That was the weekend, that was! Part one

The weekend of 2nd and 3rd April saw some three dozen of the best shohin, mame and chuhin displays in Europe gathered together for the 2016 British Shohin Bonsai exhibition.

Entitled Spirit of Shohin, the event featured top notch displays from the UK and Europe – all set in the tranquil and beautiful surroundings of the RHS Gardens at Wisley. The event was visited by a sizeable number of the bonsai community as well as members of the public.

In addition to the exhibition space, we had a large representation from our trader friends.

And of course, for a few lucky bonsaiists, the highlight of the weekend was getting to work with world-famous young Japanese bonsai artist, Taiga Urushibata.

In this series of short articles, we will bring you the full picture of the stunning event.  First, some general background.

British Shohin Bonsai is the “offspring” of the British Shohin Association. Like many amateur clubs and societies, BSA was struggling to find people willing to take on committee roles. But rather than let the organisation simply fade away, an interim solution was reached whereby several of the stalwarts decided to band together to put on the biennial exhibition, first to gauge if there is still an interest in the smaller sizes of bonsai, and if so, to keep up the considerable momentum the BSA had already achieved.

If the weekend’s event is anything to go on, it is now clear that there is a huge level of interest in shohin and other smaller sized bonsai.

I have always felt that sometimes at the more conventional exhibitions, the viewers are overwhelmed by the sheer WOW! factor of large bonsai that the intricacies and delicacy of the smaller trees is often overlooked.   In my opinion it is a bit like doing  small scale modelling – it is far easier to create detail on a larger model – railway, aircraft, armies etc – than it is on small scale, and to be able to create intricate details takes a helluva lot of skill.  Shohin and Mame are akin to the 00 and N gauge of bonsai, and in my opinion are very much the living (in all senses of the word) embodiment of the maxim “less is more”.

But enough of the pseudo-philosophy and on with the trees.  Below are some general images from the show. In the next couple of articles I will focus on the award winners and the near misses.

Images courtesy of Mark Cooper.

exhibition mame displays IA4A3795 Red

A look down the avenue of Mame displays

exhibition IA4A3780 Red

Having the broader tables for the displays was a major plus and allowed the exhibits to be far better arranged.

Bruno Wijman giving advice on how to improve an exhibit IA4A3971 - Red

The event featured quite a range of displays from five tree racks to single tree exhibits.

Shohin nana-ten display - Bob van Ruitenbeek IA4A3960 Red

Stone Monkey pot exhibit IA4A3953 Red

Stonemonkey pot exhibit

Ian Baillie pot display IA4A3955 Red

Ian Bailie pot exhibit

main vendors 1 Red

We also had, courtesy of the RHS, a marvellous marquee for our vendors.

Nobu Sugiura Red

Our vendors were a remarkably international bunch including our friend Nobu Sugiura all the way from Japan.

vendors 2 Red

Traders are always a popular

vendors 3 Red

addition to a show

Shohin UK 2015 is all ship shape and Bristol fashion

The 2015 Shohin UK event was a resounding success at the weekend and delivered clear evidence that the standard of the smaller sizes of bonsai has yet again run itself further up  the bonsai flagpole in the past twelve months.

The village hall at Failand near Bristol attracted nearly 200 visitors from as far afield as Paris and Paisley to see this quietly understated but nevertheless highly professional exhibition. This throng (which had significantly increased since two years ago) were augmented by ten traders all offering visitors a fine range of trees, pots and other bonsai items.

The stars of the show were of course the bonsai. A total of eighty trees were on show, spread among twenty six displays.

And what superb displays they were too.

It was interesting to read the “mission statement” on the BSA’s banner which states that we intended to push the standard of shohin bonsai in the UK up.  There is no doubt that this has happened and I’d like to think that the BSA and now the BSB has played a major part in that.

With professional hands at the rudder in the form of Marco Invernizzi,  John Armitage and Peter Warren, the shohin ship has hoisted its sails in all sorts of new ports of call.  And it has picked up crews along the way of seasoned hands and new conscripts alike.  Those who now take up the king’s shohin may be a mixed bunch, but all seem determined to set a course for excellence.

But the success of smaller sized bonsai in the past few years has also been due in some considerable part to Mark and Ritta Cooper.  I cannot remember when I first became aware of their presence in the bonsai armada, but I have absolutely no uncertainty about their impact.  If Messrs Warren, Armitage and Invernizzi are the captains, then the Coopers most certainly are the admirals of the fleet.   Their high level of knowledge, the sheer quality of their trees combined with their drive and enthusiasm is a catalyst for all things good in shohin circles. It is no accident that Shohin UK has set itself up as a beacon.

As yet there is no promise of a repeat event in two years time, but I am sure everyone in attendance – exhibitors, traders and visitors alike – sincerely hope that we see a Shohin UK 3.

But enough of this merry badinage and on to the pictures from the show so all you poor ratings who weren’t able to make it can at least live the show vicariously

And before anyone asks, I have absolutely no idea why I have elected to use so much sea-based imagery in this article.  I must have had too much time to sit and contemplate my naval today.

Ship ahoy.

The Winners

And the winners are...

And the winners are…

John Armitage's Best Shohin Display

John Armitage’s Best Shohin Display

John also won Best Shohin award for this superb juniper

John also won Best Shohin award for this superb juniper

Kit Bowns Best Mame display

Kit Bowns Best Mame display

Award for Best Mame went to Kit Bowns for this larch

Award for Best Mame went to Kit Bowns for this larch

John Pitt's fabulous Best Chuhin display

John Pitt’s fabulous Best Chuhin display

Steve Tolley's sublime Itoigawa juniper - winner of Best Chuhin

Steve Tolley’s sublime Itoigawa juniper – winner of Best Chuhin

Steve McKee's Best Tress and Pot combination (with the artist lurking in the background)

Steve McKee’s Best Tress and Pot combination (with the artist lurking in the background)

The Runners Up

Award of Merit - Shohin Display went to this exhibit of Andy Jordan's

Award of Merit – Shohin Display went to this exhibit of Andy Jordan’s

Martin Shepherd's Award of Merit in the Chuhin category

Martin Shepherd’s Award of Merit in the Chuhin category

Thanks to Mark R Cooper for the pics – mine were all rubbish

Sizing again. With pictures

Yesterday we put up a couple of posts regarding the vexing matter of bonsai sizes which you can read in the Articles section.

Just to add to that, here is a pictorial back up featuring trees that have won their classifications at BSA shows:

Bob B’s splendid mame juniper – approx height 3.5 inches

Bob B's mame juniper - approx height 4inches

John A’s stunning shohin juniper – approx height 8 inchesJohn A's stunning shohin juniper


John A’s Kifu juniper – approx height 14 inch

JA Chuhin-IMG_7150











John B’s kifu juniper

John B's kifu juniper

Interestingly, although John B’s tree is quite a bit taller than the other one, it is the foliage mass that gives it its classification.  Both are considered kifu.


And, last but not least, Ian S’s chuhin juniper which is around 18 inches tall.

Chuhin IS 2

Ian S’s chuhin juniper

As seen in its three point display.

As seen in its three point display.