Northern European Bonsai/Beer tour 2013

Two days ago I started on my Northern European bonsai tour 2013, this time I have brought my apprentice Mikey along for the experience and to broad and to keep me awake during the driving.

We set off at 6.00am for The Tunnel at 11.20am arriving in good time only to discover that there was a delay due to ‘train problems!” that gave us enough time to have lunch. Once through the tunnel it was two hours to my friend Stéphane who was to be my host for the next two nights.

noelanders club membersAfter a quick dinner the first engagement was a surprise visit to the Noelanders club.

The Noelanders club is no ‘ordinary’ bonsai club, with over 80 members they are active, engaging and forward thinking. The Club meets on the first Wednesday of every month. This evening was their annual general meeting… that took place at 6.30 but we arrived at 7.30 for the general meeting. I have many friends who are the members of this club through visits and the wonderful ‘Noelanders Trophee’ that they host each January.

Marc NoelandersWe were in for a treat, due to the unseasonal cold weather Europe is experiencing the program for the evening changed because the material to be discussed could not be used as it was frozen I think? So Marc Noelanders stepped up to the plate and worked on a magnificent raw material Taxus Cuspidata, he styled it into a spectacular semi cascade. I chose to sit near ‘The Bad Boys’ table where the ‘Blonde Leffe’ drinkers were (Gentlemen prefer ‘Blondes’) I love Belgium, great bonsai, beer and friends.

The next morning I held a workshop hosted by Stéphane, eight participants each bringing their trees for wok and discussion. Again they were engaging and enthusiastic working on existing bonsai and raw material. Later in the evening Mikey relaxed and I styled a small larch for Stéphane… oh yes and I drank beer!

Today we visited Jean Paul Polmans and his rather extensive garden and bonsai collection, it is simply not fair that one artist has SO MANY amazing bonsai AND incredible yamadori raw material in his back garden. I had to haul Mikey away.

Bonsai museumNow I am in Dusseldorf and the Bonsai Museum for a special event that takes place tomorrow, the museum is the brainchild of Werner Busch and a close group of friends, the layout is excellent with descriptions and history of the trees on information panels (all in German) there is a HUGE selection of bonsai both styled and semi-styled, pots and bonsai related items for sale too!  … the report from the event will come next.


Noelanders Trophy XIV report and comments

It’s exactly one week since the Noelanders Trophy XIV took place at the Centrum voor Duurzaam Bouwen, in Heusden-Zolder, Belgium. It’s a superb venue large and full of light offering a wonderful space to exhibit trees of all size.


Winning Tree a Picea

I arrived in Belgium ahead of the foul weather on Thursday evening, this afforded me a leisurely start on Friday setting up my trade stand an securing an early slot to have my Exhibition trees photographed by Willy Evenepoel for the Exhibition book. Such is the popularity of the event Willy finished photographing the trees at 2.30am the following morning! As the participants in the exhibition and traders started to arrive and set up it became clear that the weather was going to cause everyone a heap of trouble. It was thick with snow and a VERY cold -8c.

With Jeremy and Youri

With Jeremy and Youri

Friday at Noelanders is a mixture of frantic unpacking, setting up and catching up… Nothing can beat meeting up with friends from across Europe and my good friend Sebastijan Sandev has made a wonderful video that captures the mood perfectly. Dinner on Friday evening was at the event as it has a rather good restaurant! Then it was an early night ready for the weekend.

Saturday is ALWAYS a busy time because bonsai folk want to get to the traders early so as to select the best material and any ‘bargains’ to be had.

On Saturday and Sunday afternoon there were simultaneous demonstrations by these guys:

  • Enrico Savini from Italy
  • Carlos Van der Vaart from the Netherlands
  • Robert Steven from Indonesia
  • Suthin Sukosolvisit from the United States of America
  • Werner Busch from Germany
  • Luis Vallejo from Spain

Saturday evening was the gala dinner, and it’s always quite an event, the second year running Ryan Neil and a couple of his state side buddies along with Peter Warren and Peter Snart made up the table with Mikey and me. Walter Pall chose to miss this year therefore the proceeding was somewhat quieter on our table.

Ilex Serrata by John Brocklehurst

Ilex Serrata by John Brocklehurst

Early Sunday morning enabled me to video the whole exhibition, every tree, accent planting and details. The videos are split across eight movies exactly as the show was set up, so the Shohin is on one movie, large trees another etc. The weather had taken a severe turn for the worse and the number of visitors reflected that…
Same time next year and same place, I will be there and hopefully have trees selected. I take my hat off to the organisers of this wonderful event as it is run with precision and friendliness, lets make sure that the bonsai community continue to support the event and continue to make it THE premier event in Europe.

All 8 Videos from the Noelanders Trophy watch here

Willy Evenepoel is the master photographer of the Noelanders Trophy

Willy Evenepoel is the master photographer for the annual Noelanders trophy in Belgium. Willy is a superb craftsman and takes his time to ensure that your tree is photographed in the best possible situation. It may take time and you may well have to wait many hours to have your tree included in the books that follows… but it is worth it and it is a testament to Willy’s professionalism that the bonsai artists of Europe trust him to photograph their trees.

Noelanders Trophy 2013, have you had trees selected?


If you entered tree for the Noelanders Trophy and on checking you email this morning you should have received an email for the Secretaris Bonsai of the Event. There will be joy for those who have had bonsai selected and disappointment for the rest.

If you have organised a bonsai exhibition no matter what ‘level’ the show be it club or national the selection process is often fraught and difficult. Informing those who have been successful is easy, letting those who have not been less so. So I was very impressed with the procedure adopted by the organisers of the Noelanders Trophy, here is a sample from the email:

Reasons for not accepting bonsai are very diverse. Some of these bonsai will become good bonsai in the future, but based on the pictures, they were not yet ready for exhibition. This means that we would like to see these trees again in a few years as participant.

Other bonsai didn’t have enough intrinsic qualities to participate in an international contest, in which we want to surprise the spectators with exceptional trees in their best condition. This is not detrimental to your work nor to the joy that you experience with this bonsai.”

The selectors address two issues:

The first being that the tree is not mature as a bonsai and thus not ready to show. We have been too eager to show trees too early, too little foliage, poor ramification or ‘just been styled’ This is a BIG problem for many bonsai shows particularly when traditionally too few people submit their trees for exhibition, should selectors accept a tree to ‘make up the numbers’ or keep the quality high but have fewer trees? This is NOT the case for the Noelanders Trophy as I am aware that it is massively oversubscribed and can afford to be selective, it IS the premier Bonsai event in Europe after all!

The second issue of “Not upsetting the entrant” by letting them down gently! They may well have worked on the tree for many years, paid for an expensive pot, commissioned a handmade table and the tree has not been accepted “This is not detrimental to your work nor to the joy that you experience with this bonsai.”

Let me put the statement: “we want to surprise the spectators with exceptional trees in their best condition.” into context. If I travel over 1000 miles pay for a ferry, stay in a hotel for three nights, take two days off work and all the expense associated I want to be damn sure that the exhibited trees will be worth the effort. That and the quality and range of traders make the journey more than worthwhile.

So if on this occasion you have not been selected go to the event, see the quality and it will give you something to aim for, because you are worth it.

If you were wondering? Yes… I have had two trees selected.