Monday, October 18, 2010

August 2010

Welcome to all the newcomers of the newsletter. I hope you find it instructional and inspirational!! I am amazed at the constant increase of new proponents to the art!


I don’t know if its our culture, or our technological age we live in but too often I hear people talking about bonsai as if it is an exact science!

To start with, there are some things in nature we will never understand. Even the best horticulturists will tell you they still don’t fully understand the working of soil and tree together.

Often when a tree “passes” we try and find the reason, but sometimes there is just no good reason we can find! Don’t get caught up with making it an absolute science like maths! You will be disappointed, and have missed the essence of bonsai.

Bonsai is both horticulture and art combined. It is working with material that never presents exactly the same as the last one you did.

For some reason we are so persistent in creating something because we think this is the direction it should go (according to something we have read.)

Be bold enough and game enough to begin to follow your creative instincts, sure use good horticultural guidelines, but beyond this just as they say “have a go”

Read as much as possible, glean as much information as possible, do all you can to fill your mind with images of your beloved hobby, but then as you shape, let the mixtures of the images begin to dictate to you the shape. Things such as balance, and space will become obvious.

Bonsai is not about rules! We are not building a mechanical object! Rules are there for guidelines, they had a purpose in the beginning, and its understanding is vital for the success in bonsai.

Too many people bend down to have a close look at a bonsai and stand up with a look of intelligence on their face to proclaim “Its wrong, the first branch is a back branch”. I swear if I hear someone make a statement like this again, I will scream!

The next book you are reading on bonsai you will find somewhere in the book, how the tree should have a left, right and a back branch radiating up the tree. Now go through the pictures of the book and find how many follow this pattern!

This layout is a guideline, not a rule. I have seen trees that people have forced branches to fit the criteria, and they look ridiculous.

Trees have branches at different heights and different levels because that is how a tree grows naturally. Branches will grow into the most optimal position to gain light. (this is a brief explanation)

If we are to develop both our personal and corporate world of bonsai then we need to both encourage and attempt to develop new styles, and techniques.

We must welcome the newcomer, and not baffle him/her with science and rules, but impart some enthusiasm that will inspire.

We need to “unveil” the mysteries that are so readily propagated by the few, to help people understand that bonsai is not some mysterious thing, some freak of nature, but are at the end of the day, just trees in pots! Lets not be so precious about the whole thing.

People have told me after I have complimented them on an aspect of their tree, asking how it was achieved, only to be told it was a secret!

Bonsai has a long history, and its journey has crossed many lands and cultures. It is reputed to have started in China (maybe even earlier in India) and eventually to Japan.

Pensai from China has a distinctly different look from the bonsai from Japan. Pensai has its early roots (sorry for the pun) in China and was more to do with landscapes in pots.

Whether you like Japanese or Chinese style of bonsai, doesn’t really matter, its about enjoying the art form. They are both legitimate.

There is a respect for its origins and respect for its originators.

If we allow, and indeed encourage those coming into the hobby, especially the young, we will be part of the evolution of bonsai. Bonsai styles are not fixed in time, there are guidelines to be followed, but it will continue to change and develop.

The greatest problem we face as we get older is the ability to change. We fear change around us because we don’t like the rules being changed.

The spirit of bonsai is not precious, it has humility at its heart because it doesn’t know everything. It s encouraging, it imparts all the knowledge it has, its not envious, but appreciative of others achievements.

Probably as Australians, indeed Queenslanders, we have a unique opportunity to develop the art of Bonsai. Our climate is so different, our species are different, even our climate is different.

What will happen with Australian natives? I know we are using them to some degree, but how far are we willing to go? Do we try and shape them into traditional shapes, or do we try and follow the shape of trees around us?

If we allow this sort of development in bonsai then we will all be the richer for it. Maybe everything wont work, but we wont know until we try.

We cant be rigid in all we do, otherwise we will become stuck in time.

Maybe if you feel like you are getting stale with your bonsai, its time to try something different. Go somewhere you haven’t gone before, stretch yourself!!

If we keep this type of mindset, we will be more tolerant of others, we wont be envious, and will ensure the future of one of the worlds greatest hobbies!!


I have really taken to swamp cypress as a bonsai, both as an individual tree, and as group plantings.

The Taxodium genus consists of only two species, Taxodium distichum/ The Swamp Cypress and Taxodium ascendens/ The Pond Cypress. Both a suitable for bonsai cultivation though it is the Swamp Cypress that is more commonly seen.

The Swamp Cypress is an upright, conical, monoecious, deciduous or semi-evergreen coniferous tree found in swampy forest or by river margins from SE USA to Guatemala. In its native habitat it can reach heights of 20-40 metres. Though often found growing in wet, swampy soils, the Swamp Cypress also grows well in relatively dry soils. In wet soil conditions, Swamp Cypress develop aerial roots known as 'knees' or pneumatophores at water level.


POSITION Full sun. Fully hardy to -10°C.

WATERING Swamp Cypress should be kept moist at all times as they are thirsty trees. Although Swamp Cypress are able to adapt to wet, swampy soils it is not necessary or beneficial to stand them permanently in water.

FEEDING Swamp Cypress are very vigorous growers and require regular feeding every one or two weeks with a balanced feed.

REPOTTING Repotting should be carried out annually in Spring as new buds extend. Use a soil that is able to retain water but is still fast draining.

PRUNING Pinch out new shoots throughout the growing season to keep in shape. Hard pruning can be carried out in late Winter; this commonly results in prolific budding from the trunk.

WIRING Care should be taken when wiring, as these trees are fast growing and wires will damage the bark if not removed quickly enough. If possible use guy wires to pull down the branches.

PROPAGATION Cuttings at most times of the year and air layering in late Spring.


STYLING Formal and informal upright forms, slanting and literati, twin-trunk and group forms in all sizes.


These trees are best suited to a more of an artistic approach to bonsai. Many of these trees are used by the Japanese to do what is known as ‘Mame’, or ‘Shohin’ bonsai. These are miniature bonsai done in small pots accentuating the flowers and/or fruit.

The cut leaf mulberry’s have a very small leaf but heaps of fruit. We still have a few mulberry’s left but the bigger ones got snapped up pretty quickly.

Happy Bonsai-ing

Chris and Sam

No comments: