Bonsai Study Group Forum

General Category => General Bonsai Discussion => Topic started by: Jay on October 09, 2011, 06:35 AM

Title: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: Jay on October 09, 2011, 06:35 AM
Good Morning! I'm up far to early this Sunday morning. I thought it time to start the discussion of Bonsai material purchase.
I am of the belief that you DO in fact get what you pay for. This of course is a generalization and like all generalizations has exceptions. But, on the whole I think it is true.
There is a reason when you go to a Bonsai nursery that one tree is priced higher than another. The amount of time invested in the tree and the point of development of the particular tree is part of the price. A $50 tree is not the same as a $250 tree.
Trees obtained from garden centers, home centers and big box stores are reasonable in price but are less likely to be of worth than those found in Bonsai shops or from other individuals who practice the art.
The thought that I'm just learning, I don't need good material, never holds water. You learn more with good material than you do with trees that ate unlikely to ever be showable in your lifetime.
When collecting trees from the wild, you need to come home with something...wrong. A tree from the wild needs to meet certain targets as much as one purchased for cash. Just because you are there and the tree is there is not enough of a reason to dig it up and take it home.

Disclaimer..... I know from my experience. I've tried the 'inexpensive' way and have several trees that I regret buying even at the low low price I paid. I have collected many many trees that I should not have. At one point I had nearly 100 trees, most of which where useless. I now have around 25 or which I don't know why I bothered with half of them.
I have been practicing Bonsai for 11 years and realize that my artistic talent is not up to the level of many others but my appreciation for Bonsai is up with the best.

These are my thoughts, you may or may not feel the same way but let us discuss it!

Jay
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: Mitch Thomas on October 09, 2011, 10:26 AM
Good morning Jay
Fellow insomniac / treehugger

I too felt much the same as you. I have been I to container plants for more than 20 yrs. Last 10 yrs of Bonsai. Much like you I had a vast collection of plants, with a few bonsai mixed in. Many get of us collect so many plants they become intrapped by them this leads to resentment and often they quit alltogether. That's what happened here after hurricane Katrinia wiped out many of our collections. I lost my home and all of my trees ( way over 100 plants/ bonsai ) except for my buttonwoods and cypress.

That's when I decided to re evaluate what I wanted from bonsai. I tought 25 above average tree woud be a maintainable amount. Out of the 25 I want to have 10 show trees. Now  right at 7 yrs later my goal is comming into trueition. Bonsai is fun again at this scale.

That's where I'm at now.

Mitch
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: Jay on October 12, 2011, 10:35 AM
Mitch, I agree with you. 25 seems to be a number that is manageable. Obviously different people will have different views of what is a manageable number but 25 seems to work for me. Although I am trying to do a little more reduction in number.
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: mcpesq817 on October 12, 2011, 11:35 AM
I'm actually in the same boat, though I've only been doing this for 3 years now.  I don't think the crappy stock I picked up in the past was a total loss though, as I got to see what worked in my area and practice various techniques.  But I agree that you learn a ton more from better stock than you would from less desirable stock.

I've been slowly thinning my collection, and think that ultimately getting down to 25-35 trees is a good size for me.
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: Jay on October 14, 2011, 01:10 PM
Well it is not just better to learn on 'better' material but if you are older (like I will admit to being) you just don't have the time to practice thread grafting for example on a throw away tree and then when you get it down do it on a better tree. I hope to be around a long time....but.... I ain't getting younger!  Another good reason to limit the amount of trees in your collection.

J
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: rockm on October 14, 2011, 01:29 PM
Getting what you pay for is a very relative thing in bonsai. Paying $100 for a tree doesn't make the tree worth $100. Thing is, you just don't know WHAT you're paying for when you first start out (and sometimes for decades if you get stuck in a rut and never see really good material or bonsai). I once paid $150 for a garden center bonsai ficus that I thought was simply fantastic when I got it. Twenty years down the road, for almost that same money, I bought a collected 100 year old ponderosa pine that is light years ahead of that damn ficus...Live and learn...

There is no experience like experience  ;D...Hindsight is always 20/20 and you can't convince newbies that buying cheap material isn't a good way to get good bonsai ;D.
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: John Kirby on October 14, 2011, 03:30 PM
Amen Brother Rock.
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: Jay on October 14, 2011, 04:04 PM
Rockm.... VERY well said. The more you know the more you realize you don't know as much as you think. It takes a bit of time to find out what GOOD is. And at times we (or at least I) get taken in by this or that tree that is calling to me, only to see it later as somewhat less than it is....................

J
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: John Kirby on October 14, 2011, 04:50 PM
Just remember this, nebari and trunks make bonsai (Junipers slightly different) but Foliage sells!
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: Chrisl on October 14, 2011, 08:17 PM
So true Rockm.  I've got some decent material that I've gathered over the years, but when I finally bought a 150y/o Ponderosa pine this year for say, 4X the most I ever paid for a tree.  And though I can't touch it for 2 yrs., it's quickly become the pride of my collection.   It's strange to get attached to a tree so fast, I really like it ;)  As is, it's better than most everything I own in it's own way.

But, from now on, my buying habits are going to be MUCH higher in regard to new material ;D

And, to make it worse, I'm now kicking myself in the rear for not anteing up the cash for a collected RMJ ;D  (Andy had some nice ones at the Midwest show too.)   
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: Zach Smith on October 14, 2011, 08:53 PM
Just remember this, nebari and trunks make bonsai (Junipers slightly different) but Foliage sells!
Foliage means ramification, right?  I find that in the wild, great ramification often masks a poor trunk.  But it sure looks great as you drive by on the highway.

Zach
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: John Kirby on October 14, 2011, 09:20 PM
Ramification? Not necessarily so, but lots of leaves yes.
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: Elliott on October 14, 2011, 11:31 PM
I have also noticed that its hard to convinse newbies to shell out some $ for decent raw material. Especialy in an area like California where its relatively easy to find quality material. I have spent as much as 3 grand for what was not more than a trunk... but what a trunk!! it was the best of its kind I have ever seen or even have seen pics of.
 Whats also important is to develope a good eye. Something can cost alot simply because thats what they feel like asking. I have seen many people base the price on material on what something similar sells for at a bonsai nursery.
 If your new, get some good pics of it or take an experienced club memeber with you to get there opinion. Don't be afraid to pay a little for a good piece of material. That tree will hopefully be around alot longer than the initial sting of putting out a little cash.
 I guess it depends on how much you are into this hobbie. I have been late on car payments and lived on wonder bread PB and j sandwiches till the next paycheck cause I saw a tree I just had to have.
 Also, many people will let you put a deposit down and pay it off. The 3 thousand dollar tree took me a few months to pay off and i was even aloud to pik it up, take to class and then return it. However, the first time you screw someone over, will be the last time anyone deals with you. Bonsai is a smaller world than it seems.
 If you dont mind collecting some acorns, planting them and having something to put in a show 35 years later, than more power to you
 
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: akeppler on October 15, 2011, 01:24 AM
If a person is not creative, can't work well with their hands, has no artistic talent, and has been doing bonsai for ten or more years without designing even one speciman tree, then yes looking at more expensive material is the way to go.

That way a person is guarenteed to have the best mallsai in the club.


On the other hand, if one is talented, works well with advanced bonsai technique, and has a collection of impressive bonsai that have been developed from scratch, then selecting more expensive material just bumps up the success rate of great looking trees.

But that person is also capable of making superior trees with the least expensive material that the guy above would have never dreamed of.  Talent will overshadow the price of material every time.
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: akeppler on October 15, 2011, 01:30 AM
Many of you know my personality. If you had to chose a plant for me to work on, which one , from my perspective, would I have the best chance of making a great tree from?
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: akeppler on October 15, 2011, 01:35 AM
This small pine was developed from a $3.00 liner in three years.
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: Elliott on October 15, 2011, 03:08 AM
congradulations. but just think, If you would have spent $6.00 on that liner, you would now have a "Best tree in mall " trophy . ;)
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: Larry Gockley on October 15, 2011, 07:54 AM
I'm with you Al, 100 %. But for you other guys, are you suggesting a newbie pay $1,000 plus for a tree? I read somewhere, ( to paraphrase), that  to buy a person a bonsai who doesn't know how to care for it, is like buying him a violin when he doesn't know how to play it. Bonsai isn't about having a little tree to show off to your friends, nor is it even a hobby. Bonsai is a lifestyle. We eat, drink and sleep bonsai. We even plan family vacations thinking about what bonsai percs may be involved. I could not recommend a newbie buys an expensive tree til he is committed, and that may take years. Look at the numbers. Over 6,900 people joined this web site, but only a dozen or so post anything. I wonder how many joined here after getting a mal-sai, only to have it die in a few months, and never log on again. I would hate to think that 6000 pieces of good material died for no reason. You can buy a pick-up load of firewood for $100, so why pay $1,000 for one log. I'm just saying.   Larry
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: Jay on October 15, 2011, 08:14 AM
Larry, the extreme is never a good thing. My original thought and I believe the thoughts of others is that a raw tree purchased at a home center for 'only' a few bucks is unlikely to be a good purchase. Sure, a well trained eye can find a worth while tree at Home Depot but that is a well trained eye. Al has stated and has given examples of trees he was able to develop from very inexpensive material. His knowledge and artistic ability are great, not all of us have it. I am one of those who has been into Bonsai for over ten years. I am not the best of artist and require (yes require) direction at times to help me with my trees. I'd venture that there are more of us who fall into this group than would like to admit it. For me, and I believe many others, purchasing a tree from a Bonsai Nursery that has had basic development is the best way to go.

It is true that just because a tree has a high price does not make it good material.  There are many good reasons for a tree to be higher priced and also some bad ones. The buyer does need to have the basics and a knowledge of the general market prices.

Hey it is my 2 cents worth, glad to hear and talk about others
Jay
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: John Kirby on October 15, 2011, 08:20 AM
Al, I fully agree that you can make great trees from, oh let's say free seed. However, you have done something that most folks don't do- you applied technique to your material and developed nice trees. The position I am proposing is that most folks go to a nursery and pick up a nice bunch of foliage with an un-manegable structure underneath and wonder why it can't be turned into a bonsai instantly.

Personally, I would rather start with a seedling/cutting, knowing that in a number of years you can have a decent tree than start out with a nice looking bunch of foliage that may not lead to a tree any sooner (and may actually take longer) to make a reasonable tree. If you want to make trees into bonsai, take the time and be sure that the tree has the fundamental components to make a plant into a reasonable bonsai. Al, so, based on the premise of others (not you) your tree is a 5-6 year old seedling, so it i only worth about $10 retail. OH, but the hours of work and the skill applied has made the tree worth more than $10, let's say $100. My point is, that folks who don't yet have the skills would be better to pay for the time of others to purchase a few trees with good preparative work than to buy a lot of plants that have been grown specifically for the landscape trade (aka straight trunks and high branches). We have all done this, but helping folks to see why it isn't necessarily the best approach.

Larry, I know that you can buy a pickup load of wood for $100, why pay $1000 for a single tree? You can buy a Nano for $1500 why pay $18k for a Chevy or $100K for a Mercedes?

John

Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: jacksmom on October 15, 2011, 10:39 PM
 I think that for a beginner like myself, a blend of cheap home store trees and a few, select, mature already styled trees is a good compromise.  Learning to wire on a picky and expensive tree would turn this wonderful, relaxing hobby into another stress filled activity.  Honestly I had such a great time working on a $3.50 Austrian Black Pine from Home Depot.  However, I also  purchased a lovely JBP in a Sara Raynor pot at our club auction earlier this month.  I plan to selectively add to my collection as our family budget allows. 


Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: Elliott on October 15, 2011, 11:09 PM
Jacksmom.. Good idea. When I said that newbies should spend more cash on material, I should have been more specific. If your brand new it probably is not a good idea to get something real expensive (although you can if you want to) until you had a chance to meet some more experienced people to work with you and even come out to your home and help you set up for Bonsai. Just like digging for yamadori, you shouldn't try that until you have some experience and have a reasonable chance of not killing a wild tree.
 But once you got a little time under your belt, have kept something alive in a bonsai pot thru a summer and a winter and have the guidance of more experienced hobbyist's, then its time to invest in your future of having nice trees. If you have talent (not everybody does, and its not a requirement to have fun or is even shameful if you lack it), pay attention to what others teach you, you will develop your skills end up with some decent stuff.
  At first its nice too have a few trees that are already in the category of "bonsai " and are not raw material simply because its cool to sit and look at your trees with a winecooler and a vicodine ;)in hand after a hard day at the office while waiting for your 3 dollar liner material to turn into something.
 Bottom line, some people are just cheap..... and that's OK as long as they enjoy themselves and don't tell other people that they only buy expensive stuff cause they have no talent. Everybody should do their hobby as they enjoy.
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: akeppler on October 16, 2011, 01:12 AM
Good Morning! I'm up far to early this Sunday morning. I thought it time to start the discussion of Bonsai material purchase.
I am of the belief that you DO in fact get what you pay for. This of course is a generalization and like all generalizations has exceptions. But, on the whole I think it is true.
There is a reason when you go to a Bonsai nursery that one tree is priced higher than another. The amount of time invested in the tree and the point of development of the particular tree is part of the price. A $50 tree is not the same as a $250 tree.
Trees obtained from garden centers, home centers and big box stores are reasonable in price but are less likely to be of worth than those found in Bonsai shops or from other individuals who practice the art.
The thought that I'm just learning, I don't need good material, never holds water. You learn more with good material than you do with trees that ate unlikely to ever be showable in your lifetime.
When collecting trees from the wild, you need to come home with something...wrong. A tree from the wild needs to meet certain targets as much as one purchased for cash. Just because you are there and the tree is there is not enough of a reason to dig it up and take it home.

Disclaimer..... I know from my experience. I've tried the 'inexpensive' way and have several trees that I regret buying even at the low low price I paid. I have collected many many trees that I should not have. At one point I had nearly 100 trees, most of which where useless. I now have around 25 or which I don't know why I bothered with half of them.
I have been practicing Bonsai for 11 years and realize that my artistic talent is not up to the level of many others but my appreciation for Bonsai is up with the best.

These are my thoughts, you may or may not feel the same way but let us discuss it!

Jay

I quoted to refresh the premise.

From my point of view, price of the material really has nothing to do with buying bonsai. First for this premise to have any validity, the end product needs to be established to really grit out the intent.

I think for the discriminating collector of fine bonsai, a guy like John Kirby who can do bonsai with the best of them, but has the ability to buy more finished trees financially, then of course price will definatly have its place. We all understand that John may wish to buy a tree from Boon, or Jim Gremel, (which he has) before he would ever buy a tree from me. Why? Because my trees are not on par with what Boon or Jim can provide. John must pay for this training, time and mastery. These trees have already established branching and taper and nebari. Mine don't.

Now what I do, is look for cheap material that I can cut up. What this takes is an eye for what can actually be done with a piece of material after cutting it up and whether or not the skill is there to reach the end result. This is the essence of doing bonsai. Being able to actully find the diamond in the matrix, and of course having the eye to see it in the first place.

Now there are those that will buy more expensive material never intending to do anything more that develop tertiary twigs and touch up what someone else has developed. Thats ok too. But just because it cost more than another piece of material that has larger potential by being cut up at a cheaper price does not rule out the cheaper material. It just means that person does not yet have the eye to see the better tree within the mess.

I gave an example earlier about two junipers I own. So far no one has given an answer on which tree I could make the best bonsai out of. The answer is simple. The tree with one curve and all the branches.

The other tree is really cool with all the twists and turns, pretty good taper and fairly good branches. It really only needs a couple years of diligent pinching and pruning and a really good tree could come from it. But that piece of material only offers one idea for a tree. first it is a juniper and a lot of upper branches are heavy, the trunk is hard and will not bend being about 1.25 inches across at the base. It is what it is.

The other tree is a blank canvas. Virgin material. It has had no training, no wire and no branch selection. There is room for jins and shari, and splits and hollows and all sorts of things.

I am a journeyman carpenter. I have built houses that cost 55K and I have built houses that cost 750K. Each house was built using the same set of skills. I don't work harder to build the bigger house. I have the same components for each. 2x4's and accesories. The difference between the houses is that one has a larger set of plans. Much like bonsai, if the plan is weak so will be the finished product. You only get out of it what you put into it. So if a new person is buying material to only finish what someone elase has started then thats all that can be expected. If you can see into the future and "what can be" then buying expensive material is not really necessary.

More to come.... break needed. My brain is smoking and I had to photoshop some stuff.
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: akeppler on October 16, 2011, 01:22 AM
Ok.... so today at a club meeting I took two trident maple stumps to work on. One is more devloped than the other and is pretty set in it's turns and twists and has good taper, and am in the process of a ground layer to improve the nebari. That was one tree. The other.....

It is about the same size, a little shorter only being about 8 inches tall at present. It is rather straight and has a good flare and really fat trunk. The trunk is about 2.5 inches at the waste and has a flare of about 3.5 inches at soil line. It too has some layering going on below ground to improve rootage.

I didn't grow out the tree. The tree was started from cutting and probably allowed rank growth for about 5 years or more. The trunk probably acheived about 10 feet in height before it was chopped. The chop is pretty bad. It was just lopped off, and no after care provided. The bark has dried out and the sap receeded about half inch below the chop line. It will take cleaning up alot of wood to get down to viable cambium to even start to get a roll and start a healing callous. The apex is pretty close and getting down to cambium will be hard on that side.

what to do????
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: akeppler on October 16, 2011, 01:33 AM
The trunk is chunky, but it is chunky all the way to the top. Then a leader was chosen and it grew then it was chopped again, too soon and then the leader was allowed to change direction.

Well those without vision and seeing all that wood which they may have never owned before might wish to keep everything they bought. First rookey mistake.  Working with everything you buy is not visionary thinking. A person could develop some branches on this and come up with a fairly convincing chokan trident maple.


Thats not what I'm gonna do.

First I have rotated this tree till my turntable froze up and blew a bearing. There is no better tree without major surgery. This tree needs movement, dynamicism and some pretty impressive taper to be convincing.

My plan, my blueprint my vision.

First I chop the tree right down to the first branch on the right. A very tapering cut that will give the tree some very powerful taper as well as utilizing the great line under that first right branch, that beautiful crescent shape.

From there it will be a matter of developing a sacrifice leader and chop healing as well as branch management. Probably some approach grafts for the left side as the left side will have a lot of scar area. A branch will have to be developed off the back side of the tissue and brought forward and trained from there. Doable.

A classic little canopy will be built and should be about ready for a pot in 5 years. It will be interesting to see how I do.

I will make this tree from a $100.00 investment in the raw material. I paid for wood, nothing else. I hope to make a shohin tree worth 5 times that.
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: akeppler on October 16, 2011, 02:31 AM
 Al has stated and has given examples of trees he was able to develop from very inexpensive material. His knowledge and artistic ability are great, not all of us have it. I am one of those who has been into Bonsai for over ten years. I am not the best of artist and require (yes require) direction at times to help me with my trees. I'd venture that there are more of us who fall into this group than would like to admit it. For me, and I believe many others, purchasing a tree from a Bonsai Nursery that has had basic development is the best way to go.

 Jay

Ah ha! I think I have found the communication flaw in this thread. Let us consider Jay, John Kirby, and Al.

Jay has stated that he lacks skills. So for him buying the best tree he can afford works for him. He is probably not going to hack it up but refine it. It is easy to understand why from his point of view the title makes sense.

John Kirby is also of the valition that buying more expensive trees is the way to go. While skill is not his problem, financially he can just buy a more finished tree, and I mean really finished and maintain it, or even pay Boon to maintain it. Again from John's point of view I can also see how that makes sense.

Al, that cheap b%$tard always looks for a deal. It's not that I don't have the money to buy something more finished, it's just that I don't want to really work on material that has been worked on by others that didn't really know what they were doing and buy that only to find out that I really didn't have enough knowledge to know I was not getting my monies worth. That may be why I have such a different point of view about this thread.

So what this thread boils down to since both John and Jay buy trees, is that the price of the tree really determines what you get. Thats a no brainer.

For Al, my needs are not so much determined by how much I pay for it, but rather how much potential there is in what I can find for sale. The potential I see may not be seen by the seller so I can pick it up at a much cheaper price. For instance the twisty juniper that I posted was purchased for about 125.00. The smaller crescent shaped juniper  was bought for about 60.00. Most people might say the twisty tree was the better deal because I paid more for it, and the seller knew it because it was unique and interesting so he could get a premium price. The guy with the crescent juniper has something virgin, not much work done on it and most people lacking skills might just pass it by at 60.00 not really knowing what to do with it. 

Trust me, there have been plenty of times I have come home from the convention with pots instead of material, only because the diamond never revealed itself. If I don't see the diamond, I don't buy the plant!
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: akeppler on October 16, 2011, 03:32 AM

  My point is, that folks who don't yet have the skills would be better to pay for the time of others to purchase a few trees with good preparative work than to buy a lot of plants that have been grown specifically for the landscape trade (aka straight trunks and high branches). We have all done this, but helping folks to see why it isn't necessarily the best approach.

 John



With a forum of say 200 persons, there may be only 3 or 4 persons with the skill to take a 3.00 liner and make a plant like that in three years.

Ok maybe 10, but thats not the point. The point is first we have to seperate those engaging in the hobby as to what they want out of the hobby. To continue to buy more expensive trees with out learning how to get more expensive trees from inexpensive trees is just buying bonsai? So what is the point, to buy bonsai or to make bonsai? First a person has to determine that. Do you really think I learned how to make this pine by buying two or three 100.00 dollar pines? This is only the second pine I have ever worked on. This first one I killed in 2002 after Andy Rutledge at bonsaiTALK told me I pruned it back too hard and it would die. He was right! These were the days when Andy, myself , Ripsgreentree and Walter Pall were about the only ones there.

I learned how to do bonsai by going to the nursery in Oct and buying all the gallon procumbens I could afford. Sometimes I would get them for 3.00 a piece. I hacked them, wrapped them with wire I would pick up at work following the electrician around. Not annealed mind you, I didn't even know what that was. I think I have twisted up about 100 gallon nana's over the last 30 years.  I bent and hacked till all that I learned became second nature. Not all of them were good mind you, some were just downright ugly. I learned to wire to the tips. Something many on this and many forums never do. Most have no tertiary twigs anyway so wiring tips is not even possible. I learned so much from those nana's. I wouldn't trade that cheap experiance for all of Boons video's.

Watching those video's by the way won't make you a better artist. Working on trees, and lots of them, at any price, thats what makes a person move in a better direction. A peson does not even have to have a tree to learn to wire. You can mount a set of deer antlers on a garage wall and wire and unwire that thing day after day for two weeks and become so proficiant at wireing it will be second nature. Right or wrong, thats how I learned.
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: Jay on October 16, 2011, 07:40 AM
Al, I can and will agree with nearly all your thoughts. My difference is on detail. I am the person you describe. Skills are limited (but growing) and I am a retired individual on a fixed income. I live in a part of the country that has a short growing season, for my own reasons I do not do Tropicals.

That all said I can not invest in very young trees if I wish to enjoy them as Bonsai in a few years. What will take you 3 to 5 years in Calif will take me many years longer in northern Vermont. Not looking for pity just stating facts. I too learn from doing and it is true the more you do the better you get. For my own reasons I need to keep my collection to a manageable number of 20 to 30 trees. I can not buy all those liners to play with. I do not have the funds nor the space.

I must agree though, that different individuals will have different takes on what works for them. In Al's eye, he John and I are going in three different directions. I prefer to think we are headed to the same place but in different ways. Ability, skill, and cash availability as well as geographic location all determine how we go forward. And to what level we reach.

The one thing that is for sure is that we all love Bonsai. We love our own trees and appreciate the trees of others. And that we probably would enjoy sitting down over a cup of coffee or a beer and talking.....

Jay
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: akeppler on October 16, 2011, 11:37 AM
The one thing that is for sure is that we all love Bonsai. We love our own trees and appreciate the trees of others. And that we probably would enjoy sitting down over a cup of coffee or a beer and talking.....

Jay

...and that my friend is why I go to conventions ;D
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: Jerry Norbury on October 16, 2011, 12:08 PM
Great thread - it's always good when Al is awoken.

You don't get what you pay for, you get what you choose. You HAVE to choose the right material (complete agreement with Al) and in the end the price is what the price IS.

I think the difference in material between what someone who can afford "more" (or have access to relatively cheaper) and someone who has "less" is PURELY in the level of development. The material chosen by Al (and me) is probably of the same standard, but is simply earlier in its life cycle... The rules for what to choose are, imnsho, completely unrelated to what the material costs.

I hang out on a UK (English speaking European wide) forum where many many beginners show up. I tend to give the same advice, which is this (since you are obviously gagging to hear it):

Trees have positive and negative attributes - you need to select a tree based on a balance of these attributes:

Positive attributes:
Visible (surface) roots
Interesting trunk
Trunk taper
Trunk girth
Adundant branches - on all sides
Foliage starting near the trunk
Branches begin low - close to the roots
Branches are ramified
Abundant foliage (i.e. healthy)

And Negative attributes (to be avoided):

Awkward or unbalanced roots
Long straight section(s) of trunk or main branches
Particularly thin trunks
Sparse branches or odd placement of branches
2 dimensional structure
Odd trunk or main branch bends
Visible chop or cut scars
Odd trunk/branch taper
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: Chrisl on October 16, 2011, 12:58 PM
I was just about to post the same thing Jerry, what an interesting thread.  For me, age is catching up to me.  So my buying new material needs to be somewhat established/old, field grown stock, or say collected for instance.  I'm comfortable spending more as I know I can keep them alive, and thrive. 

But I also admit I still have a lot to learn, hence my Bonsai Intermediate level class starts next week.  I'm, at this point in my life, willing to spend the time and energy and money on getting more direct experience.  I agree with Al, you can only get so much out of videos.  Nothing compares to direct experience.  I'd like to eventually take those weekend classes offered by Boon or Ryan Neil.  I'd learn a ton from either of these two gentlemen.  And I'm actually prioritizing taking classes here locally, and saving for these weekend classes, over buying new material right now.  Material can always be had, developing an eye and being able to translate that material into a 'specimen' bonsai is something else.  And I want to get to that level before I kick the bucket...I'm "only" 50 right now lol  So hopefully I'll have another 20 yrs to get there  ;D
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: jtucker on October 16, 2011, 01:28 PM
I like what Jerry said about getting what you CHOOSE... and Al was definitely making the point that a discerning eye is key. There have been several times that I paid 60-80 dollars for stuff at club sales or conventions, and these trees are nowhere near as good (development-wise, or having as much potential for me to figure out) as some trees I recently bought at a club sale for 20 dollars. It wasn't the quality of material that changed, it was my knowledge gained from the mistake of buying junk trees, and I didn't want to do that any more. So I really looked for good trees instead of finding the most expensive one I could afford and thinking that was the best.

Anyone else have hit-and-miss luck at club sales?
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: Elliott on October 16, 2011, 02:30 PM
Al, Not all untouched truly raw stock is inexpensive. I have seen some untouched (except for being watered and nursed along until established) recently dug Ca. junipers that were selling for a pretty penny because they had the potential to be specimen trees. If you want something like that, you will have to dig it yourself (that's not cheap either) or pay for it.
 Just yesterday, I a paid a large chunk of change for an old Japanese ume that was imported many years ago from Japan. It is very old and it looks it with its natural Shari's, uro's and live vein and deadwood. No artist created that. Time and mother nature did. (A deer unfortunately ate most of its branches off this last summer, but it is full of buds all over the live parts, so I will eventually be able to style them as I wish -for good or bad). Your 3 dollar pine (although wired in a technically correct and in a common and basic style) even if worked on by Jesus Christ, moses, Buddha, Allah and miss Thailand, will never have the wabi sabi of my expensive ume in our lifetime.
 I will be at the GSBF convention and hopefully I will run into you so we can get a laugh out of all this, After all, we are just trying to get a little joy out of our trees before the big coronary or runaway bus full of Jerry's kids takes us off the set for good. :)
 
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: Jerry Norbury on October 16, 2011, 02:43 PM
I'll go further and say that price, age and country of origin (read Japan) still mean less than applying the basic selection rules I presented earlier.
I see tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of bonsai every year - (http://www.flickr.com/photos/norbury/collections/72157623748358300/ (http://www.flickr.com/photos/norbury/collections/72157623748358300/)) and it's certainly not like I see perfect trees coming in from Japan - I'd still reject probably 90%-95%. Having said that I probably reject 99.5% of the Chinese trees which I look at - but at least they are cheap...(doh - breaking my price rule)...
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: coh on October 16, 2011, 03:18 PM
This has turned into a very interesting discussion. I'm interested more in creating my own trees as opposed to maintaining bonsai developed by someone else.  But those interests have changed some over the past couple of years as I've learned more, so now I've got a wide range of material - from small seedlings planted in the ground to grow, to "trunk-finished" stock (that I paid more for than I ever thought I would), to collected trees and relatively finished trees picked up at club auctions.

Initially I bought cheap, small "pre bonsai" plants (from Brent Walston, for example) intending to grow them out for bonsai use. Pretty quickly I realized that it would be quite a while before most of them got to the point where I could even begin doing branch development type work, so I started looking for more advanced stock - trees that had been grown specifically for bonsai use, with larger trunks, developed nebari, but no branching - trees on which I could immediately begin the branch development process. Then I realized it might be nice to have some more finished bonsai so I could get some experience with the maintenance techniques. I picked up a few of those from a club member who was selling off part of his collection. They're not "great" trees but they're decent...and will suit the purpose. And yes, club auctions do seem to be very much hit and miss - which is to be expected, since the trees being sold are usually trees that someone else doesn't want. Sometimes because of basic flaws, but sometimes because someone just isn't sure how to proceed...

I guess my feelings (as a relative beginner) are (1) you sometimes get what you pay for, but you have to know what to look for, and (2) as someone said earlier, it makes sense to have a range of material (age, size, cost, state of development) to work and learn on.

Chris

Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: AlexV on October 16, 2011, 05:28 PM
Many good points have been made, and honestly so long as you are having fun that is all that really counts.  Any time you try to make a statement like "trees that cost more will always be better" you are just asking for problems.  If you go to the garden of a bonsai professional, it is however true, you will get what you pay for.

As for home depot material, there are a couple things you will not get there.  You will not get a tree with no scars, and you will not get old bark.  These are the two things that command the highest prices in Japan, and they are things you cannot fake.  The reason to spend $1000 on a black pine is because it is 100 years old with flakey awesome bark.  You cannot get that at home depot.  You will also not find a tree with perfect branches and a tapering trunk that doesn't involve lots of chopping.  And large chops at that, that will show up.  If you are just making a tree you wanna smile at in your back yard, that is fine, who cares, but if you want to make trees that compete with those in Japan, trunk chops don't get it done.  Akio told me that out of 1000 trees that are specifically grown in Japan to be bonsai, only one will be a good tree.  By good he means it could win Kokufu.

As an example, look up the Kokufu 70 show book.  you will see a giant red pine which won a kokufu award, it has branches only at the apex, and inverse taper the entire trunk and no nebari to speak of.  So how the hell did this tree win?  Answer: It is hundreds of years old with immaculate bark that is like 3" deep and it has not a single scar anywhere on it.  When i took the book to Boon to ask him why this tree with so many issues could possibly win, Jonas immediately upon my description said "oh, its the red pine you are talking about right?"  They knew what tree I was talking about just based on my incredulity at it winning.  It is a very famous tree, and close to priceless.

Some trees you spend money on because you could not train that tree to that point in your life time.  Other times, it is just nice to have a developed tree to work on while working on your trees still in training.  Working on refined trees with good ramification teaches you how to get a tree to that point.  It is a bit of a chicken vs. egg problem.  If you never work on a refined tree, don't see them regularly, you will have a very difficult time ever getting a tree to that point unless you have the aid of a professional.  Working on refined trees also gives you insight into things you can do earlier in the tree's process to speed it up.

It is a balance everyone chooses for themselves.  Buy good trees or try to find trees with potential and make them good, do all the work yourself or work with a professional.  And each is a sliding scale.  It isn't a black and white question, it is all about what gives you the most rewarding experience. 

Personally I have bought a few trees that are ready to be refined, and I spent a bunch of money on them (as a grad student I don't have a lot to spend on trees).  Mostly I am growing trees from seedlings specifically to be bonsai because I also enjoy growing the trees from scratch.  Find your own balance.
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: Elliott on October 16, 2011, 05:36 PM
Alex, your my new hero! ;D
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: John Kirby on October 16, 2011, 06:33 PM
Interesting thread, still. I always love it when Al pops in, good material, lots of work and makes the most of what he has in front of him. Unlike most who have posted on this thread, I own a Bonsai Nursery. I try not to use these threads as opportunities to sell trees. We have a few thousand trees in various states of development. I buy trees, I sell trees. Over the past few years I have shifted from an attitude of everything is for sale, to there are some trees that I will not sell. These trees will at some point get passed on to competent friends with the requirement that they be passed on to others with skills when necessary.

I have sold a lot of trees, including a lot that I would still like to have. We start trees from seed, we start seed from cuttings, we graft, we field grow, we collect. The point is, I have watched people walk up and buy trees for years. This last summer, I was vending in Dallas. While there I was decandling and Wiring JBP, Peter Tea was with me and he was wiring JBP. A nice person came up to the vending area and looked at a few of the Pines I had for sale ($250 range). I had decandled a tree and was wondering why I had priced it so low, but the person asked me which of the pines I would pick, I offered up the tree I was working on. They looked at me and said, that tree doesn't look healthy, it is too thin. I started to explain the importance of decandling and needle plucking for balancing growth, when they explained to me that they had had the classes and understood decandling. I smiled and asked them which tree they preferred, they picked a very straight yet not formal upright that had not yet been decandled. It was healthier they said. I took their cash and sent a nice tree to its new home. I took the nicer tree home and subsequently sold it for a good deal more. This happens all the time.  Foliage sells, look at Jerry's list, don't be that sucker who buys a nice (yet untrained canopy).

John
(I have 800 or so tridents in the ground- several years- you dig and haul $15 per tree minimum of 100 trees)
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: JRob on October 16, 2011, 07:46 PM
Good Evening All,

Been following this thread with interest. You get what you pay for - true? The assumption that if you pay more you are buying a better tree. I do not necessarily think so. Bad trees can be highly priced and good trees can be found at reasonable prices. As an art we train our eyes to recognize good trees - thats why every week I pour over my bonsai show book studying good trees. Bonsai is an art form and art is always subjective, after all beauty is in the eye of the beholder but there are established norms.

As a living art a tree is never finished and they are in a continual state of change. The question for all of us is how much time and patience do we have. Trees in my collection are in all stages. Some I will never live long enough to see their full potential realized but my son will. Others are stunners. Some I keep purely for sentimental reasons and the memories they invoke when I view them (just like our kids school art that we tac to the fridge.) Some of my trees I have spent a lot on and others barely anything at all. But the good trees were good regardless of what I paid for them. Yet I enjoy seeing them all and working on each one is a pleasure.

My rule when purchasing a tree is to buy the trunk and the nebari. On all trees I look for movement of the trunk as it comes up from the soil and are the roots balanced giving a sense of stability and rootedness to the earth regardless of the trees age. I look for trees with a good skeleton. I buy early in the season just as the buds are pushing so I can see the trees form and pines after decandling and needle thinning. You should make your selection first before you ever check it's price. Then buy what you can afford. I know use a judging score sheet that my teacher gave at a study group and rate all trees I purchase before I even consider buying them regardless of price. If the tree is worthy - I to consider buying it. If not I move on. This more than anything has helped build the quality of my collection.

JRob
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: Elliott on October 16, 2011, 10:36 PM
I think that we should all just agree that the "right way" is the way that allows us to enjoy our hobbie the most. If we all did the same thing, it would be very boring to go to a show or cruise around the internet looking at tree galleries. My trees are for my pleasure and if someone else likes them fine, if not, so what? I have no right to tell someone how to go about their hobbie. If they want my opinion, I will give it and then you make your own decision.
 It makes me happy to see so many people from all over the globe put in their 2 cents. It makes me feel like Im not the only one who almost runs into the car ahead of me cause the craype myrtle growing next to the bus stop has great potential. Im glad I paid for the extra insurance LOL!
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: akeppler on October 17, 2011, 02:13 AM
My only regret is not having a larger budget. Just think what would happen if I could afford $10.00 crappy stock to cut up!
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: Larry Gockley on October 17, 2011, 09:03 AM
Good point Al. My only regret is not starting 30 years sooner. :'(  I guess the bottom line is you get what you pay for ,  IF you know what to look for. Not unlike buying a used car. LOL   Larry
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: Jay on October 17, 2011, 09:27 AM
Thought I'd step in again. I'm finding it interesting, all the takes on the question. My belief is when you aquire a tree either by collection or from another, 'You get what you get' what you do with it from that point on is what is of import. Obtaining a liner and being able to see the future will in time get you a nice tree, with no insight or goal it will get you a malsai. Obtaining a tree with some or a lot of training prior to your acquiring it will if you have a vision get you a nice tree. If you just have money to burn and don't know what you're doing it will probably end up worth less and be less of a Bonsai than when you started.

my 2 cents
J
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: Jerry Norbury on October 17, 2011, 12:19 PM
My only regret is not having a larger budget. Just think what would happen if I could afford $10.00 crappy stock to cut up!
Accessibility to masses of material is a downward spiral...
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: MatsuBonsai on October 17, 2011, 12:35 PM
Jerry, the first step is admitting you have a problem.
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: Mitch Thomas on October 17, 2011, 01:56 PM
This thread has brought some up some very interesting subjects. and I agree Will most and will adapt many in my own criteria on new material acquisitions.

Here are some of my tough ts.

As I get older, when I look at new material to purchase or to collect, is how long will it take me to get it to look  like a decent Bonsai. In my mid 50's now, will live long enough to see it become a  Bonsai.  And the second is it a plant that I grow in my zone.

I also wish I would have started earlier. I have found out the hard way and waisted a lot of time working on trees that will take a life time to develop. When every you see a very good bonsai with a great nabari, trunk girth, and taper. rugged bark. Chances are it was a collected or field grown tree. Most of these attributes can only be developed in the ground and then collected and developed into great bonsai. I wish I had learned this much earlier in my quest.


Now I only work on collected of field grown material, an my collection has vastly improved sense then.

Mitch
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: Jerry Norbury on October 17, 2011, 03:28 PM
My wife admits I have a problem. I, on the other hand, am fully in denial.

I've sold probably 50 or more trees this year - so I'm going the right direction but the bench is still full...
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: scottroxburgh on October 17, 2011, 08:27 PM
I learned how to do bonsai by going to the nursery in Oct and buying all the gallon procumbens I could afford. Sometimes I would get them for 3.00 a piece. I hacked them, wrapped them with wire I would pick up at work following the electrician around. Not annealed mind you, I didn't even know what that was. I think I have twisted up about 100 gallon nana's over the last 30 years...I learned to wire to the tips. Something many on this and many forums never do. Most have no tertiary twigs anyway so wiring tips is not even possible. I learned so much from those nana's. I wouldn't trade that cheap experiance for all of Boons video's.

Watching those video's by the way won't make you a better artist. Working on trees, and lots of them, at any price, thats what makes a person move in a better direction. A peson does not even have to have a tree to learn to wire. You can mount a set of deer antlers on a garage wall and wire and unwire that thing day after day for two weeks and become so proficiant at wireing it will be second nature. Right or wrong, thats how I learned.

You're right Al, you can piss pretty high! That copper must have been tough ;)

I respect you and what you do, and I like a number of your trees, but IMO Boon's DVDs will make most bonsai artists better, quicker than using deer antlers!. Having sound technique is the fastest way to make better bonsai.

I do agree though, that the DVDs will not improve your artistic vision. IMO the best way to do this is with a lot of exposure to quality trees, and then having a crack yourself, with the help of someone with good artistic vison.
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: MatsuBonsai on October 17, 2011, 09:29 PM
While I have no specific knowledge of how high Al can piss, I will say he seems to have accomplished quite a bit.  He has a keen eye and ability to produce good looking trees in a short time.

I agree that Boon's DVDs are extremely helpful.  I've found his instruction to be extremely beneficial to me, and working with quality trees to be incredibly exciting.  I'm sure not every one will have the same experience, but I'm thoroughly happy with the direction I've chosen.  

And, I enjoy Al's posts, most of the time.  :)
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: Jay on October 18, 2011, 06:46 AM
I too enjoy Al's post as well as most others. Hey I 'met' Al back on BonsaiTalk in it's early days, I even have a Suiseki, on an Al built stand and I think of him when I repot and use my 'Al' made chop stick.

He speaks the truth as he knows it. And isn't that the case for us most of the time. We all are different and go about our Bonsai habit in different ways. Some of us are extremely talented and do wonderful things others less so and others are playing with sticks in pots.

Think about it, how many art forms do rank beginners mingle with Experts and those in between.

Jay
Title: Re: You get what you pay for....True?
Post by: Owen Reich on October 18, 2011, 08:11 AM
Having gone the route of many beginners to the extreme (acquiring 100's of mediocre trees), my first statement to any beginner I meet is to advise the purchase of better quality material early on in their pursuits and learn from seasoned local club members and pros.  I also recommend focusing on a specific species for a little while.  I am apalled by the price of some material in America especially after living in Japan.  I understand the discrepancy in quality levels between America and Japan as well as the difficulty in finding worthwhile material in the States.  I will be liquidating many trees when I return to Tennessee soon.  Better material is slowly becoming available in America.  I think one issue in America is training hobbyists to understand what makes a tree excellent and why good material costs so much.  Some bonsai vendors sell complete crap for $1000 and great producers struggle to sell quality trees for reasonable prices.  It's frustrating.  I'm preaching to the choir for many on this forum for sure.  If it's any consolation, Japan has many small nurseries full of over-priced crap too : ).    Time, education, and increased availability of better material will hopefully thin the herd of mallsai vendors; these vendors may even be well meaning but definitely not helping the art progress.  All that being said, my sensei and sempai are often impressed by photos of trees from America I show them for the resourcefulness and creativity employed to create bonsai.