Welcome to the Saruyama Blog, intermittent and generally off topic. Occasionally you might see some trees...and weird ones at that.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

The tipping point

Well it seems as though the comments I made in an earlier post have piqued the interest of many people. I have had quite a few comments of support and it seems it was the topic of discussion at a couple of shows in the uk last weekend. Thanks for that....well I have nothing further to say on the matter and don't wish for this to be a witch hunt or for the gentle art of bonsai to become political. The final comment I will leave to Edmund Burke, "A very great part of the mischiefs that vex the world arises from words."...and if they had Youtube back then I'm sure he would have mentioned it as well...so on that bombshell.

Back to bonsai...last few days have been back to the pitface, working on trees. I am working alongside an artist who I respect greatly and is one of the greatest non-japanese trained bonsai professionals in America, Suthin Sukosolvisit. He will be demonstrating at Noelanders next year so it will be interesting to see him in action there. More on him later.

Over the last weekend I was asked the question "does the strength in azaleas come from the roots or the foliage?". It was part of a point that Ryan was making about the driving factor in certain trees. For some trees it is the foliage, for others it is the roots. Up on stage I was stuck for an answer because there is no easy answer. When dealing with the initial styling of azaleas, working from raw stock you can take it back to close to a rootless stump with no foliage on it. So we have a situation with neither, yet it begins to push growth in both directions. If that were a pine, juniper or majority of deciduous trees then we would have a dead tree. That said, this can only be done immediately after the tree has been collected from the field and has an incredible amount of energy stored within the tree. Once that has been used to create roots and foliage in year one we get into a dynamic system where the presence of foliage drives root production and the presence of roots allows foliage production. If the system gets out balance then we start to hit problems and if we hit problems the careful management of both foliage and roots is essential.

Azaleas need transplanting and root pruning on a fairly regular basis. Due to the fine hairlike nature of the roots, the softness of Kanuma soil and the use of solid organic fertilisers mean that the top layer of roots begin to mat together and form an impermeable layer. Regular repotting will prevent this from happening, however whenever repotting, always ensure that there is a careful balance of foliage on top. The tree needs some foliage to generate energy so that it can put on roots, but not so much that it cannot be supported by the few roots that remain. If there is a lack of roots, the foliage dessicates, weakens and then the whole system begins to stall, usually resulting in serious branch loss. Equally if there is a lack of energy within the tree due to a year of slow growth because of root issues, and a lack of energy generating capability (foliage) then the tree stalls usually resulting in serious branch loss.

All sounds quite complicated.

An example of a system that went out of balance is this tree here. A tall exposed root tree the variety of which is uncertain as it has never been allowed to flower since I started working on it (waste of energy). It was very unhealthy just over a year ago, so much so that it was destined for the burn pile. It had no roots to speak of and as a result the foliage had all but died. Sadly I have no picture then, but this is it today.

It was transplanted into a deeper larger pot and fixed securely which was one of the reasons why it had suffered. Tall trees like this often suffer from such problems, so always always ensure that your trees are totally firm and stable in their pots. At the inital transplanting every single viable green leaf was left on. The reason for this was that there was a need to reboot the system and we needed to have a source of energy reproduction.  A weak tree needs to regenerate energy and the only way it can do that is to have as much photosynthetic surface area as possible.  The year of the transplant (2011) the foliage of the tree grew very little until the latter part of the year after it had used the energy created by the foliage to put on a small amount of root, enough to support the foliage mass it had initially.  Once it had reached an equilibrium point it began to push in both directions as new roots allowed new foliage to grow.  The growth spurt then began.  We saw a couple of young shoots sprout out, the sacrificial branches you can see poking out of the top.  These were left to drive the system forwards, providing both the stimulus and the source of root growth.  Without those two branches racing off the tree would still be stuck in a rut of not being able to recoup the energy it is expending in pushing new growth.  Leaving as much foliage on the tree in situations such as this is absolutely essential.

The removal of foliage reduces the trees ability to generate energy and so we cannot push it past the tipping point which will allow it to bounce back.  Once this tree regained a little vigour, foliage was put on all over and we have many new shoots, many of which are not necessary for the final design but the engine is up and running, we must now carefully begin to push the tree in the direction that we want it to go from an aesthetic standpoint.  The pruning that was done on it was to begin to reduce some of the totally unnecessary branches, so nodes where we have three or four shoots reduced down to two, new shoots that were too close to each other were removed.  As much foliage was left on the necessary sections so that they are favoured, they can push and pull energy along the branches that are required.  With Azaleas they can be totally defoliated or branches pruned back to leafless stumps, however the potential energy within the tree and the roots is still too low to guarantee new shoot formation if this happens.

Apologies for the poor ipad pictures and the background but you get the idea.  In the ideal situation, I could prune way back to shape but as the roots are still not up to supporting such a drastic action, we still need the foliage mass to drive the tree forwards.  If defoliation occurs then we run the risk of reaching that tipping point from which we cannot return.

Anyways, got to run, Suthin is waiting for me to go to work.  All sounds very scientific and complicated so I hope it makes sense.  I have been thinking a lot recently about Entropy and energy systems, some fundamental concepts of physics which have stayed with me since the first dark times...always interesting to revisit those ideas with a fresh perspective.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Feeling hot hot hot...

Am now sat in the airport after having worked a long but enjoyable convention down in Orlando. New friends made and a chance to meet up with old friends. It was a superb convention in the sense that there was a refreshing lack of pretention and a humility combined with a willingness to learn. People came with a sunny disposition and desire for improvement. Perhaps the weather has something to do with it. Everybody had glasses that were almost full to the brim. The location for the convention was also being used by a monster convention, Mayhem (geddit?) so the corridors were filled with the most incredible costumes and trangely dressed people wh had come together to enjoy horror films and dressing up. It was an interesting mix and it made me think, who is the more crazy? Needless to say there were more werewolves and clowns there there were people attending the bonsai show. Demonstrating on three species that were completely alien to me was interesting and people were forgiving of my total lack of knowledge. I was more there to assist with the display side of things and Ryan and myself transformed their display simply by moving the trees around a little. Setting up a display is hard work and the BSF did a good job. Im sure there will be some pics online somewhere or eventually I will get some but needless to say I didnt take any. Working alongside Ryan was an equally educational experience...I am not ashamed to say that I learnt a lot from him including a completely different perspective on Black Pine candle cutting and also some interesting concepts in bonsai design. Listening to other artists talk is a thoroughly rewarding experience as it can crystalise some abstract concepts that you kind of know about, you practice but cannot put a finger on it. When it is explained in somebody elses's words, a light bulb moment occurs. I had a couple of those this weekend. It wasn't just Ryan i watched but also an up and coming guy Michael Feduccia who is a student at Bonsai Mirai. After leaving the UK feeling depressed and fearing the worst, seeing the youth development programs, the enthusiasm and the attitude shown at this convention, my cup although it doth not runneth over, it has been refilled a little. Flights boarding gotta run

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Somewhere over the atlantic...

A busy few weeks have meant no posts, but as i am sat immobilised for 8 hours, i have no excuse. Im currently en route to Orlando for the Florida Bonsai Convention. Will be a good event as some bloke called Brian O'Neil is also on the bill. Will be interesting to see if he's any good...can't be any worse than me. Tropical trees? I'm from Yorkshire, the most tropical thing i had growing up was a pineapple ring on my gammon.

Last weekend saw a road trip to Orsholz Germany for their national show. I went purely as a spectator and to meet some people...sadly hardly anyone turned up which was a problem for sales. I was acting as John Pitt's assistant for the weekend and we struggled to sell anything. It didnt help that so few people turned up but it was still a great time, i met up with and got drunk with Valentin Brose, my little brother so to speak, he is doing well it seems and is forging ahead in Germany. It was a sunny weekend and a lot of beer and sausage was consumed. The standard of the winning trees was a little disappointing in the sense that very little effort had gone into the preparation of the trees. Dirty needles, poor mossing and little thought towards display. That is something unforgiveable, no matter how good the tree, if it isn't clean, it has no place in an exhibition...something im sure will come up over the next few weeks. I will be talking a lot about display over the next few days and I have strong opinions on this topic. One very experienced suiseki enthusiast once asked me if I was scared of putting on a display...i didn't understand really at the time, but he told me (in a scene reminiscent of Yoda telling Luke not to go into that cave) that I should be, I should be. Scared in the sense that when you create a display, even at a small exhibition, then you are putting yourself on display, opening up your own heart and soul for all to see. As an observer, if you look hard enough with an open mind you can see the heart with which the bonsai is maintained and the spirit of the person who created the display.

Mr.Pitt the potter, looking as German as he can. Schnell! Schnell! kartoffelkopf!

One thing which was a feature of the weekend was being guilty by association. There was some big football match going on, Chelsea of England vs. Bayern Munich who were from just down the road. Despite our protestations, all the Germans seemed to think that we wanted Chelsea to win, simply because we are from the same country. Now normally that logic works but not this time. I had £5 on Bayern to win 2-1 and my feelings on their captain, the suspended John Terry are well known. I think he's a thoughtless loud mouthed hypocrite who is detrimental to English football but it wasn't just the champions league which created guilt by association of nationality but also the activities of another UK based bonsai-ist. I lost count of the times we were asked what the hell was going on in his demonstrations or that "I bought a tree and it died...", like we had any part in it. It became embarrassing and discouraging for the future, I guess that some people within the bonsai community need to look very hard at the possible consequences of their actions for the art as whole. A detrimental headline in a national newspaper would truly ring the death knell for bonsai. I know that claims of jealousy or people in glass houses will be levelled at me but as you know, my poly tunnel blew away in the wind.

Anyway...moving onwards and upwards. 10,379 metres in fact. Leaving this time was harder than ever, i never like leaving home but this time was different. Perhaps subconciously i was doing all i could to not get on the plane as yesterday i lost my wallet, complete with Drivers license and credit cards. Thankfully it was handed into the police but it took a day of lost preperation to track it down. This morning i thought I had lost my phone, frantically searching twenty minutes before departure. I asked a lovely lady at the airport if she could call the number and see where it was...and rather embarrasingly it was in my pocket. She said "You know you could have just asked me for my number" which i took as a double result. Will have to remember that one. The trick that is, not the number...

As much as these trips are fun and exciting, this is the first time that i have left my trees at home for a prolonged period of time and it got up to 26 degrees yesterday. Strict instructions have been left and it has been agreed that no responsibility is held at home. Through some monumental losses in prevous years I have become very good at accepting blame for any mistakes made. It is my choice after all.

Have you never thought how paradoxical it is that whilst creating bonsai is a long term affair and is based on the day to day maintenance of the trees, the people who travel the world teaching it are never at home in order to do that? (I should stop as I am talking myself out of workshops...) In the West we do not have the number and distribution of enthusiasts that enables us all to stay at home...I need Lady Saruyama to step up to the plate and earn enough for me to take early retirement.

Sadly such pipe dreams are still just that...with a weakening Euro, newspapers foretelling the end of the world as we know it (i had the misfortune to read a complimentary copy of the daily mail in the airport) then I guess a long term strategy for sustainable growth is required. Keeping faith in your own bonsai ideas or moral compass when they are not profitable or lead you against the flow is the most difficult task but one which I have long been aware of. I remember the Chief telling me once very early on in my apprenticeship that I was destined to remain financially poor as my taste in trees is terrible from a commercial perspective and I am unwilling to compromise. Not that I am complaining like...the wolves are not at the door yet...and i can always seem to find money to buy a new tree....i got this lovely little literati oak in germany, great bark quality, subtle movement...give it five years and...it will be worth the same as when i bought it.

See you on the other side

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Wet, wet, wet...

After a few pieces of frivolity, time for some serious Bonsai.

For those of us "lucky" enough to live in the UK, we have been experiencing some of the most wonderful weather.  Low temperatures, the wettest april in 100 years and no sign really of it improving.  Not only is this affecting the growth of out trees but it is also the ideal conditions for fungal problems.

Compared to Japan we are lucky in that our trees are relatively untouched by bugs, pests etc.  Whereas in Japan spraying pesticides and fungicides was a twice monthly, sometimes weekly event; in the UK it can be once a year if we are lucky. This means that amongst most enthusiasts generally vigilance is low and it is not something which is always on my mind.

Over the last year or two I have noticed a few fungal problems attacking pines in particular.  Looking at the Forestry Commission website, we see...

Red band needle blight

Red band needle blight causes needle defoliation which, in severe cases, may kill trees. Over the past two decades the incidence of this disease has increased dramatically in Britain. The increase could be due to a rise in rainfall during spring and summer and warmer spring temperatures which encourage spore dispersal and infection. Climate change may increase outbreaks if warming trends continue.

There are a few problems which can affect even the hardiest of pines, however there are steps we can take to prevent fungal problems...and as with most things, prevention is better than cure, because once a tree is infected, it is impossible to cure that year.  Infected needles will not go back to health like they will with some insect damage.

Prevention measures

Keeping foliage dry : Do not spray the foliage of your pines during times of high humidity and never during the afternoon/evening.  The lowering evening temperatures and moist conditions are ideal conditions for fungal spores.  The water droplets also provide a dispersal mechanism and the spores from one branch can soon spread to the rest of the tree.

Keeping foliage well ventilated :  Particularly a problem for trees in polytunnels and greenhouses.  Insufficient airflow will lead to high humidity causing germination and then easy dispersion of fungal spores to all your healthy trees.

Remove diseased foliage:  Remove foliage that has been affected and burn it (or put it in the recycle bin) and then sterilise your tools.  Those black spots you see are the spores waiting to burst out and spread to your other trees.  Laziness will spread disease.

Spray fungicides :  Prevention rather than cure.  Spray a recognised fungicide during the growth phases of the tree, start once the temperature has gotten to around 12 C and continue once every two/three weeks until the growth has finished and needles have hardened off.  And then once more for good luck.  Rotate several fungicides rather than use just one.

Location in garden :  Heavily diseased trees should be immediately quarantined, taken away from the healthy ones but not so that it is kept in a location where it will deteriorate further.  Some diseases jump from tree to tree, others use another tree to incubate so keep your Junipers and Hawthorns separate.  Juniper Hawthorn rust is a problem which is easily solved....by keeping them apart.

Keeping the tree healthy:  A stressed tree is more susceptible to disease and so keeping trees healthy is essential.  Boost health by giving trees fertiliser and also things like seaweed extract, HB101 etc.  Things with trace elements and auxins that will boost growth, give healthy foliage and hence improve the "immune system" of the tree.

Sadly due to the vagaries of Defra/EU legislation we are hamstrung by a lack of effective chemicals off the shelf but there are a few available.  Systhane and This copper based fungicide are available.  Also classic old school Bordeaux Mixture and Scotts Fungus Clear

I don't have shares in any of the above companies, they are all that are available.  It is best to have them all in your armory and to rotate them.  Each has a different active ingredient which will affect the fungal cells in different ways.

Spraying should be done on a windless cloudy day (ideally).  Direct sunlight to be avoided at all costs as the chemicals are photosensitive and will break down in direct sunlight.  Mask/gloves/covering skin is essential.  Ever wonder why the children of most Japanese Bonsai artist are girls?  A small amount of fungicide on the surface soil of your pot is not a problem, but avoid getting it in the soil or your friendly fungus will also die.  DO NOT GIVE THE TREES A FUNGICIDAL BATH!

Given the weather we have been having, take the first opportunity you get on a dry and still day to get out there and protect your trees.

Well, all this talk of fungus hasn't left me mush room to congratulate one of my all time heroes, well done Ronnie O'Sullivan...a snooker legend, a man touched equally by natural genius and natural fallibility.  A master who has the ability to perform at levels beyond our ken.  Seems happy in his life for once.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Fatty Boom Batty

Woke up this morning, looking through the inbox and had a email newsletter from Colin Lewis with the title "Bonsai Obesity..." which piqued my interest...the contents were something which is close to my heart...

Bonsai Obesity
Those of us who have been growing bonsai for a few decades will have noticed a trend towards ever thicker and shorter trunks. In Japan many development nurseries have had to shorten and re-design their stock in order to appeal to current tastes.
There's nothing wrong with heavy, powerful trunks, mind you, but I confess that I do mourn the passing of grace and elegance as familiar elements in bonsai design. This coincides with the decline of fine deciduous specimens being produced. Perhaps the two are linked: there is an inherent elegance in the branch structure of a deciduous masterpiece, and failure to consider this when planning and pruning leads to ugliness.
Compare these two sketches, both from great bonsai visionaries: on the left by John Naka, 1980 and on the right, from Sandro Segneri, 2010.

Good job he didn't use one of my sketches...a five year old can do better.

Still, very good point well made there Trev.  Big fat trees are all well and good when you want to win a pissing contest but there is nothing like an elegant tree,  and so for lovers of such effeminate trees....

Mountain Cherry Prunus Tomentosa in a Toufukuji Pot, Old bark, red berries, looks like a tree, what more do you need?

La petite mort

"You need to wire that up mate, looks a bit untidy"

Old school Needle Juniper.  I use this as justification for not wiring them...nothing to do with the pain


Lovely lonely scotty at the BSA

The ball achingly good and sadly no more Mikka Tsuki (Three day moon) A white pine owned by Mr. Yanagi, and classic old school bonsai from an classy old school guy.

My Sumac at Crawley last year.  Planted a load of seeds this year, just started to poke through thanks to Mr. Pitti

Literati White Pine of mine at BSA this year, Katsumeisho pot, John Brocklehurst Stand. Shameless self promotion.  The tree is still only young, but give it another 50 years...

Clip and grow is such an outdated technique, you get much quicker results wiring them branches and putting loads of movement in them.

Thanks for the inspiration there Colin.

Stay elegant people