Shohin displays at Noelanders

As promised in an earlier post, I will take a little time going through some of the shohin displays at Noelanders this year. Not to judge them (judges already did their job), but to put some words on the way of displaying shohin-bonsai the classical way at a exhibition.

The obvious to put forward, is the two awarded seven point displays (nana-ten). They both are classical Japanese displays, with the largest number of trees in that size, fitting this type of five pieces racks. At competitions you are admitted a certain space to fill in with trees. The smaller trees, the larger quantity there is room for. Or room for more space if one prefers.

Both displays I think would have a fair chance at the highest level in Japan, because of the quality of trees, and the way the overall display is set up.

Why is it always the seven point displays that seems to win? In japan, and at Noelanders where Japanese masters also judged this year, there is a simple rule to follow. If there are an equal number of displays with the same overall quality, and same quality of trees, it always is the display that present most trees that wins. Simply because it logically is far more difficult to present a higher amount of high quality trees than maybe only two. When more displays are overall equally good, with same number of trees, detailed judging of each tree in the display will make the difference in the end.

It is not a matter of taste (not much at least) when judging this kind of competitions. It is a matter of judging quality in trees, and the overall impact of the display. The variation of trees, different colours, and especially avoiding repetition in trees, shapes and colours i.e. is considered. You might personally favour a display with fewer trees and another type of expression, but a competition is not about that.

When I look at a shohin exhibition I look at it at two levels. First I do it with the above described competition viewing in mind. Next I do it with my heart.

Looking for pleasure is about forgetting all the details that must be considered to find a winning display, and just look with my heart. Still viewing to see the beauty of the well trained trees, but without noticing numbers of trees i.e. Just enjoying the display as it is.

If you are going for prizes when you display shohin-bonsai, you have to have the competition judging traditions in mind. If you just want to show your work, and are less concerned about being a prize winner, you can go for the freedom of displaying as you like. Not being careless with the display of course, but you might want to focus on other qualities and expressions in the display like silence or emptiness (expressions often a feature sought for in the tokonoma display). Like the artistic display (shown below) where a gold screen is used to gather the display in a frame, and adding a special mood. Fewer trees is used in this display, and competition wise it will have fewer chances to win, compared to the displays with higher amount of trees in the same quality. That does not take away its beauty in any way, and there is even more room for being playful and express another kind of display using fewer trees. Two kinds of beautiful displays, each with different qualities.

Juniperus chinensis `Otoigawa´ , Acer buergerianum - Alexandre Escudero
Juniperus chinensis `Otoigawa´ , Acer buergerianum – Alexandre Escudero

The traditional display, often with seven pieces, always with an evergreen and almost always a Black pine on top of the rack is a Japanese traditional display. In the west I have a feeling that many find these displays a bit uniform and boring because of the repeated use of the same type of top-tree (the main tree of the display), and also a kind of uniformity of the general way of setting up these displays. That is of course a matter of cultural differences, taste and traditions. But also the difference of displaying for competitions or for just showing the beauty of the seasons.

If you look through Japanese bonsai magazines you will find a great variety of displays, and expressions showing much more freedom and creativity, than the ones showed at exhibitions were the goal is to collect an award.

Pyracantha, Cotoneaster dammerii - Bruno Wijman
Pyracantha, Cotoneaster dammerii – Bruno Wijman.




Winning Shohin at Noelanders / EBA 2017

There are awards given at Noelanders Trophy and EBA as it is a tradition. Within the next days (starting sometime next week after a work travel to Berlin), I will comment on some of the entries. That will not be a judging, but a description of selected displays where I hope the words can give something extra to the experience of viewing a shohin display.

It is important to differ between a display set up for a competition exhibition, and a private or a tokonoma display. The exhibition display has to do with presenting the trees for judging best possible. The overall display must be in harmony and each tree be in best possible condition appealing and convincing the viewer.

A private or a tokonoma display is set up for a different viewing experience. It has not the goal of impressing as its main purpose, but still telling a story, often more silently. Here trees might be used that are not of the same character as the ones chosen for an exhibition and to be judged. It can be a tree with a more downplayed expression and a much more melancholic expression. Competitions often forces more colour and a vibrant expression than the tokonoma display. The tokonoma display is oppositely requiring a more silent and peaceful show of nature and the time of year, and in a freer form than the traditional used at exhibitions. It might even be almost vanishing and humble in its expression.

To the shohin winners at Noelanders and EBA 2017. Classic 7 point displays was chosen. Again it is Rita and Mark Cooper who wins (third time in a row) the prestigious first place at Noelanders. Congratulations 🙂

Pinus parvifolia, Trachelospermum asiaticum `Nana`, Pyracantha augustifolia, Acer palmatum, Zelkova serrata, Juiperus chinensis `Itoigawa` – Rita and Mark Cooper wins the first place.

Noelanders nominee goes to Jose Acuna Croz.

Pinus thunbergii, Ligustrum obtisifolium, Pyracantha angustifolia, Premna angustifolia, Premna japonica, Eleagnus pungens – Jose Acuña Cruz.

The EBA awarded Bruno Wijman for a simple shohin display.

Juniperus chinensis `Itoigawa´ – Bruno Wijman. EBA award.


Great weekend with bonsai art


Making new friends and meeting old ones might sound like a cliche, but it was very true at this years Noelanders Trophy in Genk, Belgium. The exhibition this time added the EBA exhibition and a number of 220 displays could be seen. A great variety of trees, and many interesting displays. Meeting new Shohin people, and re-meeting some of the many bonsai people around Europe is a joy. Here some impression outside the exhibition area. You can see the Shohin-bonsai displays here.

Ready for Noelanders / EBA2017


Finished all the cleaning up, details and applying moss on the soils surfaces i.e. on the bonsai that I will bring to the EBA 2017 exhibition at Noelanders Trophy this upcoming weekend.

Today tables are cleaned and packed for the ride. Will be there from Friday and all the way to the end at Sunday.

New business cards ready too 🙂 Look forward to meet you all there.

Never sell your bonsai


You see these beautiful aged bonsai set for sale by private bonsai enthusiasts from time to time. For bonsai pros it is naturally a part of the business. But for private collectors I find it disturbing to see a personal tree set for sale. There can of course be a number of very good reasons to do so, and I will not be the judge off why it is so.

I just hope it is not for the one reason that you get bored with a tree. Bored of its development or bored of seeing at the same bonsai year in and year out. Bonsai attracts many artists who wants to create, being creative, making changes and event something new. I too enjoy the journey of starting something fresh and new, finding the way through the branches, discover the beauty of a tree within, challenging my visions and my artistic soul. But I find it even more rewarding to be there when the real beauty of a bonsai develops after years of training and care, and being there all the way.


Back to the business side of the subject. In Japan there is a food chain of pros developing bonsai in different stages. Stage one nurseries propagate new trees by seeds, cutting i.e. that they field grow and develop in containers to a certain stage. Stage two nurserymen then buys what they find interesting, and take the trees up the quality ladder. Step three is when the high end bonsai nurseries steps in and take over such a qualified bonsai, and put it up another step. Finally, already great bonsai are bought from private collectors that might have mistreated a bonsai, or no longer can have it because of age i.e. Or they buy it from another nursery on an auction. That’s how business is.

Japanese bonsai nursery. Cutting and seed grown plants waiting to be developed to the first stage as a future bonsai.
Japanese bonsai nursery. Cutting and seed grown plants waiting to be developed to the first stage as a future bonsai.

A few years ago I was asked about selling a good bonsai of mine. I was tempted for the money, but something in me said I shouldn’t. Maybe that’s why I gave it a price tag that was so high that it wasn’t sold, and after a few days I regretted and took it of the very short time sales list. The best decision I could have made.

My point is that I find it such a rewarding journey to stay with a bonsai throughout my lifetime, that I will not sell that rewarding experience.

The tree hopefully will shift hands when I am gone, but the reward in bonsai for me is to stay with the tree as long as I can. After a certain time of development, a bonsai will for years just have small adjustments from time to time, that not changes much of it´s overall expression. No big changes, just care and the ongoing small developments and corrections of twigs and branches, repotting, feeding and so on. No big artistry skills challenged, just daily care and steady commitment to the tree. Maybe the most difficult of all. Keeping the tree healthy and just caring.

A tree with many of development ahead, that I will enjoy following.
A tree with many years of development ahead, that I will enjoy following.

This is where the big reward is found. Being with a tree for a long time, after developing it from raw material. Watching small changes happen over time, when bark ages, even on the finer branches developed over time, knowing the tree in the bones and enjoying watching it at a daily basis. Seeing it as it matures and becomes majestic.

There roughly are three types of bonsai people. The professional nursery growers who do not have trees they follow from scratch to mature high end specimen bonsai because they are sold before that happens or buys trees others have trained. Next there is the enthusiast who buys finished trees for pleasure and finally the enthusiast who do all the work from beginning to an established tree. The last one is the one where I find it difficult to see a personal developed tree over many years, just being sold because you get bored with it, not collecting the final reward of staying with the bonsai into the stage of ageing and perfection.

The absolute highest reward I get with my bonsai, is after some years where I can’t do much groundbreaking shaping and creative work to my bonsai for a long time, when the bonsai steps into the aged stage and needs steady daily care as the main effort.

Meanwhile I work creatively with other younger trees, and have the pleasure of this part of bonsai. This is when I begin noticing small changes in the bark structure, watching how it is spreading throughout the former young and now older branches. When the tree gets the Japanese wabi sabi feeling of age and imperfectness. When the nebari (root surface) develops with an aged expression you can’t force, and just have to sit and wait for. The same goes with pots that gets patina after years outside. Only time makes the changes.

Hawthorn I have trained from 2003. Now beginning to show age and maturity. Started as a young raw garden nursery plant.

I would miss all that if I sold a tree, so I don’t. I’ll leave that to the business people, and the enthusiasts who loses their interest in their trees because they rush to something new. But what I learn from trees I have developed and nursed for years, watching the beauty of nature as it ages and matures, I will not change for something else. Just a friendly reminder of thinking twice before you rush into something new, skipping the past and the history.