Saying goodbye to a favorite tree

Some of my loyal  and longtime readers know that, for the last one year and eleven months (yes, I am counting)  I’ve been battling a unique health issue with my digestive system  (my colo-rectal surgeon says I am a unique case that her and her colleagues have never seen. My case study was even presented to a symposium of colo-rectal surgeons. I am an oddity and atypical.  Up until her saying that,  it’s only been the psychiatrists who’ve classified me in that way….) I still have several surgeries left in that battle but, in a kind of memorial, I’d like to share a casualty that happened way back in December 2014 because of my struggles. My favorite shohin ilex vomitoria “schillings”. 

The tree on display at the 2014 Bsf Convention

The tree had many of the qualities we seek in bonsai…

This was a photo Paul Pikel took

….a wide root base, quick taper , gnarly roots and twisted branches. It looked old. I also think it was the best pot/tree combo I’ve ever composed. 

Here it is today.Yeah, it’s dead. It’s sad just thinking about it. It just wasn’t watered for a few days while I was in the hospital. 

I’ve been holding on to it just like this since then. 

I think it’s time to move on. It might be more healthy for my head that way. 

At least I can reuse the soil. And the pot. 

But, I need to find a tree for the pot. 
It’s a hand thrown round but then altered into an oval. I’m not sure of the potter though. A Floridian, I think. It’s funny but it’s  usually the opposite procedure, finding a pot for a tree. 

Here are several candidates but, unfortunately, they all have good pots. 

A willow leaf ficus. 
Maybe I could use another ilex. This one is cool.But I like the combo here, a formal pot and an informal, even irreverent tree. ​ 

I think the ficus will fit…..

Let’s see…If I shoe-horn it in, it fits. 

Not sure I like it though. 

Okay then. Back into the old pot. 

I have two more trees. Another willow leaf. 

But I think it’s a little too small. It could use some root work. But not this pot. One more tree to try. A ficus microcarpa. And my kitten Salem. He’s supposed to be inside the house, he’s still too small to take care of himself, naughty kitten. 

It looks like it’ll fit. But first, some wiring and developmental pruning. 

There’s just one wire that needs to come off. 

I’m going to remove the damaged and old, interior leaves. 

I’m keeping the last leaf and the terminal buds intact. This will channel growth to the tips, to elongate and, therefore, thicken the branches. And then some wire. It looks a little weird and it seems counter intuitive to just leave the end growth intact, but we are using the trees own hormones to direct growth. 

Now for the new pot.

I normally wouldn’t do this at this time (it’s late October in Florida) but I’m not touching the roots at all. And it’s a ficus. 

I turned the pot around too. It looks good in there. A good choice. Now just let it grow. 

And give a thought to our fallen yaupon holly. Let’s remember him in his glory. I should have used this display at the convention. 

Posted in philosophical rant, redesign | Tagged , , , , , | 16 Comments

Ficus Benjamin Cold Fusion, Where’s My Nobel?

New video over on the YouTube channel, a ficus benjamina grafting project.

There are some real bad jokes in this one, but some cool guitar riffs and licks.I apologize in advance…..

Posted in rare finds, refine, tips and tricks, videos | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Bonsai and Penjing, Ambassadors of Peace & Beauty -Book review

I am pleased to announce the publication of a new book (October 11) called “Bonsai and Penjing, Ambassadors of Peace &Beauty”, written by Ann McClellan and published by Tuttle Publishing. I was contacted several months ago by the publisher to write a review (I’m wondering if they’ve read my blog….) and they sent me an advanced copy to peruse (I must add, as per current FTC regulations concerning internet influencers, I must disclose that the book was the only thing I received from the publisher, no monetary recompense, no other product consideration….hell, I can’t even figure out how to get the Amazon link, never mind supplying that thing call an “affiliate link”, mostly because I don’t know how to accomplish the internet wizardry required to get one). 

It’s a beautifullly photographed book….…..the bonsai pictures are clear, the text is well written (unlike this blog…..) and the story is riveting. That’s right, this isn’t a dry text book or a how-to on bonsai. This is a story, The Story, of how the Bonsai Collection at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C came to be. 

Not to give too much away about the book, but the ending is pretty much history; the Japanese donation does make it to the USA and to D.C eventually, some of the Chinese donations were actually donated before the Japanese trees, and the North American collection was dedicated in the Eighties. 

But it was not always a sure thing. The man in charge, Dr. John Creech….

……had his job cut out for him and a whole section in the rear of the book where his first hand report is included is dedicated to that struggle. This is a man who had, as a USDA agent, travelled to Japan in the 50’s and 60’s as an explorer, looking for plants and trees that would benefit the agriculture, both ornamental and food, of the US (did you know that there are only about 4 native North American food crops? Cranberry, blueberry, pecan and sunflower. Amazing!). Dr. Creech is the man responsible for collecting seeds from the Japanese native crape myrtle (lagerstroemia faurei) with which, after hybridization, made the first powdery mildew resistant crapes for the landscape industry (that would be the “Natchez” variety, probably the most planted one). He was also responsible for the introduction of the popular chrysanthemum “Tokyo White”, which, in its heyday, was a $1 million part of the landscape industry. 

I learned some very interesting facts that, even though I wanted to know the stories, I couldn’t find them. The internet isn’t as complete a depository of knowledge as one would like. 

I learned what event caused the USDA  to begin the quarantine of certain plants from certain countries. Back in 1910, two thousand cherry trees from Japan had to be burned (they were planted in the shadow of the Washington Memorial!) because they were so full of bugs (they were shipped with native Japanese soil) that they caused a virtual plague of insects upon the countryside. And that’s why plants can only be shipped bareroot (no soil!) into the USA. 

The next surprise story for me was a history of the famous “kingsville” boxwood. I’d wondered where the name came from, who discovered it, all that. Well, it was a sport from a buxus microphylla found by a man named Sam Appleby in 1913. To give credit to how slow it grows, by 1923, Sam had about ten plants from the original sport that were procured, after Sam’s death (it could be said that he died waiting for the boxwoods to grow….) by a Mr. Henry Hohman from, wait for it, Kingsville, Maryland. He named his nursery, aptly, Kingsville Nursery. Henry didn’t really see the kingsville box woods as a commercial tree, being how slow they grow and the brittleness of their stems, he just truly had a passion for them. And he cultivated them and allowed them to be given to others with the same passion for them he had. In fact, the first tree that Yuji Yoshimira used for a demo at for  National Arboterum, was on one of Mr. Hohman’s kingsvilles. 

The book is full of stories like this.

Here’s a cool footnote:  Did you know that even being the leader of the free world won’t change the nature of trees? President Nixon wanted a bonsai displayed indoors in the Oval Office at all times and the horticulturalist told him no, sorry, not even for you, sir. Indoor bonsai…..smh. Trees go outside…..

There’s dozens of photos that made me say,  “Hey! I’ve heard of that!” Or”I know them!” 

Here’s my friend, Mary Madison’s (who I’ll be visiting this Sunday!) buttonwood on display in the North American Pavillion. 

Here’s a pic of Vaughn Banting, the originator of the bald cypress “flat-top” style: 

And his tree: 

They included some of my beloved tropical trees: 

And I’m pretty sure this is a pic of a bougie that one of the old timers in the Central Florida Bonsai Club donated back when they opened the North American Pavilion: 

Can you tell I like it? This book, like the other recently published book on the National Collection, “In Training”(Stephen Voss) should be on your list of books to buy in 2016. I told you I can’t figure out how to do a link to Amazon, so here’s a screenshot for you:

Look it up, order it, give it as a gift , donate a copy to your local club. Let’s get this book out there on the library bookshelves of bonsai nurseries and schools worldwide. 

Posted in Art, goings, pictures, rare finds | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Ficus Microcarpa “green mound” Time-Lapse Video

In case you’re not subscribed to the YouTube channel (and why aren’t you?) here’s the video link to the new video for y’all:

It was a fun video to shoot and it’s a fun video to watch, enjoy!

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A Party in Five Photos, The Drunken Literati

Let’s have us a quickie!

I’ll let that above phrase tickle your funny bone…a bit….

Release your creative juices…..

Stimulate your mind…..

We are talking about a conocarpus erectus…..after all

I could last… all day with the double entendres but I promised you a quickie. Alrighty then, first pic:a Florida buttonwood, conocarpus erectus, looks like a blob of green right now. How about a defoliation? No green leaves are the new pink, you know. All the cool kids are doing it. Wow, three main branches, a few secondaries. They are long but length isn’t everything. You need a little wiggle to make you smile…..

What it does have is good lines. Good bones as they say. A nice Jin on the left there. Good taper.


My usual modus operandi is to wire, then pot, but I need to get a good idea of the angle first sooo…..pot!For you pottery aficionados out there, this is a Don Gould pot made for the 2005 ABS convention in Texas.

The wiring. I’m getting my hands dirty. I’d propose that, if you see a bonsai artist, male or female, who doesn’t have dirty hands after working on a tree, then they haven’t gotten their hands dirty……yet….ummmm.

And the reveal! Let me break it down for you.  Look at the angle of the trunk as it emerges out of the soil. There are times when you want perpendicularity (real word, look it up), but with this tree, no. I could have done a cascade but I didn’t feel like it. Not sure if it could be one. Besides, like the windswept, the cascade is becoming the last refuge of cowards and scoundrels. We will call this a drunken literati. There isn’t a straight line on this tree.

That’s it. Those are all the pics I have. Hope you enjoyed it…..

…….Ok….I lied. I actually have a whole bunch of photos and even some video. So much footage that I was able to put together a YouTube video too, it even has a money shot. Here you go:

Posted in Art, branch placement, rare finds, videos, wiring, yamadori | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Last Night’s Leftovers or, Richard’s Fortunate Buttonwood Find- YouTube Video

Check out the new YouTube video:


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I make a fig weep……

Behold, yonder tree, sitting on yonder table, shaking in anticipatory dread for the tortuous and barbaric bonsai techniques that soon will be practiced upon it. Verily, it’s naming, the Weeping Fig, shall prove true today. Ficus Benjamina, or, as many a bonsai elite likes to call it, “that piece of junk”. 

This tree belongs to a client, and it was her dad’s tree before. My job today is to repot, refine, and re-dress the wounds. 

The lessons: 

Respect for the tree and it’s history. 

Pruning and dressing wounds (I know I talked about that with the tamarind but I need to revisit it. You’ll learn why) 

Now, I kinda teased on the social media interwebs that perhaps I’d be brutalizing and cutting up this poor tree. If I were that brazen in my chop lust, a vile tree abuser, a hack, perhaps I’d cut it about here: But then, I wouldn’t really, because I understand that this ficus is a benjamina, the least likely to bud back where I’d want it to. I’d end up with the a tree budding out here: That wouldn’t be such a bad thing, I could work with that. But, in chopping a benjamina and not leaving green, I could really kill the whole thing too (which is why there will be no defoliation either) 

 Damn benjamina. 

But I’m not goin’ a’choppin’ today. My axe will stay hanging in the woodshed. 

First lesson:Respect. 

My clients dad kept the tree this tall. For whatever reason, I’m not going to turn this tree into a totally different tree just to gratify my ego. I’ll try to bring out its full potential as the tree it currently  is now. That’s what it means to refine. 

That brings us to the next lesson: Wound Management.

We have some pretty gnarly wounds. Like the last post on the tamarind, I’m going to carve out the wounds into an “eye” shape to speed healing. This style tree doesn’t really call for big holes in the trunk so we are going to try some Cheng Cheng-Kung healing techniques. 

Here’s the wounds carved out. 

I’ll cover them with cut paste. 

This brings me to a comment I received (and after I responded, I then got another, even more, brusque comment) about the “proper” way to prune trees. I was told, quite succinctly, that when one is pruning trees, one should always leave the branch collar to speed the closing of the wound. To illustrate:The branch collar is the swelling just off the trunk and at the base of the branch. It  is a collection of dense, specialized tissues that give structure and rigidity to the branch, basically holding it to the tree. Before there was real research into plant physiology, tree surgeons would employ all types of techniques and tricks when pruning trees (keep in mind, I am talking about trees in nature or landscape trees) to get them to heal. It was the work of a man named Dr. Alex Shigo who actually used observational science, experimentation, and horticultural knowledge to really show the correct pruning techniques for fast healing, structural integrity, and health of the tree (His Wikipedia entry). His research is vast and long (one of his books is $86 on his website) and I’m going to just touch upon his teaching. The most practical application of that teaching is the “proper” way to prune a branch. It’s a three cut process. The first cut is to ensure that the weight of the branch, when it falls, doesn’t tear the bark down into the trunk of the tree, it’s a partial cut and you do it on the underside of the branch. The second cut removes the branch. The third cut is the finishing cut, you perform it just at the branch collar. By leaving that collar intact, you are keeping the differentiated cells intact that ensure quick healing, but it also keeps the structure of the tree intact; in the case of a windstorm or other mechanical force acting on the tree, it won’t break at that cut site. 

This is how the tree heals after that cut. 
A slight bump, but it healed strong and fast, keeping pathogens, insects, etc. out. It’s the process he called “compartmentalization”. But, as you all may know, when we prune bonsai, unless we want a new shoot or wish to carve a Jin, we don’t keep the branch collar. We want there to be no evidence of a branch that has been pruned (what is called “the hand of man”). So that little bump on a “properly” pruned branch is not desired. That’s why we have these tools called “concave cutters” and “spherical knob cutters”, to remove that branch collar. But, unfortunately, when this aesthetic principle of bonsai is introduced into the outside horticultural world, they tend to not understand it very well. In fact, the followers of Dr. Shigo have almost created a cult around his teaching. (Check out this website). And they are correct, if we wished to have a quick healing cut, we should leave the branch collar intact. But we want that smooth trunk line (when we do. I usually want the meanest, ugliest scar to denote age and struggle, but sometimes I want it to heal too).  And with the cuts we make and how we dress them, we have hundreds of years of bonsai practice and experience to back up our techniques. Just like the correct pruning on a full size landscape tree ensures quick healing on them, if you apply the techniques that are used in bonsai on bonsai culture trees, with the type of pruning we employ, it works. (To get back to the “comment” I received, the main complaint was that the tamarind wasn’t pruned properly to begin with, never mind that I was dressing an old wound that I didn’t make in the first place and was not pruned well. As often the case with zealots, they can’t see beyond their world view. I’m interested in what Dr. Shigo said about cleaning out old, improperly pruned wounds, but I ain’t got $86 for his book. In his defense, it’s his heirs that are selling it for that price, he passed away about ten years ago). I’ll also be using, like I did on the tamarind, cut paste. That’s a big no no too. 

Back to our tree. This is the front. 

I kinda like the other side as the front. But the structure of the tree, the top, doesn’t support it. I could go to all kinds of heroic measures bending the top back to the right and all that like I did in the tamarind post but a ficus isn’t a tamarind. Once a ficus lignifies, it doesn’t like to be moved. I could try a wedge cut and, like I said, be all heroic and masterful. Or I could just use the front we have and refine it. 

The only issue using this front is this knob of obverse taper up near the top.

We are going for smooth, clean lines like this.   

Time to go back to The Nook for some serious work. 

Knob (play along for me and pronounce that “kah-nobb”) 

No knob. 

Big wound.  Some cut paste. Call me the branch pruning iconoclast.  Let me direct you down here to where there were never any branches and there’s a wound.   I need to clean them up too. No cut paste on these ones though. I think the tree could use some gnarliness near the buttress. 

The trunk line.  Since I’m talking about Dr Shigo, I should mention that the way we prune and structure the tops of our bonsai is anathema too. When you prune a landscape tree you need to keep in mind wind, rain and snow load, and the continued upward growth of the tree. Never “top” a landscape tree, by shortening it you shorten its life, weaken the structure, and stunt its growth. 

But a bonsai is pruned for aesthetic purposes. We are making a short, relatively young tree look like a big, old tree. Which means wider, rounded canopies….. more simplified branch structures…..and taper, natural proportions, and forced perspective. 

And we use wire on our trees to move branches into positions we need them. 

Now for the roots. I think it’s been a few years since this has been repotted. I’m going to steal the moss. Shhhhhhh, don’t tell….And I’m afraid I need to use some sharp toothed persuasion to remove the tree from the pot…..… there’s a saw you’ve never seen. Ha!

Yeah, the soil is all nasty. 

I think it’s prudent in this case to get the reciprocating saw out. It’s new pot is a tad more shallow. 

Gotta make it fit!

​Quick work in time lapse. 

Some raking, washing etc. 

Which Dave did most of, thank you maricon. 

And we are done. 

Considering I’ve had so much attention on social media about this tree (some people even wanted to buy it) I’d say that the tree speaks to many people in its current style. And I personally think it’s impressive as is too, chopping it would just make another short, boring ficus like so many people have already. Here’s the before: 

And the after. There’s not too much difference really, it just has cleaner lines. I consider the ficus benjamina to be a canopy tree, which means it’s almost grown like a topiary. Almost. You still need to control the growth using clip and grow techniques, but in between pruning sessions, let it fill in. 

Some after care with this tree, if you cut the roots like I did, you should really keep the tree in the shade. The lack of fine feeder roots and the propensity for the benjamina to shed branches is a bad combination. I would not be surprised, as well, if any of those branches with wire decide to die too. They really don’t like to be manipulated much and I left some branches I’d have normally removed, just for that possibility. 

Keep an eye out soon for a new video on the Adamaskwhy YouTube channel and do me the favor of subscribing to it and this blog. And please like, share, comment, especially comments, we are needing questions for a special “Ask Adamaskwhy why” video segment, I especially like it when I’m challenged (as evidenced by the middle body of this post). See ya’ soon!

Posted in carving, Horticulture and growing, philosophical rant, refine, wiring | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments