Bonsai: Memories of a Miniature Tree Expert from the Sheffield Show at Don Valley Stadium
This included conferences in Australia and New Zealand alongside a show at Don Valley Stadium in the 1990s which drew 1,000 enthusiasts. Great memories, but later let’s start with the outstanding nursery just outside Barnsley.
It was in Newstead that John purchased in a dilapidated state in April 2003. The site had useful buildings, greenhouses and four acres of land.
This has been converted into a studio/classroom, cafe and fully stocked exhibition areas, both indoors and outdoors. The 17,000 square foot greenhouse was converted to create an art gallery atmosphere for what John says was the UK’s first bonsai exhibition, which he held every two years from 2004 to 2010.
Fast forward to 2022 and John has written a book that is as good for bonsai beginners as it is for experts. The Practical Art of Bonsai will show readers how to build a collection, from the first trees to quickly creating their own bonsai from ordinary garden material.
Bonsai is therefore a business and the conditions in South Yorkshire are helpful. “They’re pretty good,” says John. “We don’t really know the extreme weather conditions and most species are growing well. It’s not the same as in Japan where the high humidity means you can do more in less time, but in general you can do well with most species.
Of course, we do get occasional blows of snow and freezing temperatures, which are the extremes to watch out for. “The milder winters have made it easier for growers because you don’t have to worry about protection,” says John.
“Heavy snow and freezing temperatures mean you need to protect the plants in a garage or shed, but don’t bring them inside as the high temperatures make the plant think it’s spring and it will start growing again.
“The worst times are really cold nights which can affect the trees, especially if the pots are frozen.”
Interest in bonsai tends to start if a tree is given as a gift. “It’s the gift for someone who has everything,” says John, a 67-year-old father of one. “It’s generally well received, but people don’t get any advice. If you get a care leaf, it is said to avoid direct sunlight as the tree can dry out. People then put the tree in the middle of the room, which doesn’t help because it needs light.
“So it has to go into a window and then watering can be a problem. People think anyone can do it but the amount of water and the timing is crucial. Often when you have problems is because the plant is too dry or too wet.” .
“The answer is to give it a good soak and leave it while it’s wet. Once the plant has used the water, give it another soak and you go into a routine. The tree tells you when it needs to be watered.”
John obviously listened because his success in the nursery meant he could give up his day job as a licensed surveyor and work full time running the center, tending to clients’ trees and teaching bonsai. .
“I have cared for most tree species, many to varying degrees, from young seedlings to some of the best specimens in Europe.”
He got noticed. “In 2009, I was hired as the sole demonstrator for the Christchurch convention and New Zealand’s first National Bonsai Show. A week later I was leading a workshop and demonstrating in Sydney Australia. This double visit was a great honor for me and a truly memorable experience where I had the chance to meet incredible bonsai trees. “All from a small tree. His interest started in the 1970s with a Temple Tree he received as a gift. Sadly he died and his interest waned, but in the 1980s he was inspired by Peter Chan, one of the world’s most respected bonsai authors, and his book Create your own Bonsai.In 1992 John began trading as South Yorkshire Bonsai and sold little time after working as an estate agent.From 1992 to 1997 he held various positions on the Board of the Yorkshire Bonsai Association.
John was on the Federation of British Bonsai Societies list of demonstrators for many years and he regularly gave lectures and demonstrations to bonsai clubs across the country.
So it’s no surprise that he was approached to write the book. “It’s something someone starting from scratch can pick up and it will prevent them from losing their tree. I also wanted it to help the experienced enthusiast who wants to take the interest to the next level.
His advice is worth listening to. “The more light, the faster your plant dries out.” It sounds simple, but not everyone remembers it. “I just seemed to have an eye for it,” he says.
Modest and true. The trees in his collection have won awards at national and international bonsai events, winning the coveted Gingko Award in 1999 in the European bonsai category. He also received a special award from revered expert Daizo Iwasaki at an exhibition in September 2005.
It is therefore not surprising that John is a teacher in great demand and that in 2012 he decided to sell the garden center to concentrate on bonsai.
“We have moved the bonsai nursery to our garden in Newstead and set up a new studio/bonsai shop. My weekly bonsai lessons continue to sell out, but this year I have been able to undertake more private professional tree work customers than ever before.
“The school has continued to grow, with more classes, more students, and it is regularly sold out.
“The demand for private lessons and maintenance work has also increased dramatically. With that in mind, I’ve scaled back the nursery side so I can focus on what I enjoy doing the most, which is helping others get the same enjoyment out of this hobby as I do by seeing their trees grow and reach a much higher level. ”
His passion is shared throughout our department. There is a thriving South Yorkshire Bonsai company based in Sheffield that John is a fan of. “It’s a productive group that started in the 1990s and it’s a good group of enthusiasts. Anyone interested in bosai should join them.
Now back to those bonsai shows at Don Valley Stadium. “It was when I started as a bonsai professional and it was the first roadshow for which I was a demonstrator. I did workshops and at the end of the day people asked me to sign their T- shirts.
“I went home as proud as I could and asked my daughter Rachel what she thought. ‘They need to get out more,’ she said and it brought me down to earth.
“But people had traveled from all over the UK to be there. There were between 800 and 1,000 people in a hall which was used by athletes for training and which had a running track. It’s surprising where shows have been held over the years.”
The fascination continues. “When people see a tree that looks 500 years old, there is a mythical fascination about it. hobby.