Great British Bonsai

Great British Bonsai

Over the last few years I have been buying up a lot of bonsai collections. As a result I have obtained some previously unknown or unseen Great British Bonsai. Typically when that happens I buy everything, we buy live trees, a few dead ones, the benches, old pots, tools, books lock stock the f***** lot. This makes folk very happy to know that what is often decades of their hard work is assured a good future. I don’t sell these trees to just anyone, in fact I mostly don’t sell them at all. It’s sad when we have to part with our trees but that’s life, in the end we leave it all behind.

Sometimes folk have left it a bit too long and some of the trees can be in less than perfect condition, sadly on occasions they are hanging by a thread. These days I spend a great deal of my time restoring and rehabilitating these old soldiers. I have always said that in order to produce significant bonsai long term one must be a gardener first and foremost. You’ll never show if you can’t grow. It’s impossible to create a bonsai tree from a plant that is not growing vigorously no matter how skilful one might be with the wire. Thankfully over the last 40 odd years I have honed my gardening skills somewhat. Within the constraints of the British climate I can grow most anything these days.

The great thing about collections is the discovery of interesting and unusual varieties and bonsai that sometimes have an interesting or long history. I have some very odd plants in my garden and even though they may not be classical beauties I love them. Often the original owners don’t know what they are. 2022 I bought what I was told (and thought) was a massive cascade juniper with strange coarse foliage. This had been in the hands of a gentleman since the 1970s. Nobody who visited could place it but just last week, after it had been here a couple of years I suddenly realised it was cupressus, as in a variety of Italian cypress. Sometimes I’m really slow.

Great British Bonsai

Turns out this was not a juniper at all but cupressus from the 1970s. DOHH!

Not all collections are tired, some are simply amazing. I recently acquired a pair of absolutely stunning Japanese larch, collected in the highlands over 40 years ago along with some old collected Scottys. Most of you hopefully saw the old twin trunk larch growing out of a rock I potted recently and there are a whole host of other amazing old bits here that hopefully I can introduce ya’ll to as time goes on.

Unlike some parts of the world, bonsai is a fairly recent introduction to our country. Bonsai may pop up around the periphery of British history prior to the 1970s but these were little more than glimpses of oriental culture and curiosity. Back when I started bonsai there were a few books and Colin Lewis had not long since begun publishing Bonsai Magazine here. A far cry from today indeed. There were few professional bonsai artists working in GB back then and a bonsai show was typically a niche event hosted by a fledgling bonsai club within the confines of a larger horticultural event….with very limited exceptions.

Let me interject with something i’m pretty sure I have recounted here before about Mr Doubleday. He was the first person that I met in the bonsai world and inspired me to take up my life’s work. A third generation nurseryman who produced roses from his little nursery on Walnut Hill, deepest Norfolk. He lived in a caravan without electricity, wore tweed, a brown felt hat and hobnail boots and had hands like ancient gnarled branches. His father had seen bonsai in the far east during the war and decades lated Mr D was still practicing the art. Andrew had trees he and his father cultivated together from the end of the 1940’s. I still have a couple of those trees but I can be sure nobody but a couple of local old hacks and I might know him. Mr D would be well up in his nineties by now assuming he’s still about but a little of his work lives on here.

The Trees Apprentice

In my experience bonsai clubs typically frowned upon “check book bonsai”. My own local club banned showing any tree one had simply purchased. Hoping to encourage home grown talent though with limited learning opportunities i’m not sure how that was supposed to work. That’s all a little bit off IMHO.

As I have said many times, when buying a bonsai tree or raw material all one is doing is shortening the timeframe involved. Now if you buy something nice it’s not right to go and claim credit for the work that went into producing it but one can be happy with the pride of ownership. If after several years one has significantly improved your charge then a degree of credit can legitimately be claimed. I often wondered what my club hoped to do with those rules. In the end it largely discouraged good bonsai and ensured mediocrity and might go some way to explain how membership fell from 70/80 in the early 2000s to a typical attendance these days in single figures but I digress.

With very few notable exceptions there were few ‘names‘ producing great bonsai back in the day. In time some  trees did get here from Japan but mostly finding something special was akin to a blind squirrel looking for nuts, one had to get lucky. And so, we have very few trees from the dark ages* that one might perhaps call heritage bonsai or some such. In the past I have owned some famous bonsai like the yew that launched Kevin Willson’s bonsai career commonly known as ‘The Upright’, I also owned ‘The Bow’ and stupidly sold both. Now I am older I think differently but then I am not broke like I was back then which makes all the difference. I sold both these for practically no money because I failed to realise perhaps just what I had even though both were a little tired at the time.

Great British Bonsai

Kevin Willsons ‘Upright’ at the peak of its development.

I have been buying up a lot of bonsai collections. As a result I have seen some Great British Bonsai.

I sold this famous old tree so cheap it brings a tear to my eye now. If you have it, I’ll buy it back!

So, whilst big names with big impressive trees were somewhat scarce in blighty back in the day there was an absolute army of enthusiasts and hobbyists alike scouring every corner to find good bonsai material. Thankfully some of those guys persevered over many decades and as it turned out, produced some pretty good, dare I say Great British Bonsai. Lucky SOB that I am a few are residing upon my benches as I sit here. Some need help but others are special and unique and need a little respect for being simply amazing even if they don’t conform to what some folk think a bonsai should be or look like.

It’s no secret I am a total car crash when it comes to dealing with people. My social skills are by and large non existent. Just a couple of days ago I took Catherine grocery shopping (first time in years) and got a right bollocking simply for getting something out of a chiller cabinet in the wrong (and inconsiderate) way. It’s a long story I would rather not go into. I am utterly hopeless, clueless and entirely feckless with absolutely NO understanding of how these things work. By and large I prefer my own company and work hard at avoiding social contact because I am so bad at it my head hurts. I don’t hate people I just don’t get how it all works and so usually end up with my foot in my mouth. I have tried very hard but Catherine says I ‘just don’t get it’. Apparently i’m too ‘task orientated‘ whatever that is.

So with other folk not exactly big on my radar I find it a little strange to be thinking about the people who’s work I now have entrusted to me. I have been thinking a lot about what little bonsai legacy we have in GB and how to both raise awareness and respect for the old bonsai we do have. Do we have a moral, social or ethical responsibility to keep the history of our trees and the memory of their creators in our sights? I am finding this new dimension to bonsai I never had before but is that just because i’m getting on a bit or getting soppy in my old age? Should we treat these old bonsai with deference and give respect to their former owners? Or perhaps we forget all that touchy feely crap and just bulldoze over our forbears in the interest of self-aggrandisement.

For once I don’t have an answer but, dear reader, I would like to know your CAREFULLY CONSIDERED thoughts.

I would also like to see any OLD (50 years +) Great British Bonsai trees you might have in your care and hear their stories. I would also be interested in the possibility of purchasing some of those trees if possible. Either way please email me stories and pictures to – [email protected].

By way of introduction to one of these old bonsai I have put together this little repotting video of a scots pine that came to reside here last summer. Grown from seed around the end of the late 1970’s I think this is going to be a special tree once I get it back on track. Here you can see the first step in that restoration/refinement process. My No1 rule is always roots first.

Looking forward to hearing everyone’s thought on Great British Bonsai



* By which I mean prior to the late 1970s.

Two Half Heads are Better Than One!

Two Half Heads are Better Than One!

Creating bonsai takes a really long time. It also takes a long time to figure out exactly how to do it so if you are starting out TODAY assume it will take twenty years to figure out the basics, and that assumes you are busy and not applying yourself in a ‘working from home‘, civil service, tired hands kind of a way.

Having been hammering away at bonsai now for the better part of forty years I might be so bold as to say I figured this all out a while back. I often say it takes ten years to figure out which end goes into the soil. Now that’s not strictly true in a Trumpian kind of a way, it’s not to be taken literally, it’s a figure of speech which illustrates that even after a decade in the saddle one can still be susceptible to chafing. That’s another figure of speech isn’t it but illustrates my point I hope.

Sadly todays society has, by and large, lost the appreciation of things that take time unless that time can be charged for of course. A bottle of Private Collection Glenlivet 1949 74 Year Old will set you back about £35,000 whilst a bottle of Whyte & Mackay Blended Scotch Whisky from Asda comes in at a very reasonable £17.00. I don’t drink Scotch but i know folk who do and they would be very keen to point out the difference of which I would be largely oblivious.

The basics of these two bottles are much the same (a distilled spirit) but the fact is one got left in the shed for a really long time and to a connoisseur who is blessed with a sensitive palate the difference is night and day and quite possibly worth every penny. The single malt had time to develop it’s special unique character alone whilst the blended one was engineered to taste a certain way and always the same way. Long ago I worked as a printer when the use of chemicals was acceptable workplace behaviour and I burned away whatever sensitive tissues I had in my head, my nose has not really worked since and so my ability to taste at all is minimal and as a result I have literally ZERO appreciation of these fine things.

For sure I wouldn’t drink that cheap blended s**t. On the very rare occasion I have Scotch in the house it’s going to be a 15 year old Glenlivet (donations gladly accepted). To be honest my preference is for a single barrel Jack Daniels, donations of which, again, I would be very glad to receive. Leave that blended stuff to the kids getting hammered on a Friday night.

So in this respect I feel I am like a lot of bonsai folk I encounter in daily life. I appreciate, at some level, the difference between good and bad, i know the basics but beyond that i literally know nothing and have no comprehension of the finer points. What I call a good whisky is unlikely to ever touch the lips of a true aficionado who might well look down on my choice as ‘window cleaner’ or some such.

After a lifetime spent immersed in something so deeply and so fanatically it’s impossible not to develop one’s palate and appreciation but it’s far from guaranteed. I know lovely folk that have spent twenty years travelling the world, attending every top bonsai exhibition year after year who see the very best our world has to offer and getting to know all the right people but don’t have a worthy bonsai to their name or a single clue how to make one.

I guess that’s like racing drivers, you don’t have to know how to engineer a car to drive one. If you want to be at the top of the game there’s a lot you need to know about how your machine works, why it does what it does or not. That way you can relay information back to the man that actually knows how it works so he can make it better for you. That’s why racing cars are largely managed and supported by a team. It brings all the best elements together that can never be embodied by a single person and the net result is better.

Seems to me many folk have money, opportunity or both and so have these nice things but can lack the apparatus to genuinely understand and appreciate their true value whilst a lowly person lacking in means but with highly developed senses, acquired through long application looks on in horror at the flagrant waste of true value and lack of appreciation and understanding beyond some notion of smug pride, that ‘look at what i’ve got’ nose in the air notion. Remember Stanley and Pammy……

These days I don’t tend to leave home, i did an insane amount of windscreen time back in the day and unless i am on two wheels I tend to avoid all travelling and stay off the roads. I don’t drag my trees all over the place showing them off and I’m very particular who I let visit my garden. I have no interest in impressing anyone with my work until I myself am impressed and trust me I am very far from that level so I continue to work hard and carefully to improve my results every single day and if I get the time perhaps one day i just might make a good bonsai in much the same way a blind squirrel might find a nut.

Going back to my analogy of a motor racing team it has always struck me that working together is best. However finding someone I can work with has not been easy. Most bonsai folk, certainly those I might choose to work with are a very long way from me. Just nipping over to Milan to work with Salvatore or Marco is not entirely practical. I’m also what one might call a ‘rummun‘. Hard to get along with, opinionated, largely oblivious to the feelings of others and determined to do it my way. Finding anyone to work with therefore was always going to be a challenge but lucky for me I know a guy….

Thankfully that guy lives not too far away, about 40 minutes on a well sorted Shovelhead. On paper Kevin Willson and I should not get on, we should fight like a cat and a dog but somehow, after 25 years, turns out we can actually work together fairly well. Mutual respect goes a long way and as they say ‘two heads are better than one’. Considering our advanced age and history of ‘substance abuse‘ I might say that two ‘half heads‘ make one properly functioning one but that might be unfair on my buddy. Whatever, between us we can knock up a half decent tree when we combine our skills despite our differing ideas on how that actually happens.

I guess we all have bonsai trees that have spent decades on our benches. Some become special to us whilst some are just bulk in our collection. This scots pine was one such for me. It came here from Norway perhaps fifteen years ago. Surprisingly it survived and I even styled it and made a video of the process though that was never released. Ultimately I got bored with it. I tried to sell without success and in time it started to suffer a little from neglect. I just could not bring myself to love it and having spent so long looking at it, as it was, I had absolutely NO inspiration to do anything with it at all.

Sound familiar? You got one on your bench?

Nowadays I stopped selling trees like we did at one time and am just rediscovering my love of bonsai work. I really don’t want anything in my garden that’s not special. So this pine stuck in my craw, can’t sell it, too much heart to dump it and no inspiration to reinvent it. As they say I could not see the wood for the trees. So what to do?

I’m a firm believer in letting folk do what they are good at. I don’t do any book keeping, banking or accounting because I have absolutely no head for numbers, absolutely NO clue whatsoever so I leave that stuff to professionals as I do web site stuff and lots of other things. Now when it comes to reinventing a bonsai tree there is only ONE place to be and that’s 40 minutes up the Norfolk coast and so it was I dropped this pine off on my unsuspecting mate last autumn.

I can’t imagine anything worse than having to create a bonsai tree from another artists work for that very same artist. Especially when you know it’s all going to end up online for the world to see in glorious Technicolour. That’s pressure right there but thankfully my raffish mate has a cast iron work ethic, a thick skin and’s not really that bothered what the hell I think. But then I did tell him to do whatever he wanted with my long suffering scotty.

As anyone who has had a tree worked by Kev’ will know, chances are when you get it back it’ll be tipped up on it’s side. No1 item on the agenda is finding the best trunk line and inclination. After that it’s just the technicalities of how to get the branches in the right place and with a good trunk line that’s usually pretty easy. But, this tree has a problem, one I failed to deal with decades ago and now I have no choice but to bite the bullet.

Norwegian scots pine 2017.

Norwegian scots pine 2017. To date lots of work has been completed in getting this established and ready to work.

2017 Same tree after Rammon and I worked on it. Nothing then happened until 2023, other than a few weak branches dropping.

Now when I first got this tree it was recently collected and I vaguely remember it was a planted in a long thin wooden box that was about a foot square and four feet long. It had been growing in a crack and had a long V shaped rootball with a good couple of feet folded back on itself. The growth was pretty much non existent. Come August Rammon helped me get it out of the box with the intention of sorting out the roots but that long hard V shaped root ‘ball’ was rock solid and mostly composed of wood in the form of big thick roots. The only live root ends I could find were insufficient to fill a teaspoon. I was entirely disgusted with the whole affair and intended dropping it in the bin but Rammon was insistent we give it a chance and so we broke up the rootball as best we could, cut away a load of dead suff, shortened it all as much as seemed safe and stuck it in a plastic pot with all that ugly wood just squeezed into the rectangular pot corner to corner. Miraculously it survived obvs.

So, as soon as I got the restyled tree back for Kevin my heart sank because I could see there was no chance of potting it at the appropriate inclination. Come last weekend and with buds extending i decided to bite the bullet. I would not normally repot a newly styled tree and I certainly would not recommend it but over the years I learned a few things that make a difference and create possibilities where there was none. Sometimes we just have to pull on the big boy pants and step up. Back in the day I would have done this without thinking but nowadays I don’t kill trees because I learned the finer points and have ‘developed my palate’ somewhat.

In conclusion working together, with someone of weight and experience really is the only way to create special bonsai trees worthy of the title. However finding that person’s not easy and if you are lucky and find one in you life hang onto them for all you are worth. Just last week my one and only bike riding mate of fairly recent acquaintance dropped dead on the way to a football match. Never even made it into an ambulance and I am totally heartbroken to have lost such a lovely positive and special friend.

Keep it real folks! Who knows what is just around the corner.

Scots pine bonsai.

Kevin had the tree tilted a little more. This is my compromise. Two Half Heads are Better Than One!

Scots pine bonsai tree

Masses of root and deadwood shoehorned into this pot. Beneath the surface is a solid block of wood literally hammered into the pot from corner to corner.

Scots pine bonsai

Corner to corner. There are several more like this directly beneath the surface and in both corners.

Scots pine bonsai

Those stumps were actually trunks as this grew in a small crack in a large flat expanse of granite.

Scots pine bonsai repotting

Long overdue a repot. When you see white root ends like this repotting can take place. Roots will regenerate in a few days.

It took 45 minutes just to get it out of the pot.

Scots pine bonsia.

And breathe ……. Sadly got the pot feet in the wrong place and it’s not the best of pots but this is one giant leap forward. There’s always next time.

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.