Refinement carving on a buttonwood 

This’ll be a quick look at a client’s buttonwood and how I try to match new carving to old deadwood. Not easy but you can get close. 

Here’s the buttonwood, ready for work. 

It’s a little green, I know. The deadwood, I mean. The leaves should be green. Unless it’s a silver buttonwood. Then the leaves are a kinda silvery green. But I digress. 

Some alcohol or a coating of lime sulphur cures the green. It’s just algae. 

A wire brush too. I’ll leave that to Judy, the owner. I’m here to carve. 

Pretty elaborate deadwood. It’ll be a challenge to match. 

The backside, which used to be the front. 

This area is where I need to focus. It’s a bit chunky and plain.  There was probably a longer Jin or branch that someone broke off and whittled down with Jin pliers (or their teeth). That’s how deadwood treatment is usually taught with buttonwood in la Florida . There’s almost a mystical aversion to using power tools when carving them. But, in the name of progress (and continued employment and a living wage and food for my family), I’ll try my best to convince you that there is a place for their use. Wish me luck. 

The idea is to match these types of features and the textures. Unfortunately, some details only happen with time. 

Sorry, a little blurry. 

Looking at this chunk again, you can see how out of character it is. It’s flat, boring, inelegant. Like watching me dance. My “dancing” happens when I carve. Using the magic of alternating current, the pure power of lightening, pulsing through my carving tools, channeling out from my gnarled hands and into the tortured, ancient wood. 

Trying to build drama….. 

The tool I’m using is called a Mastercarver® 


Stole that pic directly from Woodcarverssupply.com. Wish I had a sponsorship from them…….hint hint……

I get all my carving bits and tools from them. 

A roto saw carbide bit

Small flame carbide burr. 

Large flame

Teardrop

The small hand piece with a small roto saw. This combo is the best for detail work. I can do so much with this in my hands. You can tell I use them often. You might say that I should be cleaning the gummed up wood from the carbide. Not too necessary, really, but if you need to, soak in plain water overnight and use a brass brush to remove it. You don’t need that expensive gunk sold for that purpose (and there goes the possibility of a sponsorship…..) 

The buttonwood after about an hours worth of work. 

By hollowing it out and creating ribbons and channels, the hunk of wood is now light and airy. 

When carving, to get a natural line, try to imagine water flowing down the wood grain. That helps in matching the movement. 

Create drain holes as well. 

Try to mimic the work of insects like ants and termites. 

Each type of wood is different too. Hardwoods like oak or maple will rot from the inside out. The heartwood is soft. Junipers or pines heartwood is full of resin and don’t rot easily, so they tend to have sharp points (the stereotypical Jin) as the softer sap wood (the outside) rots. 

Buttonwood has resin throughout the entire branch and trunk body so you can get either sharp points or hollows. They also have salt and wind-blown sand that act on the wood, softening the features in some instances but sharpening them in others. 

Ants like to make holes in them and they are subject to mechanical damage from hurricanes. Or tourists. 

I use fire and a brush attachment….

….to mimic the erosive effects of the sea shore on a buttonwood’s deadwood. And it’s important, even if you don’t like the bleached white look, to use lime sulphur…..

 ….the reason is simple, because the tree has been preserved (and bleached) with the salt spray from the ocean, any new carving will rot easily without protection and the lime sulphur is a good surrogate. No, I don’t recommend using salt water. A buttonwood can tolerate it, but they really grow best without salt. 

Here is a Link to a YouTube video of the finished carving. 

And some more finish shots. 

The wood just needs lime sulphur. 

And time. 

The funny thing is, in the view from the front, you can’t see the carving I did. 

Oh well. 

But that’s why we put them in round pots  now, isn’t it?  

Who’s up for another carving post? I just worked on a big bougie with extensive carving. 

Or maybe some ficus? 

Posted in carving, yamadori | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

Ficus vs. ficus

It’s a battle royale! We have two trees that have been at war for some time now (well, since this post, really,  which was an update to this post, actually, which goes back three years and is one of my most popular posts on air layering). 

Two ficus microcarpa. What some people call tiger bark ficus or erroneously, ficus retusa (You know what? I’m feeling frisky enough today….I’ll wade into that battle; I’ve even been arming myself for it. Ready? Begin rant: When we refer to plants using the binomial nomenclature system, devised by Carl Linnaeus, we use the genus (i.e., ficus) and then a descriptive (i.e., microcarpa) which then tells us the species. In this case “microcarpa” means “small fruit”, it is the singular form of “microcarpus” . I used to think it meant small leaf because ficus macrocarpa has big leaves (it also has big fruit). Anyway, back to the erroneous use of “ficus retusa” to describe the tiger bark fig. The word “retusa” is derived from the Latin “retusus” which means: (Botany)having a rounded apex and a central depression: retuse leaves.

 Here’s a pic of retuse shaped  leaves:


And leaves from a ficus “retusa” The ends are pointy. I rest my case. There is a real ficus retusa, but no one cares enough about it to put a picture on the World Wide Web for me to steal. It’s native to Malaysia from what I can auger. A synonym (which is an old name for it) is f. truncata. This is an old illustration for it:

Anyhow, that’s that. Call ’em ficus microcarpa. End of the rant, I win). 

Back to ficus vs. ficus. Where was I? Oh yeah: 

Two ficus walk into a bar, one asks for a martini, the other for a margarita. The bartender gives them both water, neat. “This ain’t what I wanted!” Says the one on the left, “me neither!” Says the other. The bartender just looks and wiggles his finger at them. He says “I ain’t dealing with your equal and opposite reactions to no booze, ya’ fig Newtons” Yuck yuck yuck. 

Anyway…..sorry. These two ficus have been the poor subjects in an unscientific, purely anecdotal and poorly designed experiment that confirm my own biases but I will tout as irrefutable fact because, that’s how the internet works. My first challenge was air layering a ficus as opposed to just taking a big cutting (you should read the links above for the whole story). Both methods work, by the way, but I extrapolated that the bottom section would be more developed simply because there wasn’t an airlayer in the way. 

This was the non air layered bottom. 

This was the airlayer. 

As for the tops, they both took. Here they are today. 

Those will be some sweet shohin one day. That’s my boot. I’ll need new ones soon. Size 9-1/2 wide or 10-1/2 regular. Waterproof please.  
The tops and bottoms after separation.  

So what’s the dealio today? I’m just going to annoy some people who think that you need to let branches grow out to thicken them. I mean, that works but so does just developing a branch.  

Let’s see…..this was the air layered bottom. I decided to do the long game on it. Let the branches and leader just grow. 

Poor ugly tree, sorry. You need to be a bonsai. Soon, soon.  

Now, the chopped one. 

It’s a little more developed (that should be read in the sarcastic voice of say, David Letterman or John Stewart) 

Back to the “let it grow” ficus. 

I’m leaving the grow tips. 

Wiring the branches horizontally

But still kept long. 

Back to the other tree….it’ll get the normal developmental treatment. 


You’ll notice how thick the leader is compared to the “let it grow tree”. 

Just saying….

Defoliate.  

Wire. 

Bend. 

Those are Alan’s ankles and white socks. 

You know what? I feel sorry for the other tree, I think I’ll chop the leader to get some branching. 

I’m thinking it needs to be a bonsai more sooner than later. 


All this happened way back in April actually. Here are the trees today. 


And how they should be potted with the correct fronts. 

Look at that. It’s growing!You’ll be a bonsai soon little ficus. 

Considering I didn’t have a control, my sampling size was one (for each method) and I didn’t measure the water or the fertilizer, I think that this is conclusive proof that there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

Of course I know that there will be people mortally offended by this cavalier and irreverent post that’s going against the orthodoxy taught almost universally (read the byline up top, look up the word “iconoclast”) in bonsai workshops and books and YouTube videos throughout the world. But that’s my job sometimes, to ask the teacher “Why?”. 

Why does it seem that one can use multiple bonsai techniques and still arrive at a similar end? 

I’ll leave you with this sentence, in reply:

Horticulture is a science. The practice of horticulture is an art. 

I’m tired, all that philosophy (or is it just sophistry?) is thirsty work. 

Time for a beer. 

I think it’s time for some carving next. 

Cheers. 

Posted in Horticulture and growing, progression, refine, tips and tricks, updates | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

Bonsai in Ohio: Evan’s trees

On my recent trip to Ohio, I had the pleasure to visit and work with both the Cincy and the Columbus clubs as well as a few private gardens. My host for the trip was Evan. I met him a several years ago when he called me up, out of the blue one day, asking about places to go for bonsai in the Orlando area. His daughter was going to high school in the area at the time and he was down visiting her. I mentioned Schley’s Bonsai in Deland, Mike Rogers’ Bonsai Studio, and maybe a few others. Then I invited him to my place. That’s where the friendship began. 

Now, whenever he’s down, I put him to work. And when I visit him, he hands me a beer and puts me to work too. 

I drove to Cincinnati again  because I had workshop trees for both the Cincy and the Columbus clubs to deliver  (I’m a masochist, that’s 900 miles one way. For you metrically challenged readers, that’s 1448 km). When I arrived, the Cincy heavens greeted me with this show: 

 After a brief “ooooh” and “ahhhhh” session, Evan put me to work.

 First up, a bald cypress I had originally styled on my last trip up, two years ago. 

Here’s the tree when I worked on it then, before bending. 

During bending. 

And after. 

I know, kinda weird. 

And this is how it greeted me upon arrival this trip. 

In need of a little haircut. 

My first step was to clean up the foliage and thin it of unwanted growth. Like a bikini wax. Got one of those once (I was a Chippendale dancer in a previous life and I’m very hairy. My stage name was Harry the Hunk but I got the waxing because the ladies started calling me Hairy the Lunk. Man it stings!) 

I’m not going to totally denude the cypress (you like that word, denude, right? That’s the new term all the cool kids are using instead of defoliate. It’s sounds all posh and proper and all that). I could remove all the foliage, summer being the time to do work like that, but I’m not going to. Gotta keep you on your toes. 

Here’s an example of a branch before the clean up. 

And after. 

Not too harsh. Although it’s a conifer, it is also a deciduos tree. This is the leaf. 

It’s technically what’s called a “compound leaf”. Most conifers can’t be defoliated, whoops….sorry, denuded, but on a cypress, you can strip it bare and it will bud back like a ficus. I’m basically just removing those leaves that will be in the way when I wire. And I’m going to put about a pound of aluminum on this poor tree.  

Here we are all cleaned up, before wiring. 

And after wiring. 

I think it’s filling in pretty cool. I’m enjoying the progression. 

And, because the photos aren’t doing it justice, here’s a link to the tree on YouTube. Next step is some root grafting. 

Next I worked on a spruce. Yeah, that’s right, a Christmas tree. 

It has a nice shari. 

Definitely a Christmas tree. Mauro Stemberger had worked on it last but I didn’t style it, my goal was to carve it this trip. 

The apex looked like a pencil someone had chewed on to sharpen it. Id been looking at it for four years, it was bugging me that much. This was my year. I had my tools. And there was some rot towards the bottom of the trunk that needed work. 

The goal of any detail carving on existing deadwood is to preserve and try to match the “old” details to the new carving as best you can. I’ll let you be the judge if I was able to do that. 

First, we move the branches out of the way…….


Ouch! First blood to the tree. 

Removing some dead bark. 



And the carving. 

 Not a lot, but just enough. 
And, again, a YouTube video of the finished work. 

Then we went for pizza and a concert in Dayton. 

The band was Signs of Life: the Essence of Pink Floyd. Highly recommended. 

The pizza was Marion’s. I highly recommend both if you get the chance. 

The next two trees I worked on were a tamarind and a Natal plum. 

You see that heavy wire? I’m gonna bend that. 

The Natal plum just need some taming. 

Bend. Bend. Bend. 

I think I shortened it by a foot. 


And, I had to apologize to Evan. The amount of wire he’s gonna have to remove is a bit staggering. The plum had about a kilo on it. 

It’s going to need a smaller pot after a while but Evan didn’t have one handy. 

And that’s all. I’ll cover some of the demo and workshop trees I worked on in another post. After all that work, it was Miller time for me. 

Never fear, I’ve gone back to my old haircut since this pic. Don’t know what I was thinking. 

As a parting shot, Evan has this cool sedum he keeps on the windowsill above his sink. 


Thank you once again my friend. I hope to see you soon! 

Posted in branch placement, goings, maintenance, progression, redesign, Uncategorized, wiring | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Grand Finale, the Jim Smith Collection pt. 3 

I have been holding onto this post for several weeks and I’m not sure why. But yesterday morning I learned that the Grand Master himself, Jim Smith, just passed away. This post is in memorial to him. 

Now, the last installment in the epic three part coverage of the James J. Smith collection at Heathcote Gardens. 

Here’s a ficus microcarpa that you’ll see tagged with the common name “kinmen” ficus.  That’s what the Taiwanese call this leaf shape f. microcarpa, or something close to it (I say that because taking a language that uses idiographic text and tonal language and transcribing it into English is difficult. I’ve heard variation like kingman, kenmen, kinmen, Kidman et al, that’s why I just use ficus microcarpa.)

A Brazilian Raintree. This one is pretty awesome. 

Look at that trunk. 

Another f. microcarpa. 

A chunky based Willow leaf. 

I really appreciate the hackberries he has. This is the regular variety, not the southern one….y’all. 

It has a great hollow and a huge trunk. 

Clump style f. salicaria. 

Informal upright salicaria. 

A weird clump salicaria. 

And another. I said it once already in the previous posts; he liked those clumps. 

Here’s a dwarf black olive. Pretty old. The botanical name used to be bucida spinosa but they’ve done some research and it’s been identified as a “terminallia molinetii” (a tree native to mexico) but it seems that, surprise, surprise, it’s not totally accepted yet by Florida botanists. So they’ve been calling it bucida molinetii. I got all this from the Florida Native Plant Society. I didn’t know this but the dwarf spiny olive is also native to the extreme south of Florida (it isn’t a true olive, “olea” variety) but it’s extirpated in the wild. But, weirdly, it’s considered  invasive in the Florida Keys. 

I am tickled by this next tree. It too has little soil, like some of his other ones I’ve shown.  I like it because it looks like a corpulent female figure to me. Almost like the prehistoric Venus of Willendorf figurine. 

This next tree is, I think, a Spanish stopper, eugenia foetida

This next one Seth likes to call a pitanga, the Spanish name for a Surinam cherry (eugenia uniflora) Kinda neat. It does have an edible fruit. 
Another Willow leaf. 

This one looks like it’s dancing. F. Salicaria. 

This looks like a dinosaur with a long neck. Seth is rebuilding the canopy on it. 

Another Willow leaf. 

Bouganvillea 

A conocarpus erectus, Florida buttonwood. 

Ficus natalensis. 

Ficus salicaria forest. 

This one is another of the trees that Jim called ficus exotica. With the help of Juan Andrade, Seth thinks he’s finally figured out the real binomial name, ficus pertusa. We are awaiting a dna test. 

This is a massive bougie, just coming into bloom. 

Here’s the same tree several years ago, with my bud Rick posing next to it. 

You’ll notice the deterioration of the trunk from rot. 
Seth just trimmed this Willow leave, hence all the leaves in the pot. 
 This next salicaria is busting out its pot. 

This next tree isn’t one of Jim’s, it’s actually a medium sized ficus microcarpa that is a part of the Heathcote gardens plantings. I say medium sized because the tree will be two to three times this size when it’s mature. Whomever says that ficus aren’t real trees and, therefore, not worthy of bonsai need just look at it and be still in their tongues. 

And that’s that. 

My favorite tree in the exhibit was one of the first I posted, in part one of the series. A Ficus microcarpa. 

It truly represent a banyan ficus bonsai to me. Wider than tall, aerial roots and all. I like it. 

With that, I’ll end the tour. It’s sad that Jim has passed away but we have this public collection to remember him by. I truly suggest a visit.  This next pic was from Bonsaibark.com (they borrowed a whole blogpost from me so I’m borrowing a pic from them).  That’s Jim pruning his huge portulacaria. One of my favorite trees as well. 

There’s been a lot of talk about the multigenerational nature of bonsai trees recently. My friend Seth, the curator of this whole collection, was approved to take care of Jim’s trees by Jim himself. The torch was passed.  And I’m glad he got the job. Truth be told, I put in a resume for the position myself but it was for the best that I didn’t get it. I think it has allowed Seth to grow, not only in bonsai, but I think the responsibility of taking care of a legendary collection of trees has taught him to be a better man. And I’m honored to know him and call him friend. And he’s doing a good job too. The trees are healthy and looking good. 

Jim had some hard years recently, his wife and son passed away before him, his vision had all but left him, he had to move into an assisted living facility. But he had a full life, he grew some great trees and made a lasting impression upon the bonsai world.  I hope he has some trees to prune wherever he may be. Godspeed Jim, I wish I had known you better. 

Thank you sir. 

Posted in Art, goings, philosophical rant, pictures | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The James J. Smith collection at Heathcote Gardens, pt. 2

I have made another editorial decision (since I am the editor in chief) concerning this continuation of the James J. Smith photo essay; after counting how many photos of trees there are in my camera roll, I am splitting the remainder up into parts two and three (I was thinking maybe doing parts four and five and naming this one part six but sometimes my humor isn’t quite understood). 

Anyway, here’s part two: I’ll start with controversy, stirrin’ the puddin’, as it were. 

 This tree was called ficus exotica by Jim Smith. I know it looks a little like f. salicaria or the sport of salicaria called “89” but it’s different. But it’s not, as far as myself and Seth can find, a f. exotica. That fig (ficus “exotica”) is a name of a variety of ficus benjamina with a fancy curled leaf tip (go ahead, look it up, I’ll wait). I’ll let Seth comment with his opinion but I’m going to call this, with respect to Jim, an unknown species. It’s quite possible this is from the same area that ficus salicaria comes from (they think South America, maybe Guyana) but I’m not going to guess what species it is. That’s above my pay grade. 

I can opine on the next one. Maybe. 

Southern hackberry. Or, as more people are calling it, sugar berry (celtis lævigata) 

I prefer to spell it with the grapheme æ as opposed to the modern “ae”because it looks cool. That symbol is called “ash” or “æsc” and is a ligature representing a Latin diphthong. Uh huh. I also like using it because, considering I’m a cunning linguist, I enjoy greatly dipping my tongue into a thong that’s been tied up in a ligature. It’s exciting. 

Continuing the theme, this particular sugarberry has an impressive gash. I can even fit my whole hand in it. 

Aha! A crepe myrtle, which means some more nomenclature battles.  Notice I spelled it with an “e” instead of an “a”, like on the sign? I posit that the common name for the tree, lagerstroemia indica, should be spelled crepe, not crape. That common name comes from the flower, with looks like the a French tissue paper called crepe paper (not a crêpe one might eat for breakfast or as a dessert with champagne). I will battle anyone who says otherwise, to the death (of course it doesn’t matter, it’s just a common name and doesn’t mean anything. It’s not even a myrtle. But there are those who would battle to the death. For me it’s just fun, a sport, matching wits against the world). 
Anyway, these last two trees would be loved by Dan Robinson, with the old deadwood features they have. 

Sweet hollows on both of them. 

The next tree is a willowleaf is planted on a hand carved feather rock. As you see, those rocks don’t last long, not only has the weather worn it down but the tree is crushing it with its roots. 

Here’s another root over rock, a Texas ebony. It’s on the only native Florida rock, what they call “cap rock”, it’s literally made of dissolved coral that then relsolidified, combining with things these things called bryozoans, as a hard limestone. This post seems to be full of nomenclature lessons. The Texas ebony is no longer classified as a pithecellobium. It’s current name is ebanopsis ebano (it was just pointed out in the comments that it’s ebenopsis, not ebanopsis, thanks Kathrin) . I know, don’t shoot the messenger. Oh, be careful when googling “Texas ebony” make sure you type the word “tree” in there. 

Next we have a dwarf schefflera, or umbrella tree. 

Many don’t consider them trees and they are correct. They’re a bush,really. But so are most junipers. So there! The full size schefflera (s. actinophylla) is a full size tree. 

Another willow leaf, probably the tallest of the fat trunked specimens here. 

An unusually styled portulacaria. Almost in a tropical fig style. 

Another of the root cutting clumps that Jim was fond of. 

And another. This one is older and has almost no soil. 

A bougie in one of those ugly antique Chinese pots. 

A huge portulacaria. I like this one. 

Ficus microcarpa. Banyan style all the way. 

At this point I was overwhelmed by all these huge trees. Here’s three or four. They’re mostly willow leaf. The one on the right looks like a dude standing. 

Willow leaf again. 

Dwarf schefflera. 

Nice collection of aerial roots. 

Here’s an old green island fig. 

Schefflera, the old ones are usually a banyan style. 

Willow leaf. 

I like this one, it looks like, well, you’ll have to use your imagination. But I see three people.  

Ah! Wrightia religiosa, or the water jasmine. 

A jaboticaba. Seth says this one fruits. Imagine this trunk with dark purple fruits on the trunk like a disease. 

And finally, I’ll end with the first. 
Jim’s first tree actually. A portulacaria afra that he sent away for from a magazine.  

A mail order Jade from way back in 1957! This was Jim’s first bonsai! It’s a root over rock style, not as big as some younger portulacaria he has but, remember, this one has been in bonsai culture for a long time. It’s older than many longtime practitioners of the bonsai art in the USA today. 

And thus ends part two of the epic three part mini-series, “The James J. Smith Collection at Heathcote Gardens”. 

Stay tuned for the last, death defying, stupendous, edge of your seat finale: Part Three! 

Posted in goings, pictures | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

The annual, mandatory, airlayer post 

To fulfill my contractual blogging obligations with the National Blogging Counsel, here is this year’s airlayer post. For kicks, I’m combining two different time lines, just to see if I can keep myself in the correct tense grammatically and time-wise. It’ll be fun. I like a challenge. Like watching a Dr. Who program or reading a Robert Heinlein bootstrap-paradox yarn. I just hope I don’t become my own grandfather, he was an asshole…..wait?! Too late……

The first two trees in working (worked?) are from late April, after Jason Schley’s spring festival: an Escambron (claredendron aculeatum) and a premna microphylla. 

I’ll only be air layering (layered? Laid?) the premna. I carved the Escambron and I’m just going to be showing that off a bit. Let’s do the airlayer first. Get it out of the way. 

Premna microphylla. It’s becoming more popular in the U.S but there still aren’t a lot available. Which is a good reason to airlayer. This one came from Erik Wigert, I’d say he is ahead of the market on quality and quantity of premna bonsai material (wigertsbonsai.com) 

I’ve done the de-barking already (with a razor sharp knife) I chose this spot because there was a bulge, an area of obverse taper. A perfect place for new roots to emerge. And it’s also full of nodes, the type of cells from which either new branches emerge or, in our case, new roots. 

I have sphagnum moss soaking in water already. And, surprisingly, in this case I’m using rooting powder. Asking around, I’ve heard that it takes a little more time for roots to form on a premna than on, say, a Brazilian Raintree (if you want to increase your confidence, airlayer a BRT. You could probably do it with a nail file, a cottonball, some spit and a fig leaf) 

But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s make some pretty drawings. 

We find ourselves with a tree:



What is one to do? 

A trunk chop is an idea….but….

I know! An air layer! Basically, someone, a long time ago, observed that branches on some trees, when they touched the ground, would throw out roots. This began the golden age of “ground layering” or staking branches of desirable plants (mostly grape vines because, you know, wine) and propagating both the plant and more people (you know, because of the wine). And then someone, in a state of englightenment (because of, you know, the wine) said “hey, if we have a branch that we like that’s too high to bend down to the ground, why don’t we bring the ground up into the air! We can call it AIR-layering!” And thus, a horticultural technique is born (because of the wine). 

The technique is this. 

Remove a ring of bark with a sharp knife. 

Either apply rooting hormone or not. Your choice. 

Wrap wet sphagnum moss around the cut. And wrap the sphagnum with something that keeps the moisture in. 

I prefer aluminum foil. 

Then we have two plants. Science! 


I’ll drink to that! Back to the tree at hand. 

Position the aluminum foil…..

Squish in the sphagnum. 
Wrap the aluminum; I like the shiny side out, I think it reflects some of the Florida sun that way. People use newspaper, plastic wrap, trash bags, condoms, etc., to wrap the moss. Whatever. 

Then I like to tie the top and bottom with wire. 

This next step is debatable. I cut the growing tips on the top part of the air layer to stimulate new growth which, in turn, will stimulate new roots in the sphagnum packet.  Some people  think that cutting the top slows growth and counsel leaving the top tips alone.  

All I say is that, horticulture is a science, but it’s practiced as an art. Just like surgery. One surgeon prefers staples and one prefers sutures. It also depends on the health of the subject, be it plant or man. 

Now I’m a gonna show off with my carving prowess. Escambron (I want to say that like it’s an Italian word, not Puerto Rican: “Escambroni! Mozzarella! Linguine! Bella Tette!” ) 


Some wire:It’s gonna be a cool tree. 

Enough showing off, I can only take so much of myself (I can probably take more of myself than most people can take of me).  

To the next tree, ulmus parviflora, the ubiquitous Chinese elm. 

It is clearly a product of the S-curve bonsai production industry, but the owner, in a stroke of genius, let the top grow long so he could air layer it off for a cascade. 

I see a good spot for the cut too. 

I would say this tree could be air layer one more time (at a later date, one air layer per trunk line) to make a third tree and then a short, sweet shohin as well. Remove the wire first. 

Here’s the bark removal site. 

Sharpen zee knife! 

Then cut two rings around the bark, about the thickness of the trunk or branch you’re using. 

Sometimes, on trees that heal fast, like an elm or a trident, you need to make the bark ring wider or even wrap a wire on the bare wood, to keep it from healing over. 

Then you connect the two rings. 

And start peeling. 


Then it’s sphagnum time (I always say that like I’m Sean Connery, I can’t help myself. I’m easily amused) 

Whoops, safety first, always use gloves when using sphagnum moss. 

There’s a disease called Cutaneous Sporotrichosis caused by a fungus (Sporothrix schenckii) that lives in most North American sphagnum moss (not to be confused with peat moss). I suggest you use moss called New Zealand sphagnum (which, oddly enough, we get from Chile). Enough safety.  Back to work. 




That’s all I have for you. The premna went up to the Carolinas with a client and I have the elm here at the nursery. If I still have the tree when it’s time to remove the air layer I’ll show you the results. If not, I’ll fake it. Deal? 

The only other pic I have to share with you is this pretty flower. 

And my ugly hand. Sorry ’bout that. That’s the Jim Smith tabebuia that was from the Epcot exhibit this year. Purty, ain’t it? It only put out this one lonely bloom. 

Speaking of Jim Smith, maybe I should do “part two” from his Heathcote exhibit next? What do you all think? 

Posted in Advanced basics, carving, Horticulture and growing, styling bonsai | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

Wait ’til you see what I do to this new acquisition! OMG!

Look at this beauty!

A collected neea buxifolia (the common name is nia. Don’t ask me why the difference in spelling. It’s a tree native to Puerto Rico and they say nia. Maybe some macho man botanist had to assert his dominance by putting neea, idk). 

It’s a sweet specimen, shohin sized with a trunk full of character. I can’t wait to get my hands on it. Ready? 

Gotta weed it first. 

Damn, my hands are itching to get to work. Look at those branches! 

They’re very bendable too. Even the thickest ones. 
The tree did suffer a bit from being inside; I got it at the recent Bsf convention. 

A black tip like this is usually from the lack of light when you bring it indoors.  It happens when I have to bring them in during the winter cold snaps too. 

We had a great convention this year. The headliners were Bjorn Bjorholm He’s so dreamy. 

Juan Andrade. The young dude on the right, not the old fart on the left (that’s the Bsf president Michael Knowlton. Don’t worry, he’s a good friend, or at least until he reads this). Juan’s sporting the cheesy grin I usually use when posing for photos. 

Here’s the three of us together. Notice my cheesy grin. 

They kinda look like hotel workers in those matching polo shirts. There’s a caption I promised I wouldn’t use. I’ll let you guess though: This is Juan’s demo tree, he is moving some dead wood using a jack. Bjorn is curious as to what is happening, maybe even wanting to help. Sorry guys. There will be some who will guess. 

The two headliners had three assistants during their workshops and demos. All three are accomplished artists in their own right. 

Jason Osborne:That’s him carving a sweet acacia. 

Mike Lane:Helping Juan wire a Chinese elm. 

And David Cutchin, which I didn’t get a pic of at the convention. So here he is at Ryan Neil’s place. I’m not sure who took the pic but I’ll give them credit when I find out. 


I gave a few programs too; an ilex demo and workshop and a byot carving workshop. 

The demo tree: before. That tree was supplied by Wigert’s nursery. 
After. It was a beautiful collected tree thanks Erik! 

Some of the ilex workshop trees. 

And if you click here, you can see a buttonwood I had the honor to carve on. The grey coloured wood is untouched, the tan/brown wood is what I carved. Here’s another clip from Instagram. 

I couldn’t take pictures of the exhibit as that was forbidden, but I do have my tree to show you. 

You’ve all seen it before. A southern hackberry. 

Just to be naughty, here’s my sworn enemy, Seth’s tree. It won best medium bonsai. 

It’s ficus microcarpa. He’s done amazing things with it. Here it was, last year, at this time. 

Surprisingly, that’s not my hairy hand this time in the pic. Seth is a bit of a hobbit you know, you should see his feet. 

Here’s the tree just a few weeks before this year’s show. Then he repotted it into a sweet custom made Kawausa Pottery oval with a namako glaze by Roy Minarai.  

Goes to show you what can be done with a ficus with the correct horticultural techniques applied at the correct time, like pruning, defoliation, repotting, fertilizing. From stock plant to award winning tree in a year. Better than I can do. 
There was so much happening at the convention this year, I hardly had time to take pics. You shoulda been there. You’ll just have to attend next year to catch all the cool stuff and shenanigans that goes on.  It’s gonna be a special one too, ABS and Bsf are putting on a joint convention. It’ll be epic. Look for details soon on bonsai-Bsf.com and absonsai.org. 

Let’s get back to my new nia. Gotta break out the tweezers for those tiny weeds. 

Till the soil a bit. Aerate it. 
Fertilize heavily then and mix it in. 

That’s good. 
Then I add some fresh top dressing and apply a pre-emergent weed treatment. You can use Preen for that, I use a product called OH2.  

And that it! Fooled you, hah! 

That’s all I’m going to do. I almost never work a newly acquired tree where I’m not sure of the previous growing conditions. I do know that the color is a bit yellow on the leaves so I’ll let it get a little more dark green (not that neea get all that dark green, but the color should be a little more dark. You know, like my soul). 

I can do one other thing. This root…..….it’s a little high and its crossing. I can snip it…….and it will sprout from the cut tip and when I do repot this, I’ll have a nice little root cutting to grow. 

And that’s all. As I’m want to say, Bob’s your uncle…..

An air layering post is next. 

I think. 

I could get distracted by something else. And I realize I owe you the part two to the Heathcote exhibit too. Soon. 

Posted in goings, Horticulture and growing, philosophical rant, rare finds, roots, Uncategorized, yamadori | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments