What a Bunch of Tools

What a Bunch of Tools

So here we are already in the middle of January. I’m finally getting over my Christmas lurgy, my horrible knee sprain is on the mend along with my buggered up pinky and orders are flying out the door to the point we are measuring our output in weight (average 800Kg of goods daily). An almost imperceptible layer of snow is sparkling in the pristine sunlight, there’s a crackling fire in the grate and the dogs are toasting themselves right there. Life is good!

To cap it all Kevin Willson just made me the proud owner of a very special scots pine I have been developing for close on 20 years. Follow the link to his Instagram for a sneak peek. To cap it all I lost a couple of stone too though despite what every born again fatty tells me I don’t feel one iota better. So I reckon many folk are just full of crap (or I have a long way to go)! Overall 2024 has started well in the Potter household and long may it continue….. and that’s all I have to say ’bout that.

So, along with all my healing, packing, humping boxes and waxing lyrical about the good life I have also been busy listing the latest addition to the Kaizen Bonsai range of amazing products on our web site. Pleased to say we now have a very nice little selection of bonsai tools from Kaneshin Cutlery Mfg (Japan) at some pretty amazing prices all things considered. This has taken several months to put in place for reasons I no longer want to remember and the last week has been ‘kin dull as I have been sitting in front of a screen creating web site listings but it’s all done now.

See the range – Kaneshin Bonsai Tools

So if you are looking for TOP quality genuine Japanese bonsai tools please do go take a look. More will follow but for now i’m very pleased with our offering and some pretty keen prices too considering these are all largely hand made in Japan using the legendary Yasuki-Hagane (Japanese steel from Yasuki produced from local iron sand).

Kaneshin Bonsai Tools

We have a great little range of Japanese Kaneshin bonsai tools all available from stock.

These days many things are far from what they seem. It appears to me a modern business can say almost anything in the pursuit of sales. Anyone seen SKY ad’s lately? Sky cinema is JUST NOT THAT GREAT. Shampoos make girls hair softer, toothpaste makes our teeth whiter and washing powder makes things so white they ought to be fecking invisible. Let’s not even get started on tech’, apps, ‘phones’ or the latest CCTV gadget that means we can all watch your house being burgled or you wheels getting lifted in what we used to call ‘glorious technicolour’ and ultra hi def’ streaming to just about and device from a watch to a flat screen the size of a duvet.

Bonsai tools are no exception in this respect. Most bonsai tools, along with almost everything else, are made in China nowadays. There is a perception that Chinese stuff is largely a bunch of crap, indeed I would concur a lot of what we do see here is indeed what the OED calls “something of extremely poor quality.” (crap:vulgar). But, much like everywhere else in life you get what you pay for. Most businesses go to China to source ‘goods‘ (not good actually) because they’re cheap, and also they (the Chinese) like to work hard, unlike us, and get things done. This ensures maximum profit margins but often saddles the customer with a crock of shit that ends up in landfill pretty quick. It’s what they call function of profitability or some such. A lot of utter crap gets made and distributed just prior to being dumped but so long as it results in a profit who cares right? Well, increasingly WE DO!

All of this is NONE of China’s fault, it’s ours. If you go to China and ask for a top quality product they can and WILL make it for you. Sadly not many folk do that, we have seen simply outstanding quality world leading products made there. These do carry a hefty price tag but quality has always cost money and top quality cost lots. Some Chinese bonsai tools are SO good in fact that many of our competitors are openly marketing them as Japanese made which is a crock of shit.

The bonsai tool market has always been a bit shifty or, should I say ‘opaque‘. These complex tools are hard to make, require quality materials and time served craftsmen (people) to build them. Bonsai tools are not made by automated machines in their millions like main stream tools. A few days ago I got an email from a Chinese producer of hammers. Apparently they make 7 million hammers annually. HOW can the world need that many hammers? I’m still using the one my dad gave me for Christmas 1976 and it’s nowhere near worn out. I doubt there have been that many bonsai tools manufactured in the last 10 years….. which is a wild guess on my part. Suffice to say small production numbers and high quality materials result in a high price. There’s an inescapable law at work in the universe much like E = mc2. This one states you get what you pay for.

In reality there are endless brands of bonsai tools. However most are no more than ‘badge engineering’. There are very few manufacturers of bonsai tools and even some of the major Japanese names are just branded packaging for standard quality tools. Not that this is a bad thing but it makes it very difficult when buying bonsai tools to figure out what’s what.

That’s why we have added Kaneshin Bonsai tools to our range, they’re kosher, the real deal, made by the same family and dedicated time served craftsmen for as long as anyone can remember. Not everyone can afford to buy the ‘best’ but it’s nice to know that good quality tools made with integrity and pride are available when we do want to treat ourselves.

As with all things ‘quality‘ is relative. There really is no limit, take Mr Yasuhiro Hirakawa as a fine example. A fifth generation blacksmith shop (Sasuke) who, among many other exquisite things happens to make the worlds most expensive bonsai scissors. These can carry a price tag right up to an eye watering $32,000 (£25,200) though his ‘standard‘ scissors go for a paltry $1100 (£866). This budget range still takes 10 hours a day for one week to turn out a single pair and in my book that’s a cheap tool.

So, having spent a week immersed in all this tool business it got me thinking about my own bonsai tools. Just for the record I love tools. As I mentioned, way back in the 1970’s my dad often gave me tools for birthday or Christmas presents. A lot of those fell off the back of his British Gas lorry but I didn’t care.

When I started doing a paper round at age 12 I had 32 houses to deliver to. At 6.30am I pedalled the 2.5 miles to the newsagent, assembled my papers myself before pedalling a mile and a half with a heavy canvas bag slung over my shoulder to the start of my round. I then pedalled/walked the 1 mile length of my round up one side of the road and back down the other side until the last paper hit the last doormat. I then had to ride back home like a demented person in order to get changed and walk the half mile to school in time for 8.45am registration. I did this round seven days a week come rain or snow. Fridays everyone got a local paper in addition to their regular title which meant a bag so heavy I could hardly heft it onto my shoulder and made for some sketchy bike riding too. To cap it all, on Saturdays I had to call at every house and collect payment for their weeks papers before accounting to the boss back at the shop. Once ALLLLLLL that was done I received the princely sum of £1.35.

When I first started that job I saved up for two weeks before taking what I thought a kings ransom to the local hardware store where I blew the whole lot on a beautiful shiny silver guess what……………… Stanley knife. Not just any Stanley knife though, this one came with 10 spare blades. I was SOOOOOO happy walking out the store I thought I was on a magic carpet.

At school I was the envy of all my mates every time I whipped out my glistening silver treasure. One time (true story) I used it to carve my name into a wooden desk top. What I actually spent the lesson doing was a beautiful intaglio carving of the phrase “Graham Potter is god” (note the small G). Funnily enough the next day I got called into the headmasters office for a bollocking. He took my treasured knife off me and I had to pick it up at the end of the day under a strict understanding that I did not bring it back to school with me ever again. I was about 13 by then, HOW much things have changed. Suffice to say I LOVE tools and in particular knives. Ohhhhh I love knives, but you get the picture right?

This is THE Actual Stanley knife I bought age 12 or 13 over 45 years ago.

For my younger readers, tools are something used accomplish a task that can’t be done on a phone and is beyond the capabilities of ones own teeth or fingernails. With care good tools in skilled hands produce amazing things. Many folk like to collect high quality tools, i’ve seen a lot of folk in bonsai with “all the gear and no idea“. Tools are much like a pencil. In the right hands it can produce a work of art. In my own pubescent hands they were used to jab other kids in the forehead which if done correctly left them with a little tattoo that resembled a blackhead.

I was recently hanging around Kevin’s workshop absent-mindedly going through his ragtag assemblage of hard worked tools. Much like many skilled artisans there was not a single item there of any real significance but no artist in the UK generates more outstanding bonsai transformations than me ol’ mate from Essex. The tool is less significant than the hand that puts it to work. Left to its own devices a tool never created anything. This appears true of many skilled tradesmen and artists, their tools might be a shoddy assemblage but the skill held in the hands that wield them is often exemplary.

So, to my own tools. Whilst these may look to be that shoddy assemblage they are mostly good quality items that only became shoddy because they were good enough to survive me and have delivered a great deal of often punishing work over the decades. Like most long practicing craftsmen I have gathered up a huge selection of tools from some of the best available to others repurposed from other disciplines, some are custom made, some are bastardised bits and bobs of scrap and random busted items that at one time or another were just perfect for the task at hand.

Looking at my own dirty tray of disgrace It occurred to me I do about 95% of all my bonsai work with no more than eight items as you can see here. Were I traveling somewhere to work these are my ‘must have‘ tools that I simply cannot function without. All the other tools get used extremely infrequently but we have a lot of history together so I keep them all.

So here is my MUST HAVE tool kit which consists of two groups of four items. One group I use 100% of the time and the other not so much. Every one of us well experienced bonsaists can probably show their own unique collection and some folk have actually expressed an interest in mine so here goes……

Graham Potters Bonsai tools.

This shit show is my very own personal field of dreams, as important to me as the fingers that hold them.

Graham Potter's bonsai tools

This little bundle of bonsai tools are used every time I need to work on a tree.

So this first bunch is the stuff I use 100% of the time. From the top we have…….

Masakuni #8309 – This is the long handle version of the very popular #8009. This is the only wire cutter I use for wire up to about 2.5mm. It’ll cut thicker and i have bent it a few times doing just that. Nothing comes close to being this brilliant especially when removing fine wire from densely ramified bonsai.

Next is my beautiful little Yagamitsu SP1. This is a hand forged scissor made by a single blacksmith. I have had it over 20 years and even back then they were very expensive but it’s THE best scissor I have ever owned by a country mile. When pruning densely ramified bonsai the short length allows very accurate work to be carried out at super fast speed. Longer scissors may be needed for deeper access but for top work who needs all that excess length in the way. It’ll cut branches as thick as a pencil and chop 4mm aluminium wire like it’s made of cheese.

The next tool is my Masakuni #8812. I only got this because I typed the wrong number onto an order years ago but it’s the best tweezer I have ever seen. This thing has the pulling power of pliers with the accuracy of a scalpel. Technically it’s a pine tweezer made for pulling needles and thinning candles and congested buds but to me it’s an absolute must have at almost any price.

Finally in this group I have our very own Superior Long Handle Scissors. For the price these are superb and can be found doing anything from pruning bonsai, cutting roots, branches, wire, working like a chopstick, creating deadwood and they are great around my motorcycle workshop making gaskets, cutting rubber, plastic and wires. They’ll open a can of soup, cut a sandwich in half or trim up ‘ur nose hair. This pair have a few custom grinds and subtle mod’s which I like and suit me personally and the way I work.

Second tier of must have bonsai tools.

This next group of tools are items I use every time I work on bonsai but I do put them down from time to time.

From the top we have my little Jin pliers. No idea where I got these but they have been in my pocket for over 20 years at least. From making deadwood to wire work I could barely finish any task without these. The slim straight handles double up as a pair of re-potting sticks too when i’m in a hurry. I have bent them on a few occasions but they can be straightened and a little heat restores everything back to normal.

Below that we have the fine twig cutter or NBBC (narrow blade branch cutter). I recently did a video pruning a maple where these can be seen in action. This pair have been bent and abused to a criminal extent. I cut the end off a broom handle with them one time which was stupid but thankfully I have become very good at sharpening and resetting the blades. They are only made for very light pruning of deciduous twigs and small branches which they do remarkably well as they give great access in a tight spot. I very rarely use any other type of branch cutter since I mastered these little guys.

Below that we have the mighty Masakuni #8007. From time to time I get a tree come in that’s wired and sometimes that’s done in a horrible way or with entirely inappropriate materials like galvanised steel fencing wire. Whilst mini bolt cutters can sort that out these give better access and are significantly more powerful. They’ll cut 10mm aluminium (yes it does exist) 5mm hardened copper and 3-4mm steel including most nails and screws. They also make a great hammer if I find myself short of one and can smash up the largest bonsai pots with consumate ease. Why? don’t ask 😉 Masakuni tools seem to be disappearing fast as I believe there is only one craftsman left now but I may be wrong. We certainly never get what we order anymore.

Finally in this group is the Small Bonsai Knob Cutter. Trimming up a cut to enable it to heal flat is a skill that takes a long time to master and judge correctly. When dressing cuts I like to use the small tool to nibble away at it which I find much more accurate than just blasting in with a big gun. Also knowing that the little tool is somewhat more delicate I treat it with some respect and so it lasts much longer that it’s big brother in my hands.

Some of these tools are stainless and some are black. This just happened and was in no way intentional. Stainless steel will never hold as good an edge as a high carbon steel and stainless tools are not 100% rustproof either. The correct term should be ‘stain resistant‘. A 100% stainless steel is too soft to carry an edge or retain its integrity under pressure. There are some utterly spectacular stainless hardenable steels available today and whilst these make spectacular knives they are not suited to bonsai tools.

As I said I have virtually every bonsai tool ever made somewhere in my old filing cabinets and on occasions I will dive in there for a tool to do a specific job that just can’t be accomplished any other way but this set of eight tools are what I use all the time. There are just two more items I cannot work without. First up is this…..

This is my old oil dropper. Its importance is beyond measure.

This is my old oil dropper. Its importance is beyond measure.

Bonsai tools that cut mainly work on the scissor/plier principle of two parts joined together by a pivot. This pivot is the single most important part of an opening and closing tool because it keeps the cutting edges in alignment even under pressure whilst acting as a fulcrum to magnify the amount of force one applies at the handles. Once this gets full of crap, wears and becomes loose the tool will NOT cut properly no matter how sharp.

Every day I pick up one of my bonsai tools I put a tiny drop of oil in the base of the blades just above the pivot and two more at the base of the blades/top of the handles just behind the pivot. This is quickly drawn in and not only keeps the union lubricated but prevents the ingress of dirt. Those little Yagamitsu SP1s have no wear in the pivot after 20 years and still have perfect blade geometry. Keep your tools lubricated, it’s the single most important factor in ensuring tools perform well and last a long time.

At this point someone will ask me what oil I use. Currently this is a 30 weight non detergent mineral oil that’s used in vintage motorcycle engines that do not run oil filters. This particular one is made by Millers Oils, a superb UK company, Vintage Millerol 30. The reason I use that is because the last time I filled up my little oil can it was close at hand. Honestly who gives a shit it’s oil for scissors. Don’t go and use WD40 or similar, it’ll do nowt unless your tools are rusted shut, use proper oil and use it often.

And finally we get to my most versatile, treasured and best tool that goes with me ALL the time. Honestly! If I’m dressed this tool is about my person and it is……

Benchmade Mel Pardue 551BKOD Griptilian - Modified Drop Point - Olive Drab

Benchmade Mel Pardue 551BKOD Griptilian – Modified Drop Point – Olive Drab

As I said, I have a passion for knives. There are hundreds in my house from 200 year old antiques through military weapons and farm implements. Then there are a whole bunch of artisan made and unique pieces that can only be called works of art. However a man needs a good working knife.

My grandad was never without his trusty Sheffield made pocket knife. I never saw him a day in his life without his waistcoat, tie, Zippo and pocket knife. I have no need for the former two items but the later I do.

This Benchmade knife designed by the late and great Mel Pardu is simply the best working knife I have ever owned and it’s been by my side every day for years now. I did modify the blade angle to a much shallower pitch which increases it’s sharpness and ability to cut things like cardboard and plastic. That took weeks of patient work by hand because the steel is SO darn hard. I have used this to cut everything including mild steel wire and my own flesh. It’s so sharp one does not immediately feel a cut from the edge until it touches bone, Trust me 😉

This little bit of incredible steel is one of my most treasured possessions without which I could neither do bonsai or live. A pocket knife must be strong. I have used this to split logs by hammering in into wood with a baton but it must hold a good edge without the need for continuous grinding. A good old fashioned steel brings this back to a razor edge in only a couple of swipes and about once a year I put it across a water stone just to freshen it up.

It is not legal to carry in the UK simply because it’s blade locks. So that makes me an outlaw then I guess. Never buy a pocket knife without a locking blade unless you need to loose part of a finger. I rarely carry a phone when I go out but I will never be found without this in my pocket. In fact I think I’ll have this buried with me when I go.

I love and adore tools, as I said. Tools open up a whole world of possibility and creativity and I love mine with an absolute passion. I hope this little post has passed on a little bit of my knowledge and enthusiasm. I could go on all day but there are parcels that need packing so I need to go.

If you made it this far I extend my sincere thanks and respect. If you have any sensible questions about tools of any sort do get in touch. After all a passion shared is a passion doubled right?



Ho! Bloody Ho! It’s Christmas!

Ho! Bloody Ho! It’s Christmas!

So, here we are at the end of another year pretty much, just the excesses of Ho! Bloody Ho! It’s Christmas! and new years to endure before we launch into 2024 filled with hopes and dreams. I have never been one for ‘marking‘ days. These so called high days come and go and I genuinely could not care less, i don’t even celebrate my own birthday. However I know normal folk like to mark such occasions which is fine by me, knock yourselves out, quite literally if you want too. Ho! Bloody Ho! etc’.

I guess there’s merit in taking a look back over the last year even if it’s only to take stock of how many of those hopes and dreams I was holding just 365 days ago lie dashed to pieces on the pavement of life. 2023 has sucked ass in so many respects I just don’t have the energy to go over it all again.

We do have a great deal to be thankful for in this country of ours. Whilst the reasons seem to have become vanishingly small lately at least we don’t have bombs falling on us and the likelihood of being gunned down in the street is vanishingly small, but, for how long. It’s hard to imagine how peace can be sustained much longer based on our current trajectory.

By and large this year has been shit for many folk. Interest rates, social unrest, inflation, green fascism, Immigration, employment (or lack thereof) or any one of a million other ailments and annoyances prevalent in our country have all taken their toll on our souls. Us bonsai folk have had the added bonus of dealing with some of the crappest weather I have experienced on over thirty five years of cultivating wee trees in pots.

Still, next year we can look forward to the spectacle of a general election.  An unfettered clown show performed by some of the crassest dullards and wind assisted f**kwits it’s possible to imagine. Like it’ll make ANY difference at all. Same bullshit different colour tie. If one thinks it’ll make an iota of a difference then ya’ll as daft as they are.

Most days I like to sit down early in the morning with a thick slice of toast and a strong cup o’ joe and catch the news (or should that be views?). Hard to do these days. Coverage is typically about 2 minutes of news, half hour of ad’s and half hour of opinion. I guess you all know what they say about opinions….. If not search “opinions are like buttholes

I’m no great fan of Ricky Gervais but credit where it’s due!  “The right to an opinion does not include the right to be agreed with, taken seriously or even listened to.”

Suffice to say my early morning interactions with the ‘box of lies‘ normally ends in me watching an episode of the Simpsons. Whilst this was once considered by some to be the most corrupting and controversial thing on the box, today it’s a bastion of common sense and family values. It’s about the only thing I can watch these days without steam issuing from ever orifice.

As I sit here with a new cold just in time for Christmas outside my window it’s barely light at mid-day, rain is streaming off the thatch and my garage door has a pile of wet soggy leaves piled up against it. Testament to the fact that I have not opened it in weeks.  Dear God I need to get out and ride a bike before I go totally insane.

On a brighter note? Here at KB we seem to have clung on for another year despite the best efforts of our esteemed leaders that are doing everything they possibly can to choke the life out of us. I even managed to whip up some videos and with all our stock piled high in the warehouse ready for next season I guess I should be able to rest easy but that’s just not me now is it.

All I really wanted to say was this last year has been rough on many of us for different reasons but one thing that has remained a great thrill to all of us here at KB is the continued support of so many lovely customers and friends. Despite everything I love how bonsai folk just persevere and keep going and growing. THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH, your support means the world both to me and all the family here!

It’s our prayer that you all have a great and memorable Christmas surrounded by those you love most. Have a drink, a smoke or whatever you do and make the most of a few days peace and quiet before we start again. And let’s all hope the new growing season arrives in a timely fashion with kind weather.

God bless you all.

From Graham, Catherine, Richard and Sarah (not forgetting Harley and Diesel).

Ho! Bloody Ho! It's Christmas!

Ho! Bloody Ho! Walking the dog on the beach early it’s quiet and this happens a lot. Stay grounded folks!

Japanese Maple Bonsai Pruning Video – New!

Japanese Maple Bonsai Pruning Video – New!

Weather-wise 2023 started off well here at KB world headquarters before rapidly turning into a shit-show once spring dawned upon us. On the east coast the month of May was significantly colder than January as a northeasterly wind cut us deep for many weeks. Cultivating bonsai here in troubled Britain is all about the weather which is only marginally more reliable than the incompetence and duplicity of politicians and the ruling class. A good weather year makes all the difference to exactly what can be achieved with our bonsai

After thirty five years I have noticed that, in a typical British growing season our plants normally do okay. However unlike other warmer places I have been lucky enough to visit there are no guarantees and, by and large, our trees fight tooth and nail to achieve barely what’s required each season. The weather here is always going to restrain our bonsai ambitions and limit the level to which we can rise in comparison with those lucky enough to live under a sunny blue sky rather than a leaden grey one.

Once again this year, despite the weather, most of my own trees did about what I expected. Scots pine, always reliable performers did great, junipers were distinctly average, elms I found piss-poor alongside hawthorns. But, much to my surprise considering single figure temperatures in June our maples of all varieties did great. I have a little deshojo here and it had the best year I have ever seen with bright red colour right into autumn before making a spectacular display of colour before leaf drop. Every year there seem to be winners and losers in our crap-shoot climate, note the emphasis!

So, that being the case I thought it was high time I put together some information on the aforementioned in video form and so here is YET another video, i’m really on a roll at the moment. This poor old Japanese maple arrived here in a right 2 & 8 having suffered almost criminal neglect over a good number of years. It’s sad to me that some folk have so little respect for the work of those who came before but I Guess those are the times in which we live.

Japanese Maple Bonsai Pruning Video – New!

This one runs on a bit and as usual i’m pretty good at repeating myself but only because those points need …… pointing out. Sadly not all bonsai is dramatic or exciting, in fact I would say 99% is repetition of mundane techniques. If you need a bit of excitement, a head rush or an adrenaline shot go purchase an MV Agusta. I already own one and recon they should be illegal, just like juggling live hand grenades naked in public. That’s infinitely preferable to feckin’ up good trees in an attempt to spice up your life but I digress.

The video is now live and I hope ya’ll enjoy it and hopefully pick up a few tips which is exactly what i’m going to go and do now, sweep up all those leaves. Remember to like, share and subscribe so you don’t miss even more ol’ bollocks in the future lovely folk.

Graham Potter

This is an MV Agusta with it’s Ferrari engine and it’s fucking terrifying (0-60mph under 3s) and spectacular in equal measure. Bonsai is a different thing all together.

Japanese Maple Bonsai Pruning Video - New!

This is a Japanese maple bonsai. It’s the same colour (silver & red) but entirely different and lacking in any ability to produce adrenaline. If you need peace and quiet however it’s right up there.


Graham & Kevin Willson’s First Bonsai Creation Collaboration

Well it’s taken me the best part of three long weeks but the latest bonsai video is now available online completely free because I am such a lovely generous philanthrope. Overall this has been planned for several years but the stars finally aligned, the tree was ready, Kevin was free and my stupid head was in the right place. Please enjoy, share it around and pay attention, there’s stuff to be learned here. If you are one of those vacuous airheads that just skip to the end (remember with analytics we know what ya’ll do) at least give us a like before you move on.

I have written about my relationship with sensei Willson many times before but assuming most of you have not spent the time to go back over fifteen years of long winded bonsai blogs let me reiterate. Were it not for Kevin I would not have remained on this bonsai journey for over thirty years now. We first met in spring of ’98. I arrived with three other ‘likely lads’ to a group workshop day, it was a beautiful early spring morning and being the newby whilst everyone piled in the house for breakfast I was getting all our gear in.

I was pretty much done when this quite intimidating geezer with wild hair stuck his bleary eyed head out the workshop door, looked at the massive garden juniper I had bought, looked at me and muttered the words that have come to mean so much to me……”Fuck off” before he disappeared again.

Not sure what to do next I just hung around outside until someone came out to get me. As a fresh faced youngster with a sheltered upbringing i was entirely discombobulated. However, above almost anything else I value honesty and plain speaking. I don’t ‘get‘ people, I have no people skills, I don’t do subtlety, i can’t read body language and hints. The entire field of human person to person interaction is beyond me. Once I realised I had not done anything wrong, like a puppy taking a dump on the carpet, I began to think I had arrived in a place I very much wanted to be.

Let me explain. In my ignorance I turned up at a four participant one day workshop with a tree that would take any normal person and a very good assistant at least two days to complete. Kevin is never one to wimp out, he always makes sure everyone goes away with a finished job. Seeing the fucking great hedge I dragged in at 8am, before his first coffee, I now judge he was being restrained. I have done exactly the same when, at 8am some spud faced chancer turns up with something similarly daft and you know an early bath will NOT be on the cards.

We did get that tree done, I got sunstroke wiring outside for eight hours without a break and Kevin had to work until gone 8pm whilst my compadres just sat around watching and talking shit. The result? Well the tree did Ok, it’s now living in Belgium last I knew and Kevin literally set my hair on fire and I have NEVER looked back since. Before meeting Kevin, after several years of book and club learning I was ready to chuck in the towel but, here I am, still, and all thanks to my wonderful mate.

One of the things that has always, and I use the term with conviction, fucked me off about bonsai is the competitive cut throat, tribal nature of the whole affair in some quarters. I can state for a fact, more folk have been lost to the hobby because of that than all the dead trees we have to endure. So, it’s a wonder and an absolute joy to me that Kevin and I have finally done what we have talked about for many years and collaborated together to produce what may turn out to be one of the countries most significant bonsai trees. Whilst this might be the first collaboration it will NOT be the last. It’s about time folk like us started to work together.

This video was very much a last minute thing. I called Kevin on Friday and by Tuesday morning we were working. This was entirely off the cuff, no planning was made, no scripting, we both just jumped in with both feet and two days later we “Fucking nailed it” (watch the video).

Sadly my ability with technology is minimal. I’m from an analogue world with a lifelong love of internal combustion which was pretty much what was going on in by baldy head trying to put this 2 hour compressed to 30 minutes programme together and it’s taken me forever, like 50 odd hours sitting hunched over a screen going bug eyed. I know it’s not the best, but at this time it’s the best I can do. It is free, Kaizen Bonsai has paid for the project so do please continue to support us because without our lovely loyal followers this COULD be the last video….. but I doubt it.

It pains me to say this, I sound like an absolute c**t but do please like, share, subscribe, comment (nicely) and post our little film and all that other shit. Not 100% sure what that all means I just copied it from somewhere else but do rest assured YOUR support is very much appreciated in the Potter and Willson households.

Enjoy the show

Graham Potter – Grahampotterbonsai.com


New Bonsai Videos (2) Available Now

New Bonsai Videos Available Now.

Finally got my ass in gear and finished a couple of new videos which are now live.

Thanks to everyone who seems to enjoy my particular brand of BS. I really do appreciate the support.


Bonsai Repotting Technique – Not Recommended!

Anyone who knows me or stops by here regularly will know I am a great fan of the oft maligned Chinese elm. Yesterday I cam across a ‘repotting technique’ though I would not recommend it.

In order to get the best from this ubiquitous variety it’s important to be involved. A good Chinese elm is a very intensive labour of love. They are definitely not a once a year brush up kind of deal. To get the best from an elm requires hitting certain marks each and every year, as with most bonsai, timing is important and everything we do affects what happens next. Getting the most from any bonsai is about maximising lots of little seemingly intangible and unrelated responses.

However yesterday something happened that made me question….
Just how much of the “bonsai” we do, do we actually need to do? How much of our activity and efforts are truly beneficial to the development of our trees and how much is more for OUR own gratification. Then taking it a step further, how much of what we are doing actually PREVENTS our trees developing into bonsai?
The answer to that little conundrum is obviously not straight forward. So much depends upon our experience and understanding and even more depends upon our definition of bonsai and what that actually is. Just giving a plant a passing resemblance to a natural tree in miniature with a bit of wire and pruning is not what I call bonsai these days, twenty five years ago that’s about all I had and felt pretty smug about it too. Looking back I was a cocky little t**t. A fact that was made plain by the arrival of a little tree in a carrier bag just a day ago that posed some difficult questions.
One of the great joys of being involved in bonsai is the discovery of special little trees that virtually nobody but their owners knew existed. These rarely turn out to be masterpieces of the art but they often show great age….and normally display what we might call neglect.
So, yesterday lunchtime a lovely lady turned up on my doorstep clutching a manky carrier bag. Apparently the trees pot had broken in the winter freeze and needed another, hence the visit. Without really looking I commandeered the bag and it’s contents with a promise to sort it out. It’s a little elm, how hard can it be?
So come evening time I had a chance to take a look and this is what I found…..
Chinese elm bonsai technique

Bonsai Repotting Technique – Not Recommended!


Chinese elm bonsai tree with a craggy trunk

Beautiful craggy old trunk. This only happens with time and age.


Neglected Chinese elm.

This in not how bonsai repotting should be done.


Chinese elm bonsai restoration.

Bonsai repotting should not be this hard

Apparently the lady has owned the elm for more than thirty years. It has never been re-potted, just potted on when the old pot began to look a bit small and cracked. Now looking a bit sad, not growing very well and also missing a pot for months on end the owner thought it was best to seek some help when “As if by magic the shopkeeper appeared” or in this case a husky grumpy old git (me).
As soon as I put the whole soggy, smelly oozing mess on the workbench I was simply stunned by this apparently unremarkable yet infinitely magical little tree. This has sat in a corner, outside year after year, with almost no intervention or what we might call ‘care’ and now decades down the road just look!
The age and character evident in this determined little elm reminded me of what attracted me to bonsai in the first place, the absolute and unfathomable magic of trees and their fight for not just survival but prosperity.
This little fella has not been repotted, pruned or largely given any care for decades and on a certain level it’s absolutely beautiful and that just has to beg the questions above. However it’s now gone a bit far and so I have to figure out how to restore its vigour without killing it in the process. That’s always a difficult call with any plant that’s weak like this one is. Experience dictates getting it growing and improving its strength before getting involved in a proper repot. So some careful management of the rootball, judicious application of nutrients and a prune into secondary growth alongside a spell in my magic tunnel will see the decline gradually being reversed.
It’s my opinion that folk repot bonsai FAR too often and this proves the point. At some point the work needs doing but by working too often we can rob ourselves of a chance to see that special maturity that only time can create. Conversely we do need to know when to jump in before a significant decline happens as in this case. Most folk look at their soil to determine when to repot. In my experience it’s the tree that shows us when the time is right and the soil/drainage is of very little consequence so long as the skill to manage it properly is readily to hand.
Having been at this bonsai malarkey for so long now I figure I have seen most things but this repotting technique really is out there. I guess it goes to show, as I always like to say, language is important. Not everyone knows the difference between what we call repotting, what gardeners call repotting (actually potting on), slip potting and any of the other terms applied with gay abandon.
So, what’s to be done? This tree has massive roots growing out of the original pot (that’s now 100% wood inside) through the drainage holes and the cracks. I broke out as much as I could and packed the gaps with new soil. I have trimmed off the extreme bottom of the rootball and fluffed up the side.  Afterwards I put the remaining, extensive root ball into a deep bonsai pot (at the owners request) that was completely buried. Lastly a hard cut back into secondary growth after removing all the dead stuff. That followed by a stint in a special corner of my greenhouse should see new buds pushing out in a couple of weeks time at which point I will begin introducing a little seaweed from time to time. Hopefully within 2 seasons it will be back to full strength at which time I can sort out the rootball properly.
These days I spend most of my time nursing sickly trees back to health (we buy a lot of collections). In our shitty UK climate this can take a lot longer than it might do but hey-ho!
My preferred course of action in this case is well explained here…