above all else. Whilst current vogue is for recycling I consider that to be a last resort. We pretty much use everything we have. Why recycle something that still has a use? Recycling uses a vast amount of resource. Reusing it costs nothing, in fact it saves a great deal both money and resource.

Since the day we started our business nearly twenty years ago I have endeavoured to eliminate any waste. The primary resource we need, as a mail order business, to function is boxes. We can easily blow through up to a hundred every day. In all of those twenty years we have never, once, used new boxes. Every parcel we have ever sent has gone out in a reused box. Because that has that saved a fortune (a large box could easily cost £5) it’s enabled us to keep shipping costs to a minimum.

Thanks to my grandparents influence I am happy to say that Kaizen Bonsai produces less waste than our household does. We don’t have any waste disposal facility, no wheelie bins or waste collections. On top of that we use all the cardboard and packaging waste from three local small businesses and a lot of local families. We use everything from old newspapers and magazines, paddy bags and junk mail. All of our pallets are re-used or returned to a local company dealing in such.

We shred old cardboard and paperwork for loose fill packaging. Literally the only packaging material we have to buy are bubble wrap for pots, sticky tape and bags for soil products. I actually produce more waste in the form of empty beer bottles than all of Kaizen Bonsai’s activities combined. Waste not want not!

When someone turns up here with a load of old packaging it takes some sorting out and it’s always of interest to me to see what comes in. It’s heartening to know some folk think as I do and see value in these things.

Recently a good friend and supporter of ours arrived with a van full of boxes having been clearing out his fathers loft. Obviously another old gentleman that lived through the war. It looked to me like he had saved every box that ever came into the house. There were boxes for huge old cathode-ray tube televisions, betamax video players, cassette players and power tools from the 1970s. Some of the boxes featured address labels and had blocks of postage stamps on. How things have changed.

However within the generous donation of boxes was this one from the first part of the 1970s that I will let speak for itself.

G.

Waste not want not

Waste not want not!

 

Going Around In Circles.

Our fragile existence seems to be an exercise in going around in circles. At this particular moment in time some would have us believe we are circling the plughole. The Eeyore in me would concur. Bonsai, as it turns out, is the art of going around in circles.

I guess, seeing as we live on a big ball that spins, a circle is the appropriate geometry for the passage of our lives and existence. Our plants lives are intricately linked to the passage of the sun and the turning seasons. That passage drives all life on earth.

Our bonsai endeavours and technique are also dictated by the seasons. To get the best results we have to do the right thing at the right time and with appropriate frequency. Once we figure out what those things are we then have to complete the work, with only subtle adjustments, ad infinitum.

As the years have passed I have come to realise that in order to get the best from our trees, timing is critical. Where we have to make an intervention choosing the best moment ensures an optimum response.

Sadly it’s impossible for me to pass on the understanding of how I might arrive at that particular moment. For instance if I were to suggest pruning a particular species at such and such a time that could quite easily be inappropriate for your tree. That’s because there are just too many variables in the equation.

I remember one year I was preparing an impressive monster hornbeam for a September exhibition. In order to have pristine leaves at the scrag-end of the season it was necessary to defoliate at just the right moment. So, based on previous experience I picked my time and jumped in some time in July which is later than normal but with a big greenhouse I can bump things along a bit. As it turned out my late action followed by the coldest August in living memory meant not a single new leaf grew that year.

This week, here on the east coast we have been basking in glorious sunshine from dawn to dusk whilst the west of the country has largely been locked beneath a blanket of cloud and rain. What I might be doing over here in sunny Norfolk is not likely to be possible at this moment in the soggy north west.

Another seemingly imponderable variable we face is that of vigour, or the strength a particular tree might have. Defoliating a strong and vigorous maple is a valuable technique to balance energy distribution and develop ramification. However where the tree is compromised by poor conditions or cultivation the technique can do irreparable harm.

Learning these things is the careful work of a lifetime and involves the navigation of many circles (or should that be cycles? I hate bikes!). The hope is that on each new circumnavigation we learn a few things and get/do better than last time. It’s going to take time and that, to me at least, is where the magic of bonsai lies. Making a beautiful bonsai is not about the tree it’s about my (our) skill and understanding. Given quality care and technique, patiently and appropriately applied over decades pretty much guarantees success in bonsai. Charging around like a rat in a s##t-house likely does the opposite.

In the words of Jesse “This week I har mostly been……. pruning Chinese elms. It’s that time, at least it is here in my garden. Chinese elm gets a bad wrap but here at KB the ubiquitous ‘indoor‘ bonsai is held in high regard. Getting the best from the species is actually very technical and demands a lot of commitment.

This year I have been lucky enough to buy up a few nice bonsai tree collections. Within those were a few very good, if slightly neglected elms. Now is the time to begin the restoration process of those. I’m also lucky enough to have a couple of others I have been tending for a few years and those are slowly beginning to come together now.

A lot of this was previously detailed in my earlier post…

44,000 Hours Well Spent – Growing Bonsai Trees

Here are some of those trees…….

Big neglected elm needs pruning back into secondary branch structure.

This hard prune will produce a dramatic reaction.

Moved to a larger pot to develop strength. The first step in a significant reinvention and restoration.

Just one week later it’s COVERED in opening buds.

This monster was reduced by nearly a third overall.

No3 Snip, snip, snip….

Now I can see what we’ve got. There’s a future for this one i’m sure.

 

This one cost £10 from a bargain bin a few years ago. Happy with progress so far.

Every single extending shoot needs to be cut at the same time in order to get a uniform reaction. This 3 footer took all afternoon.

 

Still a lot of poor quality structure I have to deal with.

 

44,000 Hours and going around in circles.

Easy Bonsai. Seriously!

Recently I have spent too much time ranting and raving about things unrelated to bonsai. I assume that’s why lots of my loyal readers come here, to find out something about little trees. So, in the interest of balance here’s a tree story about just how easy bonsai can be. I’ll do my best to stay on message, but first…..

When you attain a certain age it becomes apparent that anything worth achieving is a lot harder than it appears. I have spent endless time over the last decade of writing blog posts talking about just how hard it is to master the creation and maintenance of bonsai trees. After more than thirty years ‘at it’ I categorically believe it takes ten years just to know which end goes in the soil.

After three decades of insanely dedicated effort I am still a very long way off creating what I now consider to be a real and significant bonsai tree. That’s because as we progress down the road of this endeavour and learn more our goal recedes before us in direct correlation to our understanding of what a real bonsai tree actually is.

Many folk will not understand this. Some will consider I am talking a lot of old w**k or being self-deprecating. Others may consider this to be false modesty. However I genuinely believe I am about as far from reaching the goal as I was the first day I stuck a seedling in a pot. The level at which I consider a tree in a pot becomes bonsai is now a lot higher than it once was.

I see a lot of keyboard warriors on social media making a name for themselves with really shoddy poor quality immature trees. In a lot of quarters what is classed as bonsai really is not and it’s sad to me that the standard of quality is so low. To a degree it’s always been that way, look at some old bonsai books from the ’80s or ’90s. Many of the colour plates feature what we might call ‘raw material’ today. Sure there are some folk doing really good work but not many, at least not in the UK.

My old mate Blacky used to say ‘Bullshit baffles brains‘. I looked that up and found….To talk or write absolute nonsense but do so with such conviction everyone comes to believe it unquestioningly.

He was also often heard to say “you can’t educate pork” (He was an award winning pig farmer!). Again I Googled that and got.. When somebody won’t listen to reason. It’s my opinion that a lot of us settle for what’s comfortable or easy in life because to achieve more is potentially difficult or just too demanding of us.

The perceived quality of anything is in direct correlation to the experience of the individual. Back when I was a spotty teenager I got off my crappy 50cc, 4 horsepower Fizzy and plonked my bum on a 17 horsepower 125cc Honda. I thought I owned the most powerful machine in existence, my God what a machine. However now I have ridden two wheelers with over 200 horsepower those little bikes feel like they couldn’t pull the skin of the proverbial desert.

Bonsai was the same in my experience. When I visited my first local club show I thought I had passed through some sort of portal into a different world. However, having been lucky enough to get around a bit over the years I don’t think that any more. I am a lot harder to impress these days. Kevin Willson pushed me pretty hard back in the day and insisted I went to see stuff and it raised the level of my game a lot.

Eventually striving for perfection becomes self perpetuating, progress fuels progress. That’s when the standard to which one works really begins to accelerate. However it’s important to bear in mind the law of diminishing returns here before our self imposed standard becomes realistically unachievable and it all comes crashing down around ones ankles like a pair of worn out Y fronts.

Just once in a while it’s good to park all that ambitious and pretentious bullshit and just have a little bit of fun mucking about with plants for one’s own entertainment. Over the last few years I have discovered a species that allows the practice of bonsai technique with remarkably fast results like nothing I have ever seen. This is a species little known in the UK that you will probably not see in a show but personally I absolutely love it. So, what am I talking about? Go on, take a guess before scrolling down.

Wikipedia describes it thus….

Portulacaria afra (known as elephant bushdwarf jade plantporkbushpurslane tree and spekboom in Afrikaans) is a small-leaved succulent plant found in South Africa. These succulents commonly have a reddish stem and leaves that are green, but also a variegated cultivar is often seen in cultivation. They are simple to care for and make easy houseplants for a sunny location. In frost-free regions they may be used in outdoor landscaping.

Bear with me here…. When I was a little kid my Nan’ instilled in me a love of cacti, she had some monsters. Eventually I had every windowsill in the house chock-a-block with the prickly little beggars. Portulacaria bring that back all these years later.

So, here’s the portulacaria I started as a 5″ tall, pencil thick cutting just seven (yes 7) years ago.

Easy portulacaria bonsai

Portulacaria Bonsai Tree 7 years from a small cutting.

The stupid and misleading phrase ‘Indoor bonsai’ has done a lot of damage to our hobby and precluded a lot of wonderful species from our repertoire. Ficus for instance, one of the greatest species possible for the creation of bonsai trees. I know we live in the relatively cold north but a lot of these warm climate species are adaptable enough to grow here. I also consider it a challenge to learn and master the care of these beauties. Any knucklehead can keep hardy natives alive, right? Mastering a species that cannot possibly survive in our country is a true horticultural challenge which in this case is not entirely hard. At least it isn’t now I know how to do it. Portulacaria are EASY when you know how and that’s a nice change form the normal battle of trying to push water uphill.

So first let’s get the obvious out of the way. You can’t freeze a portulacaria, not unless you want to make a smoothie out of it. Apparently they are edible. In the wild it can grow very dense and can survive an overnight frost with light foliage losses but let’s not confuse a cold desert night with our British winters shall we. Portulacaria is best overwintered at 3˚ to 10˚ Celsius. Any warmer and it will get confused and try to grow and will also likely drop a lot of leaves. The cool winter will force dormancy which in turn will push a hard and fast summer expansion.

In winter mine live in the poly-tunnel with a heater set to kick in at three degrees above freezing so it’s pretty cold all the time. At the same time I keep the soil dry. Maybe once a month it gets a splash of water. It’s also important to keep the air moving to prevent fungal blooms. Overwintering in your house is likely to be too warm and too dry. However I am guessing a conservatory with good light ought to be pretty good.

Once the spring temperatures reach a consistent 12˚+ all day portulacaria will begin to grow. Again, in the poly-tunnel I would typically expect to do a first pruning around the end of May. Once growth starts plants will appreciate full direct sun, even in a tunnel or glasshouse these are NOT going to get too hot. It’s a fact they are actually fire proof and readily survive brush fires. Mine love it when summer temperatures get above 50˚ and do their best work. These are summer plants and once it gets warm and light look out!

Once you see steady growth it’s time to begin the propagation of new stock and this is the best bit. A party trick that, by and large, only succulents can perform. Any piece of stem can be rooted. I once rooted a 10″ diameter stump so here’s how to make as many plants as you could ever need.

Around end of May, or when good growth is consistent, prepare cuttings thus. Just chop off the bits you don’t need. No matter wether it’s a little shoot tip with a couple of leaves, a bit of branch, a whole branch or even the loose end of a trunk chop. Cut the stump end cleanly with a sharp knife and leave it overnight to dry out. A wet stump in the rooting medium could rot easily.

To root I use any old bonsai soil mix I have to hand. A lot of pumice seems to work wonders. Dump this in a plastic pot about half full, put the cutting in and fill to the rim sufficient to hold it still and upright. For big cuttings I use a deep pot filled to about 1/3 with soil and then rely on the pots sides to hold my cutting still. So long as the cutting is not wagging about it’s good and the stump end needs to be well submerged in the medium.

These cuttings then go into the greenhouse, a shady corner out of direct contact with sun and out of the wind works best. Keep the soil very lightly damp. Constant wet causes rot. Don’t be surprised if the leaves go a bit soft and the surface wrinkles, that shows it’s all working as it should. Assuming it’s warm you will have roots in a couple of weeks and after two months the pots will be solid with root. Don’t take cuttings after the beginning of August, it’s unlikely they will be established sufficiently before winter.

I then simply pot on into larger pots every time the plants get too big and falls over a lot. Just keep on with that until the trunk is the size you want. Portulacaria can be shaped with wire but this is fraught with issues and unless you are a master of the wire stick to tying, pulling and pushing with bits of wood etc’. All pretty much standard bonsai stuff really.

Re-potting of portulacaria bonsai is done any time from June to mid-August. I use a reciprocating saw to get the bulk of material out of the way and then rake back to the margin of the nebari and smaller roots. In a bonsai pot I use a mix of Pumice and Moler. Not too much moler because it’s too acidic about 10/15% on average. Portulacaria will grow in anything so long as you manage it properly.

Allowing portulacaria bonsai to grow out a good bit at the height of summer really helps keep the vigour high. I would normally do my last prune towards the latter half of September.

I use Green Dream Original exclusively for fertilising from end of May until beginning of September.

In the UK creating truly great bonsai of any species is not really possible in the way someone might in Japan, Taiwan or the Mediterranean countries, we just don’t get enough sun and the growing season, even with a greenhouse is just too short. I figure we just have to do the best we can by refining and perfecting our techniques.

So, I grew a big stock plant. It was about 6′ and forever in my way so I cut it up…..

Easy portulacaria bonsai

Portulacaria. A big lump I chopped off the top of a 6 footer.

Easy portulacaria bonsai

Cuttings I took off the big cutting. Every bit of a portulacaria will root. Old bonsai soil used for rooting.

Let the cut end dry out overnight before placing into soil.

Pot half full. The pot sides hold it upright securely whilst roots form.

Little sticks used to keep everything secure.

Portulacaria cuttings

Completed cuttings. Those long thin ones are what I grew the big one from 7 years ago.

Easy portulacaria bonsai

Nebari forms readily with conventional techniques.

Easy portulacaria bonsai

Tall pots always produce better growth in all raw material. This one really helped my tree to bulk up. Once it was the size I wanted it went into the bonsai pot as seen below.

I’ve a long way to go before we call this bonsai but i thoroughly enjoyed the process at every turn. BTW this is it’s first pot six months after planting. Never be in a hurry to put raw material into bonsai pots.

Thank You!

Life leads us down a winding path on occasion. I was never the most social of animals, us Norfolk folk are renowned for our reticence. However I did not really expect I would end up quite so isolated behind this screen.

Our business has been very demanding and entirely isolated me from the world at large. I am one of many folk that work from home. Not in the modern fashionable sense of the phrase, here at KB we really WORK. It’s long hours, hard, heavy and responsible work that’s thankfully relentless. It might well appear a simple task from the outside but trust me it’s NOT!

The down side of working from home is the fact I live at work. That means there is never a moment to switch off. My lovely Catherine typically works from 9am until 8pm and a lot of hours at weekends too. We have been married nearly 30 years now and apart from travelling for work have never had a night away from home. Last autumn we took a day off and went for a drive and ended up at the pub. That’s the first day out in years. What a catch I was!

I chose this path but honestly I did not realise it would be so all consuming and costly on a personal level. For sure we made a few bob but I have no pension to fall back on so we will have to work until the last and then hope our beloved Richard and Sarah can support us because sure as shit stinks the government won’t be there for us.

Most days I feel very out of it, stuck behind this fugging screen. I almost never get to see anyone and the minute I step away something always seems to happen that pulls me back. If I do go out for a bit there is always a steaming pile to clear up when I get back. So, the only social contact I get is when one of my four lovely mates come here to see me. That’s always a red letter day for me and lifts my mood for days. However most of the time I just want to go and crawl into a hole.

In this miserable day and age I fear I am not alone in feeling this way. In the words of the wonderful late Bob Hoskins “It’s good to talk” or, in my case write. To that end I feel obligated to get out and do my little bit for others that just might be in the same boat.

For several years now I have been supporting the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride who have to date raised over $30 million USD for schemes supporting mens mental health. Suicide is a huge killer of men, particularly younger ones. Male suicide if THREE HUNDRED PERCENT above that of women.

I have been really thrilled to be able to partake in this wonderful event even though my lack of social skills mean it’s not the jamboree I might aspire too. However the one thing that is REALLY exciting to me is just how wonderful some of my lovely supporters are. I have received lots of sponsorship for the ride from folk I barely know and most likely have never met. The generosity of some of you is simply amazing and I humbly offer my thanks to ya’ll.

I won’t name individuals, that would be crass. Enough to say I salute you gentle-folk for supporting your fellow man in such a generous way despite all the doom and gloom out there. For me it’s just wonderful to be a part of something that get’s me out of the house for a day. Our little jaunt around Bury St Edmunds last Sunday has so far raised over £15,000. Donations are still welcome up until 5 June so please visit my fundraising page, i’m so close to my goal of a lowly £400, PLEASE DIG DEEP! www.gentlemansride.com/fundraiser/GrahamPotter148253

To have a brief look around the ride and see what the local TV news had to say…

dapper-motorcyclists-raise-thousands-with-distinguished-gentlemens-ride?

See if you can spot me disappearing down the road!

GRAHAM

Hand in Pocket Time

I don’t get out much but from what little I do see, in some parts I understand times are hard. I do know we are all being f****d by our immoral, corrupt and feckless leaders. In fact let me correct that, they are no leaders at all are they? So, it’s good to know there are some folk who are doing their bit to help out those most in need.
One aspect of modern society that leads me down a dark path of depression is the widespread proliferation of misandry (look it up) in the media in all it’s shades. I know the ladies got a rough deal in the past from some quarters. I also know a lot of other folk in society got the shitty end of the stick. Seems to me that’s human nature, it’s not right, but it’s our nature and there is not much hope for our race. As agent Smith so eloquently put it…..
“Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment; but you humans do not. Instead you multiply, and multiply, until every resource is consumed. The only way for you to survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern… a virus
So, hoping you all went and looked up the meaning of that M… word can anyone tell me why we don’t hear it more often? I would like to hear from anyone who actually knew what it meant or has heard it in common parlance. My thought is this…. In todays PC, puritan, self righteous poor old me, ‘my life is so hard‘ culture where we cannot speak our minds and everyone is a delicate and beautiful snowflake and harsh or true words leave folk reaching for a bottle of pills or an automatic rifle I think the act of taking offence has become the de-facto position for many. It appears to me many loud mouth people are actively looking for a chance to be offended which gives a great opportunity to be the object of others sympathies. Being a victim can bring a moment of fame, and quite likely a little fortune to boot.
For sure a lot of folk have been hard done to and we have all suffered at the hands of our elected dictators and many others. So, in the interest of balance can I ask if, at this moment in time there is a more reviled section of society than the middle aged, overweight, smoking, beer drinking, petrol car driving, heterosexual, badly dresses English white man? Anyone listened to BBC radio 4’s Woman’s Hour recently?
Life is getting tough for many folk just now and us pudgy old (older) blokes need all the help we can get. I recon we have got a lot on our plates just now and nobody is going to protect our so called rights, regardless which of those is most important to you.
In the interest of communal responsibility and altruism I need all my good friends and loyal readers to help me out today by stumping up a little cash. It’s not for me of course but I am putting my arse on the line, well, actually in a really uncomfortable seat this coming Sunday in an attempt to raise some money for a very good cause.
So, after a Covid enforced hiatus it’s great news that The Distinguished Gentleman’s is back on again this coming Sunday 22 May. If you ride a bike, sign up today and get involved, trust me you will be glad you did.
This is a great worldwide event that raises money to help men around the world by funding research into prostate cancer as well as mental health programmes.
Once again this year I will be chuffing down into Suffolk to join the Bury St Edmunds ride, that’s a good run (over 150 miles) on an 80 odd year old bike with no suspension!
It would be wonderful if just a few of my friends here could sponsor my modest fundraising goal of £400. I recon us guys need all the help we can get!
PLEASE DONATE EVEN IF IT’S JUST A FIVER.
Thank you!
G.

My steed from the last DGR.

This years torture device.

Organised chaos in a posh part of Suffolk.

Equally posh mounts put to good use.

Trees, Trees, Trees

Since Brexit became a reality our esteemed leaders have introduced some pointless draconian laws that make it (probably) easier to bring nuclear weapons into the Uk than it does plants. Therefore it’s no longer possible for KB to bring in the 1500-2000 plants a year we were doing for a long time. Therefore we have taken the action of withdrawing from tree sales entirely for the foreseeable future.

However after more than 30 years mucking about with bonsai I do have a LOT of stuff in my personal collection that litters the place up. Like most folk I can’t resist poking a cutting into a pot then putting it in the garden. I still have about a thousand plants myself. Most of those are not available for sale or swaps simply because I like having these things around me. But, in light of the short supply bonsai is in and the fact there are a couple of vintage Harley Davidsons I still need to add to my ‘other’ collection I just might need to let something go.

To that end here are a few very rough snaps of the butt end of my benches. These  ‘could’ be available either now or later in the year. These will NOT be appearing on our web site. If you are interested just drop me a line and do include the relevant image if you want details.

G.

Juniper

Privet

Sabina.

Sabina.

Japanese yew.

English elm.

English elm.

???????????

Privet.

Scots pine.

Hawthorn.

Hornbeam.

Chinese elm.

Cork Bark elm.

Chinese elm.

Chinese elm.

Scots pine.

Cork Bark elm.

English elm.

Field elm.

Japanese maple.

Privet.

Forsythia.

Field maple.

Spruce.

Hinoki.

Chinese juniper.

Scots Pine.

Privet.

Hawthorn.

Juniper.

White pine.

Squmata juniper.

English elm.

Portuguese oak.

Japanese maple.

Japanese maple.

Portuguese oak.

Japanese maple.

English elm.

Kojo-no-mai.

Wild privet.

Ranting and Raving

I know y’all missed me ranting and raving. So, apropos of nothing other than my own therapy here are my thoughts, revelations and reminiscences for the Easter holidays based on my year so far. Should pass a little time if you are stuck in a traffic cue or airport. No need to comment 😉

Funny world we are living in just now, perhaps not the most appropriate term but it’s my way of looking on the bright side, I think they call it irony. I spend most of my time dazed and confused, frustrated and angry and frankly entirely bewildered by a cacophony of noise from a world I barely want to inhabit anymore.

Anyone remember the first series of One Foot in the Grave? In it our beloved Victor, aged 60, is forced into early retirement from his job as a security guard when the office where he worked installs an automatic security system (which he describes as “being replaced by a box“). The series follows Meldrew as he tries to fill his new-found leisure with odd jobs and unusual idiosyncrasies, whilst trying to get a new job. However, he regularly finds himself mistreated, misunderstood or simply the victim of bad luck, and consequently leads to his complaining heartily. Remind you of anyone?

As usual it’s been a frantic year so far here at KB, we call it soil season. It’s the time of year when we have to hump massive weights around all day, day after day. It might make money but my dead God it’s hard. I didn’t come here to complain (“bollocks” I hear you cry). The year started well considering my tribulations late last year that I would rather not revisit. However things quickly went downhill. Turns out I managed to dislocate a rib. Who knew you could even do such a thing. In case you were wondering I didn’t crash a bike, get in a fight or fall off something. I was pruning a tree…… I shit you not. It’s taken four months, numerous trips to the osteopath and a boat load of painkillers and even now I have some bad days. At my most restrained I say “Fuck getting old, it sucks”.

It’s been a while since I sat down at my desk to vent but here goes……

Since Brexit our government has taken a draconian approach and completely crushed all our (possibly) new found freedoms into oblivion. I could say it’s a plot to take us back in but I think it’s more likely the result of being “governed” by feckless, unimaginative, brain dead, self-serving, power-grabbing, over-privileged public school twits getting their chains jerked by a narcissistic British left-wing socialist media who seek to govern the country by manipulating public opinion therefore dictating policy in government and ultimately who stays and who goes. Anyone who believes politicians have any answers has their head up their own wotsit IMHO.

I have asked everyone I know this simple question. Just tell me a single example in recent memory of when politicians made something better than it was before?

As a business owner I spend the bulk of my time on official bullshit. Complying with legislation and tax laws takes as much of my time as purchasing and marketing combined. We (2 of us) recently spent the whole day supplying information to my bank (of 20 years and who hold more than the value of my house on deposit) that we are in fact who we claim to be before they froze our account. Apparently, this is for compliance with some government diktat or other. I reckon they owe me £250 in the wages it cost me.

It’s a sad fact that there are only two tricks our f***wit leaders have to fix anything. The first is to chuck money at it. This never works because most of the money never gets to the coal face once every committee, quango and mid level administrative organisation has taken their taste. The other thing is legislation. The amount of legislation we face today makes me feel like a death camp inmate. The constant notices of new legislation compliance required, the relentless threat of fines and the sheer weight of oppressive legislation make me wonder daily if I would not be better delivering groceries.

You can’t legislate the ills of society. You certainly can’t legislate goodness into a morally bankrupt self-serving society and, above all you cannot legislate against criminal activity. Dohh! Criminals don’t give a shit and won’t obey however many laws you propagate. All that legislation does is oppress the law-abiding citizen and does nothing to stem illegal activity. As an example just look at Partygate. The criminals carry on whilst the masses are oppressed by arbitrary overbearing government rules.

There are two types of law in existence, those that are absolute like gravity or ageing and then there are the laws man makes to govern his own society for the common good. Those laws are arbitrary, random, subject to change and………abuse. The Covid ‘laws’ were a bunch of bullshit put in place to try and legislate what we used to call personal responsibility and consequence. If you believe in your own head that the ‘government should do something’ about this or that you are, in my opinion betting on a busted flush. The government is like a one-trick pony with memory loss.

Much like Martin Luther King Jr I too “have a dream” or at least I had one. I wanted a little family business, working from home, making our way in the world and not bothering anyone. All I wanted to do was pay my way in the world, do a good job and buy my daughter a house for her family. The core part of my dream since I fell into bonsai was to import my own trees both to own and sell. However since Brexit our esteemed leaders have introduced such stupid legislation restricting the movement of plants that my dream is dead. I spoke to a nearby nursery owner recently and the moment i made reference to DEFRA inspections he chucked up his lunch and passed out on the floor in a puddle of his own piss.

Words are simply insufficient to describe what has happened to us here but in a country run by politicians, of any colour, only failure can be assured. So let’s move on……

For two years now I have been predicting economic hardship. Today they are saying that inflation has reached 7%. I doubt that, it’s higher and for a year I have been predicting 10% at least. There is a reason for that. For sure Covid caused some waves. What it did do was turn off the economic machine and restarted it. Trouble is everyone woke up and some realised they had been working for nowt for far too long. As everything began to pick up there was a vacuum, a backlog that needed to be filled and before we got back on track demand increased to boot. That just means extra costs as demand outstrips supply.

All of my life I have seen prices of goods falling. When I was born my dad had a ten-year-old Triumph motorcycle which quickly gained a sidecar as newborns make lousy pillions. Cars were too expensive for most young single income families back when we didn’t get paid for breeding. My grandparents spent 20% of their income on food. I have said a million times, today we sell branch cutters and wire cheaper than they were back in the early nineties when Bonsai Mart started. Back then I bought a 3-bed semi with a garage and a big garden and off-road parking for 3 cars for £51k. A while back a great friend of mine who is well in his eighties was looking at a tree I had for sale at just over a grand. After a while he said “That’s more than I paid for my first house”. Thinking about it myself a bag of Akadama now costs more than I paid for my first bike. Relatively speaking we never had it so good.

So how have prices gotten so low? Not simple but, advances in manufacturing and materials technology and the de-skilling of processes alongside automation have a great deal of bearing. However, again in my opinion, the primary factor is the reliance on cheap oil to allow manufacturing in the cheapest parts of the world, currently China, to be delivered to our shores in an almost criminally cheap way. That coupled with dumbass businesses that believe the only way to sell anything is to be the cheapest has led us all down a rabbit hole and now we are stuck fast and the ferret is on his way, it’s going to be a bloodbath. We have all been making hay in the glorious sunshine of cheap energy and it’s irresponsible use but now with a population of eight billion people those days are over folk.

Here’s an example. A couple of years ago I wanted to source copper wire. I know a guy with a factory ‘oop north that makes wire of all sorts. So being a patriotic fellow I decide to source what I need right here. It takes two months to figure out my guy can do what I need and another month to get a price. I need to buy 2000Kg minimum paid up front with a delivery time of at least two months. The price? £13 a kilo (£26,000 outlay). Plus the usual taxes and transport (30%). In China I can buy the same with a lead time of 30 days, no money up front and no minimum order at 30% of the UK sourced product. The cost of running a business in our country is simply not viable anymore with retail prices where they stand.

However that’s ALL changed now. For decades we have all been working on the basis of 10% inbound shipping. When I started we airfreighted tools out of Japan and incredibly the cost was only 5%. Today that cost is 50%. For years a 20 foot container from China to the UK has been around the £1200 to £2000 mark for small operators. Since Covid that has risen in many examples to £10-12K and I have heard of folks paying even more. So, today we have to work on the basis of 30+% inbound shipping wether that’s by road or sea. Many low cost products will simply disappear. I was recently talking to the boss of the biggest horticultural wholesaler in the south of the country who told me he was no longer going to be able to import the little plastic pots and trays so vital for the nursery growing industry in this country. Rising costs in China and import costs and charges mean that’s all over which potentially spells the end of the nursery production trade unless everyone pays more, a lot more.

As an aside I remember, as a kid, going to a local nursery. It was a bungalow down the road, the guy turned his living room and conservatory into a public shop where he sold plants and vegetables he grew in the extensive plot at the back. The front garden had parking for three cars (didn’t matter, we were always on our bikes or Shanks’s pony) and was full of weedy pots of random plants for sale. I actually bought my first bonsai raw material from there. The old guy looked a lot like a rustic BoJo crossed with a son of the soil. Blue ankle swinger dungarees with a massive leather belt around his middle, checked shirt and huge brown leather ankle boots with Blakey’s in the heels and a soppy great knitted bobble hat with tufts of coarse blond hair peeking out…… Oh and he was built like a brick outhouse with hands like battered pan lids. What a sweetheart he was too. I remember going there from time to time with my parents and grandparents. Mum got ‘taters weighed in a big Avery shop scale and tipped, soil and all, into her vinyl shopping bag. Whenever we bought bedding or vegetable plants they were pricked out of wooden seed trays and folded into damp newspaper. I doubt that old fella sold a plastic bag or tray in his life but he made his way in the world, living a simple life, taking what he needed and little more. There truly is honour in hard work.

So, after that charming saunter down memory lane lets get back to less idyllic times. The media are very keen to be blaming Putin and his bullshit for much of the world’s subsequent ills. Part of me has to say Duhh, WTF did you think was going to happen. We put ourselves at the mercy of a political system that has historically been at odds with our own values in the deluded belief that the leopard had changed it’s spots. Turns out (Putin) one can grin and bear a lot of bullshit in exchange for billions of dollars a day when it’s financing a political ideal. It’s all very well those ER idiots telling us to abandon oil today but truth is 90% of our country would starve to death within a month without it and if you think electricity is coming to the rescue go get yourself checked! Not developing home grown energy solutions might make a few deluded do-gooders feel better, what’s the acronym? NIMBY it’s coming from somewhere folks but buying energy, or anything for that matter will only impoverish our own country and empower others. In this case someone we perhaps ought not to have done.

The long and the short of this is you and I are going to have much less privilege than we have been fortunate enough to enjoy thus far. The relentless devaluation of the pound in your pocket is dictated by many factors. Not least being the time we abandoned the gold standard, sold our national gold reserves and started printing money, coupled with bad fiscal management, spiralling national debt and expenditure we can ill afford etc, means our great British pound now has about the same value as an old sticky sweet found in the corner of the pocket of a jacket rarely worn.

Above and beyond all of that in my experience is the simply incomprehensible burden of tax and charges levied on us all. It’s my considered opinion that the average guy working for a living, raising kids, running a car and paying a mortgage is losing up to 70% of his income in direct and indirect taxes. 20%, or 1/5 of everything you spend is tax. Income tax and NI accounts for an additional 20%. The cost of goods, imported or otherwise will have attracted a lot of tax before it ever gets offered for sale. Fuel is a big chunk of the cost of everything and that’s 50% odd tax and 20% of the cost of fuel is fucking VAT. So they are charging 20% tax on the 50% tax portion of your fill up.

Here’s an interesting factoid. We have all recently become familiar with the price of a barrel of oil. Brent Crude is measured in 42 (US) gallon (159 litres) barrels. Today 13 April 2022 that cost $105 or about £80. The end products from that oil make up about 2.6 gallons more than the original amount of oil, or about 44.6 gallons of end products from a 42 gallon barrel. Purely distilling the fuel yields about 11 gallons of gasoline per barrel depending on the oil source. However, cracking and advanced processing can actually yield a maximum return of about 42 gallons of fuel per 42 gallon barrel of crude. This includes Diesel, aviation fuel, kerosene and fuel oil out of the 42 gallon barrel. This is pretty ropy maths but that makes you average fuel 50p a litre excluding processing costs and delivery and the all important tax.

Our supply chains soak up a huge amount of money and every single time a product is moving or landing it’s getting taxed and charged up the wazoo. A factory gate price in China of £1 will translate into a shop price here of £4 to £10 and at that nobody except the chancellor is getting rich. As an example I thought I would share with you a bill that recently came across my desk. Bear in mind I already paid for the shipping fees, import VAT, import duty and associated charges. These are random fees imposed by the UK port. Add to that inland transport and handling. So my total factory gate product cost of £7000 cost me an additional £4200 (60%) to put on my doorstep. Every time we import, these random fees change. On occasions we get very little and other times we get the lot. What a fucking extortionate racket, were all getting fleeced.

Much is made of ‘trade deals’ by our esteemed leaders. This largely removes tariffs on goods known as duty. Politicians like to make a lot of fuss about how much they are doing. So, how much duty did I pay for this lot? £21.72. so let’s hope they get a deal done soon because that twenty spot will make all the difference won’t it?

In conclusion, this won’t be getting better so hang onto your wallets folk. Politicians, far from having the answers we need are actually the problem. But let’s face it most of us live like kings compared to our forbears and it’s still possible to make a living here with a lot of effort and imagination and for now at least Putin’s artillery isn’t falling on our heads, thank God, so we all need to be grateful for what we have because it could all be a lot worse and at least my glass is half full. Just need to prevent the government getting a longer straw!

Meanwhile here are a few pic’s from the garden.

Have a great Easter break folk!
Graham.

Untrained hornbeam awaiting its turn.

Humungous Chinese elm coming into leaf.

Old Chinese elm getting underway for another season.

Wild Privet Forest. FOR SALE. The largest yamadori group planting we have ever had, nearly 5ft wide.

From a private collection and available now. Email for price.

Black Friday My Arse!

Black Friday My Arse!

Just in case anyone was tempted to ask me about “Black Friday” deals I thought, for once, I would get ahead of the game. If you know me you know what comes next so let me step aside for a moment. Here is an excerpt from an email I received this very morning from an outstanding UK producer and supplier.

Our position of not jumping on the band wagon with Black Friday deals is not only because we don’t agree with the concept of fuelling consumerism to the detriment of our planet. It is because we don’t need to – we combine high quality, with great value for all our bird food products throughout the year.Vine House Farm

I entirely concur with those sentiments but also let me add….you knew this was coming, my two penn’orth.

Personally I consider it offensive to be offered a ‘deal’. Let me, at length, explain.

Running a business these days costs a LOT of money. Even before one makes their first sale there will potentially have been many thousands of pounds spent. In modern Britain, just for a company to exist costs money, to actually have the audacity to trade will cost an eye watering amount. When a business gets a little bigger the amount of money needed every day, just to open the door, even before making a sale, is best NOT thought about. I believe they call that your ‘burn rate‘, costs not directly attributed to sales that have to be paid regardless of economic activity.

So, everyone has to make a (dirty word coming up) PROFIT. That’s not so your local friendly business owner can get rich, fuck off on a yacht and make a spectacle of himself in the Caribbean wearing a loud shirt and budgie smuggler. Profits pay wages and taxes and they pay those who choose to work as well as those who cannot or will not? Profits are a good thing, at least in the hands of honest and responsible folk.

So, I went out to buy a massive ‘dining’ table and a bunch of chairs. At the time my circumstances were straitened but I will never let a lack of ready cash dictate what I buy. Neither will I borrow money. Rather than buy cheap crap I will go without until I can afford what I want or need. I was in my own home and married about eight years before I got my first sofa and because I waited and bought well I still have it thirty years later.

So, the table? We went off to our local family owned furniture emporium, who were famous for their massive discounts, and pretty soon I found the monster table and chairs I was looking for. It was on offer at something stupid like 60% discount which made no difference to me, it was what we needed and I had the folding in my pocket so we loaded it up there and then. Fifteen years on I still have it.

Some time later we decided we needed some sort of sideboard, dresser thingy and so we headed back to the same store with a roll of Her Majesties finest paper currency. Once again we found what we needed pretty quick, I must be easy to please. Having agreed to buy said item the salesman, who knew me pretty well by then, thanks to multiple visits, told me that if I waited a week I could get the item at a……you guessed it…….60% discount. I told him he was a c**** and walked out never to return. A couple of years later they had a genuine sale because they went bankrupt. I’m old now and so have many examples of bullshit discounting. I would not like to insult anyone’s intelligence by doing the same.

A while back I saw one of the big DIY sheds offering an 80% discount on kitchens. Just think about that for a moment. This advertisement was on TV which is really expensive to do right? VAT is 20%. I can really only think of four possible explanations for this….

  1. Their original prices were artificially stratospheric
  2. They were going bankrupt
  3. Their kitchens must be absolute shit
  4. Their goods are radioactive or really unfashionable.

Seeing as they are still in business my intuition leads me to believe it was number 3. Is anyone REALLY taken in by this bullshit? I guess so as we keep seeing more and more of it every year.

I was recently offered a ‘deal’ on some power tools. That got me to thinking I could really use some of those. It took me about as long as it takes to read this sentence to find the exact same items at a better ‘regular’ price from a reputable retailer. Then, in the end, I went back to a small local firm I use and paid more from them because they are nice people to do business with.

One thing I have learned and will pass on willingly is that, often, just buying from the cheapest source is not the best deal. I like the old fashioned notion of customer loyalty, not because it will get me a better price but I like to be invested in the folk that I spend money with. Trust me folk IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT PRICE.

Sure we can all get a low price (no prizes for that) from some big faceless corporation (or somebody going broke). But, what happens when things go wrong? Then you enter the Twilight Zone of ‘customer service‘ where emails are not answered or mysteriously get lost, telephones and automated “Please choose from the following 45 options menu“, “sorry I did not understand that answer” “please hold“, listen to this intensely annoying shit music for the next 40 minutes, “You call is important to us, please continue to hold“, “All our operators are busy right now” because we are too cheap to employ enough folk to take care of you…… BULLSHIT, BULLSHIT, BULLSHIT. Anyone been there? They should call it “Fuck the customer services“.

However place your order with a GOOD small business and the whole experience will be better. Small businesses generally do not have call centres, automated phone systems, live chat, app’s or any other tech’y bullshit. Buy from a firm with a landline number and a front door you can walk through and a hand you can shake. It’s worth the extra few quid and I think we will all feel a little better about ourselves having a bit less stuff and knowing our money is appreciated by people who don’t give it to shareholders and that just may become friends in the long run.

Talking of front doors, brings to mind the story of a good bonsai buddy of mine, sadly no longer with us. Smart as a whip, successful and wealthy my old mate was Norfolk through and through. Back then we all used Norwich Union for a great many financial services simply because they were based in Norfolk, as I recall they occupied about half of the fine city of Norwich. Anyhow, my buddy had an issue he needed to resolve and gave them a call which ended up in India or some such place. After a while it all started to get ugly so my short-tempered mate decided enough was enough, jumped into his truck and went to Norwich. Those were the days when you could just walk into a building without a cavity search. Now obviously we know this was not going to work but me ol’ mate stormed in the door demanding satisfaction. The bewildered staff, not forthcoming resulted in my guy going out to the car park to fetch the pick axe handle he always carried in the back of his truck. Eventually the police were called and satisfaction was NOT had.

I learned a lot from that, all of our insurance is handled by a local family-owned agent with a shop in the local high street. Should there ever be a problem the sight of my looming hulk over the counter will get some action. I can call my guy any time, directly and he knows me. I get prices better than I can find online, sound ‘inside’ advice, no telephone menus. Now that really is fucking “Simples”!

Kaizen Bonsai also deals with little family businesses all over the UK and beyond. Over the years we have built up good trading relationships and it’s nice to be taken care of by folk who know us and know what we need. Also as the years pass it’s nice to see other folks businesses grow and their families prosper, kids grow up etc’ and to know we helped in that does us a world of good.

Don’t get me wrong, i’m not against buying what we need at a decent price and I have made my living for decades now by haggling and stumping up that all important £ sterling to get what I want at the right price. I just hate being deceived and lied to by dishonest businesses and bullshitters.

Kaizen Bonsai have never had a ‘sale’. However I have, on rare occasions offered ‘discount‘ items. The discounts on those come in two forms.

  1. I negotiated a special price from a supplier and passed on the saving.
  2. I got so sick of looking at something I either sold it for what it cost or even at a loss.

Sometimes I suffer a lack of good judgement and buy stuff that is all wrong. On those occasions I have to ‘man-up’ and take the hit by which I mean I lose money. So if you see a discount on our website I suggest you feel really sorry for me whilst developing a wry smile at my expense. I firmly believe in personal responsibility.

The whole essence of a ‘SALE” is to get rid of excess stock, bale out of bad buying decisions, clear out seasonal stock and generally move stuff on to free up cash and make space. The very day business started buying in sale stock the integrity was lost and these days clever marketing of ‘events’ like Black Friday are symptomatic of a distinct lack of integrity and respect. I say “give me your best price EVERY day“. Show me some respect and value my business, not just because you want a good review, or because you want me to come and spend even more. The way a lot of business is conducted today is losing dignity and respect. It’s a dishonest approach to selling good folk stuff they probably don’t need and persuading those same hard-working folk to part with money they often do not have, via’ debt cards, easy finance options and the like. FOMO is a powerful thing.

So, if you genuinely need to get something and you find a good offer knock yourselves out. Personally, I’m not easily swayed into parting with my hard-earned and have spent the morning unsubscribing to every single email offering me a Black Friday ‘deal’. Every bit of Black Friday mail through my door went back into the post box “return to sender”. I know it makes absolutely no difference whatsoever, i’m just a dog howling at the moon but things have got to change, the way we are going is destroying every one of us.

So, I have wasted enough time on this and if you, dear reader,  are insane enough to have read it there are Black Friday deals you are missing. I have to go sort this mess out now, video coming soon.

Graham.

P.S ‘SALE’ items are listed here. Bonsai Bargain Basement.

Soon to be a new bonsai video, the 4 year journey of this privet. Was it worth the wait?