The green, green island of ficus

Here I sit again, in the back of my PT Loser, waiting on my spawn. And, of course, I have a tree to play with. This time, it’s a ficus microcarpa “green island”. You missed the good parts though, I’ve cut some leaves, some grow tips. I’ve removed the wire too.

It needed it, it’s in a development stage, after all. Contrary to common teaching, these scars are necessary and they will grow out. Well, they’re not, per se, needed but the branch generally will pop back up after wire removal, if they don’t scar, on a ficus, as scarring is the result of the branch growing and the purpose of wiring is to make the branch stay were we place it, and that happens when the branch…grows new material. Those that say otherwise are either not long enough into growing ficus or are trained in non tropical species and think that they can apply that knowledge to figs.

Speaking of fig knowledge, let me share, free of charge, some techniques that’ll get you through the day. Or at least some bonsai tree workshops.

First, let’s talk about the concept of balancing energy in a tree. It’s very popular now to talk about it. When we say energy, we really are talking about sugars and carbohydrates that the tree creates through photosynthesis. This is how a tree feeds itself. No amount of fertilizer “feeds” a tree, regardless of what those advertisements and some bonsai-ists all say. A tree feeds itself through a chemical reaction between sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water (ok, those nutrients in fertilizer do have a role, but it’s only in the facilitation of the processes). This where the “energy” is catalyzed.

The energy (as carbohydrate) is stored in the living xylem (the living wood in the trunk, branches and roots). Therefore, the energy is present in the entire tree, not segregated in roots or growing tips, as has been posited recently. Any branch, root, and trunk pruning diminishes the amount of stored energy available for a tree.

This is where it gets tricky, you see, the idea of “balancing” is valid, but it’s not energy we are balancing, but the hormones that regulate growth. We have auxins, cytokinins, gibberilins, and ethylene gas. Those are the more known ones, with auxin being the most dominant. But, when we prune, it’s not enough to say “by cutting this, hormone X does that”. It’s more correct to say “by cutting this, the absence of hormone X causes this hormone Y to become dominant….”

Like I said, it’s tricky. Let’s use the a juniper as an example. It is correct information to say that we shouldn’t be pinching all the growing tips because it weakens the juniper. We should be proactively cutting back some grow tips while preserving those lower on the branch: See this link, Mike revolutionized the treatment and care of junipers with that article (so much so that there are those who are jealous and try to knock him down. Really. Michaels blog is one of the ones I subscribe to and when I was at an event recently, listening to some guys trying to discredit him, I was annoyed. I just don’t understand the bonsai scene sometimes). And he is correct in the technique, and even the energy production. But it’s the distribution of hormones that is the real reason behind the technique working (also, it takes energy to make auxin and move it to the grow tips, and junipers are not as strong as a ficus when it comes to excessive pruning, but they live in different climes).

Anyway, let’s get back to the Green island fig.

Firstly, on some branches, I’m cutting to a side branch. This is, first, to create taper (going from thick to thin), and second, to cause backbudding.

You’ll notice that I leave a leaf (great band name) on those branches where I cut back for taper or backbudding. The reason is that the green island ficus microcarpa (as well as the green mound variety) are not very apically dominant. What that means is that they are more bush like and not tree like (this could explain why most junipers need to be treated the same way, they’re bushes, not trees….hmmmmmnnn) they want to grow sideways, not up. By leaving green, we are giving the branch indication that it is still viable and alive (the cells have within them two genes that are turned on or off, by hormones, so that they will either grow one way or another. Like if it’s cold, it won’t grow or if it’s arid the cell won’t divide. The same cell, but differing actions. Cool, and we just learned of it this year too. It pays to read and continue to learn, ain’t it?).

What I’m trying to say is that, with this type of ficus, if conditions aren’t favorable, the tree will abort the branch and activate the dormant buds at the branch base. No matter how much stored energy it has. A tropical would rather grow all new branches than try to fix old ones. The same with leaves, which is why a ficus dropping leaves is normal (and predictable) and how we can get away with defoliation so often.

Next, on some smaller branches, I defoliated and left the stipule (the growing tip) intact. This concentrates the auxin (the hormone that is responsible for elongation of the branch) at the tip and causes it to grow longer, thicker, faster (sounds like a great movie).

There are a few I did this to.

Well, more than a few.

The defoliated leaves are circled in yellow. I made a mess.

Now, to go back to the earlier statement about green islands being more bush like: for that reason, at this time (November in Florida) I am leaving the top alone.

I want all the growth I can, and the top acts as a siphon, pulling that energy up, on the orders of auxin. I know to leave the top alone because I have killed off the top too many times on a green island by chopping it prematurely (this same thing happens with azaleas, which is why, as I’ve pointed out before, you see many “Bozo the Clown” style azaleas with dead tops and full foliage around the sides). I suppose I could defoliate the top except for the stipules, but it’s not necessary at this time.

And there we have it. One ficus green island-

Ready for some winter growth in sunny Florida.

Which is kinda like spring most everywhere else.

A little pushing here, some redirection there, free growth on top but regulated growth down bottom. I can’t wait until next year, this will be a cool tree to play with some more.

Before I go, I have entered into a partnership with The Bonsai Supply, and they are offering an exclusive, 20% discount for Black Friday, Shop Small Saturday, and Cyber Monday, on their pots, soil, tools, etc., to my blog readers, Instagram followers and Facebook friends. The code is valid from November 24-27th. To take advantage of it, go here

The next post, we will play with another green island, and I’ll show you the difference between it and the green mound.

See you later!

Posted in Advanced basics, Horticulture and growing, rare finds, redesign, styling bonsai, wiring | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

What a Tangled Web of Roots We Weave 

Here’s a challenge:

Ficus microcarpa. A seedling grown one, looks like it, or what the trade calls, a “ginseng” ficus. Which isn’t a variety, but just a marketing thing. Like calling American style Chinese food “Chinese Food”. I got the tree from Nick, over at American Bonsai Tools. He got it from a closing sale at Japan Nursery. It’s an ugly mofo of a tree, ain’t it? I’ve had it too long and, since I’m cleaning up the nursery and all, well, it’s probably time I got to it, huh? 

Onto the operating table:

This was probably the front, at one time, a long long time ago. 

This might be the new front. 

This is not the front. 

Maybe but probably not. Let me explain the idea of a front, for those that don’t know. First, even though a bonsai is a three dimensional art, you’ll hear most seasoned bonsai people talk about “The Front” all the time as though that’s the one and only true vision for viewing a tree. They are kind of, mostly, right, as many of the design principles and tricks for making a small tree look big work best when viewed from one angle. And often the pruning scars or evidence of certain growing techniques are hidden when viewed from that fixed angle. But the “front” tends to be a little more complex than that one chopstick stuck in the soil by the master du jour at your local clubs byot workshop. In my view, the front is about a 45 degree angle, starting from one corner and continuing to the other. As though, amazingly, you are walking past it and you begin looking at the tree as you approach it. Now, what does that mean when selecting the front? It means it’s your job to have something interesting, a focal point or a certain feature, like the root base or a hollow trunk or Jin, anything that will arrest that dude walking by your tree, in that 45 degree arc of sight. The idea is to have your tree, your art, be looked at, talked about, praised or criticized (I usually go for criticism “what was he thinking of? Putting that on his tree!”). Anywho, let’s get back to our “pot of spaghetti”. Gotta get out the full set of tools for this job….I’ll need them. 

First, let’s chop off some of these long shoots, to see what we have. 
Plus, I promised some cuttings to a friend, Sonny Boggs (who happens to be a very talented potter by the way, you can find him on Facebook and the Facebook bonsai auctions from time to time). I’ll be seeing him in Kannapolis, which means I need to root these by the beginning of December. 

That’s better. You can see why I called it a “pot of spaghetti” now, right. 

Let’s slip off the pot. See what’s hiding underneath. 

Well, looks like dirt. 
Before I begin to organize the roots, here’s what might happen, if you’re neglecting a ficus. 


Fat. You end up with an ugly bit of obverse taper. 

I’ll try to fix it by cutting off some branches, by changing the planting angle and, importantly, spreading out the aerial roots to “fill in” the gap on the bottom. Moved from here to here

But first! Remember those worksheets that our teachers used to give us with the scrambled up lines? 

I often feel that those activities were training for my ficus bonsai work. 

At least the roots on the bottom aren’t so messed up. In fact, I think it’s the poor soil it’s been sitting in that might have caused the over abundance of aerial roots on top, to compensate for the terrible roots in the dirt. But, what do I know, right? 

Let’s choose some branches. I like this as the top. 

But I’ll need edit out some of these ones. They are contributing to the obversity.  

Let’s expound on the subject of aerial roots for a bit. There is an orthodoxy, a, dare I say it, even a conservative segment of the bonsai world, that believe that aerial roots have no place on a bonsai tree. 

No, seriously. Even though a full grown ficus will have the various types of aerial roots (those that come down from the branches, those that parallel the trunk, and those that shoot off the trunk in a 45 degree angle, downward, from the trunk), it’s not considered “proper” for a bonsai to have them. Even though a bonsai is supposed to be a semi realistic representation of a tree, in miniature. And even though they look cool. 

Anyway, those reactionary elements will point to the work of the Taiwanese bonsai masters and say “Well, you never see aerial roots on their ficus trees, do you?”, or, “….in Japanese bonsai, which is the end all, be all of the state of the art, you would never see aerial roots, because they are grotesque!”  

You know what I say? I say, ” Fellas, it’s my tree, they happen in nature, I like them and it’s My Bonsai World”. 

That said, even though I like aerial roots, I insist they follow my design rules. And are in good taste of course, because “Good Taste” is what really drives bonsai design. Uh huh. You know, to a lion, we all have good taste, can I get a holla? 

My rules for tasteful aerial roots: 

They mustn’t travel horizontally or across the trunk or branches. 

They mustn’t cross each other, unless they need to. 

They must accent the trunk, not take away from it. Lastly, they must travel straight down from a branch, if that’s where they originate from. 

I’m sure I can come up with a few more. Give me a minute while I untangle the bottom roots. Freaking dirt. No, dirt isn’t good for root development, even on ficus or tropicals. Dirt is good in the ground. And for flinging at your enemies reputations. 
Not in a bonsai pot. 

But that’s another post. These roots will need some straightening out……and this hole needs some filling. 

I enjoy filling holes. Insert…..joke, here. 

I may or may not need these roots. They’re kind of in an odd area, almost on the inside of the curve. And that would take away from that curve. 

Yeah, they gotta go. Let us, as they say, start the party. Chop!

Horizontal rootage….


Getting there. 

Bust out the rusty saw. Reminds me of my CIA days….

OH! Dayum!

I’m on a roll now. That’s a good cutting. Sonny, my friend, you are in for some killer cuttings. Even Pablo agrees!

Slow and steady. Or fast and messy. I’ll clean that up later. 

What a rats nest, huh? I need to come back to that. Let’s turn it around and look at the front. I see four when I should see two, maybe three, tops. 

Choppy choppy. 

Three is a good look. 

I’m feeling stronger. Back to the backBAMMMM!!!

Theses are a mess but let me think on them. 

Wait, what’s this? Huh? A zip tie. Or the remains of one. 

Ok, I’m getting there. Making progress. 

The last real choice is whether this root stays or goes. 

I could try to approach graft it???Let me think on it. 

Time to poop or get of the pot. Or repot, as it were.  The pot it was in was too small for development. It might work as a display pot but that’s a few years away. 

This mica training pot will be perfect. Mica pots, in case you didn’t know, are great for developing bonsai. The material they are made out of, mica, helps to keep the roots cool in the summer but warm in the winter. 

But, before I put the tree into the pot, I need to take care of those last roots. First, I’ll use this tiny one to fill in that hole I pointed out earlier. 

A few stainless steel staples will do the job nicely. 

And that other root…..

I think it might work right here. 

No staples here, I think I can tie it with some wire. 

Soil (my trademark Red White and Blue Supermix™, no doubt). 

Lots of fertilizer….and there it is….side view. 

Back view. 

The other side view. 

And the front. 

Now, maybe a little wire. Right after I strike those cuttings, that is. 

I don’t use rooting hormone on ficus when I’m taking cuttings. I use my nursery mix, which is half perlite and half standard potting soil. I usually remove the leaves, or cut them in half, but this time I didn’t. Lazy I guess. I put the pots in the shade, keep the soil moist and the humidity up on it. Let’s all hope they take for our friend Sonny. 

Back to our tree. Let’s call him Stubbs. 

With the wiring, I’m really just interested in the first bend on the branch, at this point. 

Which is why I’m not worried about wiring this branch. 

I’ll probably cut it back to here, when it back buds. But for now, this is it. It goes into the full sun, to help stimulate those dormant buds. And it gets the hose. A good soaking. And that’s that. 


And after:Kinda looks like a crazy alien flailing his arm wide, riding a two headed sloth. 

Make sure to bookmark this post. Starting next year, I plan on showing how hard I can push this tree, using my techniques, my knowledge of hormones and how they affect growth, and I am predicting by this time next year I’ll be at the tertiary stage of branch development. Anyone wanna bet me? 

Posted in Advanced basics, branch placement, rare finds, roots | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Parking Lot Bonsai, or, the sum of my choices

In the afternoons, on schooldays, I get to sit and wait for my children to get out of class and then I chauffeur them home. As I wait for them, I sometimes use this time away from the nursery to work on trees. Sometimes I nap. 

Before you get all huffy about me spoiling them by not making them take the bus, or walk home, they go to a charter school that is too far to walk home from (about a two hour walk) and bus service isn’t available. (For those who are wondering, a charter school is a publicly funded operation but not run by the normal school board. In Florida this is an option to send your children to, if your local school does not have a passing grade when it’s ranked by the state. There’s all kinds of arguments and debate as to whether this is a valid or even fair system but this blog isn’t a political one, so please let’s not even broach the subject. I will not entertain the comments). 

So today, instead of napping or eating M&M cookies, I worked on a Brazilian raintree.  I got the tree in a Central Florida Bonsai Club auction back in June. It was originally designed,  and then donated, by Donnie and Bill, who are members of both the CFBC and the Bonsai Society of Brevard (they’re overachievers, I know). But I saw something exciting and unique in the tree, so I put my hand in the air, with my wife beside me giving me the look, and won the bid. I slept on the couch that night. 

After getting it, I pruned and wired it, as it was in need of some attention. Here it is on, what looks like, a rainy summer day. I set the bones, so to speak. 

Now’s the fun part, continuing the development. I love this stage, the main branches are mostly set, and now you get to really give the tree a mood. 

Of course, my first step, as you may suspect, is a defoliation. Which I think I may need to explain a little. I think that many people misunderstand the why, when, and the process itself. 

First things first, I only defoliate when appropriate. What that means is I only do it when the tree is healthy, when the time of the year is correct, when the species or variety can handle it, and when it’s necessary. 

It is November. I live in Florida. The tree is a chloroluceun tortum, the Brazilian raintree (sometimes misidentified as a pithecellobium tortum). The trees buds are turgid, even, to mix metaphors, pregnant, with energy. They are swelling, ready to burst. But, through observation, experience, experimentation, I’ve come to learn that BRT’s have a hard time dropping their old leaves (many tropicals have this same problem) to make room for the new leaves and branches (often, the new bud occurs at the base or the crotch of the leaf petiole, where it attaches to the stem. By removing, defoliating the leaf, we are utilizing a hormonal response that activates that bud to begin growth). By defoliating, we spur new growth, faster. 

As an addendum to this, if a leaf is off color, damaged, or shaded, it is better to cut it off and grow a new leaf than to allow it to remain and steal energy from the tree (and here’s another one, why do you think many ficus species drop all their old leaves, if you suddenly change their light exposures, like when you might bring them inside for the winter? The answer is: it’s more economical for a ficus, and most tropicals, to drop old leaves that were grown for one light exposure, and grow new ones, than it is to try to adjust the current leaves for the new light exposure). Here’s a truism: tropical trees like to grow; they don’t need a dormant period. What that means is we can push them more than temperate or even subtropical or broadleaf evergreens (like a holly, or boxwood). 

So as I’ve been talking, I’ve also been wiring. Well, maybe not, but I just put that image in your head, I also just made you think of a peanut shell as an athletic supporter. 

Back at the parking lot, just off my rear bumper, I think all the wire is on and the branches are just about in place….
But the kids are here, take a quick pic, and it’s back to the nursery, and The Nook. 

If you’ve been paying attention to my BRT stylings of late, say on Instagram or on Facebook, you’ll notice that I’ve been a little more twisted than usual.  

I think I’m beginning to really understand the way they grow, and to be able to put that branch in the right place so that the leaf, which is a graceful compound leaf, lays on top of it just right. 

At least, I think so. 

I’ve also been playing with structure. 

And focal points, or accents. I’m really getting tired of the cookie cutter trees you see so much of in today’s bonsai. 

Just look at that shadow, it screams old, gnarly, mean, twisted. You don’t get that kind of emotion out of an informal upright Christmas tree. I’m bored of those mediocre, middle of the road, status quo, vanilla trees at this point in my life. I’ve been doing bonsai for a long time, I’ve had my fill of moyogi, boiled potato trees. Give me something tortured, tired, bizarre; I’d rather take the “substandard” material and use some techniques to make it look old. 

Here’s a thought to ponder, one which has made me think too much of late:

 “For every artist, once they reach a certain level
at a certain age, and once they become famous enough, They face this problem. They have to confront what their original intention was. They will also face a lot of people’s questions and doubts. The more successful an artist is, the more dangerous the situation is.”

~ Liu Xiaodong 

I think a lot. I’m in my head too much. I have words and doubts and great emotional ups and downs, soaring heights where the atmosphere is thin and heady, and dark, endless depths where it seems like the air is tar, stifling in odor, burning and mindless. 

But when I work, all that goes away and the tree sings to me. Soothes my spirit and takes on the emotions that plague me. I like this tree. What do you think? Let me have it, I’m a big boy, responsible for my own actions and able to wipe the drool from my own chin, tell me I’m wrong, but be prepared to back up your arguments. 

Posted in Art, branch placement, Horticulture and growing, maintenance, philosophical rant, refine, wiring | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

My Bonsai World

Welcome, friends. Welcome to My Bonsai World! If you’ve been wondering what I’ve been up to since the hurricane, well, it’s been interesting. I’ve been all around the state, from garden clubs, private sessions, field trips, and of course, lots of time in my own garden. Let’s see…..

The CFBC had a workshop at Agresta Gardens. Our first of many. It was a good day. 

I’ve been doing many things, seeing trees, teaching, talking with people. 

In my nursery I’ve been continuing the clean up and rebuilding. I’ve even found some things I’ve forgotten I had. This looks like a good stand top. 
All my trees are still waiting for proper display benches. 

I’ve made capital purchases. 

And I collected a tree or two. Can you see that one?  It’s a bougie that was on a bench, but fell off some few years ago. It rooted through the drain holes and flourished. Which isn’t really surprising. But there it is, stuck there. 

I think I need an implement. 

In the Spanish speaking civilizations they call this a “machete”. 

That’s all I need. Chop chop! 
I know, I’m a brutal bonsai kind of guy. 

It’ll live, don’t worry. 

We don’t need no stinking roots! 

It’s not the best specimen, for growing under a bench for 8 years that is. A little fatter on top than on bottom. I can carve it though, fix that. 

Let’s put it into a pot. 

It’s a one hole pot unfortunately. I have ways to deal with that. Watch! 

Metal screen…



Through the inside,tie the chopstick down…..

Add some tie down wire…Soil and a twist……And Bob’s yer uncle! This technique will even make this tiny, brightly colored pot, usable.

Well….maybe. Hahhah! I once knew a man with a wooden leg named “Smith”. Anyhow, the bougie just needs to grow. It has a certain raggedy potential. And it has provenance too. Rescued after Hurricane Irma. 

Another tree, one you’ve seen before, was “lost” after the storm. I found it and had to repot it. It had fallen into the brush and all the soil got washed away. Portulacaria afra. It’s weak but it’ll come back. 

The nursery is totally different now. Lots of new ground cloth and new benches. It’s coming together. Thank you all to those that helped! 

It’s so clean and beautiful, for about a minute or so. It’s getting dirty already! 

I’ve done some good carving work in my recent travels. Here’s a buttonwood. The before. 

The after 

And I put together a new YouTube video for those who were asking for one. Here’s the link: Don’t worry, I’ll be working on part two soon. 

Trees, trees, trees….


Others people’s trees:

The hurricane has ushered in our “second spring” here in Florida. All the tropicals and broadleaf evergreens are pushing new growth, so there’s lots of work there. 

And, of course, there’s still lots of other work. ​I’m having fun really. 

​So much fun that, I started this post about a month ago and I’ve been too busy to finish it. I think I have two more sets of pics I need to work into blogposts as well. 

But that’s what it means to do bonsai professionally. Not that I’m much of a professional, I like to think of myself as an artist. Sometimes I’m a bit scattered (though I do know the difference between a hormonal response to pruning and energy distribution, when it comes to trees. If you don’t, I’ll explain it, but some people should know better). 

But enough of my trees, let’s get to the point. This post is a bit like Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaraunt”. I’ve started tagging my social media photos with #mybonsaiworld. Here’s the challenge: show me your trees on social media by tagging them with #mybonsaiworld.

I came up with the tag because, well, you see, I’m a little concerned with certain “behind the scenes” chatter that I’ve been hearing. The freedom we’ve been enjoying in the bonsai world of late is in danger of being stifled. Let’s not allow it. Let’s make bonsai a personal thing, a relationship with your trees, your journey, your learning, your travels, your progress. Your trees. It’s not my world, it’s yours! Here are some screenshots of recent pics with the hashtag. 

A pic of a fellow blogger, Jonas! Nice!

Robert, nice tree! 

David in Miami, he likes those bunjin trees. 
Let’s see your best, your worst, the places you’ve been, the things you’ve learned. Let’s make bonsai into the Art it deserves to be. 


Posted in Art, goings, philosophical rant, rare finds, styling bonsai, wiring | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Worst case scenario

Well friends, here’s the hurricane Irma aftermath blog. But with some perspective. Sorry. 

This is Pablo. A wood carving I did many years ago. He’s a fixture on the blog and on my Instagram feed.  He’s called Pablo because he kinda looks like Pablo Picasso, in case you were wondering. I chose Pablo to be the protector of The Nook and The Wall of Pots.  (here’s a funny thing, check out this link).  

The day before the hurricane when I was getting supplies. Funny the things people don’t buy. 

I mean, what’s wrong with herring in curry pineapple sauce? 

This was pretty much the track. 

The rain cleared out at around 3 am but the winds continued. It was when the winds shifted in the early morning when a lot of the branches came down. The stress of being pushed to the west and then the shifting wind them north broke the trees. 

My backdoor, the branches hit the roof. 

This is me climbing through the fallen trees looking for bonsai. I know. A fool thing to do. 

A hawk on the top of a telephone pole. 

It faced itself into the wind and hung on for life. 

This is around 8-9 am on the Monday. 

This damage was from the north blowing winds. I’ll need to do some re-building

We had minor flooding. Just enough so that the septic drain field was flooded and the toilet didn’t flush. 

Trees everywhere. 

Not a bonsai to be seen. 


This is a panorama shot. It looks better on Facebook. 

I had put all the trees on the ground. They would’ve been safer in the middle of the street. They were covered with debris. 

This was the view from the peak of my roof. 

Looks bad. 

The first tree I dug out. It’s  a tiger bark ficus that was imported by Suthin. The trunk has been built by extensive grafting. The chop marks and scars were almost all healed. It was under the a heavy branch. It’ll live but it’s back to square one. The date of the eye going over orlando was Monday, September 11th 2017. 
While all this digging out was happening,  the 9-11 moments of silences were taking place. I didn’t even think of the date until I was looking through my pics the other day and saw these: While up in Pennsylvania (which now seems like a year ago) my friend Nestor took me to a 9-11 memorial in Coatesville I was going to publish this photo set on the anniversary, the day of the hurricane. But it really didn’t work out that way. The blog story was going to be about the design construction of the World Trade Center and the use of these interestingly shaped beams. They called them trees. I thought it was appropriate, a blog about trees writing about the steel “trees” that kept the WTC up.

 It was a unique design, there were no interior supports, the whole building was a hollow tube held up by the walls and the “trees” 

The “trees” were built in Coatesville. They were returned there, with all honors. 

It was eerie, sharing space with the “tree”. 

This once was part of a living, breathing structure, full of people, business, history. It came down with those two planes, that morning, many years ago. 

Almost 3000 dead, more than 6000 wounded in the initial aftermath. 

A hurricane is slow a motion disaster. In Florida alone, more than 6 million people were told to evacuate. We had a weeks notice. 

Regardless of what all the conspiracy theories say, the people who perished had no warning. They had about an hour to walk down the stairs to possible safety. 

The buildings were constructed to last 2-3 hours in case of a fire. Plenty of time to evacuate. An hour just wasn’t long enough. 

The WTC was also supposed to be built to withstand an impact from a Boeing 707. 

That didn’t take into account the fires though.  Impact and fire and the poorly designed fire suppression system and the fact that only the first 64 floors were sprayed with asbestos containing coating that was designed to protect the steel “trees” from fire (amazingly, NYC banned the use of asbestos during construction and they switched to another foam spray. It was said at the time that if a fire occurred above the 64th floor, the building would collapse)  

But I’m not going to debate what happened. Please don’t comment on it.  

It is still a fact that too many people lost their lives on that day. 

The same date as hurricane Irma for me. 

Was my tragedy equal to those who lost there lives back in 2001? That’s a hard question. 

I’m alive, in relatively good health. My family and friends made it through. I have cleanup. 

I have damage to my little trees. 

My favorite tree, this hackberry. The one I’ve been pushing hard this year. 

Well. Here it is. 

It lost the top. 

It’s just a little tree though. Is it enough to hold prop up my life? I’ve made my life on them recently, so it’s hard to say. Perspective is tough to see when there’s still sweat in your eyes. 

But It’ll grow back. 

I cleaned off the trees on the back door. 

Rescued many of my other little trees. 

It was just work. It’s good for you. 

And for my children too. Life is hard and they need to learn that. 

I had friends who helped. That’s Guaracha up there. 

I cut  down some trees that needed it too. Ones I should’ve never let grow. 

​My wife took the video. She got excited when the tree came down. 

We started with this. 

Cleared it all out. 

Moved some lumber. 

Got some nursery cloth down 

And the tables got put back up. 

There’s still a lot to do but I’ll survive. 

As I write this, another hurricane, called Maria, is tearing into Puerto Rico. She’s a catagory 5. I have too many friends and too many of my friends families on the island. They will know disaster. I’m just experiencing a little pain right now. It won’t last. I just need to work through it. In more than a week I hadn’t worked on any of my bonsai. I took the time yesterday to do just that. 

It helped. I also went to a clients house and worked on some of her trees. She was almost unscathed. It helped to see that too. Normalcy. 

So many of my friends were impacted by Irma. It will be years for some to dig out. Or months or just days. For me, I’ll take it one day at a time. Some days I’ll get more done, some days, nothing. I can only do what I can. Stay safe and strong. Be kind to each other too. You may get a weeks notice of disaster. It may happen in the blink of an eye. 

Posted in goings, philosophical rant, redesign | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Hurricane bonsai prep when you’re not prepared

Well now. That looks ominous. Don’t worry, it wasn’t the leading edge or the eye wall (if I hear the phrase “the stadium effect” one more time I’m going down to Miami and punch Mr. Cantore in the nose) of a hurricane or rain band, that’s just a regular old shelf cloud last Sunday. 

But, amazingly, here comes Irma. This is the forecast at 11 am on Friday 8 August. It’s been very stressful watching the spaghetti models and the “cone of uncertainty” graphics that the elite talking heads of the meteorological world have been effusively drooling over for the past week. I think that, when the hurricane finally arrives, there will be people so weary of the words and pics and video, that they won’t believe it, and they’ll get hurt. 

But I’m not here to criticize the 24 hour news cycle (there’s a fine line between making sure people understand the danger and fatiguing them, causing carelessness, and I’m not sure I’m smart enough to draw that line), I’m a bonsai blog guy and I’m going to show you some of the things I’m doing to prepare. 

First, what I’ve told everyone else to do with their trees is to bring them inside. That’s not an option with me. I have more trees than I can fit into my little, 100 year old, 980 sq ft, broke down palace cracker house. Technically, Adam’s Art and Bonsai Studio and Nursery is an official nursery. More than 1,000, less than 10,000 plants, propagation only for self use, inspected, selected, registered and categorized, and official; a real nursery. Now, most of the trees are in some stage of growth, in nursery pots or flats, growing trunks, branches, etc., but the “real” bonsai are too numerous to count. Lots of little trees and too many big trees. The only thing I can do is to put them on the ground and under the benches. My big problem is this: 

Trees. Lots of overhead trees. They’re good when the sun is baking the nursery (it’s a half truth that bonsai need full sun. Some do, like pines and juniper, which those “serious” bonsai people believe are the only “real” bonsai. But most tropicals and deciduous need summer sun protection. And big trees work. In the summer, the overhead trees have leaves and offer great sun protection. In the winter they’re leafless and give good sun, but I’m thinking that in this hurricane, I’ll have some damage from falling limbs. Another worry is water. No, not from too much rain, but what happens if the water company loses power or a water main is pulled up by an uprooted tree and I can’t water the trees? What I’ll do is to get as many buckets as I can, any container, and fill them up with water so I have something to keep the trees alive. 

The most work getting ready will be with moving the trees onto the ground. I have some big ones to move but I’m waiting for Saturday. If you’re a longtime reader, you know about my health condition. For those that don’t, the short story is that about 3 years ago I was hospitalized with a swollen shut large intestine. To give it rest, and to figure out the cause and how to fix it, I was given a temporary loop ileostomy. What that means is that my small intestine was pinched and inserted through my lower right abdominal wall, and two holes were made in it, diverting the flow of waste out from that point (called a “stoma”) and caught in an ostomy appliance. What I call “The Bag”. The bag is adhered to my belly all the time and it’s a constant battle keeping it stuck there. Sweat is not good. I still have this “temporary” ileostomy and, since that first surgery, there have been two more. Those surgeries consisted of a foot long incision, from about 4 inches above my belly button (which isn’t really there anymore) down towards my pubis. Three times I’ve been gutted, my intestines pulled out, worked on, stuck back in, and stapled shut, but with all the complications you can imagine. And side effects. I can count at least three abdominal wall flaws, one an active hernia (in the umbilical area) and that’s not counting the stoma, which is a hernia in everything but name (a hernia is a weakness in the spaces between the abdominal muscle fibers where the intestine could push through. That’s why people say, while trying to pick up heavy items, that they’ll get a hernia. The strain can tear your abs, creating a hernia).  That means that picking up heavy trees (like the ones above) is not a good idea for me, but I still do it and that’s why I have so many hernias. I’m stupid that way. But I will have my wife and daughter to help this time. And a friend is coming by too. The strategy will be to position them so that when if branch falls, it doesn’t fall on the bonsai. 

Here’s The Nook. Not the building with the rust colored roof on the right, but just that single roof looking thing in the middle. I’m not sure if it will survive. I have some work to do to secure it. Especially the Wall of Pots. I took down my backdrop on the workbench, and the blue backdrop needs to come down too, and there’s that green tarp in the back. 

But Pablo is stoic. As usual. 

I am too. 

I might even be called resigned, or fatalistic. I can’t do too much else to prepare. I have water, food, flashlights, even a radio….with a crank!But my house in not in the best of repair this time, as far as that is concerned. Because of all that’s happened in the last 4 years, which I’ll not list, there are too many things that have gone undone. I’ve been too busy traveling, trying to make a living for my family, trying to make money, that I don’t have the time to do things at home. Or the money to hire someone or the strength to do it alone. And there isn’t any more plywood to cover the windows. 

But I’m not in the worst position. The islands have had it hard. And I have too many friends down in south Florida who will be hit hard too. Storm surge, heavy rain, catastrophic winds, I am more afraid for them than myself. Erik, Ed, Mike, Judy, Martha, Kathrin, Marty, Jason, there are too many to list, it’s alarming…..please be safe. The trees don’t matter. They’re just little things. Who cares. I may not even bother with putting mine down on the ground this time. 

I had a dream last night. I was moving from one crazy scene to another, into shelters, or rushing down a road, or in my house, looking at people, family, friends, celebrities and government leaders, and even enemies, and just sobbing, trying to hold back tears. But I couldn’t. I know I sometimes come off as a calm, cool and collected, tough guy. I speak and write well. I hide it well. But I cry, reading books or watching movies, watching the news, or when I take the time to think.  Too many tears in these last few years. It seems that one burden gets piled upon another lately. Lost friends, sickness, broken dreams. I am at a tipping point. And this hurricane, this storm, is tearing me apart.

Please, my friends, my past friends, my family, everyone, be safe. I just don’t know if I can handle it if the storm breaks my heart. 

Posted in goings, philosophical rant, tips and tricks | Tagged , , | 22 Comments

Longwood Gardens and the mythical Kennet Collection

My first day in Pennsylvania had me visiting the botanical garden know as Longwood Gardens, and the amazing private collection called The Kennet Collection. Now, Longwood Gardens is easy to get to, it’s a public place, but the Kennet Collection requires a special invitation from the owner. I have Jim Doyle, the owner of Nature’s Way in Harrisburg, to thank for finagling an invitation, as well as Erick Schmidt, for bugging Jim in the first place. Let’s start with the pics from Longwood, and then to the magical Kennet. 

Longwood Gardens used to be the weekend residence of Pierre S. DuPont, of the DuPont and Nemours family fame. He was 36 when he bought the property, which was a proto-public arboretum at the time that was started by the Pierce Brothers, called Pierce’s Park. It was a public park until about 1906, when the heirs had sold it and all the trees were slated to be felled for lumber. Pierre found out about it and bought the property. And that was just the beginning. 
They just recently refurbished these fountains. Pierre started with this area way back when. While we were there they had a show where the water jets were synced with music. Pretty cool show. 

The trees are old and majestic. I particularly liked the deciduous look to this conifer. But I’m an iconoclast too, remember. 

Speaking of deciduous trees, take a look at this American elm. 
I can’t believe that it’s still alive this far north. Especially with this huge wound. 
There’s this disease called “Dutch Elm Disease” that has decimated the native elms in the USA. 
Elms were a special part of early American life, lining city streets and populating almost every front yard, then an introduced fungus (in lumber used for building houses after WWI, believe it or not), from Europe (originally from Asia though) that is spread by european bark beetles, began killing trees by the thousands. If you’re interested , here’s a good link to read more about the history of the disease. 
Seeing this old elm was a treat. They’re one of my favorite species. 
We have American elms in Florida (the binomial name is ulmus americana. Some people believe that there is a unique cultivar called “floridana” but DNA research shows it’s the same as the species. But they do grow differently down here; smaller, with smaller leaves, so it’s really not too big a mistake to have given it its own varietal name, but with DNA evidence, many plants and trees are being renamed and reclassified and the old timers just don’t like it. And this is one example.  I think it’s funny that there’s pushback, because the renaming process is using real scientific techniques instead of just opinions, like they used to use, and these old timers think it’s a personal insult. They get all huffy and puffy saying things like “I don’t know why they gotta change everything….” next thing you know they’ll be telling everyone to “….get off my damn lawn you whippersnappers!” 

Here’s a tree I can’t grow. It’s a beech. 

This is what a deciduous tree should look like. 
It’s also why I prefer deciduous and tropicals to conifers. You don’t get root spreads like that on a juniper. 

The property has some huge conservatories, bigger than the houses actually. 
Bananas, and pentas, above, and inside, I was greeted by some shady ladies……not those kind, the tree. What they used to call bucida bursera, which was an incorrect name, it’s proper name is terminalia bursera. But, again, people don’t “believe” it yet. The conservatory was like going home to Florida. Bird of paradise, bromeliads, palm trees, all kinds of plants from the tropics. 

Here’s a “hedge” of ficus microcarpa. 
The same leaf shape as the so-called ginseng ficus (which is just a marketing name for a seedling ficus microcarpa) 

Hanging aerial roots. 

Those vines going up the columns are bougies. 

They’re old vines, the bark is the most gnarly I’ve seen. 

I’m not sure if it’s a characteristic of the variety or just age. 

I was impressed by them nonetheless. 

Looks like an old pine tree, almost. 

Another feature that Longwood is famous for are the water lillies. 

But enough of that. You’re not here to look at regular plants. You want to see the Bonsai collection. 
Well then, here you go: 

They were all under glass, inside,  which may surprise you, but you can actually grow bonsai inside. It’s not easy but, as you will see, it can be done. 

What is amazing to me with these trees are the ages. 
Some of these would be examples of some of the first bonsai started and cultivated in the USA. 

Some are surely imports. And they do have a very classic styling and proportion to them. 

But some are very modern. This was my favorite. A hinoki cypress. 
What’s interesting is that the collection received two hinokis at the same time. The one above and……It’s hard to see but, right behind the greenhouse, towering over it, is the other one. Full sized and big. 

Some of the deciduous were looking rough, it being August. 

Some looked good. 

A crepe myrtle with flowers. We get flowers in Florida early June. 

This satsuki was, I believe, donated by the Kennet Collection. It’s a more contemporary design and it’s in a Sara Raynor pot. 
Here’s a tree from home. 
The man responsible for the upkeep of the collection is Steve Ittel. 

He also made the pot on this pomegranate. 
It has one fruit. That’s by design and, also for horticultural reasons. For the tree to develope that fruit takes a lot of energy, and being in a bonsai pot automatically weakens fruit trees. Therefore, the best thing is for health of the tree is to limit fruit development. But you gotta have at least one. 
A similar thing is often done with azaleas while in development. You don’t let them flower until it’s ready for show. 

Steve gave us a backstage tour as well. 
A big trunked ginkgo. 

The Gardens have a big chrysanthemum show later in the year so the bonsai people (almost all volunteers) make chrysanthemum bonsai. 

Yes, that is a thing. Bonsai Mums. They are annuals (lasting only a year) but they can develop woody stems. 
So the real challenge is to make the structure look old enough and time it for maximum blooms. Neat, right? I might try it one year. 

Just as with the National Collection, they have a growing out and resting area. 

This creep myrtle had a nice trunk. 

It’s like butta!

This elm had been vandalized, with two huge bottom branches broken off. 
I don’t understand that at all. It’s like internet trolls, the behavior of a nihilist or spoiled children who need attention at any cost. There’s a special place in hell for vandals and trolls. 

Steve showed us all the greenhouses full of orchids too. But I didn’t take any pics (sorry Greg, and José). I did learn that to keep a small display stocked with good looking orchids it takes about 10 times the amount of orchids in development backstage. And that’s all for Longwood Gardens. I recommend a visit. A big “Thank you!” To Steve for taking the time to show me and Erick around and for the insider stories. Now it’s off to the Kennet Collection. The collection is a private one that is the passion of just one man, Doug. He is a very private man (which is why I won’t give you his last name) but he gave us permission to take as many pics as we wanted. Here’s some of them. 

That’s the most beautiful white pine I’ve seen. 

And this Satsuki azalea is without peer. 
Sorry. He also said we couldn’t share them. I don’t blame him. He has the biggest, the most valuable, and the best collection (that I’ve seen) of bonsai in the USA. It could be argued that there’s no equal outside of Japan or China. 

But, unless you happen to catch me in person, I can’t show you the pics. I even got to work on one of Doug’s tropicals, a sea hibiscus that is (I keep using this phrase) the best one in the USA. There’s even video of me working on it but, again, I can’t show you. To be honest, I just cut it back. The guys that are there every day (he has 5 full time caretakers that water, weed, pull old leaves etc) told me that some of the professionals that Doug brings in to style, wire, and repot the Japanese bonsai, were leery of how to approach this tree, and it was leggy and way out of shape. So I just went in and cut it back hard. It needed repotting but it was too late in the season for Pennsylvania. I told them to slip pot it into a larger container and then to repot in late spring next year. A sea hibiscus will put out so many roots that, here in Florida, you could repot twice in the growing season. 

Again, I’m sorry I can’t show you pics of the trees and the gardens. Even the koi ponds were awesome. 

They did give me and Erick t-shirts and hats. Which was cool and I can show you those. 

And I got permission to show this. That modern sculpture looking thing is an old copper wire holder. I don’t think it’s used anymore and the wire has probably hardened up, but it’s really interesting. And it proves that I was there.

I believe I have at least one more blog post I can write about my Pennsylvania/DC/Virginia/Maryland trip so look for it soon. 

And, as of this writing, I will be back in the area in the month of August next year, so if you’d like to have me make a visit to your club, or book a private session, send me an email to 

Posted in goings, pictures | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments