Gulfport Mississippi, the last working day of my trip.
I was invited by my (new) friend Buck to visit his home on my way back and he’d hire me for a private styling session on some trees.
Of course I said yes, wouldn’t you?
Especially with promises of beer and steak.
After a walk around his collection he showed me the two trees I was working on.
A big ilex cornuta bufordii.
And a rather sad looking bald cypress. IMG_9330.JPG
It was suffering from typical male pattern baldness, it was bald on top and only had growth on the sides.
I also had a helper.
Lots of work, let’s get to it then.
Buck had collected it a few years ago and he cut it to a line then. In those years it’s gained a lot of strength (it’s best to wait at least two years to work on a collected tree, unless it’s a tropical).
Think of it like this, you’ve just torn it out of the ground, you need to let it grow; only in growing can it gather strength. Through the leaves and chlorophyll (photosynthesis) are how a plant feeds itself, that’s it, fertilizers are just vitamins, not food.
This tree is pretty healthy.
The leaves are a dark green and the canopy is full.
The only mar is just a slight one.
On the older leaves, there live a bit of snow scale. It’s pretty common and an oil spray will take care of them.
If I were to keep the leaves, that is.
You all know my modus operandi by now.
First, some ambition and anesthesia to steel myself to the task. Something mean, I think, to compliment the sharp, mean leaves of the holly.
Some initial pruning.
Look! An ilex vomitoria seedling.
Isn’t it cute?
Buck has wild ilex all over his property. If I lived here I’d have a hundred of them as bonsai.
When I come back next year I’ve been promised by a few people that they’d collect some for me.
Enough fantasizing, I’m working here.
Begin defoliation.

A word to the act of defoliation, in this instance, I’m mostly removing the old leaves, keeping some green near the end. There will be another flush of growth (this all occurred about a month ago on my Louisiana Tour) and then it’ll settle down for winter. I’m wiring every branch as well and, by keeping the wire on over the winter, it will set the branches with minimal wire scarring.
Wire. Every. Branch.

Now for some carving.
I said he had cut it to a line after collecting. An ilex cornuta won’t heal a big wound very well.

I have just a few scars to clean up and start them on their way to natural looking-ness.
I like the way that looks…..reminds me of something….
While I’m carving I might as well work on the cypress.
What often happens when collecting a cypress is that it will only sprout back from the bottom.
There’s not much you can do except either cut it off and grow a short tree or, what I’m going to do, make it look like the whole top died out.
Before carving.
And after.



I’ve seen trees like this in the swamps. They might have been stuck by lightening or maybe the top got ripped off and it’s died back to the lowest branch.
I won’t try to style those lower branches now, it needs to rest and go dormant. Next year after the spring growth will be best time to do some wiring.
That was fun.
Now it’s time to relax and have some steak and..
Iced green tea with honey.
I actually don’t like alcoholic beverages with food. To my palate, the food just makes the drink taste like pure alcohol.
The next morning, I set up the holly for a picture.
What do you think?
A little about a private session before I go.
When you hire an artist like me or Owen Reich in for a private session, we can only do as much as you ask of us.
Some people just want their trees styled, and that’s fun for me, I like to style trees. As I work, I will try to explain what I’m doing, but, unless you ask questions, I can’t tell you everything I’m doing. Buck was good at prodding me, so much that, after I left he went and found some better power carving tools for his use.
But if you want to know how to wire, like when it’s acceptable to cross your wire or how to anchor, ask. We wire so fast that, you might miss what we are doing.
Speaking of private sessions, there is an opportunity to win one with me for those readers in Florida or willing to travel.
I’m hosting a workshop at the nursery taught by two great Florida artists, Toby Diaz and Hiram Macias. The trees are excellent collected Escambrons (claredendron aceuleatum) from Puerto Rico. The details are on this link.
It is scheduled for Saturday, December 13. The participants will be entered in a drawing to win a private bonsai session with me. If you want to see the trees off of Facebook, go to my website here.
Anyway, after a quick run through of Buck’s collection, this time with evaluations and strategies as to what he should be doing, it was time to go home.
Well….after a quick detour to Mobile, Alabama to see Joe Day and his trident maples.
But that’s another blog.

8 thoughts

  1. You’re awesome and very detailed in explaining what and why you do what your doing. So much, that while reading your blogs, I think of a question and shortly after completing my thought, you have already answered my question, like defoliating the leaves on the Holly.
    Speaking of defoliating, I always heard of the rule of removing 1/3. It looks like you took off far more than 1/3. Is this because this tree is healthy enough to withstand the stress, and partly bc its going dormant?
    Question 2: You kept saying, “When collecting, he cut it to a line.” Is this the straight cut of the branch chop that your referring to?
    Question 3: Are you on Instagram or any other social network that might be worthy of following? If not, Instagram is great for Bonsai.


    1. I try to answer everything I can in the text body but sometimes I miss things, which is why I like questions.
      There are several ways to defoliate, in the instance of tropical (or semi tropical like this holly) you can remove most of the leaves in a growing season. If you’re talking deciduous trees, it really depends on the season, the development of the tree etc. There isn’t any one rule of thumb like “only remove 1/3”. It is the trees that tell us what to do.
      Cutting to a line means pruning for the desired shape, design-wise. For movement, taper or style.
      I am on all the social media platforms. @adamaskwhy is my Instagram and Twitter. Adam Lavigne on Facebook and Google+, Adam’s Art and Bonsai on tumblr. I don’t remember what MySpace is though, if it still exists even


  2. I will be anxiously awaiting progression pictures of the holly, especially a year from this stying! Wonderful transition so far! You did it again.


  3. I sure would like to see some YouTube videos of you working on trees or a demo…..Did Buck shoot any footage he may share…He seems like the type to document everything.

    Did I miss the pic of the steak….?

    I just collected a large BC this past weekend…..I hope it survives being dug the wrong time of the year and buds back at the top….It was now or never as the homeowner was going to turn it into fence post.

    You are a hoot Adam keep it up….


  4. Holy Bat-shears,
    My garage has had more exposure than either the Caped Crusader’s batmobile liar or Mitt Romney’s car condominium. If I had only known, I would have parked the Maserati. I do feel that my trees were looked over by Maserati’s master mechanic. Thanks again Adam.

    I do document the progress of my trees. I’m old fashioned and use 3×5 note cards and a photo print. So I can’t add more to what Adam has already produced. I would encourage your readers to consider hiring Adam (or similar bonsai artists) for a private session. Consider what you pay for a convention; a workshop; an observation– then think about what personal, specific to you, information you get for your money. Consider then the costs/benefits you receive from work on your tree, in your horticultural environment, and with your particular concerns. In my mind, the scale
    tilts heavily to improving your collection through this latter method. (Adam, I’m expecting a commission for this testimonial.) Simply stated, I want him back in my yard.

    Perhaps on a future posting, you can document the methodology and reasoning for “breaking the rules” of crossing wires. I am glad I asked. What about the idea of incorporating your guest artist’s areas of expertise into the detail blog presentations that you are so expert at. For example: upcoming Toby and Hiram work. What are they doing, why are they doing it. Not just before and after pictures. Just some thoughts. Thanks so much for sharing your artistic insights.


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