Keith's Bonsai Story

Keith, My Bonsai Journey.

I became interested in Bonsai after being invited by my auntie Doris, a member of the Farlington horticultural society, to a talk given at St.Andrews church hall Farlington in 1982 by the Solent Bonsai Society the talk was given by Jock Campbell, Matt Penson and Trevor Arm. I had always been a keen gardener from a very early age and after the talk I became fascinated by the thought of starting a bonsai collection.

In the Portsmouth Evening News in early January 1983 I saw an advert for the start of a bonsai club in Portsmouth which was to be held at the Buckland United Reformed Church in Queens Road Northend. So on the second Friday of January I joined the Portsmouth bonsai society at the very first meeting, there were over fifty people at the first meeting. Portsmouth bonsai society continued for 30 years unfortunately over the year the numbers dwindled and the last meeting was in December 2013 our 30th anniversary year when it was decided to close due to the lack of members, when we closed there were 3 founder members still attending.

Having joined Portsmouth Bonsai Society in 1983 I then decided in 1986 to join the Solent Bonsai Society which then held their meetings above the NatWest bank in the market quay car park, we later moved to the Holy Trinity Church hall, and finally to the Wallington Village Hall after I believe we were told we could not have a raffle in the church hall. More recently I joined the Eastleigh Bonsai Society.
Bonsai in the 80s and early 90s although fairly new to UK had a very large following, there were various conventions I attended in the late eighties and early nineties, there were two three day conventions in Birmingham that I attended, the first in August 1987 at the NEC and the second in 1991at the then newly opened International Convention Centre (ICC) in central Birmingham. These conventions over three days were attended by thousands, at the 1987 convention, hosted by the Midland Bonsai Society, there were speakers such as Peter Adams, Harry Tomlinson, Jim McCurrach, Dan Barton, Peter Chan, Craig Coussins and other Bonsai speakers in various parts of the convention halls giving talks. Also for the first time for in the UK Horst Krekeler from Germany and Pius Notter from Switzerland were introduced to the British bonsai scene together with a young Japanese man, who was to become a leading and popular bonsai master, was also introduced for the first time - his name, Hotsumi Terakawa.

Hotsumi Terakawa
Peter Adams

Horst Krekeler
Peter Chan

In 1987 I also came across Walsall Ceramics at the convention for the first time and we were so pleased that 30 years later they kindly produced Solents 40th anniversary pots, I still think they produced some of the best bonsai pots in UK. In 1989 the Convention was held at the University of Sussex, hosted by the Sussex Bonsai Group. Speakers from America and Japan were brought in for this event - Marian Borchers, Chase Rosade and Mitsuo Masui, together with our own British regulars.

Chase Rosade
Mitsuo Masui
Jim McCurrach
Harry Tomlinson

In 1991 I attended, at the newly opened International Convention Centre (ICC) in central Birmingham. Over 5,000 of the public attended plus Seven hundred delegates from 23 countries we had the opportunity to observe the skills of Peter Adams, Dan Barton, Craig Coussins, George Davis, Hideo Kato, Colin Lewis, Jim McCurrach, John Naka, Mike Street, Dan Robinson, Chase Rosade, Hotsumi Terakawa and Harry Tomlinson; they could also try their hands at workshops with Charlotte Dalampira, Suchin Ee, Bill Jordan and Hotsumi Terakawa. All of this took place in five of the ICC’s magnificently appointed halls.

John Naka with Pius Notter wiring
Hideo Kato
Dan Barton
Craig Cousins

One of the talks that stands out in my mind in was given by Craig Cousins, first a very large pine tree was carried on to the stage by four men, then Craig Cousins appeared in a kimono carrying a Samurai sword, he then proceeded to hack off many of the branches using the samurai sword before working on what remained of the tree.
In the early 80s there was not that much information to be had such as books etc. only what you picked up from other members, being new to bonsai in February 1983 it was repotting time so having purchased a small Judas tree in a typical black pot from a local garden centre I thought I would repot it into a more suitable bonsai soil, so I took it out cleaned off the old soil and as I had read and heard, cut off about 2/3 of the roots. Well, I thought it would grow into a fabulous bonsai, what actually happened was it died, what I learned from that was if you cut off 2/3 of the roots when the tree has not much root to start with it will probably die, so I am more careful when root pruning since then.
In the 90’s we got to know Manuel Gonzales and Italo members of Wessex Bonsai Society Manuel being one of the most enthusiastic and best bonsai artists I have ever known. Arthur, Eddie, Jon and myself joined the Wessex club so we could attend there weekend workshops which we enjoyed for some years. At some of the all day workshops we had other well known people in the bonsai world such at Kevin Wilson, Ken Norman etc.

Workshops at Wessex

Unfortunately Manuel died suddenly and then my friend and car buddy Jon also passed away and eventually we left the Wessex club, however we now enjoy workshops at Roberts.

I have also been lucky over the years, to have participated and been to many shows with what I call the four amigos Robert, Arthur and Eddie, (our original amigo was Jon but unfortunately he passed away). At the shows, over the years, we have made many friends and acquaintances in the bonsai world.

The Four Amigos

In 2009 Arthur and I Had a wonderful trip to Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition in Japan as well as Kokufu. We visited some of Japan’s most prestigious bonsai nurseries at Kinashi and Omiya bonsai villages, and visit the Kokufu Bonsai Ten, which was a fantastic chance to see some of the finest bonsai in the world and we visited the Green Club where you can buy almost anything to do with bonsai with prices from 10 to 10,000,000 yen. We explore temples in Kyoto, we rode the bullet train, and marvel at the astounding Tokyo metropolis and visited sum of the best bonsai and gardens that Japan has to offer. It was truly a fantastic experience.

Arthur and I in Japan

In 2006 I took over as membership secretary of Solent Bonsai Society which I held until 2015 when I was persuaded to take over as Secretary of the club, not something I thought I would be any good at. I was lucky when I took over the secretary’s job that Robert, having at the time retired from his butchers shop, became Solent Chairman and has always been a great help to me.
For many years Pat Palmer produced an excellent quarterly magazine but having been membership secretary I was aware that a majority of our members were on the internet so in April 2016 I decided to send out a monthly email to our members to keep them informed of what was happening at the next meeting, it now includes shows that members could attend in our region, reports on shows Solent had attended as exhibiters, results of “Tree of the Month”, what other clubs are in our area are up to, and the informative articles from Robert.
I also produce some paper copies for, as Robert would say, is for the internet dinosaurs. This year, with the pandemic, it is a right off for bonsai clubs meetings and shows so I hope the newsletters are a reminder about bonsai and that there will be life after coronavirus.