‘Twixt the Twining Twisty Trysting Tree

I picked this Hackberry up at the 2018 BSF convention from a gentleman named Gene.

It called to me, as they say. Those who’ve gone to a major show understand it. I was a vendor, as usual, and I’d been looking at the tree every time I made the rounds in the vendor room. Gene has been selling off his collection for the last few years and he’s sold some real beauties. Things he’s been growing for thirty years or more. Being the bohemian artistic soul I am (read that as dirt poor) I never could afford his bigger trees. But, if you’re a Regular Reader of the Blog, you know I don’t go for conventional trees anyhow.

And with this tree, there’s something very interesting, to me….I’m not sure if it’s the ramification, or the root base, or the movement.

Well, I know it’s all those that I like. Those features give the tree age. But I think it’s going to be the challenge of finding the best view for the piece that I’m really intrigued by. And savoring.

Savoring, in the sense that I have literally been turning the tree, round and round, changing the angle of attack, standing it upside-down, and looking at it for 8 months (literally meaning the actual, factual and dictionary definition of the word “literally”, not how many of the younger generation use it, meaning metaphorically. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is a slight change in the way words are defined, and used, as time marches on, but a word like “literally” has this very concrete and specific definition, meaning, literally, exact, specific, word for word, verbatim.

I had a friend who, I think, was hit in the head with a shovel as a boy, and would use the word just like you’d expect from a guy hit in the head with a shovel. I won’t name him here but, you may guess who it is.)

As I said, the tree came from one of the old timer Bonsai Society of Brevard club members, Gene. I have an idea where it may have even been collected, one of my favorite spots I go to (I’ve been twice this year and plan on one more trip) where the trees grow in a ditch on the side of a dirt road and they are slowly being destroyed by the road maintenance crew, every time they resurface it. It’s really quite sad, seeing the full sized hackberry with trunk scars from the road equipment, the roots sawn off at the road edge, weakening the old trunks.

This little tree, a root sucker for sure, is a twin trunk, technically, but has fused at the base (not this view, but on the inverse side)

Surprisingly, the tree is still flexible on some of these old branches.

Still bendy.

But…..not that bendy. I broke off this branch doing the same thing above, trying to get a similar pic. I’m not afraid to admit it. I’m not proud, just honest and willing to admit when I’m clumsy.

Not when I’m wrong, mind you. No man will ever admit when he’s wrong. It’s in the contract.

But I can admit when I break things. Especially if there’s photographic evidence to implicate me.

The smaller of the trunks is a bit too tall, so…..

…….as they say, the first cut is the deepest…

It’s a little cool tonight, and chucking the cut ends in a fire makes for easy cleanup.

Yeah…..in the fire it goes….it’s cleansing.

I recommend it.

Mid summer I plan on doing some carving out on these old chops. Make them look like a hurricane ripped out the tops.

The one drawback to a hackberry, as some people say, is that they don’t close old wounds.

It’s true, they don’t, but, as with all things, you just have to work with what you got.

Saying you don’t like a tree for a certain attribute or characteristic is like saying you don’t like blue, when all you have to paint is skies.

That’s why carving a more natural looking scar is the better artistic choice.

There’s a good angle. Hmmmmmnnnn….

Let’s first get it out of the pot to see what’s even possible with the roots.

I’m not sure when it was repotted last.

But those roots look fine. Pun intended. A little tousle and a slap. Run my fingers through its hair…..roots.

I think I can have my way with it.

Any which way, but loose, that is.

But what is the best front. Hmmmmmmmmnnnn.

Here’s the pot I chose. It was made by one of my studygroup students, Pete.

I love the shape.

And I think it’ll go well with the design I have in mind.

The texture is spectacular. I’ve not seen anything like it in the bonsai world. I think they call that pattern “paisley”. It I’m not sure. Perhaps we can get a reader to educate us.

The glaze is one of my favorites. There’s a Japanese word, (I can’t recall it at the moment) for the glaze, but it’s a brown and blue and white mixture that changes qualities depending on the clay body.


What’s important is that, though it’s not a “perfect” shape (which is on purpose) it still sits flat on the bench. One of my pet peeves are rocking pots. Learn the clay first, potters. Then learn to glaze.

And, being that it’s not a perfect shape, it looks even better using it in an unconventional way: with a corner as the front. I do realize that this is a no-no, especially in heavily Buddhist influenced cultures (or at Disney, where you get in serious trouble for “pointing”) but I’m an artist, and the lines work. Sometimes Art should make you uncomfortable.

And I do believe this is the best front. It’s the widest view, the roots are going into the soil in a stable and natural way.

I’m in love with this tree/pot combo. It looks good all around……From the front, the left, the right.

Except here.

This is the definite “not front”.

Now, to prune it. After I acquired it last May, I just let it grow, as evidenced by those long shoots below.

This strategy, allowing a tree to go Wild the year before you plan on hitting it hard, is an important horticultural technique.

It’s not an easy thing for those people that want perfect trees all the time, or the impatient people that are constantly picking at their trees, but letting a tree grow, getting big leaves and long shoots, helps that tree to create sugars and carbohydrates and, in the case of a deciduous tree like this, to store that energy for future growth.

Now, you’ve seen me work tropical species and just destroy them repeatedly with no rest. Tropical species are more efficient in sugar production, sugar storage, and with their accelerated growth rate, can replace anything I remove and manufacture sugars quickly, and not miss a beat.

Deciduous trees, not so much.

They go dormant in the winter and need stored energy to push new growth in spring.

And, to compliment that idea, now is a good time to do deciduous work, before the tree uses that stored energy with the new spring growth coming out. If a deciduous tree has popped new growth, it’s best to wait until that growth hardens off, and has a chance to make some more energy, before doing a styling.

And…with that….

‘Tis time for some scissor discipline.

Yes, that is a chainsaw laser etched on my scissor. The boys at American Bonsai felt I needed something to distinguish my tools from everyone else’s. They’re always looking out for me.

The first things to prune off, on any tree, are, logically, the dead tips and die back. Which is easy to tell which is which, on this tree.

Brown is dead, green is alive. The next step is to remove the crossing, multiple, and superfluous branches.

And that’s that. Quick work (I know, easy if you’ve done it before).

Thinking about the future for the tree, I need new shoots from here (that’s the branch I snapped off) So what I do to promote new growth, is to leave a nub, which keeps a thing called the branch collar, intact, which is where the meristematic tissue is concentrated and from which the new growth emerges the quickest. Let me illustrate:

Happy tree.


At the junction between the branch and the trunk we have the branch collar.

It’s sometimes a raised ridge. When you prune a tree in the landscape, Dr. Shigo tells us we should cut at the outside, but right up to, the branch collar (google Dr. Shigo). This allows for those meristematic cells, which are undifferentiated and, therefore adaptable to what the plant needs (with roots or branches or callous) to do what needs to be done, which would be to heal a cut in the case of the landscape tree.

In this case, with this tree, we cut and leave a small nub.

In our tree, we want a new shoot. So by leaving a nub, it most often causes a new branch to form on the underside of that nub. I’m not sure why the underside, but it does.Some trees, like a ficus salicaria or a Chinese elm, will push new growth from the cut end. So you don’t need to leave a nub, as it’ll put multiple new buds from a flush cut (sorry Dr. Shigo, but cultivated trees sometimes don’t fit into a theory).

And then we have beer.

Science and stuff.

Now is the time for the wire.

Just two short lengths, in this case, believe it or not. Gene did such a good job working the tree, I don’t need to move anything.

That chop had left the top empty, so, by moving that back branch forward and over, we have a top now. Like a comb-over 1970’s style. It’ll fill in quickly, a hackberry is fairly apically dominant. The straw colored stuff is sphagnum moss. It’ll help the tree retain moisture in the coming dry season (this winter has been cooler and wetter than usual, but spring is mostly dry right up until the end of May, when monsoon comes)

I can’t help it, I’m totally digging the pot and tree pairing. Is that wrong or should I wait for approval from the Gatekeepers of the Status Quo before saying that?

And that’s all I have to say about that.

I’ll update as usual, I think you’ll be seeing pics of this tree so much it’ll make you sick.

Posted in Art | 2 Comments

Bonsai on The Road: Some travel pics from my June 2018 Mid-America tour

I think this is a good place to begin the journey, at the White Castle. We can just kinda “slide” into it……Although, now that I think of it, most adventures end, it seems, at the Whitecastle…

My first ever visit to White Castle was actually in the middle of my last “Great Mid-West American Bonsai Tour”, in the great city of Cincinnati. But that’s okay. One reason I travel the country teaching bonsai is for (no, not for White Castle) new experiences.

Mostly I travel for the trees though, and for the opportunity of meeting new people.

My first stop of this last summers Mid-America Tour, was in Michigan and the Mid-Michigan Bonsai club. I had been contacted by Patty, and I was scheduled to do a demo and a workshop with the club.

Normally, I’ll post my travel logs soon after I get done with the trip, but I was a little busy dealing with some stuff at the end of June and into the middle of July.

When I travel, I usually prefer to stay in a club members home. One reason is because it’s less expensive for the club, but mostly because it’s more friendly than a hotel. I get to meet new people, and hear their stories.

The World is People, after all.

The first night in Michigan I spent with Tom Ross, the winner of the 2016 Joshua Ross New Talent completion. He has an amazing collection of bonsai and is also an accomplished artist (His Etsy page, His website. He is a pyrographer, meaning his medium of choice is wood burning. from his website

Most of his trees are ponderosa pines and Rocky Mountain junipers, which I would love to work on but, Florida is a little flat, and warm, and those two species kinda need the opposite environment. But that’s ok, Bjorn was scheduled for the club next.

The next morning found me at the club.

This was my finished demo tree (an unconventionally styled Chinese elm), and Jerrod, the winner of it. We had him standing there holding it for about five minutes while everyone took a pic.

And the workshop. I stole these pics from the Mid Michigan Facebook page, I think Patty took them.

I look like a proper philosopher here.

With all the ficus, it’s almost as if people think I’m a tropical guy, seeing as that’s all I get to work on…..

Which is true, I don’t compete with the other bonsai professionals or work on their kind of trees (usually, sometimes someone wants my artistic flair). It was an interesting time to be up in the Midwest area last June. Not only was I touring, but, as I mentioned earlier, Bjorn Bjorholm was there, as well as (amazingly) Jennifer Price, Todd Schlafer, Owen Reich, and a few others. I remarked at this at each club I went to, amazed at the growth of the bonsai hobby to be able to support so many professionals in the same area at the same time. Not only is bonsai growing in the community, but in the “civilian” population as well (I use the pie analogy. We all have a slice of the bonsai “pie” but the popularity and the practitioners are increasing, a bigger pie, so that my slice, or Owen’s slice, is getting bigger. Bigger slice, more business. Many people think that the pie is only so big (called a zero sum game by economists) and so they must compete with their contemporaries, sometimes even saying nasty things about them to get work. I just don’t understand that at all. My specialties as a working professional are: tropicals, deadwood carving, and beginner workshops. This blog almost specializes in marginal and beginner trees, as I want it to welcome regular people and not intimidate them into thinking bonsai is a rich man’s game. It should be accessible and easy. They are just little trees, to be honest, though I do sneak in the specimen and big tree every once in a while).

After the program, I said good bye to Patty and Tom and made my way to a private session with Steve. That night, I stayed with Steve and his husband.

Steve had hired me for a daylong session the next day. Here are some pics of Steve’s trees and from their garden.I could very easily run out of superlatives describing their garden.

They have a timeshare in Orlando and visit me when they come down, and they’ve been to most of the Florida nurseries too.

This trident was from a Florida Bonsai nursery in Deland.

And this is a tamarind Steve got down on Florida’s West coast. The pic is after a styling by me.

This Raintree may have come from me, I’m not sure…

…but I am sure this willow leaf ficus came from my nursery.

They had a very beautiful garden with water features, neat structures and stonework.

It was a little pocket of Eden in Michigan. I was hesitant to leave. But the journey called….

On the road to Indiana. Ft. Wayne, to be exact. As evidenced by my White Castle stop, I tend to sample local specialties as I travel, when I can, so……I stopped for a little liquid refreshment before arriving at my next destination. This was a local pizza joint and a local brew.

My next stop was to my good friend Darlene, who had hosted me before (and where the workshop was going to take place) to say hello, before I made it to my host this time, Jill. We hung out a bit and I unloaded trees for the workshop.

Upon arrival at my next stop, my first impression at Jill’s (beyond the beautiful home) was this amazing oak (I’m kinda into trees…). I had to photograph it. The tree is old. And beautiful.

Jill’s home is in a Spanish style, it was the owners house on a horse farm.

This is the formal dining area. Jill has some spectacular trees, some with fantastic provenance (I’ll show you those below).

First, I got got to revisit some old friends. You’ve met them here and Big foot looks great!

Here’s Little Foot. …..and the collection has grown, lovingly taken care of by Darlene, Pat and curated by American Bonsai Master, Guy Guidry. a flat top bald cypress (yes, they can survive up there)ponderosa pine

There were many new trees since I last visited and, like I said, they were well taken care of.

But, a mid day repast called (with some more liquid refreshments of course). This was a spot that was recommended by Pat and Darlene. I had a pork tenderloin sandwich that was bigger than my head (which is quite large, I must admit).

One of the toughest things about traveling is sometimes missing family milestones.

My Daughter promoted to black belt in taekwondo while I was away. But, thanks to Apple and FaceTime, I was able to watch live. I will admit,I cried (at least one tear).

One of my favorite photo cliches, when I travel up north, is taking pics of all the natural Christmas trees (sorry, winter solstice celebration trees). I have probably about a hundred saved photos. Maybe I’ll publish a book one day.

“All the Christmas Trees I See on the Road”

I also visited Bruce’s place while I was in Ft Wayne (I wrote about my visit to his place and this tree below here) This was an Indiana grown ficus, believe it or not.

Finally, back at Jill’s place, this is her ponderosa pine. Bjorn was coming in a few weeks and he got to work on it (though I did prune one branch off and make a Jin).

The trees I did get to work were her trident maples. This one is the exciting one, because it was created by Nick Lenz. It is not a root-over-rock like you might think, it’s a root-over-a-fired-clay-shape, by Nick.

I was both honored and excited to give Jill a lesson on trident maple pruning strategies . We went over the proper timing of bud removal, defoliation, cutting for taper and movement, and repotting. We had a good time, and she took lots of notes.

Then came the Ft. Wayne Club’s workshop.

I really enjoy this club, the people are all cool (especially Darlene and Pat. Those two ladies treated me like an adopted son)

From there it was off to Columbus Ohio.

I look at a lot of trees in case you didn’t know. As I said, kinda part of the job. I’m amazed by how big they get up in the Frozen North.

For my class at the Columbus Bonsai Society. I was asked to bring material for the class, and I took them a large variety, from portulacaria afra to American elm to Brazilian rain trees. I think I even had some tamarind.

I brought this ilex vomitoria “schillings” especially for John.He was shocked by my treatment…..well, not really. I asked him to pose this way. You see, not everything you see on the internet is real, after all.

An elm from the workshop.

On this trip I had used my wife’s minivan. I feel sorry for her and the abuse I put her van through. Sorry honey.

I spent the night with Jack, gave him some advice on his collection, and then from Columbus I had a few days with Deb and Bob. I originally picked this up for Bob, but at this point, I was needing a treatment from Dr Kane myself.

I wandered a little on my way to Deb’s. I got to visit a Der Dutchman restaurant. Here’s my wife’s van. In the shade, in the parking lot.

A random building in Ohio Clouds and a field.

And finally, in the boonies, Deb and Bob’s place.

Fishies. In Florida we have too many predatory birds to keep koi without putting up mesh and wires, destroying the whole tranquil beauty a koi pond is supposed to have.

Deb’s house is a craftsman’s delight, full of beautiful wood work and details. I was with them for a few days of rest. I had a stomach bug (which is not good with my ileostomy, I’ll tell you). But even with that, it was a perfect haven. I can’t wait to go back.

On the way to my next stop, I took the time to check out a 9/11 memorial The last time I visited one of them I was in Pennsylvania (I wrote about it in the middle of this Blogpost).

I don’t have the talent with words to express my feelings about my time spent there. I’ll let the photos tell the story.

From there I visited Professor Erb. He’s in the Dayton area and has some nice specimens coming along.

We carved, pruned, and had some beers (maybe not in that order, mind you…).

I didn’t spend the night there though, I had to get to Cincinnati and meet up with John.

I’m amazed at all the old houses I get to stay in when I visit the North. Florida has some old ones (my house is over a hundred years old but it’s not much more than an old shack) and technically, has the oldest continuously inhabited city, St. Augustine, in North America, but the houses tend not to last. We have termites, fungus, hurricanes, real estate developers. Old houses are rare here, so it’s a treat to visit them on my travels. I loved this little sink at John’s House.

John, my host, took me all around Cincinnati, this is Krohn Conservatory. In the tropical room was an old tree-form ficus salicaria. That’s bigger than most willow leaf ficus in Florida, believe it or not.

We also visited the Cincy art museum but they prohibit photos (so to sell prints and postcards I guess. I find that type of policy self defeating, I mean, what’s better advertisement, that’s free, than having people posting pics on social media of your exhibits? It may lose you the dollar you make on selling a book or a postcard, but you give people a preview of what’s there, and generates interest in visiting. This applies to bonsai shows too, and I’m talking to the organizers of some of the bigger shows. People love pics, and it inspires them to come next year. Think about that. You need people to come next year, and a Facebook photo, shared around the world, is free advertising).

Cincy has some of the best craft breweries in the country, and I partook copiously.

One of the highlights of my trip was seeing my good friend, Evan, receive a lifetime achievement award from the Cincy club. He works tirelessly for that club and deserved the recognition. Evans friendship is one I hold precious, he’s a great man and a throwback to how men used to act. A true gentleman.

He always has me for a private session while I’m up there. This time he invited Scott, who brought some cool trees for me.

This is a Barbados cherry that Scott had purchased from my friend, Cesar, who lives in Tampa. The bonsai world is small.

This is Evan’s Brazilian Raintree. It needed a repot.

And a Japanese black pine I gave a first styling to. He got it from Matt Smith, who has some of the best twisty trunked material in the country Matt’s eBay Store .

For the Cincy club, I gave a demo on the Thursday regular meeting night (it was after that meeting when I went to the Whitecastle).

My demo tree

And then I did a workshop on Saturday morning.

We used American elms, sourced from Dragon Tree Bonsai Nursery in Palm City FL.

Elms are some of my favorite trees to work on. Here are some of the “after” shots.

All good trips must come to an end, so it was off to Florida, via Georgia, where I was going to meet up with my sister, niece, and youngest son, Mathew.

I love mountain driving. All the (potential) rock (slides) and (vertigo inducing) vistas.

What I don’t lover is driving through Atlanta.

My sister has been vacationing in Pigeon Forge, TN, and the plan was to meet up and caravan home. It made for a pleasant ride.

There’s my sister and niece. What’s funny is my sister hates anything grape flavored but her favorite color to wear, is purple.

My son (logically, having spent the last week with my sister…..) decided to drive home with me. We made some stops, and I got to play the tourist a bit more. Good beef jerky here, try the sirloin tip flavor.

And, finally, back into the sunshine state! Of course it’s still a long haul to Orlando from the Florida Welcome Center on I 75, but it’s a big psychological boost.

Now, if you remember, in the beginning, I said I usually write these travelogs after the trip, but this time I didn’t because of some troubles.

It was right after this last pic, where I was still flying high from the tour, having fun with my sister, niece, and my youngest son.

I had had an amazing trip, meeting new people, working on trees, seeing new places, spreading the Art of Bonsai.

I won’t go into specific details of the troubles, those that caused me to not want to write about bonsai ever again, but I will say, what happened, pulled me down into the lowest depths I’ve ever been. I was accused of things that go against my nature and against core beliefs I’ve held for half my life.

The aftermath caused me to lose a tour, lose an opportunity to headline a National show, lost me respect of many people I look up to. It also has made me suspicious of friends, new acquaintances, and has left me bitter. Seriously bitter at times. I still believe in people…..but it’s hard.

You remember my son Mathew? He is a Webelos, in the Cub Scouts. Just recently, in the class for earning the “Duty to God and You” merit badge (We don’t teach a specific religion or faith in our Den or Pack, but more of a respect for the spirituality and individual beliefs any one of us might hold) one of the dads, who had the taken responsibility for guiding the boys in this requirement, presented them with a very interesting game.

The game had the boys split up into two groups, with each group competing with each other. The groups had a choice of holding up a card that either said “friend” or “foe” on it, at each turn. If each group held up the “friend” card, each group got one point. If both the “friend” and “foe” cards were held up, the group holding the “foe” card got 2 points and the “friend” card team got zero. If both teams held up “foe” both teams lost one point.

The way the game was “won”, though, was only by both groups arriving at a set score, I think ten, at the same time. The dad only mentioned this rule once, and the boys got so intent competing and trying to cause the other group to lose points, that, as anticipated by The dad, one group arrived at the high score first (and it was a lopsided victory with the other team in negative numbers) but didn’t “win” because, well, the other group didn’t get there at the same time.

The dad had even promised a specific monetary award to the boys if they both “won”, but just a generalized “you’ll get something” to the team that arrived at the ten points first. The “winning” team got 50¢. If they had both arrived at ten first, each team would have gotten $5 each

Of course, the game is a metaphor for this journey we call life. And life is not a journey we take alone, though it is often lonely, but it’s only lonely, if we let it.

I think this bears repeating: the World is People. It’s made up of people we may think of as “friends” or “foes”. We all end up at the same finish line. Some before others, but we all finish the same way.

And that’s that.

My genuine thanks to all those who put up with me while I was driving around the Midwest last June, and I apologize for anything I left out, or remembered incorrectly. There was a lot of time between the doing and the remembering and in the writing.

I have been invited, again, to take a trip back up to Cincinnati in mid-June, 2019. If you’d like a visit from me, either to your club or to your home, just send me an email (adamaskwhy@att.net). I’m looking forward to meeting some new people, seeing places that I’ve never seen, trying new food (and beers), but, most importantly, sharing this odd, peculiar Art we call Bonsai. I’ll have to wait until then to revisit the Whitecastle, but tonight, since I’m kinda in the mood now, I just might visit the friendly neighborhood Krystal’s, since we don’t have a Whitecastle.

We need more smiling and less frowning, especially in this crazy time we live in.

Posted in Art, goings, Horticulture and growing, philosophical rant, styling bonsai | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

A quick trident maple forest

Here’s a neat project. This little trident maple clump has some history. It was purchased, from another Central Florida nursery by Ben, from Agresta Gardens. He didn’t pay too much for it, if you parted it out, but as a whole, it wasn’t that cheap.

Actually thinking about it, it was about average price, surprisingly. Anyway….

At the 2018 Bsf convention, he had it on display in a neat fan pot.

Unfortunately, a clumsy person (that should have known better) in a moment of inattention and a serious lack of situational awareness, knocked it off the table and the trees spilled out of the pot.

This kinda killed off some of the trees. It’s not a good time, at the end of May, in Florida, to barefoot trident maples. needless to say, some of the trees suffered from their treatment.

It is, however, time to repot them now, in February.

Here’s the new pot. I got it from a down-on-his-luck bonsai guy who had some bills to pay. It’s some type of Japanese pot, maybe tokoname or some such. I probably paid too much but the dude had legal bills to pay due to some indiscretions. I’m a big softy sometimes. I wouldn’t have bought it if I didn’t like it, I’m not that much of a bleeding heart, but I’m sure the money went to a useful end.

So what does one do with a half dead clump?

Simple, add more trees!

Let’s see….one dead tree dropped to the ground already….and this one my pointer finger is, well, pointing to, is dead.

And the one next to it too….

This one is alive, by the scratch test I just did.

Lots of roots, mostly alive too.

It’ll go in kinda like this

But first I need to prep the other trees.

I got some of them from Mat Ouwinga of Kaede Bonsai-en, some I got from a company called Superior Trees, and some are cuttings, believe it or not. The ones from Mat are a better variety, with short internodes and many buds.

The ones from Superior Trees are cheaper (like .43¢ each per 100, and they drop dramatically the more you buy, but you need to order now for next year, as they’re sold out). The problem, for us, is they have been grown with synthetic fertilizers and the internodes are far far away, but, they tend to be thicker in girth off the bat too.

The cuttings I made have the best nebari (root spread) and are my favorite for growing out.

Prepping the trees for this planting means just some weeding and removal of just a few roots.

The pruning will wait until everything is planted.

Be aggressive, they are dormant and can take the abuse.

Especially with the weeds. You want the planting to be weed free as the roots need to intertwine with each other to form a dense mat. And pulling weeds in June make for weaker trees.

These are tubers from a nasty weed.

A little butter and garlic and they fry up pretty good though. There we go. Weed free since just now.

They fit! I’m done here….just a quick hand washing and it’s Miller time.

Not really. Now is the “arty farty” part.

This one looks like a good first tree.

That’s usually the fattest trunked one. It’ll be the focal point.

One mistake people make with forest plantings is they space the trees too far away. You need to shove them together and create clumps. Go walk in a natural forest, Mother Nature doesn’t go by the USDA’s minimum planting space guidelines. As for securing the trees in place, I take wire and tie all the trees together above the soil. I learned that from Joe Day.

Try not to line up the trees in straight rows, vary the trunk girth and heights, and try to make the canopy flow.


Remember we need a dense mat of roots, so fill in the soil into the empty spaces.

No straight rows….

The sphagnum is to help with moisture control and root growth (it’s thought that the acidity of sphagnum helps to grow roots).

The trees I added need some ramification but that’ll come in time.

Now we wait for spring.

Ahhh! Who can wait?! Here’s a virtual for you.

Simple, humble, quiet.

I like it.

Posted in Art, redesign, styling bonsai | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

None dare call it yamadori

I think it’s time to work this tree. If for nothing else but to put it into a proper pot. You know, there’s a real history and tradition of containers like this being used for native collected material. Mary Madison uses these trays all the time with her collected buttonwood. It’s a small cat litter box from Walmart. Drill a few holes and you have a nice training container. I’ve just had it a bit too long in the Florida sun.

The tree is a southern hackberry, which I think I’m going to say is my favorite deciduous tree, at the moment. It’s native to florida, it grows fast and develops branching quickly (those two things are not mutually exclusive, by the way….)They’re easy to collect with about a 100% survival rate, and they just look so cool, with that fine branching, rough bark, small leaves. I love them.

And I say “To hell!” to the japanophiles who say native trees, like these, aren’t good for bonsai. You can follow the full development of one of my real signature trees starting at this post. If that tree isn’t bonsai, then nothing in the USA is.

The hackberry I prefer is celtis lævigata. Technically, it’s a “sugarberry”, but as I’ve said before, I prefer the common name “southern hackberry”. But common names don’t really matter, for example, on the USDA care sheet, one of its common names is, in Spanish, “Palo blanco”. Which means, literally, white stick.

This root spread kinda shows how the tree grows. It’ll put up “suckers” from the roots, and those shoots can and will become their own treesThe tree was a root sicker at one point.

Look on the roots on the far left. That’s a sucker popping up from the root. Most designers would remove that, but I’m keeping it. I’m going to use it in the design to show the nature of the tree.

It’s a tit-bit-nipply tonight in Orlando, so fire for this cold night is in order. The Nook is just a roof and a bunch of crap that needs organizing, not much in the way of shelter from the cold (there is the Wall of Pots too, but that doesn’t provide much protection). Ahhhhhh, Fire!

getting back to the tree, I think this is the front.

I hate to throw this away, I’ve been looking at it for about 4 years. It’s become a staple of the nursery. Four or five years is generally how long I’ll give a collected tree time to regain its energy before I begin to look at it for bonsai. Don’t rush your trees. Unless you can…..

Using my handy dandy, homemade root hook….

Of which mine is a superior design, of course (the loop for the handle goes under, giving you a more secure grip and providing for a more ergonomic experience….)

We have some side roots! I must have known what I was doing when I collected this tree. This is a good place for an aside: I know how much you want to collect some trees, and really begin to be like your idols like Mauro or Harry, but look at the material they collect and what you might collect. Find the tree with character, uniqueness, interest. If all you can find is a straight boring trunk, you’re better off buying one at a tree farm. It has a better chance of surviving, and you’re. Or removing a tree from nature.

The trees I collect are along a highway and they’re not wanted by the Dept of Transportation. Many have been bush-hogged down to make it easier for the mowers and maintenance men to keep the road up. Find something interesting.

Here’s a tip, I know we want to preserve as many surface roots as we can, but wispy ones like this are out of scale (bonsai is an art of deception, with scale being one of those tools we use). Get rid of them and use the larger roots.

But, I won’t be wasting those roots I just cut off though, hackberry are one of the trees you can use for root cuttings. I have time (hopefully) where I’ll see a tree from this. But if not, it can still be given away to a newbie, or donated to a club raffle. We need more trees in the world.

the pot I’m using one I got many years ago from Paul Pikel. I think it’ll work here. Good depth, big enough to hold the tree….

Now then, let’s do some styling.

For some reason, the tree grew two apexes (its both apexes or apices, btw. I like apexes, unless I’m trying to sound hoity toity, then I’ll say apices. Kinda like when that bonsai dude says “inverse taper” or “substrate”).

Which will be the top?


Or yon?

I think I’ll go with yon….



Yes, I did just break that off.

And here’s proof. Like a gnawed down chicken bone.

Hackberry doesn’t heal wounds like this very well. And to match the cut, why not rip it off? It works. We are trying to make old looking trees, and one with a big wound on it certainly looks old.

Almost done, just need to prune off some more branches for taper and then add a little wire. This is the first styling so I won’t be loading it up with fine wiring.

Here’s that root sucker I left.

This is another strong shoot that needs some cutting back.

The top needs some taper…….……heavy wire…. .

Heavier wire to move that apex….

And almost…..There!

That’s all I can do. I like it too.

Like the hackberry post I linked to above, this post is the beginning of the journey for this tree. Book mark it for future reference.

I’m excited!

Oh, about the title, a yamadori is technically a tree collected in the mountains (literally it’s actually a mountain bird, the copper pheasant (Syrmaticus soemmerringii) but Japanese is weird where they use words in niche ways. Take the word sake, in sushi culture, its salmon. I can see some Japanese dude who was a little shy about playing with little trees telling his friends he was going to the mountain “hunting pheasants”)

So a hackberry tree collected in a drainage ditch in a state that’s at sea level (give or take) doesn’t really qualify as being in the mountains. But the word, much like the word bonsai, has changed. Nowadays we call any collected tree a yamadori.

One last bit of housekeeping, and I hate to do it, but…..this blog costs me $300 a year to maintain the database with unlimited storage. I need to figure out a way to pay that. This is where you, the readers, come in:

How can I do it? I don’t want to run adds but I may need to (it won’t be Adsense or any of those, I would vet each ad myself and add them in not so blatant areas). Send me some ideas to adamaskwhy@att.net, help me figure it out.


Posted in Art, branch placement, rare finds, yamadori | Tagged , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

A “signature” tree, so to speak….

Well now, who is in my passenger seat today? Or should it be “what…..in the helll?!”This…odd….tree, is an elm, believe it or not. An American elm to be precise (some people make a distinction for American elms that are in Florida. But genetic testing reveals that they are just like all the Ulmus americanas in the rest of the USA). What’s interesting about this is it’s literally Just chopped off roots that had been pruned from a larger specimen and then raised, so that the roots are now the trunk. I acquired it on one of those Facebook auctions about two years ago from a Florida seller. I felt sorry for the guy as he was in need of money, but I’m not a softie, I do find the shape interesting. I realize it’s not quite to everyone’s taste as a bonsai form, but it’s my tree and my blog. I also find working on odd shapes like this (if you haven’t noticed) a challenge.

The leaves are pretty small on this tree, and this is often the reason people believe that the Florida Native American elms are a sub variety of the regular ones. But, in my observations, deciduous trees tend to be smaller and even weaker in Florida. Take the red maple (acre rubrum), which grows from Miami all the way to Canada (duh, the Canadian flag). Up in the northern climes, red maples are big trees. Down here I’ve never seen one more than 20-30 feet tall (less than ten meters. Or metres if you’re in Quebec).

When I was in Pennsylvania, I saw an American elm with leaves as long as a Coca Cola can. It’s weird but plants and even animals (look up the key deer) don’t seem to grow as large as they do up north. The acorns are tiny on our oaks too (insert joke here).

Well now, this is an interesting mix for a tree in a bonsai pot: perlite, scoria, and regular potting soil. I guess it kept the tree alive when I was neglecting the tree. The question that is often brought up is “Why use bonsai soil of a regular mix keeps the tree alive?” I might be able to add to that conversation. Maybe.

The reason we use bonsai soil, period, in bonsai pots, is drainage.

It doesn’t make sense but, the more shallow a pot, the less it drains.

You read that correctly.

The physics have to do with both molecular cohesion of water (surface tension) and a small part of fluid dynamics called perched water tables. Here’s an amazing link that explains the concepts better than I can (I’d just be copying what they wrote).

Basically, the potting medium has a level that water will drain to, depending on its water retention, it’s particle size and shape, etc. (interestingly, the whole idea of adding bigger sized particle to the bottom of a bonsai pot to increase drainage, as was taught by the old timers and traditionalists in bonsai, raises the perched water table and therefore decreases real drainage. Makes you go “hmmmmmm?”).

Regular potting soil has a high perched water table. Bonsai soil not so much. one thing I took away from that website is that it doesn’t matter how big the drainage holes are, if your mix doesn’t drain well, it won’t drain. Which means that theoretically, you could have a pot with no bottom and regular potting soil and it’ll still drain to it’s lowest point and still wouldn’t be effective in bonsai culture.

So, to make it short and sweet, and to answer the question, we use bonsai soil because it’s all about the drainage. Without good drainage, a tree will only persist, it will never thrive. You’ll not get branch ramification, vigorous roots, or even a healthy tree. Kinda like how the deciduous trees in Florida landscapes are. They’re usually planted over a hard pan (which is important for buildings stability, not good for drainage purposes).

Here’s the pot I’m choosing for my elm.

I think that’s a grape vine…..

Only one hole but I can work with it. In fact…..

…..a few lengths of wire, a bit of chopstick, a drainage hole screen….

Loop it….

Attach to the bottom…..

Take the chopstick…..Tie the other two wires to it……Like so…..Put that into the pot…..And attach the first wire (the one we used with the screen) to the chopstick. Now we have tie down wires and a drainage screen, all nice and tight and ready for the tree.

Some good soil.

Add the tree….Tie it all down and voila!

We are ready for some styling.

Let’s see now…..

We don’t need this, and it’ll improve taper and movement to get rid of it anyway.

We just need one branch here…

We don’t need this….

Sharpen the knife….

Smooth the cut…..

A little wire and some trippy, twisty movement…..

Almost there…..

Wait for it….

I think I’m digging it.

Can you see it yet?

My name, is Adam, last name, Lavigne. Sometimes I sign my name with just an “A”, and my last name.

Which is French in origin. It’s is not the real last name of my ancestors, it’s called a “dit” name. Dit meaning a region or place a person is from. La vigne means, literally, “the vine” or “the vineyard”. My ancestors were probably serfs in a winery in the French countryside. So, we have “A. Lavigne”……

…..Now you’re getting it.

The vine…..

Yes, you may groan…..

It is that bad.

I apologize.

I literally downloaded about forty pictures and wrote about a thousand words just to make a really bad visual pun.

I’m a dork.

But aren’t we all?

Posted in Art, branch placement, Horticulture and growing, philosophical rant, rare finds | Tagged , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Dale Cochoy, American Bonsai Guy

Shogyu Mujo-En…..

This was what American bonsai potter pioneer, and carving mentor, Dale Cochoy, called his bonsai garden. The last word, En, means garden, that’s the easy part.

Almost prophetically, the first two words mean….well, that’s a tough one. Like many words and phrases in other languages, the literal meaning isn’t the whole meaning. This is Dale tending his kiln during his last pottery firing.

On the morning of New Year’s Eve, I found out that Dale passed away. It was not unexpected, but it was still a shock. He wasn’t a good friend, I had met him several times at the Bsf conventions years ago and had interacted on Facebook and Messenger several times. I had no idea what he thought of me. But, reflecting and thinking about him these last days, I’m beginning to really understand what I think, and feel about him and his bonsai legacy.

Here’s Dale somewhere around 1970, he was in the US Navy.

Dale had a long and successful time in bonsai. It is not my intent to list all his accomplishments and accolades. I’m not the one to do that. I can only write about what I know about him and my impressions of the man.

He had many different types of bonsai but, even being from Ohio, he shared a love of tropicals like I do. Green island ficus

Willow leaf ficus.

Unfortunately, I only own two pots from him. This beautiful one, one of his premium brands….

And this neat round one.

It’s kinda funny that they’re both just about the same color, it’s more of a reflection of my tastes than his, as most of his pots were not this color. I believe the second one is in his trademarked “Dry Riverbed” crackle.

His usual style was unglazed, or with an oxide stain, and the textures were carved, rustic or with his crackle.

For the first pot I own, what I mean by premium is he had two ideas in pottery. His Facebook page (Click here) is called Wild Things Bonsai Studio and Yakimono No Kokoro.

Yakimono no kokoro. It, too, is a hard phrase to define. Yakimono is sometimes related to cooked meat over a fire (like yakitori) but in this instance, it is the fire part we are interested in.

Kokoro means spirit, or heart, or mind.

Interestingly, one of his favorite shows, about making knives and edged weaponry was Forged in Fire.

It could be interpreted that Yakimono no Kokoro means “a heart, forged in fire”. I wonder if he saw the connection. I’m sure he did, he was a smart man.

This is the bottom of the other pot I own. I got it at the 2010 Bsf convention.

This is how I remember him from that show.

Not my pic, I pulled most of the ones I’m using here from his Facebook page.

When I met him, it was at a Bsf convention and he was just like this, behind his vendor table, watching the world.

He seemed to always be watching and learning. These last few years, even after all the time he practiced pottery and with his mastery, he took it upon himself to learn raku techniques.

He was also very outspoken. He had opinions and was a conservative who liked motorcycles and guns, voted republican and even liked Trump. As for bonsai and his pottery, he has a distinctive “Dale” style. You can tell a “Dale” pot from a hundred like them, because he was a pioneer in the bonsai ceramic culture in the USA and the world. I don’t think we’d have half the potters we have today, if Dale hadn’t paved the way.

But his was not a subtle style. And that’s the rub. I will only touch upon this for a bit but I’d like to point out the hypocrisy I’m seeing on social media at the moment, with people who definitely would talk badly about Dale, and now are mourning and typing that easy three letter word, RIP, instead of something original (One guy, who is the worst about backtalk, and in his typical tone, even wrote “That sucks”. Classy).

For transparency, I do not like everything he produced. Some of his pottery is too coarse for my tastes and (style-wise) for my trees.

But he was an artist.

And I respected his right to do his art as he saw fit. That’s the difference between intermediate and advanced artists, one group wants you to do as they do, wallowing around in the cold soup of the status quo, while the other wants you to follow the muse, wherever it may lead you. Dale and a motorcycle…..and a cat

I think I even annoyed him many years back when I wrote an article for the Bsf magazine and said that samurai carving tools weren’t good for hobbyists. But I believe he had forgiven me in the end. I had purchased some of his last carving bits a few months ago and he told me I’d better do a video using them. John Naka and Dale

There’s always a battle in any small art community for purity in technique, in execution and subject matter, and in taste. Dale didn’t care, and that pissed off people.

And I’m glad it did, because he made an impression on the American and international bonsai scene. Mitch Boatman, Jim Osborne, and Dale

Dale, thank you. I wish I could have been a better friend, especially towards the end, but I’m not very good with dealing with sickness. My experiences throughout my life have not left me in a good place with death and I just don’t know how to respond to it.

Shogyu Mujo-En…..

This is what hung over the entrance to Dale’s bonsai garden. It now hangs over the gentleman’s garden in the above picture in orange, Mitch Boatman. Mitch really became a good friend of Dale’s in these last few years. I envy him, but he worked at it too. Mitch is becoming one of the pre-eminent suiseki diaza and bonsai wood carvers in the country. He is also on Facebook, if you’re looking for that kind of work.

What does Shogyu Mujo-En mean?

All things must pass.

All things are transient.

Nothing is forever.

All things change.

Posted in Art | 14 Comments

Return to the auction ficus trunk chop YouTube video

Here’s just a quick link to my YouTube channel, revisiting the willow leaf ficus I chopped back (for fun and profit….)


Click here to watch!

Posted in Art, branch placement, progression, videos | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment