Now I Know Why Pots are So Expensive.


, , , , ,

Maybe not a perfect quote, but that was the gist of a comment during a recent ceramics workshop with some bonsai society members, “Now I know why pots are so expensive!”

Some of the content below is modified from a write up on that meeting that will be shared with the membership. I am going to take a risk and hope that if a couple of you readers are members, you won’t be offended that I share it here first.

The sunny, mild afternoon of December 3rd and Gary’s back yard provided the perfect setting for the second-ever NVBS Ceramics meeting. A small group met in Gary’s heated shed to continue developing basic ceramic hand-building skills. The focus of this meeting was a slab construction process which involves rolling out slabs of clay, designing and creating a paper template, then using the template to cut and assemble the slabs to create rectangular and oval pots.

The pots will be allowed to dry slowly and then loaded into the kiln and fired along with the pinch pots made during the first meeting. The next time we meet, we will be able to glaze and finish the pots that have been constructed.

Thanks to all who have expressed interest in getting involved. The instructors and host are working to develop a practical approach to extend this opportunity to additional members who want to learn this rewarding craft.

To close if like to share another quote from Gary who was talking about this work, “What is Bonsai after all? A tree in a POT!” We spend significant energy focusing on the tree. Why not also learn to build the pot?


Winter Protection 3 Ways


, , , , ,

For a hot second I considered calling this post “A Winter 3-Way” but I’d hate for a poor choice in title to keep this post from getting through someone’s filter. Of course, putting it in the first paragraph is probably no better. Oh well.

It’s the last week in November in Northern Virginia (in most places, truth be told). While the weather has been rather mild here, this is about the time of year I tuck my trees in for the winter by putting them in a place and manner that will provide some protection from the coldest weather of the season.

This year there are three ways I am arranging trees that will each provide different levels of protection.

#1 Least Shelter – some trees are just placed on the ground with a couple of my benches tipped and arranged to offer a slight barrier from strong, desiccating winds. Simply being in the ground will keep the roots (the most sensitive part of the trees in winter) several degrees warmer than if they were still up on benches. This arrangement also provides the most sunlight and is my choice for the larger conifers that will continue metabolic activity whenever the temperatures are warm enough (above 42 degrees by most sources).

#2 Light Shelter – For the first time this year I am using this temporary greenhouse structure to provide shelter for a number of smaller bonsai. Trees inside the greenhouse will have more protection from wind and will still get a good amount of light. The jury is still out on temperatures, though. The trees on the shelves don’t have the benefit of being on the ground like option 1, but the shelter will moderate temperatures to some degree when it is closed up for a cold spell. I will be monitoring this as we go through the winter.

#3 Most Shelter – Finally, I have this plastic covered shelter up against the house. Because it benefits from the warmth of the house, this space can easily run 10 or more degrees warmer than outside air temperatures. It is built below the deck, however, so gets only minimal light in the morning. This is my choice for most of my deciduous trees.

No matter where they are stored, all trees will still need to be checked for moisture throughout the winter.

Here’s hoping for successful protection, and a strong response in the spring!

Leaf Removal on a Collected Beech


, , , , ,

It could be argued that maybe a bonsai enthusiast should stay away from a species named for its large leaves. Ok. That’s fair.

The North American beech is just that – Fagus grandifolia – pretty much translated as “the large leaf beech.” I will concede right from the start that I should look into getting a European beech, but at home, in my immediate surroundings, the American beech plays a big role in defining the woods I love to walk in. It’s a beautiful species, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to collect this young tree that displayed a very full mass of persistent beech-brown leaves when I found it this past spring.

It has done exceedingly well in this first year. In the photo above, I am about halfway done removing the leaves in advance of winter storage. It’s rather surprising how much green you can still see even in the middle of November in Northern Virginia. Nevertheless, a significant amount of color change has occurred and I am confident it won’t miss the leaves at this point.

Just as when I found it, most of the leaves would stay on through the winter if I left them, but I prefer to remove the leaves before putting deciduous trees into cold frames. This reduces the amount of litter inside which can help reduce potential for pest and disease problems in the spring. Besides, I wanted to get a good look at the branching and structure of this tree!

Really not bad for a tree that has not been styled! Removing leaves also gave me a good look at how many buds are set for spring growth. Every indication is this will continue to be a strong specimen. I look forward to helping it develop!

Creating a Template for Building a Bonsai Pot


, , , , , ,

In my last post, I shared that I recently started working with a group of bonsai society members who want to learn to make their own bonsai pots. In that post, All Secrets Revealed, I shared a video of the actual construction of a bonsai pot, and while I include every part of the clay construction, one thing I omitted was how I created the template I used to make the pot. Today, I remedy that omission. Check it out!

All Secrets Revealed


, , , , ,

Ok, “All Secrets Revealed” might be a little over dramatic for a video showing the creation of a bonsai pot, but I did included every part of the process, which I hope will serve as a teaching tool.

I recently started working with a group of bonsai society members who want to learn to make their own bonsai pots. Next time we meet, we are going to dive into slab construction and I was worried that it would take longer than we have together. When I do ceramics at home, I often take my time and go back to the work-in-progress several times, sometimes over days. This was a test to see how long it takes from start to finish.

The answer: 3 1/2 hours. We will be able to squeeze this into one session, but it will be a very full session.

Air Layer Followup


, ,

I was clearing photos from my phone and realized I had never posted a followup to the Chinese holly air layer I started in the spring. I removed it way back in the beginning of September, so while my post is  very delayed, I can add that the Layer is doing well and has even shown signs of new growth before the cooler weather started to arrive. 

Above is the layer as it was when I cut from the parent plant and carried back to my garden. 

Lots of fine roots!

I will let this become established in this pot before I mess with it. 

Fresh from the Kiln


, , , ,

I fired up the kiln yesterday. 

Removing glaze ware from the kiln is always exciting, and I like the results I got on some new pots for the Bonsai garden. 

Three sizes of Bonsai pots from the four inch rose colored pot to the nine inch hexagon. 

And three small accent dishes in the three inch size category. I look forward to using all of them!

Oh… and how do you like my stamp? Do you see what I did there?

Another Convert


, , , , ,

I love meeting people who are as tree and bonsai obsessed as myself, and today I got to spend a little time with a very new bonsai enthusiast. 

Victor came to the October 14 meeting of the NVBS and managed to win some plants in our raffle. These two young Ficus were sharing the same tiny little pot and I was happy to help get them separated and into larger pots where they have room to grow and develop into future bonsai material. 

We talked a little about wiring and Victor gave it a go to put some movement and character into what were a couple of long arced stems. 

It was a pleasure, sir. Welcome to the club!

Old Bonsai Photos


, ,

My wife was going through old photos and left a few out for me. These are from WAY back! A couple have a stamped date on the back and are from 1999, and the others, by my best reckoning are from a little earlier. 

I had practically no money at this time (as has been the case most of my life) and would often try to make something out of nothing. I may have spent a few dollars on what must be a Juniper, toward the left. The center tree is some sort of maple with really large leaves that I probably dig up from somewhere, and who-knows what the plant on the right is!

Im guessing I spent some pretty decent money on the Pine, below, but just like the trees in the first picture… it is long dead. 

That’s right, these are pictures of trees dearly-departed. If what they say is true —that you learn every time you kill a tree —this is just a taste of how much I have learned. 

This next tree is still alive, but it’s not for lack of trying. I came so close to killing it that you couldn’t possibly recognize it today.  

Above is what it looked like in the late nineties, and below is what it looks like on my bench today. 

…Just trying to recover. 

There was just one other photo of a survivor. Here is a spindly Ficus Benjamina from about 19 years ago…

And below is how it looks today. 

Finally! Something that suggests I’m not a total failure. And a Benjamina no less!

Well, there you go. Photographic evidence of my early years that I refer to in my About Page. Here’s to better results in the next iteration. 

A Bonsai Partnership


, , ,

Sunday, October 15, 2017 marked the opening of a very unique and special, permanent bonsai exhibit space. The Northern Virginia Bonsai Society and Meadowlark Botanical Gardens have partnered over the past months to plan and construct a bonsai pavilion on the Meadowlark grounds. 

This public-private partnership was celebrated at a grand opening event attended by the public, members of NVBS, Meadowlark staff, and even a representative from the Japanese embassy. 

Many thanks to Garden Manager, Keith Tomlinson, and NVBS President Gary Reese for sharing the story of how this all came about. And thanks to the NVBS members who loaned their trees to the pavilion display. I look forward to watching this partnership develop and grow.