Promoting the art of Bonsai in Northern Ireland

Josh Profile & Garden Visit

by Ian Young, Chairman

I first met Josh on my first day as a Society member back in 1993. I was attending a talk by Craig Coussins and some of Josh’s bonsai were on display in the room. I was inspired by his beech forest and a couple of Hinoki Cypress. Craig critiqued some of the trees and it was obvious he was impressed by them too.

Josh started bonsai back in 1985 ish and joined the society around 1988.  In those early years he played an active part in the society was was well known as the man who ‘cleaned up’ in the local bonsai competition classes. Over the years he has always be helpful,  giving talks at the club and and supplying bonsai for exhibition.

I called with Josh at the start of September and asked if I could do a profile on him for the website. He was kind enough to walk me through his garden and collection of bonsai for an hour or two discussing bonsai and his view on developing trees. If you are planning to make a garden like this one, you need to find a professional gardening and landscaping service like 1. Drake’s 7 Dees to create garden of your dreams. The following is a progression of photos and some brief snippets of  our conversation.

I arrived at Josh’s house to be greeted by several large bonsai and garden trees that he keeps at his front door. As he lives in the grounds of a school he can place trees here. I wouldn’t like to the one trying to steal them! My back is bad enough and I think Daisy the killer Jack Russell might have had something to say about it too!


The tall Larch was a nice touch and hinted at what lay ahead.

Japanese Larch garden tree
Josh with his Larch. Must be all of 7 feet tall.

He then showed me his large Beech tree which he developed in the ground for many years before placing in a pot. Josh collects many of his trees from the school grounds and this is where he found the Beech.

The big Beech

He showed me how the bigger cuts have healed in the ground. It’s hard to see this happening if it had been kept in a pot all these years.

Large wound totally healed over

He showed me where the original chop had taken place to reduce the height of the tree.

The chop healing over well and has lots of character.

This small Uro allows water to drain from the hollow formed at the chop point.

You can see how well the Uro has healed over the years.
The Nebari from the front.

As you can see, Josh uses guy lines a lot to help with positioning branches.

We then had a look at a Field Maple in a big black plastic pot. He explained that the pot that the big beech was in was going to be used in the Spring for this tree and another new purchase pot was sitting ready for the Beech.

A natural looking image. Wish it was mine!

We had one last tree to look at before getting in through the gate to the garden. He showed me an Elm growing in the ground that he was thinking of lifting in the next few years.

Josh shows me the nebari hidden underneath.

Josh has a real skill in developing trees in the ground. This is one of many he showed me on the visit.

Elm nebari, hard to see but you get the idea.

Hidden Elm trunk

We then moved into his side garden where he displays some of his trees.

Japanese Garden with a few Raulii and a Cotoneaster.

This Beech group was the one that inspired be on my first day in the society back in 1993.

Beech Group and a Stunning Purple Beech.
A selection of bonsai on a high bench

Here are a few individual shots of the trees shown above.

Hornbeam coming into Autumn colour.
Nice little Oak
Root over Rock Mugo Pine
Massive Broom Beech and a Formal upright Yew

We didn’t spend much time in this part of the garden as I know these trees so well. I have the job of ‘holiday care’ for them all every Summer. I couldn’t wait to see what was around the corner in the flower beds and I think Josh was more interested in talking about the trees in development that the ones in pots. I was happy to oblige.

Next up was a large Korean Fir  in development growing among the strawberry plants. This was garden centre stock bought many years ago. Many would not touch this as bonsai material but Josh doesn’t  follow the crowd and does what pleases him.

Fir in growing bed.

Next along the path was an Oak that I couldn’t remember seeing before. I fell in love with the tree. We discussed how much quicker it is to develope bonsai in the ground. Would this oak have bark as mature if it had been containerize all these years? Probably not.

Josh points out the oak to me.
Oak at ground level.
Oak nebari and maturing bark.

This is what greeted me on walking around into the back garden. Vegetable patch interspersed with trees in training.

Back garden growing beds

This Hawthorn is in the middle. Josh isn’t happy with many points of its development and is considering thread grafts to get the branches where he wants them.

Pointing out the problem areas

After talking about thread grafted we moved over to a larch that had been thread grafted successfully a few years before.

Pointing out the grafted branches

Just beside the Larch was a Hornbeam that Josh was given by another Society member. They had won it in a raffle and didn’t know what to do with it. Josh popped it into the ground and has been developing it ever since. He explains that it naturally weeps compared to other Hornbeam in the garden but isn’t sure of the actual variety.

Weeping Hornbeam.

Also hidden away in this bed  was a little Chaemcyparis. On closer inspection it was a Root over rock. Another hidden gem in development.

Another hidden corner
Hidden roots over a rock

Stepping over a Tanuki Grafted Juniper which I forgot to photograph we moved on to a couple of Pines. One was a Scots Pine and the other is an unknown variety that has a longer needle and barely lets the candles form before opening out into the needles. Josh would love to know what variety it is. Any Ideas?

The unknown Pine
A closer view
Scots Pine
Another closer view

Tucked in behind these two was a contorted Hazel. Again, I don’t think I have ever seen one as a bonsai before but Josh gives it a go. First he points out the Hazel Nuts that it has produced for the first time this year.

Hazel Nuts in every bite!
Full view of Hazel, hard to see with cluttered backdrop.

Buried under bark nearby is a Lonicera group planting that was too big to fit in his car to bring to my hose for holiday care. Josh buried it for the Summer months while on holiday.

Lonicera Group with killer Daisy in the background!

Also in the back bed where these Cryptomeria and Mugo Pine.

Formal Cryptomeria
Mugo future branch placement

On may way back to the side garden I spotted this Chaemcyparis Boulevard that I walked past earlier without spotting it. I could remember Josh having this in a pot a few years back but he explaines that he cut a major branch which resulted in a major root dying. A strip of trunk died at this time and the tree struggled for a few years. He put it in the ground to recover which, I think you’ll agree, worked a treat.

Josh points out the dead branch and root.

I have admire Josh’s dedication to bonsai for many years and we spoke of ways to help the Society grow in the coming years. I told him that recently members of our club had been referred to as amateurs by another club. I explained that I actually took it as a compliment. In Northern Ireland we have to work with material at quality many times lower that that available in the rest of the UK and in Europe. We don’t all have access to top quality material from the Alps or the money to buy it. That strip of water known as the Irish Sea can be expensive to cross. So, we often have to create our trees from average material or grow it from scratch. This helps us learn all the techniques used in bonsai. Not just the quick fix but the patience to work and develope trees over the years and create mature bonsai. Many of Josh’s trees were started from seedlings and with time and dedication he has produced bonsai that many would be proud to have in their collection. I’m one of them. If this is what amateurs do, then I’m proud to be one of them.

I hope you enjoyed a walk around Josh’s garden. I would like to thank him again for letting me pop over with a half hours notice and photograph everything in sight.  I would have taken even more but the batteries gave up in the camera! We did find time to take a walk and look at an other Elm nearby that he was thinking of collecting in the Spring.

Thanks Josh