Over a weekend at the end of May 2018, I had the pleasure of visiting renowned Swedish bonsai potters Thor Holvila and Carina Jern at their home in Gothenburg, Sweden. My primary purpose was to collect some pots from Thor to bring back to the UK but the weekend ended up being something of a ‘Bonsai Intensive’ with a lot of styling work and yamadori hunting in the many wild areas around the Gothenburg area. The article that follows is a short account of that weekend!
Thor and I have collabarated on a few projects in the past, for instance, this combination of my Privet bonsai (Ligustrum) and Thor’s pot in 2016.
Detail of the Privet bonsai pot.
And this Pyracantha bonsai of mine that Thor made a pot for.
Detail of the Pyracantha pot.
Thor lives on the side of a mountain above Gothenburg, on our first morning we walked to the top of the mountain and visited one of the many natural lakes.
Despite an unusually warm May in Sweden, the water was cold enough to take my breath away!
Back in Thors garden, we took a look at the trees he has been collecting over the past 5 years. Predominantly Scots Pine and Spruce, the trees have been collected from a number of locations by Thor. This newly collected tree is 2-3 years away from being worked on but had the most fantastic coiled trunk!
Thor also had yamadori Scots Pine that he had collected a number of years before and that were showing good signs of health. We decided that I would illustrate how the more challenging material could still be used for bonsai. This particular tree had just one live branch that had needles a distance away from the trunk itself. Material such as this can be very difficult to successfully style; it is however possible.
Showing Thor how to bring the branches back towards the trunk and how to compress the foliage.
The same Scots Pine after wiring and styling. Very little of the original foliage was removed; it was simply brought back towards the trunk and laid out. The tree itself was carefully lifted from its original pot and without disturbing the roots, placed into a shallower container.
Another example of the many pines we styled over the weekend. Thor has collected some great material, my role was to help him extract the very best out of it.
The fully styled Scots Pine.
Going over wiring techniques with Thor on what was a very hot May day in Gothenburg!
Some of the trees, such as this very tall Norway Spruce yamadori, required some severe bending techniques…….
……..But I was able to introduce plenty of movement thanks to using plenty of reinforcement of the trunks and branches (see details on the next page) and surprisingly flexible wood. Trees such as these were left otherwise unstyled so that they could recover from the shock of the heavy bends.
An early morning start one day to take a trip out to a secret location and check out Thor Holvila’s favourite collecting site. An amazing place that Thor has found after over 10 years of searching dozens of bogs around Sweden. It was an absolute privilege to visit and see where the Scots Pines I had been working on came from.
After ensuring that we protected our legs and feet from ticks, Thor issued me with a stick so I could make sure my next step wasn’t into a deep swampy hole! He also explained to
me how to react if one of the local Elk appear (they have trails running across the bog and are a common sight).
In the image above, Thor is pictured alongside the ‘Mother Pine’, a huge Pine raft that has been successful in colonising a cluster of rocks in the middle of the bog, and is likely to have produced all of the seedlings that have germinated in the bog itself.
We also discovered the large contorted Scots Pine pictured here…..and realised it was collectible………
Back in Thor’s garden for another day of work, and this tall Scots Pine of approximately 100 years that needed heavy bending.
As previously mentioned, despite their age, the pines were still fairly pliable and it was possible to carry out a large number of bends without any cracking.
The trunks were securely wrapped with VetWrap, an elasticated cloth with low-tack adhesive. One or two heavy gauge wires were then laid lengthways along the section to be bent, and held in place with a further layer of VetWrap.
I then coiled heavy gauge wire around the trunk.
When making the bends themselves, it is important to ‘squeeze’ the branch/trunk and be ready to stop immediately if a crack is heard. Your fingers need to be spread across the outside of the branch, to help spread the stretching of the wood on the outside edge of the bend, to avoid it cracking.
The new bends are then securely held in place using guy wire(s).
The Scots Pine after heavy bending. Detail wiring and laying out of the remaining branches will wait until the tree has recovered.
Having slept in the Pot Gallery in their house over the weekend, surrounded by the work of Carina Jern and Thor Holvila, it is only right to show some of their amazing pots!!
I believe some of the pots in these images have been made by Thor but glazed by Carina, an experienced potter in her own right.
On my return to the UK, a number of pots found their way back home with me to my garden! Including this Thor Holvila signature pot, a skull accent pot.
A few more choice pots from Thor. Thor Holvila can be contacted via Facebook, Instagram and his website holvilabonsaipot.com