Bonsai Study Group Forum

General Category => General Bonsai Discussion => Topic started by: JRob on August 18, 2010, 08:17 PM

Title: Your collection
Post by: JRob on August 18, 2010, 08:17 PM
Good Evening All,

I am curious. This month I gave our club's presentation - the subject "How to Build Your Bonsai Collection". In researching the topic I was surprised how little literature and information there appears to be on the subject. So what I'd like to explore in this thread is how did you go about building your collect. Was there a purpose or uncontrolled madness. Was it built based upon specifics of some sort or did you buy anything you liked? What was or is your game plan as you are developing it today? What suggestion would you give to someone starting out if you were asked for your advice? Thought it might be an interesting discussion.

Title: Re: Your collection
Post by: MatsuBonsai on August 19, 2010, 09:03 AM
When I first started in bonsai I went for 1 of everything.  I would spend anywhere from $5 to $75 for different species that were rarely more than sticks in pots that would never amount to everything.  When I got more serious and began studying with Boon I decided to become more focused and learn as much as I could about JBP.  Thanks to Boon I was able to learn a lot about JBP and other species as well.

In the last few years I've gotten rid of most of the sticks that won't amount to everything and focused on good quality pre-bonsai.  By pairing down my collection to a manageable size of quality trees I feel much more productive.  I also feel less overwhelmed as I'm not trying to spread myself too thin with too many species and too many trees.

I'm down to about 40 trees now, and hope to get down to 30 quality trees in the next few years.  I've taken some whips and seedlings to my mother's house to plant in the ground.  This allows me to essentially forget about them for months at a time, until I'm ready to devote more time to them.

Current favorite species are JBP, Satsuki Azleas, Trident Maple, Shimpaku, Western Juniper.  That's enough for now.  :)
Title: Re: Your collection
Post by: bwaynef on August 19, 2010, 10:02 AM
Amassing trees was the goal initially.  Luckily the collection never got too large, due to losses (however lucky that makes it...).  Then, priorities had me spending more and more time away from my trees and when I would have the time, I noticed more and more (likely due to exposure to better trees) that mine weren't all that great.  I've since culled, and given away more.

With time on my side, I've always felt that propagation was time well-spent.  I've decided to specialize on a handful of species and try to keep my batches of propagation low enough that I'll have time to do the necessary things to make them the best they can be.  I've got a few things in raised beds, and after we move, I plan to put many more into the ground to grow for however long is necessary.

I also understand the importance of instruction (for me) so I've committed myself to seeking it out at least a couple times a year.  In the current incarnation of that plan, that'll mean I'll be taking workshops and with that material, improving my collection.

I'm about to the point that I need to re-evaluate and cull again.  I've been hoping to get into the ground what might otherwise be culled.
Title: Re: Your collection
Post by: Zach Smith on August 19, 2010, 10:46 AM
I have long recommended to beginners that they get as many trees as they can comfortably care for (deal with).  Mistakes will abound, all the way from the basic choices themselves through the hard learning of technique, not to mention the actual horticulture that underlies everything.  In time, through trial and error and sharpening sensibilities, the beginner gains ground in the art and discards whatever chose to live through the punishment  :-\ but no longer fits his or her criteria.  I don't think you can really get around this learning process.  Ultimately the bonsai artist becomes more selective and skilled. 

I remember going through this whole process myself, long ago, and wouldn't trade the experience for anything.


Title: Re: Your collection
Post by: october on August 19, 2010, 03:30 PM
This is a good thread and worth discussing... I think that it all goes back to something that is usually taught in all introductory bonsai classes.. However, because there is so much info that is usually conveyed, some things may become lost in the shuffle.. I have always thought that the main and most important part of the aesthtics part of the introduction to bonsai was to have a good grasp and understanding of the 5 main styles of bonsai. Without this, almost nothing can really be done.

Even to just have a basics grasp would be incredibly helpful. So although the beginner may not be able to see far into the future or many elaborate options, they still may be able to pic out workable material. If a tree is hanging over the side of the pot and if you are familiar with the styles, you can consider that this might make a good cascade. Having this knowledge before hand can definitely cut down on the material that 1-2 years down the road is considered unworkable.

All in all, it is a journey that all bonsai enthusiasts need to go through. Everything is so new in the beginning and sometimes the lack of knowledge makes it fun.. ;D



Title: Re: Your collection
Post by: Hotaction on August 20, 2010, 12:35 AM
I'm still in the beginning phases of my bonsai career, (my eyes were "opened" to bonsai in the summer of '08) and my approach seems to be ever changing.  As I learn more, the process of what to look for changes and molds to your new perceptions.  I’ve done a fair bit of reading and participating in forums, and my eye seems to get better and better as time goes on.  It also changes to my personal taste. At the same time, my taste changes as I learn and see more.  It’s really kind of interesting when you think back at how it happens.

I'd say that I never went for the shotgun start and I took it easy, but I might be lying.  I've now got something like 50 trees, but it easily could have been numbered in the thousands. So, I feel that I've been slow and discerning in my approach.

I read a book by Dave Joyce at a friends house sometime after memorial day that year.  We talked about it some, and my friends had a little juniper mallsai on the porch.  After seeing pictures of the mini-maples, I was hooked.  A few days later, I ripped a weed out from in-between the garage and driveway, turns out it had “bark.”  I couldn’t bare to just throw it away, so it got stuffed into a solo cup full of mud with no drainage.  Turns out it was a Acer negundo (box elder).  I still have it, and even without care, it won’t die.

A week later, I helped my dad clean his gutters.  Well, those maple seedlings came home with me in some terra cotta pots.  This year I put the survivors together in a forest tray, and set it over next to the box elder.
Anyhow, other than those I waited until September to buy any material for bonsai.  I’d listened to advice I’d read in various places, and thought I’d save for something decent rather than piddle away cash at $10-15 a pop.  With the first national exhibit coming up that October, I had a great opportunity to find some good material.  So, I waited.

Another bit of advice thrown my way, Don’t go out planning on buying something.  Rather, go out looking, and if something is worth buying, then do so.  Following this advice, I looked through the DIY stores, and smaller independent nurseries.  I did quite a bit of it, actually.  In September, fall sale prices went into effect.  Now, the value I was getting was better.  I bought two junipers from Lowe’s,  and two boxwood from a local landscape place.  The junipers were in the smallest cans, and cost a whole $1.50 a piece.  The boxwood were huge shrubs, with massive rootballs that were long ago wrapped in burlap, and since grown through.   They were in the section where plants go to die, and marked way down.  I offered even less for them, and walked away with both for $15. 

Labor day weekend of ‘08, I met a friend of my aunt that found out I was  into bonsai.  He had practiced bonsai years ago, and offered me all of his old stuff.  We were at camp, and it turns out that he lived in Rochester.  So, we arranged that I stop by on my way to the National Exhibit the following month.

When I arrived, he still had one bonsai larch that hadn’t gotten planted out into the garden, along with the rest of his old collection. He graciously offered it to me, in addition to all the pots and tools.  I was more than excited at this point.  My first “real” bonsai.  It wasn’t in great shape, but had an aged trunk and some nice nebari. Now, I couldn’t wait to get to the show.  Once there, the only thing I bought was a Brazilian Rain Tree, because my girlfriend liked it.  Everything else didn’t seem to fit into my rule system that was now in place.  Nothing seemed worth the price that was being asked, so I didn’t ask about the price.  The show was great, and my collection was complete for the rest of my first year.

I haven’t quite spilled all the beans yet.  The whole first year I knew I was going collecting the following spring.  So, I wasn’t in any big rush to get a whole bunch of trees.  I just wanted to get a few to start getting some practice with the basic techniques, like watering. 

The following spring came, and I collected some larch with great success.  Beech, not so much.  I mostly took smaller larch, to see how things went, before going for the bigger trees.  Some of those from that spring I gave away to the club and a friend, and the rest I still have.  In June of ‘09, I went to the Rochester club show, and found some great value trees.  I bought a trident, a JWP, and a hornbeam for a total under $75.  That was it for my first full year, and I had a couple benches full of trees. 

This year, I was confidant I could take care of trees in pots, and I started spending some bigger cash.  I Started a bonsai fund, and put extra money in to it a bit at a time.  Usually whatever few bucks were left in my pocket at the end of the day.  Once or twice, I grabbed an extra shift just for the “fund.”  Soon, there was enough that if I came across a tree that cost a few hundred dollars, I could buy it if I thought the tree was worth the price.  I’ve added a couple ponderossa pine, and a large juniper pre-bonsai.  They were not cheap for my budget, but they were worth it in my eyes.  I also went collecting again, and had quite a haul of larch, along with a few spruce.  Other than that,  I added a European Beech from a club show sale.  That is the whole story, there is no more. (thank god he didn’t ask the same question in 5 years)

I wouldn’t have rambled this much, but it is all still fresh in my mind.  I feel I’ve had an interesting start in this hobby, and I hope some can learn something from it.  Thanks for taking the time to read my little rant.

I tried to post these in chronological order.'nana'/ ('nana'/) ( ( ( ( ( ( ( ( (!/ (!/ (
Title: Re: Your collection
Post by: M.B. on August 20, 2010, 09:33 AM
I was much like John C. in that I wanted one of everything. I have a big yard and property so I spent the first few years trying to fill it up (I've been into bonsai 5 years). When I found certain varietys that I liked, I'd buy multiples. You know, different styles or sizes, ect. I love olives, Kingsville boxwoods, elms, trees that bloom, just to name a few, and shohin anything. Since I like smaller trees, I can fit A LOT onto a bench, which is very dangerous for a girl that likes to shop. I can justify almost anything but I have learned over the years that it can be harder to properly care for shohin than bigger trees. Boon warned me about this a couple years ago, and he was right.
I have slowly evolved into a much more selective collector. I need to cull quite heavily as my taste and knowledge have changed, but haven't gotten around to doing it, other than donating a  few sticks in pots for raffle prizes here and there. I'm adding to my collection much more slowly because I can go to the shows or nursery and say "got one, got one, got a better one and I didn't pay THAT! :D
I find myself thinking I would be willing to part with many of my trees, but I would want to replace it/them with one much better tree. I just can't seem to find that better tree in a price I'm willing to pay or a better tree in a certain variety due to rareity.
I definitely need to reduce the number of my collection. Luckily I had to remove two very large trees from the landscape in my front yard. I've been assessing which of my pre-bonsai trees/bushes would be appropriate for the yard and not really good for bonsai for one reason or another. A win win situation. Who knew being a bit compulsive buying pre-bonsai would work out so well.
Mary B
Title: Re: Your collection
Post by: rockm on August 20, 2010, 10:53 AM
I went the opposite way, but that was probably because I got interested in bonsai after seeing the National Arboretum's collection back in the late 1980's. Those trees are, well, TREES, not saplings. They make an immediate statement in their quiet way. They said to me "THIS is bonsai and what bonsai is about."

So, my perception of bonsai from the beginning was of larger trees, not the toy trees you see by the roadside or in "Karate Kid" ;D ;D. I piddled around with my share of mallsai junipers and ficus and moved on to pathetic nursery stock and seedlings. I managed to get the basics of care from those and an understanding of esthetics. I killed A LOT of them. :D

They never really satisfied me though. They were just too flimsy and spindly. Wasn't until I visited Chase Rosade that I truly jumped into this sport with both feet (financially and emotionally). I bought a pretty expensive and relatively large 4" diameter trunk-- imported Korean Hornbeam from Chase one spring (and more than a few subsequent tridents and others). I had to become an "expert" pretty quickly to keep the thing alive and in shape. If it died, my wife would have killed me.

I began acquiring more substantial collected and pre-bonsai stock after that. I have also sold off all of the other crap I accumulated in the beginning (and yeah, it was crap. If you're starting out now, what you have is most likely crap if you take off your emotional goggles ). I used to have dozens of "trees." Now, I have a dozen bonsai and almost-bonsai.

I still have the first two trees I "bonsai-ed" but almost 20 years down the road,m they're still pretty pathetic...

Title: Re: Your collection
Post by: seth ellwood on August 20, 2010, 11:45 AM
Well I started in 96 and like most I read and collected books and read some more.Went and acquired some pathetic nursery trees.Killed them due to lack of knowledge.Dug some yamadori tried to work them too fast killed them .At this time I was Living in Ohio and the franklin park conservatory was hosting a bonsai exhibit .At this time it was 1998 I had acquired approx a dozen books  and various magazines on the subject .When I entered the exhibit I was awe struck . So this is what real bonsai look like I said to my self. At that moment I really grasp what I was trying to achieve in this hobby,sport,career, whatever you see it as. That fall I went to the local nurseries ( by then they all knew me as the bonsai guy or by first name basis ).And decided to look in the balled and burlaped trees.This is when it all changed for me. I spend a few hundred dollars getting  some of what I thought were good larger trees.Went home and styled them and re potted them .Well a few made it which was all I was hoping  for at least I was on the right track . I kept plugging along and ended up with a decent fukien tea tree from one of the nurseries that acquired it  from someone who was moving to another state and could not take it with them A hornbeam ,trident , and a green leaf japanese maple all of which I was pretty proud of. I kept them alive  well as the few other larger ones I purchased till 2001. In 01 I moved to SC did some research and found out about a local club. I Joined and this is what helped me expand my horizon to the culture ,trees, and styles first hand. Before this all I knew was what the books showed(2D) and the franklin park shows. I was very fortunate to land in a place where the club members were very kind , knowledgeable, and had some former training in the art. This helped me more than anything. I attended my first meeting and it just so happened to be on a day they were having a demonstration from Arthur Joura. He had a quince and a few other trees with him and I was stunned that this kind of material could exist in the us. I since then have met others in the hobby in this area and started to build a comprehensive collection with the help of John green at green thumb bonsai. He intrusted me with helping style  and re pot hundreds of trees in his nursery. and that is where I really honed and developed my skills that I posses today.There is no replacement for real world hands on training. I currently have approx 25 really high end quality trees some yamadori I have collected and some acquired from friends  and john's nursery. From 2 year old collected native species to 50 to 60 year old imported trees. I think in the beginning you are caught up in the fascination of acquiring as many diffrent species you can get you hands on and it can become very overwhelming and stressful when these do not make it . Allot of people throw in the towel after that.But if you focus on a few quality pieces and build your collection with restraint you will be more successful in the hobby. I have come to the conclusion that I would rather have a hand full of quality trees than a hundred or more ok trees. I get more satisfaction out of the few trees I currently have knowing they are really something at least in my eyes than a ton of trees that may never amount to anything.
Title: Re: Your collection
Post by: mcpesq817 on August 23, 2010, 09:20 AM
I got the bug in the fall of 2007 after coming across japanese maple bonsai pictures on the internet while researching what japanese maple cultivars would work for the yard for my new house.  I ended up buying a couple of junipers to play around with and some small chinese elms.  Also wasted hours at Home Depot looking for perfect stock :)

In 2008, I started to get really into bonsai, investing in benches and buying all sorts of species.  Most of the stuff I bought was sticks in pots though.  Things really changed for me after going to the National Arboretum that spring, as well as seeing a friend's collection up close and personal.  Then I started understanding the types of trunks that really make for good bonsai, and came to the sad realization that what I owned wasn't even close.

Since then, I've been moving a lot of my small stuff to the ground or giving it away, and have been a lot more discriminate in what I buy.  For whatever reason, I seem to do pretty well with pines (JBP and Ponderosa, and even JWP), junipers, tridents (less so with JMs, though I'm not giving up on them just yet), bald cypress, and hornbeams.  These are the species I'm likely to focus on and perhaps even cut down that list, though I'll probably always dabble in others.  I still have lots of small sticks in pots that I'm playing around with, including maples and flowering quince, which I'm going to attempt shohin with.  I have dozens of trees in pots at the moment, but probably only 20 or so that have a chance of making good bonsai.

I don't see it as a total loss that I spent money buying lots of cheap stock of every species imaginable.  It did allow me the chance to see what species work in my area, and allowed me to practice on something cheap without concern as to whether it would die or not.  That being said, now that I'm a little more confident in my skills, I've been trying to pare down the number of "pots" on my benches to stick with the good stuff.

John Kirby said something on the boards a while back that stuck with me - he said something to the effect that people don't realize how large a tree has to get in order to get a decent trunk.  Now that I've had trees in the ground a couple of years, I can surely attest to that.  I've got a trident and a cork bark elm in the ground that are maybe 10' tall, yet the trunks are only 2" or so in caliper.  The stuff in pots had significantly less growth.  It's cool to grow your own trees, but it definitely takes a lot of patience.
Title: Re: Your collection
Post by: BoneSci on August 29, 2010, 09:25 PM
This is a great thread!

While I wouldn't even say  I have a 'collection' of bonsai, I seem to be now coming to the same realization that many of you came to a while ago. After many years of collecting seedlings or buying small 'starter' sticks/plants that are still just as small, I see now that I need to either buy better material or find someplace to collect it. My best bonsai was purchased 10 years ago at MABS, and it is pretty much the only one worth mentioning.

However, I have learned a lot along the way and am confident that I can keep some better trees alive, so I wouldn't change that part at all. This experience led me to make the important choice (for me) to stick primarily with deciduous trees. I live on the east coast in an area with a ton of shade so this works perfectly. Luckily I also put a bunch of the little guys in the ground and hopefully can pull some out soon to work on them. I still really like the idea of growing out my own trunks/trees (maybe another advantage of going deciduous) and will probably continue to attempt to do so, but really plan to focus on acquiring a couple significantly larger and better trees each year.

It's been reassuring to read that this seems to be a common progression...hopefully this means that I can get trees that are comparable to what I have seen on this site!

Title: Re: Your collection
Post by: cbobgo on September 04, 2010, 03:15 PM
I mostly shop for tree the same way I shop for groceries - no particular plan or list in mind, I just wander the isles and wait for something that looks good to jump out at me. (My wife doesn't really appreciate the zen like qualities of this process when it comes to groceries.)

Obviously what looks good has changed over the 10 years I have been doing this, and the isles I walk down now are generally filled with collected trees, or field grown trees, rather than garden nursery sticks in pots (although I did find a nice Japanese maple at a regular nursery last week.)

I'm unfortunately still too emotionally attached to my older stuff, and keep thinking that they will get better with age, so i have not thinned out my collection as much as I should.  But as the new higher quality stuff takes up more room the older stuff will have to go, unless I build benches on my roof, or move to somewhere with more room.

I am now starting to do some more targeted purchases of specific types of tree that I want to acquire, but generally I still wait for that gut feeling when I see a tree that tells me to buy it.

- bob
Title: Re: Your collection
Post by: bwaynef on September 04, 2010, 08:17 PM
I am curious. This month I gave our club's presentation - the subject "How to Build Your Bonsai Collection".

Jrob, why don't you share how you have and plan to build your collection?
Title: Re: Your collection
Post by: JRob on September 05, 2010, 07:15 AM
I'll post my thoughts next week. Club show is this weekend at the Missouri Botanical Garden's Japanese festival. Thousands of people walking through our show. I am at the garden from 7:30 am to 7:30 pm Fri-Mon. Out to dinner each night, not much time.

Title: Re: Your collection
Post by: NiiLoC on March 14, 2012, 11:22 PM
great thread, with tons of invaluable insights for newbies like me  :)

thanks to all who have posted here!
Title: Re: Your collection
Post by: leila on March 16, 2012, 05:02 AM
I'm brand new.  This spring marks one year since I fell in love at Longwood Gardens.  I spent the spring and summer accumulating all the free material I could get my hands on.  Since I'm a student, I don't have much income or time, so it seemed prudent to get started learning how to keep trees alive.  My collection currently consists of a couple tiny saplings I collected from around the yard (2 acres in rural New Hampshire makes this possible), cuttings I took of a couple different species of willow, and several pots with seeds that I collected in the fall.  I don't truly believe those will sprout, but I keep them around anyway.  They have been stratifying all winter and now that spring is in the air I am wishing and hoping to see some green.

Everyone in my family thinks I have a ridiculous number of pots, but now that I've read the rest of your stories I don't feel so bad.  My strategy has been to have enough trees  to ensure that at least a couple would survive the winter, knowing that I would screw up.  I also know that not all baby trees are destined to survive, otherwise why would trees produce so many seeds?  So I'm trying to beat the odds, and I hope that one or two of these early experiments will grow old with me.

As it turns out, I have had fairly good success, and most of those trees seem to have survived, a couple are clearly dead, and I'm waiting for warmer weather to know about the others.  I attribute this to the magical properties of willow water, which I water all my plants with after repotting.  I know that they're just sticks in pots, but I'm excited to see them wake up this spring anyway.

Tomorrow is the day, though, that I acquire my first tree from a bonsai nursery.  My birthday present from my fiancee is a workshop at the New England Bonsai Garden, and I will get to pick out a Trident Maple.  I can hardly handle it!  My goal has been to acquire trees in various stages of development, and this will accomplish that goal.  Also, hopefully I have enough expendable material to keep me from overly fussing over the new, slightly more expensive tree.

The species I have are Weeping Willow, Corkscrew Willow, Chinese Willow, A wild Maple of some sort, A wild Oak of some sort, Staghorn Sumac, an unidentified pine, Pomegranate, and Rosemary (which just sprouted).  The pots of hope contain Japanese maple, Beech, Sycamore, and weeping birch seeds.  One is also labelled "Mystery green seed."

My plan for this spring is to try my hand at air layering.  We have a ridiculous amount of Juniper as ground cover in the front yard, and I would like to air-layer some of that, and possibly collect one.  There's a small pine growing in the yard and I've decided to wire it, but leave it in the ground.  Finally, I've targeted a hemlock way back in the woods that I might try to air layer.

I guess that is to say, that my collecting process has been defined primarily by the chaotic desire to try everything, and affordability.  I want to try a wide variety so I can figure out early what I like best, and stick with that in the future.  And I want to try a variety of horticultural techniques early in the process so I can hopefully avoid killing trees in the future.
Title: Re: Your collection
Post by: GastroGnome on March 24, 2012, 10:40 AM
It seems that beginners(Mark excluded!) begin mostly the same way, as did I, getting a whole bunch of crap.  Which is a good thing, I agree.  No great loss if you kill a couple of poorly grafted maple varieties or mallsai! 
But beyond this "getting to know" bonsai phase, how to build your collection after that, I think is most interesting and the hardest part.  I've purchased the vast majority of my nice trees and great stock from friends and professional nurseries.  For a beginner past the sticks phase, I can't discount the value of having good bonsai buddies who are willing to part with some good stuff every now and again for friend prices or, even better, in trade for pots!!!!(oh, and get some good pots and a great source for them, they go a loooong way in trade for stock!). 
I actually managed to keep the vast majority of my early purchases alive(if youve read thw blog you know I'm addicted to research, so that helped).  While I have 20 or 30 nice trees that'll make show quality eventually, I still have 100 various stock trees around from the early days.  Most of these went into the ground, but a few still stay around the benches.  I still enjoy making the most out of poor, middling, and average stock.  It makes for good wiring practice and improves improves your eye, IMHO.
Title: Re: Your collection
Post by: John Kirby on March 26, 2012, 09:06 AM
I have been fortunate to go through several 'phases' over my Bonsai life. Over the past 8-10 years I have made a real effort to pick up higher end trees that have been neglected or allowed to progress without the hard decisions being implemented. These trees can frequently be transformed to something better than they were before. These trees aren't inexpensive, but you can get tremendous trees in less than 8-10 years of smart work. Notice, I am not asking about starting from seed or sticks in pots. I do a lot of cuttings and seedling propagation, however I understand that I am probably preparing material for others to develop in to real, fine, bonsai in time.

One other point in addendum, I have been vey fortunate to know a number of Japanese and Japanese trained bonsai professionals. I have been able to bring a number of thee folks to my garden and have them work to improve my trees. They are my trees, I have gotten beyond the need to be te only person who ever touches them.