Bonsai Bulletin
Collecting from the Wild

Our Society has in the past organised days when, by arrangement with local Surrey Heath Rangers, we have been able to collect potential bonsai material from the wild. This material has been mainly Pine and Birch which seed freely amongst the Heather and which the Rangers are glad to have thinned out in order to maintain the open heathland. Our visitor, John Sanger, came from an entirely different collecting environment in South Wales where he has access to the mountainous countryside and forestry plantations. He bought with him a collection of his own photographic slides with which to illustrate his talk.

John emphasised that on no account should collecting be undertaken without the landowners permission. Failure to do so could leave the collector open to charges ranging from common theft to damaging the environment. In South Wales the Forestry Commission licensed Bonsai Societies for a modest fee. This enabled members to collect  from specified areas in a manner which was acceptable to both landowner and bonsai enthusiast.

Faced with a variety of collectable material there can be a tendency to rush in, collect a lot of material and if four or five survive then people are happy. John considered that thought should be given to “when” “where” and “what”. Although there were varying opinions as to the best time for collecting, John`s experience suggested November to April was a good time. December and January collections needed winter protection by placing in a box covered by polythene.

Nothing collectable can be found under dense tree cover. In the Forest Commission plantations of S.Wales the fire breaks could be a source of Yew, Pine, Hemlock and Beech. John generally looked for mature material which shows healthy bark characteristic of the species and which can be found with natural jins and sharis. Good material could also be found on farmland and moorland.

Slides of a windswept Hawthorn and a Field Maple illustrated some of the material John had found. A tall Field Maple was reduced to 12 inches before lifting and this technique could be applied also to Hawthorn and Quickthorn. Another slide shown the Field Maple in John`s garden sprouting new leaves having had the top V-cut and sealed.

John`s list of tools included hammer and chisel because sometimes rock had to be removed, a crowbar, a spade, pruning saw for heavy roots, heavy anvil type secateurs, cord and heavy gloves. For safety reasons a mobile phone and a second person were really needed when collecting in remote areas.

The sequence for lifting a tree should start by removing the surrounding grasses,  brambles and other unwanted growth. The height could be reduced and branches shortened but branches should not be removed as this could hinder recovery. John recommended cutting through the soil at a spades width from the trunk severing any roots. A second cut should be created  another spades width away and soil cleared from between the two spade cuts. Any “foreign” roots should be removed.  Anchor  roots can be cut by undercutting the tree. It might be necessary to sever anchor roots with cutters.

Roots respond to the growing situation. Sloping ground causes long roots on one side. Rocky soil encourages long tap roots. Swamps and waterlogged soil lead to fibrous roots. If roots are found to branch too far from the trunk then John`s technique is to sever the roots and leave for 1-2 years with some feeding by slow release fertilizer. This works well for Beech and Hawthorn. To reduce weight, surplus soil should be removed before wrapping the roots in sacking. On his collecting trips John sometimes has had to carry the tree for two miles.

On arriving home the tree is soaked in water with an additive like Superthrive for 24 hours. When planted into a box made from untreated wood the tree is held stable by tying the tree to an inverted U frame. John prefers to plant in boxes rather than into the ground. During planting, any seeds, insects and foreign bodies should be removed. John`s compost comprises 50% grit, the remainder being sand and peat free organic material.

John talked us through a series of his collecting projects using his slides to show the collecting site and stages of collection.

An Oak which had been collected from a swampy situation. Several large quince showing car damage and collected when the local council were digging them out. A Hawthorn and an Oak collected from a riding school field where horses had nibbled the growth down to a low level.

John had found a multi-trunk Beech in a hedge only to discover that it was the stump of a 30 year old tree which had been covered with soil and had layered itself.

Despite John`s modest claims about his speaking ability he provided the audience with an educational and entertaining evening which must have made some members wishing that they could find a similar collecting environment.


The New Bonsai Magazine

January saw the first edition of “Bonsai” published as a joint Anglo-Dutch operation with Ferrand Bloch as the Editor.

It will be published every two months instead of the previous quarterly issues but still will be only available by subscription (£22.50 pa). As promised in early publicity it uses better quality paper with a thicker cover giving it a good feel and better appearance.

The stage by stage photographs of projects are much clearer than some seen in past editions but that might be the result of using a professional photographer instead of those taken by a bonsai enthusiast. A gallery of Shohin photos is magnificent. Unfortunately there is a limited input of UK bonsai articles. But as the Editor of this modest newsletter I know that content depends on contributions being forthcoming.


Next Meeting. 13th March 2001

Malcolm Hughes

Developing Cedars as bonsai trees.

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Copyright & copy; 2001, Surrey Heath Bonsai Society.