It was a busy night in Swindon, the majority of members turned up plus some visitors from Wales to enjoy Steve McKee’s talk. The more the merrier and it made for a very fun evening.
Steve has enjoyed bonsai as a hobby for a long time now; and it was only after around four or five years of being in the hobby that in he noticed accents and more specifically hostas as having good potential, and he has since then been looking for smaller and smaller plants to use as accents.
He has managed through a range of techniques to get good leaf size reduction and also more importantly a reduction in flower size plus a Hosta with white flowers which is quite unusual. He started out with standard small hostas like Hosta venusta and has now developed a wide collection of many different forms and varieties.
Feeding with tomorite seems to work well for Steve, it is designed for flowering/fruiting plants and works perfectly well with Hostas. It isn’t all roses though, as slug & snail issue continues to be problematic for most people but Steve has methods to combat this issue too.
It is recommended to keep the plant(s) more pot bound, in the same pot if possible, this shows less soil and is much better for display purposes. The variegated forms tend to be harder, as they seem to revert to having longer leaves than other varieties though.
With regard to repotting this time of year in July is ideal, and you shouldn’t necessarily be concerned if in flower at the time. Wash the roots at this time and simply divide up as required. A bit of mesh in bottom of the pot(s) to allow the water to drain without loosing the soil. Keep all the plants together & arrange in suitable pot, add soil & plants to pot whilst dipping in water.
This is a great method as it is hard to repot such small plants with dry soil and by using already pre-wetted soil this works a treat. Steve showed us how he does his repotting by having a bucket of water on hand with any left over soil in the bottom of the bucket of water and even referenced to it containing the washings out of his daughters aquarium which accounted for the pond like smell.
Steve took about 2-3 minutes to repot each plant, and discussed how this was a low impact method also on the plants this time of year as he does not cut the roots & it is minimal root disturbance and he gets a 99% success rate, which is excellent.
Hostas are fairly drought resistant, however it is easy to over water hostas so try to keep on the dry side.
Steve’s preference in varities or plants is for no or fewer flowers & more foliage. An excellent tip is you can get more growth following flower removal, the best method is to prune off flowers with scissors.
There are so many varieties of Hosta to choose from, it is hard to keep up with continuily increasing new varieties. It is possible to cross-pollinate them which Steve has done successfully himself. Hosta tortifrons does not flower but has fun twisted leaves & good autumn colour which goes a custard yellow.
You will find ‘Mouse Ears’ is a popular species but these have large leaves still and many are sold with this name and are perhaps derivatives of the species. Small leaf forms like ‘Tiny Tears’ & ‘Tom Thumb’ are the best for accents in proportion to most bonsai trees but it does depend on the size of the bonsai tree and ensuring you select the right size and type of the accent plant to accompany it.
Good sources for Hostas include
- Alpine garden society shows
- Bowden hostas
- Hosta Valley
- Plants with attitude (Hartside Nursery Garden)
Most of Steves smaller pots are hand made by Gordon Duffett and some of them are stunning and really work well with the colours of the hosta leaves.
There are other really good species of plants for accents and Steve has been experimenting using small Davallia & trimming foliage down which helps to keep it small through selective pruning (sourced from e-bay).
He tends to use tweezers and a scribing tool (Axminster tools) to repot, and this tool is flat one end & pointed on other and very handy.
Throughout the evening Steve kept everyone entertained with his humour and one of his memorable quotes of the day was “Dry at Ghandis flip flop” …. and this was in reference to Gordon Duffett pots as he tends to find that his bonsai in these pots dry out more quickly in the sunshine than in other potters pots but cannot explain why.
Steve does wash wholesale his trees and accents with provardo in a large dunking pool plus he uses a “special recipe” which he shared with us and divulged that it is in fact just garlic oil & water which he sprays over trees and this appears to put off slugs & snails and provides a degree of resistant for the fleshy leaves.
Other accent plant species Steve has been working on include Viola volante and Saxifrage which work extremly well.
Handy tip of the evening was to buy camellia oil from e-bay by the litre as this is a very cost effective method for those who use camellia oil to clean up their pots.
With regard to weather tolerance of hostas, they are pretty hardy and over winter Steve places them under benches or small ones under shelter or cold greenhouse.
Steve has tried geranium in the past too, but found they never flower when required.
It was a great evening and thanks to Steve for coming down to provide us with a great and memorable evening.