Classroom Corner – Dean’s Trees

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 – Dean’s Trees
Dean likes to create his own trees, to make something out of nothing…..he likes a challenge but I also suspect he likes to give me a challenge too…..and why not!!!…after all that’s what I am here for.
In January 2011 Dean had acquired some left over Christmas trees (with roots) and they duly arrived on a group planting class in the same month. This was impossible material?
I removed a lot of branches from each tree to make them appear more natural and less bushy. They were then arranged and potted into a large polystyrene box. It was all we had that was deep/big enough at the time.
They were then fed well and left to grow and re-establish themselves in their new home. I thought I had probably seen the last of them!…….wrong……….
In January 2013 here they were back in the classroom, larger than life, and looking very pleased with themselves. They had grown well and looked in really good condition.
Dean wanted help to repot them into a bonsai pot to make them more manageable and to take them to the next stage in the creation of a spruce forest planting.
We selected a suitable pot having due regard to the size of the rootball and the stage of development. I then gave them another pruning ready for the new growing season.
The group does still have some way to go but considering what we started with I am really impressed with the progress Dean has made with this project. The shape of the future forest is clearly beginning to emerge.
On a recent workshop Dean brought in two cascade trees he had been wiring. One was a Juniper and the other was a Cotoneaster. They had been taped to a large plant pot to make transportation easier.
After some positioning and pruning both trees were shaping up well.
Dean also acquired a large ball shaped Picea from us which could have been used in the Japanese Garden but he decided to make it into a bonsai.At first it appeared as though it was going to be a multi-trunk style but as Dean kept foraging below the soil level he found an amazing wide base and some 4 inches of extra trunk. The tree was repotted and after some pruning, wiring and positioning it’s clear that this bonsai has real potential, especially for this variety in this size.
I know some bonsai teachers frown if students don’t turn up with “magnificent” looking material. I never forget my roots and the material I started out with. I can relate to anyone in this hobby because whatever stage they are at I have been there! Because of this I am well equipped to get them to the next stage and the one after that.
There is so much pleasure to be gained from the challenge of innocuous looking material and the reward of creating something out of nothing, finding a hidden star. Dean is well down the road to having a very nice bonsai collection, he is learning from his material all the time………and boy is he enjoying the journey!!!………


Memory Lane – Joy of Bonsai, Bath 2003..Huge landscape!

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 – Joy of Bonsai, Bath 2003..Huge landscape!
I was truly honoured when my friend and mentor Dan Barton asked if my school would be interested in taking over the stage and putting on a display at one of his prestigious “Joy of Bonsai” events.
Having wholeheartedly agreed to do it the big question then was quite simply what do we do???
An exhibition of trees on one side, a work in progress display in the middle and on the other side a …………….???
I still don’t know where the idea sprung from but it turned out to be one of those “inspired” moments! (These days all I seem to get are “senior” moments!)
I knew we had a lot of group plantings within the school so what about putting them together over 4 six foot tables to create one really large landscape. I arranged a day when anyone interested could simply turn up with their forest planting.
Getting the groups was one thing, putting them together to make a plausible arrangement was something much more difficult. It was good that we had some different varieties and different heights. This would enable us to create interest and depth.
The rehearsal went well and we were not only able to make a selection from the groups but also a layout plan showing precisely where they would be in the finished landscape.
And so it came to pass that the bonsai convoy set out for Bath around Friday lunchtime ready for setting up early on the Saturday morning before the show opened to the public.
Setting up went surprisingly well no doubt due to good planning and rehearsals beforehand. Everyone “mucked in” and the result was well worth all the hard work.
The tables were angled lengthways on the stage and the landscape arranged so that visitors climbing the steps on to the stage immediately saw the largest trees first and then a vista through the landscape to the smallest trees at the rear.
None of the trees were removed from their pots or slabs.
The creation was brought together using moss and chicken wire. We had a simulated river bed and thanks to David being a model railway enthusiast we had a cottage, some sheep and a man fishing. ( In fact if I hadn’t reined them in we could well have had “The Flying Scotsman” steaming through the glen!)
The creation was really well received throughout the weekend. It was something a little bit different, something that both enthusiasts and the general public could relate to. I was really grateful to Dan for giving my students the chance to exhibit the fruits of their labour and dedication.
I truly hope they did him proud…………I think they did!!!

Topical Times – It’s that time of year….

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

Topical Times – It’s that time of year….

Last week I had a one-to-one and a one-to-two, one held in my studio and the other in the client’s home. When both sessions involved pruning maples and repotting you know it’s that time of year….spring is in the air!!!…….at last. OK so maybe this bold statement is a bit premature but at least it is a step in the right direction.

On Wednesday at least two of the trees Neil brought along were maples. This cork-bark Arakawa Maple was in need of pruning and repotting.

The tree was potted back into the same pot in a mixture of 3 parts akadama to 1 part bims (a river gravel from Germany).

The tree had grown largely unchecked during last summer so now a selection had to be made and elongated/crossing branches were pruned back accordingly.

After the repotting we were able to carry out the pruning without fear of the branches “bleeding”.


The second Acer Palmatum had apparently been an experiment. The trunk had been drastically cut back and the resulting new branches allowed to grow……and boy had they grown!



Unfortunately they had grown from the same place creating a large swelled area at the point where the trunk had been originally cut back. It was a case of making a selection and removing most of the branches to prevent further swelling. The area can be made to look more natural and have better taper by creating some deadwood.

The tree can be repotted at a different angle to create movement and to lift the height of the new apex.

On the Thursday Diane wanted some help repotting a Pinus Sylvestris forest. She had created this group many years ago from very young basic material. When she brought it to a workshop about 3 years ago it was the first time I had seen it and I was really impressed with the progress she had made whilst working on her own.

It was on that workshop that the tree had first  been repotted into it’s existing pot. It had been pruned several times since and was now healthily budding back and becoming more dense.

The tree was removed from the pot and the roots were combed out. It was good to see an abundance of the beneficial white mychorriza fungus, the sign of a good root system. The root ball was trimmed well back. You can see that some very long thick roots were cut off showing how vigorous the tree has been.



The tree was replanted as far back in the left-hand corner as possible utilising the open space to enhance the feeling of an open landscape. It was also raised in the pot to give better angles to the trees leaning out to the left and again to enhance that natural quality.

Some longer branches were pruned back and the overall shape of the group improved.

Pruning, repotting and the eager anticipation of new growth bursting to show itself……you know this really is a good time of year………..



Studio Stories – Twisting shari….Semi-cascade Juniper

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 – Twisting shari….Semi-cascade Juniper

This Juniper Chinensis came out of quarantine and arrived on the nursery in July 2008. It still held copper wire which had been applied to the branches at some time in Japan.

Basically the live vein appears to twist around a central core of deadwood. This type of creation can look a bit artificial, a bit man-made but is nevertheless extremely dramatic especially with a trunk that twists and turns in the semi-cascade style.

The tree has remained with us to this day and we never complain when trees of this quality hang around the nursery. The wire had been removed but otherwise the tree remained basically the same apart from having a larger denser canopy.





The tree was thinned out ready for wiring and a branch to the rear was removed. The trunk was thoroughly cleaned and the deadwood was given a coat of lime sulphur.





The tree was then totally wired ready for styling. The lower branch to the right, at the front of the tree was removed. The canopy has basically lost it’s shape and become too wide/bushy. You can see from the pictures below that some branches have very long straight sections taking the foliage too far away from the trunk.






These along with several other branches had to be removed to create space within the canopy to enable other branches to be repositioned with foliage nearer the trunk. The final image has a much tighter and taller narrow canopy much more in keeping with the size and style of the tree.





The visible trunk section near the ground to the front of the tree is quite wide. A flat section suggests that there is a weak area between two strong live veins. By creating a small shari here it lightens the visual weight of the tree and adds to the twisting movement by complimenting the existing strong shari above.






In cleaning out the tree, in removing lower and internal branches we are removing the weaker foliage but retaining the stronger, brighter green foliage. You can see the difference very clearly in this final picture. You can also see that the tree’s foliage generally appears brighter and healthier in the latter pictures. In doing this work we are retaining the tree’s energy and working with it’s stronger parts so that recovery from the work and future development will be good.

The tree will be repotted in late spring. I have a feeling this tree won’t be hanging around our benches for much longer……I for one will be sorry to see him go………..




Bonsai Classes Update – March – 79 Places Sold

Bonsai Classes Update – March

February remains completely sold out!

March – 79 Places Sold…Only 5 workshop places remaining.

Sunday March 10th – Beginners One…….we have places available.

Saturday March 23rd – Open workshop….sold out.

Sunday 24th March – Pines One….2 places available.

Sunday March 31st – Open workshop….3 places available.

All other classes in March are sold out.


Classroom Corner – Keith’s Libani Cedar

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 -Keith’s Libani Cedar
The tree had been field grown for bonsai and when it was put up for sale in the autumn of 2010 it was purchased by Keith almost immediately.
The top section of the tree was substantial but lacked taper and we had a very useful lower branch that could continue the trunk line, and produce a much more powerful smaller tree. The dominant top was pruned back and the tree was left for 12 months to enable the lower area to get stronger.
In March 2011 the tree was given it’s first wiring and styling. The top section was removed completely.
The tree grew strongly and during 2012 the wire had to be removed to prevent it from biting into the bark.
On our last workshop of the year in December 2012 the large stump from the top section was reduced in size and made to look more natural. The wood was torn back using a concave cutter and jin pliers. A shari was introduced to deal with a slight inverse taper problem and to improve the flow of the tree into the new trunk line.
The tree returned to a workshop in January 2013 and was totally rewired. The density in the foliage of this tree has increased dramatically since we started the work.
As the tree develops further this coming season it should be possible to start refining the foliage clouds but some complete branches will probably have to be removed.
The lower branch on the right is starting to look very worried!!!…….

Memory Lane – New Zealand’s First National Bonsai Exhibition 2009

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 – New Zealand’s First National Bonsai Exhibition 2009 (October)
It was a great honour to be invited to demonstrate at this prestigious bonsai event on the other side of the world. In addition to carrying out demonstrations on the Saturday and Sunday with workshops on the Monday, I also had to judge several bonsai displays over the weekend. One of those was the first National Exhibition.
This post will feature pictures of some of the trees from that exhibition. Subsequent posts will feature extracts from other displays and my bonsai work during the trip. At the opening ceremony on the Friday evening I had to give a critique on what I considered the best 7 trees in the exhibition without divulging which of them was the winning tree….not an easy task by any means…..
The bonsai enthusiasts in New Zealand don’t enjoy our luxury of being able to work on imported material from Japan and China. They have to source/start their own material. Europe also had the advantage of the Ginkgo Award bringing artists and enthusiasts together from all over Europe which ultimately resulted in an unprecedented rapid rise in the standards of bonsai trees, shows, artists and technique.
I was amazed just how old some of the trees were in this exhibition. It is a credit to all the exhibitors that they achieved such a good standard with relatively little outside help. I hope that this and future exhibitions will act like the Ginkgo award and be a catalyst/inspiration to greater things.
The tree on the right was selected as the overall winner. Nothofagus Solandri or “Black Beech”, native to New Zealand… appropriate winner for the first national exhibition.
In training since 1988.

Topical Times – A word on Wiring

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

Topical Times – A word on Wiring

Love it or hate it, the chance is big that if you want to do bonsai you will have to deal with the dreaded “w” word!

When you announce a tree needs totally wiring many students can’t help but revert to being a teenager again………”do I have to”……….”oh not again”…..”but I havn’t time, I have to go out”……”can’t you do it for me”…….. the list is endless.

Wiring is a means to an end. Without it you will never see that total transformation, the silk purse from the sows ear, that incredible refined image. The more you do, the better you are, the more enjoyable the task becomes. Practice does indeed make perfect.

Most of the time we use aluminium wire from Japan or China available in sizes 1mm to 6mm including the half sizes.

Most of you know the basic techniques….. correct anchorage, always wire branches in pairs, 45 degree angles as you wrap the wire along the branch, don’t cross your wires.

The biggest mistake?…..undoubtedly using too thin a wire for a branch. Most people put some wire on, move the branch a little and if it does not suddenly spring back then this is OK. Most times it is inadequate. You need to be able to manipulate that branch in all directions, sometimes even twist it inside out. You need that branch to hold steady for as long as possible once it has been positioned. If the wire is weak it will simply move out of shape as soon as the tree starts growing.

They say the diameter of the wire is approximately one third the diameter of the branch being wired. If you can’t decide between two wire sizes it will nearly always be the heavier one you need.

The aim is to try and get the wire on so it looks neat, so it does it’s job, but also has a slight looseness to it so that the tree can grow and the wire can stay on as long as possible. I have made students remove wire after an hour so that they can see how it is already marking the bark. If you use wire too thin this again will make you apply it tighter.

Once you can wire competently then we can show you how to cheat! How you can anchor without keep going around the trunk. When a tree has been wired and styled we should be looking at the tree not the wire. The front of the trunk should be clear not looking like a malformed much used redundant spring!

As the sap starts rising in February we can wire deciduous trees. A different technique using larger wire sizes with a relaxed loose style is called for. Be so careful when bending….these don’t grumble and groan like conifers, they just snap and break!

When it comes to the refinement wiring of conifers, annealed copper wire is really useful. You have so many more size to choose from, especially in the lower gauges, it sets hard so it holds the smaller fine branches better, and it generally becomes unobtrusive. I have been able to keep copper wire on the finer branches for many years without a problem.

Japanese wire is undoubtedly the best. People in the UK have tried to produce their own but they fail to get the annealing right. Their’s starts to harden too soon, before you have fully wired and positioned the branch.

When you remove the wire please take the same amount of care as you did when you put it on. It would be a shame to damage a branch that you have finally got holding it’s correct position.

The ultimate objective is to have your tree standing pristine, mature, refined, not a branch or shoot out of line……a truly magnificent specimen bonsai………..and not so much as an inch of wire to be seen anywhere!

But to get there……………………………’sch’…….it’s “w”……..again and again and……….


Studio Stories – Dave’s Larch Group

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 – Dave’s Larch Group

Dave’s small Larch planting recently visited the studio for replanting.

The first thing you will probably comment on is the fact that there are only 6 trees….an even number! It seems that everybody knows you “must” have an odd number of trees. I have seen visitors at shows counting 50 plus trees in a fantastic forest planting in order that they can calmly proclaim it to be wrong because of this even number phenomenon.

Rules are supposedly for the guidance of the wise and to be followed by fools! You would generally use an odd number of trees when creating a group planting because it is easier to arrange them and make them look natural. This particular group started out with 7 trees but at some time in the past one has unfortunately died. However, the remaining trees make a really nice composition and look very natural….it’s like looking at a small copse across some fields.

In the above picture the roots have been combed out and pruned back so that the reduced rootball is now ready for replanting. Once together you treat repotting a group like a single tree….you never separate them and repot individually as this would be like starting again and would do untold damage. You will notice the rootball in the centre of the pot as they were previously planted.

This second picture shows the group after the repotting was completed. Notice how they have been moved to the rear right hand corner of the pot. It is the space created to the front and side that suggests a sense of landscape and transforms the whole appearance of the group.

Notice how the tallest trees to the right are perfectly vertical, attract your attention and lead you through the group to the smallest tree which leans outwards towards the space. Everything is comfortable on the eye….the planting works and is convincing.

The group has been twisted slightly. Now you can clearly see all 6 trees and the third tree from the right gives a sense of depth between the second and fourth trees. Now you can also see more of the smaller tree to the left and it’s outward lean towards the space is more dramatic.

The planting looks really good in this pot by Walsall Studio Ceramics and it will look even more natural when it is mossed over.

A simple repositioning and a slight twist have transformed this group. It is the attention to detail which makes all the difference. When you like a forest planting it is because all the design elements work, you just don’t notice them. When you are uncomfortable viewing a bonsai then something in the design is not working and needs to be adjusted.

When it does work……relax, sit back and enjoy it…………………..