One of my favorite bonsai nurseries in Florida is Dragon Tree Bonsai, down on the East Coast, in a town called, un-ironically, Palm City (there are, amazingly, only about twelve incorporated cities in Florida with the word “palm” in them. There are several “palm beaches” with West Palm being the most famous. And, with our 8,436 miles of coastline, there are far more cities with “beach” in them than “palm”. 8,346 miles is a lot of beach. To give you scale, to drive from Orlando to Juneau, Alaska, it’s only 3,241 miles. California has more cities with “palm” in them. I think, I didn’t do my research on it.).
Anyway, Palm City is just north of the Palm Beaches, by about 20 miles. I guess they wanted to get in on the spirit of palm trees even though it’s mostly pine, casuarina, and scrub oak that grow there.
And sweet, sweet little bonsai trees.
The owner, Robert Pinder, is in that same class of old time bonsai people, like Jim Smith, Mary Madison, John Naka, Ed Trout; people who not only practice(d) but spread the art, techniques, and philosophy of bonsai and shared it with the world.
The tree we have today is a ficus microcarpa “tiger bark”. Some call it “golden gate”. Not sure why, just looking at the bark kinda describes it aptly. But, that argument doesn’t really matter. It’s a ficus microcarpa. With cool bark.
Robert, as it says on his website, grows almost everything himself, no imports. The story on this one was it was a cutting that stayed too wet, and caused half of the tree to die back. It’s very unusual to find a tree like this at Dragon Tree, as Robert is a great horticulturist, but these types of damaged trees are what I search for. I’m not a cookie cutter kind of bonsai artist. I truly believe that Art should not be propaganda. That flaws are interesting. And an ugly tree is a beautiful tree.
The damage isn’t hurting this ficus now. Once the roots grew it took off like the strangler it can become.
Explaining why aerial roots are so strong.
I’m liking this trunk. It has some character. Not much movement, but that’s ok. Not every tree needs to dance. Some times too much movement exhausts the viewer. Real trees don’t have much movement, as it’s a negative survival trait (the most efficient structure to hold all the weight of a full sized trees wood is straight. If a tree is angled or bent, it tries to compensate by growing in the opposite direction, but usually that crooked stance is the death knell of a tree. Hurricanes and drunk drivers knocking trees over usually win in the end. It may take a hundred years but it’s a slow death).
The middle, deadwood part,7 will rot out completely in time, but I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.
I think that the whole “the deadwood will rot” paradigm popular in older bonsai practitioner circles is a peculiar argument about using deadwood on a tree, like a ficus or a deciduous tree.
Trees, and bonsai, change. They grow new branches, shed old ones, we are continually restyling them or changing the fronts. The only constant is change. Don’t mistake what a tree looks like now as being what it will look like in two years. Ten years. Twenty.
If you want deadwood on a ficus, go ahead.
Enjoy your tree.
I’m going to need some power tools to carve this out a little better. But that was the last post.
This post I’ll be working the leaves and the roots a bit. Some horticulture and some wiring.
I will defoliate, of course. And, much how I described my process in this post, I’ll explain why I’m cutting, defoliating, etc. just not in so much detail as that post.
First, whenever you see a leaf at the base of a branch, you can remove it. It did what it’s purpose was, to protect the new bud and make a place for the branch. You can remove them now.
Because I’ll be cutting back most of the branches, I don’t need to defoliate to the tips.
The next step is to repot into some bonsai soil.
As you may notice by the shiny paint job, I’m in my wife’s car today and I think I brought everything I needed.
Soil, root hook, training pot.
Whoops, I forgot a screen for the drain holes. Well, they say that “..need is the mother of invention” sooooo….I think this will work holding my mix inside the pot.
Yeah. Looks like a dude asking “Whyyyyyyyyy???!?!?!!!”
Now that the pot is prepped (a common ritual…) let’s see about some soil.
My soil (some may notice that I use the word “soil”. I do it on purpose, just to bug you. I could use ‘aggregate’ or ‘substrate’ or the all encompassing and therefore the most correct, ‘ soilless mix’, but soil works fine. Technically my ‘soil’ is called “The Adamaskwhy Red White and Blue SuperMix ™️, but that’s a bit much to hold in your mouth at one time).
And……..success! We have a sound vessel.
Since we are ready to pot, let’s look at the roots.
Pretty good. Robert understands the horticulture concerning water and soil, so whenever I get a tree from him, the roots are amazingly dense.
Everything we do in bonsai depends on the roots, so knowing the relationship between drainage, perched water tables, aggregate size, aggregate saturation, oxygen, water vapor, and nutrient uptake is vastly superior to how we put wire on a branch.
Now, even though I’m an aerial root enthusiast, some on this tree need to be edited out. This is an Art, and we are artists, and that means we are in charge of what stays or goes.
This one goes. Why? The short answer is that I don’t like it.
Delving deeper into why I don’t like the root, it interrupts the trunk line as it descends into the soil line.
This one too. Buh-bye!
I might remove this one as ￼well.
It makes the trunk appear thicker but, again, the trunk line is interrupted. And there are some good roots below it. I’ll leave it for now.
There’s some good swelling at the base on the left. I’m liking that.
Here’s a tip, this is just a training pot. You’ll notice I covered up those roots at the base I was just bragging on. Since it’s a trainer, you don’t need to expose the full rootbase at the initial potting of a tree (from nursery pot to bonsai training pot). In fact, sometimes this causes the roots to die off. At that point, you have no more nebari.
Now for the initial styling.
I said I brought wire. Ah, I’m waiting for my children to get off school but I have the wife’s car. In my PT Cruiser, I have all the size wires I need. But in my wife’s mini van, not so much. I would just stick both vehicles up, but my wife is already mad at me because I keep stealing her toothbrush to clean the gunk off the tree trunks….,
What’s an itinerant bonsai artist to do? Considering I sit and work on trees all the time as I await my spawn, maybe I can find some cast off wire I might have dropped …..
Wait, can it be?
YES! Do you see it? Like a snake in the grass! The gods are looking down on me today, I’ll tell you what!
Aha! Just enough. Well, maybe.
Twist twist twist….looks like enough. A little wire here, and there…
I don’t need that, a snip for taper and movement.
And again here….
You get the idea.
This is the leader, or “apex” as many people call it.
It could be thicker, and many will counsel leaving it long and not cut it back to thicken it. But it will still thicken in the time it takes the secondary branching to develop. Growth is growth. In my experience that is
And that’s that. I fertilize now (yes, even after a repotting).
I know that there’s a contingent out there that think I should be working on more advanced trees (this was just a cutting maybe 2-3 years ago, and this is the first styling on it) but that’s not what, to me, bonsai is.
I do buy more advanced trees and take them to the next level, or work on clients trees that are ready for show, but, and again, this is personal, the journey is the reason I do bonsai. The relationship and partnering with a living organism, each of us doing our part, in creating a good piece of art, that’s what bonsai is.
This tree has all the potential to be a world class bonsai. A good trunk, a focal point, characteristics of a species that lend themselves to bonsai development. All that.
I paid, I think, less than fifty dollars for the material. In five years I could, if I wanted to, sell it for $200. In ten years, maybe $500 (unless we have, you know, something like hyper-inflation…..or some other government caused calamity. ).
This is a good stopping point, I went as far as I wanted to. And it worked out ok. The tree will survive and thrive.
How do I know?
Well, here you go, two weeks later.
Not bad for the month of October, in Florida.
It’s growing all over.
And that’s what I wanted.