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.

The Twisted Yew AKA ‘The Calligrapher’ Case Study over 12 years

From the moment that this Yamadori Yew (Taxus Baccata) was collected from the wild it had the promise that one day it would be a great little bonsai. It had such a lovely movement throughout the whole of the tree, all it need to have was more compact foliage and a strong root system. I estimated that it would take six years to be presentable… it as taken twelve years.

Collected from a rocky outcrop in England this yew was connected to a much larger tree that was collected at the same time by one of my friends. It was planted in a tall wooden box to accommodate the roots… and looked destined to be styled as a cascade.

In the first two years the tree thrived, having been planted in a very open soil mix of 30% Acadama / 30% sharp grit / 30% Biosorb /10% chopped Sphagnum Moss it made great progress.

In 2000 the first styling was done as part of an article for Bonsai Focus Magazine, the deadwood was cleaned and the live vein defined. The foliage had its first styling and a virtual image was created in Photoshop, it looked like the style of the tree was established, it was indeed a cascade. The tree was to remain in the box until strong enough to be transplanted all it required was foliage to mature and placing in it final pot. There was a problem concerning the symmetry of the deadwood, it had the same shape as a milk maids ‘Yoke’ however this would be eventually hidden by the foliage clouds.

The box containing the Yew started to disintegrate; it was time to pot the tree in its final pot but on revealing the roots a substantial section of the trunk that was buried became evident; it had great movement but was not considered in the original design. The decision was easy; I will redesign the tree to accommodate the newly discovered hidden beauty. The tree was planted in a rather nice Gordon Duffet pot I had standing around, it just fitted the roots comfortably this was never going to be the final planting angle or pot… it was a stopgap until I decided what to do.

So now I had a dilemma… the original style was simply not working and another design had to be considered, but it would need a year or two to fully recover and develop more foliage. Over these two years I studied the tree in great detail, turning, tilting, reversing the direction of the foliage, nothing worked… this was a difficult tree… despite the fantastic curves and twists it was proving to be an IMPOSSIBLE tree.

That fundamental change in 2004 was to cut the live vein away from the deadwood in the upper section of the tree…bringing the foliage pad closer to the ‘action’ and removing the ‘yoke’ shape forever. The removal of the deadwood and bending of the live vein took about two hours work, the whole area was wrapped in sphagnum moss and left for a year to set and the foliage to develop.

Even after the bend had set the design was not established… it’s just that I had a better chance of creating a satisfactory design. What became apparent was that the deadwood was simply too ‘heavy’ and required refining to reflect the sinuous flow of the trunk, even the very best Yamadori may require major work to bring out the very best in the material.

The first styling of the tree took place in April 2005 at one of my Burrs Bonsai workshops, this was to set the tree on the final stages of the design, once the main branches we placed and the trunk line established, the ramification and maturing of the foliage began.

When working on such a fine small tree attention to detail is important, the natural deadwood has an easy flow and rhythm, any intervention (carving) had to be in sympathy with the existing deadwood. In 2007 removing the bulk of the deadwood was done with the new Beaver 3.1 tool from Portugal, supplemented with the finer Beaver 1.1,  the mass of deadwood was punctuated with two major holes and channels to reflect the harsh life the tree had prior to collecting from the wild, finishing was with a very stiff wire brush hand tool. I would normally sand blast the deadwood to create an even more ‘natural’ finish however this tree had undergone enough ‘radical’ work and I was very happy with the result from the Beaver and wire brush.

The final styling came in February 2008, the creation of three foliage ‘clouds’ that were placed close to the trunk gave the bonsai depth, the sinuous movement of the tree could now be fully enjoyed so the final potting could take place. A nicely understated Ian Baillie drum pot in deep red was chosen; this provided a solid visual base to the bonsai. Potting the tree in the desired position proved challenging as the tree had no nebari, the stability was created by introducing a character stone and drilling a small hole through the tree and wiring it directly to the stone. This worked remarkably well affording the tree a solid fix in the pot.

The foliage now needs to fill out and the overall image mature, over the next few years this difficult little tree will develop into a lovely unusual bonsai. Far from the field grown, mass produced imports this bonsai stands apart. When visiting my garden in 2008 Sando Segneri loved the tree comparing it to the brush strokes on a Japanese Scroll, and as fate would have it in a single stroke the bonsai was named ‘The Calligrapher’

Two years ago I planted the tree in the spherical pot by Isabelia and this is the final image.

Potting a Strange Yew in a strange Pot