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

A sublime little Too Little 

Bonsai doesn’t alway have to be about the drama (unless, it seems, you’re on any of the bonsai forums, or on Facebook, or at the bar, after hours at a bonsai show……). What I mean is, this tree is amazing: It’s old, gnarled, beaten down but still strong and proud. You can see the struggles and hardship this dignified old tree has endured. But sometimes, just sometimes, a calm, simple composition is just as satisfying. The tree above from the last post, showing all the amazing trees at the Bonsai and Penjing Museum in Washington DC. So, as a counterbalance those trees, I give you…..

Up in the winding foothills of Pennsylvania I had the pleasure to work on a little mountain ficus twin trunk. Well, it’s not really from the mountains. But it sounded cool. 

Doesn’t look like much but I think it can be interesting. 

It was a three trunk planting in the past but one died..……but that’s ok, two is fine. 

Let’s talk about twin trunks, as I begin playing with the roots. They look good by the way. It’s mid-August in Pennsylvania now. Hot and humid. The roots are growing. It’s not a bad soil mix, much better than some I’ve seen up here. 

Now, a twin trunk can be just that, two trees. Or, if we are feeling allegorical and poetical, if the prose runs in us in romantic rivulets of word, we can say that a twin trunk is symbolical (heh) of a man/woman, husband/wife, father/son or daughter, or even mother/son or daughter (Being as bonsai was kinda formalized in a patriarchal society, it’s usually not the case though, because the artist, emotionally, can’t imagine it, more on that in a bit. Let me mess with the roots some more). 

A benjamina (this is a named cultivar, once patented even, called “Too Little”) will store sugars in the roots in these tuber-like constructs. 

Most ficus do this though. That’s where we get the so-called ginseng ficus from. 

I’ve always said that a benjamina will make the best root spread of any ficus, naturally, with not much help.  I’m going to help it though. A little.  With what I’ll be doing and with just a bit of time, it’ll be amazing. 

Getting back to the philosophy of a twin trunk tree (you thought bonsai was easy, didn’t you? You didn’t know we’d get into gender studies and crap like that) the concept I’ll be going for is a husband/wife composition. Kinda. The problem (here’s where that male/female thing comes into play) is the trunks are almost the same thickness. Now (I’ll get roasted for this one) one is more curvy than the other, and, therefore, more feminine…..but…..…’s taller. We can’t have the female be taller, can we? That’d be against nature now, wouldn’t it? I can fix that. Hmmmmmnnn. I’m confusing myself. Should the male be thicker or the lady? Damn, now I’m assuming gender and messing up sexes and yin yang roles…..damn, I’ll burn that bridge when I cross it. You know what, let’s try to make this composition more interesting and I’ll leave the anthropology and sociology to the eggheads…..

The trees need to be closer together. Like lovers.  And the best way to do that is to tear them apart and then push them together. Just like in real life.  

Now they can go into a pot. A smaller pot. More cozy that way. Like a small bed. It has been said that there’s a correlation with how big a society’s beds get, and a drop in the birth rate. 

The green fertilizer is from Wigert’s Bonsai. Works wonders on ficus. I’m sure it’s available on their website. 

I worked on several trees while I was their. Here are a few more: Two tiger bark S-curves and what you can do with them. I was working on Cheryl’s trees, I was her guest and I stayed in an amazing rental property that she and her husband run, called Kinder Hawk Schoolhouse. Click on the link to see the schoolhouse, here are a few pics I took. 

It was very relaxing. 

The whole place was surrounded by sorghum fields. 

We had a spirited time. I wish I could’ve stayed. 

Anyway, getting back to our tree, here’s how we started….. 

And the finish. Just one bit of wire. The trees are closer, both moving in the same general direction but with individual movement too. One is slightly taller than the other but both about the same size (importance). The taller one (on the left) is slightly in front of the shorter one, but it’s more of an embrace from behind than a position of dominance or subservience (depending on the culture, that’s where a man or woman should be). With all that said, one could argue that this is a modern husband/wife composition. Which is the male and which is the female? I don’t think it matters. They are both different and the same. And a true partnership should be that way. Or, who cares about all that anthropomorphic bull. It’s two trees in a harmonic bonsai composition that is calming and natural looking. I like it. 

Thank you Cheryl, maybe I’ll see you and your family next year, I’ll be back in August  again. 

Posted in branch placement, rare finds, styling bonsai | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

The Bonsai Collection at the National Arboretum

That good man, my friends, is Michael James, the over worked assistant curator of the bonsai collection at the National Arboretum in Washington DC. He has very good ears. He heard my cell phone camera click from about 30 feet away. I say overworked because there isn’t an official curator at the moment, he’s doing the work of two. 

I had the opportunity, during my last tour of the Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia areas, to visit the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum at the National Arboretum. My friend Erick Schmidt (find him on Instagram at @eschmidtpabonsai) set up a few days of bonsai tourism for me before I had to go to work. And I’ll tell you what,  I have enough photo sets of the trip for about 5 blogsposts. So this post is going to be just for the DC collection. I could actually do three just on this visit but, since I have unlimited storage now (which is a good chunk of change I might add) I’m letting this entry be a huge data whore for you to peruse, probably in multiple sittings (I am under no illusion that the majority of you read these posts whilst sitting in a burgundy padded chair, sipping brandy in front of a fire, chuckling jovially at my pithy jokes and terrible puns and muttering “good one old boy” under your breath. I’m read while you’re on break, in a graffitied toilet stall, between the business you are there for and washing your hands.) 

Anyway, here are some brothers in bonsai who were with me. From the left, Tony Green, intern or apprentice, Erick, my host, and Michael James, assistant curator.  

Tony is, surprisingly, from Florida. He’s been an intern for several months now, and he’s been adding to the apprentice blog (Click here! For the latest entry) regularly. He is also very committed to bonsai. Let’s just say that his salary doesn’t pay the bills to be able to live in DC. 

What’s funny is that as Erick and I were walking up we hear a loud “YO!” From the entrance just as we are coming up on Michael. It was Tony yelling towards us. He had heard that I was coming to the collection that day and was looking for us. 

As embarrassing as that is, being recognized like that, I’m glad he was waiting for me. You see, all the trees (and I mean all) had been turned around backwards to get a better distribution of sunlight. He took it upon himself to turn them back around so I could get proper pics. 

Here’s an example, this coastal live oak. I couldn’t tell you which is the front from these two pics. 

Can you? Thank you Tony, me and my readers appreciate it! 

Are you ready? I’m not going to try to identify all the trees unless I know specifically what they are. And I’m pretty sure I missed some too. But here I present to you, the trees from the National Bonsai and Penjing collection.
Starting in the Japanese pavilion, we have a Japanese black pine. 

A shimpaku juniper. 

An eleagnus (what’s called “gumi” in Japan I believe) 

A spruce, I think. 

White pine. 

Trident maple root over rock. 
I’d like to point out two things: The tea bags, which are used to hold the fertilizer. And second, many of the deciduous trees are looking a bit ragged. That’s from the summer heat and pretty normal. It’s mid-August in Washington DC, which means that it’s hotter and more humid than what I’m used to, in Florida, and that’s saying a lot. It used to be that DC was considered, by the military, to be such an extreme environment posting (both colder and hotter than usual) that the service men and women got hazard pay. 

A spruce. 

A white pine. 
Most of the white pines in bonsai are grafted onto black pine roots stock. Hence the bulge towards the roots spread. 

A crab apple. Which should be pronounced “crah-bapple” in honor of Mz. Crabapple from the Simpsons. 

A spruce. 

Maybe a hemlock? Too dark to tell. 

A Japanese maple. 

I think a quince. 

Root over rock trident. 

This trident was a Japanese princes favorite tree, gifted by the royal family. 

A Japanese maple. More of a yard tree. There are a few more from the Japanese pavilion but I’ll show them later.

Now, the North American pavilion. You’ll notice that the trees here will cover much more species, both traditionally Japanese and native ones, as well as many non-traditional styles and presentations. 

Like here, a coastal live oak, in a pine tree or semi cascade style. 

Mexican or montezuma cypress, a taxodium mucronatum. 


A California juniper with amazing deadwood. 

Guy Guidry’s bald cypress. 

A blue atlas cedar

Looks like an Atlantic white cedar. 

A ficus microcarpa “kaneshiro” I think. 

Acer rubrum forest. One of Vaughn Bantings trees. 

I’m not sure of this one. Maybe a boxwood or an ilex. 

Ficus natalensis, from David Fukumoto. 

A willow leaf ficus. 

Trident maple. 

This is an elm. Maybe a cedar elm. 

 Privet. I picked up two of these while I was in the area. 


A juniper. 

This is a buttonwood from the Queen herself, Mary Madison. 

A black pine. 


Cork bark pine. 


I always like to point out good roots on these trees, they are grown from seed and usually have terrible root spreads. 
Those tea bags again. 



A very formal pine

A very American bald cypress. Last time I posted about a flat-top cypress there was all kinds of controversy. 
This tree was designed by Vaughn Banting, who originated the flattop style. 
A very twisty juniper, maybe a Rocky Mountain variety. 

Harold Harvey’s bougainvillea. There are a total of three Florida trees there. 

Harold is from my club though. Bragging rights. 

Vaughn Banting has three as well. A sweet gum by him. 

I believe these are elms. 

Causurina, or Australian pine. Not really a pine though. 

This tree is spectacular. A wild American juniper. 

From Florida, and Marian Borchers, a parsley hawthorn, it’s even a native Florida tree. 


A mixed juniper planting. 

I think it’s a beech. 
Could be a son of a beech. 


Rocky Mountain. 

I caught Mr Green turning a tree. He was fast.  Notice the size, in a few pics you’ll see why. 

A very stark tree. Winter is coming. 

Here’s that elm that Tony was turning. Doesn’t look so big now, does it? 
This is a good time for me to point out that it is always best to see trees in person. Photos don’t do them justice. 

Especially the group plantings. They look so tiny. Chinese elm. 

This might be a larch. 



Ok, we are out of the North American area but some of these next trees are either from that collection or the Japanese collection. I’ve lost my way, there were too many trees.  

Red pine. 



I know this one, it’s a ponderosa pine collected by Dan Robinson. He called it “dancing Jackie Gleason” 

There’s some old deadwood on it 

Now some shohin. Not many really, I think they rotate them from the growing-out area (yes, I got to see there too, hold your horses..) 

This is a huge rock planting of cypress. 

A very twisty shimpaku in the old, natural, Japanese yamadori style. 
They don’t style them this way anymore. 


Now we enter the Chinese area. This is a water jasmine. 

One or two flowers left. 

A big Chinese elm. 


Black pine. 

A trident planting. 

Chinese elm

Trident root over rock

A dwarf bamboo planting

Chinese hackberry

Elm planting. 

Exposed root trident. 

Chinese elm. 

Trident planting. 

Hinoki cypress

Schefflera arboricola


Elm root over rock

Cork bark pine. 



The backside of a ficus microcarpa. 

I was very happy to see the correct binomial names at the Arboretum. 

The front side. 

A very natural looking Fukien tea. No S-curve there. 

Chinese elm. I like this one. 

Root over rock pine


A bougie with a withered trunk. 

It’s old too. 

Penjing could mean a planting of a tree, or trees, or rocks and trees or just rocks. 

I posted this elm on social media and someone said that this was the right side. 
I said at least it wasn’t the wrong side. 


Literati black pine

Trident over a tile. 



A spruce, I think. 

With a musician resting in the shade. 

I liked this exposed root trident. 

A sumac. 

A beautiful elm. 

One of those rock plantings I talked about. 

Grass planting. 

That’s it for the Chinese pavilion. You’ll notice a difference in style at all three pavilions. I won’t comment on it but I’m sure I’ll get comments on from the readers. 

Now, the backstage area. One of the perks of writing a blog. 

This area is for resting trees after repots….

Or newly donated pieces…..

Sick or weak trees….

Here’s an interesting tree from back home. 
It excited Tony, he couldn’t wait to get back to Florida to collect one. You see, it’s a highly invasive exotic in Florida that could use some removing from the wild. 
A Brazilian pepper tree. 
There are some amazing trees not on display in the back. 

Here’s a very new addition, it’s from Jim Doyle at Natures Way, an eastern white cedar. 

Tony thinks it would look better at this angle…..what do you think Jim? 

I even got to go into the quarantine greenhouse. 

I felt safe inside. Some people think I should be housed permanently inside one of these. 

A grow bed. Sometimes it helps to put a tree into the ground to gather strength. 

They have an indoor work area where they hold workshops, classes, and demos. Here’s Michael giving direction to a staff member. 

Some volunteers weeding, wiring, plucking needles etc. 

The next room holds the pot cage. 

Some practice wiring thingies. Cool. 

A per trait of Saburo Kato. He was instrumental in the original donation from Japan. 

I’ve purposefully kept the two most famous trees for last. 

The Yamaki Pine….

I could tell the story, but I’d rather send you to the web page with the official Story on the National Bonsai Federation website. Follow all the links. 
The tree is a survivor from the Hiroshima bombing during WWII. It was a gift of peace from the Japanese people to the USA. 

The tree is old. Almost 400 years old. Go to the link and read the story. I have no more words. 

And John Naka’s Goshin. 
John could be called the father of American bonsai. His tree, called Goshin, or The Protector of the Spirit. 

Each trunk (11 in number) is representative of one of John Naka’s Grandchildren. The trees are foemina junipers and the composition was made to represent a cryptomeria forest near a shrine in Japan. The work on the first trees was started in 1948. The final planting was done in 1973. It was donated to the Museum in 1984. 

It was his gift to the collection and it is perhaps the most recognizable bonsai in the world. 

To spend time with these two trees, with them all really, was a magical experience. Thank you Erick, thank you Tony, and thank you Michael for the time and all the trouble. I am honored. 

I can’t wait to go back. 

The next post, I think, will be a of a simple ficus Benjamina twin trunk composition. 

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The bonsai collection at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, Conyers Georgia

Ever since I got into bonsai, one of the most asked questions about my trips was: “Have you ever been to The Monastery?”  Until last July, 2017, the answer was always no. 

When the Atlanta club invited me to do a demo for them, a trip there was definitely on the itinerary. I actually made it a point to leave early from Orlando in order to have enough time to go before they closed that day. Father Paul, or, Brother Paul as he was known, was a monk that very interested in horticulture and, especially bonsai (The inhabitants are what are known as Trappist Monks. There forty-eight monks with several generations represented. who live there. Founded from the Abbey of Gethsemani, Trappist, Kentucky in the spring of 1944. Trappist are an order who, amongst other things, like the spiritual importance of silence, believe that the community must be self supporting by there own works.  The Monastery does this through The Abbey Store, a bonsai garden plant and supply business, and a stained glass manufacturing business. They also take donations, and offer spiritual retreats) 

Brother Paul is most known for his work with the variant of buxus microphylla called “kingsville”. Brother Paul passed away several years ago and the day to day work for the trees is done by the monks,  but the curator is Rodney Clemons, from AllGood Bonsai in Atlanta. 

Rodney is doing an exceptional job, keeping true to Brother Paul’s vision but practicing the modern techniques we use today. 

This pine had just been thinned for the summer. 

There are many varied species, from false cypress to Chinese hackberry to beech….Japanese maple….…..hornbeam……..which is an amazingly developed full 360 degree tree. 

White pine. And the oldest pyracantha I’d seen. 

But the star is, of course, the kingsville boxwood. 

Rodney has said that he will never, as long as he’s curator, change the style of the tree. There’s a quiet, tree like quality to this bonsai that many bonsai just don’t have. It helps that it’s more than a hundred years old, in cultivation. 

If you’re in the area, stop in and do a little contemplating of your own. The silence is golden. 

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Pigeon plum, a vomitoria and the withered trunk

Two more trees for your perusal (and, of course, my self edification). 

A pigeon plum…and a dwarf yaupon….The yaupon is currently in a style I’ll call the “Bozo the Clown style”. You’ll have to Google that one. It’s a style that many azaleas end up in. Nothing on top but big wings on the side.

It’s what happens when you chop the top off of a plant that isn’t apically dominant but side dominant, and the top dies. This is why you might see healthy azaleas that tend to be taller, but skinnier than the “rules” suggest. Well…that’s one reason. Another is that a taller, skinnier tree is a better structure to hang all those flowers on. 
I think I’ll start with the yaupon (it’s an ilex vomitoria “shillings” btw) since I’m in that photo set already. 

The tree was originally a big trunked medium sized tree that had a fully carved front (my best carving work really, in fact, the best carving in the history of bonsai. I can say that since it’s rotted away and the evidence is gone. Actually, I think that I did a blog post or an instagram pic on this tree. First person to find it, send the link to and you’ll win a t-shirt) anyway, the carved portion was about an apple sized chunk of wood…It’s rotted pretty well, looks old. 

And there’s even a new shoot from the roots below. I’ll be able to use that in the final design.  Otherwise it’ll be a tad bit flat. 

The first step, a partial defoliation of the old, damaged, and interior leaves. 

This will let me wire more easily, but it also does a few more things. It lets air and light into the interior. Which helps with fungus, like the black spot there. The defoliation also activates hormones and will cause back budding, accelerated growth, and increased branching. That’s all I can do tonight. My wife is calling….…..and it’s late anyway. Say good night Gracie. 
Good morning! David is here from Miami and you saw two of the trees (in the last post) that we worked on. Here’s the third (already in progress) A pigeon plum (coccoloba diversifolia). And yes, David is wearing a regular watch and what looks like one of those fancy iPhone compatible thingies too. Not judging. 

When I said in progress, I really meant it. I’m a chopping fool. David chose the worst day to wear white. We defoliate the tree and then it’s time to repot it into some good bonsai soil. 

A little history on the tree. I’ve had it for about nine years and I can say that definitively because I won it in an auction (for a not-small sum) and I got a phone call just after, from my wife, saying that she was pregnant with our fourth child. The timing wasn’t the best. But my son is precious and that makes the tree precious as well. The tree was originally styled by a dear friend, Mike Cartrett, giving it more meaning. 

The pot, well, not really a pot but just as good. It’s a feed dish, non-toxic, UV stable, thick and strong. Better than those crappy cement mixing tubs. You just need to drill some holes. 

The roots are pretty good considering I haven’t touched them for 9 years. Wow. I shoulda done this years ago, this could have been a Disney tree….it will be, pretty quickly. Makes me wish I hadn’t used that green glazed round in the last post. Oh well, it needs about two years development anyway. Let’s look at the trunk, it’s purrrrty. If I remember correctly, the damage to the trunk was the result of fire damage. I like to joke about it raining everyday in Sunny Florida but we do have a dry season in the winter, which means it’s wild fire season too. 

Ooooo, a hole!I like holes. They’re perfect for putting fingers into. 

Well, that’s about as far as we got before David left. I’m on my own now. Maybe the little tree is more my size anyway. I am getting old. 

A little wire………..a little bending….

There we go. 

You know what? I think I have just enough in me to finish the pigeon plum. That looks good. Fine, mighty fine. Finer than frogs hair. 

My gratitude to David for the help he gave me while he was in town, you are a true brother. And now, I think it’s time for a beer. 

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You know what they say about people that have big bonsai….

Lysiloma sabicu….I think. Horseflesh mahogany is the colorful common name. We (that would be David and I, not the royal “we”) are going to put it into that green pot. It looks small but……’s not. 

We also have a big Brazilian rain tree to get styled and potted up. That’ll be fun. It’s a weave. That’s almost…..grotesque. It’s beautiful. Let’s see how much I can mess it up. As always, I start at the bottom. 

What do we have under the soil? Oh yeah. That’s good. Very often, on a BRT, the roots will be a bit wonky. 

But that’s fine. Let’s look at the pot. It’s an interesting design. I got it from The Bonsai Supply down near Ft. Lauderdale. You’ll notice the rings. That’s a design concept that allows you to tilt the pot at the best angle for the tree.Pretty ingenious. This was one of the first produced so there is a flaw: if you tilt it, the drainage hole isn’t at the lowest point. So you’d get a pool of water and possible root suffocation. The new ones have a bunch of holes all along the bottom so it’s not a problem now but on this one, what to do? Let’s try something risky. Let’s drill a hole. The real secrets to doing this without shattering the pot is to let the bit do the work (don’t force it), make sure there’s a brace on the back side of the hole as you drill (wood is best) and to keep a pool of water to cool off the ceramic. 

This is the bit I’m using, a masonry one:

Slow and steady. I’m just about through but this is where the breakage usually occurs. The outside flare on the brill bit tip will catch on the edge of the hole and shatter the pot. 

Careful, careful…..There we go…… doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to work. You can’t see it anyway. 

Good roots…..…..potted up. 

Now to the top. You remember the weave? Let me go back in time about a half hour and show you what I did. It’s a mess up top. That weave is interesting but not “bonsai” interesting. Oftentimes, the simple line is easier to look at (relatively simple, for me) Don’t worry though, it’ll still be interesting. Just wait a few pics and you will see what I saw……off. 

Now, there’s a big dead branch. Usually, I’d keep that. I’m a big proponent of deadwood, as you may know. But, damnit, I just can’t figure it out in the design. It doesn’t work. 

Getting there. What a waste. But I’m not going to waste this branch….I can air layer it off. Or, rather, David will. It’s his first attempt, he’s doing a good job. Here’s a good link on air layering. For the constant reader, yes, that is plastic wrap instead of aluminum foil. I’m out of foil. 

Some wire, pruning, bending, and I sit and contemplate. Hmmmmnnnn….ahaaaa….very interesting…..yessssss……David took a lot of pics of me looking at the tree. Four posterior pics for posterity, so to say. 

Let’s get that lysiloma finished. 

That’s a good start. It’s against the rules but I’m liking the dual Jin on top. The foliage is very much like a Brazilian raintree but it has more red in the coloring. Here’s a good example of an awesome tree by Martha Goff. He trunk is about the same size as on my tree. Very different style though. I love her tree. 

The horseflesh goes out into the full sun. Yup, full sun. Here’s how I determine aftercare when repotting. Since we are removing roots, it’s important to understand the mechanisms that are set into motion when repotting. First, I usually defoliate the tree. This basically stops transpiration, how the tree “breaths” which is through the leaves. Transpiration also causes water loss. Roots are how a tree takes in water, so when you cut them, you are diminishing the trees ability to “drink”. If I don’t defoliate, like with a pine or juniper, I might put the tree into the shade for a few weeks, but broadleaf trees are able to be defoliated, so I can put them into the sun right away. This stimulates new growth and, with new growth on top, you get new roots on bottom. Simple horticulture. 

Back to the raintree. There’s some serious hardware on it. 

It’s hard to see the design with that branch I’m airlayering off still there. And that big branch stub on the right, it’s like a plank in your eye. 

You see how I just couldn’t waste that one branch though? It’s a good tree by itself. 

Let me play a bit with some photo editing….There you go.

David and I suddenly realize that we’ve made a big S-curve. ​Oh well, it’ll work out. 

Oh, what do they say about men who grow big bonsai? You know that answer. 

Coming up next, a tree called a pigeon plum, David gets dirty, and maybe you’ll see some breakdancing. Maybe I’ll make some pickles too. 

Posted in branch placement, Horticulture and growing, rare finds, tips and tricks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments