The moment I realised Bonsai was what I wanted

This photo is a record of the most significant moment in my Bonsai journey. The year is 1991 and it’s the World Convention in Birmingham, England. THIS was the first time I saw actual real Bonsai in a proper location, displayed well. At the time my club did not want to drive the 80 miles or spend the princely sum of a £12 entrance. Terry and I realised that this was a great opportunity and ignored the objections from my club members and journeyed south. We were not disappointed, quite simply our minds were BLOWN! The size of the trees on display, the quality of display and how busy the show was. Lesson learned, follow your own path, do what is best for your own development and your older peers do NOT always know what’s best! And thank you Terry Foster for your friendship all these years.

Amazing ancient trees, exposed roots and wonderful silhouettes

Last weekend our group of friends had a walk around Derwentwater in the Lake District of England, we were blessed with a dry day and even a wee bit of sunshine. The wealth of amazing ancient trees, exposed roots and wonderful silhouettes was something to behold. Lots of great ideas and inspiration for bonsai. Some of the moss-covered woodland was quite reminiscent of ‘The Lord of the Rings’

Tom Benda Bonsai Potter and The Kifu Taxus Baccatta

Toms trade stand

Toms trade stand

I have seen the work of Tom Benda develop over the last few years however his most recent work is up there with the best bonsai potters in Europe. At the recent EDA UCHI KAI exhibition in Belgium Tom’s Trade stand was the busiest by far.My Yamadori trade stand backed onto Tom’s and we had a great weekend together. It was a classic case of “buy the pot NOW” because if you don’t somebody else would! So many pots were purchased in the first few hours of the weekend.

As he would have nothing to display the scope of his work, Tom requested that the buyers collect their purchases at the end of the show. Mario Komsta and Mark & Ritta Cooper snapped up dozens of pots between them, so often through the weekend I heard “Sorry that’s been bought by Mario”… “Mark and Ritta’s” “yes… that’s Marios too!” “no… sorry Tony Tickle has bought that”

This brings me to one of the Pots that I purchased, considered by Tom as “The best bonsai pot I have ever made” (what sales technique!) This was to be for a Kifu size Yamadori Taxus Baccata that I have been working for quite a few years. The current pot is by Milan Klika, lovely but not quite right for the tree, I will be potting the tree into the new container in April 2014. To ensure that the pot will indeed suit the tree I always produce a ‘virtual’ image.

NOTE: I am now the distributor for Toms pots and will be selling them on my stand at next years Noelanders trophy, so if you DO want to purchase one of Toms amazing Pots I suggest that you get there early

The Virtual Image

The Virtual Image

If it’s Thursday it’s Bonsai in the Czech Republic

Display of pots at Isabelia

Display of pots at Isabelia

My trip to visit Pavel and Czech Republic started on Thursday last week. I arrived at Bratislava airport at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon and was met by Pavel and Jakub his son who fortunately speaks great English. We then drove for a couple of hours to Isabelia Bonsai which is a large nursery in the Czech Republic. What really surprised me was the scale of this nursery certainly some of the very best Scots pine and I have seen in Europe. Trees that were raw material available for sale and many trees that were styled, I will be writing a separate blog post about this visit along with a video. Here we met with Mirek who is a good friend and client of Pavels after visiting Isabelia we went to a restaurant en route to Pavels house.

what would you like to drink

Beer, Slivovitz, or Coffee your choice

No matter what time of day every house that you visit in the Czech republic of Poland or Slovakia you will eat and it’s normally cooked meats breads and there is always beer! And the hospitality is second to none, great care was made ensuring that I had enough to eat, drink and I never left anywhere without a small gift!

Stone shopI am amazed at the amount of miles that Pavel is prepared to travel to find good trees. The next day we toured North, on route we visited a stone shop this was a big surprise me because I have never seen such an amazing place to buy stone. Again I will write a separate blog post about this shop just to say that they had stones from all over the world including China India and Turkey! we then visited Bonsai Centrum near Prague, this is a long established nursery specialising in small indoor and outdoor bonsai for those living in the city and surrounding areas. The owner is well traveled and has recently published his book in many languages, the gardens a extensive and very mature.

We then went on to a friend of Pavel’s who collects Yamadori Larch and Hawthorn, we drove for over 2 1/2 hours Mirek came along to look at a large Yamadori Pear that he wished to buy… most of the material was beginner stuff but there were a few choice trees tucked away that caught my eye.

Pavels bonsai garden

Pavels bonsai garden

This trip has proved to me that the UK is still way behind many European countries when it comes to connectivity. Every restaurant and bar, public place had free Wi-Fi even now I am sat in the airport at Bratislava using free Wi-Fi. All of the time that we were travelling Pavel had 3G throughout the whole country and he created a personal hotspot for me so that I could surf the web while we were driving… that is the reason there were so many of my checkin’s on Foursquare and Twitter… normally I would not use the web on my phone whilst travelling as the cost is usually so high.

On the subject of connectivity… Pavel’s house has numerous laptops, iPads, mobile phones all connected to the net 24 hours a day, the moment anything worth broadcasting (and sometimes NOT) its on Facebook or their blog.

Mireks garden

Mireks garden

The next morning we set off early to work in Mirek’s wonderful purpose built bonsai garden and studio. After a second breakfast I set to work on a tall juniper. This was only the second tree that Mirek had bought in his collection. It required rewiring and a few branches being moved, the crown of the tree was well established and only required trimming and thinning in parts. I then moved on to a Prunus Spinosa that I gave to Mirek when he visited my garden in 2011. The tree had established well and was ready for first styling, I believe that the Japanese style their Prunus specifically for the flowers and as such the style is very ‘free’ and NOT ridged… Most branches start off growing downward and then curve upwards, almost the opposite of a weeping Willow. We spent the whole day with Mirek in his garden, working, chatting and relaxing over good local Muscatel white wine.

Josef taking THAT photo of Tony

Josef taking THAT photo of Tony

Various friends arrived throughout the day including Josef who had the previous year visited Burrs. Josef is a great photographer and never stopped making photos all the time he was around. He chose to embarrass me by constantly uploading compromising images of me to Facebook… One is now my profile picture 🙂

We took time out to visit the Japanese garden Mirek had built for the local community. Mirek described the garden “This garden is a reflection of my soul”  That kinda knocked me over! Alongside is a Galley that shows the work of Czech artists, many pieces loaned by Mirek.

Mireks Japanese Garden

Mireks Japanese Garden

Outside cooking

Ziemniak po cabansku (potatoes on the fire)

The next day we visited a Scots Pine Yamadori collector, again very old great trees with deep fissured bark the guys bought a few trees choosing to collect them on another day as there was little room in the car. This was the day when the sun decided to show it’s face so we were treated to a traditional Polish meal cooked on an open fire in the garden.

On the way home we called at Pravoslav Dorda an amazing Bonsai Potter doing fine work that is rarely seen outside of the Czech Bonsai scene. Pravoslav or as EVERYONE calls him “Mr. Dorda” specializes in BIG pots that are high fired. I was invited to ‘have a go’… its been 35 years since I actually worked clay… to my surprise I could still throw a half decent pot (well I thought so)

Me actually throwing a pot!

Me actually throwing a pot!

wild flower seed head

wild flower seed head

On the last day Pavel took me to a place close by another place that we had visited before, I’m being vague for obvious reasons and these areas are closely guarded secrets. We were not there to collect any Yamadori… what we did was photograph wildflowers because this is the perfect time… late May.

The hospitality offered by the many people I met on this trip is difficult to explain let’s just say I made lots more new friends and I’m looking forward to my next trip back, my thanks goes to Mirek, Pavel and Jakub for his wonderful translation services.

Highlights from the Blog in 2012

This is my personal review of the Blog over the last 12 months, if you have missed any of these they are all available in the ‘Past Posts’ archive that you can access in the column on the right of the page.

January 13th Launch Blog

shohin juniper noelandersIn January I wrote 26 posts that included many ‘archive’ stories from visits and articles that I had written over the years, these continued into February with a further  32 posts. It is not possible to maintain that level of quality content throughout the year with a low point in June and July each with only 5 posts, the reason was simple… I was busy with actual bonsai in my garden!

Repotting the Fat Guy hawthornOne of the early highlights was the video of repotting and repositioning of the Fat guy Hawthorn, this has had over 22,000 views on YouTube. My coverage of the Noelanders Trophy also received a very high visitor rate. BUT my favourite entry was the video from Le Bonsaï Club du Léman BEST bonsai event Video EVER!

Ryan Neil at noelanders trophy

One of the purely ‘teaching’ posts was “Building a heating bed for overwintering Bonsai and Yamadori” this has been one my most popular posts with lots of email questions from visitors to the blog.

In February I started my ‘Bonsai Potter showcase’ series. Over the last 11 months  I have video ‘interviewed’ 11 potters across Europe and they have been very forthcoming with sharing techniques, ideas and experiences, I still have many more potter to chat to… so keep watching.

One-of-the-oldest-Yew-Trees-In-England-#1March is a busy time for me as it’s the moth that I collect Yamadori in earnest, on one of my trips I came across some of the oldest Yews Trees growing in cliffs in Europe quite amazing.

In April I was busy planning my upcoming Tour of Europe  that was taking place in May, My post on Hawthorns coming into leaf and using my new photo set up for the first time created a lot of traffic.

Tour MapMay was my month away from home Touring Europe and at the end of the month I visited Israel. When I travel I take my ‘tech’ with me and I was able to post almost daily on my travels. I have quite a few ‘trips’ organised for 2013 so expect more of the same J

June I was busy in my garden so posted archives from Israel.

Sandblasted 03July was the month I had waited 3 years for, where I was to cut my large Yamadori yew into two trees My very good friend Terry foster was on hand and the subsequent carving and sandblasting proved popular videos.

I did not post in August because I had nothing to say and I was away on holiday for most of the month 🙂

September I posted mostly archive content including “bonsai is NOT expensive” one of my many ‘rants’ on my Blog.

burrs-2012-poster-largeOctober was the build up to Burrs 2012 so I posted mostly ‘archive’ content.

November and Burrs 2012 was at the start of the month, this gave me a huge amount of content for the blog, I also commissioned a Professional Video of the event

December my post on Mizu Goke and the benefits to bonsai by Owen Reich was a real honour for me to post. Owen recognised that I have a long reach with the blog and he wanted to take advantage of that to engage a wide audience  (over 3,260 people follow the blog).

I launch my blog almost 12 months ago; I have posted 133 times and received 305 comments, over 366,000 views, 7,566 on my busiest day.  I wanted to be entertaining, inspiring, sharing, and teach, I hope I have done that well and engaged with the wider bonsai family both in the UK and beyond.