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!

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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.

DSC01008

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:

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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.

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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’.

One down! A small update and announcement

Well we are well and truely into the silly season now, and I thought it a good time for another update as well.

Firstly, the announcement. One of the projects I’ve recently been working on is now complete, and I’m finally able to let you all know what it is! I should note at this point that this is not related to my website, but is with another site that I support and regularly use (and think you all should too!) AusBonsai. I have finally completed working on the most comprehensive directory in Australia, a directory that shows the location of each and every bonsai related store/club/park/etc within Australia. Not only is it my pride and joy, it is also a really great resource for when you are looking for a club or nursery local to you. So, here it is!

http://www.ausbonsai.com.au/directory/

If you have the chance, please have a look and let me know what you think!

So with that out the way, I will hopefully move onto another project for the site. My aim in all of this, is to assist in the growth of the art of bonsai within Australia. Be it through my site, or through another.

Now, a personal update on my own growth. It has been a long month… again. Whilst I continue to learn, I am finding that my lack of space is now affecting my learning of the art. Hopefully, that will soon change, as it is really no fun only being regulated to a few bonsai. I guess December is also not the most active of months for bonsai demo’s or workshops, so that is also a contributing factor. It is tough though, as what do you do when you want to learn… but have nothing or no one to teach you, or should I say, no way to get to those resources?

Hopefully, the new year will bring me some new windows of oppurtunity to learn this wonderful art, as I am really passionate about building bonsai within Australia, but without the skillset, that is quite hard to do. I soldier on all the same, I am determined after all… and a bit stubborn too!

The site will undergo a small update in the very near future, so stayed tuned for that too! Looking to upgrade the base images, font and the like to make it a bit more stylish

Time flies! A progress update

How time flies! That statement has really rang true for me these last few months. While my last updated was only just posted, it was sitting as a draft for a while whilst I tried to get the pictures sorted out… well I still haven’t sorted them out, but I figured that I’ll post the story anyway and just add the images later. Better then nothing I guess, but I will sort those pictures out promptly and apologise for the delay.

My next step in my bonsai progression is still a bit unclear at the moment. I feel that due to my lack of resources, my learning is kind of stagnating, and I’m at a loss on how I can solve it. Well, not quite, I know how to solve it, but the solution will take time. I have been quite ok without having a license for most of my life, I’ve simply never really needed one, but now I’m finding this just won’t cut it, especially with bonsai. Its just hard to find the motivation sometimes, but now that it is affecting my bonsai… I find the motivation growing.

This month and next, my focus will be on another of my web design projects. Unfortunately, this needs to get done, and done soon, so I will be dedicating more of my time there, then here, but stay tuned for an exciting update once I’ve completed my work! This project has been in the pipes for nearly a year now, so I am very excited to see it finally released to the public.

I continue to think on how I can improve, particularly on how I can make this webpage stand out, and above the rest. I hope that one day my bonsai skills will help there, but in the mean time, I need to be different and creative to make this site what I want it to be. What does that mean? I’ve really got no idea, but we shall see where it takes me.

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