A bouganvillea for the New Year

  I’ve been traveling pretty hard so far this year. In fact, if my calculations are correct, it could be said that I’ve been gone from home for almost half of the year already. I know, right? If I’m gone much more my wife might start to worry about all those bonsai groupies that throw themselves at me after my demos. 

Not to worry dear wife! My love….she who must be obeyed….your love is so sweet, I’d never want once from the cherry tree (stole that last bit from Hozier, shhhh, don’t tell her!) 

Anyway, Over the weekend, I had the privilege of visiting and working with all kinds of new friends down on the southwest Florida coast. One guy in particular is named Ryan and he asked me over his place to take a look at his collection, give him some ideas on where he should go next with some of them and, important to today’s blog post, to take a look at a bougie he had collected. How’s this?  

 Purty flowers. 

Too bad I have to cut them all off. Yeah man, it’s a rule in the Southeast Chapter of the Bonsai Professional’s Guild and Bridge Club that, when one is styling a flowering tree, the flowers must be cut off. It’s the truth, I wouldn’t lie to you. Would I do that? We have lapel pins, a secret handshake and a bowling league. Owen is the points leader, he almost always bowls a perfect game.   

It has a decent base, for a vine.    Good flare. Let’s see what kind of mess we can make of the rest of the tree. 

 For reference, a before shot. Print it out so you can refer back as we progress.  

Using a reciprocating saw (that would be a Sawzall® for those who also say BAND-Aid® or Q-Tip® instead of adhesive bandage and cotton swab) we do some pruning. We could use a $90 Japanese pull saw to prune the branches out. Yeah, let’s go with that…..


What’s left of the poor tree, you ask? Did we just chop it all off and this is just a lesson in how brutal our hero (that’d be me, Adam Lavigne, the hero, or protagonist) can really be. I mean….I MEAN, am I the kind of person that will take a child out into the ocean and throw said child off the back of the boat, just to teach him how to swim? Am I  a “sink or swim” kinda teacher? Well, sometimes. This time, though, I had a plan. Here’s the tree after surgery.    

Poor Ryan. He was a good sport but I’m sure he was watching me, this  mad bonsai-man with an electric saw, brutally but casually chopping off limbs like Leatheface or Hannibal the Cannibal getting ready for the Annual Family Reunion Barbecue and Social. I can only imaging him thinking “How much am I paying this fool again, I coulda done that?” 

 Worry not, dear Ryan, I’m about to show you why they pay me the “Big Bucks”. 

At this point,  we needed to adjust the angle of the planting. Right now it’s falling back, like that drunken cousin at an open bar wedding reception, we need it to be leaning forward, just a little. 

When one looks at a bonsai from the front, it should appear that the tree is “bowing” to the viewer. This is something that many people don’t know or haven’t been taught. Let me explain what I mean. In the following illustration, you will see that the  “tree” is leaning slightly to the front. 

 This, along with viewing the bonsai at the proper height (which is where the word “front” is written in the illustration, about one third up the trunk, that’s where eye level should be). This forward inclination tricks your eye into thinking that the tree is “looming” over you. And that makes a small tree appear larger than it is. Write this line down: The Art of Bonsai is the illusion of making a small, relatively young tree, look like a tall, ancient tree. Another couple of tricks we sneaky bonsai artists use are a thing called taper and making sure that the spacing between the branches gets smaller the higher in the tree you go (I call this last the vanishing point or “railroad track” principle)  

How does this apply to our bougie? Here’s the new planting angle, side view with the front to the left.  

 Now for some carving. The tree doesn’t have much taper at all. In fact, the multiple branches at the top actually make it fatter up there.  

 This is called, variously, reverse, inverse or, obverse, taper. So it’s my job to make the tree appear to have taper by carving. Let’s see if I can do it. To accomplish this feat,  I’ll be using just my die grinder with a roto-saw carbide burr. And a torch. Cuz fire is cool. 


Now, for obvious reasons (not the least being loss of important phalanges) I don’t tend to get many pics of the carving process. And, as I was charging by the hour, I didn’t want to waste too much of my clients time taking pics (I did take my time during lunch though. We had what Ryan called a “Hlavsa Burger”, a spectacular creation from Ryan’s kitchen that has, among other things, sharp cheddar, chimmichurri, and fresh dill pickles. I don’t use text-speak much but, this time, I can only say, OMG….yessir, OMG). I did not, in very un-Adam like fashion, get a pic. Sorry. But it was tasty. 

Fire for the fuzzies and….


… how’s that?     

I could be lying and I am really having a private session with Wil Wheaton……

 ………naaaah, couldn’t be.  You might want to check out Wil’s blog though…he might be writing his version of our day together right now. 


I think the carving works. I could be wrong though. 

Ryan’s job now is to get some wood hardener on the carved wood and, about a week later, hit it with lime sulphur. If you do this religiously, the wood, which usually rots out pretty easily on a bougie, will last. 

Now, back to the one, lonely branch I left after the initial butchery.  

 Hey, there’s one flower left. Not for long but it’s there now. Savor it. Then say “buh-bye”.

Some wire…… 

Some gentle and slow bending….. 


A little more wire….. 




 And that’s it.  

   Imagine that as solid pad of flowers. Go ahead, I’ll wait…….exciting, am I right?

It being December and all, we didn’t repot it, we just added soil to the bottom to prop it up. The serious repotting should take place late spring. I’d say in a round pot. 

Many thanks to Ryan and his woman for allowing my crazy ass into their home for a few hours to practice my art, I truly and seriously appreciate it. And that burger, off the hook. I’ll have to steal the recipe. See you soon my friend. 

Happy New Year! 


Posted in Art, branch placement, carving, rare finds, sculpture, wiring, yamadori | Tagged , , , , , | 12 Comments

Winter Bonsai Blues

  Looks like I have some weeding to do. Being that it’s winter, there’s not much else to do, though. I’m bored. Well…..I might can do a little….. like remove the old leaves on some deciduous trees or summat. I could also work on junipers but, meh. Not feelin’ like junipers today.   The tree above is a cedar elm (ulmus crassifolia) from Texas (how many people see the word Texas and, because of the motto “things are bigger in Texas”,  think of big things, and therefore pronounce it Tex-ass and think of big butts?)

It was collected several years ago by Erik Wigert, I’ve written about this tree before (the first post is Here and the follow up is Here). Today I’m just going to show you how to pluck the old leaves and give you an idea about how a deciduous tree works (and the difficulty of growing them in the F-L-A). 

An elm’s leaves, like this one, can be plucked either by pulling forward or backward, in the direction of the branch.  

  Try pulling back first, if it doesn’t fall off easy, go forward. You just have to be careful not to remove the bud at the base of the leaf’s petiole. 

 There’s no real reason to do this except to tidy up the silhouette; the old leaves will fall off when the new growth comes in, if not sooner. If I were up north, with a lot cooler winter ahead of me, I might do some pruning. Wait, what does that mean, if it was cooler? Well, it means you’re gonna get some learning. 

Deciduous trees (like maples, elms, hornbeams, bald cypress etc. ) have evolved a way to survive the freezing dangers of winter by withdrawing their sap, chlorophyll, nutrients etc, from the stems and dropping their leaves (for a full article on the subject, click here for an article by Joe Lamp’l). Basically, less sunlight in the winter triggers the tree to go dormant (it is generally thought to be cold, but it is the shorter daylight hours). 

How does this affect deciduous trees in Florida? It’s lack of light triggers dormancy but, you see, it’s sustained temperature at the root zone that triggers new spring growth. Today it is in the 80’s F in beautiful Orlando. A few days ago it was in the 50’s F and it will get colder again as the temps tend to be very cyclical. This warmth/cold in the winter really confuses our deciduous trees. It’s a battle to keep our deciduous trees to stay dormant. And they need to stay dormant because they only have so much energy to wake up in the spring. Ok, with all that, what’s does the last 130 some odd words have to do with pruning this Texas cedar elm? 

Pruning deciduous trees in the warmish Florida winter weather will stimulate the tree (from the sudden lack of auxin at the growing tips) to begin growing. That makes for hard cultural conditions for many deciduous trees, like acer palmatumn or such. They simply run out of energy. Or, to use the vernacular, they fizzle out like good ol’ king Edward the Second in the presence of Queen Isabella. Ok….sorry for that one. Let’s get back to our elm, shall we?

  Pluck. Pluck. Pluck.  
  Now what? Is that all? How about if I point to places that need pruning and we can pretend I made the cuts? Ok.

There are too many branches here.     

There are two tops. I’m keeping them.   
A nice scar. Tells a story.   

These next pics show the too-long branches that need shortening.    

 Makes you want to do some snipping, don’t it? I want to do some cutting so badly that I kinda feel like this dude: 

 Creepy. If you’ve ever driven on Florida’s highways, you’ve seen this doctors billboards. Makes me shudder every time I see it. I think it’s somewhat funny that I use the appearance of his billboard on I75 as a landmark to begin looking for the exit for Wigert’s Bonsai.  

Sorry Erik, but I’m trying to make a post about pulling leaves off of a tree interesting and funny.   


I can do some work on a willowleaf ficus I just picked up! I got it from the CFBC Holiday party auction. 


Aha! It’s a little grungy, time for a scrub. 


To use a tired joke again, I think I need to use my wife’s favorite toothbrush to clean the trunk.  


Actually, I’ll be using this perfectly angled nylon brush instead.  


A little bit of the “universal solvent”, dihydrogen monoxide, to aid the cleansing. 

 Which is just water, by the way. 

And we are clean.  

What shall be the new front? 


This was the original front.   

I’m kinda liking it around here somewhere.   To show off that scar, because scars are cool. Chicks dig scars. 

In order to change the front, I’ll need to put the tree into a bigger pot though. I could wait until spring but, then I’d have nothing to write about now, would I?   

Prepare the pot.   
Remove the tree.   Uh oh…..maybe I should have asked the previous owner (the incomparable Mr. Rick Jeffery) when this tree was repotted last. Not much in the way of roots. I guess it’s either a good thing (maybe it was just put in this pot) or a bad thing (it hasn’t grown roots since it was put into this pot months ago). Either way, maybe hopefully putting it into this pot now won’t hurt it. Not much to do but continue.  

 Better tie it down right. 
  That’s better. Looks like it’ll be happy. Now, the restyle. I’ve already made the back the front. Unfortunately for that, the whole tree is now slanting backwards.  
 If you’ve been following the blog for a while, and you’ve been paying attention, a tree should be leaning towards the viewer. This is important to help with the illusion of making a relatively small tree look like a big tree. 

Also, by turning the tree around, I have created a big no-no called a pigeon breast.  

 I can’t really help it (although I have heard tell that pigeon breasts are now fashionable these days….). What I can try to fix is the backward slant.   

Time for a little scissor discipline.   Yessssss…. 

Kinda looks like The Butring Man here.  
…..and just a little wire…… 

    There we go. 

Before,   and after….  

I think that’ll work. Oh! I didn’t show the elm after defoliating it. Here you go:    

I figured that, since I was pulling leaves on the cedar elm, I might as well work on this chinese elm.    It’s looking good.  And that’s all…………….

Oh! I did eventually work on a juniper; I was invited to give a demo at Dragon Tree Bonsai down in the east coast of Florida in Palm City.  

 I had my choice of trees. I picked the one on the right. 

Here’s the audience and Robert, the owner.   

I had a little help from Kaya, making some Jin.   

The finished tree:   

I even got a bottle of scotch from a client.  

 I carved her buttonwood for her after the demo. 
But, after all that,  I just had to come back to the elm.  Like the sign says….. 

It needs just a little wire. Just a little. A little won’t hurt. 

 From the top.   

From the right. 

The left.     

The rear.   

And the front.   Comparatively, say, to an elephant, a pound of wire is a little. 

Ok, I’m done. I just needed to finish that, sorry. It’s been bugging me so much that I couldn’t even finish this blog post.  

Literally. I had it written, up to the Chinese elm part. But it was bothering me so much, leaving it untrimmed like that, I  was I losing sleep, kicking the cat, yelling at the goldfish, being a little rough on the beaver…… 

I still need to trim it, but I was able to add some nice bends that should set up over the rest of the winter without cutting in too much.

 And that, as they say, is that. Happy holiday everyone! 


Posted in maintenance, rare finds, redesign, roots, yamadori | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Finally, the trees of the Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo-2015

Sorry it’s been so long between posts but I’ve had a busy life, a Holiday parties, an all day, multiple event demo/carving/private session, and a second private session since,  trees to water, kids to pick up from school etc, etc, etc. Plus I need to sleep and all. 

Anyway, it’s also taken me a while to edit all the pics (all the pics!). As I might have mentioned in the last post, the lighting was a challenge at the venue (the beautiful UNC Nutrition Research Intitute). My poor iPhone 5s and its camera were going crazy trying to focus. 

A note: I think I got all the trees but I am probably wrong about that. So I apologize if I did miss your tree, and, consequentially, if the pic is not the best. If you see that I missed your tree(s) or it is a bad pic, send me your photo and I’ll add it. 

Also, I’m not going to identify the owners of the trees for privacy reasons, even though they were identified at the show. This blog has a large reach and the exhibitors don’t need to be worried about their trees. Although I do identify some professionals for their exposure. And I’ll keep the comments to a minimum. Maybe……. 

Ready? Here goes!

 A mugo pine, a carpinus caroliniana and a  celtis occidentalis. 

A sweet taxodium grouping.   

Surprisingly, a Virginia creeper (parthenocissus quinquefolia) by Owen Reich.  

 A larch from Bill Valavanis   

Some “larch cones”. If I could grow any tree out of zone, but to do so, I had to sell my soul, it would be a larch.   

And another Bill Valavanis tree, a Japanese maple.   I have to comment here. I’m picking Bill’s tree because Bill can handle the comment. There were many people who asked me “What do you think of the twin trunk?” Or said “I’d cut that off!” Or some such thing. 

My answer was always, “I like the tree, it took great technical ability, great patience and diligence to grow it.” And I meant it. To explain, a classically styled Japanese maple tends to not have a twin trunk like this. Or, if it does, the split isn’t so high up in the trunk. And one trunk should be bigger, taller than the other. But I didn’t really say that to any who asked. Why? Because it’s Bill’s art. I wasn’t taught to view art with a hypercritical eye the way almost all bonsai practitioners do. I just don’t understand it the obsession with picking another artists tree apart. Don’t get me wrong, if the owner asks, I’ll look at details, but there’s a huge difference between solicited and unsolicited advice. Bill wasn’t asking. I like the tree, because it’s just annoying enough to make you look at it again and again. And that, my friends, is one purpose of art, to get you to look at it.  


Next we have a juniper, I believe that Danny Coffee helped to get it ready for the owner.   

And then this cool tree, another juniper, but this one a shimpaku grafted onto California juniper stock.  Classically coifed. This trees owner actively sought criticism and I believe he’s going to turn the front clockwise a bit.  

Next grouping is a Korean hornbeam, a beauty berry and a shimpaku juniper.  

Next, a georgeous and well ramified sweet gum.    

The companion stands out, though I never figured out the berry.   Looks like holly to me. 

A pseudocydonia, Chinese quince.   

And next to it is a great little seiju elm.   I am partial to the small trees. Unfortunately, they get drowned out in shows like this. Shohin are twice as hard to make into convincing trees. And I don’t like the shohin groupings you see in shows. I believe (and it’s my belief) that to stuff three or more trees together actually lessens them.  

This next one is cool. It’s a twisted pomegranate. 
 Look at the detail!   It looks like the Whomping Willow from Hogwarts!

Next up is a grouping of ilex serrata.  You see why I thought the berries earlier were holly fruit?  

This is a display I didn’t get a good pic of. The tree is a hinoki cypress  I love the non traditional moon photo in the background. 

Here’s another grouping that I didn’t get a good shot of.   An azalea, and a shimpaku juniper.  

This is an awesome example of a trident with almost perfect moyogi characteristics. 
 I’ll also use the photo to show you how much I had to edit the pics to make them viewable. This is the original photo.   The white marble caused my iPhone to super expose the background and lose details and colors. When I got close for detail shots, my iPhone was fine.   But as soon as I pulled back it was a horror show.    

Edited for your protection. This is another well crafted juniper. 

I love the natural deadwood on it.   It’s not overdone. 

This is a tree called a water elm.   It’s not an elm, but a related species called planera aquatica.   It does grow in the water too. 

A trident maple grouping by fellow Floridian Mike Rogers, one of the best but least appreciated artists in Florida.   

This is a zelkova, I believe. Very tree-like. I love it.    

A great exposed root black pine.   One of my favorite. 

Then we have a black pine on top, a ficus salicaria on bottom and a Chinese juniper on the riser.   For some reason, the ficus was misidentified on the cheat sheet as a ficus subulata.  

Here’s a surprising one, a crepe myrtle. 
 Very well done. Especially the dead wood.   

This next grouping consists of  an unusual but cool Japanese maple. And grass. The number in front of the grass actually belongs to the crepe in the previous pic.  I was taking pics during set up so the identifications are a bit difficult at the time of this writing. If I get something wrong, please, let me know.  

My trees, a dwarf jade with a euphorbia companion. 

And a carpinus caroliniana  

This display pretty cool.   From the left, trident maple, cork bark elm, and a Korean hornbeam.   


  I love the cascade especially. What’s next? 

 Aha! One of my co-conspirators display.  
 Representing the James J. Smith collection at Heathcote Gardens, we have Seth Nelson’s submission: A ficus microcarpa “kinman”.  You would not believe how many people wanted to cut off that big aerial root. It was like dogs marking their territories. 

 Another ilex serrata.  This one has loads more berries. 

An impressive hinoki   

A white pine and a dwarf hinoki forest.   Note the alternating fabric swaths. 
The most controversial display. 

Rob Kempinskis post industrial chines wax factory set.   

Ilex vomitoria “schillings”    

And a large ficus salicaria (again misidentified, this time as a ficus nerifolia)   

Then we have a Rocky Mountain juniper that was recently on display at the Artisan’s Cup in Portland.   

This grouping was unique. Juniperus  procumbens nana.  The slab is iron discs made by Boudreaux’s Iron.  

Even the companion was on steel.   

   The whole display won the People’s Choice award. 

After that we have an elegant Chinese juniper (and a seriously bad pic. I’m so sorry)  

An Austrian pine by Bill Valavanis.   

 This next is a mixed planting with:red maple, Japanese hornbeam, spirea, dry land blueberry, and something called withe-rod. By Arthur Joura of the Asheville Arboreteum.  It’s tough to have a mixed planting because you have to make sure the plants can grow together as far as light and water requirements are concerned. 

A procumbens nana bunjin.   

A big Japanese white pine grafted on Japanese black pine rootstock, recently styled.   

A small azalea   

This next one surprised me. A schefflera arboricola.   

This is my friend, Bobby’s, celtis lævigata. It won best in show.   

  This display had intensive thought involved in it.  
It was lit by its own spot light.    That grass is perfectly in season for the feel and the display. 

The tree is a laurel oak.    

I love the unmossed soil surface…. I bet that annoyed some. 

And the winter, Native American scene.   It ties it all together.  


The next tree is a procumbens nana planted in a feather rock.  The Rock is recessed into the stand as well. The little pine on bottom is a not identified. 

 A natural style Japanese maple.  

And a penjing planting, on a marble slab, of ulmus parviflora.   The ramification on it is impressive. If I would pick my favorite (as Seth keeps bugging me to do) it would be this penjing. The colors, the skill, the composition, they all just work. And I don’t tend to like penjing. Well done sir. 

And that all the pics I have. Sorry if it takes forever to download, but there were over 60 trees. 

I’d like to thank the organizer, Steven, for organizing, and for Rob and Seth for putting up with me for the weekend. 

What a great show, right?

 Will I see you next year? 

Posted in Art, goings, pictures, rare finds, sculpture | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Static equilibrium: the trip to the Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo

It all began with a suggestion from Paul Pikel. There I was, flush with funds from my Bsf styling contest win at the 2015 Bsf convention and I couldn’t figure out how best to use the money. He said I should use it to go to Kannapolis, NC for the Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo. Sounded like a good idea. It was. You’ll see. 

Here’s a very brief (not really brief, there are so many pics I’ll have to break it into two posts) write up of the trip. 

I wasn’t going alone. I traveled with Rob Kempinski (for those of you who know Rob, you’ll understand my trepidations),  Seth Nelson (ditto for Seth),  and Angela Winzeworth (she made the trip more pleasant, glad she came along)  Seth is the curator of the James J. Smith Collection at Heathcote Gardens in Ft. Pierce. He was showing as the collection’s representative (even though they are refusing to compensate him for the gas. That’s just wrong) Here’s his display at the expo.  

 This was actually the third tree he chose. 
Rob is currently the past president of the Bonsai Clubs International. Here’s his display.  

 Neat, ain’t it? 

My display.  


Let’s begin at the beginning. Seth wanted to take a big (big [big!]) Willow leaf ficus.  

 Then we learned how big the tables were. It wouldn’t fit on them, with a stand and all. So his next choice was another big (big) f. Salicaria.  


Then Rob said he was taking a big (big) salicaria….. 

 …..so Seth chose a big ficus microcarpa instead. 

 This one is just merely big. 
I chose to exhibit two small trees, an American hornbeam and a dwarf jade. Here’s “how” to my prep. First, I pruned the hornbeam about a month ago.  

 About that time, I decided to make my own stand, so I had to pick a piece of wood I was going to use for it. I cut it to size. 


 Then I threw it on the ground and stepped on it whenever I walked by, hoping for some weathering and grime. At this time I played with the idea of a Brazilian Raintree as my second tree. They can be deciduous trees in the dry season, which for Florida, is technically in the winter.  

 It’s coming along well. But I wanted to use this stand.  

 Which really requires a cascade style tree, so that excluded the Brazilian. Maybe next year with, a different stand. 

I made that stand too. The base is a front brake rotor off of a car.  

 The twisted wire is 1/4 inch round steel stock I found on the side of the road. It was already twisted, I didn’t have to imprint my personality on it in the least. I added a few more pieces to give it some structural integrity. 

 It’s welded together. The platform is a chunk of red cedar from a piece of reclaimed wood that was left over after Hurricane Charlie’s wrath.  It was a scrap piece off of a log that I carved into a tiki man.   

    The cedar is attached with big staples. Those little staples are holding the piece together after the wood split, that and wood glue. I think it adds to the design. Wabi Sabi and all. 
Here’s the tiki dude I cut that wedge from. 

Speaking of dudes, look what I am now.  

 Cool.  Certified and certifiable, right? I’m available for weddings and officiations. Now I just have to develop a taste for White Russians. But I don’t smoke, although it may seem like I do, at times. Speaking of which, I had flirted with the idea of using this tree as well, a bougie.  

 I would have too, if it was blooming. Next year for sure. Just gotta get the timing right. As for the suitability of a blooming bougainvillea in a winter show, now is the natural time for them to bloom, in the dry season. I chose, instead, a Portulacaria.  

   I needed a strong, stylistically unusual tree for that stand. I think I chose well. 
I did get grief for the thinness and the light ramification of the foliage.  

 It is true that one can ramify a Portulacaria so much that a quarter, dropped on a foliage pad, cannot pass through it. But the style, the habit, the idea, of this specific tree just does not match with a lush, dense canopy. I don’t care what can be done with it (and I have several dwarf jades, in tropical tree styles, with dense canopies), this tree calls for a sparse, almost struggling looking, branch structure. I actually removed leaves and branches for this look. I am an artist and I do things intentionally.  

 I almost used the rum bottle for an accent. That would have been epic. But instead, I used this cool euphorbia.  In my own pot, no doubt. 


The accent for the hornbeam is this little haworthia in a Dave Loman pot.   Cute guy. 

Then, a few days before the show, I mossed the hornbeam and carved the stand.  


And the night before we left for the show, I defoliated the tree.   I was ready. We were traveling on a Friday. I had to get up at 3:30am to get to Rob’s place by 6.  


At Rob’s we had to pack his truck.  

 It was still dark when we left. The trip to Kannapolis was a ten hour trip. We took two vehicles, Rob’s truck and Angela’s 1999 Pontiac. Seth got to ride with Angela (which makes sense because they are bf/gf and all) and I got to ride with Rob. It was fun, actually. I got to talk to him, which was an education with all the experiences he’s had. Not bad at all.

Here are some pics from the road:  a sign seeming to say “please throw the toilet paper in the toilet, not on the floor” I’m not sure if I want to know the reason for that sign. 


A pound of peanut butter and chocolate!  

There’s the Pontiac, rolling down the road. 

 They managed to keep up. 


Seth lacks that killer instinct needed to drive the interstate. Arrival!


 I have to pee! (That was one thing, old men with their prostates and young women with their small bladders. We must have stopped to pee in every county seat on the way).  
   It was just about sunset when we got there.  Seth and I set up pretty quickly.  All Seth had to do was moss his tree.  

  That’s Seth in the middle, Rob on the left and Angela on the right. Rob let Seth borrow a stand for the show. 

I just had to make sure the angles were right.    

Rob lent me the jita under the little haworthia companion planting.  

Rob, on the other hand, had a huge erection to handle………it was so hard…to handle, and so big, he actually required Sam’s help in the endeavor.   

   Hi Sam!

It went fast though, Rob is an accomplished screwer, from way back.  Sorry Sam, Rob. Couldn’t resist. 

They had to repot two trees into their temporary “pots”.  


In case you were curious, the title of the post is referring to this tree. That hopper that the ilex is planted in has a functioning pivot point and it’s balanced at the “static equilibrium”.    And then attend to the details.  

These were masakuni. Not to brag (but really, just to brag) the scissors half buried in the moss was my idea.   
Seth and I played some uke while the two guys finished playing with the erection.  

 You could tell by the astounded looks on their faces just how mesmerizing the erection was. So big and…….big, sorry. 
 Finally, they were done.  


I’m not gonna tell you what it means. 

That night, we stayed at Rob’s sister’s house in Charlotte.   Marlana and Rob. Rob is actually a twin. It’s hard to believe that there are two of them. Marlana and her hubby Rocko took good care of us while we were there. 

The next day saw the opening of the show (you’ll have to wait for the next post to see all the trees, there were more than 60 of them!).  

I feel for the photographer (Joe Noga) having to photograph all those trees and put up with fussy bonsai artists. He was saintly. Sam was the official helper. 

 That night was the banquet. This is as dressed up as you’ll ever see me.  

 The two best dressed were, believe it or not, Seth and Angela. They got the title of bonsai-prom king and queen.  

 We need more young, beautiful girls…..I mean, people,  in bonsai. The next morning we went collecting with Rocko’s son, James.      You’ll notice Rob’s pink gloves.  

It was a little cold that morning. Yes, that was frost.   

The tree is some kind of native two needle pine.  It might live. Rob had inspired James when he bought a little euphorbia (just like mine)  at the show as a gift gor the boy.  

   That’s Rocko in the background, along with Marlana and Rob. I can’t tell you what Rocko does for a living. If I did, I’d have to kill you. 
I should talk a bit about the vendor area and the talks/demos that took place. 

Owen Reich worked on an old elægnus. Bill Valavanis gave a PowerPoint presentation and styled a juniper.  Ken Duncan and John Geanangel put together a boxwood planting on a rock. I’m going to point you to Bill Valavanis’s blog for coverage of those programs. 

I got some neato momentos from the vendors.  

 Can you see the face in the wooden slab? That free-form pot is by Sonny Boggs. 

The last day, Sunday.  The awards were announced. There were four judged awards and a people’s choice. 

I am proud to say that Florida took home three of them.  

Best conifer, Louise Leister from Florida , pinus thunbergiana.  

Best in show, Bobby Block, from Florida, celtis lævigata. 

Best fruiting tree, Bob Thatcher, ilex serrata.  

Peoples choice, Creighton Bostrum, procumbens nana forest.    

And lastly, but not least, our own Seth takes home the award for best broadleaf tree with Jim Smith’s ficus microcarpa “kinman”   To quote Bill Valavanis (he’s the man in the red sweater in the above pics) 

“……the quality of bonsai in Florida is rapidly becoming more refined….” 

I’m afraid they may not let us in next year! 

Many thanks to Steven Zeisel and the many people who helped to set up/tear down the show. See you next year! 

And thanks to Rob for letting me hitch a ride, and his sisters family for allowing us to crash in their home and for taking care of us so well. And thanks, Seth and Angela, for laughing at my bad jokes. 

And like I said, the next post will be the trees. 


Posted in goings, philosophical rant, pictures | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Premna bonsai 

Ok, let’s get into some trouble. 

 This is a premna microphylla, or is it? That’s what we are calling it in the tropical bonsai world. And, even though I’m not one to buck conventional wisdom, I’m afraid I must (for the new readers, that last sentence is dripping with sarcasm, in fact, there should be a special font for the amount of sarcasm I just expressed. You see, the URL is adamaskwhy.com. It seems that people don’t like it when Adam asks why).  

Left side:


Right side:

From the top: 

 Ok, so it is a premna. What kind? Let me get back to you on that in a bit. I have some more toes to step on. So, dear readers, what tree is a premna microphylla? Easy peasy, that would be the vaunted “musk maple” from Japan. 

“Whoah dude?! You are wrong, that’s premna japonica!”  (For some reason I hear that said in Raj’s voice from The Big Bang Theory tv show) 

Sorry. Look it up, because you are only 2/3rds correct. The musk maple is premna microphylla var. japonica. (A note to the common name: it’s a translation of the Japanese name which means roughly “stinky maple” because of its, unique, odor, but in English it sounds better to call it “musk maple” because, who’d buy it if you called it “cat piss maple”?).The leaf is serrated, a lot like a maple (it’s not a maple) and it is deciduous too (click this Link to view a pic of the leaf shape on the Lazy S’S Farm Nursery’s website. I’m very leery of stealing pics off the internet nowadays. People are getting insane with the lawsuits, suing bloggers who don’t even make a dime on their blogs (like me) for thousands of dollars. Crazy)  

So, we now know that the premna microphylla is a Japanese tree that is deciduous, has a serrated leaf, and often called p. japonica (which, like we said, is mostly correct). So what is the premna that the tropical bonsai world is calling premna microphylla? Ok, are you ready for this? I think it is actually a premna serratifolia. Which means serrated leaf, but what’s funny is that most of the leaves of the species are not serrated (click this link from Kew.org to learn all about it). It was named this by the master namer of all things botanical, Linnaeus. He was given a specimen with slightly serrated leaves I guess. His team dropped the ball that day. From what Robert Stevens says, there are several leaf types of premna used as bonsai in Taiwan and Indonesia. But from what my research has indicated, of the ones he uses for bonsai, none are p. microphylla. All the pictures of p. microphylla not in bonsai sources, are those of the musk maple. The one Robert calls p. Microphylla is the Taiwanese one, which is described in “The Flora of Taiwan” 2nd edition, vol. 4, ph 422, entry 2. Premna microphylla turcz.,…….leaves ovate to oblong 5-7 cm long……margin entire or remotely serrate at front. Which means to me that there needs to be some genetic testing done. The ones in Taiwan sound an awful lot like p. Serratifolia, with its very variable leaf margin. Let me also point out again that the musk maple is deciduous but p. Serratifolia is not and the premna we use in tropical circles are really tropical. To be fair with Robert, he does know about premna serratifolia and uses it.  I’m just saying that the leaf shape that is identified as p. Microphylla is in actually a p. Serratifolia. 

Ok, now that I’ve annoyed, alienated, confused and bored everyone, you are asking why all that above matters. Right? It’s because bonsai people will not be taken seriously by real horticulturists unless we can get our house in order. And by insisting on calling plants by their wrong names,  bonsai people will always be relegated to the back of the bus as “those freaks who torture trees” (much the same way that most artists don’t consider bonsai as an art. I mean, when we have things called “rules” instead of what they are, design principles, and with the perpetual intermediates excommunicating trees because they aren’t “bonsai”, artists just laugh at us). With that said, it’s ficus salicaria, it’s negative space, it’s chloroluceun tortum, it’s perspective, etc…….wait until my book comes out. 

Back to the tree. And since I’m totally confused myself, I’m just calling it a premna.  

Jeez, I was just going to make this a simple post on a cool tree. And it’s entirely possible that this was known to be premna serratifolia when it found its way into Florida and I’m just trying to stir the puddin’. Or maybe I don’t know how to convert from the metric system…….I’m waiting for the dna testing. 

 Anywho, I was given today’s tree by my bud Jason Osborne (from The Ft. Myers area). He is a teacher at Wigert’s nursery down there’bouts. He grew this tree from a cutting and put that genius, initial movement in the trunk.  Here’s how it was when I got it.  
  Sweet, ain’t it? Hubba hubba! Looking at that leaf size in the above pic, you wouldn’t believe that a leaf could get almost 8 inches long (a grower, not a show-er, I guess…..). It can get that big! 

 (No wonder my wife can’t measure, I’ve been telling her that that’s eight inches our whole marriage…….Bazinga! Sorry, you come for the bonsai, but leave for the bad jokes, am I right?). Alright,  back to the tree: the goal is to match the top movement with the bottom movement, which means some tricky wiring. First, a partial defoliation on the lower parts of the trunk to make room for the wire.   


I’m saving these two branches in case I accidentally break off the two branches I want, in the wiring process. 


The reason I say that is because the branches I’d like to use are a bit fragile.  

 They look strong but, if you look closely, the callous is growing over the pruning scar.  

 And the callous is not totally attached to the wood. I must be very careful in how I place the wire and how I bend the branches. The first decision is where to place the wire, above or below the weak parts.  

   I’m going to go with the “above” choice because of three reasons. First, I’m bending the right branch forward and down and that will place the wire over the stress point on the outside of the curve.  
 I tend to make my branches go up and then down as opposed to a sharp 45 degree angle right off the trunk. It looks more natural to me. The second reason is because if I put the wire under the callous, it could act as a fulcrum and lift that callous off the wood, slowing or stopping the healing, or even killing the branch. The third reason is because of the left branch. You’ll see that in a second.  When bending a green, non lignified branch like this, it is very easy to snap it (think fresh celery or a carrot). So the process is: always, two hands, four fingers on the branch (and the camera goes down of course) 

 And your face goes within inches so you can see stress cracks and hear possible snaps that might be happening.  

Here’s the third reason. When applying the second wire, the first wrap enables me to place the second wire thusly…

 To protect the outside of the bend when this branch gets moved. Again, two hands, four fingers on the branch etc.  

 So far so good. I can now remove the “extra” branches.  

   And prune back the first two a tad. 
   Now, the stressful part. In case you didn’t notice, there are very few branches on this tree. 
  The reason for that is because I’ve been pruning off the little, extra shoots that could sap the strength of those needed branches. But it doesn’t give me many fallback branches in case I break something. Why did I proactively prune those extra shoots off? Because this premna will throw out a new shoot from anywhere, and it will grow like crazy, drawing all the energy until the old branch, the one you need, just dies back. It’s  good that it backbuds so easily,  but you have to watch those vampire buds from sucking the life out your design. 

I’ve been putting the bending off, readjusting the wires, making sure the wind is just right and the sun isn’t in my eyes. I’m scared.  Hold me….

The first bend is backwards.  

Then to the left.  

Always with full contact with the fingers. Forward, up a little, move it it down a bit, no, not a spiral….. 


It’s tough to see. Let me remove that leaf.  

Looking down on it, from over the left shoulder. 


I wired that back branch too.  


Here we are before.  

And the finish. The money shot. Man, that was a tough trunk to handle. I feel like my mascara is running. 

 I think that, overall, that will be the total height. Maybe lower by a bit. Theres always the question of why we might put so much exaggerated movement into a tree. Why not let it grow the way it does in nature? Because bonsai is art, and art can be a naturalistic representation of a tree in the wild, it could be a fantastical “Fairy Tale” tree from Walter Pall, it could be a stylized Taiwanese juniper. Or it could be this tree. It’s going to be a sweet little cutie pie. If it survives the Orlando sub-tropical winter ahead. I hope so. I hope I do too (my next surgery, for those following these things, is late January) 

The next post should be on the Winter Silhouette Expo in South Carolina this weekend. I have a table with two displays on it. I hope it goes well. I’ll try to publish all the trees, if not I’ll get at least mine, Seth Nelson’s (who is representing the James J. Smith collection) and Rob Kempinski’s (who has been warning me  that he hopes Seth and I are not looked at badly for associating with him. His display is going to be off the charts, wait and see!) 

We are all driving up there together and it should be fun. Unless we kill each other. See you in a few days!

Posted in branch placement, rare finds, wiring | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The social media ficus or, what a turkey!

If you follow my social media escapades, you’ll have seen this tree recently:  

 Weird and wacky, isn’t it? It’s a ficus microcarpa var. crassifolia “green mound” although most people still call it a green island ficus (it seems like it’s always an uphill battle trying to get bonsai people to change their thinking. They’re so conservative at times, especially the liberals. Just look at the willow leaf ficus, which has been called ficus salicaria for more than five years; it’s a published and an accepted name by real horticulturists, and we have one of the most active tropical bonsai teachers from Puerto Rico telling the world that it’s called ficus subulata, one of the oldest names for it). Anyway, it boggles the mind that people still say “green island ficus” when pointing at this tree.  So how does one tell the difference between green mound and green island? Simple, the green island has a rounded leaf.  

And green mound has pointy leaves:  

 There are other differences between the two but, enough morphology, let’s get to this weird tree. 

I had posted the pics and asked, “what can be done with this tree? Should I try to style it or just throw it on the burn pile?” I got some interesting replies. One man even told me to air-layer the top off the straight part and then graft it back on top:

  This idea was shared by Bernard from from Haiti, believe it or not. 
Here is the tree in as many angles as I can show without a helicopter drone. 

  We are spinning around counter-clockwise (or, if you are European-ly-abled, anti-clockwise)  

 Coming back towards the “front” again.  


Looking down and slightly behind that straight, folded “front” branch. 

The fold is beginning to fuse. 

I’m not sure how it got folded on itself. I’m just glad it did. Cookie cutter trees are good practice and and all (as I call them, studies) and the Pharisees seem to prefer them over the more interesting trunks (kinda the way that the Salon de Paris of 1863 preferred the more traditional paintings over the Impressionist’s offerings) but give me a challenge any day, I say.

 I got it from Mike Cartrett, of Palm Beach Bonsai several years ago.  Ok, it’s a chunk of a trunk, or appears to be from this angle (and bonsai is about appearances, illusions, more than actualities) but now that you’ve seen the tree on all sides, you know it’s more like a hulking animal than a tree. There is also the problem of the straight part after the fold. It’s a tricky tree (I’m sorry, you just have to click on This Video, trust me) to figure out. Here’s a tip: if you can, take it out of the pot……..

   ……….. it allows you to see the tree without the artificial confines and “framing” that a pot imposes. It opens the eyes to what could be. It releases your imagination! Kinda like peyote. But without the vomiting and then the toxic farts. 

Hmmmmmnnnnnn…….I think I know what to do.  

Yes, that’s very interesting…..wait, what’s that sitting conveniently to my left? 

 Why, it’s a pot! A crescent pot! Will it fit?  

 Yes! It will! It’ll take a little finagling but it’ll hold. The pot is by the talented Mrs. Martha J. Goff, of the Tropical Bonsai Greensheets book series fame (available on her website Tropicalgreenbonsai.com


Not sure what the J stands for, but I’m almost sure it’s not James. Besides being an author, an inspired potter, a kusamona expert (she gives classes/demos) she also has an excellent line of organic fertilizers.  

We now have a good starting point. Time to whittle down the branches and sculpt. 

With it being Thanksgiving (here in the USA that means it’s the last Thursday in November) it’s an iffy thing working a ficus this hard (even in sunny Florida). I don’t recommend it. And with that said, let’s get to the butchery…..umm, the pruning and wiring.  

   One concession to the coming winter I will make, will be to preserve the growth tips on the branches I keep (meaning I’m not pruning the tips). I’m glad I have enough branches to use.  
 I just need to figure out the top….and the back. 

   That’s a start.   

 I think that’s enough pruning, now for some wire. It’s the wire that’ll really make it. Ready?  

 Here we go.  

Birds eye view. 


From the rear.  

Left side 

Turkey side 

 This side looks like a turkey, right?

For all those who don’t “agree” with the straight piece in front, I’ve hidden it with this branch, for your protection. 

   I need the height and all that the height gives to the design. And I’m really not working with standard material her.  And you know what, I kinda like it.  


And that’s all that really matters. And if those Pharisees don’t like it, then it seems like a good candidate for the Salon De Refusés, right? 

Posted in branch placement, rare finds, roots, wiring | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Bonsai friends 

“…..We do crazy things when we’re wounded, everyone’s a bit insane….” Tom Waits 

I’ve been introspective, sometimes even pensive, of late. As I sit here, drinking some scotch that my friend Jack managed to cause me to win (don’t ask how, I’ll lie. Thank you sir)….

 ….and as I work on this willowleaf ficus…. 

 ….I can’t help but to think about Juan (who was the owner of the tree until he passed away and his wife gave it to me). Juan was a good friend, better than I was. Juan liked scotch and cigars (I don’t like cigars but I do like scotch). Juan liked espresso too (he was Cuban) but it’s just not the same sitting in the Florida heat, drinking espresso and working on bonsai. Unless you’re Colin Lewis I guess, which makes little sense, he might be an American now, but he is still a Brit. He should be having a “spot of tea” working on those wild Maine yamadori. 

Sorry, the scotch begins to speak. 

Speaking of which, I was taught how to drink scotch by a real live Scottish person (in my previous life as an electric mobility expert, I had mucho contact with British and Scottish tourists. I’ll tell you about it one day, it’s an enraging but sad story) 

Let me explain about scotch. 

So many macho Americans think you should only be drinking scotch neat. Which means the liquor is served at room temperature and not mixed with anything. Now, if you’re shooting it or trying to impress other macho drinkers (say, your boss or your grampa) go right ahead. You don’t like the taste anyway. You are just a show off. You’d rather have a Dud-lite beer I’m sure. Or one of those fruity drinks or maybe a margarita (sugar, not salt, because you’re trying to keep your blood pressure down). Hemingway drank margaritas, after all. 

Now, neat is not the same as straight up. You may think so, because it sounds the same, almost,  but it’s not. Straight up is with the liquor chilled; either in a freezer or shaken with ice then poured out into a glass. There are those who think that a chilled beverage numbs the taste buds. And it may. I actually like my beer, especially a darker beer, warmer than the 35f that’s recommended. 

Which brings us to “on the rocks”. There are some serious scotch drinkers who really think using ice is more evil than stealing a babies bottle. But having something to crunch on while you are contemplating the ills of the world and friendships lost, makes for an enhanced experience. At least I think so. And if you have enough ice or a big enough ice cube  (like those fancy ice balls they sell to hipsters) the drink won’t dilute very much. Especially if you sip quickly. 

Today, though, I am going for the real experience. As taught to me by my Scottish friend (remember him? He actually brought the scotch from Scotland for me. My customers liked me. I miss them the most.) I’m having my scotch with a splash of water. And that is it, just a splash. It cuts the alcohol just enough to really bring out the flavors of the malt and oak barrel and the smoky peat.  

I gave my wife a small taste. I told her to sip, with noise (because that gives the taste buds air to help the flavor bloom). Then hold the scotch in the front of your mouth, letting it just burn, then slowly moving it to the sides of your tounge and then swallowing slowly. Here’s her reaction.  

   That, my friends, is real. I’m mean. She complained that her hair wasn’t made up and her face wasn’t done. Or maybe vice versa, I’m not sure. Notice that she’s representing the Sho Fu Bonsai Society of Sarasota. Sorry dear. I’ll make you a midori sour in a minute my dear. Or three. I have a bottle….um, tree, to finish, first. 
However you drink it, scotch is a sipping drink. Some people sip faster than others though. If I’m drinking in company I’ll have a scotch and soda with a lime, on the rocks. It’s not too sweet but you have those ice cubes to crunch on. 

Here’s the tree, which I think you might be more interested in than scotch etiquette. 

   Needs a trim. Maybe some wire removed. I won’t be defoliating this time. Sorry to let you down. 
I’m just a little too tipsy at this point to find the last blogpost on this tree but there are at least three. I think. Things tend to get more exaggerated as the alcohols take control. And this post, although tangentially about a tree, and secondarily about scotch, is really about friendship. 

I’ve been dropping hints these last several blog posts about bonsai friends lost in these last few years, and I’ve been talking with many people about these ruined relationships. I think I’ve come to some realizations. Partly because of my health and the fragility of life but also because I’m growing as a person. And, as it’s said, the  reflected life is not worth living. And you know what, the anger doesn’t have the fire it used to, the sadness is more poignant, more likely to bring a tear to my eye than it did. 

I should name names but that’s really just a way of bullying. If they read this or not it doesn’t matter, I will apologize for me. To quote Tom Waits again “Sometimes I say things just to blow off steam”. So, sorry for being an asshole. It’s tough for me to resist being one because I’m so good at it. I hope that’s enough because that’s all I have. And I forgive. Not that it matters much either. 

Going back to the tree (and the scotch)

 I’m really done working on it (the tree, not the scotch) 

Here’s the side view.   It was last wired by Seth, whom you’ve met before.  
 He likes scotch. And he’s reading this now, jealous that he’s not getting a taste of this fine, 12 year aged, single malt I’m imbibing tonight.  

Rear view of the tree.  

I’ve made many friends through my bonsai years: Steve, Paul, Mike, Cullen, Jason, Nick, Evan, Allen, Dave, Erik, and many more. More than I can list. Thank you all for what you do for me, I am sure that I don’t and can’t repay you all you’ve done, and for putting up with me. I’m tough to like.  As well, thanks to my wife, who puts up with much more than anyone else. To paraphrase the Dropkick Murphys, she has to put up with pale, sweaty, hairy ass every day. This post, this tree, is for you all.  

 Raise your glasses and Let me steal Jack’s favorite toast (and again, thank you sir, without you there wouldn’t be a running theme in this post) 

“Here’s to ships,

There are good ships and there are wood ships,

And all the ships that sail the sea…

But the best ships 

Are friendships

and may they always be.”

Posted in philosophical rant, refine, updates | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments