Spring In Close


Go West… And Repot

I posted last year about a great chap living over in the west of Ireland with a collection of bonsai 40 years + in the making. Peter Flint, a long time bonsai enthusiast, now in his 80’s had been working through his trees catching up on some long overdue repotting. However, he had a few that were just to big for him to manage. Derek and myself popped over to give him a hand. When I say popped over, it was a 9 hour round trip for me, but I’d hate to see the trees suffer from lack of hands.

Now, Peter has his own way of doing things regarding mixes etc and even though I didn’t agree with him, who am I to change what’s been working for him for 40 odd years. First up was a tall cedar.

Then a great Hinoki Cypress.

After a fun day with Peter, Derek and I went to check out some great local yamadori, mostly hawthorn and blackthorn. Most weren’t collectable but I did find time to experiment with a few air layers.

Thanks for a great day Peter, and the pizza 🙂 and to Derek for good company on the trip, it just flew in.

He’ll Be Missed

Today, I attended the funeral of Bob Brooks.

Although I’ve already shared this on the club page I have sat today and felt that I needed to add a little something here on my own blog.

When I joined the NIBS in 1993 Bob was one or the old guard even then. In his 70’s sitting in the audience at meetings chatting with who ever wanted to share time with him. As I got to know him I found his fun loving attitude was just a the top coat on a man with much to tell.

He joined the Royal Air Force during the Second World War, altering his date of birth to allow him to join underage. He saw action in Asia and on his return to home after the war he joined Royal Engineers seeing service in the Army as well. I loved chatting to Bob hearing some of the old stories. I found him an inspiration with how he deals with seeing things that most would have struggled with. I know I did.

As a young club member I soon found myself taking meetings and Bob was a great mentor, always on hand to praise my efforts and point out were we could improve as a club. When I took a place on the committee and later the offices of Secretary and Chairman, Bob was a font of knowledge on all things club and committee orientated. Always there to run problems past and get his view on how we could dodge a bullet or two.

Last year we were delighted to have Bob officially open our Club’s Bonsai 30 event. He was genuinely delighted to do this despite recent health issues. He dressed for the occasion and did us proud.

I’m pretty sure heaven will have the best Roses ever this Summer.

Bob, thank you for everything.

It’s Time: Mirai Live!

Unless you’ve been sleeping for the last month you can’t have missed the buzz around Mirai Live. Ryan Neil and his Team at Mirai have been building towards it’s launch tonight.

I was delighted when I was offered review access to see what it’s all about and I’ll be sharing my experience with you here over the next month.

First impressions: I was so excited to see what was waiting for me on signing in and I wasn’t disappointed. Ryan has already populated the archive section with some videos even before the official launch. If these are a snapshot of what’s to come, then I’m in. Great quality, top notch info that you can view again and again. Here’s what it’s all about….

On March 14th, 2017 –  Bonsai Mirai is releasing Mirai Live – a cutting-edge online educational platform where you can learn the skills to design, grow, and understand bonsai like never before.

During weekly live streams, you can interact with bonsai professional Ryan Neil and artists from around the world. With Mirai Live’s chat function, you can directly ask and access the secrets to designing and growing robust trees in realtime.

Accessible anytime, anyplace in HD from your smartphone (iOS, Android), tablet, or desktop computer (Mac/PC), Mirai Live has an ever-expanding video archive for you to re-watch and build your bonsai skills.

Mirai Live is designed to accommodate every skill-level in bonsai. We offer you a wide range of knowledge, from nuts-and-bolts techniques to high-level design concepts. Whether you’ve been practicing bonsai for decades or are simply intrigued by the art form, Mirai Live will reorient the way you experience and practice bonsai.

With various membership levels and pricing tiers, what used to be exclusive knowledge will now be yours for the taking. When you approach a stumbling block in bonsai, you now have a place to get your questions answered. With Mirai Live, you will have the tools to maximize every tree you put on your turntable.

We will teach you what no one else can. Join us Live.


Design, Grow, Understand

Build your skills with Mirai Live

I’m looking forward to tonight’s launch and all that it brings. I get the feeling that bonsai is taking a huge step into the modern world and one that will be there for everyone to see. Best wishes to the Mirai team in this new endeavour.

Bonsai Fundamentals Course in Review

I had the great pleasure last year to review the content on Bonsai Empire’s Intermediate Course with Bjorn Bjorholm. I was delighted when Oscar asked if I’d be willing to give my honest opinion of the new Bonsai Fundamentals Course with Michael Hagedorn of Crataegus Bonsai.

Over the last week I had the opportunity to work my way through the course videos to get a feel for the content available to everyone else from today.

My first impression was that, as per usual, the video content was professionally put together and Michael did not waste a single word in is clips. A well polished product.

Having then watched the content I feel that the main drive of the course is to answer the why questions. We all do things to our trees, pruning, pinching, repotting etc, but do we always know why we do these things. We also style our trees into certain shapes following centuries of Japanese tradition, but again, do we know why we follow these styles? Michael lays it all out there for you to understand both the physiological reason behind the techniques and timings that we use and also the aesthetic reasons behind why we do it a certain way.  If you have read Michael’s book,  Post Dated The Schooling of an Irreverent Bonsai Monk ISBN: 978-0-9801094-7-4, you’ll have a good feel for the type of character he is. He offers a different slant on bonsai compared to others I have worked with over the years and I found his view on bonsai refreshing. I look forward to hopefully visiting him in person in June this year on my travels.

The layout of the control panel is easy to use with clips chopped up into short sections specific to topic that you can go back over again and again until it sinks in 🙂

With most gallery format bonsai books costing the same as this course, or magazine subscriptions for that matter, I feel what’s on offer is good value for money.

I have tried to think of negatives to balance this review but am struggling. Comparing it to the Beginner and Intermediate course isn’t really fair either. Many elements to Bjorn’s content were more instructional ie. this is how you wire, this is how you repot etc. Michael’s content has a different feel to it but there is a tonne of information in there to be had.

Where does a course like this fit in with the world bonsai community?

There are a lot of people out there who don’t live near an established teacher or have a local club. Bonsai Empire courses fill a niche in the market that not only with satisfy such people, but also add to the learning of others. If you are like me you are hungry for more than is generally on offer at clubs workshops and events, then this is for you as well. We take many of the things we do in bonsai for granted without asking why we do them. We have people like Michael and Bjorn working with Bonsai Empire, or for that matter, Ryan Neil and Peter Warren, all Japanese trained bonsai professionals with all the answers to the why questions. Courses like this give us direct access to this information in an easy to use, and use again format. If you haven’t tried any of the Bonsai Empire Courses then perhaps give one of them a go and see what I mean.

All that remains is to ask where the outtakes are 🙂 Any video of Michael I’ve seen, his Q&A session for example, show him to be a giggler. Therefore there has  to be a heap of outtakes sitting in a digital folder somewhere. Come on Oscar 🙂

A big thank you to both Michael and Oscar for giving me the opportunity to review this. I look forward to the next instalment, whatever that might be.

A conversation with Enrique Castano on Ume

Nebari Bonsai

Have you ever heard the way to tell if an ume will bloom? The leaves of a blooming ume have smooth undersides, and the underside of leaves on an ume that isn’t going to bloom are rough. For fun, or maybe to torture myself a bit, I decided to try and cature rough leaves on camera. What do you know, they’re furry…

As contrasted with the leaves from a blooming ume:

Non-blooming shoot has only vegetative buds at the base of furry leaves:

And flower buds appear on either side of vegetative buds:

1 & 3 are flower buds, 2 is a vegetative bud. Sometimes, oftentimes, ume will produce flower buds, and no vegetative buds, making it a challenge to prune them to keep foliage close to the trunk. More on that another day. I’ve been photographing another experiment for the last couple years…but I digress…



But I…

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Viburnum Repot

Another tree repot, this time it’s a shohin viburnum being moved to it’s new home, a nice little Japanese Pot.


This was it last year when I picked it up. Looking forward to seeing it fill out this year.


A Visit To Omiya Bonsai Village

Valavanis Bonsai Blog


We had a quiet morning visit to Omiya Bonsai Village. Most of the proprietors were at the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition so there was not to much commotion nor visitors.


Most of the gardens had their Japanese flowering apricots on display because they were in full blossom, mostly fragrant too.

Fuyo-en Bonsai Garden– Hiroshi Takeyama



Kyuka-en Bonsai Garden– Isamu & Yukio Murata


Seiko-en Bonsai Garden– Tomio & Kaori Yamada


Mansei-en Bonsai Garden– Hatsuji & Haruhiko Kato


Keeping the roots warm on a Japanese flowering quince


Omiya Bonsai Art Museum

There were extensive renovations under way so our visit was not too long.


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2017 91st Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition­– Part 2

Valavanis Bonsai Blog


The second part of the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition opened on February 10 and ends on the 13th. All 300 plus trees from Part 1 were removed except for the Imperial Bonsai Display and two other special exhibits.


Japanese Hemlock


Part 2 is just as excellent as Part 1 in my opinion. A great selection of a wide variety of trees. The Nippon Bonsai Association split the trees into both parts well. Both parts had an impressive and colorful Japanese deciduous holly. Part 1 seemed to display more Ezo spruce bonsai, while I noticed many cascade pines in Part 2.


There were 179 display areas including 51 medium size exhibits and six shohin bonsai compositions. Important Bonsai Masterpieces (Kicho Bonsai) were ten in total for this part.


Five outstanding bonsai were selected for the Kokufu Award:


Chinese Quince


Chinese Quince


Sargent Juniper


Japanese Black Pine

General Bonsai Exhibits:_p4a0927

Dwarf Star…

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2017 91st Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition­– Part 1 Continued

Valavanis Bonsai Blog


Part 1 of this year’s Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition had 179 exhibits. However, there were five shohin compositions and each had at least five trees. Additionally there were 44 medium size compositions, each having a minimum of two main bonsai, plus companion plantings. That makes a total of more than 300 individual bonsai specimens in Part 1.


In Part 1 of the Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition six outstanding bonsai were selected for the coveted Kokufu Award. After the entire exhibition is set up, and before it opens, a small group of officers of the Nippon Bonsai Association goes through the exhibition and selects worthy trees for the Kokufu Awards. There is no set number, but usually about five or six trees win. A special gold colored plaque is set next to the tree. Winning a Kokufu Award can be both good and can be bad. A bonsai can only win once. Therefore…

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