Bonsai Bulletin
Three Wise Men

The August meeting could have been subtitled"And in the Beginning" because three of our more experienced members took the floor to share the benefit of their experiences with us on the basics of design, wiring and growing media. Keith considered the subject of the fundamentals of design, our Chairman Peter spoke of his approach to wiring whilst committee member George described his experiences with various composts and fertilizers.

Keith believed that there was a need to think before diving in to the design of a bonsai as both the horticultural and the aesthetic side of the subject had to be considered and balanced. The aim should be to produce an image of a wild and aged tree taking into account the size, shape of canopy and where it is considered to be growing e.g. in the middle of a field or on a cliff face. A young tree will have branches generally pointing upwards. In time, these branches will not only thicken and develop more foliage but the effects of their weight, climate and environment will cause the branches to bend downwards. The next stage of maturity will show the tree developing a thickened trunk which will taper from foot to apex. Age will also thicken the twigs and branches of the apex. In the last stage the mature tree will show local trunk thickening at the foot giving the trunk a flare.

The best aim in bonsai must be a thick trunk with taper and where the trunk thickness and height are in proportion. Keith illustrated this aim using a bonsai from his own collection where the original height had been reduced three times to give a height proportional to the heavy trunk. The tree had been air layered at the foot of the trunk to develop more surface roots.

When considering the aesthetics, a study of the tree should look for the path which the eye would easily follow. Movement in the trunk or branches will not only lead the eye but will add interest. It is always a good guide to start by the removal of primary branches from the first third of the way up the trunk. Then a secondary branch can be chosen, which does not have an opposite branch. Then look for a third branch growing towards the back. However, this is a bonsai rule which can be readily broken and still have a satisfactory outcome. To achieve perspective lower branches should be thicker than branches of a higher level with short branches to the front and longer branches to the back. During the development of the bonsai to an aim the overall balance must be maintained. For example branches on a windswept style of bonsai must always go in the direction of the wind. Lastly, the position of the tree in the pot and the choice of pot is important to the overall balanced appearance but that is a subject to which another evening could be devoted.

The aim of bonsai design should be to follow nature but an exact copy is difficult to achieve.

Peter started by defining the use of wiring. He explained that wiring allows the grower of the bonsai to bend and redirect the trunk and branches to create a design and give the tree a greater beauty than it would have had if left to grow naturally. Pruning can be used to maintain the proportions of the tree whilst wiring can correct defects, refine and enhance the design. There are other methods of bending branches into the desired shape and position but wiring is the most commonly used method.

Copper wire becomes work-hardened when applied giving superior holding power. But this same feature makes it more difficult to remove. Some fruit bearing trees dislike copper in contact with their bark. Aluminium is a more pliable material being easily applied and removed but has less holding power and needs twice the diameter of copper wire to achieve the same result. Galvanised wire can be used but is much harder to handle especially the thicker diameters. It can be useful for training. Long nosed pliers can be used if bending any wire with fingers is found difficult.

Peter demonstrated the technique of wiring using different branch configurations taking into account thickness of wire, spacing and angle of bends of the wire. The positioning of fingers during the wiring process was shown. Peter recommended that wiring and bending were treated as two separate stages - wire first then bend. He did not recommend braiding two thin wires together as this created uneven points of contact when bending. He gave guidance about care that was need for rapidly growing branches at different times of the year. He demonstrated the tool he had made for straightening wire that had been removed from branches.

Wiring in the Springtime had the advantage when there were no leaves to impede wiring, the branches were flexible but there was the danger of damage to buds and breakage of thinner branches. Wiring of thick branches or trunks was almost impossible except when the tree was young. Correct estimates of length of wire needed came with experience but a good guide was to use the length of the branch plus one third.

George considered that a discussion of compost, or the growing medium, was a subject that could produce as many variations as those who were involved in the discussion. He intended to limit his contribution to describing his own experiences.

George started his bonsai growing using a mixture of Cornish grit, loam, peat and leaf mould. For feeding he used rape seed fertiliser. By trial George was able to develop his own compost of equal portions of soil, grit and leaf mould. The soil was collected from areas where sheep grazed and the leaf mould came from the banks of a local canal. Although the mix was sieved to produce varying grades of compost, the original natural fertiliser was retained. Grit was also sieved.

After listening to presentations where the speakers spoke of the merits of using Japanese Acadama soil George decided to use it as his growing media. Large grains were used at the bottom of the pot and smaller grains were employed in the uppermost layer. George found from experience that this compost needed a very strict and disciplined feeding process which he could not maintain. He was not happy with the results as the trees were visibly not as healthy as they had been. He was now in the process of returning to his growing medium of twenty years ago and trees that had been repotted were showing signs of recovery.

Harry Tomlinson recommended a compost of 1 part loam, 2 parts of grit and 2 parts of sphagnum peat and this was a good basic mix. Amongst the many bonsai growers that had come to speak to us over the years there had been various mixtures proposed. George said by all means test them but in the end follow your own experience. If a compost works for you then use it.


Have Your Say.

The annual AGM is coming up in November. AGM is generally an excuse to stay away because they are boring or it could mean getting involved doing something on behalf of the Society.

Our past AGMs have not been boring indeed some of them have been quite lively. The form of the Annual Shows and competition rules have always provoked much opinion, some of it even constructive. Location of meetings and publicity have provoked some members to stick their heads above the parapet to have a say. We have been fortunate that we have had active members on our committee willing to give up some of their time outside of our monthly meetings to make sure Surrey Heath Bonsai Society has been solvent and has a well balanced programme of speakers to educate us and demonstrate to us. We have attracted new members, some of whom have been growing in ability with us, learning from our speakers and our more experienced members.

The AGM will be the time to come along and make a contribution. If you think the committee should be doing something that is not not being done now then make your case. If the committee said they were going to do something and they have not then ask them why not. The programme for next year maybe not yet finalised so speak up about what you would like to see or hear or do. If none of these items appeal to you but you have liked what the committee has done throughout the year then why not tell them "Well done".


Bring and Buy Sale.

After the AGM, a "bring and buy sale" will be held. Bring along anything to do with bonsai which is surplus to your requirements and make yourself some money. Trees, cuttings or seedlings, pots, books or magazines, surplus tools or wire. Remember that subscriptions have to be paid so you could get rid of some of the bonsai items you no longer want and help to pay your subscription for next year.


Next Meeting. 9th October 2001
Dave Prescott

Our visitor will work on junipers .

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Copyright & copy; 2001, Surrey Heath Bonsai Society.