'How To Collect Wild Trees'
by Andy Smith of Golden Arrow Bonsai
Golden Arrow Bonsai: 58 min., $19.95
Reviewed by Vance Wood*
I have known Andy, on nodding terms, for nearly fifteen years. He is well known for his collecting and selling of collected wild Ponderosa Pines (Pinus ponderosa) and Rocky Mountain Junipers (Juniperus scopulorum). Andy supplied the materials for the MABA 2000 convention, Kimura workshop, as well as Mr. Kimura's demonstration tree. All were Rocky Mountain Junipers.
I have collected trees from various locations, the latest being an Eastern Larch from a Northern Michigan bog. My mountain collecting was done in my early years when I was living in California. At that time not too many knew much about how to do this, so it was kind of trial and error... mostly error. Despite this, we did manage to get a few good trees out of the hills. This DVD was, from my point of view, rewarding in that it demonstrated the techniques used by a professional in collecting the kind of material that I would have left alone, those many years ago.
Andy goes into depth about describing the material for which he is looking. He also demonstrates how to recognize trees that are healthy enough to harvest, even when the pictures illustrate trees that looked pretty sad. The collecting trip depicted in the documentary was carried out during fall. One shortfall of this program is that Mr. Smith did not state that this was the preferred time to collect this material. I felt he left the question open as to which was the best time.
The two most important points he brings up are how to determine whether a tree is going to be collectable or not. The first parameter is the ability to remove the rocks that bind the tree to the mountain enough to remove the tree. The second is to determine where the root pad is located and whether that can be successfully removed. On these points the video is highly informative and descriptive. Great detail is followed, in how this is done.
He describes how these naturally dwarfed trees are formed and what allows them to grow in these locations for hundreds of years. He demonstrated the actual removal of the tree, the wrapping of the soil pad, which incidentally includes a mass of fine roots, for the trek down the mountainside.
For anyone interested in collecting from a mountain location I would strongly suggest watching this video first.
I would like to add a suggestion, if I may. I would not suggest poking around under trees and rocks without investigating first with a long stick. These kinds of places are habitats for rattlesnakes and could provide you with an unpleasant and life threatening surprise.
The final point of his program is to put the tree or trees in wooden boxes, anchored to prevent movement and covered in a very coarse soil mix with very little organic material in it. He puts Pines in a good deal of sun but Junipers go into the shade to recover. He does not make clear how long the recovery time is to be and he did not show the actual location of his recovery bed or, indeed, where his nursery is located. It might have been instructive to know the conditions under which he nursed the trees to recovery.
In short, if you have some bonsai experience and some collecting experience this is a great documentary that you might want to watch. There are some gaps in the material presented, that I feel could have been addressed, but anyone with more than a few years bonsai experience should be able to figure them out.
How do I rate a book or DVD? I have been growing bonsai for more than a couple of years and I usually rate something on the basis of whether or not I learned anything from it. I learned something, which, had I known in the days when I collected from the mountains, would have seen me able to collect some of the trees I otherwise left in the woods.
Would I recommend this video to others? Absolutely. It is not perfect but it is the first time and perhaps the last time you will have at your fingertips the actual process of doing this. It is far better to see it happen than to just read about it. It is not a Hollywood production and Andy is not Tom Cruise, but the content and presentation is straight forward and without a lot of pretentious Cow Manure. I liked it.
*About Vance Wood
This review was written by Vance Wood who has been involved with bonsai for almost 50 years, he has won numerous awards, he has given demos and workshops across the U.S., he invented and patented a screen sided training planter for bonsai, and he is considered by many to be an expert in the cultivation of Mugho Pines.