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


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 , , , , | 4 Comments

Bonsai Noodle Soup

I warned you. 

Here it is.  

The soup post. Well….with a few junipers thrown in, but there’s definitely soup. Chicken noodle soup to be precise. 

First, let’s start with the tree.  


A juniperus chinensis “something or other”. It’s not a parsonii, I’m pretty sure. The needles are a bit too wispy.   


It’s been said that the foliage pads on this type of juniper will never get dense enough to be satisfying, and that’s entirely possible. But the deadwood and movement are awesome, so I won’t be throwing it on the burn pile just yet. I’ve had it really dense at one point and I’m sure I can get it there again. More sun I think.  Or I’ll resort to grafting. 

 This post actually takes place over three days. Day one: clean and lime sulphur the deadwood. Remove the old wire….. 

 It’s cutting in there bad. And, as I unwire, clean out the unwanted growth.  

Wire off! 

Wire brush!  

 Wire not? This brush is for the the deadwood. It’s has stainless steel bristles. I use a soft brass bristle to clean the living bark. 

Protect the soil from the lime sulphur. 

 And then apply the lime sulphur. Smelly!  

   The first time you use it you’ll be surprised at how yellow it goes on. Don’t worry. It turns white/grey pretty quickly.  
While I have the lime sulphur out, I might as well hit some other trees.  

A medium procumbens nana

  And a sweet mame that was given to me by Guy Guidry.  

This post will feature a rarity. Something you’d never, ever think I’d use.   

Yep, that’s correct. Copper wire. I figured that I could mend some fences a bit because it seems that a few people were offended by my off the cuff statements about using copper and growing tropical trees. Now, don’t get me wrong, if you’re growing a ficus, which needs rewiring 3-4 times in Florida’s intensive growing season, I still think it’s insane to use it. But on conifers like these junipers, go right ahead. And I had this wire sitting around and I have some junipers that need work. Why not. Let’s see what I can do, right?   

 What could happen? 

Oops! I could burn the chicken!  

 So, you are wondering why, if I’m making soup, the chicken is on the grill? Well, that’s tonight’s dinner. I’m making soup……….tomorrow. All day long. Nighty night. 

Ok, it’s tomorrow. Here are the leftovers from last night.  

 Looks like a back, a wing, and two thighs. I’m making my own stock for the soup and this is the beginning of my flavor profile. I used a “rotisserie” rub on the grilled chicken last night and that plus the grilled aspect, will add to the complexity of the broth. 

This is my soup pot.  

 My stovetop is even relatively clean. I remove the leftover meat from the leftovers and throw the bones in the pot. Next, a whole chicken.  

 It doesn’t matter how big the bird is, I’m not a very precise kind of cook. However big you’d like. And everything is “to taste” today, no measuring. 

Now, you can buy a chicken already disassembled. But that’s no fun, and it’s definitely not 95¢ a pound. All you need is a knife.  

 If it’s not sharp, grab a coffe cup and hone it on the unglazed bottom ridge of the cup.  

 A couple of passes and you can shave with it. 

Now, there are many tutorials out there on how to cut up a chicken. This one from Alton Brown is pretty well done (click here to see it) I do it slightly different but the principles are the same (just like in bonsai…..ah). First, grab a leg and hold it up.  Not your leg showoff, the chickens. 

  Then locate the joint.  

 And cut through it.  

 You remove the wings and thighs the same way. Alton separates the whole leg/thigh first. Tomato/tomahto. How’s this?  

 Next, debone the breast, leg, and thigh meat. The bones go in the pot along with the back. All the skin too. Not the fat though.  I’ll show you why later.

 All the, now, boneless, meat goes into a container and into the freezer. Freezer? Huh? Trust me. You’ll see. 

The wings I save for the next time I barbecue. They’re my favorite and a bird only comes with two. At least for the time being, that is. 

Next, the veggies. I’m not one to waste food, and I need the flavor in the broth, but putting good veggies in the broth destroys them…..what to do? Watch.  

First, remove the dried out outer layer and throw away. 

 Then remove the ends and the second, rough layer.   And all that goes in the pot. Next, carrots. Cut off the ends and put them in the pot.  
 And then peel the carrots directly into the pot.  

 I have this “real neat in theory but not in operation” peeler. It’s built well because it’s stayed sharp and not broken when all the other ones are occupying a landfill somewhere. 

I say it’s not good in the real world because the handle, which makes it really easy to use, also has this fatal flaw.  

 Just damn. Anyway. Peels in the pot.  

 Salt, pepper, oregano, basil, a touch of soy sauce and this… 

 Yes. Beer. And then the secret ingredient is….a dash of cinnamon. 

No. Really. It works. Not too much. Just a few shakes out of the container. 

Then rough chop the onion and carrots and put them in the fridge.  

  Here’s another trick, salt the carrots and cover them with water to pre-season them.  Fill up the rest on the pot with water and bring to a boil. But you don’t keep it boiling, that “burns” the stock and gives it an off taste. A slow, slight simmer. It’s 9:30 am. I’ll let it go until about lunch, checking on it every half hour or so, stirring it and breaking up the bones. 
What can I do until then? Oh yeah, the tree!

Styling a juniper is a practice in wiring. You don’t tend to chop and hope it grows back. You place foliage pads where they need to go with wire.  


I hate to keep saying this but, if you’re a regular reader, you know that a lot  of the trees in my collection were neglected because of my health problems. This is one of them. I really should have been pruning and rewiring it as it filled in from the last styling, which was a re-set of all the branches (hence all the wire). So now, unfortunately, I have to re-set it again.  

 I guess it’s not too badly chopped back. It’ll have good growth until winter (say January here in Orlando).  

It’s now about one pm. The stock is done; all the bones have let go their bonds of sinew and cartilage, and they’ve given all the flavor they can.  

 They have sacrificed their all for the success of the soup. Now you’ll see why I’m using that pot.  

 It’s easy to drain out all the yummy broth and get rid of the bones. Look at the color!

 But also,  look at all that fat. Here’s how I get rid of it. It first goes into the freezer.  


And, then I take that chicken I had put in earlier out. It’s because ready to cut.  

 You remember it, right. It is now mostly frozen.  

 Which makes it easy to slice into cubes.  

 I salt and pepper it and it goes into the refrigerator. 

Now it’s time to pick up the kids from school and get them to taekwondo (yeah yeah, TKD is Korean and bonsai is Japanese. Bite me).  

 That’s my son and my wife. 

Today, I’m bringing a little friend to help pass the time.   

  The juniper that Guy gave me. It needs some wire. 

It had one bit of aluminum on it, I’ll again re-wire with copper because, well, why not? Right? 

And I get to use this itty bitty 24 guage wire I found.  

 It’s so delicate. It’s like baby’s hair. 

Here’s the before. 

 With my son harassing my daughter, who is trying to not be photographed. 

And the after. With a plug for  Small Business Saturday thrown in. 


And now, and you thought I forgot about it, it’s time to remove the fat. It’s almost dinner time and I need to get this done.  There are three hungry boys and one hungry goil (ah ga ga ga ga!). Not to mention She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed. 

 The broth could stand to cool off some more, until it’s a solid and you just peel it off. but it’s mostly congealed, a paper towel catches most of it.  

 Not too bad.  

 At this point, take a taste and season as necessary. Then add the carrots, onions, and chicken.  


Oh, lots of garlic too. 

 At least four squeezes. Maybe six. Or eight. 

Then it’s just waiting for the carrots to cook.  

And  noodle time!  

 I went with my go-to brand, the bag on the bottom. My wife was afraid of the fancy ones I got specifically for this recipe and the blog post. 

So, after all that, how did it come out?  Mmmmmmm!

 My wife got the fancy square ceramic bowl. I get the cheap plastic one.  

How does it look? I think it’s the best broth I’ve made in a while and the carrots were perfect. Not too mushy, but done. I serve it with buttered bread myself, but you could use crackers if’n you want to. 

After an orgy of chicken noodle soup heights, it is now the third day. 

Here’s that little juniper in a little better light.  


And the big one.  

 You know what? Maybe it’s the soup hangover, but there’s something not quite right.  In the front. The first branch. These two branches are competing with each other. 


Man. I put so much work into these branches though.  

Oh well. 

 Some Jin plier work.  

 You basically just crush the outer bark and peel away. 

 Once you’ve done it you’ll see how easy it is. No twisting with the pliers at all. 

A little rearranging of the remaining branches.  

   And I think that works. 
I really hate having to do this type of work two years in a row but the tree will end up better for it in the future. There are a few more branches I’d like to get shorter but that’ll take time. 

Ok, what’s next? Maybe another juniper or…..I do have several ham bones I’ve been saving…….

Posted in Advanced basics, branch placement, Horticulture and growing, philosophical rant, redesign, wiring | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

First styling of a Blackjack Oak yamadori 

It’s been two years, at least, since I collected this tree. That should be enough time for it to have gained strength. I’m still not going to be too rough on it though. 


It was tough to identify this one but after an exhaustive Google search, I believe it is a blackjack oak (quercus marilandica). Although it’s leaves resemble a chapman oak (quercus chapmanii)…  


   ….they grow in dry areas and I collected this one in a wet-ish area. Which then made me think of a water oak (quercus nigra) but they have a smooth bark and this one is rough and gnarly. 

I also thought about myrtle oak (q. myrtifolia) but it grows in dry areas and has a smooth bark. So with all that said, I’ll call it a blackjack oak. If a real arborist out there thinks differently, please comment. 

It’s a “red oak” native to not only Florida, but of most of the south east of the US from Long Island to Florida and from Nebraska down to Texas. 

I’m not sure of the front yet but that’s on the agenda today as well as to put it in a wider pot, with a little better soil, carve the chopped top, and set the branches with wire. It may seem odd to do all that now in November, on a deciduous tree (the blackjack sometimes will keep its leaves through the winter here, but it is technically dormant in the winter) but, from the pioneering work of Erik Wigert, we have learned that it’s possible to collect (and therefore, repot) oaks at this time,  in Florida. The belief is that, since winter is so dry and Florida trees’ roots (especially live oaks, which had been hard to collect because of the long tap roots) continue to grow through the winter and therefore end up being so far from the trunk, it’s best to collect the trees just as they go dormant and those feeder roots are close in to the trunk. We could be wrong about why, but his and my success rates are close to 100% when we collect in November, in Florida. 

With that said, first up, the roots.  

 Out of the pot. I’m not seeing too many roots. This tree is supposed to thrive in poor soils so maybe it doesn’t need many? It’s never wilted so maybe it’s stayed too wet and a tree doesn’t need too many roots when the water is close and easily available.  

 That root spread and the slant are why I collected the tree. And that bark! Always look for something interesting or unique when digging up a tree from the wild. If you just want a tree and all you see are straight trunks, try harder or go home. It’s not  worth the trouble digging a tree up for a straight trunk, really.  It’s easier to just buy a landscape tree at that point and chop the trunk. Trust me. 

The glamorous, high end pot that my blackjack will  call home for the next few years is the one on the right. 

Awesome, ain’t it? Im using a mix of my regular SuperMix™ and some regular potting soil cut 50/50 with perlite.   

Now, after getting my hands dirty (if your hands aren’t dirty, then you’re not really doing bonsai now, are you?) I’m ready for the branch work. 

In Florida, it’s sometimes hard to tell if a deciduous tree is dormant. Many of them don’t really change colors like up north.  

It’s subtle things that one must look for. Like the brown edges and yellowing of the leaf veins. 

Our native trees must not need to recycle their chlorophyll like trees up north. Maybe because of the amount of sunshine they just make so much sugars there’s no need to have to bring it back in. 

To expand on the “why” a tree may drop its leaves in autumn, briefly: a tree makes energy through photosynthesis using the green chlorophyll in its leaves. Some trees have adapted to the low light conditions in the winter by going dormant (not freezing has a part to play as well, we will get to that). Because chlorophyll takes energy to make, a tree will pull that chlorophyll back in and reuse it next year (that is an extremely simplified explanation). 

Now, it is lack of light that triggers dormancy, not temperature. But, it is temperature that triggers dormancy break. Applying that seeming dichotomy to Florida, native trees can handle the extended growing season and the fluctuating temps in the winter, I believe, because they, one, have a summer dormancy (it’s not uncommon to see bright red leaves on acer rubrum or orange needles on taxodium distichum in July/August) and two, the sheer amount of sunlight available to them to make energy. Non native trees can’t handle going dormant twice a year, they just don’t have the capacity to make enough energy (think: acer palmatumn or acer ginnala or larix laricina) and they wither and die after two or three years. Many people think it’s the heat that kill those northern plants, or maybe fungus (which might play a role)  but it’s really the lack of winter dormancy (so, indirectly, it is heat. But not our summertime heat, which rarely gets above 95, but the wintertime lack of cold stimulating early growth). I was just actually having a discussion on zelkova with Ryan Bell of and he thinks I can grow them here. All the old timers in Florida say “You can’t grow that fuckin’ tree here, don’t waste your time”. He says that they’re grown in Taiwan, which has a similar climate to me and therefore I should be able to. He gave me a test. He asked, “which one is Orlando and which is Taipei?”

I got it right, can you guess which is which? They’re pretty similar. 

I told him to send me a zelkova to experiment with. We will see. 
Anyway, back to the blackjack, Mack! This is new growth. 

 Don’t know why it’s there but, like I said, it’s a struggle to keep our deciduous tree dormant in autumn/winter. Time for a short lesson on wiring. 

Anchoring the wire is key. When wrapping it, always hold the wire firmly. 

Using two hands, anchor one side onto a branch wrapping one way (say counter-clockwise). 

 And wrap the other side the opposite way. This holds the wire and the branch from moving and damaging the branch when it’s time to bend. 

Branch to branch wiring  

    At the end of the wire, the final twist should be underneath. 
This allows you, when placing the wire, to bend the branch tips up. This mimics the natural tendency of branches, growing up towards the light. 

When ending big wire and continuing new wire, it’s a better anchor to twist the skinnier wire around the thicker wire.  

First, twist the heavy wire’s end with Jin pliers. 


Then wire as usual, starting several twists in.    

When you get to the end of the heavier wire, wire around the end. 

When going from primary to secondary branches, I always use the staple, or “U” method of wrapping the wires going in opposite directions when anchoring from branch to branch. 


Like so. 

To confusticate the intermediates out there, here’s an example of when you should cross wires. We have a dilemma here.  

If we continue without crossing, the wire won’t be supported and could damage the branch.  

 So is you cross the wire like so.  


Around the underneath, the anchor is strong. The only real reason that you want to avoid crossing is because it’s ugly. Like my dirty hands. Or because when you cross, you sometimes don’t get a good anchor. 

Now it’s time to place the branches. 

 I can teach you how I artistically place my branches. But that’s how I see my trees. Instead I would rather you try to mimic what you see in nature, not how I see it. 

When bending, always use two hands and support the bend.  



 Now, here’s something you’ll never see on those “pretty boy” blogs. A mistake.  

 Can you see? When I wired, I should have wrapped around the main branch.  When I moved the branch, it broke at the junction. 

 If I had done this….. 
…it would not have cracked. Dumbass. I needed that branch. 

The chop needs just a touch of carving.   
 Not much, just enough to make it natural. I might extend it down the trunk but that’s getting boring. I’ll wait and see what happens. The tree will tell me what to do. 

Right now it’s saying, “Stick a fork in me, I’m done!”

Left side: 


Right side: 

And the front.  

Here’s how I see the tree in a few years.  

 Or something like that. 

I give it just a little fertilizer, just a light sprinkling like pepper on eggs really. And I’ll keep it in the shade for a few weeks. Then partial sun. I wholly expect it to push new growth and that should be ok because there are some years we can have a hurricane in November and that means both partial defoliation and even root damage from the high winds. Just about what I did today. You can call me Hurricane Adam. 

Anyway, the next post might just be a blog on making  soup. It’s that time of year and cool nights call for a nice hot pot of soup. And it seems that the blogs that make money and get the most reads are foodie blogs. And the family could use the money. Adam’s Art and Hummus? Has a ring to it, don’t you think? 

But of course that means I’ll need to clean my stovetop. Damn. I’d rather wire a tree. 

Posted in branch placement, carving, rare finds, styling bonsai, Uncategorized, wiring | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

Welcome to the Jungle…er, the Tropical World of Wigert’s Bonsai’s Annual Open House, 2015

I had a mission. I had to deliver this big tree to Erik, who in turn will deliver it to Nathan, in California.  

 Let me tell you about its world and about Texas Radio and the Big Beat. It comes out of the Virginia swamps, cool and slow, with perfect precision. With a backbeat, narrow and hard to master. Sorry, click this YouTube link and you’ll understand that reference. 

Here’s the story of the tree, it’s a crepe myrtle, a big crepe myrtle. My friend Ryan, or, as he is more popularly known as, The Mighty Thor, collected it one fine winter day.   

That is indeed him and his wife. His YouTube handle is EveryDayThor. Here’s one of the best Videos he’s posted. If it were still stylish to say it, I would say that you will  “lol” after watching it. Or even rotflyao. I know I did. 

Anyway, crepe myrtles are used often in the Florida landscape and this is a big one, as I might have said already. Ryan developed it for years. Then he gave it to me; he wasn’t able to take care of it, with all his traveling and superhero-ing.  I couldn’t take it and keep it though. I told him I’d take care of it until he could again, or we found a buyer. Then, after the alien invasion was thwarted and his half brother was imprisoned, he was able to take it back. It’s been a few years but he finally found a buyer. In California. But Ryan had no way to ship it. So it went to Schley’s Nursery in Deland and then back to me and then, from my nursery, I was to take it to Wigert’s. Erik is driving to California next spring, to deliver it to Nathan. Seems convoluted but it’s simple really. And the excuse for taking the tre was the 2015 Wigert’s Bonsai open house.  

Eris open house was last weekend  and that’s the beginning of a truly fine weekend. Finer than frogs hair, I’d say. Down to the 2015 Wigert’s annual open house, in N. Ft. Myers FL fearturing Marc Noelander, of the famous European show, the Noelander’s Trophy.  

 The pic above is from Wigert’s Bonsai’s Facebook page. I’ve stolen quite a few pics from there for this post. That’s the tree Marc will do a demo on. 

I drove down with my friend from Cincy, Evan.  

 I had two stops (plus that tiki man to deliver) before the open house. First, an initial consultation with Marty involving building a landscape scene with this house- 

 and this mountain- 

Which should be interesting. 
And then I had  a private carving session with Mike. He had lots of trees. This is just one, his sea hibiscus that needed some serious work. 

 The initial carving.  

It’s a little black now because I had to torch it a bit, but it’ll look good with a few coats of lime sulfur. This might help you see the detail, here it is in black and white.  

 I worked on quite a few trees, about five hours worth I believe. I think Mike (who is the Bsf president) will be writing an article for the Florida Bonsai magazine to promote the 2016 Bsf Annual Convention (on Memorial Day weekend). I’ll be giving a bring-your-own-tree carving workshop. Check it out, the registration will be opening soon ( The headliners are Bjorn Bjorholm and Juan Andrade. Both spectacular artists and stylists. 

Getting back to some more of the carving, here’s a buttonwood I refined.  Before. 


And after. 


   After my session with Mike, we had to rush to our hotel to get a good nights sleep for the big weekend.  

 Sunset from the Pt. Charlotte bridge on the way to the hotel. 

Bright and early the next morning, after arriving at Erik’s nursery,  I was greeted by a nice surprise: two fans, one wearing an American Bonsai Tools t-shirt.  

 We’re taking over the market….
On the schedule for today was a workshop that Evan was taking with Ed Trout, the Gentleman of Bonsai.  These three pics are by Ed’s sister, Pamela. 

 Sweet tree, it’s a kaneshiro ficus. Ed is, by far, one of the best teachers in Florida. If you can’t find what you’re looking to learn, in Florida, from him, maybe bonsai isn’t your thing, because Ed is a treasure trove of knowledge and experience. 

There was also a demo by Marc, at 9 am, which he kept complaini…uh, wondering about. He couldn’t understand why anyone in their right mind would attend a demo at 9am.  Of course it was a full house. 


Jason Osborne was assisting him.  

I had Jason over for a Studygroup meeting not long ago. We will see more of him when I show you Sunday’s highlights. 

There were many old friends (literally and figuratively) as well as new ones too. 

This is JJ, owner of Old Florida Bonsai with her husband, Richard (that’s the nursery where I carved the big podocarpus in this post


A view into Erik’s collection.   

The raffle lady, Angela, peddling hopes and dreams of bonsai raffle victory to all the attendees. You can’t win, after all, if you don’t have a ticket. She’s really good at her job. As you can see. 

It helps when you have Marc’s finished demo tree on the raffle table too. Boobs only get you so far.  


Oh my Lordy, that’s a beautiful tree. It’s a parsonii juniper. I know at least one guy who put $200 worth of tickets in there (that would be 50 tickets, $5 each, or 5 for $20). I even put some in. 

Then it was time for lunch. Erik gives away free hot dogs for those so inclined. Tony, my brother from another mother, handles the wieners. 

 There’s a joke there but I’ll let you make it.  Tony is Angela’s husband. 


Tony had a gift for me, a sweet ilex vomitoria “schillings”.   

Thank you sir. Look for a post on it next spring. 

The event has gotten so big that there was even press coverage. Here’s Erik, answering questions and, of course, sending the reporter towards the free food, cuz that’s what reporters look for first.  

 He can smell those dogs cooking. I think he even asked where the beer was. Let’s hope he writes a good story because, sadly, there wasn’t any. 

The afternoon brought a demo by the First Couple of Florida bonsai, Dorothy Schmitz and Ernie Fernandez.  

 Ernie worked on a buttonwood and Dorothy a juniper.   

Those trees got a lot of tickets as well.  Needless to say, I didn’t win any raffle trees. 


At the same time as the dual demo, Marc lead a workshop on huge podocarpus.   

 He provided a sketch of the future look he saw in every tree. That really helps a student to see what should come next. 

And other than some serious rain…..

  (That’s the parking area)

….and some hobbit feet from Seth.  The day was done. 

It was time to wind down. I was able to finagle my way in with some serious dinner companions.  

From the left, Mr. and Mrs. Harris. Mrs. and Mr. Kreig, Glen Lord (of the famous Lordiculture Empire), John Powell (who was there installing another facet of Erik’s Japanese garden, I’ll show you that later), Marc, me, and Evan. 

We went to a place called Ford’s Garage.  

 Basically a burger joint in beautiful downtown Ft. Myers. The food is good but don’t get the tuna steak sandwich. Trust me. 

Then, because they’re all old and I wasn’t driving, it was off to bed for an early start tomorrow. I thought old people didn’t sleep? 

The next day, while Evan captured the sunrise…… 


I had some emergency business to take care of.  

 With all the carving, running around and sweat (it was a record high November day in Ft. Myers) I had sprung a leak. Unfortunately, I’m not very proficient at changing my appliance (my wife is an artist at it, thanks dear) so I would spring a leak later Sunday again anyway with the new bag and I had to duct tape myself together. But I didn’t, let that ruin the day, as you will see.

Marc led two workshops on Sunday, one on bald cypress, and the other using cedar elm. Neither of which I got any pics of, sorry.  


And there were two demos. One from Mike Lane in the morning….. 


…and another from Jason Osborne, who I was honored to help out (and also so I could get some good pics)  


This next pic was taken by Evan. 

 Here’s Glen molesting Jason’s wood.   

The finished tree: 

John Powell, out of Texas, is a classically trained Japanese garden expert (he studied in Japan). Erik has had John in for the last several years building the site and demonstrating the philosophy and techniques used (as an example, it’s not necessary to use strictly Japanese plants, just something that fills the niche).  Here’s John’s work this year.  

 They moved those rocks with a tripod and block and tackle, no machines. And, because someone will ask, this is a close up of that bougie in the left corner.  

 Nice, huh? Erik’s collection is, by far, one of the best in Florida. 

And that brings us to last event of the weekend, the styling competition. I decided to enter it after I learned what kind of tree they were using, a Chinese hackberry. It was my first time doing so. I was reluctant entering because of my professional status but when I looked at the trees, Chinese hackberry (celtis sinensis) I decided I wanted one (you get to keep the tree) as I didn’t have one yet. 

This was the pic from Wigert’s Facebook page advertising the competition. 

 Coincidentally, I was given the tree on the right. I honestly didn’t like it.  

The rules: 

There could be no outside help. 

The time limit is 30 minutes, no more. 

You can try to psych out your opponents (there were 15 other competitors, believe it or not. It was raucous) but don’t touch their tree. 

Beer was allowed (I think that was my true advantage) 
After thirty minutes (on the dot) we had to drop our tools and step back from the trees. Now, there are some of my readers who are marveling at the short (very short) time allowed to style the trees. So was Marc, the judge.  

 Then, all the competitors were asked to leave the room while Marc judged and explained his thoughts. He told everyone in the room the winner and then Erik let us back in. I hadn’t gotten the chance to look at anyone else’s trees after the styling, so I had no idea about my chances. When we came in, there were three trees on the table.  

These three were the top three. Mine was there.  He explained the pros and cons of each and then announced the winner.  

It was my tree.  

I couldn’t believe it. I was embarrassed and happy at the same time.  

 You can see how red my face was. Although that might have been the beer. 

After that, it was dinner at Joe’s Crab Shack, hugs and kisses and hearty handshakes all around. And then the three hour trip back to Orlando. 

What a weekend. Next year Erik is going to have Robert Steven from Indonesia. I can’t wait. 

Thank you to all the photographers I stole pics from, especially Andrea, Evan and Becky. And a second, heartfelt thanks to Evan for driving and putting up with my oddness. See y’all next post when I return to my normal routine.

 I need a nap. 

Posted in goings, philosophical rant, styling bonsai | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

This time, I will not fail! #bonsailife

It’s a bush. A big, big bush.  

It certainly has filled in.  

 I’m going to get Johnathan to defoliate it while I tell you a story.  


Once upon a time, when hubris was a thing (not Greek hubris but more like Miltonian hubris) I thought I could rule the world. Then I was brought low. Not by anyone in particular, there wasn’t anyone with the power to do it. It was my own body which brought me down. Around this time last year I posted an article about this tree and I issued myself a challenge to get the tree green enough to photograph it by December 31st. Little did I know that I’d be in the hospital in less than a month. If you’re a regular reader, you are familiar with my health issues. It’s been a long fight but, as with this tree, I’m  going to be successful. I intend to rise to the title bestowed upon me and be a fully functioning asshole instead of the useless one I am now. That’s a joke only a very select few will totally understand. 

Here’s the tree when you last saw it.  

It’s a ficus benjamina, or weeping fig, as it’s commonly known. Like I said, it has filled in since then. And gotten green. It was chlorotic and infested with white fly. The combination of cold weather and the use of granular products (Merit systemic insecticide and Ironite chelated iron) defeated my goal of greening and fighting the white fly. When the weather is cold and the tree isn’t using water and growing, anything applied to the soil just doesn’t get taken up into the tree. That’s where my being in the hospital defeated my plans. A foliar feed and an application of a liquid insecticide would have helped. Usually I don’t recommend liquid applications because of the waste involved; just talking fertilizer, you’ll lose up to 90% out of the drain holes. And spraying insecticides can kill non-targeted, and even beneficial bugs. But sometimes you have no choice.I didn’t get the chance. It didn’t really green until spring and the whitefly persisted all winter.

You’ve read in previous f. Benjamina posts that they are known for their dieback. Especially if you cut them back to no green. So you are wondering why we are defoliating the tree, right? Well, we are leaving the new buds intact.  

The long pointy thing is actually a protective sheath, called a stipule, that, when the leaf emerges, falls away. You will also note how green and healthy the leaves are. Summer in the F-L-A will do that. Okay, enough talk, to work.  

I know I talked about the front in the last post on this ficus, but I’ll revisit it again because Johnathan questioned me. He did all the defoliation work looking at this side.  

 Which is the back. But, from the pic, it might seem like a good front. 

This is the front.  

 I explained to him the reasons: the structure of the branches are more suited for this side, the aerial roots are more inviting (though it seems like the other side might be more so, in the pic), but the main reason is that the trunk seems more solid and massive from this side, the other side is flat where’s this side has dimensionality. 

So, after about an hour of cutting off the leaves, it’s time to do some pruning. 

But first, it’s Johnny Appleseed!  

 My son was having an international parade day at school and his class got the U.S. to choose from for characters to dress up as. My wife did a good job putting the costume together too. Here’s a brief history of the man known as Johnny Appleseed, Johnathan Chapmann (which is apropo because my apprentice is named Johnathan). 

The original myth was that he planted apple trees all across the early United States because he believe in the spiritual symbolism of the Apple. He was a Swedenborgian Christian (which was called the New Church) but I won’t get into that story too much. Needless to say, he was a deeply spiritual man who was, in essence, a missionary in his time (he was born in 1774). 

The second myth, which is slightly more cynical, is that he planted apple trees to bring apple cider to the early American settlers. The apple trees he grew were not cultivated apples but seedlings. You see, when you grow apples from seed, you will get totally different plants with each seed you plant. The apple does not grow true to its cultivar. So if you want a Honeycrisp™ apple, you have to acquire a branch from an existing tree and graft it on to your tree. That means that every varietal apple tree is genetically identical on the fruit bearing branches. That’s a nightmare waiting to happen. Conversely, just imagine a forest of apple trees with thousands of varieties of trees growing together. That would be cool. 

The trees Johnny planted were just not good for eating. But they were good for making hard cider. 

The reality was a mixture of the first two myths and this: to claim land in the early years of the U.S., you had to cultivate it. Johnny would travel, find good land, and put a fence around it and plant apple trees. Then the land was his. He was a spiritual guy, and he did bring apples, and thus, apple cider to the settlers. But he was a shrewd real estate guy too. 

You should read up on his life, im leaving a lot out (like his propensity for going naked in the summertime) and he was a very interesting man. Too bad I can’t grow apples in Florida, I’d love to have one as a bonsai. 

Anyway, Johnathan had to leave, his girlfriend is waiting on him to take her to lunch and I talked too much about Johnny Appleseed. Sorry.  To the pruning.  

There are several bits of dieback that will need to be cut off. This is the most significant. 

Don’t ask me why I’m using these ugly, rusty concaves when I have bright shiny American Bonsai tools to use. They were just handy. 

There are too many branches here, the task is to simplify and use directional pruning to put movement into the branches.   
There are also branches with serious lack of taper. 

  And lots of crossing branches too. 

Here’s a before for reference.  
And a before of the trunk too.  

I’m simplifying the aerial roots a bit. Not too drastic now, just a bit. I am an agent of Eris, after all.  

That’s a lot of tree to cut off. 

The leaves filled up half of a 15 gallon nursery can. 

Now what?  

 I need to fix some of the bigger aerial roots. They’re bugging my boy, Seth. I sent him a picture and he got all huffy. He’s a bit more conservative than I am.  

 He prefers them straight, as God intended them to be.  

   And that’s that.  
 We just need some leaves. Maybe I can get some viagra for plants. The challenge this time will be: leaves by December 31st. I think I can make it. 

Cross your fingers. 

Hubris flies with wings of feathers and wax, and it’s hot in Florida. 


Posted in progression, rare finds, styling bonsai, updates | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Child labor and bonsai, an exposé

That’s right, it’s like the 19th century for children in my nursery. Not only do I force my own children to pull weeds in the midday Florida heat, repotting ficus after ficus, and trimming thorny bougainvilleas without gloves, I have found a way to exploit a loophole in the State of Florida Orphanage and Child Work System. I can use parentless children for farm labor and, get this,  they pay me to do it! And you should see what happens when the plucky ones ask for more gruel. It’s off to the un-wiring shed for them where the task of removing the miles of wire I’ve put on my trees is removed. This is Benjamin, one more bit of backtalk and it’s weeding with chopsticks for him.  

Actually, it was out of his neighbors yard where I dug out the main subject of this article, a bougainvillea (which was chronicled in This Post). He brought a Brazilian Raintree to work on as well. I, of course, told him to defoliate it and cut off the thorns.  

 Then we cut it back and wired it.  

 Then, because it’s too late in the year to cut back the roots too much, we up-potted it into a slightly larger pot.  

   It’s in a flattop style. But enough about his tree, he has his own Blog, go check it out. Btw, he’s only 14 yrs of age. He’s not an orphan but, as many kids his age, I bet that, at times, he wishes he was. 

Here’s the tree we are working on today.  

Here’s how it looked last time you saw it.  

Today’s task is to cut it back to a line, and put it into this pot: 

And use this soil.  


There should be enough. Hopefully. Let’s get to work and see what’s happening.  

Well, it seems like there was some dieback. There’s some kind of fungus among us.  

   I wonder what it tastes like?  
 Ok, we can deal with that. It’ll give it character. Just a little rot. 

When they sell these trees, the grower tends to stick four, five or six plants in one pot, and as they get older they almost fuse.  But when one dies back, it tends to take a whole section with it.  Kinda like this. 

This is one “tree”. The bottom mostly died back but it threw roots through the rotted area and re-rooted in the soil. But it’s not stable. We shall rip it out, methinks.  


There we go, that’ll be a cool tree by itself.  

Looks like the Sentinel robot from The Matrix. And the hole left over looks like I just extracted a tooth.  

Next I begin- The Prune.  

  Benjamin was able to sneak a few pics of me.  

 I don’t like too many pics of myself on the blog, I might start getting panties in the mail and, it’s easy to say that my wife wouldn’t like that at all. But look at that forearm and the wavy hair. Those broad shoulders……

Anyway, here’s the tree,  cut back.  

 Now to figure out the front.  

 This side might look good in the flat world of the Internet. 

 But the branching doesn’t support it.  

Everything is going back. So, it’s the other side.  Will it fit? 


Good root ball. 

We gently rake out the roots, keeping as much as we can 

It just about fits. 

We need to rotate it ever so slightly though so, out comes the big boy saw. 

Ah, that’s better.  A tree this big, with the amount of roots it had, needs a lot of chopsticking 


Now it’s all done except for the fine styling.   

Which can wait. I must say that I tend to ignore my bougies a bit too much. I don’t think I’ll ever get the ramification that Erik Wigert gets on his trees. And since I don’t have a good after pic, I’ll steal some of his. 


Now those are some bougies! 
Erik is having his open house this weekend (November 7&8, in N. Ft. Myers, Fl). If you’re in town you should try to make it, it’s a free event and this year it features Marc Noelanders (of the famous Noelanders Trophy in Belgium). 

Check out Erik’s website for more info (here’s the show schedule). Hope to see you there! 

In the next post, I’ll revisit a tree I found just before I got sick last year. Let’s see how it’s been doing. 

Posted in rare finds, roots, updates, yamadori | 4 Comments