Club meetings


Club Meeting September 2015

by Kevin Kelly 

The club president Trevor Venables opened the meeting by welcoming a new member and noting the apologies of Terry Erasmus, Francois Voges and Jan-Jurie. It was reported that a number of volunteers have offered to help at ABC4 and arrangements are proceeding well.

CBK is contributing R300 towards the conference fees of the 17 members attending. This is generated from the CBK investment account, money from the annual show and membership fees.

Tip of the month

Adam Harrower was the first speaker of the evening, on a topic which proved to be of great interest to members.

Adam is a botanical horticulturalist working for the South African National Biodiversity Institute at Kirstenbosch, and he is also an experienced bonsai artist.

He prefaced his talk by saying that his job involved scouring the country collecting interesting botanical material for SANBI, and in the course of this work he keeps always keeps his eyes open for interesting bonsai material.

He noted that we have likely only scratched the surface in identifying promising bonsai subjects among the 1,700 species of tree that grow naturally in South Africa.

He focused on a number of species that to the best of his knowledge are not much used in bonsai, and brought along specimens of each, distributing them to the delight of members by pulling names out of a hat, with no member walking away with less than three trees.

  1. Eugenia verdoorniae: He noted that it is similar to the eugenias we know well, but it is promising bonsai material in that it is small-leaved. It is a coastal forest species endemic to Pondoland.
  2. Buxus species: We know Buxus sempervirens, the English Box, but there are two species of Buxus indigenous to South Africa. Adam felt that Buxus macowanii is not a particularly promising species, but said that Buxu natalensis is very promising. It is endemic to the coastal forests of Transkei and KwaZulu-Natal . It heals well and has a ‘smoky greyish to white trunk’ which could prove interesting as a bonsai.
  3. Diospyros species: Diospyros whyteana is well used as a bonsai species in the Western Cape, but Diospyros scabrida is very rarely found and looks promising. It has rigid leaves and small white, fragrant flowers reminiscent of jasmine. This can be considered a flowering bonsai species, together with another species Diospyros lyciodes which is sometimes used in northern parts of South Africa and is known for its tendency to fruit readily. Adam also noted Diospyros natalensis which has small leaves as an adult. He also discussed Diospyros austro-africane (sub-species microphylla). This is an eastern Karoo species which tends to develop a thick stem and has tiny leaves. Adam distributed a few specimens to members and this species seemed to be of particular interest.
  4. Apodytes dimidiata: Commonly known as ‘white pear’. It has a small-leaved form which is a little like the well know bonsai species Galpinia transvaalica. Adam notes that the white pear heals over very nicely.
  5. Baobab: Whereas baobabs are well known as a bonsai species, Adam introduced the members to what he considers the best species of baobab for bonsai cultivation; namely ‘Adonsonia za’, or the Madagascan baobab’. Adam handed out a number of specimens to some very pleased recipients.
  6. Nuxia congesta: This grows into a 2-3 metre shrub. Adam noted this as a very promising bonsai species, and again handed out specimens.

Adam ended by saying that he looks forward to seeing the results achieved with the more than 60 trees he gave away at the meeting, which he hopes are evident within a few years at the annual CBK exhibition.

Just Procumbens nana

This slot was filled by Tony Bent who presented one of his trees explaining the natural affinities of this species which have caused him not to have had to put a lot of effort into designing the tree; but with a nonetheless charming outcome.


Rudi Adam was the judge for the evening and brought forward two of Freddie Bisschoff’s elms.

He proclaimed them ‘VERY good’ trees saying that if he had to score them he would be inclined to give the trees 95%, only because 100% is unheard of. He complimented Freddie, saying that his elms stand out above any others in the Western Cape.


Freddie was up next on the topic of elms. He said that they are the ‘easiest’ species for bonsai and very rewarding trees. There are more than 50 elm cultivars used for bonsai worldwide, although only three species are commonly used in Cape Town: Ulmus parvifolia (smooth bark) and two cultivars of Catlin elm (cork bark).

Elms appear to have been introduced to South African bonsai (arriving by post!) as late as 1986 (29 years ago).

Freddie spoke at length about the challenges of Catlin elms. Their roots can develop like ‘pipes’ that must be strongly cut back. He also said the Catlin elms are not conducive to the development of flat nebari. They need quite frequent repotting, every second year. He noted that they provide good material for forests.

He emphasised the value of studying their growth habit and described the cork-bark elm as ‘like a weed’ given its super-quick growth habit which needs to be watched carefully lest they take unwanted directions.

There are three rough-barked elms: Seiju - small leaves, suitable for forests; Yatsubusa – bigger leaved; and Suberosa – ‘made’ for bonsai and the easiest tree to work on.

He noted that Suberosa has many fleshy, soft roots which can be thinned out with little risk. The roots make excellent cuttings; and the bark ‘corks up’ nicely.

Freddie suggested that elm cuttings benefit from 2 days standing in water and have an approximately 60% ‘take rate’.

Wetness and moss are not good for cork bark and the loss of bark at the base of trees can lead to reverse taper. He suggested that one should plant the tree ‘just above ground’ to avoid losing the bark which is difficult to ‘get back’ in a pot.

He noted three approaches to cork bark development: grow – prune – wire. He emphasised cut-and -grow as a primary method for shaping the tree, while wiring should be limited in the early formative phases. He noted the value of a more natural approach as opposed to forcing a design on this species.

Regarding development of catlin elms he noted that the smooth bark does not shoot well or grow very fast. However, it accepts thread grafts quickly and fast results design results may be achieved in this way.

Suberosa shoots ‘all over’ and grows well from cuttings. Freddie suggested that it is helpful to occasionally ‘let the tree go’ if you want it to thicken. This species also responds well to thread grafts.

Regarding wiring Freddie noted that cork bark is very forgiving of wire bite. He said that in wiring one must be particularly careful to give branches space to grow ensuring “a place in the sun”, saying that inner branches on elms tend to die if this is not watched.

He noted the need to regulate the vigour with which elms grown. The top grows faster than the bottom branches and this can lead to difficult to remedy design problems.

He prefers to build around existing branches, and tends to take the tree down to the stump rather than spend a lot of time trying to work around awkward problems. He said that you should study the trunk and “have a vision for the tree”, saying “you can do anything with these trees if you have a plan and stick to it”, although noting that elms might not be suitable for cascades.

He said that one should not limit oneself to ‘cloud styles’ and one can be freely creative with this adaptive tree. He added that elms are good for carving – and can take a fair bit of ‘creative carving’.

Regarding fertiliser he mentioned the need for macro nutrients from February to May for ‘setting’ ramifications, and noted the value of potassium in branch setting.

He also noted that it is important to feed elms in October and November to support ramification.


Club Meeting August 2015

by Jan-Jurie Loots

Trevor opened the meeting thanking everyone for attending and welcomed the visitors. He also thanked Peter Bruyns for his preparation for his talk. The dates for workshops were highlighted.

Frik de Jager explained that to save oneself a whole offset of problems with wire bite and forgetting wire on potential bonsai it could be beneficial to use rubber or plastic tubing with your wire inside and the plastic tube then works as a buffer.

He also mentioned maybe having a record of wiring and the time the wire has been on the tree and set oneself a possible reminder on an Ipad.

A discussion then followed about what would be the appropriate time to wire and influencing factors like fertilizing and the time in the growing season were mentioned.

François Voges showed us a cascade Juniper and a cascade Japanese Red Pine he wanted to redefine the apex as an extreme makeover.

Trevor then introduced Willem Pretorius, SABA President. Willem thanked CBK for their support in all endeavours and highlighted the importance of ABC4 and WBF visiting for the 1st time in Africa. He congratulated the recent winners of the photo competition; Gail Theron’s wild coffee forest was one of the winners. Willem then thanked Rudi Adam and Tobie Kleynhans for their donations of two spectacular bonsai to the Stellenbosch arboretum Collection.

Trevor thanked Willem and SABA for their work.

For the bonsai basics talk, Trevor chose soils and said in brief that essentially normal garden soil is inappropriate.

What is essential is drainage and water retention. Trevor went further and said that soils basic make-up is part inorganic and part organic. Size of soil particles decrease from sand ranging from 4 mm to 1 mm and followed by silt and clay particles ranging as the smallest.

He mentioned he did a home science experiment between 5 different soil mixes and tried to determine the amount of moisture on particles over time. He concluded gravel to be the worst in the retention of moisture on the particles.

Hennie Nel discussed the Judges Choice and highlighted a Celtis forest and recommended a larger pot to create further movement in the planting. The small elm group planting he acknowledged had lovely movement.

The main talk of the evening was done by Peter Bruyns. Peter explained a group planting can start at two, three or five trees. And normally three trees are chosen for a group base.

Peter said he enjoys saikei and its practical applications. He continued mentioning different pots and containers that could be used. Examples of what to look for in good group plantings are the alignment of the trees and the continued movement it inspires.

  1. Placement of trees can create the illusion of depth and change your perspective.
  2. The impression of small trees used to create depth.
  3. The flaring out of flow lines toward the light. 
  4. Peter mentioned the group planting silhouette and that it might even differ with groups within plantings.
  5. He spoke about contrast and different uses of materials to create contrast. 

After showing us how to chip slate to make it look natural, he told us of his idea of creating 3 separate plantings, each viable on their own but that could be put together to make one large saikei. The slate would be shaped in such a way that the plantings could be pushed together. This would facilitate transportation and make it easier to handle. He also showed us how he kept trees apart and in place by splicing bamboo into thin strips and cable tying them to the trees. For the edges he mixed compost into the clay. He put the wet clay into a plastic bag, cut a small hole and piped an edge. The moss that was lumpy or thick he flattened with a mallet and then applied it to the edge. Some very new and innovative ideas were thus introduced to members.



Club Meeting June 2015

by Kevin Kelly

Trevor welcomed everyone to the meeting where there were 18 Members and 2 guests present.

He then responded to an email he had received from Phil and answered his questions about judging of trees at club meetings and shows.

After that Jan-Jurie did the slot "Tip of the month" and advised us all on how to weed and water responsibly for this time of the year.

Carl covered "Extreme Make-over" and introduced members to his make-over tree: Juniper Procumbens nana. He explained the problem he thought he had with it and then proceeded to restyle during the course of the evening – the result was excellent as he had opened out the tree by rewiring it and creating a jin.

Then it was up to Trevor to give a short lecture on Bonsai basics: Roots. He explained there 3 types of roots: Primary, secondary and hair roots. Basically, patterning the rhythm you get with branches. He explained roots develop at the growing tip, followed by feeder roots.

He advised the main purposes of roots are to anchor the tree, feed it and water it. One should be careful of the building up of salts from too hard water or too much fertilizer. When repotting, be careful of too many descending and thick roots. The safest way of combatting a lack of surface roots on a tree is by grafting roots onto it.

Dorothy did the judging for the evening and discussed the two trees she brought up for comment.

The main lect/dem of the meeting "Collecting from the wild" was done by Freddie, who did an excellent powerpoint presentation on digs and yamadori trees.

He started by saying we must know when to dig and to remember that some species need two to three years of preparation before removal from the ground.

He showed slides clearly indicating the length of trouble that people overseas go to in an effort to do a successful dig. He also showed and explained his backpack with all the equipment he takes on a dig.

He said that one must go to a lot of effort in finding something special in nature. Olives are actually easy to remove and that now is the right time of year to do so.

With Buddlejas one must be careful as their bark is very thin and one must take care of too bigger tree because their branches take long time to thicken up. Neatly the roots and don't chop them. If they are thick, they should be sealed.

Freddie then concluded his presentation by showing slides of and discussing a vast selection of indigenous trees.

Trevor then closed the meeting by thanking all the evening's participants.



Club Meeting July 2015

by Kevin Kelly

The Club president Trevor Venables welcomed the 15 members present and he noted the names of 6 members who had sent their apologies.

Phil Levitt presented the 'tip of the month' on the theme of 'olive maintenance and care through winter and spring'.

He dwelt on the topic of fertilisers and the relative merits of different products available. He noted that the different products each have advantages and disadvantages and suggested that it may be best to rotate between products. Among other characteristics, the brands differ in the trace elements they include and using a mix of products one has the highest likelihood of covering the needed range. Phil also reflected on the merits of liquid versus granular fertilisers, and spoke favourably about Multiote, a controlled-release granular fertiliser.

Phil also spoke about insecticide options and mentioned the use of Koinor as a low maintenance approach to pest control which yielded good results. He discussed a range of fungicides and foliar sprays and raised questions about whether lime sulphur really stains pots and suggested that this is not permanent and generally comes out.

Phil also spoke about the problem of a dark collar forming around the base of olives and suggested that the use of course gravel prevents this problem and controls its spread.

Other tips included: "Don't prune if you want them to thicken", "Wire branches before they get too thick to achieve the desired angle with the trunk", "Don't prune trees until they start to push, then hedge-cut and they will back-bud".

Dorothy Franz filled the 'just junipers' slot with a focus on Sargent junipers which tend to get overlooked as bonsai subjects. She said that she favoured this species among the junipers and the specimens she showed attested to the success that can be attained. If left to their own devices Sargent junipers usually grow in a semi-creeper form. This also means that they are very pliant and easy to wire. Dorothy noted that Sargent junipers have a feminine characteristic with attractive foliage. One disadvantage is their tendency to form terminal bunches. She has found it best to wire secondary branches flat every 2 to 3 years. Sargent junipers are slow to grow into tree stature but break back very nicely on old wood, allowing a second chance if one has allowed a branch to get too leggy. Care must be taken not to overwater them and they tend to like to stay on the 'dry side'. Although they may get scale they generally are not bothered by insects and they strike well from cuttings.

Hennie Nel was the judge for the evening. The theme was Celtis and Henny brought forward two trees for comment. He commented very favourably on Gail Theron's Celtis africana, which Gail has had in training for 30-40 years. He commented on how gracefully tapered it was, with no big scars, and a well-shaped spread of roots. Hennie also commented on Cindy Rodkin's arresting saikei; a raft planting with a thoroughly natural feel and fine ramification and movement in the branches.

Andre van Jaarsveld was the 'bush to bonsai' artist for the evening. He worked on a Juniper procumbens nana to good effect, and was congratulated on what promises to be an interesting tree.

Trevor Venables spoke on the Celtis family as bonsai material, pointing out that there are at least 60 Celtis species and three are naturally found in South Africa. He felt that there are a number of species in the family that could be good bonsai material but are seldom if ever used.

He spoke about the differences between Celtis africana and Celtis sinensis, saying that there are differences in opinion about how they differ, but that Africana appears to miniaturise better.

In discussing the characteristics of Celtis he noted that they could be effectively developed as both naturalistically styled or broom styled trees, and that one of the most pleasing characteristics is that they can be beautiful in full leaf and are also stunning without leaves in winter, especially given the fine ramifications that can be relatively easily attained. They also offer pleasing yellow leaves in autumn. Their alternating leaves provide good opportunities for structure development, but they tend to be apically dominant and need regular cutting back by light trimming throughout summer. He noted that it is important not to wire to the tips of branches as this may result in die back.

Trevor also noted that Celtis air layers particularly well and that big scars tend to heal well.

Other growing tips are that good taper can take quite a number of years to develop, and the feeling of age relies to a great extent on taper. He emphasised the importance of letting branches thicken and the need to cut back top branches and let the tree gradually "grow its way out". He said that one should "Grow for vigour and prune for health" and that it is safe to defoliate Celtis up to three times a year.

He felt that the use of jin in Celtis trees can be very effective in creating interest, or suggesting an interesting story of the tree.

Celtis generally have fast root development and this is the case with sinensis in particular. They should be transplanted in July and early August and require a course growing medium and regular feeding to avoid dieback.

The most-informative meeting closed with members reminded to put forward trees for the ABC4 Convention exhibition.


There are no images in the gallery.


Club Meeting May 2015

by Kevin Kelly

The club president Trevor Venables opened the meeting by welcoming a visitor and noted the apologies of Frik de Jager and Kobus van Schoor.

Dorothy Franz was congratulated for her Juniper procumbens nana receiving a SABA award for best tree.

Trevor and other members who had attended the Kat River Kai Autumn Festival reported back that it had been a well-organised and most enjoyable meeting. The well-known international bonsai artist Steve Tolley was in attendance. It was noted that there was not much focus on deciduous trees at the meeting.

Phil Levitt reported that planning for ABC4 is proceeding smoothly. He noted that there are still some spaces available in workshops. Carl Morrow said that hands will be needed in setting up the exhibition at ABC4 and made a call to members to consider which of their trees to exhibit and begin preparing them for show. He noted that it would be good to focus the exhibition on Western Cape and specifically Southern Cape trees.

Vicky Petermann filled the 'Tips of the month' slot with a presentation on how she keeps a photographic record of how her trees have developed over time. She emphasised the value of appreciating the 'story of the tre'e, and how knowing this assists in appreciating "where it is going".

Andries Havenga was the bush-to-bonsai artist for the evening, and retreated to the back of the room to work on a juniper after explaining what he hoped to do with the tree. When he presented the result of his work at the end of the meeting his efforts were positively commented on by the members with some suggestions were made regarding the development of the tree.

Tony Bent (self-characterised as 'Lazy Tony') presented on Juniper procumbens nana, and showed six charming bonsais in different styles (leaning, informal upright, three trees, twin trunk, penjing, phoenix graft). He pointed out what he has considered in developing the trees over many years and pointed out his vision for each tree. Members of the audience commented on the trees, and it was noted that Juniper procumbens nana is an excellent bonsai species for both beginners and experts. Tony commented on the value of dosing trees with Kohinor twice a year (3ml per litre of water) as an efficient way of putting plant pest concerns to bed. Trevor expressed some concern about systemic insecticides eliminating 'good pests'. He cited the example of infestations of red spider mite in areas where it was not previously found, which is reportedly a result of unintentional elimination of their natural predators.

Francois Voges demonstrated the planning and planting of a forest; which he achieved remarkably efficiently and effectively with a group of Chinese maples.

He showed how to develop a 'floor plan' for the forest and emphasised the importance of dealing with the challenge of light in planting a forest. It is quite common to lose small trees due to them not getting enough light. Leaning of trees, particularly on the edge of forests, can help to limit this problem and consideration should be given to how each tree receives light.

Francois also pointed out the importance of seeing the forest as a whole. The canopy creates binds the individual trees into a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. It must be carefully crafted, with attention given not only to its form, but the negative spaces surrounding the foliage mass.

He emphasised that the relationship between the trees is important. Each tree has "a job". It fills a space and the trees need each other.

Wonderful forest plantings may be made up of trees that have significant flaws as single trees, and the way that they "complete" each other creates the sense of unity in a forest. Francois emphasised that working with forests brings to the fore the illusionist in the bonsai artist. He said that viewing a bonsai forest should evoke "bird song... the murmur of a brook".

He also pointed out that it is important in developing a forest to realise that Westerners read from left to right. They tend to find it more aesthetically pleasing to have the weight of the forest (main tree) towards the left of the planting, and finer design elements towards the right.

The 'tree of the month' for the evening was 'forests'. Rudi Adam was the judge and brought three forests to the front for comment. He said in relation to wild olive forest that in his view the character of wild olives does not lend itself to forest plantings, while some members disagreed. He also noted in commenting on a well -proportioned forest presented by Cindy Rodkin, that it shows the importance of considering the balance of young and mature trees in a forest.

The evening ended with some members lingering over a glass of wine or coffee.

The meeting was once again a reminder of the privilege of being part of a club that has such a wealth of expertise and artistry among its members.

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Last leaf has fallen

Tree will sleep and I will dream

Spring is tomorrow

Random Bonsai Tip

When creating a cascade the root-ground level must be on a horizontal plane. This imparts the stability to the whole style. Do not tilt the tree, bend the trunk.