The first rule of bonsai writing is that you must impress your audience with non-descriptive, cryptic, and unpronounceable neo-Japanese jargon.

The second rule is that it should read as though you are Hemingway describing a shotgun.

Short. Declarative. Sentences.

If you’ve discovered this blog for the first time, I’m sorry.

My style, approach, and attitude are not akin to your average bonsai blog.

If the reason you’ve come back is because of my irreverence and unique “voice”, I thank you.

My blog is in the first person (for those that didn’t pay attention in English class, like I am speaking it).

It’s bombastic.

It’s non conformist.

And it’s salty.

I’m a scarred, slightly broken, and maybe even a little bit of a madman, but I’m a survivor.

Kinda like these ilex I’m about to work on (and you thought I was just talking about myself, when it was really just a long segway into the actual subject).

I was invited to give a demo for the North Florida Bonsai Club by Tristan, the current president.

This is my third visit in as many years, so maybe they like my “voice”. We had gone back and forth for a subject and a format for a couple of weeks and we finally decided upon a demo using ilex vomitoria “schillings”.

I had given them the choice between three different trees. They chose this one, and this was the result.

I consider myself an ilex man, the dwarf of the species being my favorite broadleaf evergreen in the whole wide world to work on.

Of the three, they chose this one. I think it’s a nice one. Good nebari, well healed uro, it’s kinda in an ume style. Which means that the roots as they enter the soil (nebari) are strong and radial, there’s a hole in the trunk (uro) , and it resembles a Japanese apricot in its growth habit (ume, which tends to have angular movements and lots of rotting wood).

I told you about those fancy words, right?

The real subject of this post (I tend to wander) is a collection of collected ilex I’ve had for about 4-5 years and have been a bit neglected.

I also had made mistakes in the initial pruning, resulting in profound rot on many of the trunks.

And I left some wire on this one. No don’t even remember putting it on truth be told (which might be the reason I forgot it. It must have been done during one of my black outs)

It’s easy to remove I might just cut off the whole branch in the end. But that’s ok. As they say:

“Make a plan, prepare for your plan, but you must adapt in order to overcome.”

Not sure who they are though. Pruned.


The back.

That bridge is still alive, amazingly.

Even though most of the chunky trunk died (that which most modern bonsai practitioners would say it absolutely needs) I think it still looks like a tree.

I’ve written a lot about ilex. It could be considered “my” tree in the sense that I know way too much about them.

In fact, here’s my very Fifth blog post , actually.

And my sixth blog post.

I got so inspired, I went through almost all my stock ilex in the nursery.

Just sit back and marvel. Go get a beer.

We don’t need this tall pot. Cut it down!

Wow, that’s some strong growth.

Especially since the bottom is so compromised.

I like it.

Next tree.

And the next.

I’ll throw in an update from Instagram.

Fully wired out a month or so ago….

And today.

It needed just a trim.

Back into the trenches: this one had rotted everything except one root.

That works for me.

This one too.

I need the persuader to get to living tissue. I feel a bit like a Civil War surgeon.

A video of an amazingly twisty and gnarly ilex

A whole base for a change. Damn that’s fine.

And this next one is a female, so it’ll get berries eventually.

Not many of these trees are “classical” bonsai subjects. They have the presence of deadwood on a technically described deciduous tree. They do not have perfect taper, or melting root spreads.

But they do have a presence that denotes age and the wonder that ancient trees impart upon our consciousness.

I could write a book on this, or a least a chapter….(hint) but I think that this video from Walter Paul sums up some of those ideas I’m talking about.

He’s an amazing man and a real advocate for the furtherance of the Art aspect of bonsai.

I could go on and post twenty more pics and write 200 more words about all the work I’ve been doing on my ilex. But I think I’ve made a point.

I can’t think of what the point is right now but it’ll come to me by the next blog post. Maybe.


7 thoughts

  1. You mentioned a pruning mistake you made that led to all the decay in the trunks. Can you tell me the details?


    1. Aha! Then I’d have to give away all my secrets!
      Seriously though, the mistake is pruning them too closely and removing the branch collar on the first styling.
      Leave a stub and allow a new branch to grow near that pruned off branch, then you can do the flush or concave cut.
      Otherwise, the tree doesn’t heal and you get rotten trunks.
      It may not happen in a year or two, but in five or ten, you have dead trees


  2. Hi Adam.
    Nice Post, thanks.
    Last year my first Ilex died of Tar Spot. And now here in South FL with all the recent rain, my second Ilex just got left spot too. Any advice?
    Thanks for all the info.


    1. I use the Bioadvanced brand rose disease control. It’s listed for black spot disease (anthracnose)
      Spray it now and as the label says to control it. You’ll be surprised how well it works


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