The United Kingdom has always had its place on the European Bonsai stage. We all know artists including Craig Coussins, Peter Adams, Graham Potter, Dan Barton, etc. Also in the main European shows many trees from UK artists can be seen. But… There’s no large Bonsai event in the UK.

We talk with Tony Tickle about all this and ask him about the event he is organizing for October 2015.



Interview with Mr. Tickle

Take us back to the 1970s/1980s; the UK Bonsai scene was pretty big back then right?

I had my first Bonsai in 1983, my only experience was at club level, I was aware at the respect that British Bonsai artists commanded in Europe. Harry Tomlinson, Colin Lewis, Dan Barton, Peter Chan and Peter Adams all well-known names that had books published in English language. During the 70s and 80s the UK was riding high and in 1991 the UK hosted the Bonsai world convention in Birmingham this was the largest exhibition to take place in the UK I attended for one day. From that hiatus the UK sat back on it’s laurels with the club scene being the only focus for aspiring artists, a couple of people organized active Bonsai events in the UK including Craig Coussins and Dan Barton.


Around that time, can you recall the other main countries for Bonsai in Europe? What was going on there?

This is a time before the internet and mass communication with the only way of finding out what is happening was from printed publications. From what I remember the Netherlands were very big in the Bonsai Scene, mainly because of nurseries like Lodders and Edo, the Italians were nowhere to be seen and Spain had yet to appear on my radar. Germany with Paul Lesnewich and Walter Pall were known to me. It never crossed my mind to travel to other countries to experience their exhibitions.


You entered the scene around 1995 when you won the EBA new talent competition, how was the UK scene doing back then?

I was fortunate that I had surrounded myself with some great friends who have the same enthusiasm to create Bonsai. Terry Foster and David Prescott encouraged to me to enter the new talent competition, with the European final taking place in Monaco. This was my first experience with the European scene. This gave me an insight into trees that I have not experienced in the UK.


There seem to be few importer of Bonsai in the UK, while the amount of people practicing Bonsai is quite big. Why is that?

We must not forget that the UK is actually at a small island, we have excellent importers of Bonsai however the typical British hobbyist is reluctant to pay the price for superb material or finished trees preferring to work mostly with native material.


So you are saying native materials are simply more affordable/accessible.

I don’t think that is the case, there is a question of quality and many hobbyists are afraid to work on high-end material for fear of doing a bad job so they choose to work on inferior material hoping that one day it will turn into a stunning tree. Over the last few years there is in the UK a group of people who recognize that to create beautiful Bonsai it is important to start with material that has potential. There is also a question of affordability and whether the hobbyist wants to reach a high-level in the art form or are simply happy working their trees in the garden?


Traditionally, many trees from UK artists are displayed on the Noelanders Trophy, sometimes winning the show. What were your favorite displays from UK artists recently?

It always surprises me how many trees from the UK are exhibited at the Noelanders Trophy, and I wonder why I never see these trees exhibitions in the UK I don’t think there is one answer to this. Over the years trees from the UK have won the Noelanders Trophy and have had many nominations I don’t have any particular favorites what does stick out though is a tree from Bryan Albright and simple Literati Pine that won quite a few years ago.


The amount of English trees on display at the Noelanders Trophy makes me wonder, why isn’t there a mayor show in the UK? Was there one before?

It depends what you consider to be a major show, a national show? We have over the years had national shows, but the responsibility as always falling to the same people who did great job. I suppose the last very big show was in 1999 an EBA event in Stratford-upon-Avon, however it being a ‘European’ events very few trees from our European neighbors were exhibited.


Tony Tickle's tree

Image: Tony Tickle's "Fat Guy" bonsai.


You did research as to why people attend events, what did you find out?

Bonsai appeals to wide range of people, those starting in Bonsai and many with years of experience. I created an online survey with a specific set of questions around “Do you go to National or International Bonsai Exhibitions?” The survey was targeted at my followers on Facebook so the respondents were all ready those interested in Bonsai. I guess it would seem obvious however the results were interesting. It’s no surprise that the majority of people cited that the main reason was that “they wanted to see high-quality bonsai” this accounted for 60% all the respondents with only 20% to watch the demonstrators and 20% for the traders. For many attending the event was an opportunity to meet with friends. One statistic that surprised me was that some of the respondents that had been working with Bonsai for more than 10 years have never visited a major show. Citing ‘distance’ as the major factor, breaking down the data further revealed that most were respondents from the USA and only a few from Europe.


Tony, you are organizing the Bonsai Europa event for October this year. Tell me more!

I have organized two Bonsai shows on my own, the first had over 2500 visitors on one day and the second 1750 in one day. I have been a director of world championship events and hopefully know what both visitors and participants want from a show. The UK has a lot of excellent trees so it seems only natural to stage a large exhibition, but I wanted to reach out to a wider Bonsai community inviting them to show in the UK. The problem is of course that we are an island and the logistics and commitments for those traveling from mainland Europe are compounded by the fact that they have across the water to bring trees to the exhibition. I am fortunate that I have a network of friends and contacts that are committed to supporting Bonsai Europa. I have visitors coming from, Italy, Spain, Germany, Denmark, Holland, France, Belgium, Hungary, and Slovenia also as far as the USA and China.


Is the Bonsai Europa event going to be different from other main European shows? How?

There will be a few nice surprises at Bonsai Europa with trees that have never been exhibited outside of the UK and in many cases outside of people own gardens. I am promoting this event as a ‘destination’ event, what I mean by this is I’m encouraging visitors to bring along their families as the town and a nearby city of Manchester has a lot to offer the tourists, and I have had a lot of support from the region in promoting the event. We can expect a lot of non-Bonsai visitors to the exhibition because promotion of the event is widespread through many channels including, national and local TV, radio, press and social media. I believe it is important to reach out to audiences beyond the usual Bonsai community, as we all know everybody loves bonsai.


What kind of trees can we expect to see?

I love the idea of an autumn show, because the maples and the deciduous trees should be in spectacular color, As mentioned earlier the UK has a lot of spectacular award winning trees, and I am fortunate that there is a lot of new trees that have never been exhibited before coming to Bonsai Europa. I have trees coming from across Europe including: Italy, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, France, Germany, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Hungary in fact most of the European countries.


And what to expect from the demo’s?

In my travels across Europe I have seen some of these young artists at work, at Bonsai Europa I am giving them a platform to show what they can do, and those in the audience in years to come can say “I saw them first at Bonsai Europa” There are ten artists ‘performing’ five on each day so there will be lots to see. Many of these artists are currently under the supervision of established Bonsai artists, some have travelled to Japan to study so l confidence that the work they do will be of the highest quality and the audience amazed at their expertise. Over the last few years I have been preparing spectacular raw material for the artists to work.


Olive Bonsai

Image: Tony's Olive Bonsai. in semi-cascade.



About Tony - Tony is a full time professional and has been working with Bonsai since 1983, he specializes in native European trees, in particular; Hawthorn, Yew and Pine. He won his first Ginkgo awards in 1997, Noelanders nominations, UK winner and runner up in the European New talent competition in 1995. Tony’s blog has had more than 1,400,000 visitors, his YouTube channel has over 1500 subscribers and three quarters of 1 million views. Well known for his controversial views Tony is not afraid of speaking his mind, in particular the poor judging at Bonsai Events. In 2014 Tony was invited as honored judge at the National Penjing exhibition in China. Later this year Tony will be demonstrating alongside Ryan Neil at ABC4 in South Africa. - Visit the Bonsai Europa website.