Refocusing as a Hobbyist

rockm

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I've been there as well. Doing things like this have taught me a fair amount, but I'm tired of just feeling around to learn what I need to do. For instance, I've hacked some roots of a tree when repotting, and although it lived, I set the tree back at least a year by weakening it too much. That's a frustrating feeling. Of course even very experienced people make mistakes, so I know I'll never not make mistakes in this hobby. BUT, I'd rather be shown certain techniques applied correctly so I don't keep making mistakes that set me back.
In a perfect world, mistakes aren't made. In reality they are the best teachers around. Trying not to make a mistake makes you too cautious. Waiting to see every practice done in front of you will slow you down. TRY things. Get trees that may have a bit of promise, as well as some that have more than a bit. So what if the tree is weakened or killed, if it taught you something...

That's what we old timers did back in the day...look at a book, take a whack at the tree. see what happens, kill the tree. Price of experience.

Also, find a DECENT bonsai place within two hours of your house if possible. Go there for individual lessons. Also, get an extremely expensive (within reason of course, think of your top price you'd pay then add $500 onto it) Thing about an expensive tree is that you will be forced to learn things to keep it from dying--which is extremely important if you're married. Nothing like having your spouse ask what you paid for that dead tree...It's a motivator.
 

sorce

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For me....there is Contradiction in the title and the actual goals.

Or not.

Wonder why that is? Oh. The illusion!

So my question is this......

What makes for the contradiction?

How do goals to be a hobbyist, turn into goals of a professional?

Culture. In Japan, professionals do these tasks you wish to complete yourself.

The illusion. Besides mundane bullshit tasks, there really is nothing to further educate yourself with.

The Professional creates the illusion of Grandeur to keep the hobbyist seeking exactly what you are seeking here. This is how the entire "American Bonsai Market" exists.

Not everyone is an artist.
That artist is the one who becomes a professional and is allowed the "look the other way" as they employ low paid "Apprentices" to do said mundane bullshit tasks.

That said.....

I'm afraid that unless you have an unlimited dollar amount as capitol to throw at this, ahem, "hobby", or better, thousands of other peoples trees which you are being paid to care for to practice your craft on....

You are simply stuck with "stupid shit" as the next best option.

Do it. Or we must closer define what we are actually talking about.

Sorce
 

AZbonsai

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Maybe later I will be able to afford intensives, but for now I think I'll need to rely on study groups to get my education
I joined a bonsai society and this summer a buddy and I met once a week when the group was not meeting to work on our bonsai. We made a goal of getting better at wiring. We used internet for wiring help. Worked out great.
 

thams

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For me....there is Contradiction in the title and the actual goals.

Or not.

Wonder why that is? Oh. The illusion!

So my question is this......

What makes for the contradiction?

How do goals to be a hobbyist, turn into goals of a professional?

Culture. In Japan, professionals do these tasks you wish to complete yourself.

The illusion. Besides mundane bullshit tasks, there really is nothing to further educate yourself with.

The Professional creates the illusion of Grandeur to keep the hobbyist seeking exactly what you are seeking here. This is how the entire "American Bonsai Market" exists.

Not everyone is an artist.
That artist is the one who becomes a professional and is allowed the "look the other way" as they employ low paid "Apprentices" to do said mundane bullshit tasks.

That said.....

I'm afraid that unless you have an unlimited dollar amount as capitol to throw at this, ahem, "hobby", or better, thousands of other peoples trees which you are being paid to care for to practice your craft on....

You are simply stuck with "stupid shit" as the next best option.

Do it. Or we must closer define what we are actually talking about.

Sorce
I don't know. I guess I don't see how my goals translate to being a professional. Maybe we have different definitions of what a bonsai professional is. For me, a professional is a person that makes a living doing a particular thing, or is utterly immersed in the field. Most people - even those I consider to be really good at practicing bonsai - are just serious hobbyists. I have no interest in becoming a bonsai professional. I don't want a garden with thousands of trees employing apprentices to take care of them. I don't think you have to be a professional to show trees or be an authority on a species. I don't know.
 

Rid

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I'm in Roswell too, and i'm about 5 years in as well. I don't have any advice to offer, but I'll be digging a big trident maple stump out of the ground this spring. I've never done it, so it could be a good learning experience for both of us (although it sounds like you've been doing a lot of collecting already).


Ridley
 

shinmai

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This is just my perspective, but for what it's worth...I came to bonsai after twenty-plus years of raising antique English roses, so for me it's about things that make flowers. I've gone through the phase of trying oddball species, and the phase of buying stuff simply because it's on the clearance pallet at Home Depot. I recently reached a tipping point I would describe as "no more sow's ears". I've decided to focus on azaleas and rhododendrons, if not exclusively then definitely in the majority. I started adding up how much I spent on crappy projects that would be good learning material, but never go anywhere. I figured out I could, instead, be buying a couple of nice [not great] azaleas, in the low hundreds of dollars, each year. Recently I took ownership of my first really good tree, a shohin Satsuki with lots of potential. I've begun the process of giving away a lot of my 'training wheels' trees, some of which will return to their original state as shrubs, in the yard of my son's new house. [Two variegated willows, a smokebush, a hibiscus, and a quince all moved off of my porch and on to Minneapolis in October.]

The thing is, I turned 65 this year. With whatever number of years I have, I don't want to waste time and energy on pointless trees. I'm not in a position to buy developed specimens for thousands of dollars, but I wouldn't even if I could, as I would rather take well-started material and develop and refine it myself. I don't necessarily think in terms of exhibitions, but I would like to develop trees that are show-worthy whether or not they're ever shown. The best thing I've done to advance my understanding is to take an intermediate course with a study group, six full-day sessions spread from March to October, in no small part because the individuals in the group raised a wide variety of questions and problems over the course of the year.
 

sorce

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I have no interest in becoming a bonsai professional
I understand.

The point is, no matter what you wish, the thing you wish for is an illusion.
The only way to get better IS to keep doing it over and over and over.
Without endless material to do this on, you Must go to "stupid stuff".

The truth truth....

It is kept "mystical" to float the boat.

There is nothing more to it than pruning and wiring, at a few appropriate times a year. It's boring as fuck when the illusion wears off.

Don't commit to building mundane skill.

Set a goal to win shows, and achieve it.

That will make better trees.
Better trees is what you seek.

Don't get caught chasing the illusion.

Sorce
 

thams

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I understand.

The point is, no matter what you wish, the thing you wish for is an illusion.
The only way to get better IS to keep doing it over and over and over.
Without endless material to do this on, you Must go to "stupid stuff".

The truth truth....

It is kept "mystical" to float the boat.

There is nothing more to it than pruning and wiring, at a few appropriate times a year. It's boring as fuck when the illusion wears off.

Don't commit to building mundane skill.

Set a goal to win shows, and achieve it.

That will make better trees.
Better trees is what you seek.

Don't get caught chasing the illusion.

Sorce
Well of course I seek better trees. That's why I've stopped buying bargain trees and making impulse purchases. I guess I'm at the point in bonsai that I want to learn all that mundane skills because that IS bonsai to a large degree. It's the patience and year in and year out work that builds the trees worthy of showing (let alone winning). I have the desire, but I'm missing the skill. No illusion there, just recognition that it's time to roll up the sleeves and make it happen.
 

Warpig

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Well of course I seek better trees. That's why I've stopped buying bargain trees and making impulse purchases. I guess I'm at the point in bonsai that I want to learn all that mundane skills because that IS bonsai to a large degree. It's the patience and year in and year out work that builds the trees worthy of showing (let alone winning). I have the desire, but I'm missing the skill. No illusion there, just recognition that it's time to roll up the sleeves and make it happen.
Im glad to hear the desire is there. You know where you need to go from here. The biggest one has been said here plenty already. After all, the Nationals aren't going to be calling the house to see if you have a tree you want to show. You need to put them out there.
 

amcoffeegirl

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I have been here recently also.
I don’t go to the club here and I should. I am usually working or tired from working.
If I am ever going to get better then I have to put in the work. I understand how you feel.
Having a mentor would be helpful or a study group. I just need to make time!
Bnut members told me when I reached this revelation that I was just expecting more and reaching the next level. It’s good to want to elevate your skills.
 

Adair M

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Well, you could start by attending the bonsai wiring class Adam Jones is having with the Atlanta Bonsai Society this Saturday. I taught a class last week at Plant City Bonsai on Japanese Black Pine fall work.

If you want to eventually show at the Nationals, you need to start showing at the local shows. The Atlanta club has a show in the middle of March. Show in it. There’s a novice category. There’s a great show coming up in December: the Winter Silohette show in Kannapolis, NC. It’s a very high quality show. You should attend.

Plant material? Sure local material is ok... but better material us probably the tried and true stuff like JBP, trident maple, Japanese Maple, Chinese Elms, shimpaku junipers, etc. None of these trees will be found growing in your yard! Go to Plant City Bonsai and get some decent starter stuff. These trees may not be native, BUT they are appropriate for your climate. Working with trees like this, where there are proven methods to advance them into good bonsai, will allow you to have success rather than frustration!

Find a mentor to help you guide your education. Certain skills, like wiring and repotting need lots of practice. Volunteer to help at Smith Gilbert. Join the study group with Tyler Sherrard.

There’s lots of ways to learn and improve!
 

shinmai

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Tyler’s the real deal. I hosted him in our home for our annual exhibition at the end of September. Be advised, though, that his perspective is from refining world-class trees for the formal, kokufu-ten exhibitions. He doesn’t exactly embrace the ‘naturalistic’ style of American bonsai. Once you accept that, he knows that of which he speaks. I learned more drinking tequila with him at my kitchen counter than in any workshop I’ve ever attended. I’m contemplating donating plasma, or maybe a kidney, to afford becoming one of his private students.
He is, BTW, one of only five non-Japanese to hold the highest level of accreditation from the Japanese national bonsai association. If I remember correctly, his fees are on the order of $600 per day. I’m pretty confident that within a couple of years it will be half again that much.
 

Smoke

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I have a totally different view on all this. I have heard at least a dozen people tell this guy to get a mentor, seek a club, join a study group, watch video's.

I would like to ask a question. Is there anyone here of these people or any of those not so inclined to post that could show a before and after of maybe five years and what the mentors, and video's and study groups have done for you. I have listened to dozens of people on this site tell of the wonderful video's of Ryan, and Bjorn and whomever is the flavor of the month, yet I never see any work nor any work improve. If watching video's is such a great thing why don't we have some really great trees floating at this site?

I'll tell you why, because while mentors and video's are good for a day, they don't give you any help for the next tree. If they did, we should see pages of great bonsai here. We don't. I am the 32 poster in this thread and so far there has not been one picture of a tree, not one. This is where I was three years ago and this is what a workshop did for me, or look at what I was able to do to my crappy tree after that video.

If a person wishes to get better, then post the pictures. Post the pictures with the attitude that your tree is shitty. You know it's gonna receive flack. Take the criticism, use the criticism. Do what was told to you to do. Don't have an attitude that I'm going to do this workshop and then blow off everything you were told because you wish to do it your way.

You wish to get a good at bonsai, you have to spend money. Want to tie flies like a pro, have to spend the money. Want to bake like a pro, have to spend the money. You say you want to be better at wiring, let me give you a little clue. Buy about 30 nana junipers. Buy a two kilo roll of each wire. Just use aluminum, you can bend most anything on a nana with Al.

Take a before photo of each one. Wire it and take another picture. Move to the next one. bend the things to within an inch of their life. You have to spend the money to get the practise. Your going to spend about 300.00 on wire and about 300.00 on material. You will learn more than 600.00 worth of workshops and classes combined. Why, cause you will do it 30 times and learn something on every tree you do. After you complete the trees, hopefully you have kept some sort of sequence so you know what you did to the first one, and how the thirtieth one looks. You now have 30 styled junipers, sell them off if you wish, give them away as gifts, whatever.

Next year, you may wish to prune them back in the spring and take off all the wire and do it all again. You prune and style and wire 60 trees and you will see how much you improve. You don't need no mentor, you don't need no workshop, you don't need no video. what you need to do is get your butt outside and work over trees, by the assembly line.

I have taken workshops many times in the last 35 years. I haven't taken any in the last seven or so. I was just so tired of hearing the same crap over and over. All the basics again, how to water, etc, etc. There are many here that will disagree. That's OK. Your ace in the hole is always "show me your trees".

"Everyone is born with a big mouth, but few are born with talent". ak

In the end, if you see no improvement by tree thirty, then maybe bonsai is not for you. I can show anyone how to style "one" tree. Thats easy, but thirty trees, you will learn something. Then, after all that, go out and buy the better piece of stock equipped now with the confidence of styling 30 trees. You will attack that material with a vengeance. It will be so easy you will wonder why everyone makes this seem so hard. It isn't.

This juniper below I did in 2003. It was for a styling contest at BonsaiTALK. I did 5 of them and decided on this one. It was the last one. Walter Pall was the judge. I came in second. I gave away a custom stand as the prize. TreeBeard won. I wonder what he is doing now?
 

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Adair M

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I have a totally different view on all this. I have heard at least a dozen people tell this guy to get a mentor, seek a club, join a study group, watch video's.

I would like to ask a question. Is there anyone here of these people or any of those not so inclined to post that could show a before and after of maybe five years and what the mentors, and video's and study groups have done for you. I have listened to dozens of people on this site tell of the wonderful video's of Ryan, and Bjorn and whomever is the flavor of the month, yet I never see any work nor any work improve. If watching video's is such a great thing why don't we have some really great trees floating at this site?

I'll tell you why, because while mentors and video's are good for a day, they don't give you any help for the next tree. If they did, we should see pages of great bonsai here. We don't. I am the 32 poster in this thread and so far there has not been one picture of a tree, not one. This is where I was three years ago and this is what a workshop did for me, or look at what I was able to do to my crappy tree after that video.

If a person wishes to get better, then post the pictures. Post the pictures with the attitude that your tree is shitty. You know it's gonna receive flack. Take the criticism, use the criticism. Do what was told to you to do. Don't have an attitude that I'm going to do this workshop and then blow off everything you were told because you wish to do it your way.

You wish to get a good at bonsai, you have to spend money. Want to tie flies like a pro, have to spend the money. Want to bake like a pro, have to spend the money. You say you want to be better at wiring, let me give you a little clue. Buy about 30 nana junipers. Buy a two kilo roll of each wire. Just use aluminum, you can bend most anything on a nana with Al.

Take a before photo of each one. Wire it and take another picture. Move to the next one. bend the things to within an inch of their life. You have to spend the money to get the practise. Your going to spend about 300.00 on wire and about 300.00 on material. You will learn more than 600.00 worth of workshops and classes combined. Why, cause you will do it 30 times and learn something on every tree you do. After you complete the trees, hopefully you have kept some sort of sequence so you know what you did to the first one, and how the thirtieth one looks. You now have 30 styled junipers, sell them off if you wish, give them away as gifts, whatever.

Next year, you may wish to prune them back in the spring and take off all the wire and do it all again. You prune and style and wire 60 trees and you will see how much you improve. You don't need no mentor, you don't need no workshop, you don't need no video. what you need to do is get your butt outside and work over trees, by the assembly line.

I have taken workshops many times in the last 35 years. I haven't taken any in the last seven or so. I was just so tired of hearing the same crap over and over. All the basics again, how to water, etc, etc. There are many here that will disagree. That's OK. Your ace in the hole is always "show me your trees".

"Everyone is born with a big mouth, but few are born with talent". ak

In the end, if you see no improvement by tree thirty, then maybe bonsai is not for you. I can show anyone how to style "one" tree. Thats easy, but thirty trees, you will learn something. Then, after all that, go out and buy the better piece of stock equipped now with the confidence of styling 30 trees. You will attack that material with a vengeance. It will be so easy you will wonder why everyone makes this seem so hard. It isn't.

This juniper below I did in 2003. It was for a styling contest at BonsaiTALK. I did 5 of them and decided on this one. It was the last one. Walter Pall was the judge. I came in second. I gave away a custom stand as the prize. TreeBeard won. I wonder what he is doing now?
Ah... the old “practice makes perfect” principle! Except, you forgot one thing: you left out another “perfect”. The principle is “perfect practice makes perfect”. If you practice doing something with a bad technique, you will just get really proficient at doing something badly. You need feedback and guidance in order to “practice perfectly”.

You want a picture of a tree? Here’s one;

4B7B200C-F268-46B8-8552-45359EB7D731.jpeg

It’s a tree I purchased as rough stock from Julian Adams.

Here’s some pictures of the wiring I did:

CE6FBB12-C0D5-4970-B55A-3D981FCEE22C.jpeg

6D80FAEB-4315-4CE3-96CE-07FA72066F9E.jpeg

Trust me, there’s no way I could have wired this tree like this before I studied with Boon! I did all the work on this myself. Maybe you like the styling, maybe not. Boon didn’t do any of the work, it was all me. But without his teaching, the wire would have been a lot messier, and I would have applied a lot more wire than necessary.
 

Potawatomi13

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Do you subscribe to Mirai Live? Much great teaching and results can be found here;).
 

Warpig

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Ah... the old “practice makes perfect” principle! Except, you forgot one thing: you left out another “perfect”. The principle is “perfect practice makes perfect”. If you practice doing something with a bad technique, you will just get really proficient at doing something badly. You need feedback and guidance in order to “practice perfectly”.

You want a picture of a tree? Here’s one;

View attachment 270068

It’s a tree I purchased as rough stock from Julian Adams.

Here’s some pictures of the wiring I did:

View attachment 270066

View attachment 270067

Trust me, there’s no way I could have wired this tree like this before I studied with Boon! I did all the work on this myself. Maybe you like the styling, maybe not. Boon didn’t do any of the work, it was all me. But without his teaching, the wire would have been a lot messier, and I would have applied a lot more wire than necessary.
Well said.
 

leatherback

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So.. Not sure I am the one to answer on this thread as I am far removed from an expert. However.. I was where you are some 5 years ago. Playing in my yard with trees. Not sure how to get to the next stage. I decided to go to the then Noelanders trophy and was to odd guy on his hunches looking up into the canopy. Trying to figure out how the tree really was put together. Where did they take a shortcut. What main chops are there. What was the raw material they started with. And slowly, tree by tree, I was forming in my head the process needed. That would be my main recommendation: start to learn how trees are structured. Winter is coming in. So walk around massive individual trees in the landscape. Figure out which parts of the crown is services by which branches. Get that 3d branching in your head. That will teach you what you need to build the canopy over time.

As for getting really good.. Get time in. Work the trees.

I find that, certainly for deciduous trees, it is mostly a matter of proper techniques applied year after year that makes the amzing tree. There is no magic wand. There is only time times technique applied well. So.. If you have the proper technique, it is also just a matter of sticking to it, and putting the effort in. Just this Tuesday I had a discussion at the place where I take lessons: Now that I have the first trees that have been in a pot for more than 5 years in my yard that I start to see the trees get patina themselves. Slowly the rough edges get softer. The tree starts to get some bonsai traits that only time can give. So .. Patience is a virtue here.

For evergreens.. I now have adeal at my school that I can come whenever and work junipers. (As part of my training for the european styling contest next year). But under one condition; I take a tree. In 15 minutes I make a sketch of the tree I want to make. Then at least 2 persons from the school will give their view on the tree. We discuss. I start working. And when 3 hours work have passed, they go through the tree with me, and discuss the technique and final outcome.

Discuss - work - discuss - Repeat
 

Paulpash

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By now you're probably thinking that this is going to cost a shitload of money for the best material, travel, education, tools, wire and pots and you're damn right. If you have yet to have kids then you'll have both less money and time in future.

My advice, with this said, is to boost your available bonsai dollar by developing stock and selling it to get better material, unless of course you're wealthy.

This forces you to keep it alive while pushing for the fastest, safest development and doing quality work so it sells quickly. You can either buy raw stock in or grow some of your own if you have space.

Propagation will give you cheap raw stock you can experiment with to find out limits and discover how hard you can push certain trees. When you get better quality stock now you are more confident with your technique as you've already walked that path.

Use your funds wisely for good quality, hands on teaching. Join a club and see who has the best trees. Ask them if they have a study group or if they need a tree holder or soil sifter at repotting time. Intensive classes with a pro is excellent but expensive so factor this in if you decide to go this way.

Go to exhibitions and look at the best trees and how the artists have formed the branch structure. Take photos of them, take photos of your own, go on the net and look for inspiring images of Bonsai and REAL trees. Forming a visual bonsai library in your mind will help your styling immensely.

Finally, be aware that the Internet is very much a double sided sword so take things with a pinch of salt. Experiment with placement, soil mixes and what fertiliser regime works for you. Grow strong, healthy trees first then look how to style. The only real truth at the end of the day, however, is the tree in front of you!
 

thams

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By now you're probably thinking that this is going to cost a shitload of money for the best material, travel, education, tools, wire and pots and you're damn right. If you have yet to have kids then you'll have both less money and time in future.

My advice, with this said, is to boost your available bonsai dollar by developing stock and selling it to get better material, unless of course you're wealthy.

This forces you to keep it alive while pushing for the fastest, safest development and doing quality work so it sells quickly. You can either buy raw stock in or grow some of your own if you have space.

Propagation will give you cheap raw stock you can experiment with to find out limits and discover how hard you can push certain trees. When you get better quality stock now you are more confident with your technique as you've already walked that path.

Use your funds wisely for good quality, hands on teaching. Join a club and see who has the best trees. Ask them if they have a study group or if they need a tree holder or soil sifter at repotting time. Intensive classes with a pro is excellent but expensive so factor this in if you decide to go this way.

Go to exhibitions and look at the best trees and how the artists have formed the branch structure. Take photos of them, take photos of your own, go on the net and look for inspiring images of Bonsai and REAL trees. Forming a visual bonsai library in your mind will help your styling immensely.

Finally, be aware that the Internet is very much a double sided sword so take things with a pinch of salt. Experiment with placement, soil mixes and what fertiliser regime works for you. Grow strong, healthy trees first then look how to style. The only real truth at the end of the day, however, is the tree in front of you!
With two kids in the picture, money has been a little tight over the past few years. But we count every penny and I save religiously to set aside for bonsai stuff. I've been building a decent pottery collection and saved for a nice set of tools from American bonsai tools. Bonsai stuff is expensive, but I've been trying to save up for stuff that will last me instead of cutting corners investing in cheap stuff that I'll have to replace in a year or two.

I've been scouring the local scene for landscape trees and shrubs that people want done. I plan to grow at least half of them out to sell. Reinvesting those funds will help acquire more advanced material and nicer show quality pots. This won't be a fast process, but slow and steady wins the race. I've learned that even though 5 years feels like a long time to be practicing something, it's nothing in bonsai years. A lot of my frustration over that time has come from buying crap trees and expecting them to be something in a relatively short time. I've come to respect the advice that folks should invest in the best and most mature material possible to spend their time on. There's nothing wrong with starting bonsai from seed, but it's going to be a long and frustrating process.
 

thams

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Well, you could start by attending the bonsai wiring class Adam Jones is having with the Atlanta Bonsai Society this Saturday. I taught a class last week at Plant City Bonsai on Japanese Black Pine fall work.

If you want to eventually show at the Nationals, you need to start showing at the local shows. The Atlanta club has a show in the middle of March. Show in it. There’s a novice category. There’s a great show coming up in December: the Winter Silohette show in Kannapolis, NC. It’s a very high quality show. You should attend.

Plant material? Sure local material is ok... but better material us probably the tried and true stuff like JBP, trident maple, Japanese Maple, Chinese Elms, shimpaku junipers, etc. None of these trees will be found growing in your yard! Go to Plant City Bonsai and get some decent starter stuff. These trees may not be native, BUT they are appropriate for your climate. Working with trees like this, where there are proven methods to advance them into good bonsai, will allow you to have success rather than frustration!

Find a mentor to help you guide your education. Certain skills, like wiring and repotting need lots of practice. Volunteer to help at Smith Gilbert. Join the study group with Tyler Sherrard.

There’s lots of ways to learn and improve!
I appreciate the advice. I need to start carving out dedicated time to go to the club meetings and joining study groups. This Saturday is a no-go for me unfortunately, but I plan to be better about attending in the future. I'll have to check out the Tyler Sherrod study group. He live in NC, right? Does he come this way for the study group or do folks travel up there every so often to participate?

I've been trying to collect species that I've seen make good bonsai such as yaupon hollies, silverberries, privet, and some nice shohin Pocomoke crape myrtle. I know these aren't the common tradition species to work with like JBP, maples, and junipers, but there is enough technical information out there on these plants to turn them into decent bonsai in time. I've largely only collected over the past year due to limited funds. That being said, I do want to pick up some specimen pines and maples in the more near future.
 
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