Behind the scenes at the Cheshire Bonsai Society
PUBLISHED: 00:00 06 July 2016
The Cheshire Bonsai Society meets each month in Little Budworth, bringing together an extraordinary collection of miniature trees and their talented creators, writes Kate Houghton.
‘Bonsai is much easier than it looks,’ says Society founder Liz Scott, keen to dispel the mystery that surrounds the art. ‘If you can keep a hanging basket alive you can manage this.’
‘This’ being a collection of fascinatingly beautiful tiny trees and shrubs, which when curated for the RHS Tatton Flower Show has won seven gold medals in eight years, plus a silver medal in their very first year showing.
Liz formed the Cheshire Bonsai Society herself, 37 years ago, after moving to Cheshire. A keen member of the Bonsai club in the Midlands, the lack of a similar facility here was disappointing.
‘I went to work at Tarporley Garden Centre, they sold Bonsai trees and I couldn’t resist titivating. My interest was noted and I was asked to do an event for customers. So many turned up it was clear that the level of interest was there and I decided to form the Cheshire Bonsai Society myself. Thirty people joined immediately, from experienced growers to absolute beginners – and that’s just the way it has remained.’
Liz Scott with an English Oak and English Elm. The English Elm has been lost from our landscape due to Dutch elm disease, but this tree is not at risk as it only affects trees with a mature trunk circumfrence, which this of course will never achieve.
Simon Jones with a collection of Shohin Bonsai: (from top clockwise) Juniper, Elm, Acer and Yew.
Liz Scott with a stunning Acer
Liz Scott with a tiny Silver Birch.
Liz Scott with a collection of her trees, including an oak forest, in the foreground. Her English oak was cited as the best ever seen by RHS judges at Tatton.
Liz Scott with her English Oak, cited as the best ever seen by judges at RHS Tatton.
Matt Wood with a Silver Birch
Matt Wood with a Silver Birch
Simon Jones with Juniper tree
Bonsai was originally a Chinese art, but was adopted by the Japanese. Buddhist monks moving from monastery to monastery around the country would carry their own tree with them. It came to Europe and the after World War II, when the country was opened up for aid and development.
‘Bonsai is a very therapeutic hobby; it’s very peaceful and can be done indoors or out, though the trees do really need to be kept outside; as they’re so small a big space isn’t needed at all – even a balcony will do!
‘We meet each month and exchange news and tips. New members are given so much support, from guidance on pruning and fertilising (you fertilise like mad!) to watering and re-potting. We pass on tools and dishes and even trees.’
I’ve personally always been fascinated by Bonsai trees, particularly the fact that they somehow decrease their size of their leaves to match their reduced size branches, maintaining the look of a full grown, natural tree, just in miniature. Liz has two oaks and an English elm that I can’t stop staring at, for this very reason.
‘A skilled Bonsai grower will create lots of ‘twiggery,’ says Liz, ‘the tree can then create lots of leaves and so has enough area for the necessary transpiration and doesn’t need the big leaves of the natural tree.’ That’s what I call Man and Nature working in perfect harmony.
Simon Jones, cited as the ‘Bonsai guru’ by his fellow members, has been growing Bonsai for 30 years, inspired by a stint overseas when in the armed forces, where he first saw the trees and ‘was very taken by them.’
‘By coincidence after I left the army I joined a company where a colleague grew the trees; he gave me a tree and a couple of books and that was it, I was hooked.’
Simon joined the Cheshire Bonsai Society 25 years ago and is a serious Bonsai competitor, having achieved many awards and been invited to show at the prestigious Noelanders Trophy show in Belgium. This is the premium show in Europe, invitation only. He specialises in Shohin Bonsai, trees under 30cm in height.
‘These are a lot harder to accomplish; far more time and effort is required. It’s not just the tree itself that counts in competition, but the art of the display too – it has a complex set of rules to get right.
‘Bonsai is one of the most relaxing hobbies you can have. It’s 45% horticulture and 55% artistry, and I would never have described myself as creative before! It’s excellent therapy for ex-military and police suffering from mental trauma. The number of people like this I meet is unbelievable. There’s a need for total focus and also the discipline you need to maintain them, never mind grow for display; in high summer you may need to water them up to three times a day.’
The Society’s youngest member, at 27, is Matt Wood, who started with Bonsai aged 10 and joined aged 15.
‘My mum bought a little tree at a flower show, and it promptly died. I did a lot of online learning and started trees with seedlings dug from gardens. When I joined people were so generous, with trees, pots and their expertise.
‘It’s an addiction. You can’t just have one. I have literally hundreds of trees in pots I’m developing to Bonsai – I just can’t help myself!’
Matt has turned his love of horticulture into a career and a business, with the launch of The Tiny Plant Company, specialising in small plants for small gardens. He will be at RHS Tatton this year, with a Blooming Bed. He won a gold medal there last year, which just goes to show…from little acorns do great things grow, even if they are tiny. w
If you’re interested in joining the Cheshire Bonsai Society, pop along to a meeting (find details online) or email