Australian Pests – Spitfire Sawfly

I thought that it might be an interesting idea to post about the various pests and insects that I find around my garden and throughout my bonsai. We have some very curious varieties down under, so I thought that I might just share a few.

Today I’m writing about the Spitfire Sawfly. I have a lot of memories of these little buggers from my childhood, as I used to see them around a lot (mainly the larvae). Back then, I believed that the name implied that they literally spat fire or poison at you, and I remember constantly being cauitous when walking under tree’s, in fear that a pack of them might fall on my head spitting fire at me! They group together for protection, so you can find 30 to 40 of them all huddled together (frequently in tree’s), so the fear of them falling on my head was at least not entirely imagined.

This posts stems from a more recent experience I’ve had with them (and continue to), in which they managed to possibly wipe out one of my tree’s, and force me to trunk chop another. I will know in a few more days whether the first tree is truely lost or if it might spring back. It is strange in that the tree they attacked the least, is the one dying, but I’ve checked it out thoroughly and cannot see anything else that could have caused it, other then a few munched leaves.

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‘The Bonsai Workshop’ Exhibition – May 2014

Well, I had hoped to have this post up a bit sooner, but June is the crazy period for me at work, and crazy it has been! Not to mention the troubles I’m having at home, mainly with my car that I’ve now put more money into then the thing is worth… but that isn’t what we’re here for is it? So, onwards to bonsai!

The exhibition is now over a month passed, so I apologise for the delay in posting up the photos, but time is a swift beast, and she flys away from me often. This post will mainly just be photo’s, as there is not a lot I can say on each tree, but will comment where I can.



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Robert Steven Workshop – Breaking the Mindset

What an absolutely amazing weekend I had with Robert Steven, who so kindly visited our club for a weekend of critiques, presentations and workshops. I can’t say how glad I am that he came to visit Perth, as it was one of the best learning experiences I’ve ever had. I’m still digesting everything that I learned from the weekend with Robert, as he really opened my mind to a different view on how I should be learning the art.

One thing that I came to realise, is that its not just about learning the ‘rules and guidelines’ of bonsai, but actually understanding the background of these so called ‘rules’ and why they are in place. By better understanding these rules, you can better understand what situations you need to apply them, and what situations that they can be bent or ‘broken’.

He also went further then the ‘rules’, and touched on our mindsets, and how we need to break away from them and start treating each bonsai as an individual, rather then trying to apply broad rules to each and every tree we work.

I should note at this point, when I say ‘rules’ I do not mean to say that there are actually rules within the bonsai world, but more guidelines that are widely followed.

Anyway, enough of the theory, lets gets some photos happening!

The first day we started with Robert critiquing a few of our members trees. I think this may have been the moment he fell in love with the our paperbarks.

robert steven 1

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A cool change, but not yet Autumn

Well, its that time of year… or should I say, it ‘SHOULD’ be that time of year where the weather starts to turn, however it appears that Summer is holding on for a bit longer yet. Luckily, we had a cool change over the weekend and this week, which allowed me to get out into the garden and get a couple of jobs done.

First up, was some wire removal. I have a few tree’s in various stages, all in some dire need of wire removal. Most were ok, with the wire just starting to dig in, but I had one Juniper with some unexpected growth and the wire had cut a little deeper then what I would have liked. So out came the cheap wire cutters (really need to upgrade them) and I got stuck straight into it. Unfortunately, I went a bit longer then I expected, and as darkness came, so did a couple of mistakes. Thankfully, only a few minor buds knocked off, but my own fault for trying to do it at dusk, I was just enjoying it so much (it really is peaceful for me) that I didn’t want to stop! No pictures yet, these tree’s really aren’t suitable for showing, and I’m a bit embarrassed showing tree’s that are still quite raw.

Then it was on to some repotting. First up was my cascade Juniper Procumbens from my Bill Valavanis workshop. I repotted this, beleiving that it was dying off due to being root bound, problem is that when I got it out of the pot… it wasn’t all that root bound. Bugger! So, I gave it a slight root prune, and went ahead with the repot, as it needed a new pot to cater for its cascading branch hanging below the base of the current pot. It was one problem after another, firstly discovering it wasn’t root bound, then discovering that the pot really isn’t the best pick for the tree, as the fluting rim of the pot is in the way of the cascading branch. Unfortunately, I don’t have any other pots. So I trimmed a bit more of the roots on one side, so that it would fit in the pot properly… despite the placement looking terrible. There is nothing I can do about it though, so I went ahead with it, and gave the branches a bit of a tweak in the process… only to then snap one of the main branches! Wow, I had to ask myself if my luck get any worse? Luckily it didn’t, and I learnt three valuable lessons.

1. Don’t rush a repot.
2. Check the bonsai fits the pot suitably before repotting.
3. Don’t make a bend where there is no support.

Good lesson’s, just hope it’s not at the expense of the tree.

Next it was on to my natives. These are mainly things that I’ve grown from tubestock, so they are nothing spectacular as yet. As I’ve got them potted in nursery pots to thicken them up, they need to be repotted reasonably regularly. So I pulled out my new bag of soil, bought only the previous day… only to discover it full of ants! My arch nemisis it seems. This is the third time I’ve found them in a bag of soil already this year, and am still no closer to knowing why. (Any suggestions would be most welcome, am very curious as to why they like my soil?) Luckily, they hadn’t invaded the whole bag, so I dug out what they had and continued with the repot… however I decided to repot everything I could to use the soil before the ants got to it again. So my Corymbia. Ficifolia, Mel. Systena, Callistemon, and another Meleleuca all got repotted with some new soil, and larger pots. I gave the Ficifolia a rough wiring… cracking a branch in the process… and think it now has the bones of a potentially great tree, however only time will tell… and I guess that cracked branch will tell too, but I’m hopeful as the break wasn’t too bad, and I applied cut paste right away.

I must also give a shout out to Craig from Meljobu Bonsai who gave me a couple of cracker tree’s to work on, one of which should be perfect for the upcoming workshop if I can feed it enough beforehand. I am insanely happy about not only being given two bonsai, but being given native bonsai that I have been craving since I started getting into Bonsai. Both tree’s have a lot of potential, but the Melaleuca which has some really nice deadwood features is by far my favorite… probably because it is my favorite species to work with! I really hope to do them justice, I’ve rearranged the whole garden so that they are both in a suitable spot, protected from the worst part of the days heat, and hope to give them a working soon. (I’ll post up some pictures when I have them)

So thats it for the update, a lot of lessons have come the hard way this month, but its all a learning experience for me. I’m coming to understand why you don’t get too attached to any particular tree, and not to worry too much about losing one, as it is all part of the learning process.

Until next time!

Looks like it will be an exciting year!

I received my the calander from my club this month, and was extremely excited to see that we have Robert Steven heading down our way for a couple of workshops, demonstrations and critiques in April. Robert is an artist I particularly like, especially his work with Casurina’s and also his beautiful windswept styling.

Now, I have the minor problem of having nothing to take into the workshops! Everything I have currently is either too young to work (my native’s for 10years away) or has already been worked recently. Granted, I don’t have a whole lot of Bonsai as yet, but I wanted to avoid biting off more then I can chew…. which doesn’t seem to be working, as it turns out I can chew a lot!

So now I am on the hunt for stock, and who doesn’t like looking for new stock!? So my hopes, which are limited by availability, is to get my hands on a tree that I can transform into a windswept style with Robert, which I’ve always found quite an appealing style. Unfortunately, its not easy to find good stock where I am, as Bonsai Nurseries aren’t in great supply. I also would really like to get my hands on some native stock, which I am finding next to impossible to find any decent material in store. My passion is 100% natives, however I find I’m buying Juniper after Juniper as I’m not able to find anything else that is suitable. It should be noted that Juniper’s are my ‘go to’ if I cannot find any natives, I’m still a beginner, so tend to stick with what I know whilst I’m still in my early stages.

So far I’ve been to a couple of nurseries already, but have either been too poor (am in the middle of an expensive dental procedure) or they have just not had what I’ve wanted… or they do have what I want, but not at a price that I think is reasonable. So I’m going to try a few of the smaller bonsai nurseries that are scattered around, and see what I can come up with. In all honestly, I think I’ll end up paying for the pricey ones, as there really isn’t too much out there for me to choose from.

Whilst writing this story though, I’ve had the idea of utilising my club for assistance in finding stock. The Bonsai Society of Western Australia has some truely awesome members, and I think if I ask nicely enough, one of the members may just have what I am looking for. Alas, probably not native though.

So, my hunt for natives continues! I’m sure that if I had my license (long story) I would definately not be in this predicement, as it would open up the world of yamadori’s to me, but hopefully that will be sorted this year.

Not really a whole lot happening this month, I’ve done some minor work on my bonsai, removing the wire from a few done last year and potting up a couple of tubestock natives (Mel. Preissiana, Mel. Incana, and another Mel that I can’t think of). Next month should be a bit more exciting, as I will be recording my efforts in doing a ground layer on a nasty ficus I have. I potted it up into a large pot on the weekend, so once the roots take hold I will attempt the layer. The nebari of the tree is a mess, with a lot of twisted and rotting roots, so I plan to do the layer just above that, so that I can keep a bit of the taper. I also have my Bill Valavanis workshop cascade to pot up to a bonsai pot. Stay tuned for those progressions!

Another valuable lesson

So today I went to a workshop held by my club (Bonsai Society of Western Australia) at which I learnt a valuable lesson, a pretty basic one really, but sometimes the obvious ones are the easiest to miss.

It started at a local hardware/nursery store that I would visit quite regularly in my early months of bonsai, thinking it a good place to look for stock. While you can find good stock at these places, it’s few and far between, and not always the best value for money. I picked up a Juniper that I thought was a cracker, nice movement, and a good selection of braches, plus, its was on special. Sold. So, without even knowing the type of Juniper I had picked up, I had bought a new plant, and was stoked.


Months went by with me never doing anything with it, I was at that stage in my bonsai development where I bought more plants then I knew what to do with. Luckily, I got over that quite quickly, but I also joined a club which was able to help me do something with these plants that I had acquired. There was a workshop on today, and I decided to take this one along with me, still thinking it a decent tree, but was quickly corrected. It turns out the Juniper I have (I still do not know the name) is not a very suitable species for bonsai. I was told that the problem with it, is that it shows two types of foliage, both spiked, and scale. Not like juvenile and adult foliage, but simply it had both. Something I had not heard of unfortunately.

A little deflated, I wasn’t too sure what to do, I wandered around for a while watching other people workshop their tree’s, and listening to the advice given to them. Which was not a bad thing at all, I learnt quite a lot about pines, despite them not being a favourite of mine as yet. A point came where my fingers became itchy and I had to do something, who can watch people work bonsai and not want to do it themselves? So I decided to work my tree anyway, despite the advice not to bother. Practice is practice after all, and I enjoy it either way.

So, with the encouragement of some fellow members, I got stuck into my Juniper. I had an initial plan of making a semi cascade, as it was leading that way anyway, however in the process of creation, I ended up on going with a windswept as it just seemed to flow into that style. I trimmed it all down to the essentials, and wired up what I had left. I placed the branches into position, trying to follow the flow of tree, keeping in mind the style I had envisioned. Here is what I came out with:


A very basic effort, but this is now going to be my training tree, for me to experiment with some drastic ideas. The branch on the left will be grown, and Jinned into a nice shape, and I will try and create a Shari line down the trunk. Not for a while though, as it obviously needs to grow out first. I can practice on this, before I try anything on one of my special trees, like Shari lines for example. What have I got to lose? Maybe one day I can even turn this, despite it ‘not being suitable for bonsai’, into something really special. Only time will tell.

Always check what you are buying, and if you don’t know whether it is suitable for bonsai, then put it back down. Its not worth the effort, and you money would be better spent at your local bonsai nursery, where you’ll find much better stock, for a much more reasonable price. If you do find yourself with something like this though, don’t let someone tell you that you can’t do anything with it, give it a crack and see what you can make. Any learning experience, especially for a beginner, is a good thing.

(If you know the species of this bonsai please let me know in the comments)

Bonsai and extreme temperatures

With the recent heat waves that we’ve had in Perth, I thought it might be an idea to touch on the subject, and how it can affect our bonsai, and more importantly, what we can do to keep them cool.

So you all know that I am still learning the art, but I guess I’ll be saying that for many years to come, but one of the first things that I learnt with my bonsai, was how to take care of them when the temperatures start to soar. The weekend just passed was a record breaker here in Perth, with temps in my area hitting 48/49 degrees celsius. When it gets this hot, you need to take precautions, otherwise your bonsai will not survive. These are some tips that I have compiled, and use myself.

Tip#1: Probably the most obvious suggestion, would be to water your plants more. Sprinkler or automatic watering systems work quite well in this situation. Watering your plants will obviously cool them down to a certain extent, but you need to be aware that in extreme temps, the water can quickly heat up, and may ‘cook’ the roots. That shouldn’t be a major concern for most, as it would need to be quite a high temp to get to that point. I tend to move my watering up to two or three times daily during the hot periods. You really need to watch your plants and the soil, as they will tell you when they need the water.

Tip#2: Another obvious one, would be to move your plants to a shady area for the duration of the heatwave. This would probably be the simplest option, as well as the most effective. Keeping your bonsai in a shady area will prevent the water evaporating quickly, and will also keep them out of direct sunlight, which can heat up a pot very quickly. The best shading method would be to cover your bonsai with 30-50% shade cloth, but failing that, moving them to a shady area under a tree would be fine. I will sometimes move mine so that they only receive morning light, but are shaded for the afternoon.

Tip#3: Some simple mulch or pebbles/stones covering the top of the bonsai. This will also slow the evaporation rate of the water, meaning the bonsai will stay cooler for a bit longer. I personally use gravel to cover the tops of my bonsai, but I have heard of Lucrene Hay being used, as well as many other different types of pebbles or rocks. Some forms of mulch may actually hinder you, as it can prevent you seeing the soil and knowing whether your bonsai is dry or not, so just pay a bit more attention to this if using a mulch like hay.

Tip#4: A very good way to keep them cool, is by sitting you bonsai in a gravel tray filled with water. I fill the tray with gravel, then fill the tray with water and sit my bonsai on top of the gravel, making sure that there is a gap between the water level and the bottom of the pot. The idea is that as the water evaporates, it is drawn up through the pot, keeping it cooler for longer.

Tip#5: would be to use wet carpet to lay on the top of your bonsai. Make sure it is cut to the correct shape, with a hole in the middle, and cut going from that hole to the edge. That way, you can lay the carpet over the soil of your bonsai (so the trunk is coming through the hole), which will allow for the soil to stay damp for much longer. I have also heard of newspaper being used to this affect. While it may not look the best, it is very effective in keeping the plant cool, and the evaporation rate down.

Tip#6: Is another thing to be aware of, and something that suprised me, is that the bigger the pot, the faster it will dry out. So for example, a large cascade pot will dry out much faster then a regular bonsai pot. This is due to the surface area that is exposed to the sun. The more surface area on a pot, the more heat it will absorb, and a hot pot is not a good pot. So just watch your big pots as much as you do you the small, as they will dry out quickly too. This can also be said for any type of rock plantings, like ROR (root over rock), Planted in rock, or Slab plantings. The rock not only gives more surface area to heat up, it also acts as a wick, and draws water up into the rock, which is not good for you bonsai.

These are just a few tips that I have learnt (sometimes the hard way) that will hopefully help keep your bonsai alive during the extremely hot days that come around during summer.

Please feel free to post your own tips in the comments, as this post will be updated as I discover more.

Another year done! A look back at my first year of bonsai

Well, what a year it was!

Firstly, a big Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all! I hope everyone has had an amazing time, and did not get up to too much mischeif.

Whilst it is not exactly a year since I started bonsai (its actualy been one year and 2 months… but who’s counting right) I thought I might have a look back over my year and see what I have learnt, and where I can grow.

My first real bonsai experience I guess was with the Bonsai Society of WA. It was a simple day long beginners course, that taught me more then I can say, and sent me way with my passion for bonsai. I created a Shohin Juniper with the aid of a mentor for the class (who I was stoked to work with, as he is a favourite artist of mine) from a stock Juniper Procumbens. I learnt many things during the course, more then I can really put in to words, but it gave me the base I needed to really start learning.

Me and my first bonsai. Proud as punch

Next was the Mauro Stemberger demonstration. Unfortunately I did not participate in the workshop, as I just was not confident enough to put my name down. A shame, as I now really wish I had of done it. Anyway, I did watch his demonstration, which was a real pleasure. The man himself is great, very funny and extremely knowledgeable in the art. He produced an amazing tree from the stock that was provided, and really helped me in looking beyond the ‘obvious’ tree.

Then, it was back to the beginner course, I enjoyed it so much the first time that I just had to go again. the set up was the same and I enjoyed myself just as much as I did the first time, the experience is one I recommend for any beginner wanting to learn. I worked on another Juniper Procumbens, which I created a slanting style bonsai from. Being able to work a tree in that environment, with so many knowledgeable people there to help and answer my questions, really is the best way to learn.

(Picture coming soon, I didn’t get any good ones at the course, but do have one once I got home)

Finally, my workshop with Bill Valavanis. I have documented this already in another post, so will not go through that again. Suffice it to say, that Bill is a wonderful bloke, and I really enjoyed the workshop.

Bill V-workshop

This, was my first year through bonsai. I should note that this is a very high level view of my year, I have my own small garden which I am continue to grow my bonsai-to-be, and learn as I do so. I also acquired a nice little melaleuca, which is pictured below. My first, proper, native bonsai. The first of very many to come.

Mel. Incana

So, that is my first year of Bonsai. The one thing I really have learnt this year, is that I truly have a lot to learn. I know now that it really is not as simple as it looks, but I have also found that I have a real passion for this, and hope to continue on for a long time. I have also discovered my passion for natives, and look forward to where I can take that in my bonsai ‘career’.

Bill Valavanis – Cascade workshop

Well this update is a little overdue, but have had a few things on my agenda of late, namely getting a Root Canal on one of my teeth, and also trying to tie up my loose ends, so that I can put some more focus here.

So, I thought it about time that I update you all on how I went with my first workshop!

The workshop I attended was one of two with international bonsai artist Bill Valavanis, focusing on Cascade style bonsai (the other workshop was on Literati, which I unfortunately couldn’t attend). The workshop and demonstration went over a full day, with the demo going for the first half of the day, and the workshop the last 4 hours.

So first up was the demonstration, where Bill went through a few of the member’s tree’s and critiqued each, before moving on to the demo tree, which was a Juniper ROR Cascade… a combination that Bill had not seen previously!

Cascade workshop

We then proceeded on with the workshop, which I was starting to get nervous about by that time. Being my first workshop, I really had no idea what to expect, and was paranoid about my lack of skills.

Well… it turns out that I had nothing to worry about. Not that I suddenly learnt the ‘skills’, but more so that Bill was just a great guy, and after a chat with him, my nerves faded very quickly.

Unfortunately, as my tree needed a lot of basic work, Bill didn’t spend too much time working with me, and I found I spent most of the time cleaning my stock, and then wiring it all up…. which I tell you, was not easy. I had underestimated how much wiring was required! So basically the whole time was spent wiring with Bill stopping by every now and then with a few pointers, and then at the end Bill came over and helped with the final branch placement and basic styling.

Lesson learnt, prepare your tree a few days prior to the workshop, or at least get the basic cleaning out of the way so that you have more time to actually work with the artist leading the workshop. Another lesson which I learnt… bandaids are a good item to keep in your tool kit! I managed to slice my hand quite bad with my new Kaneshin scissors, which I attempted to work through until the blood became a bit much. Luckily a lovely lady who was observing had some handy, for which I was very thankful.

The stock tree I bought for this workshop
Unworked Cascade

After a little bit of cleaning and main trunk wired
Cleaned and wired

The final product
Final - Bill Valavanis Workshop

Ready for the workshop!

Well, after a visit to the Bonsai Emporium this weekend, I’m now offically ready for Bill Valavanis’ workshop at the end of the month. Am very excited to see what I can learn from this man I’ve heard (and read) so much about.

Unfortunately, I also managed to blow my back out again, preforming the most mundane of tasks (I think I was getting a drink of water). So it was a most interesting trip to try and look for cascade stock… when I can’t even  reach down to do my own shoes up!!

Due to that, I spent most of the weekend off my back and as such didn’t get a oppurtunity to post up my new logo… which is lucky in a way, as I’ve decided to change it a little anyway. So, stay tuned!

Back to the cascade! I ended up choosing a nice juniper, well… I picked the best one I could see without being able to bend down and have a look at it. I’m hoping that it will be enough to work with, I didn’t scrape on the price… too much at least… I decided to go for one that wasn’t in a training pot, which saved me half the price, allowing me to get better stock. Just hope that the lack of pot won’t be a problem in the workshop, I guess I could just wack it in the pot beforehand… but I don’t want to stress the plant anymore then I need to so…. we’ll see I guess.

Anyways, providing there is enough light when I get home, I will post some pics of the stock