Things are moving – Another update

As you all may know, I’m in the process of updating the blog/website, I really want to build a solid foundation that I can use to keep this website around a long time, and to really extend my reach (and that of Australian Bonsai) over the world.

I’m currently working with an artist in the States to sort out a logo and/or image for the site. This isn’t as easy as I first thought, I’m constantly chaning my mind, or coming up with new ideas, so am making it extremely difficult for myself… and the poor artist who has to deal with me! So I’ll be sitting on this for a few weeks until I’m satisfied with the outcome.

Next is the registration of the blog. This should be happening within the week, providing nothing else goes wrong or holds me up. Work and life have a strange way of getting in the way of my blogging.

Then we have the Twitter account. I’ve dug up my ancient account that I used to use a few years back for my old gaming website. I’m in the process of wiping that clean, and changing the names and titles so that it can be used for my new passion. For the moment, it will primarily be another means to share my blog posts, however I plan to use it more in the future, for just some general bonsai jibber jabber. Give me a follow @DownUnderBonsai and say hello, or just click the link and you’ll be taken straight to the page.

I also have plans for a Facebook, and Google+ account (possibly even Instagram), however I’ll be tackling one thing at a time, so stay tuned for further updates on them. I have lots of grand plans, however very limited time and resources to fulfil these dreams, so please bear with me while I get this ball moving.

Free Online Lesson’s – Wiring with Colin Lewis

Just a quick update today to let you all know about the free wiring lesson’s that I have just stumbled across from Colin Lewis.

 Colin Lewis - Bonsai Wiring Essentials

The lesson’s consist of four videos and are done through an online learning facility called ‘Craftsy’. You’ll need to sign up to be able to register for the lesson’s, however that is a very simple process.

I know I’ve been a little quiet lately, but rest assured that I am busy working on an update for the website. More details will be posted soon.

‘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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Something new, and something fresh

Now that I have the ball rolling, I thought it might be time to freshen up the place, and take my webpage/blog to the next level.

Firstly, I will be creating and registering the domain Down Under Bonsai. This is the last step in my ‘just a blog’ page, and the first step into a officially registered website. Once I have the domain set up, I will begin properly advertising and promoting the site.

Next, a review of the things I will post. I will continue on with my current updates on my personal tree’s and workshops, and eventually as my skills progress, I will start touching on techniques and tips and so forth. However I would like to add something more. I want Bonsai in Australia to grow, so I figure, what better way then to start posting up the various exhibitions from around this fine country, and start showcasing some of our artists and bonsai to the rest of the world. Unfortunately, as I am not by any means rich, I can’t travel to each show to take photos (hopefully one day), so I will have to gain some contact from various states, and see if I can use their pictures in my posts. 

Next, I am considering starting to use the site to re-blog other stories, from other bonsai artists around the world. I hope that this will mix things up a bit, and keep the site fresh and interesting, and also help fellow artists showcase their own blogs and pages. So far this is just an idea that I’m bouncing around my head, but will most likely become a reality.

That is not the end of my ideas however. I have a lot more that I would like to do, but am concious of over committing myself, so I’ll keep it at that for now, and stick with the ideas that I think will have the most benefit to Bonsai in Australia.

So, stay tuned! Next up will be a post about the WA Bonsai Workshop’s recent Exhibition (photo’s galore!), followed shortly by an old news story that I have been given permission to repost, containing an interview with one of Australia’s founding bonsai artist’s.

Robert Steven Workshop – Melaleuca Incana

Due to the length of my last post, I thought I would make a seperate post for my workshop Melaleuca. That way I can waffle a bit more, and also give you a bit more background on this bonsai’s beginnings. Its taken me a while to get this post up, due to another project in the works, but more on that in later.

Mel. Incana 1


The tree started as a simple pot plant sold at a nursery (not a bonsai nursery). You can see in this photo that this is really just a shrub, and the branching has a very pendulous growth.



Mel. Incana 18 Front


This next shot shows the branch selection process and the angle change. Please be aware this is not my work, nor my photos, but that of the previous owner whom I purchased the tree from. Which is why I will not expand too much.



This is the final shot before the tree passed over into my hands. You can see it come along nicely, however showing a few minor wire scars.

Mel. Incana

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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!

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’.