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We all got up at about 1 am loaded all our collecting tools into the truck, filled up with gas and took off. We drove for about 6 hours to the secret collecting spot that we had found the year prior. We brought rope to actually hang off the side of a certain cliff we know to get access to these big beautiful trees. We climbed for about an hour and then finally reached our destination. We tied off to some huge trees to hold us as we began to descend and actually hang over the side of the cliff. My climbing friends began letting some of the rope out so I could reach the first plant we planned on removing. Just as I was about ready to secure myself I felt a huge pull on the rope…sort of like the pulling that I am doing to your leg…. Hey for fun stop by my group on Facebook

What actually happened was… The other day a couple of friends and students called and said "I have run across some Ceanothus that are being pulled up, cut up and thrown away". One friend works for a local company where he is on the road and is always finding great material to collect. Seems he had already talked to the person taking them out and asked him to stop. He then told the gardener that we would remove these trees at our labor and cost. The information was then posted to Facebook and another friend decided to join us. I was at work and had I not had other appointments, I would have jumped in my car and ran home. You know it's a sickness when you get excited about digging up old trees.

To me collecting in urban surroundings is one of the smartest things you can do. Yes you can and should buy bonsai starter material from nurseries or other members. But to get a tree with age, size, natural curves and possibly deadwood, is a great opportunity where ever you get it. Those plants just need to be collected. It's one of the hardest things, getting the word out to your local community about not chopping up trees but instead donate them to your local bonsai club.

I do not know how long these Ceanothus had been in the ground but they were huge, gnarled and looked very old. I don't know if they were planted or if the college we were collecting them from had just built around these native plants. When I first became involved in bonsai one of the first trees I purchased was a Ceanothus. I love it for its purple flowers and cool looking bark. Alas I did what a lot of new people do in bonsai… and worked on the same tree too much, too often and killed it. Fast forward 5 years and I get a chance to redeem myself.

When we finally were all able to meet up it was about 6:45 pm. Once we learned the trick to getting these trees out it went a lot smoother than our first few trees. These trees all had very shallow and long roots, we mainly were able to just find the major roots cut those and sort of wrestle the tree free. We pulled the last tree out at 830 pm in the complete darkness. I know bonsai freaks, right.

The collecting mix I use is pretty much 100 percent pumice sifted with the smallest screen so that all small particles and dust are removed. Some people add a little bark to retain a little moisture but this can cause some challenges if you over water. With the pumice, its fast drainage, it allows the roots to receive oxygen and water without staying to wet, but can retain some moisture. Since these trees were thriving in almost a completely dry area the last thing I want to do is over water. With that said, you do want to keep your roots moist until you can get it into your collecting mix. I should have taken more photos ...but was in a hurry to collect these trees before the sun went down. Even though this was not the most opportune time to collect these plants they were headed to the dump. If only one out of four live I still win, so does the plant. The goal is to keep all of them alive. We collected about 3-4 trees each and called it a night.

Here are a few pictures of our collecting experience…OK so the picture quality sucks...I will post better pictures once the trees recover.



Written by Ron Anderson — September 23, 2013