Today I spent a fantastic few hours at the John Hanby Bonsai School, at Newstead Nurseries in Wakefield. Although this seemed like a terrible idea when I was getting up at 8am on a Saturday, it was an absolutely brilliant day. If anyone’s dithering about going to classes because you don’t know enough/aren’t good enough/don’t have a lot of trees then don’t let it stop you. Everyone was really friendly, and more than happy to let you watch them working on their trees to get an idea of what different paths a bonsai can take.
The main reason I wanted to go was to get a definite answer on what type of tree my supermarket bonsai was. I suspected it was a Boxwood, but didn’t want to spend ages treating it like one in case I was wrong. This was (unusually for me) a good shout, because I was wrong – it’s a Carmona, or Fukien Tea Tree.
The other worry I had was that for every website/book telling me DEFINITELY NOT to do something, there was another website/book telling me I NEEDED TO DO IT IMMEDIATELY or else my tree would die. There was no clear guideline on watering, re-potting, light levels, pruning, or any of the skills I knew I lacked. Speaking to people at the workshop today, the consensus was that no two trees are alike. Two bonsai of the same species in the same garden can do very differently, so what works for one enthusiast might not work as well for another. Basically, it takes time, but learn what works for your own trees yourself!
So this was what the tree looked like when we got it:
And this is what it looks like now after some care and attention:
The Carmona is known as an “indoor” bonsai. However it’s OK to keep them out during the summer months as long as they aren’t exposed to low temperatures. It’s a difficult tree to look after, but it is do-able. Winter will be a challenge but at the moment it’s hopefully fine outside in a sheltered, sunny spot.
The first thing I had to do today was re-pot it. Despite some sites informing me gloomily that re-potting at any time other than early Spring was tantamount to murder, I learned today that leaving it in the wrong soil can be just as harmful. And the Carmona was definitely in the wrong soil. So off came the potting compost, off came some troublesome roots, and I set about wiring it into the rather attractive pot you see here. The difference this made was immediate and I felt like I’d done something to look after the tree, rather than just pouring water on it haphazardly and hoping for the best.
Carmona dealt with, I went exploring the polytunnels at Newstead. The other people on the workshop were incredibly helpful, and all had really good advice on picking out new trees. The end result was that I came home with not one, not two, but three bonsai – an Oak and a Privet in addition to the Carmona.
Oak grows very slowly but looks absolutely amazing when it does. Privet, on the other hand, makes an attractive bonsai and grows quickly, so if you make a mistake pruning or re-potting it, it’s not a disaster. Given that the Carmona came with a health warning about difficulty today, I thought that seemed like a good idea!
So the garden has two new bonsai additions today, and I’m hopefully a bit more knowledgeable about looking after them. I definitely plan to go back to another workshop, and to the beginners course in November.