Today I was invited to be the judge it what has to be the most dynamic Bonsai club in the UK. The Wirral Bonsai Club goes from strength to strength, I visit this show every two years and I am always pleased at the level of excellence not only in the trees but in the whole presentation shown by the individual participants. The asked me if I would put their trees on my blog on my return to encourage folk to visit them tomorrow and Bank holiday Monday at Gordale Garden Centre on The Wirral. This is indeed the BEST club show in the UK I have every attended.
I started in bonsai over 25 years ago; as with so many it grew out of curiosity, visits to Flower shows and I guess Karate Kid fired my imagination. Back in those early years the only information was from books and if you were lucky a local bonsai club or society.
The majority of clubs were made up of long standing members with a few ‘young bucks’ eager to learn from the wiser and more experienced amongst its members. My first visit to my local club happened to be the Annual General Meeting and one of the items on the Agenda was ‘Membership’ and more importantly how to encourage new members. I was asked “as a new visitor… what should the society do?” My answer though rather naïve was “keep creating beautiful bonsai, just like those brought along tonight by the members”
We had no visiting speakers as many members had years of experience under their belt, we had an annual show that was open to the public and it was a ‘success’ My formative years in that club were happy, happy in ignorance as I adhered to the club adage that all you need to know was right here at your club and the trees you were fashioning were exactly what Bonsai was.
All that changed when in 1991 the BCI World Conference came to Birmingham UK, with guest speakers, workshops, a huge exhibition and many bonsai traders. At the next meeting I proposed that we organise a club trip to the event. After a show of hands NOT ONE PERSON wanted to go as it was considered too far (90 miles) and too expensive (£12.00) this was a defining moment for me, the best in the world were coming to our doorstep and at a stupid cheap price and we were NOT attending?
I made my own way along to the BIG event with fellow club member Terry Foster and one old timer who came along because I was happy to drive and what ‘harm’ could it do. Let’s just say that when I returned home I gave away all the crap in my garden and started again… I had wasted at least 7 years working on material that would NEVER amount to anything and without any style whatsoever!
That was over 20 years ago and I am sad to say that attitude still prevails in some clubs. I attended a ‘club’ show at Capel Manor near London… (ONE of the Few clubs that are actually making a difference to their members) and entered into conversation with a friend from London and enquired as to how many of HIS fellow members were in attendance. “NONE” was his reply! … “Too far… 20 miles too far”
I can count on one hand how many ‘Bonsai’ Clubs in the UK actually do ‘Bonsai’ and NOT simply promote planting trees in pots, keeping them healthy and calling them Bonsai. I understand that the social part of ‘being in a club’ is important, but not at the expense of ‘clipping the wings’ of those wanting more. The attitude of “Our club has been going for xxx years so we know more than that young upstart” And… “Why pay for a teacher when we know it all already” is a case of the blind leading the blind, stifling creativity and holds back those who wish to excel.
There is NO SUBSTITUTE to going to a exhibition of top class trees, no books, web site or video can compare with standing in front of a majestic living bonsai… having the ability to get up close and personal, to discuss with fellow enthusiasts and to delight in the wonder.
The Internet is NOT the answer however it goes a long way to helping understand the fundamentals, share Ideas, and learn techniques. There is NO SUBSTITUTE for working in three dimensions on a living tree, understanding its unique traits, horticultural requirements particular to your location and actually sharing ideas. It’s no wonder that those who wish to excel or simply create good bonsai leave clubs and seek out, like minded individuals, teachers and workshops beyond their locale.
I have know many of the members of Wirral Bonsai Society for quite a few years and have spoken there on a few occasions. A truly active club and a model for others to follow. They have an annual show who’s quality is extremely high.
This from their VERY up to date Website
“New members are always welcome, just come along to one of our monthly meetings at the RAFA club. You can even ‘try us out’ for a few months before you decide on joining as an official member. The meetings are informal (there’s a bar!) and the club members are (mostly) friendly, approachable and happy to pass on guidance and information to anybody interested in bonsai- whatever your level of experience.”
Recent entries on the website include:
- Feeding Regimes
- Bonsai Diary 2011
- Manufacturing Seaweed Extract
- The Idiots guide to repotting
- Winter Preparation
- Raft Planting
I recommend anyone who is interested in joining a very active club and is within an hours drive to consider Wirral. one of the best in the North West of the UK