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.

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.

Enrico Savini’s amazing ‘The Eye of The Cyclone’ Juniper Bonsai

One of the best parts of staying over at a Bonsai masters house is that you can get up close and personal to the trees, this video shows ‘The Eye of The Cyclone’ Juniper Bonsai from all angles. It’s an amazing tree and the work done is superb. I first saw this tree when It won the Noelanders Trophy in 2010.