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

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

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

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

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

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

I know what your thinking.

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

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

I don’t do bonsai to sell trees.

I do bonsai to make art.

What is Art?

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

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

It’s many different things to different people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defoliation and removal of unwanted shoots….

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

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



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

And so it begins…

Wrap wrap wrap….

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

It does seems like a lot of wire.

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

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

Let me think on it a bit.

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

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

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

Art is subjective.

Taste is personal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The tree is almost in an alpine style.

The before….

And the after…

You see what wiring can do for a trees styling.

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

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

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


5 thoughts

  1. How does one gets a beautiful nebari like the ficus silicaria? I have enjoyed your blog for years. Your last blog that you featured a water jasmine, I searched until I found one. May I send you a photo of the water jasmine so I was hoping you can give me some pointers on how to trim it. I would really appreciate it.


    1. To develop a nebari on any ficus you need to rearrange the surface roots as the grow and, if the trunk is the thickness you want, pot it in a shallow pot. This makes the roots grow horizontally and thicken.
      Send the water jasmine pics to my email, adamaskwhy@att.net


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s