Updated: Jan 7
It is often the case in any hobby, but especially in the world of Bonsai where we all have those " Ah Ha! " moments that seem to set us off in a direction of higher quality work. Some people can recall the exact moment that something clicked and they seen an instant boost in their work, For others it was a more subtle moment that seemed to have had the biggest impact. Today i am going to try and out line a few of what i think might be some of the more important things that might change the way you think about your future work and give you an instant boost in the quality of your work.
When starting out like most Bonsai Beginners i first went to a big box store and proceeded to pay massive dollars for what was very average material, Now i say average material as this is how i see it now that i have experienced a wide range of trees in the world of Bonsai. At the time i thought i had bought the best tree in the world and the fact i paid a big price for it didn't seem to bother me. The weeks that followed like most other Bonsai Beginners saw me purchasing every type of starter stock i could get my hands on because i was so enthused with the art i just had to own a maple, and an elm, and a Japanese box etc etc. Before i knew it i had a lot of trees around the place with 1 of most species and what i thought would be the start of a great Bonsai Garden. As months passed and my enthusiasm grew and grew i had watched every youtube channel, scoured the forums and looked through books and i quickly realised something, My garden and the Trees within look nothing like the Trees and Garden i was looking at else where. " Ah Ha! " moment number one, it will be 5 - 10 years before my trees or garden even come close to looking half as decent as the ones i am looking at because my Garden is full of Starter Trees....
This was the first moment my trees got a substantial upgrade. I jumped in the car and drove almost 2 hrs too the closest Bonsai Nursery near me. When i arrived i could not believe the difference in material in front of me and the pricing, For half the price i was paying at big box stores for smaller un trained material i could purchase larger Pre Bonsai Material that had some initial work done. This made a huge difference instantly too my collection, i had a few larger trees that also allowed me to properly practising techniques that i had been learning such as wiring branches and Design, i had literally taken 2-3 years off my journey by purchasing decent stock.
Now the second part too choosing better stock was once i had found a place that had decent material i needed to learn how to choose the right tree among the 1000s that were available. At first this doesn't seem like it would matter but this can shave another year or 2 off that trees journey. Once i had found my ( Kinda Local ) Bonsai Nursery i was so excited and enthused by the range and size of the stock i was willy nilly purchasing the biggest trees i could find. "Ah Ha! " moment number 2. After purchasing a few trees and learning more and more about the traditional styles of Bonsai and some of the design guidelines i quickly realised that if you don't know what you are looking for you could be purchasing a whole mess of imperfections that could take years to rectify and if not rectified straight away you may have to start again with the tree further down the track once you do see these things more clearly. I had a whole bunch of trees i had to make some big cuts too as i had realised i would never make a " Great " Tree out of the material and if i wanted to practise at a higher level i needed to start over. But choosing the right stock to begin with can save all this time. Focus on the first few inches of the tree, This is called the "Tachiagari". The Tachiagari is the area between the Nebari ( Root Base ) and the Ichi Eda ( First Branch ), you may hear some people refer to the first branch as the Sashi Eda ( Directional Branch ), But this is only if the first branch moves with the direction of the composition.
In the Tachiagari we are looking for a good root base ( Nebari ), Some nice initial movement before the Ichi Eda ( First Branch ) with no inverse taper and if your really lucky a well place first branch usually on the outside of a bend. Some other things to look for would be a tree with naturally small foliage, some parent trees produce better foliage then others. And also any kind of Features the tree might have such as an interesting shari, Jin, Scarring or anything else that catches the eye.
The reason we need to look here is because these first things low down on the tree are usually very hard to fix if not impossible. Anything above that can generally be cut and re grown and styled as it grows to ensure there are no imperfections. This is especially true of conifers, If you buy a stock tree and it has a lot of foliage up high and nothing down low then you cant actually cut the tree down lower to start again as you need to keep foliage on the tree. The chances of getting back budding that far away from where all the energy in the tree is will be slim ( on most conifers, there are some exceptions like Black Pine which will back bud well if you feed it heavy ).
I hope that little story helped you realise how changing your mindset on something as simple as where and what material to buy can massively change the quality of your trees, i ma going to list a few other things below for you to research as well which will help push you further in the right direction. I will be doing videos and articles on all these things moving forward but in the meantime there are lots of places you can learn these things, Or you can also join once of our Master Class Online Bonsai Courses ( Shameless Plug ). They are literally the quickest way to grow your skills and knowledge https://www.bonsai-en.com.au/master-class-series . If there are no classes listed at the time you look be patient and check back regularly as we are always running new and repeated courses.
Ok so here are the other things to learn to help you Grow Rapidly!
Learn How To Properly Develop Trees.
Learn About Proper Soil Substrates, Learn Each Substrates Characteristics To Better Understand What Is Best To Use In Your Trees.
Learn About Fertilizer.
Study The Guidelines Of Bonsai Design https://www.bonsai-en.com.au/post/the-rules-of-bonsai-lets-call-them-guidlines
Learn Proper Watering Technique.
Learn The Specific Care Instructions For Each Species You Have, No Technique In Bonsai Can Be Used Universally Among All Your Trees ( Not Even Wiring! ).
Always Learn Why Rather Then Just How, If You Don't Know Why You Are Doing Something The You Probably Shouldn't Be Doing It. Bonsai Practise Is Full Of Well Thought Out Techniques Practised At The Right Times.
Learn The Difference Between The 2 Stages Of Bonsai, "Development" and "Refinement".
Learn Your Environment And What Trees Will Thrive And What Trees Wont. If You're Wanting To Grow Tropical Trees In A Cold Environment You May Need To Build Special Structures To House Your Trees During Colder Seasons.
Study Top Level Trees And Take Notice Of How They Follow Certain Guidelines and What That Does To There Trees, Also Take Note Of Those Who Push The Boundaries And See How Sometimes There Is Room To Move Outside Of The Traditional Standards Of Bonsai!
Until Next Time, Enjoy Your Bonsai Journey.