November 2017

This month David Penny returned to lead a workshop on group planting. At last month’s meeting we were told what to expect and to look for appropriate trees.

David began the evening by demonstrating and explaining aspects of group planting. Forest planting can be positioned either as the viewer looking in to the group or with the viewer within the forest looking out. In the first instance trees would be planted with the largest in the centre and the smaller, “younger” trees to the outside. For the latter, larger trees should be planted at the front and smaller trees to the back to give perspective.

The group may be a harmony group or a contrast group. In a harmony group there is a mantle or canopy where one tree would not exist without the others. A contrast group has individual trees such as junipers with defined pads.

For his group David had brought some hornbeam which would usually be used for hedging. He sorted them into sizes by trunk girth rather than height or shape as this can be controlled. He used nine trees. An odd number is preferred as an asymmetrical effect is more pleasing to the eye. In Japanese tradition even numbers are considered unlucky.

The soil mixture should include grit or a substance that does not break down because with group planting the soil tends to clump and retain water. This prevents oxygen reaching the roots. David uses a fine structured, unperfumed cat litter. Groups are usually planted in a shallow tray so will dry out easily. An open soil will need more watering; less grit will retain moisture so less watering. There is no “right” soil, it is your preference.

The roots are loosened as it is the small fibrous roots that are wanted, not the main tap root. The roots will spread out forming a shallow root system which will grow together to form a single mat. First place trees in position trying not to place them in lines. Work at first without soil but use fine wire to hold them in place. Do not overcrowd trees and leave one side free of trees as space is important. Put a layer of grit in the tray followed by the soil and firm trees into position using fingers to feel the resistance. A layer of moss on the surface will retain moisture especially in winter.

In the second half of the evening members worked on their own group planting. David was happy to give advice or comments on individual projects, where this was wanted. This concluded an interesting and successful evening.

Our next meeting will be on 11th December when we will have a Christmas quiz and seasonal snacks.


October 2017

This month we were pleased to welcome an old friend of the club, David Penny, to talk to us about styling junipers. David stepped in at very short notice when our planned speaker was unable to come. David began the evening looking at trees brought in by members and discussing possible ways in which they could be styled.

The owner of a large, established shrub with the main branch bent to one side, wanted to shape it into a cascade style. The root was stronger on one side than the other and the branch which would be the trunk was too firm to bend further. David suggested when repotting it remove some of the weaker root and pot at the desired angle in an appropriate pot.

A small juniper was a multitrunk tree which David suggested should be maintained in a natural style. There are less rigid rules about styles now than previously, particularly in Japan.

Nurseries often plant junipers deeper than the level of the root, so a tree which had grown in a windswept style needed to be lifted higher and the roots reduced. To improve the windswept look cut or “jin” (remove cadmium layer so that the branch dies) branches growing straight up or on the non windswept side.

A tree which was a very good shape had strong growth low down and less growth near the top of the tree. David explained that the lower branches take nutrients and should be reduced in order to strengthen the top of the tree. Flaky bark on a tree adds interest but may harbour red spider mite which will winter under the bark. Removing the bark can prevent this and will not harm the tree.

David continued by working on a variegated juniper which he had purchased from a nursery. He looked at the plant which had one main upright branch and another long branch pointing sideways, a “streamer”. He said that there are many options when styling a tree and there is no right or wrong way. He removed most of the small branches and foliage at the base which would not be wanted. He then worked on the two main branches wiring them from base to tip as well as all the remaining branches at the top and shaped them into a desirable position. Any branches pointing to the back should be no more than two thirds of the length of a side branch. There was another small branch which would be left as a possible option for future consideration. The tree would later be repotted to a deep square pot.

David will return for our November meeting on Monday 13th when he will be demonstrate group planting, followed by a workshop for members to create their own group.


September 2017

Fast approaching autumn means we need to be thinking about how our trees will be in the coming winter. This month our meeting was a in the form of a workshop when members were able to bring trees to work on. This is not the time of year for repotting but the trees may need tidying up with gentle and careful pruning. Help, advice and suggestions from more experienced members is available if needed to put the trees in the best shape to prepare them for next year. In September trees can be given their last feed of the growing season. A liquid low nitrogen feed is a good general rule.

We also had the pots which we made at the last meeting were returned to us after firing. It is always a pleasant surprise to see the finished effect of your effort and also to see what other people have achieved.

On Sunday 17th September the club will have a small display at the Michaelmus Fete at Hoo. It will be from 12.00 to 3.00 pm at the Red Lion. Members are pleased to talk to any visitors about our hobby.

At our next meeting to be held on Monday 9th October we are very pleased to welcome a new speaker to our club, Dean Kelly. He comes highly recommended and will be talking to us about his approach to bonsai. Members are very much looking forward to the evening and hearing his thoughts and ideas, which will be new to us all. Visitors will be welcome for an entrance of £5.00, (£2.00 for members).


August 2017

This month we were pleased to welcome club members Paul and Gillian Canham from Pinecone Ceramics to lead our meeting. On this occasion the demonstration and workshop was on freestyle pots.

There were a variety of small pots as a guide to styles we could make for ourselves. Paul worked through the process of making two of these designs while Gillian made a small log shaped pot around a cylinder. It could also be made into a small cascade pot if only part of ‘the log’ was used.

We were all provided with a lump of clay and use of all the tools and materials needed to produce our own pot. Some members stayed closely with the styles we had been shown while others were more adventurous, designing their own unique pot. As expected some pots were more successful than others. Paul and Gillian carefully packed all our efforts and took them back to their studio to be fired. They will be returned to us at a future meeting when there will be surprise and in most cases delight at the way they look.

Since our last meeting the club were invited to display some bonsai at Seaford Horticultural Society annual show. Several members took trees and we were able to show a selection of varieties, styles, shapes and sizes of bonsai. We also had another table where some members worked on their trees and were able to explain shaping and styling trees. There was a great deal of interest from members of the horticultural society, making it an enjoyable afternoon for us all.

Next month our meeting, on 11th September, will be a workshop, when all members can bring trees to shape and style before the end of the growing season. From October trees will be allowed to rest over winter. At this meeting opinion and advice can and will be sought from others; perhaps a change of style or pot is sought or help is needed to care for an ailing tree.


July 2017

The club followed what has become a tradition in recent years and this month met at Downsview Bonsai. Here Peter Ling, our vice chairman and his wife Toni were our hosts for the evening, making us very welcome.

Members were able to wander around the garden taking a close look or purchase the many mature bonsai or younger starter trees to be developed. Others took the opportunity to stock up on accessories such as growing mediums. There was much discussion between members, sharing thoughts and ideas about available trees or their own, over a welcome cup of coffee.

Some conversation was about the Chichester Bonsai Show which had been held the previous weekend. Our club, with others, was invited to enter a display at the show. A few members had represented the club taking and displaying trees, both on Saturday and Sunday. The Chichester show is held in a nursery where visitors could benefit from both purchasing nursery plants and enjoy the bonsai show. Colin George was awarded ‘Highly Commended’ for his Lime with which he had done well at our show last month. It is interesting for club members and visitors alike to view displays from various clubs together.

Next month club members Paul and Gillian Canham from Pinecone Ceramics will be demonstrating and leading a workshop for members to make their own pots. Workshops with Paul and Gillian are always very popular with club members. There is surprise and delight when our efforts are returned at a later date glazed and fired and ready to be planted with the right tree for the pot.

Why not come and join us and meet club members. The first meeting is free but at this meeting the cost of materials for making a pot will be charged.


June 2017

Our June club meeting was the day following our annual show so a busy but enjoyable weekend for us all. Awards were presented at the end of the show on Sunday. The award for the best display was won by Solent Bonsai Society who was also our last year’s winner.

The best in show was awarded to Colin George for his winning deciduous tree, a large broom style lime. The public vote for the best in show went to Kevin Fletcher for his larch group.

Certificates were presented on the club evening to club members of winning trees and to those highly commended. Members were invited to bring their winning trees again in order that all club members could view and appreciate them.

The show was a great success with good comments from our judge Reg Bolton on the show over all and the quality of the trees. In the afternoon Reg gave an interesting talk about showing trees with helpful tips and advice. He also spoke specifically about some of the trees shown with suggestions as to how they could be improved. Paul Eslinger gave an interesting talk and demonstration about satsuki azaleas and Dave Penny gave a demonstration of styling and wiring a conifer.

Dave was our speaker for our club evening when he spoke about soft pruning of maples and also pines. He explained that soft pruning is carried out at this time of year and hard pruning in the autumn when more structural styling can be done. Trees will bleed if soft pruned in spring. Pruning maples to improve the health of the tree is done by cutting back to two leaves. This will encourage back budding. Always leave a stub when cutting back maples as there will be die back. Maples can be defoliated to improve the strength of the tree, as well as encouraging back budding. Pruning about half at a time will cause less shock to the tree. Cut weak leaves first and stronger ones two weeks later to prevent imbalance.

Dave demonstrated removing needles from pines (not all conifers) by taking off the old growth of the previous three years, furthest back on the branch. Two year old needles can be cut back and buds will develop. Any wire on pines should be removed by September as there is then secondary thickening and wire will cut into the branch.

Some members had brought trees for advice and in the second part of the evening David gave suggestions on how those trees could be improved. David will be speaking again in November when his subject will be group planting.
meeting is free.


May 2017

This month we enjoyed another interesting talk by a knowledgeable club member, Kevin Fletcher. Kevin was speaking to us about the art of dead wood on bonsai trees. Deadwood is a common feature of many bonsai. The art of styling a bonsai is to make it look like a natural tree. We may introduce dead wood in the design of a tree to make the tree look older or possibly to disguise an error or blemish on the tree.

Before deciding to include dead wood consider the reason for that part of the tree to have died. Think of the story behind it.  Reasons could be the effect of adverse weather conditions such as snow or wind damage. It may be caused by insects, or animals or it may be just old. It is seldom the result of a lightning strike as this will usually kill the tree.

Junipers have to struggle to survive when growing on mountains so may have dead wood. This will not occur on junipers grown in gardens. Maples do not have dead wood and it should not dominate on deciduous trees.

Kevin demonstrated how this effect can be achieved either with hand or electric tools. First ensure sufficient growth remains for the tree to survive. To remove the outer layer of bark with hand tools first use jin pliers to cut round branch and then with a sharp knife peel back the bark a little at a time. Roll back one thread at a time which will look more natural. Always work with the grain. The branch can be wired into position if wished and then left to dry for several months. There are a number of substances available commercially which can be used to lighten the dead wood. Insecticide, preservatives and hardeners can be used. Use a little at a time for several coats until the desired colour is achieved. White is not seen in the wild. Leave to dry and achieve the desired effect before treating with oil.

Kevin demonstrated using machines such as a die grinder, circular cutters and brushes. He emphasized safety aspects such as wearing goggles and keeping both hands on the tool. Work in one direction to prevent kick back. Wire brushes can be bound with superglue to prevent wire shreds flying off.

Kevin showed trees which he had worked on and discussed member’s tree where an opinion was sought on future styling and deadwood. It was a very interesting and informative demonstration appreciated by all members.

During the evening arrangements were confirmed for our important show, next on our programme. Our annual show will be on Sunday 11th June at Herstmonceux village hall, BN27 4JX, from 10.00am to 4.00pm. There will be demonstrations, sales, exhibits from other bonsai groups and refreshments. Come and vote for your choice of the best tree. We are looking forward to an interesting and friendly day. Do come and join us.

Our next club meeting will be on Monday 12th June when we will have a demonstration of soft pruning by Dave Penny.

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April 2017

Our April meeting was another workshop. This is a busy time of year caring for our bonsai trees. Most of the repotting will have been completed by now, before the new foliage appears.

Trees need to be checked for any problems, feeding begins and styling considered. Some trees will need just a little work, to remove any damaged or dead branches or wire a branch out of position. A major change in style may be needed, perhaps the tree has been repotted earlier and placed in a different position.  Some members will have found a suitable tree to be entered into our June show and are looking for advice or comments for action to ensure it is shown to its best advantage.

Our workshops are a time for chatting about our trees and those of others. There is appreciation of some trees and help and advice about others. Refreshments and a raffle with a prize of a voucher for Downsview Bonsai are a regular part of our club evenings.

Our next meeting will be on May 8th when we will have a talk by Kevin Fletcher, a very knowledgeable club member. Kevin will be giving us a demonstration about deadwood on trees; why, where, what, and how. It should be a very interesting evening.

On Saturday May 6th the club will have a display of trees at Wannock memorial hall at the arts, crafts and activities day, from 10.00am to2.00pm. Local groups and individuals will show their hobbies. Please come and say hello, it would be good to see you there.

Make a note of our annual show which will be on Sunday 11th June at Herstmonceux village hall, BN27 4JX, from 10.00am to 4.00pm. There will be demonstrations, sales, exhibits from other bonsai groups and refreshments. Come and vote for your choice of the best tree. We are looking forward to an interesting and friendly day. Do come and join us.


March 2017

This month the club had the pleasure of welcoming back Paul Eslinger who has given us very interesting talks and demonstrations on many aspects of bonsai keeping. This time his subject was Satsuki Azaleas with which he has many years of experience both keeping and showing.

Satsuki azaleas are a natural variety which has two to four different colour blooms on the same plant. The different colours are not spliced onto the plant. These azaleas are grown and shown for their flowers so all aspects of care are towards that end. There are more than 2,000 colour varieties and more identified each year.

Paul demonstrated repotting, pruning and care on several trees giving us many interesting facts throughout the evening. He grows his trees in kanuma a Japanese volcanic rock mixed with chopped sphagnum moss. He also puts a layer of fine sphagnum moss on the surface to retain moisture. They can also be grown in an ericaceous peat based soil but if changing the medium this should be a gradual process taking about four years. Azaleas may need a slightly deeper pot to allow for root growth. Round pots are often the most suitable.

Trees should have regular heavy feeding and care taken not to over water, to encourage the fine roots to grow to find water. Use rain water if possible. The very fine roots tend to tangle so it is often preferable to remove soil from the roots with a water spray when repotting. These trees have a change of leaf three times a year, in spring, summer and autumn so do not be concerned by the leaf drop.

After flowering trees should be given a hard prune for shaping and to allow light in. Tilt pads slightly forward, allowing flowers to present full face. A light prune can be given  to tidy the tree early in the year or before showing. Prune areas of coloured flowers more lightly than white. Care must be given not to prune out the area of one colour as the colour will not return. Flowers will revert to white. Blooms may be better or different in alternate years but usually have the best year every four or six years.

His trees stay outside, unprotected all year but different microclimates in a small area can affect growth of the trees. Paul also spoke of useful books on the subject mostly from Japan and are either out of print or very expensive so hunting for second hand books may be the only way to obtain them.

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Our next meeting is on Sunday 2nd April which will be a workshop from 10.00 am to 4.00 pm. The evening meeting will be on Monday 10th when we will have another workshop preparing trees for our show on June 11th at Herstmonceux village hall. Help and advice is available at workshops.

Many thanks to Iris and Derek for writing these up each month.


February 2017

The bonsai year has started. This month the club meeting was a workshop when members were able to bring trees to repot. Although the weather had been very cold, trees that had been protected from the worst weather and would be returned to a sheltered place would not suffer from repotting. This is the time to look carefully at the tree roots and remove any unwanted roots and replace the exhausted soil with fresh mixture with gravel, to ensure the roots receive plenty of air and nutrients. It is not necessary to move the tree to another pot, unless you wish to change the effect with a different shape, size or colour pot.

Most members were able to get on with the work alone but there was help and advice available for those seeking it. Members were able to discuss their trees and the plan they had for them. Some members brought in trees for ‘appreciation’, to be viewed by others. This is new to the club this year in place of ‘tree of the month’, where there will be no voting for the preferred tree.

Our Chairman presented Chris Chissell with a certificate for his place on the Roll of Honour for his contribution to the club in 2016, voted for by all club members. This was particularly in recognition of all the work he has done in organising the club annual show.

At our meeting next month, on Monday 13th March we will have a speaker well known to the club Paul Eslinger. He will give an illustrated talk about Satsuki Azaleas, those with two colour blooms, which he has grown for many years.

Earlier in the month on the weekend of 4th and 5th of March, the club will be holding a workshop and display of trees at Paradise Park garden centre in Newhaven. Please come and say hello to the members who are there.


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