Welcome to All in One Bonsai

Bitten by the Bug


Welcome to All in One Bonsai...a blog that aims to remind me of what I have forgotten. Over the years I have been finding out as much as I can about the art of bonsai. I hope the information in this blog will shed some light to the beginning bonsai enthusiast out there.


I saw some bonsai trees at a corner market one night in Taipei and asked the guy if he was willing to teach me how to create these miniature trees. He directed me to a night school where all the instruction was in Chinese. My Chinese ability is very ordinary at the least so although I was learning bits and pieces, I really wasn't getting all I wanted from the course. The best parts were when the teacher would start pruning a beautiful tree or when he showed us how to repot a bonsai. The mystery was still out there but my interest wasn't waning, if anything it fueled my motivation to find out more. And so I did.


Let the adventure begin...


Recently I have discovered the joy of pottery. Bonsai and pottery are close friends so it was only a matter of time before I was introduced to her. Welcome to All in One Bonsai...and pottery.


Feel free to visit my site where you can purchase some of my handmade pottery. Quite a few pieces have been wood fired as it is the prefered method here in Taiwan:

AllinoneCeramics



Saturday, 19 January 2013

Welcome to All in One Bonsai

Bitten by the Bug

Welcome to All in One Bonsai...a blog that aims to remind me of what I have forgotten. Over the years I have been finding out as much as I can about the art of bonsai. I hope the information in this blog will shed some light to the beginning bonsai enthusiast out there.
Many years ago I spotted some bonsai trees at a corner market one night in Taipei. In my broken Chinese I asked if the store owner was willing to teach me how to create these miniature trees. He gave me the address of a night school where all the instruction was in Chinese. My Chinese ability is not good and although I was learning bits and pieces, I really wasn't getting all I wanted from the course. I heard plenty of 'oooos and ahhhh's but had no idea what the teacher was saying. The best parts were when the teacher would start shaping or cutting up a tree that ended up looking like an ancient wonder.
The mystery for me was still out there but my interest wasn't waning, if anything it fueled my motivation to find out more.

And so I did.

Let the adventure begin...

Throughout the journey I discovered the joy of ceramics. Bonsai and pottery are close friends so it was only a matter of time before I was introduced to her.

Welcome to All in One Bonsai...and CERAMICS.










































































































































































Bonsai Soil

Bonsai Soil

Don't get me started on soil!  For some reason this topic has confused me over the past few years - to the point where I have become quite frustrated.  This I do know - positioning your bonsai tree in good bonsai soil is very important.  The roots, being the life source of the tree, must have a home where they feel comfortable.  Their home, the soil, becomes vital to the health, growth, and longevity of the tree.

SO WHAT IS THE BEST SOIL?

Brace yourself for this response because you will hear it a lot when learning about bonsai...

IT DEPENDS.  

After reading a lot and asking many questions about bonsai soil around Taiwan and in Japan, it can get a little confusing.  My purpose with this blog is to try and make things as simple as possible...because that is the way my brain functions.  

There is a difference in what soil you use depending on if your tree is a conifer, like a pine or juniper or a deciduous tree, like a maple or elm.  Let's keep it simple and talk about conifers and deciduous trees in general.  Maybe I can add some more in-depth information in some later posts.  But firstly I do want to talk about the function of soil.

The function of soil when dealing with bonsai is for both drainage and retention of water - not to mention sticking the tree in the pot.  It was a difficult concept for me to understand because it seems like a contradiction - you want the water to drain well but you also want to retain water!

What I have learnt over time is that we have to find a balance of water drainage and water retention.  Think of the soil being the lungs of the tree.  As you water, the soil inhales, and as the soil dries throughout the day, the soil is exhaling.  This exchange of oxygen that is in the water, and also the tiny spaces between soil grains, are what roots need to survive.  They need oxygen and ventilation.  Having soil that is too compact will prevent both of these things from happening.

Now conifers and deciduous trees like a different mix of soil.  Why does it have to be so hard!

In general terms conifers like soil to be on the dry side so they prefer a really nice free draining soil.    Something that is free draining would consist of granular shaped soil, mixed with some river sand.  (Sand from the beach is too salty - don't use it)

Deciduous trees prefer to retain a little more water.  In this case we add some quality potting mix along with the granular soil, and sand.

Adding small jagged pumice (volcanic rock) to the mix is also a good idea for both conifers and deciduous trees - aids good drainage.
This is an example of granular soil.  This particular soil is from the
Taiwan mountain of Yamingshan.

A mix of sand, some fine, some a little larger.  Combining sand and
soil becomes an important combination for the health of a bonsai.

When I worked at a Japanese bonsai nursery, they used a soil called acadama.  Acadama is a granular soil that contains no nutrients at all.  It was used for drainage (sand is better for drainage), air circulation and absorption.  The grains were jagged which meant that the water drained all the way through to the holes in the base of the pot without a problem but the crevices in the grain also retained water along with the grains themselves of course.  This allowed the roots to use the water available to grow.

I was surprised to hear that this particular soil contained no nutrients.   My next question was - well, isn't this bad for the tree?  The answer lied in the magic word FERTILIZER.  They felt that by controlling the amount of nutrients given to the tree by varying the amounts of fertilizer being used meant that they can control the growth rate of the tree itself.  If they used soil that had organic compounds in it, they did not have the same degree of control over the tree's growth.

I found this very interesting!



Please be patient...more to come.


Please visit my online pottery shop at AllinoneCeramics for handmade ceramic pieces.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Tree Choice

Tree Choice

As I was learning more about bonsai I was becoming increasingly more curious about what trees could be trained to look like bonsai.  Could any tree look like a bonsai?  Are bonsai trees of a particular species that are limited in growth size?
After a lot of head scratching, I learnt that a bonsai tree is just a normal tree.  Sorry to ruin the mystique.
The only differences between a pine tree growing on a mountain side and an identical pine growing in a bonsai pot are...conditions and environmental factors.
A pine growing in the mountains will be weather beaten but allowed to grow as large as possible.  However, the soil may be of poor quality or limited in quantity.  Nonetheless, the tree finds a way to survive.

The pine growing in a bonsai pot has its roots pruned to fit in the pot, fertilizer is periodically added, branches trimmed by scissors, and soil watered adequately.  These factors result in the pine growing healthy but restricted in size.

Before talking more about which species of tree are suited for bonsai training I have to say that a bonsai is much more than a tree in a pot.  For a bonsai to be called a bonsai the tree in the pot must evoke an emotion in the viewer.  I know this sounds a little strange and very subjective.  The tree must be pruned, wired, styled, be placed in a complimentary pot, and given plenty of sunshine for it to be considered a work of art. 

Ok, getting a little off track here.  Refocus.

The best trees to use for bonsai are those that give the illusion that they are large and old.  Trees that have naturally small leaves are important.  Having a tree placed in a pot that has huge leaves will just not look right.  The perspective will be off balance. 
The other important aspect of a good bonsai tree is that the particular species will be able to handle prunning and root cutting. 

Some classic trees that are suitable for bonsai.  We will keep our list short and build it as we go.

Deciduous

1.  Trident Maple Acer buergerianum
A nice large Trident Maple grown on a rock.  Once the leaves
come off, some shoots are cut, and a little
wire applied, the tree will come out in all its glory


2.  Chinese Elm - Ulmus parvifolia  semi deciduous

A small Chinese Elm that I am growing in a tiny pot

Conifers

 1. Chinese Juniper  Juniperus chinensis

A Chinese Juniper I saw at a recent bonsai show here in Taipei. Not too sure about the massive monk statue - just the house would have been my preference.
                         
2. Black Pine  Pinus thunbergii
A nice sized black pine that I attempted to wire 

A small Black Pine also from the bonsai show in Taipei

A bonsai friend told me that if you were to become proficient with the TRIDENT MAPLE, the CHINESE JUNIPER, and BLACK PINE you will be able to understand and develop any other tree in bonsai form.   Find out as much as possible from these three trees and you will be doing yourself a favor.








Thursday, 3 January 2013

I Bought a Rock

I Bought a Rock

My girlfriend and I attend bonsai classes every Wednesday night at a bonsai village in Shipai, a suburb of Taipei.  The guy teaching us is one of Taiwan's most respected bonsai men in the country.  He regularly gives demonstrations and is one of the head judges when it comes to bonsai competitions.  

He is very passionate about bonsai and another related art form called SUISEKI.  The Japenese word SUISEKI breaks down to derive the english words, WATER STONE.
Sui - water  Seki - stone

Mr. Yen, our teacher loves collecting suiseki.  Everytime I visit his nursery I always spend some time looking at his stones.  He told me that people hunt for these rocks throughout the world.  The prized ones are found in mountain rivers, streams, wind-blown deserts, and along ocean shores.  Pretty much anywhere where mother nature has had her way with them over many years.  

Suiseki are also called Viewing Stones or Scholar Stones.  They resemble much larger land forms such as a mountain, a cliff face, islands, caves, or an entire mountain range.  They evoke a feeling of nature, something larger, that can be held in the palm of your hand.  I love these beautiful stones and, can surprisingly, look at them for a very long time.   
Anyway, I bought my first one the other month.  It was collected  in an Indonesian river.  They call this particular stone...BLUE, BLACK STONE.  

Check it out...

I bought a 70 year old Japanese suiban (flat tray) for my rock to be placed on.


And here she is...maybe a small boat needs to be added?
Rethink
Recently a comment was posted regarding this suiban and rock placement.  After considerable thought I must concede and agree with Dave.  His concern was that the suiban was a little too shallow for this rock.  He forced me to take a closer look at the rock's depth in the suiban.  I noticed that the front left side of the rock slightly bulged out a touch.  If this rock was in a deeper suiban the horizon line would meet at the steep incline of the left side.  This minor change, I believe,  would create a drastically different feeling, a more natural look, as I was attempting to resemble a large powerful mountain.  The bulge would in effect be covered.
I plan on searching for a deeper suiban and raising my suiseki to a higher level.
Thanks Dave for taking the time to pass on your thoughts on suiseki for all the All in One Bonsai viewers out there.

In the meantime I was lucky to stumble on a more jagged, but less hard rock imported from Japan.  I have used my original suiban that had the blue, black stone in it as the canvas for an alternative composition.

Imported Japanese rock on Japanese suiban

January 17th

Last night I bought another, more suitable suiban for my rock to be placed in.  The suiban has been handmade and was imported from China.  Unfortunately, I cannot claim to say that it is an old piece.  On the contrary, it is rather new.  When dealing with suiban or bonsai in general, old means precious, mysterious, full of character, stood the test of time, wise and respectful.  But also expensive!

New Chinese pot, new finer sand.  Due to the deeper suiban the rock is now able to be pushed deeper into the sand, giving, I believe a more realistic feel of a large mountain in the distance.

The previous suiban and different style sand.  I bought this particular sand at an aquarium shop.

Now I can sit back, watch Australian Rules football on my tv and during the add breaks can glance over and imagine what the view would be like at the top of this mountain.

SOME SUISEKI IN TAIPEI

Suiseki stones can also represent animals or human figures.  


Very dense stone on beautiful sand.


An intimidating rock looming over a small fishing boat.


Some stones have wooden stands carved in the 
shape of the stone's base.  This is a very difficult skill to master.
I have to say I prefer the stones in sand and displayed in an old suiban.

On a recent bonsai trip to Japan I bought another rock and suiban.  December 2012.




Bonsai in Japan

Bonsai in Japan

I was lucky enough to have had the chance to study at a beautiful bonsai nursery in Japan.  Once in summer, then winter, and also in spring.  I live close to Japan, which I must say is still the bonsai capital of the world, so after a short 2 hour flight I'm surrounded by beautiful and very old bonsai.  It is a nice get away for me.  The most important aspect is that I always come back to Taiwan with a notebook full of excellent information.

 The three visits were for the duration of 8 days (total 24 days), beginning work and study at 8:30 a.m and finishing at around 6:30 p.m - with a nice lunch and dinner in between. 

I was treated well at the nursery and given some fantastic information.  Information and experience are two keys you must acquire if you are to improve your skill working with bonsai.  I feel like I need to build on both of these aspects!  However, the more you put into bonsai the more you get out of it.

  I plan to talk more about what I have learned at the nursery in up and coming posts.

Summer at the Nursery





Winter at the Nursery





Spring at the Nursery





Gaining more experience with some larger trees has given me confidence when working with my own bonsai in Taipei.  The trees in the above pictures are extremely old and very expensive.  Under the watchful eye of an experienced bonsai apprentice and a bonsai master I was fortunate to be working with some of them.