Reflecting on the last few months

I was not to know that 2015 would start slowly and then rapidly gain momentum and be in danger of running away from me. Well the new year did not go according to plan for starters. I was carrying a cough and cold over from November that I could not shake off which by mid January developed into a serious chest infection that put me on my back for a few weeks. Because of it, there was no way I was going to make the Noelanders Trophy, which this year was going to be held in February and not at its usual time in January. And so reluctantly I had to notify the organisers that I would not be attending. It is the first time I have missed the Noelanders since I started going 12 years ago. So a cycle had been broken.

Trying to prep two trees for one of my students for the Noelanders exhibition nearly finished me off. At this point I was going to bed wearing all my clothes plus a body warmer and a wooly hat. Not a pretty site. So after having pulled out of the ‘Noelanders Trophy’, my concern now was getting myself fit enough for my ‘Bonsai In Depth’ courses that were scheduled here at the nursery for March 2015. So with a few antibiotics and some steroids the show must go on. I’m sure there’s a song title there somewhere.

On the plus side, there were new pots to pick up from “The Boss” Dan Barton down in Bristol, which Dan had been holding for me now quite a while as I just not found the time or energy to collect. So against my better judgement I popped down to Failand to visit my old mate Dan and his ever lovely wife Cecelia to pick up my pots, and yes you guessed it. I came away with more pots than I went down for. But those pots talk to me and I can never walk away, and I’m sure Dan knows this. The pots always seem to be placed just right so they catch the eye. As expected, once on the shelves in my studio they were all spoken for within a few days as my students also can’t resist them. Here are just a few of them for those of you who appreciate ceramics.

Nest of three pots for Chuhin size trees

Nest of three pots for Chuhin size trees

 

Four primitive conifer pots (Yes four not five) The top pot is actually two pots thrown as one - one of Dans specials.

Four primitive conifer pots (Yes four not five) The top pot is actually two pots thrown as one – one of Dans specials.

Two nice primitive pots for conifers and a glass bottomed Suiban behind

Two nice primitive pots for conifers and a glass bottomed Suiban behind

I just had to see what these bronze Otters looked like in this glass bottom suiban.

I just had to see what these bronze Otters looked like in this glass bottom suiban.

I attended the Swindon Winter Image show that fell the following weekend after the Noelanders Trophy in February, but with fore sight, I really I should have stayed at home. What with my trip to Bristol, the Swindon trip was a bit too much too soon. I spent more time sitting down resting than actually walking around and enjoying the day. Just the driving alone sapped my energy. But I had committed to helping out a few of my students/clients with making sure their trees were prepped and set up right for the exhibition and I did not want to let them down.

However I did come away with some wonderful pots, yes more pots, from John Pitt, and Andy “Stone Monkey ” Pearson. And of course there are always those special moments when you catch up with old friends like my old mate Geoff Crowe from Dorset. The old bugger never fails to get me laughing and its always good to see that cheeky glint in his eyes. If I only had more time I would love to share with you the joke he told me. More by way of a story, he set me up for the punchline which I didn’t see coming. I was so engrossed I thought he was telling me a tragic story about one of his mates. I should have known better. Seeing Geoff and a few other regulars, is what makes the Swindon show enjoyable for me. If they weren’t there, it would be a different experience for sure.

As I mentioned, a few of my students had trees in the exhibition and they did not look out of place at all. So well done guys!

Here are a couple of images of a few of the pots from John Pitt and Andy Pearson.

Nice Semi Cascade Pot by John Pitt

Nice Semi Cascade Pot by John Pitt

 

Round Shohin pot by Andy "Stone Monkey" Pearson

Round Shohin pot by Andy “Stone Monkey” Pearson

 

 

Cascade Shohin pot featuring blossom on one side.

Cascade Shohin pot featuring blossom on one side.

The reverse side of the blossom pot features a Tengu

The reverse side of the blossom pot features a ‘Tengu’

Before I knew it we were into March, and my ‘Bonsai In Depth’ courses and the Shohin UK II Exhibition were now looming closer. I had committed to Mark Cooper to putting a tree into the Shohin UK II Exhibition, which unfortunately as so often happens, clashed with my own courses here at the nursery. So I arranged with Maurice Davis to take my Kifu Itoigawa Juniper down to Bristol for me and set it up and after the event to bring it back, as he was also attending the event with a tree of his own. (So a big thank you to “Moz” for his help).

From what I was told by all those I have spoken to who attended the show, it was a great success, with wonderful trees and plenty of visitors in attendance. Many of you may have seen reports and images on various sites on the web. For those who have not seen any reports, here are the results of the exhibition.

Best Mame. Kit Bowns – Larch

Best Mame Display. Kit Bowns – Two tree display.

Best Shohin. John Armitage – Juniper.

Best Shohin Display. John Armitage – Five tree

display.

Best Chuhin Display. John Pitt – Juniper & Chojubai.

Best Chuhin. Steve Tolley – Itoigawa Juniper.

Best Tree/Pot combination. Steve McKee – Scots Pine/Gordon Duffet Nanban.

And Mark Cooper has kindly allowed me to use some of his photos taken at the show for you here. Enjoy!

Best Chuhin display IA4A1223-2 copy

Best Chuhin display by John Pitt, featuring a Juniper and Chojubai (Chaenomeles Quince)

Best Chuhin IA4A1236 copy

Best Individual Chuhin, Itoigawa Juniper

Best Shohin display IA4A1274 copy

Best Shohin display, John Armitage

Best Tree pot IA4A1215 copy

Winner of the best tree pot combination, Big Steve Mckee

 

The ‘Bonsai In Depth’ courses went well through March, and I am very pleased at how they are being received. What is encouraging is to see that there are people in the UK who want to improve their bonsai experience on all fronts. That is technical, aesthetic and horticulture. This Spring I saw a mix of both Japanese and European yamadori once more, but the emphasis this time was about 70% yamadori verses 30% Japanese imports for the pine course and an equal split on the Juniper course. However irrespective of their origin, there are some really nice trees coming through, which is good to see, and the whole point of the courses.

in depth

Dave Harrison starting work on his Spanish Yamadori Scots Pine

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Carole Gregory working on an imported Japanese White Pine

The month of the ‘Bonsai In Depth’ courses flew by, and then we were hosting Taiga Urishibata from Japan for four days of workshops here at the nursery. I must admit to being very keen to welcome Taiga to kick off the “International Joy Through Bonsai” programme. And as I had imagined, we had four great days of bonsai. The only stipulation Taiga made was “No spaghetti bonsai”. Everyone got the message he was trying to put over. I had a quiet smile to myself while inside I was shouting YES! Taiga has no ego, he is relaxed and never stops working. And the guy is mega talented. Without exception, everyone had a great time, learnt a lot and left with a nice tree or two. For me it was nice to have another professional visiting the nursery for reasons that might not be so obvious. One reason is that my regular students or workshop attendees who are working with someone new, not only get another perspective on things, but they can also then get a better appreciation of what I do here. And also there is someone here who is well respected around the world who is, in his own way reaffirming to my guys my bonsai philosophy. I am my own boss and I don’t feel the need for people to massage my ego or to comment on the nursery, but now and again it doesn’t hurt to get confirmation from Japan that your doing things right or even that you have good trees!

Taiga’s first day here was spent solely with me, going over grafting techniques on conifers. The day was relaxed and informal. I have been grafting pines and junipers a few years now, but there were some things I wanted to learn that would accelerate the way that I can develop trees here in the nursery. Particularly the junipers which lend themselves more readily to grafting than pines. Sometimes I may just want to graft a substantial branch on a tree after it has been damaged or lost a branch. Or it may be a way to establish foliage closer to the trunk. It may simply be to speed up the development of a nice piece of yamadori that was collected with too few branches for creating a bonsai as it is. And then of course there is also the possibility of grafting roots onto trees and not necessarily just branches. But whatever the reason grafting can aid the bonsai grower significantly. And so having recognised that this is an area where I could improve myself, I decided to do something about it. Also in the long term, my clients and students benefit, so it’s a good investment.

So on the first day Taiga and I looked at different grafting techniques for pines and junipers, which is what I personally wanted to focus on, on his visit this time.

grafting

Taiga Grafting a Taiwan Juniper with Itoigawa foliage

Taiwan Juniper grafted with Itoigawa, the intention is to make this into two trees so both foliage and roots have been grafted on.

Taiwan Juniper grafted with Itoigawa, the intention is to make this into two trees so both foliage and roots have been grafted on.

Two images of a  Scots Pine showing grafts to bring foliage closer to the trunk

Two images of a Scots Pine showing grafts to bring foliage closer to the trunk (above and below)

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Days 2, 3 and 4 were workshop days, with Taiga working on trees with attendees. There were no deciduous trees brought along over the 3 days but there was a good cross section of Japanese imported material and European yamadori worked on. Taiga speaks great English and so he was able to put over his ideas, techniques etc in the way that he wanted. And I think that this is important. Both for the teacher to get their point across so that they are properly understood, but also so that the teachers personality comes through to those in the workshops. (Which I personally think is important). Often when a translator is involved, things can get a little simplified or lost in translation and this can then become a bit impersonal. It can then be difficult for the teachers personality to come across. Also what I liked was that he talks too people and not at them which I feel is much better. Here are a few photo’s taken during the course of the workshops which I hope will convey the atmosphere over Taiga’s visit. Taiga will be back again here at the nursery in the future as I would like him to be a regular visiting bonsai master.

Here are just a few images taken over the workshops to give you a feel for the workshops.



Warren Radford and Simon Jones working on Simon's Scots

Warren Radford and Simon Jones working on Simon’s Scots


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Kevin Homer and Taiga working on Kevin's yamadori Sabina Juniper

Kevin Homer and Taiga working on Kevin’s yamadori Sabina Juniper



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Kevin's Sabina Juniper finished

Kevin’s Sabina Juniper finished



Taiga and Matt Roberts working on Matt's multi trunk yamadori Scots pine

Taiga and Matt Roberts working on Matt’s multi trunk yamadori Scots pine

 

Taiga and Matt getting a helping hand from my granddaughter Ava Mae

Taiga and Matt getting a helping hand from my granddaughter Ava Mae

 

The result so far, this isn't the final image as two grafts were made to better incorporate the two outer trunks

The result so far, this isn’t the final image as two grafts were made to better incorporate the two outer trunks into a future design.

Rod White working on his Chinese Juniper

Rod White working on his Chinese Juniper

 

Rod Whites Juniper after its first styling

Rod Whites Juniper after its first styling

Mo Fagan working on his Mugo Pine

Mo Fagan working on his Mugo Pine

 

Mo's finished Mugo

Mo’s finished Mugo



Taiga and Richard Swatman working on Richard's Kishu Juniper

Taiga and Richard Swatman working on Richard’s Kishu Juniper

 

Richard's Kishu finished

Richard’s Kishu finished

 

Gavin came for two days, here he and Taiga are looking at his Shohin Juniper

Gavin came for two days, here he and Taiga are looking at his Shohin Juniper. Notice Gavin’s ‘Robocop’ leg. Despite being run over by a van a few weeks before, Gavin still made the effort to attend two days with Taiga. Now that is commitment!



Gavin Allen's Taxus baccata after it's first styling

Gavin Allen’s second tree, a Taxus baccata after it’s first styling





Carole Gregory working on her Itoigawa Juniper

Carole (“cup cake”) Gregory working on her Itoigawa Juniper

 

This Juniper had two possible fronts, which do you prefer? This one A

Taiga said that this this Juniper had two possible fronts, which do you prefer? This one ‘A’

 

Or this front B?

Or this front ‘B’?

 

After finishing her Itoigawa juniper Carole got to work on this Taxus cuspidata

After finishing her Itoigawa juniper Carole got to work on this Taxus cuspidata

 

Dave Harrison working on a yamadori Scots Pine which he selected in the nursery specifically to work with Taiga

‘Big’ Dave Harrison working on a yamadori Scots Pine which he selected in the nursery specifically to work with Taiga

 

The final image

The final image, an nice elegant tree.

 

Taiga with Ava Mae

At Steve Tolley Bonsai we start them young, Taiga with Ava Mae

Here are a few comments from some of the people who attended Taiga’s workshops.

Simon Jones:
“At the beginning of March I had a fire in my small poly tunnel, I lost about 80 percent of my deciduous trees, people rallied around and gifted me tools, money and trees! I phoned Steven Tolley as he advertised a workshop with prominent bonsai artists, just so happens he had Taigia Urushibata for 4 days and 3 days doing workshops, I loaded the van with some of the trees and tools I had left! Drove down and had breakfast with Steve and Taiga, I was made very welcome! So onto the Workshop, Steve said just bring your tools in for the time being, which I did then to my utter surprise Steve said choose a tree from the two on the bench to work on! He had gifted me a stunning Scots pine yamadori from France, and an equally stunning cascade itogowa juniper from Japan! I swore and told Steve where to go! But he insisted, then the other workshop participants started to arrive, we met shook hands and introduced ourselves!

Then I had a small shock, a mate turned up out of the Blue and said I’ve paid but I’m here to help you wire etc! Thanks Warren Radford your a star, we had the best day at a workshop I’ve ever had!  I have done workshops with all the names but it was thanks to Steve and Taiga the best bonsai day I’ve ever had!”

Gavin Allen:

“How many amateur golfers would want Tiger Woods to help them with putting ? How many sunday league footballers would want Christiano Ronaldo to show them how to take a free kick ? 
But reallistically, how many get the chance to work with the top professionals in their sport/hobby. 
Well if you do Bonsai, that is exactly the chance you had when Master Taiga Urushibata came to Steve Tolley Bonsai in April this year. 
I must admit to being a little worried about presenting my trees to Taiga, however I needn’t have worried one bit, he loved them, in fact he loved everyone’s trees and worked on them all equally enthusiastically. A little too enthustiacally on mine at one point I was thinking ! He gave me a choice, ” good tree now or beautiful tree in 5 years ?”  Easy question, so at this point  the scissors came out and a large part of my yamadori Taxus ended up on the studio floor, ” carry on ” said Taiga….gulp !
Now going back to the Tiger Woods /Ronaldo analogy, only they can putt or kick like they do, the average guy in the street won’t get any where near them, but they have the talent and knowledge to inspire you to up your game to somewhere you wouldn’t have gone on your own. I will still be just the keen hobbyist and Taiga will still be The Master, but I have had two days watching and learning from someone in a different league to me and this has had a massively positive effect on my understanding of horticulture and aesthetics with my trees.
Taiga was straight to the point about where he thought our trees could be going, but also mindful they were our trees and treated them and us very respectfully. I think he did brilliantly to understand the variety of language and accents in the room, he even understood some of our jokes, most of which were directed at each other. 
I feel privileged to have worked hands-on with Taiga on my own trees, his knowledge and inspiration were imparted to us in a very relaxed and laid back manner.
I would like to extend my thanks to yourself Steve and the guys who came to the workshops on Friday and Sunday for helping me out, fetching and carrying my trees and kit to and from my car, very much appreciated indeed.”
Dave Martin:
“For me to enrol for a workshop with Taiga Urushibata was a big step, knowing having been growing bonsai for 30 years, that my material which I had available was limited.
It was a chance I could not pass up and I took two Scots pines with me one was prewired the other being a raw Scots that I had won as a prize from the accent competition from  Bonsaicafe.
The raw tree from the high Alps was from Jean Paul Polmans and was beyond my ability regarding design. I had looked after it for 3 years to bring it to the state of health it was in.
Meeting Taiga was a pleasure to meet and best of all he speaks good English, sadly there were only two other attendees ( where were the other enthusiasts for this opportunity?) but which was great for all of us there.
Immediately he found the front of the tree and offered the solution that had failed me. It was then a case of copper wiring the tree and later placing the branches after pruning. I learnt two very important facts about Japanese bonsai artists, they CROSS wires and sometimes have to wire a branch the WRONG way,lol. They don’t make a song and dance,about it it happens!
The prewired tree was examined by Taiga and after a few tweaks and removal of superfluous branches he was happy with it  leaving me to remove one of two branches which conflicted.
Was I happy with the experience, yes. I came away with both trees one with a framework I could work with which had been a mind boggling prospect and the other which showed I had been on the right track but needed that extra experience of Taiga.
This was the first trip to Steve‘s nursery hopefully it will not be the last ( it’s quicker to get there than Bristol which is half the distance). A good mine host always acting as tea boy.
I hope Taiga returns to these shores again and hopefully in the future Steve will find more support for his workshop plans amongst British bonsai!”
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Because of the time when I was struggling earlier in the year, I seem to have been playing catch up. And of course you never can quite get there. So photography has been virtually non existent.

However here is a raft White Pine I did for a client before my trip to South Africa.

IMG_5853 3d3a3647-f145-40cb-90b6-7b5523db29fb copy

As I have been finishing off my blog post, Taiga Urishibata has confirmed that he will be returning to the nursery in APRIL 2016. The dates are the 6th & 7th.
Please get in touch if you would like to attend.
We are proud to have introduced Taiga to the UK bonsai scene, and we are very pleased that despite a shorter travelling schedule in Europe next year, he has chosen to return to the nursery.
We look forward to hosting Taiga San again at Steve Tolley Bonsai.