Andrija and I are from Croatia, we live together in Kaštela (region Dalmatia), a small town on the Adriatic coast, in a Mediterranean climate. We grow home Mediterranean species: Olive Tree (Olea Europaea), Mock Privet (Philyrea latifolia), Strawberry-tree (Arbutus unedo), Evergreen Oak (Quercus ilex), Phienicean Juniper (Juniperus phoenicea) and others, and plants from somewhar colder submediterranean area: Oriental Hornbeam (Carpinus orientalis), Flowering Ash (Fraxinus Ornus), Rockcherry (Prunus mahaleb), Monogynous Hawthorn (Crategus monogya), Common Oak (Quercus robur).
Bonsai scene in Croatia
The first bonsai growers in Croatia appeared 10-15 years ago, while the first bonsai clubs formed in 2004, so that nowadays 4 small clubs exist with the total of cca 50 members. From the forming of the clubs there has been a slight shift – exhibitions and workshops are now being organized within the clubs. Dalmatian bonsai club, whose chairwoman is myself, has organized «Days of bonsai in the castle Vitturi» (the first international east-European convention) in May 2007, gathering the bonsai growers from Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Croatia. Demonstrations and workshop with Walter Pall were the backbone of the convention.
Croatia has been a consisting part of the ex-Yugoslavia until 1991, when it dissoluted to several countries. Growers from Croatia are nowadays in contact with the growers from precisely those countries, while the greatest cooperation is made with Slovenian growers. The scenes in these countries are small, and because of it there has come to an affiliation, and the similitude of the languages and the vicinity make it a lot easier.
All the bonsai growers are self taught. Before the arrival of Walter Pall we studied solely from books and sharing experiences among each others. That way we couldn’t progress significantly. Andrija and me started two projects due to linking and communicating among growers from these areas. These are the My-bonsai Blog Community where, at this moment, 6 growers from 4 different countries share their experiences, and the Hobby Bonsai Forum. Internet eased our mutual communication as well as the communication with the growers from abroad, but is clear that the best way to reach an advanced level of knowledge is learning from someone with more experience than home growers.
March 8-9, 2008 The second international east-European convention
Dalmatian bonsai club organizes the following east-European convention again in Kastela in the castle Vitturi on March 8-9, 2008. We will be hosting Walter Pall, whose encouragement has made this gathering traditional. The education through growers from different countries company is in the focus of the convention. It is not by chance that Walter Pall is the first bonsai master to visit Croatia because it is a man whose work and energy have inspired us all for several years, and when the opportunity to invite him presented itself, we accepted it.
Our way – Only Yamadori
All of our specimens are yamadori which we find and extract by ourselves. The search for yamadoris and their collection for us is a consisting part of occupying with bonsais. At the moment I can’t imagine buying a shaping material or finished bonsai.
There are no great colds here so that the rain is the only thing that keeps us from searching for yamadoris. The process of searching and extracting is always separated because it is more practical because of the heavy tools. We probably wouldn’t have occupied with bonsais had it only implied the bought trees crown shaping. In my opinion finding a good tree can’t be learned, but I consider the very search for it as a hunt for which success a good instinct is of crucial importance. The instinct can develop through years, but cannot be adopted simply by following certain rules and procedures.
Andrija is an academic sculptor teaching art classes at school, and I am a jurist. Since we both work, our trips are possible only on weekends. The first years of our occupation with bonsais we found and extracted relatively young specimens, and on most occasions the crucial thing that mattered was that the tree had an already shaped crown. Looking at the photographs of quality bonsais on the internet and comparing them to our trees we realized that they will never evolve into something like that. It was clear to us that we should go to nature and look for yamadoris with quality nebari and an interesting trunk with more character. The crown needed to be put aside for the time being and shaped subsequently through years. After we raised our criteria this way, the specimen of such quality was harder to find and it took more time and search. Suddenly it became completely common going to nature several times and find nothing. That didn’t discourage us because the goal was to raise the quality. The first quality specimens we were pleased with were Olive and Mock Privet. The new era of bonsai occupation began with them. The shift in the approach happened three years ago, and considering the time needed to cultivate a tree from the raw material to a bonsai, it is clear that at the moment we still haven’t got a «finished» bonsai.
The Extraction From Nature
Limestone areas dominate Dalmatia where trees degrade to a dwarfed bushes. Good yamadori specimens can be found in the macchia on the coastline, further in the areas under the influence of strong wind and more on the inland in the rocky areas, and in the pasture areas due to which the trees are dwarfed. Recently we have extended our search for good yamadoris to mountains in search of Black Pine (Pinus nigra), Mountain Pine (Pinus mugo), Common spruce (Picea abies) and other species in the mountain climate zone.
The stunted yamadoris in the rocky area of limestone have an extraordinary character, but their extraction is rather difficult even when dealing with species that handle extraction relatively easily such as Olive and Mock Privet. By rule it is a several hours of extraction. You can forget showels and directions such as «dig a hole of the diameter of the crown’s width». We mostly use levers of different sizes, large pick, sledge hammer and chisel, maul and a large accumulator drill. Every extraction is specific, and the only rule is not to hurry or be impatient. It only happened once that we haven’t succeeded in extracting a Mock Privet , but we still haven’t given up, we will return.
During the extraction, if possible, we try not to shake off the root bale completely and we try to extract the tree with as much tiny roots as we can. If the extraction is taking too long then we sprinkle the roots with water while doing it, and after the extraction we search for the moss, soak it and wrap around the roots from all sides. Thusly protected roots we then wrap in solid nylon, fasten with sellotape and that way prepare for the transport home. Should we find ourselves in the area with no moss, we cover the roots with soil.
After The Extraction
When the collected trees are brought home, we first prepare a wooden box according to the dimensions of the root bale. From the pre-prepared boards we cut and shape the box in around 10 minutes, and then plant the tree, regardless of the species, in the mixture consisting of ¾ baked loam (we use products such as “Tenisit”, used for tennis courts (4mm) and „Liapor”, used in construction) and ¼ peat. The transplanted trees are then put in the less sunny part of the garden. Delicate species and those we suspect have suffered a greater shock due to the damaging we keep in whole-day shade throughout the vegetative season.
We buy liquid fertilizer originally made for home plants and with it we nourish all of our trees every 15 days in the season of growth. Occasionally the nourishment is done with organic fertilizer.
Phillyrea and olive are cut in a way that they almost no longer have a single branch left, only the trunk or more trunks, or perhaps a thicker branch. These plants have great projecting strength, and a phillyrea with 1 meter sprouts during the first season of growth is not rarely seen. These sprouts lignify very soon so it is necessary to direct them with wire, forcing us to shape the basic contours of the crown during the first season of growth. Deciduous trees are commonly shaped a year after the extraction, i.e. after the first season of growth, while it is necessary to wait at least 2 years for the conifers.
Usually prior to the shaping we make computer visuals searching for the shape best fitting to the character of the trunk of the tree. The tree virtuals are not something we blindly follow, they are merely momentary impressions which can never truly depict a three-dimensional tree, and especially not the appearance of the tree from all sides. Sometimes we make as much as dozens of virtuals only to discard them all later. We try to shape the tree in a way that it looks harmonious from all sides, so sometimes we work several days on the «deadwood» located at the «back» side.
Below is a brief photo documentary of our collecting adventures in Croatia.