Komorebi Bonsai 2018

This was last weeks announcement on my Facebook and Instagram pages:

Just yesterday I learned we are over 500 tickets distributed.

The Artist’s are ready….

Ed Trout

Mary Madison

Sergio Luciani

…the exhibit is coming together..

The vendors are excited…..

Wait…you don’t know what Komorebi Bonsai 2018 is?

Ah. Sorry! Let me explain:

First, it’s a show that is being presented by a studygroup in Miami called Literati Grove. Hosted by yours truly. Starring the three legendary artists above.

The name of the show, Komorebi, comes from a Japanese concept, which my friend and partner in this venture, David, came up with after some research. He thought it was appropriate.

This is komorebi in kanji: 木漏れ日

You can click on the picture below to visit our website to learn about the show:

So you’re all wondering why would we be using a Japanese concept to name and describe a show that’s not only in the USA, but also in Florida and, amazingly, in Miami even? Why not Miami Vice Bonsai? Or Art Deco bonsai? Or Palm tree Bonsai?

Let me explain the word Komorebi for you, then you’ll understand.

Komorebi: a word they say isn’t translatable into English. There are several words in Japanese that they say are too complex to be directly translated into a single word in English, like wabi-sabi, or koi no yokan (this isn’t something that’s unique to Japanese, I should add, there are words that have concepts behind them, in every language, that aren’t directly translatable to English. For example, here’s a Greek word that is relatable to us bonsai folks: psithurism. Psithurism is the sound of leaves rustling in the wind).

So then, how do you define Komorebi if it’s not translatable? Well now, that’s easy, with a paragraph of course!

The textbook definition of Komorebi:

The interplay of sunlight as it passes through leaves; the shadows, the shapes, the glow, and the feeling it evokes.

I’m in the forest

The soft green glow surrounds me

Peace and light and trees

Do you remember springtime, as a child, running in the fields? Maybe just after a storm, under a tree, the sun escapes from behind a cloud and you look up, through the canopy. The sunlight is almost a physical force, shining through the new spring foliage, and you wonder at the miracle of a living tree absorbing the sun’s energy and continuing its life. You can almost, but not quite, take nourishment as well. The sun is what gives us life, and you long for that. It’s almost like the first time you breathed when you were born, or your first taste of honey. Your soul recharges and the energy makes you want to sing. Dance. Live.

This is Komorebi.

I live in the state of Florida. The nickname is The Sunshine State. And I do bonsai, I shape little trees and try to make them look like big trees.

Sunshine, leaves, trees. Komorebi Bonsai. These things bring peace. Green is a powerful color when we let it wash over us and bring us healing.

If you’re in Florida, visit our show if you can. July 28, 10 am-5pm. We are having an exhibit, a Q&A panel, three demos, vendors, music, food, bonsai and friendship.

Or, if you can’t make it this year, go to KomorebiBonsai.com to see how you can participate from where you live. One way is to watch the live feed on the Literati Grove Facebook page. And, after the show, watch the video. I’ll have a link in a future blogpost.

It’ll be epic. See you on Saturday!

Posted in Art, goings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

It’s been almost five years and I miss you my friend

Juan was my friend. (That’s his photo above, from Mt. Dora) It’s been about five years since he passed away and I wish I had him here to give me guidance. He was smarter than I and more experienced.

But he’s not. All I have are memories and a few trees to remember him by.

On my Facebook feed the other day, this popped up. I think someone liked it and Facebook decided it was relevant. It is.

It reminded me that friends are forever, especially bonsai friends, and that we should support each other. Juan was a much better judge of character than I am and warned me about people who I should not have trusted. I’ll leave that as it is.

With his willow leaf popping up in my feed, it reminded me that I had another tree of his that needs work. I’ve been neglecting my trees of late, with my travel schedule and other things happening, I figured I’d better get to work.

Here is the other ficus salicaria his wife gave to me:

I know what your thinking.

“Why doesn’t he cut it down here and make a sweet shohin?”

Well, for one, I have about 20 trees that are like that. Do I need another one? Is it Art if I continue doing the same thing over and over again? And I don’t do bonsai to please others.

I don’t do bonsai to sell trees.

I do bonsai to make art.

What is Art?

That’s a long story right there. I could write a book on just how many differing opinions there are.

But the fact that there are so many opinions helps define what Art is.

It’s many different things to different people.

It could be a photo realistic portrait, a “painterly” portrait, an abstracted portrait or just an abstract piece about color, line, shape, that you might see a face in but I might see a landscape.

Art is made for the artist, by the artist, at the discretion and the pleasure of the artist.

We call this concept “Art for Art’s sake”. Look it up, it was a very important step in the freeing of Art in Western society. Before that we had Art for the government, Art for the Patron (the rich), Art for religion. And it all came down to the concept of the Golden Rule: he who has the gold, makes the rules.

If the intelligentsia, or the bureaucrat, or the priest didn’t like what you did, you starved. But where did these patrons learn “taste”? They were handed it from those I call “The Gatekeepers of the Status Quo”.

Hence, poor Vincent Van Gogh starved and goes crazy while his teacher, Mauve, who only those that read art history remember, was rich and fat. I find it ironical that those artists that are not in the current “taste”, according to the Gatekeepers, end up starving. Who are the Gatekeepers? Those that talk about Art, like the critic, or the gallery owners, or the dealers. Those that make money or get power off of Art.

The other reason I don’t cut the tree down is because Juan liked tall trees.

And with that, let’s start doing and talking less

It took a few years to get that curve. You can still see the wire marks, which are just about grown out. Ficus are unruly subjects.

It’s full and healthy now, which means its time to do some work.

Defoliation and removal of unwanted shoots….

If I would give this tree a form, it would be bunjin (or literati, if that’s the word you use. The two words are almost interchangeable, but not the same….but that’s another blog post).

To answer the question, on a willow leaf ficus, you will always be removing these extraneous shoots. They slow down but they don’t ever stop. Sorry. Remember the unruly ficus line.



It’s time for wire. You can grow these using a clip and grow method but I’m a wirist. I believe that if we aren’t using all the tricks at our disposal, we ain’t using all the tricks at our disposal. Duh…(an axiom doesn’t have to be cryptic, Art is easy you know, and talent is just applied interest).

And so it begins…

Wrap wrap wrap….

A small willow leaf (be it shohin, chuhin, mame, or whatever) is really a tree needing wire. Otherwise they tend to look like Shaggy.

It does seems like a lot of wire.

But it’s not really. Only about $3 wholesale….

Now the question is, to repot or not? It’s currently in a Taiko Earth container. Which I love it in.

Let me think on it a bit.

Here is a pic from the BSF convention the year that the CFBC won the Club Night Competition. From the left, Walter, Betsy, Juan, and Don.

The slab was made of concrete board and grout, made by CFBC member Anthony, and donated to the cause. The trees are bucida spinosa.

It made many people angry that this composition won. But it won because the judge liked it best.

Art is subjective.

Taste is personal.

There are artistic principles we learn if we want to convey an idea, like if we are drawing a face, but, the aesthetic is variable, whimsical, and therefore subjective.

Juan and his wife Barbara. Looks like a rosé champagne to ring in the new year. I’m a “shot of whiskey” kinda guy for that. I guess there’s no accounting for taste.

Speaking of taste, he liked a good stogey too (in fact, that was his Instagram name, @stogeyman. You should follow it). I don’t care for cigars at all.

Juan’s trees liked to be tall. That’s how he saw them. I tend to see shorter trees myself.

Here’s that first willow leaf, today, after a trim and one piece of wire.

It’s in a Martha Goff pot, utilized in an unorthodox way. In most crescent pots, the tree is moving outwards (in this case it would be to the left). I looked at it, looked at the tree, and it just clicked. I think Juan would like the combo.

Getting back to the other tree, I don’t think it needs repotting this year.

In fact, I think we repot too much. It slows the development of a tree, having to regrow roots every year, in my opinion.

For those asking, the soil is what I call my SuperMix™️. The ratios are 2 parts lava, and one part expanded shale, pumice, charcoal, and zeolite. A good mix for tropicals and Florida. In my backyard. And in case you don’t get it, I’m being sarcastic by naming my mix.

The tree is almost in an alpine style.

The before….

And the after…

You see what wiring can do for a trees styling.

And I think it works as a tall tree. It has taper, movement, branches, ramification. Looks like a tree to me. What do you think?

Juan was a good friend, his passing was sudden. It shook me. But I do have the pictures, the memories, and these trees to remember him.

And whenever I have a cafecito (or a colada, which is supposed to be shared but I don’t have anyone to share one with now) or I catch a whiff of a cigar, or sip on a dram of good Scotch, I always look up and think of my friend.


Posted in Art, branch placement, Horticulture and growing, philosophical rant, updates, wiring | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

A simple Water Jasmine

Here is a tree belonging to a client, the water jasmine, or wrightia religiosa.

The water jasmine is a tree that’s easily found in the online bonsai marketplace or in the tropical section of your friendly neighborhood bonsai shop.

They make extremely fragrant blooms, so beware if you are ever transporting one in an enclosed vehicle, you will become intoxicated with the smell, causing maybe a waking fever dream, transporting you to some tropical paradise where adult beverages served out of coconuts, and shrimp cocktails, abound.

This tree has, to me, a very good beginning structure……

…… but there are some branches that need some wiggle in them. Like RuPaul might say,

“Damn honey, that’s just way too straight!”

There are native species of wrightia on every continent except the Americas and Antarctica.

The one we use the most for bonsai is from the Thailand and Vietnam area.

The flowers are, as I said, extremely fragrant and they hang down (always down to hang, bruh). It’s called a water jasmine (it’s not a jasmine per se, those belonging to the jasminum genus) because the only way to see the bloom is in the reflection in a pool of water. Well, I guess you can bend over and look up at them but that’s cheating. It’s more poetical telling an audience the water reflection thingy.

Unfortunately for my client, I will be removing the flowers for this stage of the styling. As well as the leaves, which you might have guessed if you’ve read my blog before.

This tree is one of those trees, like the dwarf powder puff or a bougainvillea, where you can time the flowering to occur at an exhibit by a judicious defoliation.

In the case of the water jasmine, if you defoliate about 5-6 weeks before the show, you’ll have flowers and win the award for the Most Odiferous Bonsai.

My horticultural peeps are seeing some yellowing. This leaf discoloration could be a magnesium deficiency. Or it could just be old leaves.

I’m going with old leaves.

Considering the new ones are nice and purty green.

This work is actually happening in Mid May in Orlando, so there are still last year’s leaves on it. But water jasmine are very heavy fertilizer users, so if it weren’t this close to winters end, I would say it has nutritional deficiencies. In the case of a magnesium need (which is indicative of yellow leaves with green veins) I would add Epsom salts.

A wrightia is a semi deciduous tree, meaning it will drop its leaves in times of drought or cold or both. The process of a tree dropping its leaves includes the reabsorption of chlorophyll (the green color) and that’s why I am saying it’s just old leaves.

Anywho, it’s sad, I know, but they need to be cut off. That’s the way you work tropical trees. It’s easier (less energy) to grow new leaves than it is to fix old leaves.

Denuded and ready for the wire.

This left branch needs to be lowered. I’m debating a guy wire.

It also needs to be spread out and given that wiggle RuPaul talked about.

“Work! Work it girl!”

From the top. Good branching, lots to work with.

And flexible.

I need to get a good one for myself. I just don’t have one for some reason.

Fast forward, we have a new pot (and a new location. I’ve been in The Nook, in my PT Cruiser, and now I’m at a friends place, Ben)

My client chose this new pot from The Bonsai Supply catalog. I’m liking the color, a deeper blue, one that’s unique to The Bonsai Supply (for now at least).

I’m not so thrilled with the shape though. I’d like it to be in a more shallow oval. But it’s not my tree. This pot, being deeper, will help horticulturally. A water jasmine needs lots of water.

Even though I’m at Ben’s place, who likes using guy wires, I’ve decided to just use a heavy wire instead of a guy wire to move that first branch.

Number 5 (is alive!) wire I believe. And I’m using Ben’s wire, even.

Wire on….

Wire on….

I’m using aluminum of course. A tropical like this will need the wire removed in about a month or so, usually.

And that’s Ben, of Agresta Gardens. He did some of the wiring. Whatever looks good was done by him, whatever looks bad was done by me.

Placement of the branches…..

Back at The Nook, for the Glamour Shots, from the top…

Side view….

From the front….

And in place at the clients house.

The tree to the left is a buttonwood I’ve been developing over the winter and through the spring. Wait until you see the write up on it.

And that’s it. A very simple, subtle, and graceful water jasmine.

This is what I imagine a full sized one looks like in the jungle.

Can you imagine trudging through Thailand and stepping into a grove of wrightia? I can only imagine why it’s called “religiosa”. Maybe the fragrance is so overwhelming you do actually think that maybe God is talking to you.

I’ll post a pic of what it looks like now when I do the post on the buttonwood.

See ya’!

Posted in Art, branch placement, Horticulture and growing, refine, styling bonsai, wiring | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

A flowering Brazilian raintree

It all began in 1974, with a matchbox. Sounds like the start of a cheesy film noir, right?

The Brazilian raintree’s history in the USA had its start with a matchbox (a match box is a container, about two inches by one and a half inches and about a half inch deep, made of cardboard, with a bit of sandpaper on the side to strike a match on. A match is an analog version of a lighter, usually a piece of wood with a mixture of sulphur and other magical chemicals that, when friction is applied to it, as from the sandpaper on the side of the box, will burst into flame. Kinda like magic. A matchbox is not a very large container) filled with some seeds from the sister-in-law of a gentleman named Jim Moody, that were….umm, smuggled into the USA. Smuggled might be too harsh, she was a nurse with the American embassy so there were certain privileges. The accounts vary but the seed count was 6-8 and Jim managed to propagate five of them. Of those five, one was given to Jim Smith, and that tree is at the Heathcote Exhibit, one was given to Helen Souder, one might have been given to Joe Samuels. Theres a thornless variety and one is lost to history. But all of the recipients were American Bonsai pioneers who worked directly with John Naka and should be remembered and revered. There’s not much respect for the past in today’s bonsai world sometimes.

Jim Moody kept the one he liked best, one where the trunk flattened out and became all muscly (which is a word it seems. Muscled is too, even though when you stare at them both too long they look weird). It also has darker green leaves and shorter internodes. The better of the seedlings, I should add. Except it is very hesitant to bloom.

The one I have today is from one of the other seeds. It was an airlayer off a tree, brought to the Ft Myers area many years ago, planted in the ground and allowed to be a real tree (I’m a real boy!!!) Notice the lighter green color and how large the leaves are with extra spaces between the clusters of leaflets?

….and the flowers

The airlayer was given to me by Martha Goff (author of the books Tropical Green Sheets 1 and 2, two indispensable books available on tropicalgreenbonsai.com)

It’s planted in her mix as well.

The trunk is a little muscled, and will get more so as time goes on, but not as much as the Moody Variety.

The thorns are larger and the internodes further apart.

This bud is a combo flower/leaf bud, which explains the size.

The trunk shape is very interesting to me, a challenge. Let’s see if I can do something with it.

First step is defoliation and cutting the thorns off.

It’s (believe it or not) just a little controversial to remove the thorns. First, it doesn’t hurt or slow the growth to do it. The reason I do it is two fold. One: safety. It’s the same old joke about pricking your finger. Second, I don’t think they are in scale to create a good looking tree. Too big to be believable.

They call them raintrees because the leaves fold up when it’s going to rain. This is called “nyctinasty”. Charles Darwin was very interested in plant movement and wrote a book in 1880 called, unsurprisingly, ” The Power of Movement in Plants”. Why they (and many trees in the legume family) do this can only be guessed at, but the mechanism works like this: there are two types of chemicals that open or close the leaf (It used to be believed that there were similar hormones for every plant that was constant across every species, like the way auxins push stem elongation, but they discovered many are different. And only those plants that close or open their leaves are effected by these chemicals, if you spray the phytohormone on a tree that doesn’t close it’s leaves, it just laughs at you)

There have been many theories but it seems that it’s light sensitivity and a time factor that activate the opening/closing chemicals (and, as with many hormones, it’s the dominance of one over the other that causes the changes. In this case, the presence of the opening chemical, called a glucoside, is what keeps the leaf open, when light levels drop, there’s a catalytic reaction that degrades the chemical and causes the leaf close chemical (another type of glucoside) to increase, which causes the movement of potassium ions into a motor cell organ called the pulvinus, which occurs at the point where the leaf is attached to the stem. It’s all very complicated and happens at an alarmingly small molecular level (needing these thingies called “molecular probes”) and there’s all kinds of fancy words (motility, temporal, biotinylated, photosensitive etc) to read. Here’s a link to a study, if yer brave enough for it. Good reading for sure though.

Anyway, all that and I just wantonly pluck the leaves as if I’m a giraffe nibbling on an Acacia tree on the African Savannah.


Or, denuded, if you were.

Now, before I begin wiring, I need to look at the roots. It’s a part of the health check I do before I begin heavy wiring and serious bending. The roots should be strong to make sure I’m not breaking them up when I’m man handling the plant.

Like I said earlier, this tree was the result of an airlayer, off a tree planted by a bonsai enthusiast named Renee, from the Ft. Myers, Fl area.

It looks well rooted.

Not a fantastic nebari (root spread) yet but it’ll develop, with proper care every time it gets repotted.

Those side roots will thicken and I’ll spread them out. That’s the advantage of tropical trees in general, you can get a nominal piece of material and in time, it turns into a good or great tree. But you should at least have some kind of interesting feature. Like this trees trunk.

So then, essentially, above, we have the blank canvas.

Well, as much as that can apply to a plant.

We have a good back branch.

But a slight debit with this branch/trunk.

A straight “apex” with no taper.

And here is a design flaw with many different colorful terms, “the slingshot” or “the rams horn dilemma” or even “push me/pull me”.

I like to think of it in a different way. Now, don’t hold it against me but, I grew up in the “Grunge” era of rock n roll. And, as you may guess, one of the bands I listened to was Pearl Jam and they had a song called “Black”. There’s a line in there, the fourth or fifth, that describes this feature. You’ll have to look it up

Needless to say, this..,ah, splayed look isn’t demure enough for bonsai. Let’s try to teach some modesty to our raintree. We do that with bondage…..um, wiring.

Some wire here….to begin.

Before I continue with the bondage, I’ll wire all the heavy branches

And so, the “apex” is next.

I want to bring it way down and give it some movement. So I think three heavy wires…..

…..there we go. Now….

Some guy wires.

This is copper, it doesn’t stretch as badly as aluminum and is stronger at thinner gauges than aluminum, so I can hide it better.

We could use stainless steel or even galvanized baling wire but I ain’t got none right chere, so I’m using copper.

I learned this method from Sergio Luciani. The wire goes around wire instead of the trunk, and……

…..no twisting. You bend the trunk or branch past the point you need it to go (if you don’t flex it past, you’re not damaging the branch enough to get it to heal in the spot you want it to. It’ll just move back where it was before you tied it. Don’t believe me? Why, it’s a book fact..)

That will hold. And it’s not that visible.

Next, we bend. Let’s see if I can break it. I’m not sure I even want to incorporate it but I’m not ready to cut it yet.

That’s without the guy wire.

And with it…..

A good c-sharp note when plucked….

Now that I have the main branches moved, time for the secondary and thirdiary.

And I just would like to point out to the wire nazis out there (it’s a small N, I’m not calling you a real Nazi, don’t get your drawers in a bunch), the reason the wires on the “apex” are not perfectly touching and parallel is purely for support. When you bend a branch, it helps if you have a wire (or raffia or tape) supporting the outside of the bend; it’s less likely to break. So by spreading out the wire, you get better coverage and less breakage.

Oh, in case you missed it, I’ve moved back to The Nook. It’s easier to repot there than it is in a parking lot in the back of a PT Cruiser.

It’s also been about a week since I did the bending and the new buds have swelled even more. This is the combo flower/new leaf bud. They come out at the same time. Very interesting and different from a regular BRT.

The cool pot I chose is a Dale Cochoy one from 2004.

He’s one of the pioneers in American bonsai ceramics, up there with Sara Raynor.

Yakimono No Kokoro is the name of his studio I believe.

It fits the tree.

Now then my friends, you’re scratching your head a bit at the…uhh, lack of any traditional styling, aren’t you?

I mean, it’s not an informal upright, or a windswept or whatever.

I’m calling it a Brazilian Raintree style. Not a flattop or a tropical broadleaf style. Just a BRT style. I’ve recently seen some pics of rain trees in the wild and, man are they wild. But I can’t post pics because of copyright laws and all that. Sorry.

It’s ugly. Maybe even fugly. But I’ll post updates and you’ll see. It’ll be elegant and tree-like. Give it time. That’s the one thing we can’t give to tree, it just has to happen and we must be patient. They’ll be things that happen, branches that die or new branches that grow.

Time. That’s the best stylist we have.

P. S……..about those things happening…..

There’s how I left it.

A few days ago, my middle son knocked it off the bench and, in so doing, made that decision I was hesitating to do.

The pot didn’t break, he caught it before it could smash, but the damage was still done.

Broke the “apex”

It’s still alive at my fingertips…..

…as you can see by the green….

But the topmost branch is dead.

Broke a side branch.

And another.

Time to chop.

Notice these aren’t my good concave cutters.

Orf wif ‘is ‘ead!

All that work…..it pains me.

It’ll be ok though. The boy is still alive too.

But…..damn it sets it back a bit.

Stay tuned, let’s see how it progresses now.

Posted in Art, branch placement, Horticulture and growing, philosophical rant, rare finds, styling bonsai, wiring | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The 2018 Epcot Trees

Well, some of you all may have noticed I didn’t give a report last year on the 2017 Epcot Flower and Garden/Bsf trees in the Japanese Pavilion. I do apologize (I had a few reasons, of which I don’t need to go into now) and I hope to make up for it with this post. Anyway, goody for you because, here you go, this years trees.

Since this is my blog, here’s a video of my entry for this year.

You may recognize it from this YouTube video: Green Mound Ficus Fast Forward

The night before I moved the tree from The Nook where I had mossed and photographed it, to a stack of pallets closer to my vehicle. My wife yelled at me because I’m not supposed to be lifting heavy things.

The process for choosing Epcot trees is simple: Bsf members from around the state (and sometimes at-large members from out of state) send in photos and descriptions of trees they wish to be considered, and a committee, consisting of several presidents of local clubs and the Bsf president, headed by Paul Pikel (of the Orlando Bonsai YouTube channel), has the task of whittling down the entries. I believe there were close to sixty this year, and there’s only space for 21.

My sons head for scale. The consideration for entrance is not just for how good a tree might look on a single day or a weekend, the tree has to survive three months at Epcot, and that means we think about watering, light, pruning, and the suitability of the species for long term display as far as repotting needs (there won’t be any) or serious bonsai techniques (like de-candling a pine).

That night, my wife and I put the tree into her minivan. She had “plans” for the next day. You see, we have to be at the backstage of Epcot at 7:30am on the morning of the first day of the Flower and Garden Festival, to install the tree, so Disney puts us up for the night at a Disney hotel. This time is was at the Beach Club. My wife decided that our children could swim at the pool while her and I had dinner (and drinks!) with the other exhibitors.

Thankfully they went home for the night with my sister (sleepover at Aunties!).

Well, after dinner (and drinks!) I stumbled into bed and I am proud to say I was not late (not the first nor the latest) the next morning.

The previous night, in order for my sister to take the kids to her house, we had to transfer the tree to my PT Loser. It filled the space pretty well, with my crate of wire and box of carving tools for ballast and bracing.

That morning, we all seem to open the vehicles to show off our trees.

Here’s Ed Trout’s Elm.

Bobby Blocks willow leaf ficus.

Reggie Purdue’s green island ficus.

We usually mill around in the parking lot waiting for the word from the Disney workers that they are ready for us.

Hi Rob! I believe he had an 11 o’clock tee time.

And then we drive on into the World Showcase.

Really. Now that’s not something you see everyday. My PT Loser by the Tori Gate.

I must give kudos to the load in crew, they are always on the ball and ready for the prima-donnas that we bonsai people are. Especially me. I’m like a mother hen when it comes to my tree.

Well, not really me, but some are. But I’m not allowed to name names. They did a fantastic job this year, as usual. They even had a cart, I was impressed.

Here are the trees, as best I could photograph them in place.

As usual, I’ll give some thoughts on the trees as I show them. I can’t help myself really, but that’s why you all love me. Or hate me.

First up, of course, is my tree, ficus microcarpa “crassifolia”. What some call the pointy leafed green island ficus or the Long Island ficus. But it could be called green mound ficus. Or should be. At least that’s the accepted common name in academia.

Paul’s Neea buxifolia

These are in an area Disney calls “The Meadow”. It’s on the way to the quick service restaurant and the restroom. We get much more foot traffic than everyone else for that reason. Hah!

Then we have another spectacular neea buxifolia from Christian.

Here’s a good time to point out the difference in perspective when it comes to the Art of Bonsai. Both Paul’s and Christian’s trees are Neea, but Christian’s has a “far view” meaning it’s like a tree you are seeing in the distance, maybe on a mountain or in a valley. Paul’s is a near view, meaning it might just be across a field, on a short hill. Look back and forth at the two and you’ll notice the difference. One perspective isn’t any better than the other, it’s just the artists vision, but this adaptability to different perspectives is what makes neea a superior bonsai subject.

The Meadow is an area that is difficult to photograph the trees, too much green behind them, but one must try.

Next, a trumpet tree from Puerto Rico….….presented by Rob. It’s still winter for it, and the new leaves haven’t come in yet.

On the other side of The Meadow, we have Jason’s big (BIG) trident maple. For scale, the name plate under each pic is about 4″x 10″. Look up at the first couple of trees and look at how big this one is by comparing the nameplate. I did say big.

Rob has two trees, here’s a wonderful bald cypress he calls “The Spiceworm”

I love it myself, especially the Dune reference. His nameplate is crooked. Hmmmmm, I might need to bring a drill when it’s my turn to do maintenance……

Going up the walkway, we have Virgil’s well composed schefflera forest. Virgil does well with the species, I’m jealous.

And next, Cesar’s ficus microcarpa ….…..looking like an old rainforest tree.

Next, Mike’s ficus microcarpa

Now, onto the area called “The Zen Garden”. This is an area where we can put smaller trees.

Barb’s sea grape, I particularly like this tree, it has a hollow trunk and great branching. I believe it was collected in Puerto Rico originally. The leaves on the sea grape could be as big as the pot it’s in, so it’s safe to say that Barb has done an excellent job with the horticulture.

The light not helping with this shot. In the pic you can’t see Ed’s Chinese elm very well but it’s there. I’ll try to get a better pic when I go in for maintenance.

This is Bobby’s willow leaf all set up.

Louise’s Japanese black pine.

Now we turn around and look at the Tori Gate left.

Ronn’s tiger bark ficus.Spectacular!

Ben’s Chinese elm.This tree has provenance, at one time it was owned by the American bonsai potter, Dale Cochoy.

Jesus’ raintree.

And, to the right of the Tori Gate, Josh’s bald cypress. It’s just waking up from winter.

Julie’s water elmAn impressive twin trunk that works on all levels. It looks very much like a tree. My favorite entry in the show so far.

Reggie’s green island ficus…..….it’s an unusual specimen because of how tall and upright it is. They usually grow low and squatty.

Jarbas’ buttonwood.I love the deadwood on this tree. It’s like a bat, or a Transformer or maybe even Edward Scissorhands.

And them’s the trees. We all had a good day, but I must give some disclosure, as there are some pics on social media from that day that may incriminate me. You see, it was my birthday. So I celebrated a little.

I advise a visit to The Tequila Cave, should you ever visit Epcot. One tequila…..

Two tequila…..

Three tequila….

But I did not meet the floor that day. I had much more to do. And work down in Ft Myers for one of my Advanced Studygroups the next morning.

The show runs from February 28 through May 28th, 2018, go see it if you can. Pictures, especially my poor ones, can never do these trees justice.

Like I said, a good time was had by all, especially the new exhibitors from the left to right, Josh Brown, Barb Hiser, and her husband Guy. He’s a good Guy, by the way.

And Ben, it’s his first time here as well. He was wearing two hats that day, I guess. Hi Ben!

The Epcot Flower and Garden Bonsai Exhibitors, class of 2018. Good work all, congratulations!

The trees are in the Japanese Pavilion in the World Showcase at Epcot. Here’s some Disney signage, in case you get lost.

And my car again for the parting shot. Epic, ain’t it? Kinda changes the game when it comes to my Back Bumper Bonsai posts.

Anyway, I think I got all the trees, but if I missed one or two, send me a message. Make sure to look at my Instagram or Facebook feed for updated pics as I visit the trees throughout the festival, TTFN!

Posted in Art, goings, philosophical rant, pictures | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Let the tree talk to you, just don’t be surprised if they say they want to leaf……

This is a clients tree, chloroluceun tortum, the Brazilian raintree.

It’s a humble little tree really. But she likes it. And that’s all that matters.

It had a Jin on it, but this is all that’s left of the deadwood. The unfortunate thing about having smaller trees is the impermanence of deadwood features that are intricately detailed. Exposed wood and hollows (Shari and uro, in Japanese) on the trunks work, but anything projecting and convoluted tends to rot fast. The reason being is it’s the heartwood, the middle of a trunk or branch, that has the oils and resins that resist decay, and on smaller trees, there’s mostly sapwood. Ah well, c’est la vie, we can enjoy them while we have them.

Looking at the trunk, you’ll notice that it’s beat up just a bit. Like someone’s been whacking it with a chain. That’s funny, I just had a vision. Let me paint a picture: Before you we have Nutz T. Squirrel, red dew rag tied on his head, a septum piercing in his nose. Black leather jacket with his motorcycle gang emblem “Tree Ratz Scooter Club” stretching across the back, and the usual FTF and The Shocker arm patches on his shoulder. Nutz is standing before the raintree, lazily swinging a chain, crooked smirk on his face. He has some anger issues and my clients poor tree is before him. And Nutz, our biker bad boy squirrel, has a chain.

In reality, Nutz likes to chew on things. It’s an instinctual imperative because if he doesn’t, his teeth will grow so long, they’ll pierce his brain and then instinct won’t be a thing anymore. Squirrels love our trees, the new buds are sweet morsels, the bark helps to grind down the continuous tooth growth, not to mention the flowers, fruits, etc. that they love.

But there is one thing they don’t love, one thing that will chase Nutz and his gang away: cayenne pepper.

Sprinkle some of that on the soil surface and up the trunk and those squirrel biker thugs won’t bother your trees anymore.

Unless, that is, they’re from Louisiana. There’s nothing that chases away the Louisiana chapter of the Tree Ratz. Sorry. The only thing you can do at that point is to pour them a glass of wine, because, as Justin Wilson always says, “A meal without wine is like a day without sunshine”

Ok, I’ve been talking to trees way too much today. But you all have this question on your mind: “What is this raintree telling me?”

Those in the temperate regions of the world might be able to guess. It’s exhibiting signs of senescence (for a really long explanation of senescence, visit this blog post)

Senescence is a little like what’s happening with smartphones nowadays, planned obsolescence. They even kinda rhyme:

“My leaves are turning brown

Like it’s planned obsolescence

But it’s really just a process called

Leaf senescence

Like an iPhone six

with a battery going dead

The leaves on my maple

Go from green to red”

In the case of a raintree, they turn yellow. But fear not my friends, this is an entirely natural process of renewal, new growth, getting rid of the old and tired to make way for new, verdant leaves.

And behold! There they are!

The tree, our mighty chloroleucon tortum, has a hard time dropping old leaves to make way for new ones (kinda like the way the Bonsai crowd is so conservative in their adoption of new science. I mean, a drainage layer? Ever hear of the science of fluid mechanics?).

I love the new growth on a BRT. It’s so cute.

So what do we do to help the tree along? Easy peasy, lemon squeezy, get out some sharp and pointy scissors and cut off the old leaves.

By doing this, you advance the growth cycle by at least two weeks, and sometimes even more.

This raintree is a different one and was defoliated and wired mid-winter (December or so in Florida).

Looks good now, right?

But, and this is a big but (and I like big buts, because I cannot lie, the practice of horticulture is an art, and what works for you could be different than for I), I am in Florida, my trees are outside (with all that means in winter in Florida, freezing temps at night to possible 85f in the day), my experience and care may be better (or worse) than yours, and the trees I’m working on are healthy. That’s the most important thing: they are healthy. You may see me defoliate trees often, but they all get chances to grow unhindered afterwards. I don’t believe in keeping a tree manicured as though for show (especially one in heavy training). The only way they get energy is to grow and collect the suns rays and make sugar through the process of photosynthesis.

And you know how healthy the tree is by how quickly they respond to practices like this one, or to a repot, or a hard prune, etc.

Here’s the tree (the cayenne pepper one) two weeks later.

I think it worked. ‘Nuff Said. Follow that link above.

I think the next post I might visit some sugarberries, or maybe a hornbeam. Or both. How’s that sound?

Posted in Advanced basics, Horticulture and growing, maintenance | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Did it have to be another juniper?

Stop me if you’ve heard this one…..two junipers walk into a bar, one says to the bartender, hey I’ll have a jin…..

We have before us two varieties of juniper. Both do quite well in Florida, the one on the left is a parsonii and the other is procumbens nana.

Before I get the question, no, they don’t get an appreciable dormancy period in Orlando. Even the shimpaku we grow don’t. And they live long, even happy lives, here in sunny Florida. That should throw some wrenches in some people’s juniper bonsai world view now, dontcha think? Don’t get me wrong, there are some junipers that don’t like Florida, like the California juniper (because it’s too wet here) or the Rocky Mountain juniper (too wet, not enough elevation, and too hot I’m guessing), but we can grow junipers all the way down into Miami. Really, I wouldn’t lie about this (I may lie about some things, but that’s just to get a laugh usually, like the pigeon poop fertilizer post a few years ago….).

The two juniper we have here are, above, a parson’s juniper and below, the ubiquitous Japanese Garden juniper. Let’s start with it. This tree belongs to a client, Janice, who is really a bougie fan. She bought the tree for the pot, believe it or not. It’s my job to make her see the tree for a good bonsai.

I had styled it around Christmas time and she grew a little more fond of it then. But, now, she isn’t fond of it at all. Let’s see what a new pot will do for it.

Wow, looks better already! Let’s discuss the “Japanese Garden juniper” as I repot, shall we?

The botanical name of the plant is juniperus procumbens “nana”. Sometimes you see it as “green mound” as well. It is a dwarf of a tree that is (here’s the controversy on it….typical in the bonsai world) called, unsurprisingly, juniperus procumbens. The controversy is, first, where it’s native to (either the mountains of the Kyūshū region of southern Japan or the southern coastal and island regions of Japan and Asia). Second, whether it is a real native tree and not a cultivar that was introduced. And third, whether it’s its own species or a variety of juniperus chinensis. Told you it was controversial. I’m just gonna call it P. Nana.

This next pic is my hand. My hand is two things: first, it is going to be the tool of choice today for the repot. Second? It’s the last thing you see if I slap you upside the head for choosing the wrong sex for your baby chicken…….

So yeah, really, just my hand.

I gently massage the old soil out of the roots (you could consider this an initial potting really, there was only bonsai soil as a top dressing, the rest was regular potting soil).

The question that is on the minds of all those who’ve read that junipers die without the best soil, the only soil for a tree in a bonsai pot, bonsai soil (or substrate if you’re inclined to be that cool kid in the convo and be on fleek).

The tree was in a pretty big and deep pot, and, if you’ve read my posts before, you’ll know that, the deeper the pot, the better the drainage. And it’s drainage that is important for junipers. They like to be on the drier side (or, more specifically, since I am going to stop trying to anthropomorphize plants, they’re more adapted to dryer climes).

But today I’m putting the tree into a drastically smaller and shallow pot (the new pot fits into the old pot), so we need proper bonsai soil (see the last post) for this tree. And of course it’s going to be my signature SuperMix© I’m using. You can trust me because I’ve won a Major Award.

Below, you’ll notice that I did not bareroot the tree. My technique in an initial repot is to gently massage a trees roots, removing much of the old nursery soil, but not all. I am a big proponent of protecting the microbial elements (such as beneficial fungus like mycorrhizae) in the pot. If we bareroot and wash out all the old soil, the fauna population has to recover and, especially with conifers, those microorganisms are often the only way a plant can uptake water or nutrients from the soil. But what about all that crappy soil and drainage? I do the initial clean out above, making sure that I clean out totally underneath the trunk (that’s why you see the new soil mounded so much in the pic with the trophy) and wiggle the tree down on top of the new soil. Then I tie the tree in (below)

And make sure to gently add new soil from the top, chopsticking it between the roots. I also very rarely cut roots on a juniper, instead just raking it out and fitting it into the new pot.

By putting new soil on top and gently pushing it between the roots, that new soil is replacing the old soil, pushing it to the bottom on the sides. When the next repot comes, we will have achieved 100% bonsai soil, if we follow the same repot regimen.

I like to add some of this product, for the micro-organisms it adds to the mix.

And that’s it today for our stoic little P Nana.

It looks like it’s dancing there. I need to do some carving and reworking of those jins, the bottom left was there when Janice got it and I added the one on the right. But, as John Naka taught, one insult at a time.

Ultimately I’d like to see the tree taller (it has all kinds of character, a good root spread, a thick trunk, mature branches. But it lacks the element of height. It looks like a mushroom).

Next! A parsons juniper. Let’s quickly go over the etymology of it, just for fun (I am a word man, better than a bird man).

In the trade, they call this tree juniperus chinensis “parsonii”. But, if’n you dig deeper, you begin to uncover a deeper story. The accepted name is now juniperus davurica expansa “parsonii”. It was introduced into the USA from a NY nursery in 1862 by, predictably, Parson’s Nursery. The mistake in its name comes from that nursery, but they got the plant from Japan, so the mistake is weird. Why not call it japonica?

Anyway, it’s a tree that grows well into zone 11, and as high as zone 5 (USDA), perfectly suited for Florida.

This tree was collected by Kathrin, in Sarasota, one amongst about 5 I believe.

I told her I’d be honored to style it for her. And even use some copper, just to show off.

What’s funny is I’ve heard, recently, someone describing aluminum wire as being sissy wire. I’ve always found that using properly annealed copper, like these rolls, was easier to put on a tree as it is softer than the equivalent sized aluminum (for holding strength).

But before wire, we need to clean the trunk. Now, my friends, this is one technique that is often misunderstood. Both the how and the why.

I’ll go over the how first. The goal of the cleaning is to remove the scaly bark and get down to the underlying red. First thing you can do is to use a knife or pick to flake off those scales.

The next step, after manual bark removal, is to use a soft brass brush (not nylon or stainless steel, which are too soft and too stiff respectively). The goal is to brush away the brown outer bark and get to that red. But don’t go too far, if you see white or a tan color you’ve gone too far. Like below.

You can see the brown, red and white/tan layers.

This juniper has very prominent sap lines.

You don’t get that often on a smaller tree like this. What that tells me about this tree is that it’s been taken care of well; one of the goals of brushing is to expose and, believe it or not, stimulate them.

The stronger the sap line, naturally, the stronger the tree. By removing the top layer of bark, the juniper will replace it by growing more. The more bark growth, the more prominent the sap lines become. Kathrin has been taking care of this juniper very well.

Above, you can see the root at the end of the sap line. On most junipers, you can trace the sap line from the root to the foliage. This makes them predictable when pruning; often, if you kill a branch on top, it kills the sap line to the root. I say often, the younger the tree the less often this happens. A good example is below. You can see how below that dead branch is a furrow between the more prominent sap lines. It’s only certain conifers that do this, most plants can readjust the sap line horizontally and re bud at the cut.

The aesthetic reason for cleaning the bark like this is to give us a nice red/purple color to contrast with any dead wood and the green foliage.

It’s a funny thing but there is often both an aesthetic reason for using a bonsai technique and a horticultural one. Interesting how that works (it’s almost as if nature is trying to train us into cultivating things). I’d recommend a book called:

The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan

Its a book about that very thing, the idea that plants are using us to help propagate, take care of and cultivate them. Its a fascinating hypothesis, especially with some of these bonsai trees that have been in cultivation two and three times their natural lifespans.

Back to our parsonii, it’s time for wiring.

I said that copper wire, if properly annealed, is easier to apply than aluminum (if you factor the size needed to hold a branch in place, example: a 12 gauge copper wire holds the same as a 5-6 mm aluminum wire. But it’s as soft (like butta!) as 3 mm wire). Now, shhhhh, don’t tell anyone but, the next time you see a newly returned western apprentice give a demo where there’s only aluminum available, they look a bit awkward using it. They’re just not used to it.

The difficulty with copper is in repositioning it after you’ve applied and moved the branches. Copper gets stiffer the more it’s moved. So there are some techniques you need to know when using it. One good tip that’s easy to remember, as you apply the wire, is to bend the branch where you need it, as you wrap the wire around it, so that you get a little more working movement out of the copper before it stiffens up.

But this is a juniper post, not a wiring post, so here’re the after pics.

I didn’t do too much pruning, the tree was mostly in shape, but I’ll touch it up a bit. First, the pruning strategy is different with a juniper than with other trees (the example above about killing the sap line is one example), but if you understand the physiology a bit, you’ll kill less.

It has been said that the strength of a juniper is in the foliage. Conversely, the roots are weak (hence the gentleness needed when repotting them) and what that means is that many hormones needed for vigorous growth are hard to replace if we prune incorrectly (many hormones are synthesized in the roots, auxin being one of them). And without those hormones….. wait, let me talk a little about plants and why they do what they do.

There are some people out there that just don’t believe in plant hormones. They think that energy causes growth (energy is an incorrect term really, it’s carbohydrate and sugars that should be used when talking about “energy”, but many people need to use words they are comfortable with. Also, since I’m rambling a bit, I am tired of people saying that you need to “feed” plants by fertilizing them. Plants get their “energy” from the sun, through this amazing process called photosynthesis, not from fertilizer, it’s not a “feeding” process, merely a chemical reaction, plants get their energy from photosynthesis. If you’d like, they “feed” themselves. When we fertilize, it’s analogous to vitamins and minerals or steroids. Do you know what happens to a plant that’s “weak” and you fertilize? You often kill it, because the stored carbohydrate isn’t enough to support the artificial stimulation that, say, a high nitrogen fertilizer causes. Sorry. Back to hormones). I say that people don’t believe in hormones because that’s not what they learned. Most of the research on plant hormones has only come out in the last 5-10 years. Previously, scientists (I know, scientists are evil and all that, I understand your Luddite tendencies, but bear with me). If you went to college and got your degree in horticulture within the last 10 years, you may need to go back and get your continuing education credits to stay current (and no, I don’t have a degree in horticulture, but I can read. I have the same attitude that Mark Twain has about “schooling” vs. “learning” though. A man teaches himself, sometimes with the help of a teacher, sometimes in spite of a teacher, but mostly on his own).

Hormones are the origin of all plant processes. Plain, simple, period. “Energy” is used by the plant only when the hormone “tells” the plant to use it. There are triggers from the environment that cause hormones to activate, or stop growth, but it’s hormones or lack of them that “tells” it to do something. And hormones will kill the plant too. Here’s an example: take any deciduous tree, in spring, let it pop new growth, defoliate it a month later, then again a month later, and again. And again. You’ll get all kinds of back-budding and growth. But next year, you may not get a tree that comes out of dormancy. You see, you’ve used up all the “energy” by making the tree keep putting out new growth all year, and it had no time to store it for the winter and then the spring growth. What have you done? You kept stimulating the growth by the manipulation of hormones and used up the carbohydrate.

Hormones are like an inexorable computer program. Once you hit “enter”, the plant goes through with the commands until it can’t go any more. ERROR CODE: death.

What does this have to do with a juniper? It used to be taught that you should pinch the growing tips on a juniper. This weakens the juniper (uses the energy) because it’s continually trying to maintain an equilibrium between growth and energy storage. Unfortunately, no one cares enough about juniper to spend the money on a real study about hormone distribution in the plant’s body (junipers are one of the easiest plants to grow, so who cares, right?) so we only know what works and can only guess what’s happening. But we do know that we need to selectively prune the strongest growth tips, preserving those on the secondary branching on any one particular branch. It’s my guess that we are preserving the auxin (which collects in the growing tips but is synthesized in the, weak on a juniper, roots). This technique also helps to keep the tree reverting to juvenile foliage (that would be the spiky foliage. Adult foliage is the soft, what they call scale, kind). A juniper reverts to spiky foliage when under stress, it opens up to get more sunshine on the surface and to aid in water absorption through the stomata. Stress includes drying out, not enough light, too much pruning, too much nitrogen fertilizer, bugs etc.

If you look closely at Kathrin’s tree, there’s very little juvenile foliage on it. She takes care of it well. She practices overhead watering and occasional foliar fertilizing, it stays in full sun, and the soil dries out before watering. This is crucial on a parsonii juniper because it almost always has a mixture of juvenile and adult foliage, usually half and half. Look again at her juniper. Amazing.

I’m very grateful to be able to work on it. Thank you Kathrin, and thank you Janice. I hope I did a good job on your respective trees.

Posted in Art, branch placement, Horticulture and growing, philosophical rant, refine, roots, wiring | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments