Studio Stories – “The Dragon’s Tail”…..the story of a White Pine (Part Three)

Sometimes I work on nursery trees, sometimes I work on client’s trees……and sometimes if I’ve been a really good boy 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 – “The Dragon’s Tail”…..the story of a White Pine (Part Three)

Parts one and two of this series were respectively posted on the 22nd November and the 5th December under the Studio Stories section.

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September 2014, the tree is strong again and ready for re-styling. This will be the first time the tree has been wired and worked since he left Japan. Two of my helpers, Len and Chris clean out all the old yellow needles from inside the foliage.

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Next we must start on the deadwood by stripping the bark off all the dead branches, including the “Dragon’s Tail”.This is done by hand and turns out to be quite a messy affair. A power tool with a wire brush attachment is used to refine and finish off the deadwood. Some of the jins are bent into correct alignment using a chefs torch and pliers.

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Most of the trunk and branches are now covered with green algae and need to be cleaned. If you use a brush there is a strong possibility that you will remove the beautiful ageing bark as well as the green stains.

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Fortunately we have a small compressor and water jet spray imported from Japan which we use specifically for cleaning up the exhibition trees. Of course when this first arrived the instruction manual was a great help!!!…or it might have been had one of us understood Japanese…in the end it was really just a bit like setting up a DVD player to record!

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The transformer powers the compressor and feeds the spray with water out of a large tub. The spray produced is powerful but fine and whilst it removes the dirt and grime it leaves the bark in-situ.

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You can see the difference by looking at the before and after pictures. After the cleaning work was completed I had to go through every branch and remove all the older needles. Some of the new needles were also removed to separate the small twigs.

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After all this time the tree is now at long last ready for wiring. This last picture was taken yesterday so now you know exactly where I am with this project. I will keep you up to date with my progress and endeavour to complete the task as quickly as I can. However this will have to be fitted in between regular classes, nursery work, private work on clients trees and of course Christmas!….but we will get there…..compliments of the season to you all!… be continued……

Latest News – Apologies and January Class availability


Our internet connection has been down so I am sorry I have not been posting of late. Hopefully things should now get back to normal.

January Class Availability

Wed 14th     Midweek workshop       Sold out

Sat 17th       Project Bonsai              4 places

Sun 18th      Open workshop            Sold out

Wed 28th    Midweek workshop        Sold out

Sat 31st       Open workshop            4 places


The Forest Planting class scheduled for Saturday 24th January will now take place on Sunday 1st February. Please contact the nursery to book your place.

Topical Times – Academy Class hits a “purple patch”…..

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

Topical Times – Academy Class hits a “purple patch”…..

Sunday was the last session of the year for the Academy group currently doing level five. When they arrived in the classroom they were confronted by some tall scraggy and scruffy Purple Beech trees. These were the last remaining trees from a batch of hedging material.

The Beech had been here for some 6/7 years and all the others had been sold for use as garden hedging. The challenge was for us to try and make something out of it. First job was to remove all the remaining brown leaves so that we could see exactly what we had in terms of branches.

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Considering them as individual trees, exactly what we had was basically not a lot….I suspect that the students would have been happier to see them in a bin rather than a pot! The only option was to try and bring them together as a group and create a small copse or forest planting. It just so happened that I had a long oval pot but it was very shallow and when you looked at the tall trees the students thought I was crazy…..nothing new here then!!!

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The students gently removed the outer soil areas so that the roots could be teased out leaving a central core of rootball untouched. I then had to go through each tree removing as much of the heavier root as possible but making sure adequate fibrous roots were retained.

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The students were then left to discuss the planting arrangement amongst themselves over lunch. In the afternoon it was a case of bringing it all together to get a result. I started by placing the largest tree and then explained to the students the reasoning behind the positioning of each subsequent tree.

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The pot had already been prepared with drainage mesh and abundant anchor wires. It was a case of securing all the trees in position….not an easy feat given their height and the fact that they had not been pruned at this stage. The compost, a mixture of akadama, pumice and peat was added as we went. Keto was used to restrain the compost where we had a steep fall to the rim of the pot.

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Some Chinese rocks and moss was added to accentuate the feeling of a natural landscape. Standing back and looking at our new creation everyone agreed that we had “a result”…..we had made something out of nothing! It really did look as though this group had been together and in the pot for a very, very long time. An amazing transformation from this morning’s humble offerings and a valuable lesson for the students about ‘judging books and covers!’

Can’t wait to see our purple patch of Beech leaf out in spring.


Classroom Corner – Beginners Part Two…December 2014

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 – Beginners Part Two…December 2014
Once again we had some beginners with us taking part in the second day of their two day Beginners Course. The second day is almost totally a practical hands-on affair. We carried out a styling demonstration as part of the day one class and now the students each select a piece of raw material to create their own bonsai……with our help of course!
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Having selected from our extensive stock of hand picked bonsai raw material each student discusses the styling options with John. Once a decision has been made any unnecessary branches are removed. Deadwood is created where appropriate and then all the remaining branches are wired. The students are ably assisted by Len, Derek, and Ian, my trusted helpers for many years.
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Once the trees have been wired we can then continue with branch positioning and styling. Each student has the option to purchase their tree at the raw material price but they are under no obligation whatsoever. Most of the time we plead with them not to take the tree home because it is much more valuable and saleable at the end of the day……but we’re miserable pleaders and just about every student takes their new bonsai with them.
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The day finishes with a discussion on the practicalities…..watering, feeding, position, pests and diseases. The pictures give you some idea of the transformations taking place. It’s refreshing to see more of our beginners now attending some of our general follow on classes.
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Our next Beginners Courses are scheduled for March and June 2015 so if you are interested in learning more about this fascinating hobby please contact the nursery for further information or to reserve a place.
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Memory Lane – Demo Day Raft – May 2010

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 – Demo Day Raft –  May 2010
In the past we have hosted a number of demonstration days…..the chance for us to work on a variety of material and projects to try and inspire an interested audience of students and visitors.
This Juniper raft project was half of a Demo Day held in May 2010. The Juniper Ittogawa had grown somewhat leggy and at this stage did not lend itself for the creation of an individual tree.
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The lump of driftwood had been acquired at some time in the past whilst out walking the dogs in nearby woodland. It would stand unsupported on several sides and so presented several options for incorporating into a styling project.
I had decided to bring the two together using the raft technique to give the impression of a small forest growing on a rocky outcrop or mountain ledge. It was case of deciding how to match the two together to get the best and most convincing result.
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The individual shoots on the Juniper had to be wired. Hooks were fastened to the driftwood so that the Juniper could be securely held in place. Keto was used to form the compost and cover the driftwood to sustain the existing roots and enable new roots to develop from the buried sections of the trunk.
may 2010 003It was a pleasing result obtained from two innocuous pieces of material that are relatively cheap and obtainable by most bonsai enthusiasts. Together they have the potential to become a good bonsai. The purpose of a demo is not just to educate your audience but hopefully to inspire them to get their hands dirty and have a go themselves……remember this next time you are out walking!

Studio Stories – “The Dragon’s Tail”…..the story of a White Pine (Part Two)

Sometimes I work on nursery trees, sometimes I work on client’s trees……and sometimes if I’ve been a really good boy 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 – “The Dragon’s Tail”…..the story of a White Pine (Part Two)

 Part one of this blog was posted on the 22nd November 2014 under Studio Stories. Having introduced you to the tree I had told his story to the beginning of 2012.

March 18th 2012 and I am in Pinderfields Hospital Wakefield, late Sunday evening having just been rushed in having a heart attack. If you’re thinking of having one don’t bother!… adjust your lifestyle now!

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The pictures above were taken on Friday 27th April 2012. So here I am about 5 weeks later worried about my friend and relying on my helpers to literally help me with the lifting. (I was under strict orders!) The contours of the foliage clouds still look good and whilst his needles are short his overall colour is dull and his vigour is missing.(a bit like me!)

The roots around the outside of the rootball are black and some of them are dead. Despite making holes into the rootball from the surface his demise may be due to too much water around the edges and insufficient water reaching the centre of the rootball. The new pot is much larger but still quite deep….pines generally prefer a deeper pot.

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The rootball is teased out to help him extend and take over his new home. A larger granule size of 50/50 akadama/bims is used in the middle and lower sections of the pot to aid drainage especially while the rootball recovers. At least he looks more comfortable in the larger pot.

Now I have to take good care of him, hope that someone will take good care of me and that we can both recover gracefully together.

Sunshine, food and water are his basic requirements now…..I suppose it’s like sending him to Tenerife to convalesce…….but if I can’t go, there is no way is he going!!!….he will have to make do with the best Havercroft has to offer! This is not so bad because I can make sure he gets what he needs, in the right quantities and at the right time. This can be crucial in aiding and promoting recovery.

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Relax, enjoy the service and grow….it’s all you have to do for now. The first picture above is in April 2013, one year after the repotting. There are signs of growth and the colour has improved but some branches have been lost and the long branch continues to get weaker.

The middle picture was taken in October 2013. The smooth contours in the foliage clouds have been lost and the needles are much longer but look at the vibrant colour. His vigour has returned.

The final picture to the right was taken in September 2014. The long branch has been sacrificed but he has grown strong this year. He has a healthy bushy canopy that needs cleaning out, he is back budding inside …….his time has come………..I am feeling stronger too…….it is time to intervene again………….to be continued.

Topical Times – Paul Goff….tribute to a talented man….

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

Topical Times – Paul Goff….tribute to a talented man….

On Thursday 20th November 2014 I sat in a packed crematorium on the outskirts of Northampton and like most people there could still not understand that this was really happening. The sad news of Paul’s sudden death was such a shock to the bonsai community that I can’t begin to imagine how Vivienne and his family and close friends are coping.

I never knew Paul the rock musician and teacher of music. The Paul I first met was a very accomplished professional commercial photographer who soon expanded into video productions with the same level of expertise.

He was an extremely good bonsai artist having an association with trees stretching back much longer than most people would imagine. Paul appeared to like working mostly with indigenous material and favoured a naturalistic approach in styling his trees but the eye of the artist was discretely involved to ensure that his creations “worked” and evolved over time.

The Paul that surprised me was the talented artist who produced so many amazingly good  scrolls. The pictures were meant to be simple and suggestive but WOW…..birds, dragon flies, mountain scenes, clouded moons……the list is endless. All produced by someone who clearly knew how to paint, and how to blend simplicity with authenticity.

The scrolls supported Paul’s quest to educate and improve our bonsai community’s attempts at display. Without question he succeeded……look at pictures of early bonsai exhibitions and then look at both national and club shows held today. It is a fitting tribute that Paul’s scrolls adorn some of the best bonsai shows held in Europe and will continue to do so for many years to come.

Unselfishly Paul gave up his own time to produce his Bonsai Review, widely circulated to help promote Bonsai clubs and Bonsai events to a greater bonsai community.

I go back a long way with Paul. He wrote and photographed a styling demo I did for the Bonsai Europe magazine. When Craig Coussins asked me for an article for his Bonsai School book the final image picture was taken in Paul’s tokonome display area. Paul was present at our first Newstead exhibition to photograph and report on the event for Bonsai Europe.( Some of these pictures are featured below)

I only seemed to meet Paul at bonsai shows and events but you could always guarantee a healthy and enthusiastic discussion as we put the bonsai world right! Sadly the last time I had a long chat with Paul was at Harry Tomlinson’s funeral earlier this year…..who would have thought…….

Paul’s contribution to this bonsai hobby of ours in the UK has for me always been underrated and understated…..he was not one to shout from the rooftops but more than happy to do his immense bit in the background.

Paul…the talented musician, photographer, author, painter, bonsai artist, and bonsai friend you will be sadly missed….God bless you mate………

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Latest News – Christmas Opening Times, One Day Sale and Class change!

 Christmas Opening Times

The nursery will close at 3.30pm on Sunday 21st December and apart from the sale day will not reopen until 10.00am on Saturday 3rd January.

We would like to take this opportunity to wish all our students, customers and website visitors a very happy Christmas and a peaceful, healthy New Year. Thank you for your continued support and we look forward to welcoming you to Newstead in 2015.

Best wishes…..john and jackie.

SALE DAY – Saturday December 27th 2014  (10.00 – 4.00pm)

A ONE DAY ONLY opportunity to take advantage of a 20% Discount off all garden plants, raw material and bonsai trees.

All trees/plants must be paid for in full on the day to take advantage of the sale price. Ideally they should all be removed from the site on the day unless arrangements are made with John.

Regular visitors to the nursery will know that this is a genuine offer and for a limited time……it is for ONE DAY ONLY!

It is also a chance to socialise and renew bonsai friendships between Christmas and the New Year in pleasant and inspiring surroundings. Look forward to seeing you all!


The Forest Planting class scheduled for Saturday 24th January will now take place on Sunday 1st February. Please contact the nursery to book your place.

Latest News – New Classes 2015…130 places reserved in first 10 days!!!

The dates for our Spring/Summer schedule for 2015 have just been released and you will find them under “Courses” in a drop down menu under the heading “Bonsai Classes and Information”.

This is a busy bonsai Junipers Sep 09 009period so expect whole months to be sold out again. Of the 488 workshop places available between January and July 130 were reserved in the first 10 days and the momentum is continuing!

Thank you for your continued support and a big warm welcome to those of you who are now proposing to join us on a regular basis.

As usual there are lots of open workshops and a midweek workshop every fortnight. There are academy and project bonsai sessions together with some courses for beginners too.

All the species are covered with dedicated classes……Maples one and two, Pines one and two, Junipers, Taxus, Satsuki Azaleas, and larch.

There are also specialist classes on Forest plantings, Rock/slab plantings, and Grafting/air layering.

Basically there is something for everyone…….I am sure there is something for you!

JANUARY SPECIAL – Book any two classes taking place in January for £35. (Excludes academy and project bonsai classes) The normal price of each class is £22.50 with the exception of Extra time classes.

CLASS CHANGE – The Forest Planting class scheduled for Saturday 24th January will now take place on Sunday 1st February. Please contact the nursery to book your place.