Radical bending on a Kifu Yew to place the character branch.

This lovely little Yew has been collected for 4 seasons and is ready to have some serious bending. I have waited until this seasons new growth has begun before I started the work. I wanted to use the thick branch with the extensive deadwood as a low character branch. The live vein ran up the back of the branch, 75% is deadwood. I started with a fine saw cut all the way through to the live so that when I split the branch it did not go too far down.

Using branch splitters and concave cutters I removed the deadwood as close to the live without compromising the health of the tree. I then drilled two holes into the sawn section, these would secure the thick copper wire that will support the branch and assist in the bend. The whole was then wrapped with wet raffia and secured with cable ties. The bend was done slowly with two hands ensuring a smooth curve with no ‘kinks’ in the live vein. The branch will now be left till the end of the season to recover and continue to grow.

Technique explained – Sandblasting a Yamadori Yew Bonsai

I sandblasted my first deadwood way back in 1992 and I guess I have blasted over 50 trees since then, I have perfected the technique of protecting the live veins, foliage and soil so that the aggressive nature of this technique does not upset the wellbeing of the tree.

As will any intervention on a bonsai the tree MUST be in great health. Never work on a tree that is recently collected yamadori or is not in the best health. This tree has grown well over the last three years and the deadwood was desperate to be worked. If I had waited another year the foliage would have restricted the access to in inner part of the tree, this is where the most interesting areas of deadwood are on view.

A few days before I removed an upright trunk and disguised by carving and stripping the cut, this can be seen in the photos as a bright orange area.

The process:

  • Gather the foliage up and bind with fine wire so that you have access to the live vein.
  • Using air-dried modelling clay cover the live veins right to the edge and at least 4mm thick, When dry (about 3 days) cover with Duck tape.
  • Completely cover over the soil and as close to the base of the trunk as possible, I use rubber inner tubes first then bind with commercial cling wrap.
  • Wrap the foliage in an old towel and then cover with a thick plastic bag.

The Blasting:

  • I use a commercial blasting service, you can find these locally via the internet.

The results are simply amazing, the deadwood is clean the splinters are removed from the branches I have snapped and all the detail is revealed. I do not put Lime Sulphur on immediately, as I like the wood to weather slightly prior to application.

Potting an old Yamadori Yew to encourage growth

George Yew march 2014George 1This is a very old Yew collected in 2010, it is a tree that I visited on the hill many times before the tree was collected, and one that I took students to as an example of a ‘real’ yamadori in the wild. It was never my intention to collect this tree, as it was very long, it was growing directly in a rock crevice on a cliff face with no foliage close to the base of the tree.

Whilst visiting the tree at the end of April 2010 I noticed that it had fallen from its lofty position and was being held in place by a very small section, the fierce weather that winter had dislodged the rock that was gripping the tree and the whole could at any time fall to the valley below.

tree fallen out of cliffThere was only one course of action, ‘Save the tree’ and this took place the next day. Four friends, two on ropes and one helping with passing tools etc. helped me. The tree came away in less than ten minutes as 95% of it was hanging in mid air… But with little root as most had snapped off in the winter storms, what you see in the photo are dead roots that have been exposed to the weather for many months, you can see where the large rocks have fallen away.

After the second year I removed the top of the tree after encouraging new buds lower down the trunk, this was done by slicing the live vein 2cm above the buds to stop the flow of sap and force it to the weaker buds, this worked remarkably well and will callus over at a later date.

The new grown lower down the trunk is now very strong. I have planted the tree in a much larger container to give free root growth to thicken branches and to place the tree closer to the final design I am after. The potting mix is 60% Pumice 20% Acadama and 20% Kiryu.

Tony with Yew on his Backbig Yew other side

deadwood and thick vein strong new growth new growth deadwood and live vein

The Calligrapher, The Books and the reasoning

calligrapher at NoelandersIn 2008 Sandro Segneri one of the invited artists at this years Noelanders Trophy was in my garden. Sandor was working at the Burrs workshop and was taking time out.

When he saw this Yew Sandro was drawn to the sweeping curves of the deadwood and likened the movement of the tree to calligraphy. I find it pretentious in naming your own trees, however I liked the name Sandro gave to this bonsai.

Finding the correct pot for this tree has not been an easy task, the tree has been potted in a number of different containers. Last year Erik Križovenský from Slovakia attended one of my workshops. He brought this unusual pot for me, it was not made especially but when I saw it I considered it to be an interesting match with this tree.

The Space available to pot the root ball is quite small, planted 18 months prior to the Noelanders trophy this tree would need to be transferred to a larger pot soon after the event.

In deciding how the tree would be presented I needed to consider the strange pot, the unusual style of the tree and its name. Terry Foster and I worked with a number of different tables and none really suited the tree. We decided to look for inspiration in the many bonsai exhibition books that I have. As we waded through the pile of books nothing presented itself as a suitable option. It was then that we noticed that pile of books and wondered if these in fact could be our table.

The original idea was to wrap the books with white covers, this would make the publications anonymous however it simply did not work. In deciding to use the books ‘as is’ made my job easier and the choice of books is key to the idea. If you look carefully at the spine of each book they all form the background to the styling of the tree.

Once this decision was made the choice of accompanying planting or supporting objects needed to be considered. An accent plant or something else, the choice of Calligraphic brushes and ink stone seemed the obvious choice.

On presenting the tree for photography at the event I was very happy with the selection of books and the colours of the binding.

The tree or should I say the display was received well with most liking what I present and making a point of telling me… and a few really not getting it!

close up of the the tree

I ventured opinions from those I valued, Peter Warren was candid stating “the focus is on the books and not the tree, even though the tree is good” and I admit on reflection he is right! Everyone talked about the books… and no mention of the tree.

When considering an unusual display the quality of the tree must be excellent and not play second fiddle and I fear this may have happened. However I was surprised that the display did not look out of place, and was somewhat disappointed that more folk did not rage against it. My old friend Bill Bailey did not mince his words “I don’t like it… but I AM a traditionalist” I also overheard this comment “if I wanted to see books I would have gone to a library” I take comfort in the words of Oscar Wilde “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”  And nobody talked about the ‘other’ tree I had in the show so I guess there IS merit in what I did.

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