Redesigning a Brazilian Raintree after it goes boom boom

Flashback to December, 2014. I was in the hospital, full of shit (I’m sure there were beans involved), trying to stay alive. I guess there was a mighty windstorm (or my rambunctious 6 and eight year old boys) and one of my Brazilian Raintrees was blown/knocked off the bench. My brother in law got it cleaned up and fixed as best he could. The pot, surprisingly, didn’t break. 

When they finally let me out, after some exploratory slicing and dicing and a bit of plumbing reorganization, I had this waiting.  Yup, that’s a big piece of deadwood, broken off. 

You’ve seen the tree before, in this post: Click here, it’ll learn you about brt’s

Here’s how it was in that blog post.  

Here we are today.    Ok, I know, let me defoliate it so you can have a better idea of what we have left.  The big difference is the missing Jin, of course, that big, beautiful, piece of deadwood that will be mourned like your beloved MeeMaw, she of the marshmallow jello salads and afternoon pink lemonade (real pink lemonade, look it up) that blushes your cheek and makes you smile.   What else broke off was the branch on the right.  The fall also split the next branch up and Steve (bro in law) wrapped raffia around it to try to save it.    It’s a strong tree and it worked.   

First, let me explain the wilting leaves you are seeing and worrying so much about…. ….it’s because it’s night and the tree is indoors. The BRT’s leaves just do that in response to lowered light or, as you might guess when you think of the name, in the rain. 

I need to repot. I haven’t done it in two years, I think.  

 The tree also wilts when it’s dry. Which it does easily at the moment because it’s so pot bound. 

   Let’s talk about the pot, it’s made by Paul Katich of Bellota Pots.  

 Beautiful glaze, awesome lines. Really a work of art. And it didn’t break when it fell of the bench. 

The roots are pretty healthy….   So healthy I might not need the prop rock anymore.   

I mentioned in the title that this was a redesign. After losing that Jin and that branch, the whole tree was bass-ackwards, falling over and just not tree-like.  There are no back branches left if I use the original front either, and the dead wood is hidden. I know! Let’s flip it around.  

 Yes, and maybe an angle change.   

Ok, I might stll need that rock after all.  

 Now, back at The Nook (I’ve been at the CFBC meeting, if you couldn’t recognize the locale) I need to clean and apply lime sulfur to the deadwood.  

Wire brush for cleaning.      

Lime sulfur for the preservation and color.   I use lime sulfur full strength, since I will get asked and (at the chagrin of the re-bottlers out there, to whom I apologize to some but not to others) you can find this brand on the Internet, in this giant bottle, for less than buying a tiny bottle that says “for bonsai” on it somewhere. Just be aware that there are several states in the U.S. whose respective regulatory agencies have limited or banned the sale of lime sulfur and you may get a visit from a jack-booted, polo-shirted bureaucrat, trying to justify his continued employment, vampiricly suckling on the public teat.  

And then back on the perch from whence it fell to the earth.   A few more pics: a far off establishing shot and then the inevitable glamour shots.  

   That’s a tall bench to fall from. Like Icarus, with his fancy set of wings made of wax. Perhaps a less lofty perch? Nah. 

 No blog post is complete without a good shot of a turgid piece of wood. For you Glen and Seth. Bear and Otter. 
   The live vein is rolling over the deadwood nicely.  

 Ain’t nobody gonna call this no tanuki in this neighborhood!

 Top view.   And, finally, the front.  Taa daaa!

I’ll post some pics on the AAAB Facebook page when the tree is in full leaf in a few weeks, just to prove it’s alive still.

  What’s next? P’raps that soup? Maybe some ice sculpture? How about falconry? That might be cool, it’s the sport of princes, they say, and lately I’ve been a royal pain in the ass, just ask my wife. 

First, a trip to the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles tomorrow. Wish me the patience of a saint and a disciplined mouth. I’m allergic to bureaucrats. 

Posted in maintenance, progression, redesign | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

A painting

For you bonsai people out there, I know this seems like a big departure, but I started my journey as a fine artist and I felt the need to paint something. 

 So I did. And, since it’s my blog, I thought I’d share.  

It started with this sketch: 

 Those who follow me on social media have seen it already. I asked, almost hypothetically, if I should expand the idea into a full work. The response was a yes, so I thought about it and went into the shed to look for a surface to work on. I had decided to use a wood board already, and I just needed to dig one out.   It’s basically 1/2″ plywood and 44″x36″ large. Not the biggest piece I’ve worked on, but adequate. 

The next step (as it is with most art)  was to stare at the board for a few days and figure out what I needed to do. Comparing the process with bonsai, you could argue that it’s a harder starting with a blank “canvas” as opposed to a physical tree or, quixotically, that it’s easier, because you don’t have an existing structure to get in the way. I’ll let you decide because whatever I say won’t sway you anyhow. 

As the idea of the piece took shape in my head, I decided that some of the details in the sketch were either not right for the theme or not as personal/applicable to the subject. And so, after all that, it’s time to begin.  Unleash the Kraken (rum) and Sheldon. 

 Yes, that is white housepaint I’m using. 

A charcoal sketch to give me some lines to work with.   

Blocking in the walls.   I showed the progress pics to a friend and he, “literally” (sorry, he’s a millennial and uses that word often) thought I had built a 3d box.      

A little distance breaks that illusion.
 Next, after several sketches (or studies. Each art form has its own jargon, like nebari or Jin, in bonsai) of the seated figure,  I picked this one.    And photocopied it several times.   I could just put the original sketch on the painting. Or paint the figure in. But the process of replication adds random effects to the image though, and that’s a technique I use often in my works.  This “accidental” idea is prized in bonsai: a unique yamadori, or tree collected in the wild, has more value and artistic challenge than one created in a nursery. I like the image on the left, it has some reproduction errors I like. 

A little glue….  Some paint to insert the image into the plane of the “room”  You’ll notice that you can still see, if you look closely, the paper that the image is printed on. That’s just technique. I could do a totally realistic rendering where there isn’t that reminder of the piece being a mixed media work. But the jolt of seeing the paper, or whatever other 3d object coming of the flat plane of the board (there will be more…) brings your thought processes to the forefront of the act of viewing, as opposed to just lazily watching a scene. It also involves the viewer in not just the creation but the act of creation (you see the brush strokes, the sketch, the squiggly lines).  It’s a part of the dialogue I have as an artist has with the viewer. I find it important that the viewer has an idea of the workings and perhaps the thoughts behind the inclusion of those images and effects on the finished piece. 

Next is the insertion of the “painting” on the wall. In the sketch it’s a landscape but I don’t think it’s quite right. Here are some ideas: 

 I like them all but I decide to go with a printed pic of the initial sketch.  

 Framed even. What’s next? How about a guitar and a fan. My biggest fan (my only fan after this post, probably)

   Again, I draw them out on paper and glue them to the board, and add color and paint to include them into the scene.  
   And one last object: an actual I.V. line.  
  Nailed it!   
I drilled a hole in the board and inserted the line into the stomach of the figure and the “outlet” on the wall.

 I outline a few accents with pen and ink and pencil and added some more details.  And I believe I’m done.   It is easy to overwork a painting so sometimes finishing seems  like an abandonment instead of an ending. It’s emptying. But I’m satisfied with it. It came out the way I saw it in the sketch and in my head. 

I’m not going to outright tell you the meaning of the piece (in bonsai it’s usually pretty easy to guess. “Uhhhh, dats a tree!”) but you should be able to figure out some of the themes. It’s not all that obtuse. 

Thanks for enduring this brief and wacky departure from bonsai, I know that some of my regular readers may not quite appreciate the style or execution or even the melodramatic theme of the painting (or they are wondering why I didn’t just paint a picture of a guy working on a bonsai….I mean, duh, isn’t that all you need?) but as I said, it’s my blog and I believe I need to fulfill the “Art” section of the “Adam’s Art and Bonsai” title every once in a while. 

Anyway, I’m seriously thinking of soup for the next post. Does anyone have a preference as to what recipe? Or maybe that Brazilian Raintree I talked about? Or……..

Posted in pictures, tips and tricks | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Accepting bonsai from Bohemian bonsai artists

This is not my mess, I know I’ve been incapacitated of late but it was this way when I got it from this mad Bohemian dude I know.   I’ll need to clean it up a bit just to see what I’m doing and what I have, be it treasure or trash.  Wow, that seems like a lot of, what I can only call, “green”, fertilizer, but it’s a medium amount. I’ve seen more on other Florida trees. Piles and handfuls. This is conservative compared to that, coming from a Bohemian and all. It is also planted on a rock (which makes it heavy, like a German philosopher’s prose)  
And the whole thing is, like, totally pot bound. Literally.  No love for the tree from the mad Bohemian. Oh, sorry, it’s a dwarf ficus benjamina (not sure if it’s a Kiki or a too little, the leaves have been allowed to grow out and they revert to specie to a degree).   

Like I said, no love for the tree. Our Bohemian friend (maybe he said Roma, like a gypsy, I just don’t remember) just doesn’t like benjamina bonsai. But how can you not? Look at the trunk and base.  

Hot damn that’s sexy, slap my ass and call me Trigger. If you can’t appreciate that fat bottom, I just don’t know what art form you’re practicing. 

Now, granted, she needs a little cleanup, a little styling and some work, but who wouldn’t, being as old as she is. Let’s call her Cinderella, shall we?  Come here darlink, a leetle of zee top, yesh, yesh.. Eets all comink togezer now… Bee-yoot-ee-full, no? Like a mysterious and exotic temple, lost in the jungle in South America or Indochina. Let’s see if I can tame the top.     I should note, in all fairness, that our intrepid Bohemian kind of inherited this tree from a, now deceased, acquaintance and therefore any mistakes in pruning are probably the dearly departed’s and not our raggedy Bohemian’s, but, since it’s not well to speak ill of the dead, I’m blaming the Bohemian for all the mistakes. It’s only fair. Let’s hope he does the same for me one day. 

What’s up here?   Who would leave stub like that? SMH. Time for the serious tools…  ahh, rusty. Two months outside in the Florida humidity will do that to any black steel tool. Even those mysterious “Black Scissors” that seem so hip and clique-ish all of a sudden.   

Aaaannnnnd that’s why I have stainless steel tools from American Bonsai Tool Co.     A little dirty (sorry Cullen) but still rust free. It’s a’choppin’ time! 

 Much better. Now the rest of the tree  

 I’m thinking of maybe shortening it. Here? 


Or maybe here, to this back branch?   Nah, for some reason I just can’t see the tree clearly in those pics…….hah, get it? The pics are out of focus…..can’t see……jeez, you guys are tough.

 I know, how about here?  Hmmmmnnn…….

Let’s move on to the roots.  Yeah, I don’t think this has been repotted in years. A ficus tree’s roots need to be cut back almost yearly. 

Speaking of roots, did you know that it was our Bohemian friend’s ancestors that gave us the beer that most of the world drinks? Here’s some geography and history for you in 500 words or less. The kingdom of Bohemia used to look like so: 

 It was the end of WWI and the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that removed the country called Bohemia from the world. 

From that point it was a part of Czechoslovakia, an amalgamation of the Czech peoples and the Slovaks. The Czechs are what the Bohemian’s came to be called in the early 20th century. They combined in an effort to be free from their (respectively) Austrian and Hungarian overlords. Little did they know that those monarchies would be replaced with an even more authoritarian empire: the USSR. 

Is anyone paying attention to the word count?

What does all this have to do with beer? Hold on. 

This is Czechoslovakia:  In 1989, Czechoslovakia overthrew its communist masters in an event called the “Velvet Revolution” (you should look it up, fascinating) and the Free World was allowed its first taste (in about 4 generations) of the whole point of this mini essay; that being the first beer you didn’t have to chew to drink: Pilsner Urquell. It was the first clear beer in history. 

 In 1993 (a brief 4 years after independence from the USSR) Czechoslovakia split back into its component states, Slovakia and Bohemia (which they call the Czech Republic now. They should go back to calling themselves Bohemia, right? It’s way cooler). The reasons for the split are debated, whether it be industry, language, culture, etc. but I think it had to do with the beer. 

You see, Pilsner Urquell is the beer that all other clear beers, like Budweiser and Miller, are descended from. And it was created in Bohemia.  And once the Slovaks started sampling western cultures and cuisine, especially the abomination called Bud Lite (the piss king of beers), they didn’t want anything to do with a group of people who could subject the world to that type of infamy. 

Dark beer rules. Bringing us back to our tree. It’s roots are so tangled (like the Czechs) I’m worried about it surviving this repot. I knew we couldn’t trust a Bohemian, that’s just an old fashioned word for a filthy hippie. I need an implement to correct this neglect.   (I’m not actually worried, I was just in the moment).   The roots are actually healthy. I’m using a tray that’s usually used to carry small potted plant, like annuals.   

  And that’s all.  I won’t heap any more derision upon our dear Bohemian, he’s endured enough (breaking up a whole country with his heritage brew and all)…….wait, there’s something wrong….. I hate that branch. Yeah, that one:  

Ahhhhhh, much better now.   It just goes to show you, sometimes you need to tear something apart (like Czechoslovakia) in order for the structure and unity to be more perfect. 

A note on the pruning of ficus benjamina: you’ll notice that I left green on all the branches. The benjamina is prone to dieback if you don’t. And you don’t see any wire. In my experience, a benjamina is best trained using clip and grow or directional pruning techniques. And it looks best as a “canopy” tree. So if you have one, work on the trunk character first, then the branches and canopy.  

Now it just needs to fill in like this.  

Next post will be either on a Brazilian Raintree or on a painting I just finished. Or I’ll make soup. 

What do you think? 


Posted in goings, Horticulture and growing, redesign | Tagged , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

The “Keep Myself Sane” Tree 

I finally got the portulacaria I had been working on in the hospital (from the last post) repotted.  Here’s how you saw it last:  This was how it was sitting in the pot. Pretty straightforward potting, widest base flat to the viewer. I had showed it in different angles in the last post to give you an idea of how just adjusting the front could change the character of the piece. 
 I was also considering a pot change. I brought a few that might work. Fast forward to the CFBC meeting last week and the repot.    One note on repotting of established trees and dwarf jades especially: unless you are developing a branch and need vigorous growth, a repot doesn’t have to be a complete exchange of the old soil for new. Just gently removing the outside roots and soil is sufficient to keep the tree healthy (of course, this only applies if all the soil in the pot, especially right up near the base of the tree, is bonsai soil. If you are still transitioning from dirt or regular potting soil, you need to continue that transition). 

Let’s compare pots, shall we?  An oval: 

A slightly bigger oval……  

And the original pot.   

Let’s see how the tree likes them.  

Hi Dave! Hmmmm…. A little small and I’m not feeling the glaze. 

Next…. Too big…..

I guess it’s back into the old pot for now. Which I kinda like. It gives the tree a bit of gravitas, or formality.  

 That’s about how I was thinking at the end of the last post, right? 


Speaking of the last post, I left off an important visitor when I was mentioning them; none other than Mr. David Cutchin.  

 I’m not sure who took this picture but I stole it. David took the time out of his heavy touring schedule from bonsai magazine photo shoots (he is featured in the current Bonsai Focus issue) to visit me during my hospital stay. I don’t remember too much of what we talked about (I blame this:   You’ll have to read that last post to understand just what that green button is). 

I do remember the reading materials he brought because I still have them. An album from D&L nursery’s celebration of this year’s World Bonsai Day.   And an important book on Art philosophy by  Alex Grey which is, very basically, about how art should awaken a spiritual state when practiced by the artist and, to another extent, in the viewer of that art. Deep stuff. I recommend it. It will either open your eyes or close your mind. 

And I’d like to publicly apologize to you, my brother Dave, for forgetting you in my drug addled haze, won’t happen again. We need to get together and do some more bonsai together. Which brings us to the end of the post. 

Here’s the portulacaria for your perusal.  This is important: when you repot a portulacaria, do it dry and, when finished, don’t water until you see new growth on the tips. This means that the roots have calloused over any cuts you may have made, and they are growing, searching for water (opposite off most plants, which need water immediately after repotting). 

Make sure you check out my various social media for an update on the tree when it fills in again. 

Next post will either be on a ficus Benjamina (just to annoy some people) or maybe I’ll make some soup. 

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

In case you’re counting, this is post #300. 

Now that’s something to think about. A definite milestone in my internet bonsai journey. 300 blog posts. To be honest, there have been a few times, especially of late, where I’ve contemplated just giving up the blog and, as a corallary, the life of a traveling Bonsai artist. My wife would enjoy the latter part, I’m pretty sure. She gets just a little stressed when I’m not home. But I’m not ready to give up traveling yet (sorry dear) and, much to my enemies dismay, I still have something to say, so, long live the blog.  The reason I’ve been a little defeatist of late you see, I am writing this from my luxurious guest room at the Orlando Regional Medical Center.   I’m recuperating from another surgery that should have been a step forward towards healing but, because of the enigmatic and uniqueness of my malady, I find myself and my health have been pushed two steps back. Oh, woe is me. I’ve been describing my health problems too much in the last few posts and won’t go in depth with the details. I can just hear the readers navigating away to the next bonsai site whenever I talk about myself. I would also like to apologize for the length of time between posts. Therefore, let’s get to the subject matter for today, this portulacaria afra: 

 My wife brought it for me to have something to fiddle with while I’ve been here in the hospital. I must admit, I needed something to do. I even stretched out the work, made it last or, as they used to say, I goldbricked it. My brother-in-law is a Master of goldbricking. But that’s another life amd probably one reasons I’m here and…hey, it’s time for my vital signs. BP, temp, pulse rate and heart rate, and blood/O2 level. Since I’ve been in here, my vitals have been textbook. I usually have a bit more stress in my life out in the real world but being in a hospital bed must be calming.  It’s that or the dilaudid. Hard to say. What’s not hard to understand is breakfast. It’s here.    One thing I will pursue when I get the gumption outside: the plate warmers. If I can find a good used source, I think they will make good training pots. Here’s the bottom half.  It’s heavy duty, insulated, and even has an aesthetically pleasing style to it. And the bowl my grits came in would make a good planter too. , 

Speaking of dilaudid (or perhaps the dilaudid was just speaking, I mean, hospital cafeteria plate warmers….really?),  just after the surgery, I was able to administer my own dosage with a comforting green button.   They would take the button away soon enough (one can’t go home with it) but it was a comfort when I had it. It’s more psychological than anything, the dose one can give oneself is not that high. But it helped, especially during the wound debridement. 

Nowadays, I am wired for speakers, so to say. Or a more efficient drug delivery pathway.   This is called a PICC (A peripherally inserted central catheter. It is a form of intravenous access (as opposed to a regular I.V. line) that can be used for a longer period of time than the I.V. In my case, for extended antibiotic therapy, and parenteral nutrition). It was inserted into my bicep area using mysterious algorithms and cryptic magic. The line goes up, inside my arm, following my veins, across my chest, and dumps the meds right into my heart. 

For a couple of weeks I had an E.T glowing finger.   Just like him, I want to go home. 

I would show you my most significant souvenir, my vertical, midline, open wound on my belly. It’s about a foot long, with my belly button at about the middle point. It’s lovely. But I won’t. This was my reaction to seeing a photo of it.   Quite a shocking site it ’twas, as you can tell by my grimace. If you want to see the wound, please send a self addressed, stamped 8″x10″ manilla envelope, along with $19.95 (plus tax, where applicable) and I’ll send an autographed, numbered, glossy and photo-paper quality copy, suitable for framing and willable to your favorite offspring or sibling spawn.  I warn you though, it’s shocking. Truly shocking. 

Let’s get back to the tree.    This tree is a good example of being able to change the character of a tree just by adjusting the front. Let me do some pruning, then I’ll show you what I mean. To the scissors!   The idea with the development of jade, as with most trees, is to increase leaf ramification. The only way to do it is pure hard work and time put into the tree.  

Here we have a drawing of a port branch.  

I’ll cut here:  from that cut we will get four new leaves from the base of the extant leaf.   The old leaf will eventually fall off….  But now you have doubled your leaf yield. This is all done to create the well nigh impenetrable canopy so loved in a jade bonsai.  

This is Richard Turner’s jade at Old Florida Bonsai. It won the Best Tropical at the National show a few years back. Notice the thick canopy.     In this pic, it could use some pad differentiation, which has since been done since I’ve visited last. 

And speaking of visitin’, my favorite visitor (this should be taken in a sarcastic tone btw)    At least the kitchen doesn’t call themselves anything but “Nutrition Services”. That’s really all they are, no pretense there. At least I got my scotch on the rocks.   

Last time I was hospitalized I didn’t want visitors. I even ignored my personal communications device (what used to be called a smartphone). This time I had quite a few visitors. Ronn Miller, Seth Melon, Anthony and Clarina (who brought some yummy apples and green tea)   Nick Alpin, who gave me a desert rose he had grown from seed  Rick Jeffery, who sang me a song on my guitar (don’t let him fool you, he’s a great guitarist with a strong voice). Dave came all the way from Puerto Rico to visit. Mat brought me some fine bonsai picture books to look at.  Of course, my family visited, all four kids, my sister and her daughter and my son’s GF, Vanessa. 

And, my constant companion, my  bootyful wife Becky.    To quote Mark Twain “…Wheresoever she was, there was Eden…”

And I had some good views out of the window too.  

 Not as pleasant as my wife but at least something to look at when I was alone. That last pic is actually in the vicinity of my nursery.

Anyway, it’s been about a day since I’ve been discharged, let me show you the portulacaria, all finished and from different angles.  

 Gotta love the hospital gowns and no-slip socks. I don’t think I’ve ever worn anything so expensive in my life. 

When I repot, I’ll use this as the front.  

 I’m debating on the pot. Suggestions are welcome. I’ll post a pic in the next blogpost for those in need of closure. 

And now I’m home, a little more restricted than before but still alive. I have about two months of work to do to catch up in the nursery, so if anyone feels the feel to come by, I could use some help. I also have about 3-6 months of healing before my next surgeries. But don’t let that scare you off, come on by and say, “!Hola!” 

Posted in goings, philosophical rant, progression, wiring | Tagged , | 20 Comments

This was the Brazilian Raintree studyguide for my trip to the Cincy Bonsai club, sorry guys….

was writing this post in anticipation of my impending trip to the Bonsai Society of Greater Cincinnati in, um, Cincinnati. And, since my workshop was on a BRT, and since I had just worked on one and took photos, well, you know, I had photos that now needed words to make sense of them, I guess, and something for the Cincy students to look at before I got there. And, before I confuse you more, I think we should begin with the post…… 

 I did all the work a few weeks ago now, and had planned on publishing before June 17th but I just couldn’t manage it. I got sick again. I didn’t really know how sick. Here I am arriving at the hospital (Orlando Regional Medical Center). I had been sitting on my couch for a week previously.       Exciting. My home-away-from-home. 

I like trees better.   Brazilian Raintrees are in the legume family, which means that the fruiting body tends to be in the form of a bean of some kind. It also means that the leaves are compound. Those little dealies that look like leaves are called leaflettes. This whole structure is the leaf.    Before I repot a BRT (as it shall now be abbreviate henceforth), I will usually defoliate the whole tree. This time I will try to keep all the leaves attached in a misguided attempt at making a pretty tree for the after shot. Let’s see how that works out. 

I’ll be throwing out advice and technique as I go, just like I’m giving a demo, so pay attention now or you’ll have to pay for it later. 

There are generally only two types of BRT’s out there for purchase. Those grown from seed (which tend to have larger leaves, larger thorns, longer internodes and less of that muscled bark/trunk characteristic that has come to identify the original American grown BRT’s. And they flower/fruit, obviously. I believe that the one I’m working on is this kind.    The main clues I see are the round trunk, and the surface roots are ugly, like they grew from seed. Let me also point out that the tree is desperately in need of repotting. You can see the roots filling up the spaces. 

The second type of BRT is a direct clone from the original American BRT, which was grown from seed by American/Floridian bonsai originator, Jim Moody. 

The trunks have more character, movement, and muscling we tend to think of with BRT’s.     Little to no flowers/seed, not as evil of thorns, smaller leaflets and internodes. They’ve been propagated through cuttings or airlayers exclusively. 

Need to get to work on this post. My surgery is in less than 8 hours. 

The tree is currently in a Sarah Raynor pot.   I’m still searching for the best pot for it but I think I’ll go with this one.   I’d like something like this ultimately.    But this one is just too coarse and thick. 

Time for some root work and learnin’     

BRT’s are legumes. Most legumes will enter into a symbiotic relationship with soil living bacteria; the legume gives the bacteria water and sugar and the bacteria gives the legume atmospheric nitrogen.  Each legume has a specific bacteria and a modified root called a “nitrogen fixing nodule” is how you know if your bonsai soil is fertile enough for the bacteria to live.   

Can you see them?  DO NOT confuse these nodules with root knot nematode damage. 

The node is along-side, attached but not a part of the root. 

Root knot nematode damage is a structural piece of the root. 

Whenever I repot a BRT, I will save some of the old soil and add it to the new mix.   Just so I can infect the new soil with that beneficial bacteria.   Now for a few wires and some pruning….which reminds me. When pruning, you need to leave a stub: 

 The BRT has a want or need (which means that I don’t know why) to die back to the next node (area where a bud is present). If I were to prune this nub flush, the branch will die back to the next branch. That’s just the way it goes. If one wants a flush cut, one prunes like above, waits for the dieback, and then go back and cut it flush.     Silly, deciding to wire a tropical tree like this without defoliating. Here’s how it looks, kinda sulky.   One reason this tree is called a “Raintree” is that, when it rains, it gets pouty, like the above pic. Basically, those leaflets close up during rain (or drought, or wiring/repotting etc. some type of stress) and makes the tree look sad. I’m not sure who I was kidding by leaving those branches in leaf and doing the pruning/wiring. It looks like crap. 

And you can’t see the branch structure.  Where are my scissors?!   Now it’s time for bed. I have surgery in less than 7 hours, now. 

The next post should be something special I think. It will be, if all goes well in 6 and 1/2 hours, the three hundredth post on the blog. Three hundred?!! I know, I talk a lot. 

Wish me luck in the morning!

Posted in Horticulture and growing, tips and tricks, wiring | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

The 2015 Bonsai Societies of Florida Annual convention

As I might have mentioned several times now, I was a recent attendee (and Bsf officer and vendor) at the Bsf convention. This is a blog answering why. Why go, why participate, why volunteer, etc. 

Here’s a good reason, right off the bat:   Dinner with Guy Guidry at the Boston Lobster Feast. That’s all I’ll let you know about that. What happens in the BLF stays in the BLF. 

Let’s start at the beginning. The convention took place on May 22-25 at The Florida Hotel inside the Florida Mall, Orlando. It was held there last year and will be there next year as well. 

This year, the club spearheading the convention was the Bonsai Society of Brevard, one of the biggest in the state, and the convention was chaired by my friend, Ronn Miller. My position as the 2nd vp of Bsf officially makes me the liaison with the host club (in those years when the convention isn’t hosted by Bsf, that is) but my recent illness left me out of the loop (and loopy, at times) for most of the planning. My tender condition also made everyone treat me like I couldn’t do anything. I have a suspicion that my wife sent out emails to everyone involved warning them that they would have to deal with her undying wrath, if any calamity befell me. Anyway, don’t tell her I said that.  

I didn’t really have to do much anyway, the Brevard club had everything handled. They are pros. 

I was a vendor in the sales are (or the bazaar, as they still call it. Remember, Florida is populated by many Northern immigrants, and that’s what they called a sales room, in my youth, in Massachusetts. I always found it bizarre….). But I won’t show you any pics because I didn’t take any. I will say that, as a dealer for American Bonsai Tools, we had a good showing again. I sold some good trees too. Or I should say that my ever suffering wife sold a lot of trees and tools. I played. 

I had a tree in the exhibit, unfortunately, I can only show my display. This year they had a restriction on photos of other than your own tree in exhibit.

 I finally got my ficus sap stained hands on some decent moss. There was a back corridor exchange from a source (who will remain anonymous) of the best moss in the world.   It’s not a specific variety, in case you were wondering. It’s the unique and, let’s say unusual cultural conditions that makes it so great. 

Do you wanna know what those conditions are? Ok……the moss must be CULTIVATED UPON THE BODIES OF THE DEAD…..yeah, that’s right, this person or persons who supplied the moss, stole it from a graveyard. I can only imagine the scene……

“It was a foggy night, the full moon peeking in and out from behind the wispy clouds, the wind blowing the squealing graveyard gate open and closed. That cold wind meanders through the ancient live oak trees, their twisted branches almost touching the faded gravestones. The wind caresses the grey, wispy Spanish moss, giving an artificial life to the gnarled branches. Two genteel and respected bonsai practitioners, fit and fashionable in branded polos, short pants, mid-ankle tube socks and New Balance tennis shoes (the snazzy ones, not just the grey ones) creeped soundlessly into the murky barrows. Armed with their trusty Joshua Roth ™ combo spatula/tweezer set, they brazenly robbed the tombs…..of their moss.” 

Now, I’m not sayin’ that’s how the heist went down. It coulda happened in broad daylight. But I’m a romantic. Anyway, my display.    An ilex vomitoria “schillings” on a stand I made. The accent is a tilandsia recurvata that we call “ball moss”.   

The stand is made of reclaimed pallet oak that I made look older and the feet are old railroad pieces called rail anchors.   I wrote a post on it awhile ago. 

I caught my friend Rick trying to remove some water stains from his exhibit tree’s pot.    

This is the vendor area before everyone was set up.   Or, I should say half of it. The other half was behind me. 

On Friday I was asked to perform a duelling demo with Stacy Allen Muse, last year’s winner of the Bsf Scholarship styling contest.       If you notice, he’s all over his tree and I’m just sitting and staring at mine. His was a procumbens nana juniper, mine was a retusa ficus.   It was interesting sharing the stage with him, he would be talking to himself and the volume of his voice would slowly rise and then he’d be talking to the audience. It was exciting. I couldn’t take my ears off it. Here’s his tree:  He did an outstanding job with difficult material. 

And my tree:  One person said it looked like Minis Morgul, the fallen city of the Witch Kings from Lord of the Rings, and quite a few started using the name. 

On Saturday I participated in that same styling contest that Stacy won last year. Here’re some pics.       Take note of the Jin above. You’re seeing the back of the tree. Here’s my finished entry.   Here’s a good example of how important seeing a tree in person is when learning how to style trees.   The movement just doesn’t translate. And you’ll notice the burn marks; I used a torch and brute force to bend that branch.  


A slightly different view of the front.   I would like to humbly announce that I was the winner. 

I would show the other contestants trees but there is one who, I am sure, wouldn’t give approval to do so. And I didn’t want to manufacture a scandal by not showing this person’s tree so I’m afraid that, in this case, I am bowing to the “Less Drama is Best” camp (and taking the advice of a few friends) and, therefore, you can’t see my competitor’s trees and truly compare them to be able to judge if I won on merit or just on my name alone. 

I should point out that the judging was anonymous. 

I think I’ve said enough. 

Some weird things happened at the convention: impromptu chiropractory.   

Bone gnawing on a rib eye.   

A botched panorama of my table mates at the banquet.    

A random pic of, ahhhhhh, people.  

 That’s actually Dave leaning out of the shot on the left, Rick in the far back, my wife, her cheek, nose, eye, and boob on the right. 

Here’s a shot of all the exhibitors, I’m almost hidden.  


There I am, I’m the short one in front,  in this zoomed shot (with the shit eating grin on his face)  The two ladies in front of me are, left to right, Mary Madison and Lunetta Knowlton. 

I must say that it was an interesting convention without the haze of the alcohol induced insight I usually have (I was trying to not dehydrate myself, I don’t want another hospital visit before my surgery on July 15th, wish me luck). I might just give up the sauce for good (naaaaaaaaah, prolly not). 

Needless to say, with my sales, my triumphant win in the styling contest, and the overall relaxed atmosphere, I’d say that this was my best Bsf convention yet. I purchased some pottery from my favorite Florida pot dealers.


Taiko Earth:  

And introducing Martha Goff (author of Tropical Green Sheets 1&2): 


I picked up a few trees for blog purposes (the last post was one) and, guess what? I won the demo tree, at auction, that Stacy worked on in our duel.   And I think Martha’s pot is just right for it.  

It was an awesome convention, sorry I didn’t (or couldn’t) get more pics for you but I was busy, man, playing, while my wife worked (she loves me. I love her). 

The one disappointment was not seeing more Floridians,  who are serious in the art, show up. Here’s the “Philisophical Rant” part of the article. You may skip it if you wish. I wouldn’t. 

I am a traveling bonsai artist and teacher. Wherever I go, I look at trees in nature. Believe it or not, they grow differently in different parts of the country (and the State of Florida, I should add).  If you believe me or not, the natural shape of a tree in nature affects how the shape of your bonsai turns out (it doesn’t matter if you don’t, because it’s true). Here’s an example, those beginners in suburban areas tend to make their trees look like landscape trees. You know, the lollipop look. What I’m saying is that  the “ideal” tree image in the mind changes from place to place and person to person. And that image, in the bonsai artists mind, matures the more they learn bonsai. In some people it tends to stagnate at the “bonsai” tree look, unfortunately. 

In the great artist, that image has matured to include all looks, be it “bonsai”, “natural”, “western”, “Penjing” etc. and he/she can adapt according to what the tree is telling them. There aren’t many of those kind of artists. And, no, peanut gallery, I don’t claim to be one. My trees look like my trees. There are some looks and shapes that my brain can’t be forced to make. 

What all this is leading to, readers, to make that long story short: you need to visit local shows to see how other artists solve problems, bend a branch, wire, prune. You need to see the trees in person; a picture, even the best, is flat. And you need the influence of others to improve your art. All art is theft, sorry, but it’s true. Every artist I’ve read about and studied has said so. 

If you skipped to the end of the rant, take note of my parting words: go to a close (or not so close) convention to see and be seen, participate in a planned activity, volunteer,  and, look at the trees

Posted in goings, philosophical rant | 2 Comments