18 days and I’m back home!

Well, if you aren’t following my social media feeds you’re probably wondering where I’ve been.
I have been hospitalized since November 29 and I just came home, December 16.
18 days, man, lying on my back. My butt was numb.
Needless to say, I haven’t done much bonsai in those days.
I’ll sprinkle some glamour shots for your entertainment purposes to make the post pretty in places. Like this:
That’s an ilex vomitoria schillings above.
Makes you want to crawl up underneath in the shade and take a cool nap.
I also have one tip I can pass on. I’ve been saving it.
My ordeal began with a pain in my belly. We were going through the gate to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and a sharp pain shot through me. I do have an illness but it’s not supposed to cause what happened here and the prior two times I’ve had flare ups.
Basically, what happened to me is a severe blockage in my lower intestine. I still have it (probably) but I’ll get to that later.
My illness is called mastocytic enterocolitis. I’ll let you look it up. I’m a rare disease.
I’m not going to show any gross pictures (except some selfies…nobody wants to see me) and I’ll be very brief as to what they did to me and what’s to come.
Basically, I had a severe swelling in my lower colon and caused me to be full of shit and hot air (about usual I guess, if you’ve read the blog before.)
They bypassed that swollen part at the end of the small intestines and created a stoma, basically a hole in which I now attach an ostomy device to catch my waste. I know, ewwwwww.
My large intestine needs to rest and heal for a few months and this is how they do it. In my case it’s called an ileostomy. If it’s on the colon it’s called a colostomy, which you’ve heard of probably.
How about a tree?
This was a demo tree I did for the Treasure Coast Bonsai club. It’s a hollywood juniper.
The last I’ll say on my ordeal is that I was insane, hopeless, I was ready to end. My family, the nurses and staff, the doctors. They all helped me through. I cannot thank everyone who helped me, there is no way.
I’ve had an outpouring of support from the bonsai community as well. If you look through the social media feeds you’ll understand.
There is a Crowdrise fundraiser set up to help here. I’m not begging for myself but for my four kids.
Here’s that tip I promised you.
I blew out the bottom of this pot.

It’s not a hundred dollar pot but it’s useful.
I have an aluminum mesh from americanbonsai.com
I trimmed it to a circle.
Perfect fit.
Some wire.


I’m ready for bonsai.
I would like to thank my family for putting up with me, especially my sister Robin, who’s also an RN.
I love my wife Rebecca. I could not have done any of this without her. Thank you.
Hopefully for my readers, I’ll be able to bring some bonsai to you soon. As a final shot, here’s a bald cypress I’ve been working on. Enjoy!

Posted in goings, philosophical rant | Tagged , , | 25 Comments

Refining a juniper or, how to carve a turkey

It’s off to my sister’s for a Thanksgiving dinner (that won’t be beat) and I need something to do while I wait for the turkey.
I know, this’ll keep me occupied.
Juniperus procumbens nana, a japanese juniper.
I’m babysitting my friend Barb’s trees while she’s cavorting around Texas with her Hubs and cat (named Ricky Ricardo) in an RV, visiting family and collecting trees.
This is one of her trees. She did say that I could work on them if I wanted.
The orange coloration on the foliage is not a disease or damage, it’s the result of too much iron in the water. She had gotten it a while back from someone with that particular problem. It washes right off if you use a muriatic acid solution. Sounds scary, right?
Anyhow, you can see that the new growth is poking through with nice green tips.
It’s a nice pot, I think it might be a modern, high end Chinese one, but I’m not sure.
It has a chop (a chop is a signature of the potter or the kiln).
There is one flaw in the structure of the tree. The left branch is coming from the inside of a curve.
It’s causing some bulging and an ugly knob where it’s coming off the trunk.
It is generally not good design to have a branch on the inside of a curve but there’s also a horticultural reason too; the inside will thicken faster than the outside of the curve, and if you have a branch there, it will thicken even more so. Causing reverse (inverse, obverse) taper to that part of the tree.
Time to ignore the family, I mean, get to work.
My implements:
My soundtrack:
I need to remove the old wire.
Yes, tweezers. You guys have seen my fingers, with a small tree like this you need them.
What shall I do with the old wire?
Here’s something new: American Bonsai Tool Co. is sponsoring a recycling program (details here) for clubs and individuals where, if you collect and send in ten pounds of aluminum wire you get a $100 credit towards new wire. I’m pretty sure that ten pounds of wire at recycling centers will not get you anywhere close to $100; the last time I went I got like ¢.57 for plain aluminum (beer and soda cans get more money for some reason).
The CFBC (thanks to Steve) is spearheading a drive to get new wire for the club.
Check it out.
As you may have figured from the handful of wire I was just holding, I’ve finished.
I’m thinking I need to make some changes (of course I will, it wouldn’t be very interesting blogpost if I didn’t).
I think I like this angle better.
The problem is, how long ago was it potted.
Looks good, I can adjust it without hurting it.
Looks better already.
Do you remember that one branch?
I think I’ll kill it off, which will stop the swelling, and it should add to the design.
As I said in the last post, if there isn’t any green left on a juniper branch, 99% of the time said branch will die (or the whole tree in the case of the last post).
Your chances go up to 100% if you strip the bark off the branch too.
Make note of how it looks now.
It has to get uglier before it gets better.
One guy wire (yes, it is called a “guy wire” not a guide wire….)
And now it looks like Quasimodo.
Don’t worry, I warned you that it had to be that way.
Now it’s a wiring job……but first, the turkey is ready!
After a Thanksgiving Dinner that couldn’t be beat..
…I got back to work.
I rewired everything I had just unwired (it’s necessary, I promise you)
Side view:
The other side:
As you can see, it had gotten dark by then (hey, it was a feast!) so the pics aren’t that great.
I’ll go get one now, be right back….in the meantime, here’s the before:
Brrrrr, it’s a little brisk out there today, it’s what’s called high beam weather in Florida, very much like winter.
And here’s the juniper this morning:
Some might not like the pot. I happen to like it myself but many will say that a flashy pot takes the attention away from the tree. Think about this though, most shohin you see will be in bright and almost gaudy pots. The reason is that, in a show, very small trees are, well, very small. They disappear in the shadows of those monster, what-am-I-trying-to-compensate-for trees. They have to draw your eye somehow, don’t they? So we use elaborate stands and colorful pots and disco balls and…..well, not disco balls…yet.
I texted a before pic to Barb last night and asked her if she wanted to see the after pic then or if she wanted to wait for this post.
She replied, in all caps mind you, “NOW!! DON’T TEASE ME!!!”
I should have made her wait.
I sent her the after pic and she was greatly pleased.
If you’re interested in a short video, here’s the YouTube link. I’m sure I’ll also put it on my Instagram feed too. Enjoy the music I chose as the soundtrack. It’s a Thanksgiving day tradition where I come from to listen to it while celebrating the day.
I hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving my friends.
Be kind and thankful.

Posted in branch placement, redesign, refine, wiring | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Tornado Warning! Batten Down Your Bonsai!

Look what I woke up to.
November 25, 2014…..tornado watches and warnings all day in Orlando as well as hard rain intermittently.
The wind was bad, but I kept checking the trees and nothing was falling down.
It had to have happened as I slept.
When I went outside in the morning I found the tree laying on the ground.
What saved the branch from breaking off totally was that one last last coil of wire (which wasn’t really doing anything) that should have been cut off. Good thing I was lazy that day.
This pic was the last time any one of you, out there in cyberspace, had seen the tree. A parsoni juniper.
It was the subject of this blog post here and was, literally, going to be the next tree I was going to work on.
Here it is now.
It’s kinda sad so, don’t look if you’re too sensitive.

The cambium is still intact; I’m going to try to save the tree.
I need to remove all the wire that’s in the way.
It’s as I was guessing, the only thing holding it was that wire.
Here’s my one hope, about a half inch of unbroken cambium.
I really need a third hand here.
Wait, I know…..
When in doubt, use a hammer.
I’m going to wire the tree with this:
Gently, oh so gently…..ok, got it.
Next, I’m going to line up the tear as best I can and then seal it with some putty………………..
The tree is most likely lost….
All those years….
I have a slim, minuscule, even astronomical chance that it might survive.
I see a few buds that just might pop.
Just for fun, I’ll seal the break.
It might help.
But probably not. A juniper doesn’t break back on branches without green tips. You can’t trunk chop a juniper.

Posted in progression, updates | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Hmmmm..white marble, stone carving tools, bonsai?!

My friend Marty gave me this bit of marble.
What to do, what to do?
I know, I think I’ll try some stone carving.
I think it was a waste piece from some home improvement project.
It has some rough edges, which I like.
I’m not going to attempt a traditional penjing tray,they’re not really my style, I do bonsai, what I am going to make is a somewhat natural looking slab (all white) , but with a recessed potting area with drain holes.
You’ll see, it’ll be cool.
First step is to remove these cut edges.

Now, if I had a hammer, I’d hammer for bonsai…..
With some well placed blows…..
I think we have success. If you attempt this, just be aware that stone will fracture along veins in it’s structure. Marble has a really fine structure, so it’s pretty easy to work with (it was the stone of choice for the Classical and Renaissance sculptors after all) and it’s pretty soft, for rock. It’s like the Steely Dan of stone (you needed to be pretty stoned to listen to them, man……)
Then I break out my trusty Dixon Ticonderoga…..
….it’s the pencil guys, and I draw some guidelines.
The tool I’m using to carve is an angle grinder with a diamond studded cup wheel.
You were picturing something that Elvis might have drunk his wine out of, right?
Can you see the diamonds?
There’re more carats in that than in my wife’s engagement ring.
Speaking of which, did you know that diamonds are pretty much worthless? Not only can they be made in the laboratory cheaply and easily, there are so many natural diamonds in supply that they might as well be grains of sand.
This wheel costs anywhere from $40-100, depending on the brand and the seller. You’re paying for the manufacturing of the wheel mostly, not the diamonds.
I got my wheels for free from my brother in law Jeff.
First cut, just tracing the lines.
Now it’s merely a task of slowly removing the stone I don’t need.
Ok, two things, I’m making a mess and this wheel is getting worn down.
I think I need to move this operation someplace else.
I should make note that I am protected, not only my eyes but also my lungs.
I don’t need silicosis.
I’m switching to a new wheel too, if you need to force a cutting tool it’s usually worn out.
This isn’t the first stone carving I’ve done, this is a piece of concrete.
Almost done.
Looks like snow.
Now for some holes.
I know, it’s rusty, but the tip isn’t, it’s made of carbide.
It cuts like a hot knife through buttah….
I think four holes are enough.
Then I carve a slope around the holes so that water drains towards them.
On the bottom I carve some lines.
For tie down wires and the wires that hold the drainage screens in.
I’m not really sure what I’ll do with it yet or what I’ll put in it, maybe a banyan style tree or a forest or clump, but I like it.
Maybe I’m just losing my marbles but it’ll work with something or another.


Posted in carving, sculpture, tips and tricks | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Some quick and harsh lessons from the Sunshine State.

I bet you’d like to own this tree.
Good size, not a bad pot.
It was styled by a pretty big name in the business too!
Wanna buy it?
No, you don’t.
Look close at that right branch.
And there, on the left, in the back.
That’s pretty severe, wouldn’t you say?
This is worse.
Ready for the horror?
I am not even sure what happened here, but it looks like the Hydra. Maybe Heracles retired to Florida and took up bonsai.
As for the nebari or buttress, at first glance it’s pretty wide and tapered but, examining it closer….
…it’s not very attractive. It’s a flat plane being presented in the front. The back has more dimensionality to it.

I think there might be something better underneath these roots, but I’m not going to go digging into them right now, I’ll wait for spring.
Lesson number one: if the roots haven’t been improved, it’s not really anything more than a stock plant. Not even a pre-bonsai.
And that’s an expensive lesson; you might pay anywhere from $200-400 on the internet for this tree because it’s in a bonsai pot and has a full canopy. I see that all the time, a tree that looks pretty, sold as a bonsai but, unfortunately, the fundamental root work hasn’t been done.
So now I have this ficus “bonsai”, what’s my first step?
I’m going to remove some wire, I think.
I can unwind the wire in most places but, since it’s grown in so much other places, it might be better to cut some off.


You know what? The whole thing has to go, I’ll deal with it later.
That will make an interesting cutting.
That escalated rather quickly, and I’ve just begun.
This is technically a twin trunk tree, but both trunks are of similar size, which is boring, and the split occurs a little too high in the tree. I would have cut one off in the initial styling. It doesn’t have as bad of a wire cutting problem, maybe I can salvage something….
There isn’t much taper here.
As was drilled into me in my formative years,
“Taper, taper, taper!”
That’s better.
Maybe not.
It’s like a broomstick, really.
Lesson two: Taper, taper, taper!
The quickness of the taper, or, the ratio of the base width and the trees height, really depends on that initial angle of the roots coming out of the soil.
This tree is really indicating to me that it wants to be a shorter tree.
Where’s my saw.
That back trunk needs to go too.

What do you think?
There is a long shoot here:
It needs to be cut back or all the energy that is in the trunk and roots will be pushed into it and the top will slow down or even die back from it.
Now it’s fertilizer and water and allow the tree to grow until, ah…summer, at least.
(*disclaimer alert* I say this all the time but there are hundreds of new readers every day- I am in Florida and when I do things to trees may not be the same time that you do things. It is mid November as I write this. Truth be told, I wouldn’t recommend a fellow Floridian do this now.)
What about all those trunks I cut off?
I’m not going to waste them, I’ll try to root them as cuttings.
To prepare the cuttings, I remove the lower growth and branches (don’t cut them off flush, leave a small nub, it is from those points that new roots usually emerge.) I also trim the growing tips off to cut back on transpiration and to stimulate new growth.
The Hydra should take root easily:
It already has roots.
Now what?
I’ve just set this tree back at least a few years, how can I make any money on it now. (You see, I ultimately acquired it to resell at the nursery…..which reminds me about a bit of advice I was given recently. A bonsai professional told me that I should take my trees and just make them pretty enough to sell them quickly, and then, after the sale and hopefully with a new client that needs help, any major work that’s done to the tree should be billed to the new owner as styling and upkeep…..oooops, maybe I shouldn’t have told that little secret. It’s ok, he doesn’t read my blog, at least, I don’t think he does.)
Anyway, I have a new tree at the nursery for sale, it used to look like this:
And it may again, some sunny day in the future.
I think I like this angle as the front.
It’s really extreme what’s happened to the tree, it being November and all. Why, then?
First, it makes for good copy. It’s dramatic. If I could have used a chainsaw I would have.
Second, there were lessons to be learned (the third lesson, in case you didn’t notice it, has to do with how much work needs to be done and how much time to grow back. If a tree is 20 years old but it’s going to take ten years to fix those flaws, it’s not worth the price that’s on the pricetag).
Third, I wouldn’t have cut it unless this bud wasn’t here.
I sealed the trunk chop too.
And last, I’m pushing my trees, trying to figure out the real limits of what I can do and at what time:
I’m questioning and asking “Why?”
That’s what I do.

Posted in Advanced basics, branch placement, Horticulture and growing, redesign, refine | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

Podocarpus restyle and carving

Somehow, I always end up with the problem trees. Take this podocarpus.
I mean, it has potential but it has some real flaws.
An awesome base.
Terrible deadwood though.


Good branching.


It looks like it might have been a twin trunk at one point.
Or something like that, there was a huge chunk sawn off there.
Looks like I need to weed.
Where are my chopsticks?
Ok, that’s better.

Ok, I used tweezers, not chopsticks.
The first real decision is to figure out the front.
The current front.
Which is textbook correct; it is the widest root spread.
But the structure of the tree doesn’t work with it anymore.
Usually the front is within a 90 degree arc radiating from that widest view.
How’s this?
I like this better.
I can work with that.
Now I need to trim the foliage so I can see what I’m doing.
Very bushy.
That’s funny, a bush. A podocarpus is generally used as hedge material; In Florida it’s used to hide the outside a/c unit, but it’s really a full size tree, reaching 60-70 feet tall.
Considering that it’s native to southern Japan (it’s the official tree of the Chiba Prefecture) you don’t see it much as bonsai there (I don’t think I’ve ever seen an example). I have seen it used often in Chinese penjing ( it’s also native to China). In Japan it’s called kusa-maki, which sounds like grass-sushi (maki is the japanese word for a sushi roll. And kusa, as in kusamono, is grass or a wild plant.)
In contrast, podocarpus, in Greek, means “foot fruit”, which is bizarre, considering the fruit is edible (those Greeks were weird, eating feet and all).
Rolling in the grass and eating feet…..I’ve seen that movie, it’s a French production, I believe.
Sorry, back to the tree.
There’s a lot of foliage, which is good. It means it’s healthy.
What I’m basically doing is a kinda-sorta defoliation, cutting the leaves in half or removing them completely.
This podo has longer foliage than most and it’ll be a bit difficult to reduce the size of the leaves but it’s not impossible.
What I am not doing (yet) is cutting the branch tips.
Not for any reason except to preserve the branch length. I’ll cut most of them after wiring.
I think I’ll carve next.
I need to figure out a way to mitigate this straight line.
Maybe with foliage?
I know that I want to preserve the roll over.

That’s a sign of a mature carving, you can’t fake that.
But this has to be fixed.
And here too, especially here.

I’m not sure if they expected it to heal or what.
Kinda like this wound on the side.
I mean, Why?! Have we not heard of jin?
The top jin is just a bit artificial for my tastes.
I’m not one for sharp sticks.
Since the wood has been treated with lime sulfur, I’d better take some precautions.
A hat to protect my luxurious locks, stylish safety glasses to look cool, and a pink colored bandana with skulls on it to look badass.
My son is similarly attired, he just looks cuter doing it though.
A little about my carving gear.
I believe that the most important safety device I use is my variable speed foot pedal.
It’s just like a gas pedal, the more I push on it, the faster the tools speed goes. That’s important because some attachments aren’t rated for full speed. And when I take my foot off the pedal, the tool stops (a distressing number of carving tools has just on/off switches that are hard click, locked switches).
Before the foot pedal, I dropped a tool and it was quite exciting to watch it bounce all around the room, jumping and spinning in the air until I was able to unplug it. I have scars, maybe I’ll show them to you one day.
Let’s get carving.
I can see the light!
One of my friends was watching me carve one day and he said that he loved it when I poked holes in the wood with my tool. Make your own joke there.




You can see that it’s a progressive process. I use different shaped tool heads for each step.
I also use a torch to burn off tool marks, rough edges and pithy fibers.

Then I use a wire brush to “age” the surface. It brings out the grain and adds detail and movement to the convex surfaces.
When I carve, I try to make the deadwood three dimensional, I don’t draw lines in the wood, I make features that create darks and lights, line and movement.


Looking better.
And just to shut up that one dude, up in the peanut gallery, who’s about to ask,
“when will you put lime sulfur on?”
I’m gonna say,
“uhhh….how about now, ya’ jerky!”
I’m going to let it soak in overnight and we will come back tomorrow morning to see how well one coat does.
At least I didn’t make too bad of a mess so far.
Where’s my helper with the broom?
G’nite, sweet prince.
Woke up.
Got out of bed.
Let’s see how the old wood is standing up this morning……uh…whoops….heehee…
It bleached it a little.
I’ll shall apply another coat of lime sulfur and, whilst it cures (sorry, I’ve been reading Brit bonsai blogs a bit of late) I’ll water the nursery.
One hour later…. and I’m done, I’ve gotten my feet wet and everything.
Let’s see how white we’ve gotten (I think they call it gentrification).
A little better, I’ll put one more coat after I wire.
Or, as my wife calls it, creating a magnetic field coil.



I trimmed most of those growing tips as I placed the branches. The tree has good ramification and branching but it’s a little bare right about here.
This back branch should give me something to help fill it in in a few months. Hopefully.
It’s such a difficult tree to photograph I suggest you look at the YouTube video here.
The before:
Mid styling:
And the end:
It’s a good start.
I called it a problem tree but you know, I love them. I love the challenge, the uniqueness and just the plain cussedness of working to make them into art.
Keep them a’comin’!

Posted in branch placement, carving, redesign, wiring | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

A big, collected holly tree or, you can prick your finger but not finger your….

Gulfport Mississippi, the last working day of my trip.
I was invited by my (new) friend Buck to visit his home on my way back and he’d hire me for a private styling session on some trees.
Of course I said yes, wouldn’t you?
Especially with promises of beer and steak.
After a walk around his collection he showed me the two trees I was working on.
A big ilex cornuta bufordii.
And a rather sad looking bald cypress. IMG_9330.JPG
It was suffering from typical male pattern baldness, it was bald on top and only had growth on the sides.
I also had a helper.
Lots of work, let’s get to it then.
Buck had collected it a few years ago and he cut it to a line then. In those years it’s gained a lot of strength (it’s best to wait at least two years to work on a collected tree, unless it’s a tropical).
Think of it like this, you’ve just torn it out of the ground, you need to let it grow; only in growing can it gather strength. Through the leaves and chlorophyll (photosynthesis) are how a plant feeds itself, that’s it, fertilizers are just vitamins, not food.
This tree is pretty healthy.
The leaves are a dark green and the canopy is full.
The only mar is just a slight one.
On the older leaves, there live a bit of snow scale. It’s pretty common and an oil spray will take care of them.
If I were to keep the leaves, that is.
You all know my modus operandi by now.
First, some ambition and anesthesia to steel myself to the task. Something mean, I think, to compliment the sharp, mean leaves of the holly.
Some initial pruning.
Look! An ilex vomitoria seedling.
Isn’t it cute?
Buck has wild ilex all over his property. If I lived here I’d have a hundred of them as bonsai.
When I come back next year I’ve been promised by a few people that they’d collect some for me.
Enough fantasizing, I’m working here.
Begin defoliation.

A word to the act of defoliation, in this instance, I’m mostly removing the old leaves, keeping some green near the end. There will be another flush of growth (this all occurred about a month ago on my Louisiana Tour) and then it’ll settle down for winter. I’m wiring every branch as well and, by keeping the wire on over the winter, it will set the branches with minimal wire scarring.
Wire. Every. Branch.

Now for some carving.
I said he had cut it to a line after collecting. An ilex cornuta won’t heal a big wound very well.

I have just a few scars to clean up and start them on their way to natural looking-ness.
I like the way that looks…..reminds me of something….
While I’m carving I might as well work on the cypress.
What often happens when collecting a cypress is that it will only sprout back from the bottom.
There’s not much you can do except either cut it off and grow a short tree or, what I’m going to do, make it look like the whole top died out.
Before carving.
And after.



I’ve seen trees like this in the swamps. They might have been stuck by lightening or maybe the top got ripped off and it’s died back to the lowest branch.
I won’t try to style those lower branches now, it needs to rest and go dormant. Next year after the spring growth will be best time to do some wiring.
That was fun.
Now it’s time to relax and have some steak and..
Iced green tea with honey.
I actually don’t like alcoholic beverages with food. To my palate, the food just makes the drink taste like pure alcohol.
The next morning, I set up the holly for a picture.
What do you think?
A little about a private session before I go.
When you hire an artist like me or Owen Reich in for a private session, we can only do as much as you ask of us.
Some people just want their trees styled, and that’s fun for me, I like to style trees. As I work, I will try to explain what I’m doing, but, unless you ask questions, I can’t tell you everything I’m doing. Buck was good at prodding me, so much that, after I left he went and found some better power carving tools for his use.
But if you want to know how to wire, like when it’s acceptable to cross your wire or how to anchor, ask. We wire so fast that, you might miss what we are doing.
Speaking of private sessions, there is an opportunity to win one with me for those readers in Florida or willing to travel.
I’m hosting a workshop at the nursery taught by two great Florida artists, Toby Diaz and Hiram Macias. The trees are excellent collected Escambrons (claredendron aceuleatum) from Puerto Rico. The details are on this link.
It is scheduled for Saturday, December 13. The participants will be entered in a drawing to win a private bonsai session with me. If you want to see the trees off of Facebook, go to my website here.
Anyway, after a quick run through of Buck’s collection, this time with evaluations and strategies as to what he should be doing, it was time to go home.
Well….after a quick detour to Mobile, Alabama to see Joe Day and his trident maples.
But that’s another blog.

Posted in branch placement, carving, goings, rare finds, yamadori | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments