Neea workshop and Guy Guidry’s New Orleans Bonsai Boutique

This post has the possibility to be either profound or profane.
And the day begins: I woke up with a slight headache.
It was almost like a hangover. I probably should have gone out on the town and had a good time and therefore had a real hangover and then the migraine that my small headache exploded into later would have been a badge instead of just a burden.
This was the sky I was greeted with outside.
It’s a good thing that the camera doesn’t show the mood of the photographer, otherwise the pic would have been all greys and browns.
Coffee, eggs, bacon. Need.
And about 800 mgs of ibuprofen.
Gerald took me to Ihop for breakfast, it was good and I was starting to feel better.
Time to go to work.
Here are the trees, all purchased from Wigert’s s Bonsai and hand picked by moi (Erik gives a good discount to clubs ordering workshop quantities, and I pick out good trees, mostly…)
The first two are the most balanced with abundant branches and good nebari.

This one offered some challenges but was more dynamic than most of the others.
A beautiful short one with a nice bend.
An easy clump
This is another one that had dynamic movement.
The most difficult one.
This next one had the best natural deadwood.
And another dynamic one.
This last one was not a collected neea but a nursery grown one that originally came from Jupiter Bonsai.

The way I run a workshop is to first have the students try to find the front of the tree.
Then I visit each person and we have a debate. If they are beginners, I’ll explain how we arrive at the front (the widest base or nebari) or, barring that, what the back is.
If they have experience, it’s more of a give and take than a lecture.
Often a tree might have two fronts based on the nebari and then the talk is of branch structure, taper, deadwood etc.
Unfortunately for y’all, I didn’t document, in pictorial form, everything we did to the trees.
That said, here are the after pics of 8 of them.







I didn’t get an after pic of the nursery grown neea. It was a wiring job turning it into a nice deciduous tree style.
The one tree I should have gotten an after pic of was this one.

As you see, there was only growth coming out of the back of it.
Maybe I can get a pic from the guys in the New Orleans club to show you my solution? If I can, I’ll post it at the end.
The reason I didn’t get a pic was at this point, after all the carving and all the smoke and dust that entails, my head was about to explode. I’ve been getting migraines since as long as I can remember. I should get a doctor to prescribe a specific migraine medicine, but I’m stupid and stubborn sometimes.
Ah, but if I weren’t, you wouldn’t like this blog so much now, would you?
Onward to the the latest mercantile pursuit of mon frére en arte, the prodigious Guy Guidry and his new storefront, NOLA BONSAI. It’s in the Garden District of New Orleans on Jackson ave. near St Charles
The architectural details are classic New Orleans.
Wrought iron and leaded glass.
Here’s Guy on the right and Jim on the left.
Can you guess what’s in the background?
That metal framework coming to a point?
Believe it or not, that is the original top to the Eiffel Tower.
No, really…back in 1981 it was decided to remove the top (which held a restaurant) because it was weighing down the structure too much.
A chef decided to buy it and ship it to New Orleans so he could open his own restaurant. It, as many restaurants do, didn’t last, and the structure has been many things.
Now, it is owned by an organization that’s called the Eiffel Society and the building is a rental space (you could be be married, baptized, or eulogized there I guess).
Talk about a neighbor with a history. How would you like to see that everyday?
How about these trees?
Trident maple, big boy.
I couldn’t get a good pic of the foliage pads on this juniper but here’s the deadwood and trunk.
Let’s take a walk inside, shall we?
He has a sunroom filled with trees as you first walk in.

And a perfect classroom space beyond that.
He’s using the same strategy on beginners that I am: dwarf jade.

It’s a tree that’s easy to take care of but it can be refined into a beautiful bonsai in time.
He had all sizes, shapes and price ranges.
After some catching up and bullshitting, and letting him take care of a future bonsai artist (a boy of about 9) We bid adieu to Jim and I then took my life into my hands in a mad dash across New Orleans and over the longest bridge in the world trying to follow Guy to his new home in Covington. My head began to pound.
Originally, I had planned on traveling to Lake Charles that night, but Guy invited me to a party at his new fiancé’s parents house. The father happens to be a judge.
And Guy also promised me a taste of a dish that he is a master of:
Redfish Couvillion.
I could not refuse.
Oh, and you did read that right, I said “new home”.
Here’s where I have some sad news. Due to a divorce and having to split up the property and the trees, Guy’s nursery “Northshore Bonsai” is shutting down. The property has been sold and the trees are up for sale.
Just damn.
But Guy is an optimist and isn’t taking it too hard. He’ll bounce back.
And his new girl has a real calming influence on Guy.
After that harrowing trip, it is needless to say that I had to check my drawers….I mean, use the lavatory, upon arrival at the new homestead.

I love Louisiana! Look at that heating device (I think). I can only imagine, on a frosty, Cajun, January morning, the blue flame licking from those ceramic elements above my head as I complete my morning constitutional.
Yes, it was on the wall above and behind the toilet.
Talk about a hot shit.
With my business done, it was time for a few libations to try to ease my poor tortured head.
We had a few minutes before we had to leave for the party so I took some more ibuprofen and studied this juniper.
I think I lost myself enough in its curves that, at this point, my migraine finally went away.
Here’s a YouTube clip to really show you the complexity of the deadwood.
Amazing for such a small tree.
Then it was off to the Judge’s party.
It was a night of firsts.
The Redfish Couvillion (of which I can honestly say was the best I’ve ever tried).
I had a just-about-extinct mixed drink called The Roffingac.
It was….different. I’ll let you do some research on your own about it.
I had headcheese and artichoke leaves. A strange combo, I know.
It was a good party, different than I was used to.
Then it was back to Guy’s place for the after party.
I got my guitar out and played some blues while we talked and talked.
About family and bonsai and life.
I had to crawl myself into bed around am. The after party continued on without me.
I had to be on the road by 9 and in Lake Charles (30 miles from Texas!) by noon.
I said goodbye to Guy and his new Gal and I left Covington at 8:30.
I am, after all, a professional.
In the next post you’ll see if I totally botched my BYOT workshop with the Lake Charles Bonsai Society or not.

Posted in branch placement, carving, goings, wiring, yamadori | Tagged , , , , , , | 14 Comments

New Orleans Bonsai or bust!

I’m back from my Louisiana trip and now I have to figure what the hell happened. There’ve been so many things I’ve seen and so many people I’ve met I’m just overwhelmed. Hoowheee!
The trip from Orlando to my first stop, New Orleans was 650 miles one way.

Lots of driving.




The pics are not in any particular order. The last pic above, though, is showing wild yaupon holly (ilex vomitoria) on the roadside. The schillings dwarf variety is one of my favorite trees for bonsai. I think I’m going to have to make a collecting trip.



My constant companions on the trip were my spider and a little tiki figurine (the spider was welded by me, the tiki was carved by my friend Mark from SW Florida).
My daughter has named the spider Joe-Bob, I’m taking suggestions for a name for the tiki dude.


It was like traveling into another time or era when I rolled into New Orleans; the radio station I landed on (in my almost endless scrolling of stations) was playing blues….and not a hundred year old blues but modern music written by young artists. Here and here are two videos I shot going over the bridge.
Here’s the timeline.
– I left my house in orlando at 6am.
– traveled exactly 650 miles to the hotel in Kenner, La in 10 hours but I arrived in 9 hours (a cookie to the person who can figure out how I managed this minor bit of time travel)
– I checked in, a pic of my my room number so I didn’t forget when I stumbled in later in the night:
-I freshened up (650 miles in an old car with no a/c, I seriously needed it)
– dinner (everyone I spoke to in Louisiana about food and what I wanted asked me the same question, “Do you like seafood?”)

– then a quick look at a GNOBS member’s collection (finally some bonsai, right?)


– And then to the demonstration.
This was the tree….



Now, I know what you’re thinking….you’re thinking that it looks like Cousin It from the Addams Family.
Imagine my reaction.
At this point, it’s been a fourteen hour ordeal to get to where I am, and now I am presented with this tree.
The worst part was that I had hand-picked the tree from Wigert’s nursery specifically for this demo and I had no memory of it at all!
The tree is a neea buxifolia (a native of Puerto Rico and one of my favorite bonsai subjects) that was collected about a year ago from the mountains. It’s a real Yamadori.
What did I do?
Well, I didn’t get too many pictures of the process, actually (it’s a little rude taking pics during a demo).
But I did get some.
I’ll try to fill in the blanks.
Oh, wait….Jim (my host) has a phone call…..hold on.
Ok, he’s done, now where was I?
I cut off about 99% of the foliage, did a bunch of carving (the correct terminology is: “I carved the shit out of it..”)


And here’s the tree:
Side and side:

And the front:
I tell you what, it was a blur.
I wasn’t sure if it came out good but the photos seem to show that it did.
Everyone seemed to enjoy the demo too. Maybe they felt sorry for me?
I should draw a picture of it, right?
As I do that, this is Mitch, hamming it up for the camera:
Nice shirt.
He took this pic of me….I think you can see the confusion in my eyes.
Here’s the before pic of our poor neea:
The after:
And my sketch (I should work in ballpoint more often)
After that it was a roaring night of drink and debauchery on the town, blues clubs, dancing girls, to go drinks, Voodoo princesses and drag queens and….and……all for someone else.
I went back to the hotel and crashed.
Sorry to disappoint.
I had to work in the morning.
The next day was a ten tree workshop with some more neeas, most of which needed carving.
At 9am in the morning.
Who schedules a bonsai workshop on a Saturday morning at 9 am in a town like New Orleans?
These guys are hardcore bonsai.
Needless to say, the next post is on the workshop trees and a visit to the Cajun Rockstar himself, Guy Guidry.
Bedtime for me though, as you will soon read, I was gonna need it.

Posted in branch placement, carving, goings, philosophical rant, yamadori | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Cleaning tools and refining a privet

Damn humidity and Florida rain.
I need to get my tools in shape for my Louisiana tour.
It’s always a battle with rust on carbon steel tools (the “black” bonsai tools you see for sale).
Now don’t get me wrong, you still need to clean and oil your stainless steel tools too.
For one thing, if you have carbon steel that’s making contact with stainless, the rust from the carbon will transfer over to the stainless. I think it has to do with negative and positive charges.
And often the sap from whatever you worked on last is acidic and could etch the metal.
On to it then.
Unfortunately for you all, this won’t be a sharpening tutorial but just a cleaning and oiling lesson.
Sharpening is a full post in itself.
First, I use a plastic bristled brush (like a toothbrush) to remove all the dirt and dust etc.
Then I break out the synthetic steel wool.
Synthetic steel wool has the abrasiveness of regular steel wool (which is very little) but it won’t rust. It’s like one of those green scotchbrite pads, but better.
For the really dirty areas, I use a sanding block that has abrasive material throughout the whole body of the block. Which means that, as you use it, the abrasiveness doesn’t wear out.
On the stainless tools only, and with dried ficus juice especially, I’ll use Magic Erasers. It’s like magic.
After cleaning, I’ll usually sharpen, but you don’t get to see that part yet, so now it’s oil.
I’ve researched the question of oil quite a bit.
What most bonsai people recommend (and sell) is this magical sounding stuff called “camellia oil”.
This is what I use.
What is camellia oil? It is an organic oil pressed from the camellia plant (the same plant we get tea from) and the reason it’s used is its ultra-fine viscosity and (because of the viscosity) its ability to bond with steel molecules and prevent rust.
It is also the traditional oil used for samurai swords.
As such, you would guess correctly that it is pricey (unless you buy it by the gallon).
Here’s the rub. You know the stuff I use? Because camellia oil is plant based, it has a tendency to spoil, to turn rancid and smelly, as it were. Modern day camellia oil is a mixture of the highly refined 3-in-1 oil and camellia oil, just enough to call it camellia oil and still keep it from spoiling.
They mix it, you see, because 3-in-1 oil is also ideal for bonding with steel.
Just like camellia oil.
Done with the tools.
The last bit of maintenance is on my tool roll.
I made it (with my wife’s help) out of canvas.
I prefer canvas to vinyl or leather because I can spray oil on it and not ruin it…..too much.
The reason I spray oil on my tool roll is to keep water out.
It’s kinda an old timey way of protecting tools, but I like it.
With my tools cleaned and all slippery….
….I’m going to turn my attention to a Florida privet I’m carrying along as a visual aid for my stop at The Lake Charles club.
I’ve already applied lime sulphur to the carved portion and done a topiary trim.
Now I’m looking at it and just not liking what I see.
The reason I’m taking the tree on the Louisiana Tour is for the Lake Charles club to see what carving can do in making a somewhat average tree look a little better.
At the moment though, it still looks rather average.
There’s something that’s just not right.
Maybe I need to clean it out more?
No….still something not right
This is a good example of using the camera to spot flaws.
Can you see what I see?
How about now?
Of course you can’t see it now, I doodled it out.
This branch, which has been my nemesis the whole time I’ve been styling the tree, has to go.
A little tweak of the branching and….
Damn Florida sun, you can’t see it very well right now, let’s hope that the sun goes behind a cloud.
In the meantime, the light is good for some dramatic shots.
Imagine you are a hawk and you’re just about to land on the dead treetop.
Or this….

Now that I think of it, the way we look at these trees if just the way a bird would see one.
Or Superman.
Ah, the sun is behind a cloud!
Take the pic quick.
Now I’m ready to for my trip, except the hundred other things I have to get ready.
It’s Thursday night and I’m leaving at 6 am Friday morning; it’s not a bad journey, only 650 miles or so to my first stop, New Orleans . Yup, at this time tomorrow, I’ll be giving a demo for the New Orleans Bonsai Society.

Posted in refine, tips and tricks, updates, yamadori | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Sea grape; Tidying up the loose ends

Well, as you may have read in the last post (where I blamed the problem on WordPress) and might have guessed from the original posting A new aesthetic for a sea grape, I lost the second half of that post and I need to recreate the ending.
The last thing you all saw was this pic:
With me patting myself on the back for a job well done in bending the branch with fire.
I’ll blame it on Hubris.
Here are the after pics.

The wood on the sea grape is pretty dense, which caused some of the burning with the carving, but it was also newly stripped of bark and, therefore, very wet. Wet wood won’t hold much detail and is terribly fibrous, hence the need for the torch to burn and dry out the wood.
And the rest of the pics.


I wish I could remember what I said in the post. I’m sure it was my best writing to date. The photos were stored in the blog’s media files, which means that I wrote it and I’m not insane…yet. At least I was able to find them. I had, literally and actually and truly, just erased them off of my phone about 15 minutes before I realized that the blog had eaten the second half of the post.
This was how the tree looked when I began, so hopefully and purposefully.
And after all the carving a few weeks ago.
Bobby….you remember Bobby, right?
Bobby took the tree home and it was his job to apply lime sulphur to the carved wood. If you’ve ever smelled lime sulphur you know why I let him do it. Phewee!
He also used my carving as a guide and did a really good job carving a second sea grape.
Here they are, then, white as bones.




And the tree Bobby did.



Not bad at all my friend.
Pretty good even.
He said that it took about ten coats of lime sulphur to cover up all the black burn marks.
And that’s all on that subject until we find some larger specimens with some wood to carve.
I’ll try to get one more post written today, (no promises though) to clear my phone of extra pics and make room for a photo record of my Louisiana Tour.
I leave tomorrow. Look out New Orleans, here I come!

Posted in carving, refine, sculpture, updates | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

A big change coming, hold your breath!

Well guys and gals, it seems like I’ve filled up the storage space on this WordPress blog and I have some decisions to make.
#1 I could end the blog and make many of the higher-ups in the bonsai world happy by ridding the Internet of my questioning, irreverent, de-edifying ,and just plain annoying presence.
#2 I could start a whole new blog about cooking soup
Or, #3 I could pony up the money and pay for more storage.
What do you all think?
I’m gonna go with #3.
Since I’m going to be busy this weekend, you won’t see another post (probably) until Wednesday as I’m going to make the even bigger jump of turning the blog into a self hosted one.
Currently the URL is Early next week it will be just
If you have me bookmarked you’ll have to change the address or, just follow the blog and you’ll get an email update when I post a new article.
I am planning on having all the “mapping” done by WordPress so hopefully it’s not messed up,but, you know how things in the interwebs work; if you don’t make the correct offerings of Redbull and chocolate covered donuts to the Internet imps in charge you might end up on the wrong side of an afghan quilting site, explaining why it’s “knit one, pearl two” to Aunty May.
Speaking of articles, I’m not sure what happened but it seems as though half of the last seagrape post ( click here) is missing.
I’m not sure if it has to do with the storage issue or not but I’ll try to recreate what is missing, along with an update showing the the newly lime sulphured deadwood features.
I also have, in the pipeline, a severe trunk chop on a tigerbark ficus for you to learn from.
So, until I have some breathing room (I’ll get it done before my Louisiana trip, promise), see ya’ in the funny papers!

Posted in philosophical rant, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Development tips for neea bonsai

I’m writing this post as a reference for the New Orleans club, and I’ll try to link all my neea buxifolia posts at appropriate (or just random) points throughout the body of the article.
The three trees I’m working on are, these two:
And this little guy.
I’ve updated this one earlier in the year.
But it’s story began here.
I’m not going to work on it today, even though it needs it. I’m using it as a visual aide in my upcoming demonstration for the Greater New Orleans Bonsai Society on October 17th.
I think the title of the talk will be “Neea buxifolia: You wanna hate ’em, but you gotta love ’em!”
Hate them?
Here’s an example: see this branch?
It was wired down for a good half a year.
And it popped right back up.
It’ll probably go, I have plenty of other branches to work with. That’s the love part. They like to grow.
The next tree you’ve seen, even if it doesn’t look familiar.
It has……grown.
It’s as tall as The Nook’s roof.
It was my Epcot tree for the 2014 Flower and Garden show.
You last saw it like this.
I let it grow this summer to recover after getting the top hacked back by an over-zealous Trim Team participant.
I think it’s filled back in.
Here’s a technique I shall call the “ponytail topiary trim”:
Grab the foliage as though your putting up some hair in a ponytail.
Scissors below your hand.
The remaining foliage will fall in a perfectly trimmed dome shape.
Unfortunately, with a neea, this technique doesn’t work because the strongest shoots….
….tend to come from the worst places.

Which adds to my argument that the tree responds to dappled shade better than full sun for back budding purposes.
Trimming these trees are therefore a meticulous process.

You first saw this neea in this post.
Here, I would normally rub out the crotches of the excess growth.
But not tonight dear, I have a headache.
Let’s talk moss.
There’s a love/hate relationship there.
On the one hand, it’s awfully purty.
On the other, you don’t want to mess it up with fertilizer on top of it.
I need to remove it to fertilize since it hasn’t been done since March.
I knew I’d find a use for this tool!
It’s the perfect moss spatula…
And soil rake.
Psssssst! Don’t tell anyone but I’ve only used it as a backscratcher up until now, which works brilliantly by the way. The spatula end works well as a shoehorn too.
One of the benefits of moss is that it allows the tree to utilize the whole soil volume….
….by preventing the very top layer from drying out. But you get all kinds of fine dirt (that stuff on which moss grows best) on that same top layer.
The backscratcher is ideal in removing the top layer of soil so you can put fresh soil back on.
First some fertilizer.
And some aeration by poking holes into the soil.
What to do with the moss?
Should I put some back on?
I think so.
Normally, it’s recommended to start at the lip and work inward.

I prefer to start at the trunk and go outward.
Wait, maybe the official way is inward out?
Whatever the official way is, I do it the other way, because I’m a rebel and an iconoclast and I like to be contrary, so there!
Anyway, there’s only enough good moss to cover half of the soil surface. What to do!?
If your taking a picture, only cover the front.
And it will look like this.
If it’s going back on the bench, do this.
Being closer to the trunk will keep the moss alive and hopefully it will spread.
I guess it doesn’t look too bad in a photo like that.
The last tree is one of my favorites.
It desperately needs a repot.
Speaking of which, isn’t that a neat pot?
I’m not sure who made it but, if it’s you, please stand up!

Here’s a post about this little tree.
It’s also one of the favorites in the social media universe.
Definitely in need of repotting.
I usually do this in June or July, I’m a little late I guess. I’ve been traveling a lot of late (coming to a city near you!) so I have an excuse.
I usually clean the dead wood at this time as it’s less stress on the roots. I can hold the trunk and scrub.
Ahhhh, much better.
People who should know better keep telling me that the trunk will rot out and deadwood features just don’t last on a neea. I don’t listen anymore, or even argue. This wood hasn’t changed much at all in the ten years I’ve had it. IMG_8071.JPG
A trim and some root raking.
And new soil, fertilizer and the old moss back on top.
Wait, that’s not dramatic enough, add the mood lighting…
I didn’t put all the neea links (like this one) because you need to work at least a little, but I put the pertinent ones with most of the pruning, carving and growing tips I know. Happy browsing, New Orleans, I’ll see you in about a week and a half, God help us all….

Posted in Horticulture and growing, progression, refine, yamadori | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A new aesthetic for a sea grape?

Why am I going to Palm Bay, of all the beautiful places there are in Florida to go?
I guess it might have something to do with bonsai. It is a bonsai blog, unless I’m doing a chicken noodle soup recipe, that is.
You see, I was challenged (in the way he has of challenging, which differs from most people whom merely say “I challenge you!”) by my friend Bobby….
….to help him develop a new way of looking at sea grape bonsai and to come up with an aesthetic (one could say a new, fresh aesthetic even) and even a new tropical bonsai style to use when developing sea grape stock.
Bobby was recently in Mexico and had seen sea grapes growing off the cliffs much in the same way a juniper does in the mountains; all twisty and gnarly with deadwood and small, dense foliage. Whenever I see sea grapes by the seashore in sunny Flor’duh, they just look like big bushes (like 80’s porn) or, for those who wish to bring bonsai into the aesthetic, like the way chojubai are styled. With that in mind, I propose that chojubai clump style be called “Florida sea grape style” from now on.
I accepted Bobby’s challenge, else this would be a chicken soup recipe post.
Oh, btw, this is more in character for Bobby.
I set him to cutting back the branches and stripping off the bark of out test subject.
While he’s doing that….
….,I’m going to wander around and look at Reggie’s collection.
That’s why I was in Palm Bay, by the way, for the Brevard study group meeting hosted by Dr. Reggie Purdue.
He has a beautiful collection and I could do a post on nothing but it.
Big ilex vomitoria “schillings”
A sweet cypress swamp-adori.
Another Florida native, wild tamarind (Lysiloma latisiliquum).
And this big ficus.
One could even call it a ginseng ficus, if one wanted to.
Let’s check on Bobby’s status.
Good, he’s done.
He had gotten a couple of similar trees from Dragontree Nursery down in Palm City.
Here’s the before, our baseline pic.
And a few more.


Now, there isn’t much “meat on the bone”, as Dan Robinson would say, but I think I can make it work.

I prefer hollows and holes to sharp sticks, I like to make the wood look like it’s worn down naturally.
The black char is from my mini-torch.
Unfortunately, I can’t carve and take pics at the same time (I promised my wife I would come home with all my digits) so you’ll have to be content with before and after shots.
After the first pass.

I think we need some bending.
Hee hee hee!
With the application of some heat, and lateral pressure.
We can create a bend in the wood.
Cool, right?
I wasn’t sure we could do it with a sea grape, but it worked!

Posted in carving, goings, sculpture, yamadori | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments