Classroom Corner – Academy Six – Tanuki Bonsai

An open window into the comings and goings of students and their trees attending our regular weekend and midweek bonsai classes under the ever watchful eyes of John Hanby.

Classroom Corner – Academy Six – Tanuki Bonsai (January 2013)
I must confess I have been really looking forward to the Academy Level Six sessions scheduled for 2013. The creation of these tanuki bonsai will be an ongoing project allowing the participants to follow their trees from an inhospitable start to a really splendid satisfactory conclusion.
Tanuki bonsai are also known as Phoenix grafts or quite simply a wraparound. Basically young live material is fixed to a dead stump or piece of driftwood to create a dramatic ancient looking tree or perhaps more extremely, a living sculpture.
The stump may be the remains of a dead tree or an interesting piece of wood you found in the woods or on the beach. It may be a piece you acquired from an aquarium shop.
This first session in January was really about preparation. Each piece was extensively discussed, possible fronts and alternative planting angles were all considered.
Some branches were pruned back, any remaining bark had
to be removed, jins and old pruning scars were refined. This was followed by an intense period of general cleaning and shaping work.
This work involved a whole range of knives and chisels together with power tools having wire brush and sanding flapper bits.
One of the stumps had interesting tight curves but then a long straight section. It was decided to steam bend this section using kitchen towel/foil and a chef’s blow torch.


The initial preparation work is nearing completion. The bases of the stumps will be soaked in a wood preservative and the stumps themselves will be treated with lime sulphur.
A piece of live material was selected for each stump. This is Juniper Ittogawa and probably the best choice available. Junipers are good aesthetically for the driftwood style and Ittogawa is the most popular variety in Japan at the present time.
We  now grow our own Juniper Ittogawa grafting material and these trees were originally for grafting but have been allowed to grow unchecked for several seasons. They are ideal for this tanuki work.
Our next Academy Six session is scheduled for April which will be an ideal time to fix the living juniper to the driftwood and pot up the finished tree. I will let you know how we get on.

Bonsai Classes Selling fast!

All the classes scheduled to be held in February are completely sold out!

We can take extra numbers on the Beginners One class if anyone is interested but there are no general workshop places available.

Some of the classes scheduled for March are also fully booked whilst some have only two places available.

Don’t wait for some mild weather and your trees coming to life giving you the urge to do bonsai because by then it will probably be too late.

If you have work to do on your trees and you need help, plan ahead and book your March place now to avoid disappointment. 

Memory Lane – Satsuki Azalea Show May 2005

Looking back….we can tell a tree’s story…..admire an image…..capture a moment…..remember a special event… inspired – to create a memory for tomorrow. 

I hope you enjoy this regular peep into some of John’s bonsai history.

Memory Lane – Satsuki Azalea Show May 2005
Still revelling in the success of our first Newstead Exhibition in 2004 my students could not wait 2 years for the next one.
It was decided to do something in between but on a much smaller scale……just enough to keep them satisfied.
So at the end of may in 2005 we put on an exhibition of Satsuki Azaleas, timed of course to
coincide with their peak flowering period.
Some of my students have been known to refer to this species as “girlie”trees and do not have one in their collection. Trust me……no bonsai collection should be without one!
The flowering display can be spectacular, overwhelming, and bring a breath of fresh air to a verdant bench of pines and junipers.
When it comes to bonsai the Satsuki has it all……a fine nebari, impressive trunk, small leaves, the ability to bud back on old wood after pruning, reasonable maintenance……oh  and of course the flowers!!!
I hope this small sample of pictures gives you an insight into what was a truly remarkable little exhibition, but equally an unforgettable one.
I make no apologies for using a picture from this exhibition on my home page.
A breath of fresh midsummer air in the dark days and cold snows of winter.

Topical Times – Pices Abies first pruning

A regular update on the life and times of John Hanby’s Newstead Bonsai Centre……..

Topical Times – Pices Abies first pruning

At this time of year when it’s often too cold to do repotting we have to resort to pruning and wiring work.

This Picea is a dwarf variety, possibly “Little Gem”, and having due regard to the diameter of the trunk at the base it is certainly an old little tree.


It is surprising just how much difference a bit of cleaning out and pruning can make even without any wiring/styling.

It’s a case of cutting out all the dead/weak branches and exposing more of the trunk.

Some soil was also removed to expose a stronger more powerful base with surface roots.

You can see almost immediately that this nursery stock tree has excellent potential to make a good shohin or chuhin bonsai.

It can now be allowed to grow strongly so that during the season we can encourage more tighter growth nearer the trunk enabling us to then prune back the longer shoots to make a more compact tree. You can see in the final picture that there is already an abundance of new shoots and buds inside the tree.

Ultimately it will be a case of making another selection of branches and then a combination of wiring and/or pruning to guide the tree towards a desirable finished image…….having said all that it is quite a pleasant tree to look at already!

Studio Stories – Picea Pungens

Sometimes I work on nursery trees, sometimes I work on client’s trees……and sometimes if I’ve been really good I get to work on my own trees. Hopefully these regular visits will give you an insight into what goes on behind closed doors……….

Studio Stories – Picea Pungens

This small Spruce is typical of something you might find in an older type nursery or garden centre. Sadly a dying breed now almost totally replaced by the modern supermarket type garden centres.

The tree has some age and character but also a lot of dead inner and lower branches due to lack of light.

So the first job is to give the tree a good cleaning out removing all dead/weak branches to open up the trunk line. It appears to have a heavy trunk for its size giving it excellent potential for a bonsai.

Unfortunately as soon as you get below soil level there is severe inverse taper where this dwarf variety has been grafted. Our stocky impressive base has suddenly disappeared before my very eyes.

When you look at this closely it is obvious that almost every customer will simply put the tree back on the bench for sale…….it is obviously no good for bonsai……..

……….unless of course you like a challenge, which is really what creating bonsai is all about……trying to make the best use of your material or trying to get the best possible tree out of it.

I decided to create a shari and jin to try and camouflage the inverse taper and create movement in an otherwise straight trunk. Sometimes when you have a problem you have to make a feature out of it.

The trunk forks into two and originally I envisaged selecting one to go with the lower trunk and removing the other. Now it was possible to use both trunks and style the tree in the line which worked best with the shari and movement in the live vein.

The tree was thinned out further and any branches deemed unnecessary were removed. It was now ready to be wired.

The jin would also have to be bent using the heat method with a chef’s blow torch.

Altering the planting angle and creating a tree in the semi-cascade style has enabled us to use both trunks and made the inverse taper problem much less obvious. The shari needs more refinement work to emphasise the deadwood area and it’s natural flow into the jin. The line of the jin will also have to be fine tuned.

The tree will be repotted into an appropriate bonsai pot set at it’s new angle in spring.

Not such a bad outcome for a “no hoper”………






Classroom Corner – Roy’s Place

An open window into the comings and goings of students and their trees attending our regular weekend and midweek bonsai classes under the ever watchful eyes of John Hanby.

Classroom Corner – Roy’s Place
Sometimes I am allowed a day out (usually for good behaviour)…….instead of students coming to me, I go to them. In Roy’s case some of his trees were simply too big to fit in his car so the only way we could work together on them was for me to make a home visit.
My first visit was in January 2012, a new year,a good time to appraise trees and make
plans for the season ahead. The two trees we concentrated our efforts on were a Larch and a Juniper.


The Larch was tall with an impressive thick trunk that had an interesting curve. The problem was that the tree was really too tall. Most of the foliage was at the top and the straight upper section was somewhat out of character with the more impressive lower trunk.
So Roy, trusting as ever, allowed me to cut the whole top section away. Two small side branches were retained and totally wired. The whole tree would be formed from these two branches. The smaller tree looks much more plausible improving taper and bringing out the power in the trunk. A basic literati form on which we can build more foliage.
The Juniper appeared to be from the Pfitzeriana family. Once again a substantial impressive piece of material but there are really too many branches and most of the branches are too thin for this size trunk. Building a branch structure to match the trunk would take several years especially if the tree was to remain in this pot.
The lower branches were particularly thin whilst keeping only the top branches would leave too much bare trunk exposed. There was one branch about two thirds up the trunk that offered the best potential and a suitable compromise.
I persuaded Roy to cut every other branch off and to feed the tree well throughout the growing season. We would channel all the trees energy into this single branch.
At the end of the growing season in October I visited Roy again. The Larch had grown
really well and the sparse wired branches had been replaced by a bush. I thinned out the foliage and selected the branches I thought we could use. The branches can be rewired in December when all the foliage has dropped.
You can see almost immediately the improvement in the trunk
line and how the canopy is now in scale with the trunk. This tree has been dramatically improved in one growing season.
The growth on the Juniper was even more amazing. I was now in a position where I could make a selection of branches and rewire/style the tree.
The new canopy will give us a branch structure in scale with the trunk and will form a more compact triangle around the trunk. This is a good start for it’s first wiring.
Deadwood on the trunk has been extended to create a shari. As the tree settles to it’s new foliage area and the veins which supplied the cut off branches die back we will be able to extend the deadwood further. In the future we will have a very dramatic trunk with more deadwood and thinner live veins creating movement and taper into the remaining live branch.
I cannot over emphasize the importance of health and vigour in your trees. Roy has been able to achieve so much with these trees in one season because he fed them well and kept them growing strong all year. The colour of the Juniper, the long growth tips,… oozes good health. This really is the key to success.
Now it just so happens Roy has another Juniper……….watch this space as they say……..


Memory Lane – Newstead Four – John’s Junipers

Looking back….we can tell a tree’s story…..admire an image…..capture a moment…..remember a special event… inspired – to create a memory for tomorrow. 

I hope you enjoy this regular peep into some of John’s bonsai history.

Memory Lane – Newstead Four – John’s Junipers
The picture on the home page of the Junipers on the display bench was taken at our biennial bonsai exhibition Newstead Four in September 2010. This display was put together under the heading “John’s Junipers…..a work in progress”.

November 2008

Different varieties of Juniper with different characteristics but all making good progress from their original acquisition photographs. I wanted to show visitors how far I had come with these trees but at the same time make them aware that there was still a long way to go. These are far from “finished” trees.

Juniper Grey Owl 

When you acquire or start up a new tree take a picture……whether it be a fine tree from Japan or a “pig’s ear” from the back yard….it doesn’t matter, this is your starting point. It’s what you do from now on that’s really important. So after 5 years if you take another picture and the tree looks exactly the same what have you done with your time…maybe you enjoyed your time with the tree but what have you achieved?……are you satisfied with your efforts?

August 2006

In 5 years if you apply the correct techniques at the right time to a reasonable piece of material you really can make a difference, you can take the tree to another level. What you have to appreciate is that you can take the best trees this country has to offer, the finest specimen available…..there is alwaysanother higher level to reach. You and I will never have in our possession a “finished” tree.

Juniper Procumbens

This might sound a bit daunting but in our game the pleasure is not in reaching the end. Our enjoyment comes from the journey, the ups and downs, the immense satisfaction of seeing your tree develop into something better, something good, something admired by others, something to be proud of, something rather special, something respected……. ……………’s a bit like bringing up a child!

January 2002

Korean Juniper


August 2005

Yamadorii Juniper – Japan

May 2009

Yamadorii Juniper – Japan

Topical Times – Winter’s coming…Autumn’s gone

A regular update on the life and times of John Hanby’s Newstead Bonsai Centre……..

Topical Times – Winter’s coming…Autumn’s gone

It only takes a few mild dry days to get you and your trees thinking of spring. A pleasant start to 2013 but you know it’s going to get worse before it get’s better. So the return of the cold and this morning’s frost was a stark reality shock to bring you back into the real world.

The white sheen on the natural moss canopy provided a tell-tale contrast to the solemn black lava rock of this Indonesian lantern.

……………and if the weathermen are to be believed it is about to get much worse!!!

So think of the mistakes you made, the trees you lost 2 years ago in that wickedly cold December. Protect your Chinese Elms, Trident Maples, Olives and anything else that’s slightly temperate or Mediterranean. If it gets ridiculously bad again (-17) bring them into a cool room in the house if you have to.

On a sad note it’s touching to see my two friends in the last snowy fields surrounding Newstead…..both of them died without warning in 2012, brother and sister, less than 6 years old.

The drab damp weather really seems to hang around forever but time really does fly. We’re all getting used to looking at sombre solitary trunks with lifeless empty branches and yet how long is it since they were awash with gaudy colour enjoying that final fancy fling.











Sadly these autumn colours are indeed long gone………and whether we like it or not winter is definitely coming!…………….

Studio Stories – Styled at last (Part two)

Sometimes I work on nursery trees, sometimes I work on client’s trees……and sometimes if I’ve been really good I get to work on my own trees. Hopefully these regular visits will give you an insight into what goes on behind closed doors……….

Studio Stories – Styled at last – Blaauws Junipers

The same treatment was given to the remaining trees in the batch as described in the Part one article. They were cleaned out, unnecessary branches were removed, deadwood was created, and finally they were wired and styled.

The pictures tell their stories.
















The longer tips on the lower branches of the middle tree will be pruned back to shape in the summer when the tree is growing strong.

In the final tree the cascading section could be removed to create an upright bonsai or the top could be removed to leave the tree as a simple cascade. Or we can leave it alone and combine the two.

All the trees will be repotted at the appropriate angle into suitable ceramic pots in spring.

Classroom Corner – Chris’s Taxus Baccata

An open window into the comings and goings of students and their trees attending our regular weekend and midweek bonsai classes under the ever watchful eyes of John Hanby.

Chris’s Taxus Baccata

Chris had acquired this tree from us and had been allowing it to grow on. Together we decided that now was the right time to give the tree it’s first styling.




When the tree was first acquired we had removed a third trunk in the centre as this was not considered a good option for the future styling and it’s removal would allow more light and air into the remaining branches. We could channel the trees energy into the remaining better placed branches.

Our original idea was to use both remaining trunks and orientate the tree so that we had an upper trunk/crown and a lower cascading branch. However the lower trunk to the right was very straight whereas the left hand trunk gave a much better option especially using the first branch leading off to the left.

The problem with this trunk line was that it had a heavy straight section at the top with many side branches all emanating from one point.




So it had to be cut off.





The large branch to the right would also have to be removed but stumps were left to create deadwood and shari. The shari could also be used to create taper and movement in the live vein.



The tree at the end of the first styling with a total change in the planting angle. The tree is now much more compact and a nice mid-size bonsai. The more compact design will make  the trunk and deadwood appear much more impressive.



The tree will be repotted in spring at the correct angle. It will then be allowed to grow unchecked for most of the season to help it recover from the styling and repotting work.