My bonsai buddy Ray suggested we should visit his local supermarket for trees that might
be good for bonsai. As I had only been involved with the 'magnificent obsession' for a few months and had
little in the way of stock to work on I readily agreed.
He suggested we go the following Sunday and I told him I would meet him there. He smiled
and said I would never find it because only he knew the way, explaining that it wasn't any of the local supermarkets, we were
going on a dig.
Ray asked me to bring a sharp bladed shovel, saw, axe, secateurs and some plastic garbage bags.
Now my take on collecting trees in the wild at that time was that you climbed high mountainous peaks, hung off ropes and absailing
(rapelling) down the mountain to reach those little stunted trees.
Imagine my surprise when he pulled up along this quiet little farm road and parked his car and
said "We're here". Ray told me, as it was early Spring the time was perfect as the leaves were just about to burst open. The
area in which we were going to be liberating trees was about fifteen feet wide and half a mile long on state owned land
which he had got permission to take as much as he wanted. The trees were oaks, English elms and cherry plums which were
not classified as native. Ray and I entered the supermarket and I noticed it was a bit boggy underfoot and he said much
easier to dig. Ray then told me we would take a few trees and select others for next Spring by undercutting, sawing them down
to a manageable size and tagging them.
I noticed a few cherry plums growing at the fence line which were very old and stunted and Ray
explained they had been cattle cropped over many years so they became my first victims. He then showed me how to undercut
the root system in a bowl shape and in some cases used an axe to chop the tap root. The oaks proved the hardest to dig but
they eventually yielded. We collected around twelve trees each bagged them and put them in his car.
Ray then told me we could select next years trees, so we looked at a lot of interesting trunks
and nebari and proceeded to chop/saw the trunks to the right height then undercut and tape loosely round the lower trunk for
easy recognition next Spring. Within five minutes we were back at my place getting the trees into grow boxes and giving
them plenty of water and placing them in the shade. We had a quick beer (well deserved) and Ray took his trees back to his
home to give them the same nurturing.
Ray explained just after my first dig what we should be looking for in yamadori, in this
case deciduous trees, are those with good trunks and nebari. We are trunk collectors he would say. We always back filled after
digging trees, although we were the only people to set foot in the supermarket and we would only select the best quality stock
and we had plenty to choose from. People would often ask where the trees came from and were always given a vague answer. I
guess most folks would do the same thing if they had a treasure trove to protect.
We went back to the supermarket for quite a few years and we never lost a tree except through bad management, many
years after they were dug. I will never forget my first dig and the feeling of fulfillment getting decent material to
work with. No mountains to climb and coming home to a smiling wife seeing my 'free' trees.