I have to sell bonsai stuff in order to survive and sometimes I buy things that just don’t move. I can’t afford to just dump stuff and move on and besides I was raised by parents and grandparents that experienced war austerity, waste is just not in my vocabulary. To that end I have spent a couple of evenings beavering away on some rather tatty scots pine that have been taking up space for a while now. I hate this kind of first work, it’s so coarse and results in a scruffy image but then we have to start somewhere right?
I have now spent 14 days solid sorting out new stock and it’s not even re-potting season yet. Buying yamadori and raw material may well give good value for money but when you have as many pots as we do it makes a cruel task-master. Raw material rarely has mojo, certainly not when the price is low. However with the application of time, dedication, imagination plus a little sprinkling of fairy dust a bonsai tree can slowly be created. Often it takes an experienced eye to see the possibilities and skilled hands to lay the path ahead. No two folk will see the same thing when looking at trees and one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. That’s good because so far I have not seen two trees the same. Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. Having the courage to do our own thing irrespective of the influence of populist opinion, now that’s a whole other ball game.
Not all of these will are available in the short term, I need to keep something to work on, but offers are always welcome. Please excuse the pictures, a British winter is the worst time to be photographing trees!
If I had any choice in the matter I would just surround myself with beautiful bonsai masterpieces steeped in history and nothing else. I guess we all would right? Foolishly, I allowed my hobby to become a full time business and that changes the rules of the game entirely. I now have to meet the needs of customers and supply a fickle market at keen prices whilst being ‘competitive’. On top of that I have the government’s cold bony hand in my pocket and bleeding my ingenuity and entrepreneurial endeavours by adding a fifth to the cost of everything I do. Having turned over something like seven and a half million to date it’s become very obvious to me how you make a million quid in bonsai, you start with three million.
In order to keep ourselves afloat we have to work seven days a week and meet the needs of EVERY customer as best we can. That necessitates holding an impossibly wide range of goods including a lot of plants that are not yet the revered specimens I would own from preference. I do still love the creation process in bonsai but considering we have a large six figure sum invested in bonsai tree stock it really would be nice to have a few little treats of my own on the benches but the numbers really don’t work for the business. Therefore I buy material we can add value to and that our talented customers buy to work and develop into something special (often before selling them back to us for double the price). Not that I am complaining but I have now realised my expectations were a little rose tinted at the outset. However there are worse ways to make a living though they may be a lot less stressful.
Having got that lot of my mind it’s time to introduce our first delivery of 2019. There are two more deliveries due this week. This is a lot of (currently) scabby raw material I have bought in for working next winter along with a few better bits I hope to sort out over the next few months. Obviously everything is for sale but it may take a bit of enhanced imagination to really see the bonsai within.
More soon 😉
Following all the changes around here it’s becoming evident that everything has worked out well. Our output is up by more than 20% with no more mouths to feed than before and I have, for the first time in years, time on my hands. Not that I am looking for something to do. If I had a staff of six JUST working on trees eight hours a day we would NEVER get finished, we just have TOO many plants to deal with. I am the only one that actually does any bonsai work around here and so I have to content myself with knowing I can hardly scratch the surface.
Last week I spent my early mornings and evenings sorting out some of the less desirable trees I have laying around. Even after all these years it still amazes me what a couple of carving tools and a bit of wire can do. There’s nothing here worth a dam other than my paltry wages…
Creating bonsai trees from collected material is a skilled process of knowing when to get involved and when to leave alone. Failure to carefully observe your material and act appropriately generally results in a poor outcome. Too much work is every bit as bad as too little. We don’t create bonsai, we can only point our material in the right direction, it’s the tree that creates the real magic when we are indoor eating corn chips and drinking beer. Getting a good start is important and every good start begins in the engine room, under the soil. Once that’s kicking out enough power we can make small inroads with a rudimentary shaping after which we need to step back and let the tree get on with its job. Most of these are rough as guts but there is always a time in bonsai when things APPEAR to go backwards and this is that time. Next work will be much more refined and fulfilling. Sadly many folk have a problem knowing or understanding this first work business so here are a few images to illustrate Day 1 bonsai training.
2019 has started with a bang around here. The bang was the sound of a backlog of Christmas orders hitting my desk. Because we work every day throughout the year orders normally flow through the system largely unnoticed. At Christmas we go into hibernation for a week and it’s always shocking just how many orders get backed up. Whilst this week has only consisted of three working days we have managed to get out something like two hundred parcels including some beautiful bonsai trees and over a quarter ton of various bonsai soils. Next week looks like being even bigger than that so if you have an outstanding order with us please be patient, we’ll be with you soon.
Despite the above the business of running a business still goes on and this week we have seen the return of a few favourite bonsai carving tools that have been absent for a while. Sadly prices are increasing and you can blame your government for that, we have reduced our profit margins to ease the rise somewhat but there is only so much we can do. I have also been busy on new bonsai tree stock and have managed to secure about a hundred and fifty plants so far this week, some nice yamadori, some part trained bonsai and some exciting field grown stock too.
Finally, as ever, the bonsai tree work must go on and I am rushing around getting a lot of trees whipped into shape before spring. There is a massive workload to be completed before re-potting begins in a few weeks time. Monday and Tuesday before we got back to work I had to prune up close to two hundred little trees I have in the ground in preparation for lifting in spring (no wonder I have tendinitis in my right elbow).
Once we got back to work I spent my early mornings and evenings knocking up this sabina juniper. We sold this a few years back but it returned in PX unworked but potted. I simply couldn’t resist giving it a clean up and then one thing led to another…. as it does.
At this time of year I get a lot of people asking when they should begin re-potting their bonsai. Unfortunately I can’t give a straight answer to a question like that because, as with most things concerning bonsai, it depends upon many factors. However there is a simple answer….
This really is my last post of 2018. I think I said that before but now it actually IS. After this I am going on holiday. Well, actually I am going into the other room to sit by the fire with the dogs and a glass.
For me the bonsai year really closes out on the winter solstice (shortest day) and that is today. As of tomorrow we start looking forward to another productive growing season. It might be a very long time until spring but for today I can contemplate the last year, my successes and failures and lay plans for improving what happens next year. I shan’t go out the front gate for the next couple of weeks, we’ll unplug the phone and consign my Mac to a locked cupboard. Peace and quiet is a much underrated commodity these days and something I hold in high esteem.
Here’s a few pic’s of the winter solstice sunrise over my Norfolk dog walking route.
Now, where’s that bottle?
2018 started badly with me having to call out an ambulance having all but broken myself in two. An experience that leaves me weak at the knees even now when I think about it. Just as I was emerging from the dark tunnel of that I got flu for the first time in my life. My Mum always said that every time I got sick I was always twice as bad as everyone else. In this case I would agree, that was rough. Thankfully I have good people around me and so business carried on largely as normal.
Now sitting here on our last day of work in 2018 I can only say I have been humbled by the simply inconceivable success we have had throughout the last year. YOUR support this year has been absolutely wonderful, humbling and incredible hard work all rolled into an amazing experience so from us all here at KB THANK YOU!
Part of my job is surrounding myself with amazing bonsai trees and yamadori. I know it’s tough but somebody has to do it. Loving trees the way I do I find it keeps my little life in perspective, being surrounded by yamadori often five or ten times my age and having beautiful bonsai trees that have had decades of skill and experience poured into them. The responsibility of having to be a faithful custodian of this little treasure chest of magic gets me up before dawn every day.
Even though I have some nice bonsai around me I have to say it’s still what I might call the crap that really floats my boat. There really is nothing I love more than a nasty stump that someone has discarded. I often manage to get these for little more than the price of the pots they occupy. On a buying trip last spring I was given this oak. The top of the tree had died and just a single shoot was sticking out of the base. Even at just a hundred quid, which was pretty much the cost of inbound transport, VAT and a drink for me nobody gave it a second glance. This week I got everyone working hard and so yesterday I slipped off into the workshop to have some fun with my little stump.
Have a great Christmas and a restful holiday and sincere thanks to everyone that made 2018 such a great year. I can hardly wait to open the lid on 2019 but before then I have some special bottles of scotch to drain and a couple of very special cigars to smoke.
Best wishes from everyone at Kaizen Bonsai!
Around here autumn is a good time for me to get some trees worked. This year has been harder than normal because obviously Rammon went on his way and we have also been insanely busy too. I generally spend the autumn covered in dust knocking holes in big deciduous trees but this year I sold them all so I turned my attention to some sabina junipers that just weren’t selling.
I adore sabina juniper but with my sausage fingers wiring them does drive me up the wall. However it is possible with care to create a very tight refined image. Following a subsequent years growth first work junipers can look amazing. Autumn re-potting where necessary will also encourage strong summer growth as opposed to spring repotting which makes them sulk badly.
It’s been a chaotic week or two here. Christmas shopping is in full swing and it appears a lot of folk are getting the drop on spring by ordering soil and pots early too. It’s almost shocking how much stuff is going out the door every day. Thankfully we now have a full compliment of hands to man the tape guns and so we’re doing okay.
My first priority around here is always the trees. It’s practically become a full time job just buying enough stock to keep up with demand. It used to be the case a couple of good deliveries a year kept us going but of late we have been needing a delivery every month. This year we have spent a good six figure sum on bonsai and largely bought up everything we can find (at a workable price) and we are STILL desperate for more stock. Sadly because of that great demand and other global factors we are seeing prices rise quickly, that’s capitalism for you. By and large we are seeing folk buy less volume but better quality and in my opinion that’s how it should be.
This week we had a hundred new plants arrive and have also bought another hundred-odd for January delivery but for now here are some new sabina junipers that are a lot more interesting than some we have seen. Again, not cheap but every one is a keeper in my book.