My itch with western bonsai "philosophy"

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My itch with western bonsai "philosophy"

Post  Bonsai Kas on Wed Apr 22, 2015 5:01 pm

The following might sound extremely arrogant and preachy, that is not at all my intention and I try to be a modest man who only judges himself. Also my skills and trees are nowhere near the level of most forum users here, however I do regard myself an intelligent man and I know many things I see and say here are independent from my achievements in the field. I hope you won’t hold it against me when I give my current view of the Bonsai Business, more specifically what bothers me about it:

Professional growers
I’m always struck by the sometimes appalling state Bonsai are in when sold by so-called professionals. I’ve now been to the biggest and most well-known bonsai “nurseries” of Holland and a very well-known one in western Germany, together with a bunch of smaller ones in the neighbourhood. I’m always struck by the sheer amount of especially cheaper imported trees that are obviously unhealthy. Almost without an exception they are put in pots that are too small, watered too often with soil that is often beyond collapsing. I have literally taken trees out of blocks of clay, from commercial Bonsai nurseries, when friends tried to give me a well-meant “present”. Last Saturday I took the test at a well regarded nursery in my area and many of the pots, almost all of them, had soil that needed the slightest bit of pressure to fall apart to powder completely.  Also you always see the typical rootbound, too little, pot with a plant on its way out, imported from China and put on the shelves with no extra attention whatsoever. Bonsai professionals; big commercial  “nurseries”, you should be ashamed! Above all you should be the people selling trees in healthy state with a long and prosper outlook so people who give you money get rewarded with lush growth and a joyous hobby instead of a cheap Chinese bush that will die if not properly repotted within the next year. We can go to a Costco if we want a mallsai, from you we expect better. But also some of the bigger more expensive trees are sometimes in a condition I can’t believe. It’s not uncommon to see lovely big Junipers that are “styled” way to rigorous and slowly see the life fade away from the bent and tormented branches. Or rootbound shallow pots teeming with litchen, a key sign for even bigger problems below the surface and poor drainage and aeration. If I was a professional grower myself I would be ashamed because to me it can only say two things, either one look bad: you don’t care of you don’t know. At the same time these big commercial nurseries have no problem advising you to buy stuff you don’t need and force-feed bonsai traditions without explaining why. For instance last week I saw a man in a course making a forest planting in a quite deep pot who made the typical black clay balls by the method of Saburo Kato’s famous book. He did so because he was obviously told this was the traditional method, again obviously, the person giving the course did nothing besides reading the book otherwise he should have known this balling in the root mass is only done on slab plantings to prevent the soil from running away. In a rather deep pot this balling in of the root mass is completely unnecessary and even bad for the health of the tree since you close of the soil.
Mind me, I’m not saying all commercial bonsai growers are bad, and many of them are honest, hardworking people with a thorough love for the art. But some, especially the bigger more commercial ones have no problem selling a product or service that is not worthy of the name “bonsai” or “nursery”. Quite often this is done in naivity, lack of knowledge or skill and I can understand that, but once you open a business and take money from others in exchange you should feel an obligation to do your best.

I’m just going to say it:
Akadama is inferior to what you can get in Europe.
Most bonsai growers have a terrible case of “if it’s traditional, it’s good” and without a single thought they spend idiotic amounts of money on completely unnecessary products. And as usual with people they do just  as they’re told without trying to think for themselves. There is only one reason to use akadama, and this is the reason they do so in Japan; it’s produced locally, and it’s cheap. For that reason Japanese nurseries can use a lot, repot every two years and not have to be afraid it runs out. I’m amazed that you can buy 5 litre bags of single baked akadama here for €13,-, shipped all the way from Japan and 80% of the sheep buy it without a single doubt. While at the same time you can buy a way better product, which in essence is the exact European equivalent of akadama, for €5,- for a 20 litre bag, that’s almost a factor  ten in price difference! It’s called terramol, and is comes from exactly the same source as akadama, diatomaceous earth, and is made even better by baking it twice. The only reason why this product is frowned upon in Europe is because of lack of knowledge, traditional and modern knowledge, and commercialism. I’ve heard the most idiotic arguments against Terramol, and they were all from commercial growers, afraid to lose their business. Moler clay/Terramol does not give water roots, it’s not hydroculture, it has exactly the same characteristics as fresh akadama. Actually it is better since it retains it’s strength way longer. I’ve repotted big trees after 3 years of growing outside, with three proper winters, and the soil came out almost as neat from between the roots as fresh product. I’ve gotten trees from friends potted in real Akadama and after the same time these lost vigour and when repotting I was shocked how much the bottom soil had collapsed. Off course you should mix it up a bit, I generally just use 20-30% turface as organic component, sometimes I replace it with Kanuma for Azalea’s but that’s about it.

Hobbyists and their gadget addiction
You don’t need special bonsai fertiliser. You don’t need specialised pre-made soil mixes. You don’t need special spring and autumn fertiliser. You don’t need a different thingy for every single tree you own. You don’t even need tree care products like paste and anti-fungicide, if your tree is healthy. “Men need their hobbies” my girlfriend always jokes when I potter around and it’s true. Men are horrible when it comes down to the things they’re fascinated in. How often have you seen cyclists with the most modern gear, tight flashy Tour-de-France clothing and a bike worth more than a small car, cruising around only on sunny days with a big fat beer belly? In Holland you can’t stretch your legs on a Sunday without kicking one accidentally. Bonsai lovers have many of the same habits. You can see them from a mile away in any nursery, shuffling around buying a specialised product for every need they think they have. I shouldn’t mind, but I do and this is why.
It takes away from the enjoyment and purity of the hobby, it makes bonsai into a hobby that can be bought and commercialised upon while the essence of the art loses its meaning. It dilutes the age-old tradition and art of Bonsai into something shallow and commercial. All you need for a bonsai is a pot, a tree, good soil and fertiliser. I, and many other (famous) growers, know this and concentrate on the tree, give it time, see it for what it is and at the end of the day sit down to enjoy their garden without hastily thinking about which branch to bend next of which aspect could de formed even further.  I started bonsai to teach myself patience, I’m a very impatient person, I find it hilarious to see many people in the scene get impatient from bonsai. They are so busy with what they want the forget completely what they have and how to enjoy it.
At the same time they forget to really know their trees, simple things like putting more turface or tree bark in trees that like their soil mushy and less for trees that like it dry. Simple things like knowing when to fertilise because you see it in the tree, the moss or the little details of the soil. So many growers don’t know which kind of moss and litchen grows where and what it says about the condition of your soil. Many growers, even professionals, have deseases, mildew or dying branches that can easily be avoided, not by spraying chemicals, but by knowing how to make a tree happy, where to put is, when to water it and surrounding it with other plants from different species so you don’t get e homogeneous culture that attracts bugs and problems. And also, not every problem should be mended, an oak will have some mildew once in a while, no problem, it will grow over it when it’s healthy, your kids get sick too don’t they? And a willow or birch might lose a few tiny twigs once in a while, that’s how they grow. Accepting nature to me gives an extra dimension to bonsai, by letting things happen you learn a lot and it can surprise you even, I’ve have a few trees where I never could figure out what to do with them so I let them just grow, now these are my most valued trees, with just a bit of cut-and-grow and some smart wiring they look like a real tree, because it was allowed to be one. Because of the hobbyism we often look past the things that make this hobby so fascinating.

Interpretation of the art
To me this all comes down to the literal way we westerners interpret Bonsai culture and what I call "hobbyism". Many read the books and the magazines and want to think they’re lone sensei’s and imitate what they see without really thinking about what they’re doing. They are not growing bonsai, they are hobbying around. They want to bend, split and prune but don’t take the time to think about why, how and when. They are busy doing a hobby instead of taking the patience and lessons from the tree.
Beauty grows slowly, essence is hard to achieve, these are the exact reasons why Bonsai is a Japansese art and why westerners are shaping it into something that is just a shallow interpretation of that. Japanese culture is a traditional one, a culture where absolute craftsmanship is regarded and practiced on a different level than here. We read the books and see the photo’s but often we don’t realise how much time and years of waiting and nursing went into it. We as westerners want to show our creations, the sooner the better, we think 20 years is a long time and we think there are shortcuts like pre-bonsai and instant-bonsai, these terms alone will make a Japanese master laugh because it is imitating the act but not the art. We think a thick trunk is pretty and often we fail to see why.
Bonsai is a lesson in nature, patience and life. It’s not about forcing nature into a predestined form you interpret as art. It’s about seeing the essence of what you get, see the tree, see nature and nurture it. Go with the flow, see how a tree evolves and lovingly steer it towards a vision that transcends nature and art to combine it into something higher; something that captures the essence for you. Then, and only then, a tree is a Bonsai and don’t let anyone tell you different. You might see the myriad of cheap Chinese trees convoluted into “bonsai” shapes the unknown public recognises but these are just knock offs. Just like a Swiss watch the real thing only exists because of the patience, craftsmanship, insight and love of the maker. There are no shortcuts, there are no quick fixes. The essence of bonsai is “creating something that evokes the feeling of a tree in the wild”, if a tree does so for you, and you take pride and patience in what you made than even a stick in a pot is a bonsai.

Bonsai Kas
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Re: My itch with western bonsai "philosophy"

Post  kevin stoeveken on Wed Apr 22, 2015 5:59 pm

sounds like you have simply learned what to avoid and what to embrace in this endeavor.

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Re: My itch with western bonsai "philosophy"

Post  Guest on Thu Apr 23, 2015 1:04 am

Obviously a great deal of time went into this, forgive me but I can think of no other word to describe it; diatribe. I have to say, there are some things I strongly agree with. Having said that, I think the way you are stating your case may put-off some practitioners and it's likely there will be difficulty swaying others to your point of view. Bonsai is a big tent and any level of involvement is better than no involvement.No one starts out a 'master'.  Excuse me for saying so but I believe it is counterproductive to essentially alienate people by making them feel small. This also is not the way of bonsai.

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Re: My itch with western bonsai "philosophy"

Post  Khaimraj Seepersad on Thu Apr 23, 2015 2:34 pm

Hmm,

well my stock plants came from England, via Holland, and ultimately China. Lots of clay, which due to our plant quarantine, got left behind in London dumpsters.
Yes, many useless shapes and really bad practices as plant growing goes.
So I agree with you there 100 %.

As a hobby, well anything goes. You kill, you purchase, you kill..................., I try not think about the dead trees of others, just try to make sure my trees stay healthy.
Hopefully, I can teach by actions.

In the long run, Japanese craftsmanship, isn't very different from Western practices, as fine work goes. Much as there is a matching philosophy as East to West goes. Just different wording.

My suggestion would be, as this is a Hobby, keep your trees healthy, designed to what you think is best and let your doing, act as the inspiration for others.
I have all of my efforts in the backyard, as they are older, and theft would really hurt.
Don't really care to exhibit, but work really hard to keep my trees healthy.
It was a really good read, and I thank you for taking the time to write.
Laters.
Khaimraj

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Re: My itch with western bonsai "philosophy"

Post  Khaimraj Seepersad on Thu Apr 23, 2015 2:38 pm

ohh, the Akadama bit,

just look up Japanese agricultural practices and then Western agricultural practices, plough, till and add manure/compost.

The really 'new" bit is the addition of - hydroponic - qualities to Bonsai. Not sure what that does to a tree internally????
Some folk really love convenience and pre-packaging.
Until.
Khaimraj


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Re: My itch with western bonsai "philosophy"

Post  Precarious on Thu Apr 23, 2015 2:43 pm

I can only imagine the Chinese practitioners shook their heads a few times at those "young upstarts" in Japan. Bonsai has now had some dozen centuries of refinement there, and if my understanding is correct its introduction was couched in Buddhist practice. Perhaps Bonsai was introduced more as a curiosity in Europe and Europeanized Americas, which would put us "behind the curve" in spiritual connections.

I would appreciate a thread, or even a whole forum, dedicated to spiritual connections in Bonsai.

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Re: My itch with western bonsai "philosophy"

Post  Bonsai Kas on Thu Apr 23, 2015 3:33 pm

Dear gentlemen, I think indeed diatribe would be a good wording. Rant would be suitable too, as well as hyperbole, insult even to some. I'm no stranger to mild cynicism either. Its purpose was not to polarise or win over people. I wrote it as an outlet and a discussion piece, I'm glad to see some responses Smile

If anything I think "my philosophy" should entice newcomers instead of alienate them. Since I try to promote, somewhat hyperbolic and cynically indeed, a simple and cheap aproach, centered around the tree.

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Re: My itch with western bonsai "philosophy"

Post  Guest on Thu Apr 23, 2015 5:05 pm

Bonsai Kas wrote:"Its purpose was not to polarise or win over people."
Bonsai Kas wrote:Since I try to promote, somewhat hyperbolic and cynically indeed, a simple and cheap aproach, centered around the tree.

Well which is it?
In any endeavor there's bound to be a certain amount of elitist snobbery. That's fine. I'm pretty snobby myself in private. But I would never dream of raining derision onto another enthusiast's endeavor (which by extrapolation you are doing). If you truly are "trying to promote" I think it would be helpful to see the results of your 'philosophy'. Go ahead and show us your work please so we know this is more than overly intellectualized, armchair theory.

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Re: My itch with western bonsai "philosophy"

Post  LanceMac10 on Thu Apr 23, 2015 5:53 pm

My ears started ringing recently....I think I know why. The "EarthRocker Elitist-o-meter" growing in my brain since birth was blowin' up!!! I ain't no hippie, but anything a person will spend time and treasure on, anything where the end to the means is about introspective reflection on nature, man's place within it, and his accomplishments as a whole, this can't be looked down upon. It should be celebrated. Buy all the stuff you may or may not need. What's so wrong with that. Surely, the more money in the "INDUSTRY" is better for everyone. The whole nursery thing.....? I see your point, a lot of them could do a better job with the materials they have on hand. But nobody starts a business to lose money, let alone a bonsai nursery. Time is money, as I'm sure your aware. Hiccupp.....rambling again....hic.....I envy my two year old son, to see the world through those eyes again. To want to touch everything.....the awe at all the sights around him....fascination....I still try to see the world as if I've the eyes of a child, as best I can. If that don't work, mike and I will throw in for a vaporizer and FedEx it to you stat!! Buy ya' a drink, brah.....? drunken

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Re: My itch with western bonsai "philosophy"

Post  Bonsai Kas on Thu Apr 23, 2015 6:14 pm

As I stated in my introduction, my "work" has nothing to do with the things I see, and shouldn't. But if you must; my botanic experience is yours to see when I welcome you in my 0.5 acre garden with now around 40 bonsai all grown, formed and collected by me alone, my empirical experience I'll gladly show you too during a guided tour of the research department I'm running. I'm not bragging these are simple facts you asked for.

There is also a difference between derision and cynicism or hyperbole, since sematics now are part of the discussion. Also im well aware how I sound and agree completely with the feelings this invokes, that's part of a rant anyways. But go right ahead and FedEx me some chronic, the sun is shining, it'll do me good Very Happy

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Re: My itch with western bonsai "philosophy"

Post  kevin stoeveken on Thu Apr 23, 2015 6:21 pm

Bonsai Kas wrote:But go right ahead and FedEx me some chronic, the sun is shining, it'll do me good Very Happy

but can't you just step out the door,
walk to the corner "coffee shop" and get some ???

or don't they cater chronic to curmudgeons ? Wink

re: the tour - a virtual one would do just fine...

btw - glad to see you responded to your own thread...
i thought that rant was being composed from the edge of a ledge 20 stories up affraid

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Re: My itch with western bonsai "philosophy"

Post  Bonsai Kas on Thu Apr 23, 2015 6:28 pm

Btw now reading it back, does last alinea's DO make me sound a bit retarded, in a vegan way, no offense to vegans btw

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Re: My itch with western bonsai "philosophy"

Post  Khaimraj Seepersad on Thu Apr 23, 2015 6:34 pm

Classic Kevin,
Classic - Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing

" i thought that rant was being composed from the edge of a ledge 20 stories up affraid " = Kevin.

And spring is sprung, Kevin ?

Aside -
Now any chance of this remaining a discussion and not a......., nor a monotonous wprdsmithery ?

Laters.
Khai......



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Re: My itch with western bonsai "philosophy"

Post  Khaimraj Seepersad on Thu Apr 23, 2015 6:41 pm

Here's a tree design for Word Sensei -
Laters.
Khaimraj


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Re: My itch with western bonsai "philosophy"

Post  Bonsai Kas on Thu Apr 23, 2015 6:49 pm

I like the design Khaimrai!

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Re: My itch with western bonsai "philosophy"

Post  Bonsai Kas on Thu Apr 23, 2015 6:53 pm

I would like to continue the discussion regarding commercial nurseries though. Because I really feel a majority, at least the ones I've seen, are not doing good pr for bonsai and really don't seem to care that much either. My girlfriend always wants to buy everything because they look "sweet" I let her knowing I'll spend an extra day reporting.

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Re: My itch with western bonsai "philosophy"

Post  Bonsai Kas on Thu Apr 23, 2015 6:54 pm

Repotting

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Re: My itch with western bonsai "philosophy"

Post  kevin stoeveken on Thu Apr 23, 2015 6:55 pm

Khaimraj Seepersad wrote: And spring is sprung, Kevin ?

yes it did... for about a minute... Rolling Eyes
but now it went and crawled back under the covers for a bit...
maybe snow this weekend pale

Mad

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Re: My itch with western bonsai "philosophy"

Post  JimLewis on Thu Apr 23, 2015 9:09 pm

beer city snake wrote:
Khaimraj Seepersad wrote: And spring is sprung, Kevin ?  

yes it did... for about a minute... :roll:
but now it went and crawled back under the covers for a bit...
maybe snow this weekend :pale:

:x

And people actually LIVE up there?

(Though, come to think of it, I don't really want them all to migrate down here.)

Golly . . . It sure is NICE up there!

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Re: My itch with western bonsai "philosophy"

Post  JimLewis on Thu Apr 23, 2015 9:13 pm

So, since I frankly don't give a hoot about the quality of commercial bonsai because I'll never buy one, and don't give much of a fig about the philosophical or religious (if any) aspects of our sport, let's put rants aside and all just go on having fun with our trees.

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Re: My itch with western bonsai "philosophy"

Post  kevin stoeveken on Fri Apr 24, 2015 12:42 pm

JimLewis wrote:...and don't give much of a fig about the philosophical or religious (if any) aspects of our sport, let's put rants aside and all just go on having fun with our trees.

that explains it !!!

i always knew your trees lacked a certain piety, jim...

Razz Wink


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Re: My itch with western bonsai "philosophy"

Post  fiona on Fri Apr 24, 2015 1:33 pm

beer city snake wrote: i always knew your trees lacked a certain piety, jim...

I'm thinking of turning my trees into pies - is that the same thing?


Kas, you are entitled to your opinion and to have your say. I neither agree nor disagree with what you say - it's nothing we haven't heard before (albeit perhaps not all in the one post LOL).  Consequently I'm going to make only one comment on it and it is this:

You only once used the word "enjoy".  

The missing link, perhaps?

Fiona
(she who loves her expensive bicycle and all the gadgets and lycra that surround it, without actually being that good a cyclist. And certainly without a beer belly - mine is chocolate induced)


Last edited by fiona on Fri Apr 24, 2015 3:27 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Re: My itch with western bonsai "philosophy"

Post  M. Frary on Fri Apr 24, 2015 1:50 pm

Bonsai Kas wrote:Btw now reading it back, does last alinea's DO make me sound a bit retarded, in a vegan way, no offense to vegans btw

I like vegans. Cows are vegans. That's how I get the vegetables in me. The vegans eat the green stuff. I eat vegans. Yum.

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Re: My itch with western bonsai "philosophy"

Post  Dave Leppo on Fri Apr 24, 2015 2:36 pm

I agree with the anti-akadama part. It turns to yellow clay in PA

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Re: My itch with western bonsai "philosophy"

Post  kevin stoeveken on Fri Apr 24, 2015 3:11 pm

mike and fiona - lol!

dave, despite kas's intentions - this is no place for serious discourse !!! Razz Wink

(but having said that, i agree that locally sourced alternatives to akadama are the way to go here in north america.)

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