About two years ago after working with Shohin for ten years I decided I needed a new challenge and decided to try my hand at Mame. I sold my Shohin collection, partly to finance a trip to Japan and also to fund my interest in Mame. After visiting various nurseries and The Green Club I was amazed at the quality and varieties of Mame on offer and also because of their popularity with the Japanese how expensive they were, this also applied to the pots, stands, jittas etc. It would appear the smaller the tree the more expensive it is. After two years I now have a collection of 16 Mame, mostly Japanese sourced, but also two out of the garden, a pyracantha and also a clump style potentilla.
Trees from Japan I always, apart from light pinching and pruning leave alone for a complete season to aclimatise, after that I can start to style and alter the tree so it becomes mine and not just another tree straight off the bench. Throughout the spring, summer and early autumn the trees are in their pots sank into gravel in trays, this gives them extra humidity and also means they do not have to be watered as often. The only problem with this method is I live in a hard water area so therefore I get a lot of lime scale on the pots which has to be cleaned before shows. One other benefit is that the roots of most trees will grow through the drainage holes into the gravel. In winter they are kept in an unheated greenhouse.
Throughout the growing season I use a very simple feeding regime 1/4 strength Chempak No 8 at every watering, I know some people won’t agree with this, but Terry Adams and myself have been using this system for 5 years now to no ill effect, just strong, healthy well ramified trees.
The single most important aspect in Mame bonsai. Watering has to be CONTROLLED, because of the small volume of soil in a Mame pot it is very easy to under or more dangerous over water. I found this out to my cost in my first season with Mame when I lost a White Pine which literally drowned, not through over watering, but being left out in the open during one of our summer downpours. I now have a canopy over my benches to enable me to be in complete control.
Most of my trees are in Japanese pots, mainly because you cannot beat them for quality, colour and variety. They are not cheap and the hand-painted Porcelain pots are really expensive. I have three of these and consider them miniature works of art. I have very generous children. Stands are also difficult to source in the UK, and the only one I know who makes stands of a decent standard is Doug Mudd. Having said that all of my stands are from Japan as they cater for the Mame market.
Again very difficult to find in the UK, bonsai dealers have yet to wake up to the fact there is a serious market for this size tree so at the moment the only alternative is to make your own, either from garden stock or air-layering.
The most difficult part of bonsai display is Shohin/Mame multiple tree display. Everyone has their own ideas on this, but there are no set rules, just guidelines. I won’t go into it in this article because it is far to complicated a subject, but if you are interested in display you have to get the books ‘Majesty In Miniature’ by Moten Albeck and ‘Bonsai Kusamono’ Suiseki by Willi Benz. To me they are the ‘Bibles’ of display and although I don’t always agree with them I wouldn’t dream of setting up a display for a show without first referring to them.
Another integral part of display, be it figures, suiseki or my favourite accent plants, the first two are easy but with my sausage fingers I find accent plants for Mame extremely difficult. So I rely on my very good friend and friend of the Club Ritta Cooper. Her skill and artistic talent in making such beautiful accents in such tiny pots never ceases to amaze me, thanks again Ritta. If you get the chance to see one of her talks and demonstrations please do so you won’t be sorry.
Cheers Bob Bailey