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’

Among the Ancient Yews of Borrowdale

Earlier this month I made a pilgrimage to Borrowdale in the Lake District, a beautiful area and home to some of the most amazing trees in the UK. I went in search of some amazing ancient Yew trees, described by the Poet Wordsworth as ‘the Fraternal Four’ – though there are now only three.

Tony with the oldest of the Yews

“But worthier still of note
Are those fraternal Four of Borrowdale,
Joined in one solemn and capacious grove;
Huge trunks! -and each particular trunk a growth
Of intertwisted fibres serpentine
Up-coiling, and inveterately convolved, –
Nor uninformed with Fantasy, and looks
That threaten the profane;”

It is hard to believe that these three trees are not signposted, despite one of the trees being named by the Tree Council and selected as one of the 50 Great British Trees recognised to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002. Difficult to find the only ‘threat’ to these trees being the 140 inches of rainfall and the harsh growing conditions. I took with me a superb account from Toby Hindson (you can download it here) who in 2012 recorded in detail the condition of the remaining trees.

dry River bed walk inWe arrived in the Borrowdale valley armed with our directions yet still found them difficult to locate, I called to a group of walkers across a field of grazing sheep “are you searching for the Yews?” not realising that they probably thought “Ewes”… Carolyn was in hysterics.

After consulting the OS map we identified the location and set off alongside a dry river bed, the hillside was deep with ferns and dry as tinder. The route up the Trees is over granite Talus and they are growing on and between the large stones, the largest tree growing over a large rounded boulder.

Inside a hollow with new growth in the canopyThe three trees grow close to each other and create a strange mystical atmosphere under the canopy. I had an amazing feeling of euphoria during the whole time I was among the ancients, my friends simply could not believe that they were stood in visible history, they too were entranced.  In 2005 the crown of the oldest tree literally ‘snapped’ off. It lies alongside the bulk of the tree as a white skeleton. The deadwood on the main tree is something to behold, bleached white by the sun it’s a great model for bonsai. All the trees are hollow the oldest is so large that 6 persons can easily stand inside, the other two trees display copious deadwood that is not bleached white but rotting brown. All have low hanging branches that are regenerating.

In the book “The Sacred Yew” Alan Meredith considered these trees to be Neolithic, the National Trust approximately 2500 I am with Meredith, these trees are ancient. From my own experience and visits to many old and ancient Yews in the UK including the Fortigall Yew at Glen Lyon, these trees may well be over 5000 years old.

Next time you venture into the Lake District take the time to visit The ancients, you will not be disappointed.

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.

Did I really climb so far for Yamadori?

I went collecting in the mountains of Slovakia with Pavel Slovak and a few guys from Slovakia, these guys are hard core that’s for sure. A total of 4 hours climbing made me realise that I was a lightweight when it came to seeking out Yamadori. The longest time I have taken to get to a site in the UK is less than one hour and requires an elevation of under 300 mtrs. This video shows how unbelievable I found the climb to be, and when Roman filmed this we were ONLY half way there!

A week in Israel the High and low points of the tour

What an amazing week I had in Israel with Enrico Savini and his student Tommaso Triossi we were invited by Ofer Grunwald to do a demo at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens at the end of the week (this will be another post). We travelled to the north and the highest point in Israel, Mount Herman and to the lowest, The Dead Sea. the week has been filled with great conversation, food beer and of course bonsai.

Israel has been a revelation, far from being a radical Jewish state I found it to have a massive cultural mix that ‘get along’ well with the only ‘strange’ group being the Hasidic Jewish people. They are NOT liked by the majority of the population as they are, in terms of population in the minority yet hold a major political influence on the country… I have seen more Hasidic Jewish in Prestwich near where I live than in Tel Aviv! With their distinct dress, Hasidic Jews are pretty hard to miss, and that’s part of the point. They believe their faith separates them from the general population and that their style of dress should reflect this distinction. It’s also an expression of their commitment to tradition, as their dress today was typical for Ukrainian Jews 250 years ago. What they fail to get their heads around is that its mostly cold in Ukraine/Poland and HOT in Israel, it was 36c and I was roasting in shorts and  T-Shirt these guys were dressed for 20c below!

Israel is a truly beautiful and I have kept an open mind to the troubles that continually seem to dog this tiny country. I have stayed overnight with the Bedouin and listened to their plight, talked to the Muslims in the old City and discussed at length with my host the complex makeup of Israel. My conclusion is that they all want to live in Peace, its just the radical factions on all sides that simply don’t.