Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Joining a Bonsai Club

I first became interested in bonsai in around the year 2000, but at the time I was unaware that there were clubs which could help me to develop my bonsai skills.

So I did a little reading and then set off to buy my first tree. At the time I wanted to keep my bonsai indoors, which meant my options were limited.  It will come as little surprise that one of my first attempts was a Ficus.

Unfortunately I misinterpreted some of what I read and it didn’t take me long to kill my tree. I cried the day I realised that, after one too many defoliations, my little tree had run out of energy to fight me and that it would never put out any more foliage.

Happily I was not put off that easily and I soon went looking for my next victim.

After a few failures I finally learnt how to keep my trees alive but in the process I put little effort into styling them. With hindsight I realise that I was no longer trying to grow bonsai, just keeping potential bonsai as house-plants.

All that changed in 2007 when I visited a local bonsai show and was persuaded to join the club.

I was hesitant to attend my first meeting because I didn’t know how I was going to fit in among a group of strangers, many of whom had years of experience, but I needn’t have worried. Everyone was very friendly and helpful and joining the club changed my life.

At the time I knew an elderly couple who shared my love of bonsai but grew their trees entirely for their own enjoyment. I often discussed bonsai with them and one discussion sticks in my mind to this day.

When I mentioned how much I enjoyed attending the club’s workshops and how I appreciated the help I got from some of the more experienced members, the woman was unimpressed. She felt I should be styling my trees on my own. Of course I didn’t let her argument deter me.

It was only several years later that I finally got the opportunity to see that couple’s trees and I hate to say that I was really disappointed by what I saw. But as I said in my previous post, not every tree has to be a show-stopper. If they enjoyed their trees, that’s all that really matters.

That’s not to say they wouldn’t have benefited from joining a club. I’d recommend it to anyone who’s keen on letting their trees develop to their full potential.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Not Every Tree has to be a Show-stopper

2 July 2016:

When I first published this post in October 2015 I was quite hurt by some of the criticism that I received, but I've learnt to take it and try to improve my trees based on the comments I receive. My intention is not to reflect Reddit's bonsai group in a negative manner but merely to express my opinion on bonsai as a hobby.

For those new to the art of bonsai, Reddit's bonsai group is a great place to learn from more experienced growers. I wish I'd discovered it sooner.

24 October 2015

I recently joined a bonsai group on Reddit. It's a great place to learn about bonsai, but you really need thick skin if you're going to share photos of your own trees there.

I confess that I've shared a couple of my bonsai articles at Reddit under a cloak of anonymity and they've come in for some serious criticism. As someone who suffers badly from self-doubt, it's not easy to read what some of the experts have to say, but I need to evaluate the criticism I've received and decide how to deal with it.

Acacia Burkei

This little tree is still very much a work in progress. I first discussed it in my post A Tree with Dramatic Curves a few weeks ago. Sharing it at Reddit brought me a decent amount of views and quite a few likes, but the few comments it received weren't positive. My Reddit readers felt that I'd made a mistake removing the lowest branch and some didn't like the "S" curve.

After reading their comments I've starting to wonder about that branch too, but what's done is done and I have to work with what I've got. It's possible that the tree will still put out a new branch there, but either way it's not going to look this bare forever. It has already put out a lot of wild new growth since this photo was taken, but I'm not planning any more pruning just yet because I want the top to thicken up a bit first.
A little tree I grew from a cutting

I then shared this article I published at HubPages a few years ago - How to Grow Bonsai Trees from Cuttings. This one received a lot less traffic, but more discussion, and boy was some of it hard to take.  The experts insisted that the method I'd used was not the way bonsai should be done, but I admitted to some of my mistakes in the article hoping that people would learn from them and do better when they tried to grow cuttings themselves.

One of my Reddit readers called it poor bonsai while another went as far as saying my poor little tree was a "horrible bonsai". I accept that there's room for improvement and have been trying to get advice on how to improve it, but that hurt.

I admit that my trees aren't the best specimens, which is why I referred to myself as a Bonsai Artist in Training when I started this blog, but I still feel a sense of achievement for what I've done and I like my trees. At the end of the day I'm the only one who has to live with them, so the fact that I like them is all that really matters.

No tree is going to be appealing to everyone. I've seen some amazing trees on show, and some of the people viewing the show have felt they're ugly. What matters is that their owners like them. Not every tree has to be a show-stopper, and I doubt any of mine ever will be.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Watching Nature in Action

While tending my bonsai trees I've learnt to develop an appreciation for other aspects of nature that I never took much notice of in the past.

Part of that involves observing the creatures that visit my bonsai garden and trying to work out whether they are going to harm my little trees.

At certain times of the year I'll come across unwelcome guests like grasshoppers and caterpillars and those need to be relocated before they can do any serious damage. As a photographer, however, I'll often spend a little time trying to get a decent shot before I move them to a part of the garden where there are no bonsai trees. I've managed to get some nice shots that way, like this one of a pretty striped caterpillar which I found eating the leaves on one of my trees a couple of years ago.

Resident in my bonsai garden are some little lizards, or to be more accurate geckos. I often see them scampering along the walls and some even seem to have made their home inside my greenhouse. They're tiny creatures - around two inches in length - and move quite quickly, so I was lucky to get this photo of one on the frame of my greenhouse before I frightened it off.

I had a rare experience inside my greenhouse today. While I was watering my trees I noticed a small moth hiding beneath the leaves. Apparently my activity disturbed it because, no sooner had I seen it than it flew off in the direction of the greenhouse ceiling. Sadly the window wasn't open so it was unable to get out, but headed to the back wall where one of my gecko friends was hiding in the framework. In a flash it grabbed the moth, but the startled creature somehow managed to escape and flew back towards the ceiling. Then for some mysterious reason it flew back in the direction from which it had come, and this time there was no escaping the jaws of the gecko.

How I wish I'd had a video camera on hand, because that's not something I'm ever likely to witness again.

Linking up to The Ultimate Rabbit Hole, Saturday's Critters and Camera Critters.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Drowning in Seedlings

Although I've got hundreds of little trees growing in my bonsai area, only a small proportion of them are trees I bought. A few others were gifts while several more came from my club's raffle table. The vast majority, however, are either trees I propagated myself or ones which came into the world uninvited.

The last category consists mainly of seedlings that popped up in my garden or in one of the pots in which an established tree was already growing. I affectionately refer to those as my "weedlings" because a weed is really just a "​wild ​plant that ​grows in an ​unwanted ​place" (*). And once removed from the place where they are unwanted, my weedlings are free to become little trees in their own right.

White stinkwood bonsai in training

At the end of August I won the above tree - a white stinkwood (Celtis Africana) - on a club raffle. At the time the weeds were a lot less conspicuous than they are in this photo, but I chose to let them grow a bit before removing them, just in case some were worth saving.

Weeds and seedlings growing alongside my tree

This week I took a closer look at the weeds and discovered several Trident Maple seedlings growing among them. So, realising that it wouldn't be good for my tree or the seedlings for them to continue living together, I set aside some time to rescue the seedlings and move them into pots of their own.

The first thing I did was to pull out all the unidentified weeds. I felt a bit guilty throwing them away as I couldn't be sure that there weren't trees of another species among them, but my space is limited so I had to be selective. Once the weeds were gone I faced the more difficult job of gently lifting the maple seedlings out of the soil with enough root to sustain them while ensuring that I didn't disturb the roots of my white stinkwood more than necessary.

Finally I placed each of my seedlings in a makeshift pot (a plastic cup with drainage holes in the base). I now have 25 seedlings recovering in a sheltered area outside. I'm not sure what I'll do with so many, but my first goal is to see that they all survive.

(*) Definition from Cambridge Dictionaries Online

Linking up to Little Things Thursdays.