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
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.
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
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
and Buy Sale.
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.
Meeting. 9th October 2001
visitor will work on junipers .