Saturday, September 22, 2012

Maple air-layer

First tiny buds on my air-layered Japanese maple.
Having read up and watched some videos on doing air-layers, my fingers were itching to try it out. I first scouted a place in the far north east corner of Kyoto, following a stream about as far up as I could go. There were lots of maples growing wild along the steep sides of the valley, growing in all kinds of weird bends and shapes grasping for light. I spent hours looking at trunks and branches, following the lines, trying to measure up their potential for a small tree in a pot. As I don't really have the "eyes" for bonsai yet, I find this incredibly challenging, but it's fun and I'm sure practice make perfect. I was careful not to consider anything growing close to a path as I think it would be offensive to any passer by to find a cut stump in the middle of wilderness. I doubt the place gets much traffic though..

I came back the next weekend with all the stuff I needed. It was early June, a bit late perhaps, but I decided to give it a shot. Most instructions mention holes in the top and bottom for drainage and refill, but being as remote as it was, I would hardly be able to come back and water it often enough, so I went for a big bulge of sphagnum and then did my best to cover it as air-tight as possible.

I checked on it a few weeks later and it was still moist and good, the bark above the cut cracking up and showing white callous-like tissue so I wrapped it back up and decided to wait for a full three months. Early September, I was disappointed to find only a few short stubby roots, growing mostly just on the underside of the branch. Judging by the smell of things, some kind of rot was getting to the moss, it's possible some water had seeped in from above and saturated the whole package as it was pretty wet. I knew that the few roots would be far from enough to support much of anything, but if I left it for another few months or over the winter, it seemed likely that it would all just rot and die. The fact that my calendar said "Pick up air-layer" was probably a big factor too. With that mindset, it's hard to make an objective decision.

So I cut it off and brought it home. I had gotten a big pot, tray, a brick of palm fiber and some rice husk charcoal (don't ask me) at a 100yen shop, so I mixed up the fiber and charcoal in akadama and potted the stump, still covered with some bits of moss still clinging to it to protect the roots. Soon the leaves started wilting, drying crisp and green, so I got a 90L clear plastic bag and covered the whole thing to help it retain some moisture, and put it on the table in my tiny room. The leaves slowly shriveled up and turned brown, but now the tree appeared to have a chance to suck the juices back down before dropping the leaves. Along with the humidity came a lot of fungus, and I recently spent an evening scraping of the rotted bark. Pros and cons.

Now two weeks later, a few tiny buds are swelling and developing fast, a great joy to behold. It will be interesting to see if the tiny twig will have a chance to harden off before winter. It's late in the season of course, but on the other hand, the winters here are pretty late and mild.
I've done a lot of things wrong, but I'm learning a lot! I just can't decide whether the plastic bag was a good thing or not. I'm leaning towards the former as I think a lot of "juice" would have been trapped in the foliage and leaf-stalks if they dried out quicker. The fungus did quite a lot of damage too, but it's possible those areas of bark would have died off anyway.

If you have any thoughts or suggestions, hit me in the comments. Even if it's a year from now, I'd love to hear it!
Full view of my experiment. Wires have since been applied to keep it steady.
These were right next to the place I was working. Amazing how they survived as seedlings.
Keep trying buddy, you'll get there.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The slippery slope

I've always liked being in nature, especially hiking, but I had no thoughts of bonsai as I came to Kyoto in March last year. Yet when I found a discounted book on the subject for sale at a café, I immediately snapped it up. It all happened pretty fast after that. The single item on my Christmas wishlist was more bonsai books and the following spring some switch was flipped and I got completely absorbed with trees, watching all the pines and cherries and oaks and zelkovas and...
I also joined a monthly study group hosted by the only bonsai nursery I know of in Kyoto, Koju-en. I just wish we would meet more often. I have gotten in touch with a well-known master in Tokyo, and he seems open to the idea of accepting an apprentice. I'm super excited about that, there is nothing I want more than to start training over there.

More recently, I learned that well known bonsai professional Peter Warren from the UK also started as a freshly graduated student who went to Japan for a short trip without a thought of bonsai, discovered bonsai, and went on to study as an apprentice for seven years. I am not the first to walk this path, and I'm sure I'm not the last.

I don't own any mature or styled trees at the moment, as the regulations on importing plants to Sweden are strict so I'm not sure I would be able to bring anything back. Outside the monthly meetings I've mostly been "getting a feel for it" by digging up small seedlings and nursing them to bigger plants, rooting cuttings and collecting and sowing seeds. I even tried a few air-layers in the forest. More on that soon.
If I could go back in time, I would have gotten a few trees from the start to play with, and then perhaps sold them at one of the auctions organized by the nursery if I decided it was impossible to bring them home.

What is your story? I would love to hear if anyone else had a similar start in their life as bonsaiists, or what it was that got You started.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

First post!

Let me start off with a bit of background about myself and what I have in mind for this blog.
I was born and raised in the suburbs of Stockholm, Sweden. I moved to Uppsala to earn a degree in chemistry. During that time, I studied as an exchange student in Sendai, Japan for one year. I had a fantastic time and as soon as I came home to Sweden, I started longing to go back to Japan. I eventually found a scholarship for two years of graduate level studies in Japan and now here I am, working on my Masters thesis in Kyoto with high hopes of graduating by the end of March next year.
I came down with the bonsai-fever sometime at the end of 2011, but more on that in another post.

My imagined reader is the next lucky fellow who happens to be in the Kyoto or Kansai area, gets mad about bonsai and wants to get at it sooner than quick. Or any happy traveller. Well anyone who takes an interest really :)

Oh, and about the name of the blog? I just had the most incredible experience once, when I brought home a small seedling plant of Katsura - Cercidiphyllum japonica. The leaves got a bit ruffled in my bag on the way home so when I opened the bag and brought it out, the leaves gave off this extraordinary fantastic sweet fragrance. I was stunned, baffled, just couldn't bring myself to stop smelling it, at the same time giggling at my own reaction. The sweetness of the scent was somehow light, balanced, just perfect and utterly addictive. It's a good thing the foliage gives off this scent naturally in the autumn as they are about to fall, otherwise I would probably be left with a brown barren stick by now.
Trees can be like that - no matter how much you take in, you keep wanting more.  :)