Award Success for Swindon members at the Noelanders Trophy XVIII 2017, Genk, Belgium

Swindon Bonsai Society members Mark and Ritta Cooper have become frequent exhibitors over recent years at both our Winter Image show and the Noelanders Trophy. They entered the Noelanders Trophy for the first time back in 2013.

They won the Noelanders First Prize, Best Shohin in 2013 with a classical three point, two tree Shohin display, and second prize Nomination with a six-tree nana-ten (seven point) display, and then in 2015 with a 5-tree display.

Their large Kokonoe White Pine won a Nomination prize in 2016.

If you want to apply to exhibit the Noelanders Trophy there are a few simple rules to observe. When a hobbyist applies to exhibit their tree(s) in the Noelanders Trophy, the rules of the Noelanders Trophy stipulate that trees that participated in the previous two shows cannot be submitted for the next show. This “three-year rule” helps keep the show fresh with different trees; this is not an issue for the show as there are many good trees in Europe now.

The Shohin (maximum 21cm) and Kifu special prizes are only awarded on alternate years, and 2017 was a Shohin prize year.

For any shohin enthusiasts like Mark and Ritta who want to apply to exhibit at the Noelanders Trophy, these stipulations present a special challenge. So, when Mark and Ritta considered submitting a Shohin display to compete for the 2017 special Shohin award, the 5 trees they used for the 2015 show were excluded under the rules. Hence, it was going to be a difficult challenge to find enough trees to create a good display and one of sufficient quality.

For those who don’t fully understand the aesthetics of shohin display, very basically:

  • Each tree used must be a different species, and ideally a different style
  • Each pot must be different style and colour
  • Each table must be different style
  • Complimentary tree directions, heights and “volumes “need to be carefully considered.

A combination of two or more trees are often used in traditional shohin displays, with the most demanding type of display being a “Nana-ten” display, which is a six tree display with a small accent plant.

With all these demanding criteria for Mark and Ritta to meet, creating a new display for 2017 was not going to be easy! After a lot of experimenting with potential displays at home, they decided that they could submit a nana-ten display. They had six different trees of similar size and quality with the right directions, and sufficient tables too in terms of both number and quality. However, a couple of pots would need to be changed to ones of a different colour/ orientation. It’s always useful to have a stock of shohin pots!

They submitted their application form and a photo of the proposed display via email, and they learnt some weeks later that their exhibit had been accepted for the show! That is an achievement in itself as the standards for acceptance are high.

The show was held over the weekend of 4th and 5th of February 2017, and Mark and Ritta arrived for the show set up on Friday 3rd. On arrival after the drive from Calais, they completed the registration process, took their place in the photography queue, and then the display was professionally photographed for the show book. They then consulted the plan of the hall layout (with small thumbnail photos of each display) to locate their allocated space of 1800mm. It was number 21, amongst a long row of the other shohin displays.

Once the display was set up it was time to relax and await the arrival of visitors and the verdict of the 4 judges; . The Judging results are always announced at the Gala dinner on the Saturday evening.

The Noelanders Trophy is generally recognised as the premier bonsai show in Europe, and the best bonsai show to be held outside of Japan. This year it was combined with the EBA (European Bonsai Association) bonsai show. There were around 200 displays of bonsai, dozens of traders and thousands of visitors. Mark and Ritta met up with two bonsai friends who had travelled from Japan to see the show!  This show was also noticeable as Reg Bolton retired as President of EBA after 13 years of loyal service.

At the gala dinner on Saturday evening, Mark and Ritta were delighted to discover that their exhibit had been awarded the first prize, Best Shohin, again! Their friend Jose Acuna Cruz from Tenerife was awarded the Nomination prize (second prize) with some fabulous trees in a nana-ten display.

Remarkably, Mark and Ritta have won the Best Shohin award now three times in a row, and this is a record!

As it transpired, the Coopers were not the only Brits to win a major award. Tony Tickle won first prize, Best Deciduous, with his raft Hawthorn.