Our new quarterly feature on UAE bonsai artistes and enthusiasts
We start our new feature with Mohamad Anwar Jan.
The Bonsai-Dubai website was still in it's early days and we had good regular customers. Wherever I have lived in the world, there is, and has been 'bonsai people'....in other words men, women and teenagers that have started an interest and collection.
For my ten years in Dubai and especially after launching the website, the first thing that struck me was the amount of visitors to the site we were attracting (we're now approaching 200,000 visits). Things started to get busy......but the majority of people coming (actually everyone!) to visit us had no understanding or even knew what bonsai is!....... Until! Mohamad called! I couldn't believe my ears.....somebody was into bonsai AND had a collection of trees he was actively working on.....Anyway, I'll let my good friend Mohamad tell his story......He's passionate, inventive and has an 'eye' for tree styling and design.
Mohamad Anwar Jan, who lives in Dubai.
Firstly, I wish to thank Rob for inviting me to feature my humble and young bonsai collection. This I started developing about 8 years ago. It's a very young collection in terms of developing and creating bonsai as it takes between 6 to 10 years for a tree to start looking like a presentable bonsai tree. However, there are techniques and skills you learn over time in the art of bonsai to help speed up the ageing appearance.The key to this is finding the right 'starter' material trees, garden centres, old gardens that have been left un-attended for years, you can discover old material with good age cracteristics, these can be emphasised further by using carving tools/machines and whitening chemicals such as Lime Sulphur which in turn preserves this old 'deadwood'.
My journey and fascination with bonsai started back in the mid-eighties during my youth, this was at the time of the first of the Karate kid movies! As some of you may recall Mr. Miyagi (the instructor) had a nice collection of juniper bonsai trees which was featured in the movie. From there onwards I wanted to have a similar collection, and started by buying commercial type bonsai trees. Unfortunately, at first the trees kept on dying due to me mishandling them and not knowing much about the trees watering, light requirements, being both indoor or outdoor trees.
When I moved to Dubai 10 years ago and started landscaping my new home, I discovered many wonderfully Ficus bonsai trees at the local nurseries that were brought from China, which by the way is where the bonsai art originated and they name it ”Pen-Sai”. This was later taken by the Japanese, hence the familiar Japanese name “Bonsai” we know today arrived, that simply means tree in a pot in Japanese.
This is when my true bonsai passion started, by buying a number of existing bonsai trees and looking after them to start with, by watering, fertilising and trimming the leaves. Eventually, I felt I wanted more creative challenges to be able create my own bonsai trees with my style. So I started buying books on the art of bonsai creation and watching videos of the great bonsai masters such as John Naka.
Soon, it became apparent to me that it would take 5 years at least to develop a nursery shoot in to a bonsai tree. So being the impatient person I am, which doesn't go with the bonsai art as it is all about patience, without which you can never make a bonsai artist, I started looking in to developing mature trees in to bonsai. For this you need a great Nebari (trunk base/surface root spread) and good taper towards the top. Most bonsai tend to be between 30cms to 1mtr in height, so it is important to reduce the tree trunk to the desired height to miniaturise the tree. The branches can all be grown from new branch shoots with the help of wiring which shapes and styles the tree. Over time I have learnt to be patient..... with the help of the art bonsai design, art and nurturing the trees.
I started by visiting local nurseries which had mature trees that were removed from local gardens etc. which is a good start as most of these trees are already well adapted to the local weather. The best trees I found where Bougnevelea, Olive trees and Vitex which have good bonsai quality characteristics, good heat and water tolerance.
Most of the trees you see in my collection have been styled and sculpted by me, all branches wired and then allowed to grow over a period of time then cut back to develop new buds and left to grow again. This process repeated to develop the tress branches and fine ramification.
The other very important element in the art of bonsai which is by far the most critical is the roots health. With bonsais it is very important to train the tree by planting it in a special bonsai pot which is usually very aesthetic and must have very good drainage in order to avoid the roots from still water that can cause the roots to rot.
The correct choice of soil is also essential, which I struggled to get right and cost me many trees loses, until I came across the magic of Seramis soil that was introduced to me by Rob. Thanks to Rob, many of my tres have now been thriving for the last 4 years since I started changing the soil to Seramis.
The great thing about Seramis is that it can retain 80% of the water, it is well drained, and due to its texture the roots can travel freely and absorb plenty of essential oxygen that bonsai (and all plants and trees) at the same time.
My knowledge of bonsai has been limited and my reach to special bonsai materials such as pots, bonsai wire, exotic trees, and someone to share the passion with was restricted, until I came across bonsai Dubai Web site which then got me to meet Rob 4 years ago. Rob has vast knowledge and 24 years’ experience in the art of bonsai. He has helped me improve my Bonsai techniques and introduced me to trees I never thought could exist or survive in the UAE such as Junipers, Pines, and many other exotic species which only he can supply through his amazing reach to the far east and Europe.
Thank you Rob for being a great support and for your encouragement and for sharing your vast experience and bonsai wisdom, also thank you for introducing me to your amazing Bonsai Specimen trees of a very wide variety.
You don't need to be a Gardner to be a good at bonsai. However, you would definitely need, or it certainly helps, to have a creative side to your personality.
I work in the creative field of design and architecture which always ends with a project deadline, while with bonsai it is an on going and evolving art.
When creating and styling a bonsai, it is a good idea to make some rough sketches of what your 'vision' of the tree could and may be.
Below are some of my sketches from over the years.
Mohamad Anwer Jan