2007 – The Ballet Dancer

The Ballet Dancer

by Peter Mudie

Hamilton Bonsai Club



Having moved to Hamilton from the English Midlands in January 2005, I was looking forward to the challenges posed by the move in creating a new bonsai collection from scratch. I had been involved with bonsai in the UK for around 12 years and had tended to concentrate on coniferous and evergreen species including Junipers, Pines, Larches and Redwoods.

The challenges included:

New Species – which of New Zealand’s native flora could I use for Bonsai?

Familiar Species – how do the species I am familiar with react to the milder winter climate of Hamilton ?

Feeding –how would I have to alter my feeding regimes to cope with the climate and differing seasons?

Soils – without the use of Akadama, how would I need to modify my existing recipe for bonsai soil to suit the local trees and conditions?

Raw Material – much of the material in the UK is imported, where would I get good material over here?

In order to start my collection with some certainty of keeping a tree alive, one of the first trees I selected was a type known to me from the UK.

The Material

Having joined my local club, I travelled with them to a Plantarama in Drury as part of a trip visiting collections in Auckland. Whilst rummaging around in the back section I came across a variegated Juniper which appeared to have an interesting trunk line.

There was some dead material on the lower branch and a few weeds in the pot but I was confident this tree had potential.

The first step was to remove the weeds from the soil and give the tree a feed as it was in a neglected area of the nursery and was probably in need of nutrients.

Initial Styling

I had been asked to do a short demonstration at the Hamilton Bonsai Club show in October of 2005 and as I was expected to provide the raw material for the demo I felt that this tree would provide an interesting talk as I would have to demonstrate and explain several skills:

Deciding on the finished style of the tree

Selecting the front

Removal of deadwood

Branch selection and removal



The tree weeded before the demonstration

Working on the tree at Hamilton Gardens – Oct 2005

The Styling Demonstration

Prior to the demonstration I had taken a good look at the base of the trunk and exposed the top of the roots where they joined the trunk base to see if there were any nasty surprises. Fortunately the roots spread out fairly evenly from the root base and there is no inverse taper.

I had decided upon an informal upright style having tilted the pot to give the tree a more upright appearance. The sinuous nature of the main trunk was exposed and branches cut off for turning into jins at a later date as they currently functioned as anchorage points for the wire.

After the demonstration

Over the next few months the tree was given fortnightly feeds of tomato feed and the foliage was encouraged to grow. The pot was left tilted with the tree in its new, more upright position to encourage growth in the correct direction.

The Second Year

In July of 2006, I was ready to take the tree a stage further. Whilst watering and feeding the tree over the previous nine months I had decided to change the ‘front’ of the tree by rotating it through 90 degrees.
This seemed to offer a more pleasing line and allowed for the removal of the large jin which appeared to come out from the trunk line at the wrong angle.

July 2006, change of direction

As only minor refinement work was carried out the tree was also repotted back into the same pot but at the correct angle.

Over the next 12 months the regular regime of feeding and pinching back new growth helped to encourage back budding and the filling out of some of the foliage pads.

2007 – Into a Pot

In late August I had decided upon the pot I would use for the tree. I had managed to bring over a number of pots by well known UK potters such as David Jones of Walsall Studio Ceramics and Dan Barton. The pot chosen was a yellow, oval pot by David Jones which was commissioned from him in the mid 1990’s by my wife for a Satsuki Azalea. The yellow of the glaze complements the yellow tips of the foliage of the tree, and the smooth lines of the oval pot fit well with the shape and movement of the tree.

Instead of using Akadama I have chosen a fairly coarse mixture of 60% Dalton’s compost and 40% sharp grit.

This will suit the Waikato region with its fairly moist climate and plentiful supply of rain and fog.

At the base of the tree I have had to use a couple of small rocks underneath one of the roots to ‘fill in’ whilst I develop the root structure and remove the need for that particular root.

In September the branches were wired and the foliage thinned to get the tree ready for its debut at the 2007 Hamilton show.

As part of the presentation of this tree at the show I prepared an illustrated history of the tree for visitors to look at outlining its development over the two years.

Hopefully this will encourage some of the visitors to ‘have a go’ at Bonsai and thus get hooked.

Over the two years this tree has helped me to start to answer a few of the challenges posed by my move to New Zealand.

As the tree develops over the next few years with the refinement of the jins, pinching back the foliage to thicken the pads I hope it will help me to learn more about my new environment and perhaps help others through their seeing the tree and reading about its history at the shows.

Post Script

The tree at the 2008 Hamilton show – it is in a new, smaller pot by Noel Plowman as the original pot broke when the tree blew over in high winds.