Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Annual exhibition of the Bonsai Society of Sydney

About two weeks ago I saw the annual exhibition of the Bonsai Society of Sydney. It was enjoyable. I love the ikebana component of their show. In fact, the standard of their ikebana arrangements is probably higher than the standard of their bonsai. Images above show a tree and a suiseki I liked the most.


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Demonstration by Masashi Hirao

Last weekend, Bonsai Society of Sydney hosted two demonstrations by a Japanese bonsai artist Masashi Hirao. We were told that he is 32 years old and from 2003 till recently he had been an apprentice at Mansei-en in Omiya. Now, he is working in a company called Advance K & B Farms Corporation located in Omiya, which specialises in exporting koi and bonsai overseas. He is a recipient of a Japanese government grant given to young artists to promote Japanese culture abroad. Apparently, he has to visit ten countries in 120 days. Before the demonstration he showed us a short video about his apprenticeship under Saburo Kato and the preparation for the trip. Masashi also showed us a pair of stainless steel gold plated bonsai scissors given to him by Saburo Kato. They are his talisman. After this he proceeded to style a Procumbent Juniper shown in the image A. After two hours of pruning and wiring he presented us with the tree shown in the image B. On the previous day he conducted a similar demonstration where he styled a Sergeant’s Juniper shown in the image C. I felt that the tree in image B was a more interesting material than the tree in image C and that inspired grater expectations for the demonstration on the day. 

Well, what can I say? Two hours is a very short time for a demonstration on a tree like this. Masashi sure can prune and wire very fast, but after nearly ten years as a bonsai apprentice it can be expected. He said that usually it would take him six hours to style a tree like this. In my opinion the ‘finished tree’ shown in the image B has no appealing form and shows no future promise of it. Masashi said it is a natural style. Sure one may encounter a tree of this shape in nature, but I don’t find it particularly elegant. On the other hand, the tree shown in the image C is styled in a more conventional way and it could become a graceful bonsai in the future. Looking at the two trees styled by Masashi I see extremes, one is usual and the other is odd. I should see more of his work before forming an opinion. Overall, the demonstration was quite entertaining and I enjoyed it.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Latest wood-fired bonsai pots

A couple of weeks ago, I fired another batch of bonsai pots in a wood-fired kiln. I actually had six pots ready, but only three were packed into the kiln. Although I used the same glazes as in the last firing, the results were different. One of the pots had to come home with its kiln shelf (image A), because its rutile glaze ran so much that it got welded to the self (image B). Once it was cut off the shelf, I decided not to remove remnants of clay attached to its feet (image C). It is a unique feature of the pot, which tells a story. Besides, it doesn’t affect the looks of the pot (image D).

The other two pots came out well too. The pot shown in the left image below was made of the same clay and coated with the same gaze as the pot in the images above, however these two pots look different. Also, the glaze on the pot shown below didn’t run and it didn’t get stuck to the kiln shelf. The reason for it is variation in temperature and kiln atmosphere across the kiln.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Tsubo niwa on a shoe string

Six years ago, I moved into a townhouse with a small backyard and that allowed me to take up bonsai. Now, I live elsewhere, but in this post I would like to pay a little tribute to that tiny piece of land.

Just months before the house was sold my daughter asked me to make a little Japanese garden. The available space was enough to create a tsubo niwa, a courtyard garden the size of one tsubo (3.3 m2). The idea grew on me and after a while I decided to do it as a challenge. I usually hoard found objects in hope of using them in the garden one day. If I could come up with a garden design incorporating all those found objects, the garden would be inexpensive. Soon I had a plan shown in the drawing below.

The design had to take in to account several considerations:

a) It had to fit into a 2 x 1.5 m plot (coincidently about one tsubo in area).
b) It had to use existing plants, preferably without transplanting them.
c) It had to make maximum use of found objects (which included artificial rock made of polyurethane).
d) It had to incorporate two existing posts supporting overhead irrigation system.
e) It had to have a barrier preventing my dog from entering it.

Now you understand why I considered this design a challenge. Below is a step-by-step rundown of how it all happened.

1 – The area before any work began.
2 – The ground is cleared and sprayed with a weedicide. Two existing plants a tree fern and a camellia are left as they were.
3 – The fence is lined with reed screen. The ground is covered with weed cloth. The artificial rocks are laid out to form garden boundary. The fronds of tree fern had to be removed because of the skin irritation they cause.
4 – Pieces of ceramic pipe, bricks and artificial rocks are arranged to form a retaining wall. This wall will form the boundary of a mossy island surrounded by white pebbles.
5 – The island is filled with soil mix.

6 – Stone lantern and a flat rock in front of it are set in place. The top part of the
lantern (spire, roof and firebox) was a found object, but the bottom (firebox platform and post) was carved by me out of hebel. I made it to resemble Oribe style lantern.
7 – The top of the retaining wall is raised higher and shaped with clay. The island is toped up with more soil mix.
8 – Moss is planted on the island surface. All moss was collected in my backyard.
9 – Unwanted rocks and ceramic pieces are laid out to reduce the amount of pebbles to be used in the garden.
10 – The garden is filled with white pebbles and another stepping stone is set in front of the lantern. Timber post at the back is wrapped with reed screen to blend with the background. The timber post at the front is replaced with a thin copper pipe to make it less noticeable. I inserted a steel rod inside the pipe to give it structural strength. This copper pipe is also a part of a fence formed by a very thin wire to prevent my dog from entering the garden.

11 – Artificial rocks forming the garden boundary are rearranged to reduce the area of the garden.
12 – The tree fern with its first new leaf.
13-14 – The tree fern with its first flush of new leaves. A ceramic mask (made by me) is hung to conceal the junction between the timber structure and the top end of the copper pipe.
15 – The base of the copper pipe post is concealed by a rock. A ceramic water basin (made by me) is set in front of the lantern. I meant to reduce the basin's height and place it closer to the lantern, but the house was sold by then.

I had a score of ideas for improving and refining this garden, but it wasn't mine any more. It fulfilled its primary function though - it made my daughter happy. In fact, she could see the garden from her room without even getting out of bed. Image below left shows the intended angle for viewing the garden. Image below right shows the garden in the context of the backyard.

You might say this garden looks a little tacky, but can you do better for less than $200?

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Pest of the month: California Red Scale

Last month, I was pruning and wiring an African Olive tree and noticed a profusion of tiny scale insects on its leaves (image A). What you see on the leaves is not the actual insect, but the waxy secretion which serves as a protective shell (image B). You need to flip the scale over to expose the soft and vulnerable body of the insect (image C). To identify the species of a scale insect one must prepare a microscope slide, which usually takes a couple of days. Once the slide is prepared the insect looks as shown on image D. In this case, it turned out to be California Red Scale (Aonidiella aurantii). It is better known as an economically important pest of citrus. To control the infestation of such scale insects, I prefer to spray the pant with a systemic insecticide. If the problem persists spray it again according to instructions on the label.

I have noticed something curious about California Red Scale. Its rear end shown by the arrow in image D has peculiar structures, which look like windswept bonsai (see the image below).