New product for making your own bonsai pots 

Before I begin, I must say two things: first, because it is the law when writing about things like this on a blog, I do not/did not receive any compensation from the manufacturer of this product. Second, I would really and truly (and gladly) accept compensation,  should the very nice people of the Sakrete© companies offer it; baby needs a new pair of shoes, you know. Ok, with that business out of the way, here is the product:  ShapeCrete©, made by the Sakrete© company in partnership with a gentleman named Cheng (no, not the bonsai Cheng).  Take a look at the website

It says on the container that it plays like clay but works like concrete (it still comes in powder form though). Reason being is that to have the properties (strength, rigidity, hardness) of concrete, there is a chemical reaction that takes place between the cement and plain old water that causes it to cure as a solid. 

So, we begin with a powder. 

  Notice the little hairy fibers, those add strength. Add water in a powder to water ratio of roughly 4:1 (less water for sculpting, but more for casting). 

  You’ll see some gloves today. Concrete is terribly rough on ones hands. 
 It seems to desiccate the skin and is terribly abrasive. And makes the hands rough and uncomfortable to the ladies. One definitely doesn’t want that now, does one?  

For the he first pot, I’ll be using a colander as a mold.  

  Get it in there tight. 

The all important drain hole.  
And holes for tie-down wires; a chopstick works well for that. 

 I used a colander so that I’ll get an interesting texture on the outside. 

 Not sure how it will work but…hey, this is the first pot. 

The next step is to cover the pot with plastic. This will trap the moisture in and allow the concrete to cure more completely.  

 It takes only 24 hours to cure enough for handling and removal from the mold. But that’s tomorrow, I have some more ingredients to play with. 



I got red and black today. At the box store they also had tan, which I regret not getting. Another day. 

  I’m not sure how much to mix so I’ll start with a little first.

 Then the concrete.  
 Hmmmmnnnn. Not much difference. Maybe more red.  

 And water.  

 Aha! It gets darker with water! Doh! 

This time I’m using a plastic training pot as the mold.  

  Yes, I’m making a mess.  

I had some leftover concrete so I made a freeform pot.  

 It’s kinda crooked. It’s sitting on a board to make feet. Or things that kinda look like feet. 

I wrap them all up in plastic and then cover with a tub.  


Now I have a mess to clean up.  




And the Plastic Pot Series© 

Let’s look at the freeform pot first.     Ummm, yeah. Someone will like it. Maybe. 

Next is the Plastic Pot Series©   I had to break off these…squirts. 

And….nice!    I like the smooth texture and the air pockets.

And that edge! I like it!   

Now the colander.   

Lesson one: concrete squirts out of holes. Like when you vomit and cover your mouth, it squeezes out between your fingers. And when it cures, it’s very difficult to remove from your mold. Very much like vomit. 




Brute force!  

Poor colander, many a pasta dish thou hast played part in. Never again shall thou drain the wet from the noodle.  

  Let’s see how it looks.  


 Not too bad. I could have made the walls thinner though. Next time.  
 The next step (which is not part of the official instructions by the way) is to submerge the pots in water for at least thirty days. This will ensure full cure and strength, but it will also (very importantly for plants!) leach away the excess lime that is in concrete. Lime will affect the soil ph by making it more alkaline. 

I can hear the peanut gallery saying “A more alkaline soil is best for flowering plants!” 

It is, but we tend to adjust it a little more scientifically by testing the ph and adding the proper amount of dolomite to the soil. 

Anywho, more pots?! 

 These are the molds this time. A round bulb pot, and two different ramen noodle containers. I use them normally as training pots (talk about up-cycling).  


This time I’m building the pots on the outside as well as the inside.  


Oh, and another technique too. See the one in the back that looks like fudge wrapped in wax paper?


Put down a piece of plastic or some other waterproof fabric of your choice. 

Plop down some concrete and roll it out. Maybe about 1/4″ thick. 

Pick up the plastic and put it into a bowl. Here’s what you get.   



  It’s like chocolate! Like sexual chocolate. SEXUAL CHOCOLATE! If you don’t know what that is, go Here. You won’t regret it. 

I had one failure with this batch.  

 I played with it too much before it was hard enough. There’s a joke there. This was the one I put over the top of the round pot.  


This one came out cool though.  


And this one.   

The final step, after they are fully cured, is some cutting to make space for tie down wires.  


I used my angle grinder with this wheel.  

Look for these to be for sale, if I ever get my sales area built on the address. Or at this year’s Bsf convention at the end of May in Orlando. 


Posted in Art, rare finds, sculpture | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

The trees of Kawa Bonsai’s Joy of Bonsai show, 2016….hopefully it’s not the last…

This post is late in coming but I think it’s important to share the pics. 

This could possibly be the last Joy of Bonsai the the Kawa Bonsai Society of Florida puts on. It’s definitely the last one in its historical venue; the Vp, Louise Leister, had been employed by the Volusia County Agricultural Extension office and was able to secure the building for the show, she is now an independent consultant and doesn’t have that prove large anymore. And considering that the Club is technically in the middle of no where, there is a distinct lack of places for next year’s show (the city the building is located in is called Bunnel, look it up on a map. There are roads but not much else. I don’t think there’s even a McDonald’s in the town…..think about that!). Maybe they’ll find an indoor sports arena like Bill Valavanis did for his National Show. One can hope, I think more bonsai shows should be held over AstroTurf®.

Anyway, I think I’ve alarmed you enough, let’s calm ourselves by looking at the trees, shall we? First, the long shot: 

 What you see, for those who wish to organize their own exhibitions, are regular 6 or 8 foot tables that are on foot tall, pvc pipe risers. The table tops are a blue-grey burlap and the skirts are corrugated cardboard packing material. All very re-usable. Notice also that each display is separated with a bamboo bundle. 

The real investment the club made was the red cloth backdrops. They are specialized backdrops with tubular steel structures and heavy plates on the floor. Very usable but definitely not cheap. 

Ok, to the trees, with little commentary. Some of the trees I’ll guess the species. But I’m good at guessing. And, as always with these things, if I make a mistake or left one out, let me know and I’ll fix it. 

Starting on top: Japanese black pine (pinus thunbergii) 


Neea buxifolia  

Another jbp  

 Conocarpus erectus, buttonwood  

Another black pine  

A jaboticaba, myrciaria cauliflora or sometimes plinia cauliflora, from Brazil.  


Lagerstroemia dwarf species. Dwarf crepe myrtle.   

I think the next is a foemina juniper  

This one looks like maybe a maple, or it could be a hackberry.   

Sargent’s juniper probably a kifu, or shimpaku 

 I’m not sure of this one, the bark looks like it could be pomegranate.  

 Another Juniperus sargentii, this looks more like shimpaku.  

Here’s a look at the pics before I edited them.  
 I cropped and levelled them obviously but the real challenge was making the tree look good with the red background.  

The next is a hackberry. 


Texas ebony    

Ficus microcarpa. Looks like retusa to me.  

You’ll notice there are ribbons a on various trees. Honestly, I didn’t pay attention to the categories but this might have been best shohin. 

 Ulmus parvifolia, Chinese elm.  
The weeping branches come from a treatment of a growth inhibitor when the tree was imported. 


This looks like it could be a Chinese privet (ligustrum) or a Florida privet (forestiera)   


 This looks like shimpaku to me.   

An ilex vomitoria “schillings”  

Ficus salicaria, willowleaf ficus. Incorrectly called, variously, ficus nerifolia, salicifolia, et al.   

Pink pixie bougainvillea   

This looks like Chinese elm to me.   

 From the bark, I’d say jaboticaba  

A shohin display with various trees.   

 Green island ficus (f. Microcarpa)  with a picture timeline.  

An azalea of some sort.   

 Ficus salicaria  

 A defoliated ficus microcarpa (I think)  

 Fukien tea  

A really nice ilex schillings   

 A Chinese elm  

 A nice shohin display  

 Sargent’s juniper on a root stand carved by Sean Smith, I believe.  

 Chinese sweet plum, sageritia theezans 

A Japanese maple species  

Japanese black pine   

Willow leaf ficus   


A sea grape, coccoloba uvifera  

Asiatic jasmine    

A sweet willow leaf ficus clump.    

And lastly, a Japanese black pine. This one is very natural, I like it the best. It looks like an old Florida slash pine.   
And that’s that. Let’s hope Louise finds a venue for next year, this show deserves a good spot. 

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

2 live oaks, as oaky as they wanna be

A shiny nickel to the first person (in the blog’s comment section) who identifies the reference in the title. 

Today’s subjects are a coupla’ live oaks, one collected, one a nursery grown tree.  

   Let’s see if I can get myself in trouble today. 

We call them live oaks (quercus virginiana) or, actually southern live oaks (but we here in the USA are suffering from The Offends of late so I’ll drop the “southern” part, you know, just to be more sensitive to the twang contingent in my readership). You see, even though they are deciduous trees, they don’t drop their leaves until very late winter/early spring and then it’s a one week span of time where the leaves drop, the flowers release massive amounts of pollen, and the new leaves emerge. It’s a very frantic time of the year for them. They complain and over-share their pain by changing the color of your automobile to yellow. It’s lovely. 

Let’s start with the collected tree. I’ve done sold it up north to Jim in Minnesota.

 The tree has made an appearance on the blog before (Read Me Here!) where I made all the excuses and justifications for it and carved the lightening strike into it. You’ll have to read the post. It’s quite charming.  

 I actually sold it to Jim a couple of months ago. I wasn’t really wanting to sell it, but economic realities kinda forced my hand. It’ll have a good home up in the frozen tundra of the Minnesota biome. Jim better, um…..won’t let it die. 

And besides, he sent a package.  

Looks like it might be Italian.  

 I’d better be careful opening it up. Maybe it’s a lamp!  

 It’s packed well at least. 

 Aha! It’s a pot! 

 Full of biodegradable peanuts. Mmmmmm, tasty! 

 a Sarah Raynor pot to be exact. For the oak.  

 Beautiful. I’m going to embarrass her and say that she is the pre-eminent American bonsai potter that all other bonsai potters look up to. When she goes to a show and sells her wares, she always sells out. No matter how many pots she brings.  

 It could be said that she is the pot dealer to all the bonsai rockstars in the world……

Ok everyone, I must interrupt this post, after that lame joke (sorry Sarah) to mention that it has been about a month and a half since I began writing this post. It’s been hard to finish. My intent was to finish writing before my latest surgery (which happened on January 27, thank you to all the well wishers out there), but obviously that didn’t happen. Then I had intended to finish it while in the hospital. Even though I was there for ten days (twice as long as the worst case scenario…..I had some complications) I just couldn’t get myself up enough to write. 

The surgery was more successful than I had had hopes for, but, a few days into the recovery, the wound site deteriorated (three times cutting in the same spot, with all the scar tissue, does not make for good conditions for healing. Not to mention some violent vomiting tearing me up) Imagine a foot long vertical slice with my belly button at the mid point. The tissues deteriorated and I developed a hernia and…….anyway, don’t cry for me Argentina, uh, I mean, Bonsai World. I’ll heal…again, until it’s time for my next surgery. Then, hopefully, that one will pay for all. 

If you’ve done the math, I’ve been home for two weeks now. You’re wondering why the hell I haven’t pushed this post out and written the four more I have photos for just sitting on my iPhone, waiting. 

I’m not sure why I can’t get them written. I’m trying hard right now just writing this. It’s not all bad, besides the health thing, I’ve had good news that should help; I will be having a tree in the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival again this year. I’m also honored to be presenting a program in the Festival Center again, like last year, but it’ll be on World Bonsai Day this time. I’m leading two workshops and giving a demo (alongside Bjorn Bjorholm) at this year’s Bonsai Societies of Florida annual convention. I’m scheduled to revisit the Ohio area in June for a Bonsai Tour. 

But I’m having a hard time. 

To paraphrase an old poem, it’s not mine to wonder why, but to do, or to die. 

And another bit of doggerel, repurposed…..once more unto the breach…..

Sometimes just the doing gives meaning, maybe that’s the answer. 

Ok. Back to our two oak trees. 

I think it’s been two years since I collected it.  

 Some screens and tie downs for the pot.  

 When I collect a tree, I’ll cut the roots back so that, if I want to put the tree into a bonsai pot right then, I can.  

 You read that correctly. I don’t try to get the most roots I can out of the ground. This is the reasoning: yanking a tree out of the ground is very stressful-cutting back the roots, chopping the top. One thing you have as an advantage is that the tree is at its strongest it will be for a while (if you can keep it alive, that is). If you only cut half the roots upon the original extraction, then cut the rest maybe a year or two later (when the tree should be recovering, really) there’s a distinct possibility that this second abuse, this second offense, this, to use the bonsai term, insult, could possibly kill the tree. And it does, quite often. 

Putting this oak into this pot just now required me to tease out most of the potting soil I use for collected trees (a pine bark based mix cut 1/2 with perlite or used bonsai soil. Very well draining).  And it fits like a glove. 

 On deciduous trees, we don’t fertilize in the spring until the new growth has hardened off, usually (for Florida) late April or so. This keeps the internodes short and the growth controlled. Ready to be shipped to Minnesota. 

Pushing forward, here’s the second tree, a nursery grown oak.  

 It was a tree that got abused in the landscape nursery I found it at. It was a bunjin at one point but, last year, at the beginning of my health problems, but it dried out and the top died.  

 Being an oak, and as oaky as it wants to be, means that it is stubborn enough to not die. Or maybe it was embarrassed being a bunjin oak and wanted to try life stylin’ in a different way.  

I’m thinking maybe a shorter tree.  

 Where’s my knob cutters.  

  Here we go.  

 Now for some wire.  

 First branch.  

 And the new leader, just a little bend… 


Did you see why it snapped? Right here: 

  That’s right where I bent it and where it snapped. Stupid. 

It’s a good thing this is an oak, right? A little re-bend the other way.  

 Some cut paste.  

 And Bob’s your uncle.  

  You’re wondering why I didn’t cut those two long branches back. Since I’m starting over, I have to get those branches thicker. I’ve gone from a near finished tree back to a growing stage with this tree. The first branch will be cut sooner than the new leader but I’m thinking probably two years before I begin really training the secondary branches above the first branch. It’s staying in Florida so that is at least a plus. 

This poor bastard will have to live in the frozen north from now on.  

 Sorry, you’ll be ok, Jim will take care of you up there. As for the other oak, here’s a quick look of what it will look like in a few years.  

 Just more cool. Hopefully. Maybe the canopy could go to the left a bit. Hey, it’s just a doodle you know. Don’t judge. 

Posted in progression, redesign, updates | Tagged , , , , , | 16 Comments

A bouganvillea for the New Year

  I’ve been traveling pretty hard so far this year. In fact, if my calculations are correct, it could be said that I’ve been gone from home for almost half of the year already. I know, right? If I’m gone much more my wife might start to worry about all those bonsai groupies that throw themselves at me after my demos. 

Not to worry dear wife! My love….she who must be obeyed….your love is so sweet, I’d never want once from the cherry tree (stole that last bit from Hozier, shhhh, don’t tell her!) 

Anyway, Over the weekend, I had the privilege of visiting and working with all kinds of new friends down on the southwest Florida coast. One guy in particular is named Ryan and he asked me over his place to take a look at his collection, give him some ideas on where he should go next with some of them and, important to today’s blog post, to take a look at a bougie he had collected. How’s this?  

 Purty flowers. 

Too bad I have to cut them all off. Yeah man, it’s a rule in the Southeast Chapter of the Bonsai Professional’s Guild and Bridge Club that, when one is styling a flowering tree, the flowers must be cut off. It’s the truth, I wouldn’t lie to you. Would I do that? We have lapel pins, a secret handshake and a bowling league. Owen is the points leader, he almost always bowls a perfect game.   

It has a decent base, for a vine.    Good flare. Let’s see what kind of mess we can make of the rest of the tree. 

 For reference, a before shot. Print it out so you can refer back as we progress.  

Using a reciprocating saw (that would be a Sawzall® for those who also say BAND-Aid® or Q-Tip® instead of adhesive bandage and cotton swab) we do some pruning. We could use a $90 Japanese pull saw to prune the branches out. Yeah, let’s go with that…..


What’s left of the poor tree, you ask? Did we just chop it all off and this is just a lesson in how brutal our hero (that’d be me, Adam Lavigne, the hero, or protagonist) can really be. I mean….I MEAN, am I the kind of person that will take a child out into the ocean and throw said child off the back of the boat, just to teach him how to swim? Am I  a “sink or swim” kinda teacher? Well, sometimes. This time, though, I had a plan. Here’s the tree after surgery.    

Poor Ryan. He was a good sport but I’m sure he was watching me, this  mad bonsai-man with an electric saw, brutally but casually chopping off limbs like Leatheface or Hannibal the Cannibal getting ready for the Annual Family Reunion Barbecue and Social. I can only imaging him thinking “How much am I paying this fool again, I coulda done that?” 

 Worry not, dear Ryan, I’m about to show you why they pay me the “Big Bucks”. 

At this point,  we needed to adjust the angle of the planting. Right now it’s falling back, like that drunken cousin at an open bar wedding reception, we need it to be leaning forward, just a little. 

When one looks at a bonsai from the front, it should appear that the tree is “bowing” to the viewer. This is something that many people don’t know or haven’t been taught. Let me explain what I mean. In the following illustration, you will see that the  “tree” is leaning slightly to the front. 

 This, along with viewing the bonsai at the proper height (which is where the word “front” is written in the illustration, about one third up the trunk, that’s where eye level should be). This forward inclination tricks your eye into thinking that the tree is “looming” over you. And that makes a small tree appear larger than it is. Write this line down: The Art of Bonsai is the illusion of making a small, relatively young tree, look like a tall, ancient tree. Another couple of tricks we sneaky bonsai artists use are a thing called taper and making sure that the spacing between the branches gets smaller the higher in the tree you go (I call this last the vanishing point or “railroad track” principle)  

How does this apply to our bougie? Here’s the new planting angle, side view with the front to the left.  

 Now for some carving. The tree doesn’t have much taper at all. In fact, the multiple branches at the top actually make it fatter up there.  

 This is called, variously, reverse, inverse or, obverse, taper. So it’s my job to make the tree appear to have taper by carving. Let’s see if I can do it. To accomplish this feat,  I’ll be using just my die grinder with a roto-saw carbide burr. And a torch. Cuz fire is cool. 


Now, for obvious reasons (not the least being loss of important phalanges) I don’t tend to get many pics of the carving process. And, as I was charging by the hour, I didn’t want to waste too much of my clients time taking pics (I did take my time during lunch though. We had what Ryan called a “Hlavsa Burger”, a spectacular creation from Ryan’s kitchen that has, among other things, sharp cheddar, chimmichurri, and fresh dill pickles. I don’t use text-speak much but, this time, I can only say, OMG….yessir, OMG). I did not, in very un-Adam like fashion, get a pic. Sorry. But it was tasty. 

Fire for the fuzzies and….


… how’s that?     

I could be lying and I am really having a private session with Wil Wheaton……

 ………naaaah, couldn’t be.  You might want to check out Wil’s blog though…he might be writing his version of our day together right now. 


I think the carving works. I could be wrong though. 

Ryan’s job now is to get some wood hardener on the carved wood and, about a week later, hit it with lime sulphur. If you do this religiously, the wood, which usually rots out pretty easily on a bougie, will last. 

Now, back to the one, lonely branch I left after the initial butchery.  

 Hey, there’s one flower left. Not for long but it’s there now. Savor it. Then say “buh-bye”.

Some wire…… 

Some gentle and slow bending….. 


A little more wire….. 




 And that’s it.  

   Imagine that as solid pad of flowers. Go ahead, I’ll wait…….exciting, am I right?

It being December and all, we didn’t repot it, we just added soil to the bottom to prop it up. The serious repotting should take place late spring. I’d say in a round pot. 

Many thanks to Ryan and his woman for allowing my crazy ass into their home for a few hours to practice my art, I truly and seriously appreciate it. And that burger, off the hook. I’ll have to steal the recipe. See you soon my friend. 

Happy New Year! 


Posted in Art, branch placement, carving, rare finds, sculpture, wiring, yamadori | Tagged , , , , , | 13 Comments

Winter Bonsai Blues

  Looks like I have some weeding to do. Being that it’s winter, there’s not much else to do, though. I’m bored. Well…..I might can do a little….. like remove the old leaves on some deciduous trees or summat. I could also work on junipers but, meh. Not feelin’ like junipers today.   The tree above is a cedar elm (ulmus crassifolia) from Texas (how many people see the word Texas and, because of the motto “things are bigger in Texas”,  think of big things, and therefore pronounce it Tex-ass and think of big butts?)

It was collected several years ago by Erik Wigert, I’ve written about this tree before (the first post is Here and the follow up is Here). Today I’m just going to show you how to pluck the old leaves and give you an idea about how a deciduous tree works (and the difficulty of growing them in the F-L-A). 

An elm’s leaves, like this one, can be plucked either by pulling forward or backward, in the direction of the branch.  

  Try pulling back first, if it doesn’t fall off easy, go forward. You just have to be careful not to remove the bud at the base of the leaf’s petiole. 

 There’s no real reason to do this except to tidy up the silhouette; the old leaves will fall off when the new growth comes in, if not sooner. If I were up north, with a lot cooler winter ahead of me, I might do some pruning. Wait, what does that mean, if it was cooler? Well, it means you’re gonna get some learning. 

Deciduous trees (like maples, elms, hornbeams, bald cypress etc. ) have evolved a way to survive the freezing dangers of winter by withdrawing their sap, chlorophyll, nutrients etc, from the stems and dropping their leaves (for a full article on the subject, click here for an article by Joe Lamp’l). Basically, less sunlight in the winter triggers the tree to go dormant (it is generally thought to be cold, but it is the shorter daylight hours). 

How does this affect deciduous trees in Florida? It’s lack of light triggers dormancy but, you see, it’s sustained temperature at the root zone that triggers new spring growth. Today it is in the 80’s F in beautiful Orlando. A few days ago it was in the 50’s F and it will get colder again as the temps tend to be very cyclical. This warmth/cold in the winter really confuses our deciduous trees. It’s a battle to keep our deciduous trees to stay dormant. And they need to stay dormant because they only have so much energy to wake up in the spring. Ok, with all that, what’s does the last 130 some odd words have to do with pruning this Texas cedar elm? 

Pruning deciduous trees in the warmish Florida winter weather will stimulate the tree (from the sudden lack of auxin at the growing tips) to begin growing. That makes for hard cultural conditions for many deciduous trees, like acer palmatumn or such. They simply run out of energy. Or, to use the vernacular, they fizzle out like good ol’ king Edward the Second in the presence of Queen Isabella. Ok….sorry for that one. Let’s get back to our elm, shall we?

  Pluck. Pluck. Pluck.  
  Now what? Is that all? How about if I point to places that need pruning and we can pretend I made the cuts? Ok.

There are too many branches here.     

There are two tops. I’m keeping them.   
A nice scar. Tells a story.   

These next pics show the too-long branches that need shortening.    

 Makes you want to do some snipping, don’t it? I want to do some cutting so badly that I kinda feel like this dude: 

 Creepy. If you’ve ever driven on Florida’s highways, you’ve seen this doctors billboards. Makes me shudder every time I see it. I think it’s somewhat funny that I use the appearance of his billboard on I75 as a landmark to begin looking for the exit for Wigert’s Bonsai.  

Sorry Erik, but I’m trying to make a post about pulling leaves off of a tree interesting and funny.   


I can do some work on a willowleaf ficus I just picked up! I got it from the CFBC Holiday party auction. 


Aha! It’s a little grungy, time for a scrub. 


To use a tired joke again, I think I need to use my wife’s favorite toothbrush to clean the trunk.  


Actually, I’ll be using this perfectly angled nylon brush instead.  


A little bit of the “universal solvent”, dihydrogen monoxide, to aid the cleansing. 

 Which is just water, by the way. 

And we are clean.  

What shall be the new front? 


This was the original front.   

I’m kinda liking it around here somewhere.   To show off that scar, because scars are cool. Chicks dig scars. 

In order to change the front, I’ll need to put the tree into a bigger pot though. I could wait until spring but, then I’d have nothing to write about now, would I?   

Prepare the pot.   
Remove the tree.   Uh oh…..maybe I should have asked the previous owner (the incomparable Mr. Rick Jeffery) when this tree was repotted last. Not much in the way of roots. I guess it’s either a good thing (maybe it was just put in this pot) or a bad thing (it hasn’t grown roots since it was put into this pot months ago). Either way, maybe hopefully putting it into this pot now won’t hurt it. Not much to do but continue.  

 Better tie it down right. 
  That’s better. Looks like it’ll be happy. Now, the restyle. I’ve already made the back the front. Unfortunately for that, the whole tree is now slanting backwards.  
 If you’ve been following the blog for a while, and you’ve been paying attention, a tree should be leaning towards the viewer. This is important to help with the illusion of making a relatively small tree look like a big tree. 

Also, by turning the tree around, I have created a big no-no called a pigeon breast.  

 I can’t really help it (although I have heard tell that pigeon breasts are now fashionable these days….). What I can try to fix is the backward slant.   

Time for a little scissor discipline.   Yessssss…. 

Kinda looks like The Butring Man here.  
…..and just a little wire…… 

    There we go. 

Before,   and after….  

I think that’ll work. Oh! I didn’t show the elm after defoliating it. Here you go:    

I figured that, since I was pulling leaves on the cedar elm, I might as well work on this chinese elm.    It’s looking good.  And that’s all…………….

Oh! I did eventually work on a juniper; I was invited to give a demo at Dragon Tree Bonsai down in the east coast of Florida in Palm City.  

 I had my choice of trees. I picked the one on the right. 

Here’s the audience and Robert, the owner.   

I had a little help from Kaya, making some Jin.   

The finished tree:   

I even got a bottle of scotch from a client.  

 I carved her buttonwood for her after the demo. 
But, after all that,  I just had to come back to the elm.  Like the sign says….. 

It needs just a little wire. Just a little. A little won’t hurt. 

 From the top.   

From the right. 

The left.     

The rear.   

And the front.   Comparatively, say, to an elephant, a pound of wire is a little. 

Ok, I’m done. I just needed to finish that, sorry. It’s been bugging me so much that I couldn’t even finish this blog post.  

Literally. I had it written, up to the Chinese elm part. But it was bothering me so much, leaving it untrimmed like that, I  was I losing sleep, kicking the cat, yelling at the goldfish, being a little rough on the beaver…… 

I still need to trim it, but I was able to add some nice bends that should set up over the rest of the winter without cutting in too much.

 And that, as they say, is that. Happy holiday everyone! 


Posted in maintenance, rare finds, redesign, roots, yamadori | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Finally, the trees of the Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo-2015

Sorry it’s been so long between posts but I’ve had a busy life, a Holiday parties, an all day, multiple event demo/carving/private session, and a second private session since,  trees to water, kids to pick up from school etc, etc, etc. Plus I need to sleep and all. 

Anyway, it’s also taken me a while to edit all the pics (all the pics!). As I might have mentioned in the last post, the lighting was a challenge at the venue (the beautiful UNC Nutrition Research Intitute). My poor iPhone 5s and its camera were going crazy trying to focus. 

A note: I think I got all the trees but I am probably wrong about that. So I apologize if I did miss your tree, and, consequentially, if the pic is not the best. If you see that I missed your tree(s) or it is a bad pic, send me your photo and I’ll add it. 

Also, I’m not going to identify the owners of the trees for privacy reasons, even though they were identified at the show. This blog has a large reach and the exhibitors don’t need to be worried about their trees. Although I do identify some professionals for their exposure. And I’ll keep the comments to a minimum. Maybe……. 

Ready? Here goes!

 A mugo pine, a carpinus caroliniana and a  celtis occidentalis. 

A sweet taxodium grouping.   

Surprisingly, a Virginia creeper (parthenocissus quinquefolia) by Owen Reich.  

 A larch from Bill Valavanis   

Some “larch cones”. If I could grow any tree out of zone, but to do so, I had to sell my soul, it would be a larch.   

And another Bill Valavanis tree, a Japanese maple.   I have to comment here. I’m picking Bill’s tree because Bill can handle the comment. There were many people who asked me “What do you think of the twin trunk?” Or said “I’d cut that off!” Or some such thing. 

My answer was always, “I like the tree, it took great technical ability, great patience and diligence to grow it.” And I meant it. To explain, a classically styled Japanese maple tends to not have a twin trunk like this. Or, if it does, the split isn’t so high up in the trunk. And one trunk should be bigger, taller than the other. But I didn’t really say that to any who asked. Why? Because it’s Bill’s art. I wasn’t taught to view art with a hypercritical eye the way almost all bonsai practitioners do. I just don’t understand it the obsession with picking another artists tree apart. Don’t get me wrong, if the owner asks, I’ll look at details, but there’s a huge difference between solicited and unsolicited advice. Bill wasn’t asking. I like the tree, because it’s just annoying enough to make you look at it again and again. And that, my friends, is one purpose of art, to get you to look at it.  


Next we have a juniper, I believe that Danny Coffee helped to get it ready for the owner.   

And then this cool tree, another juniper, but this one a shimpaku grafted onto California juniper stock.  Classically coifed. This trees owner actively sought criticism and I believe he’s going to turn the front clockwise a bit.  

Next grouping is a Korean hornbeam, a beauty berry and a shimpaku juniper.  

Next, a georgeous and well ramified sweet gum.    

The companion stands out, though I never figured out the berry.   Looks like holly to me. 

A pseudocydonia, Chinese quince.   

And next to it is a great little seiju elm.   I am partial to the small trees. Unfortunately, they get drowned out in shows like this. Shohin are twice as hard to make into convincing trees. And I don’t like the shohin groupings you see in shows. I believe (and it’s my belief) that to stuff three or more trees together actually lessens them.  

This next one is cool. It’s a twisted pomegranate. 
 Look at the detail!   It looks like the Whomping Willow from Hogwarts!

Next up is a grouping of ilex serrata.  You see why I thought the berries earlier were holly fruit?  

This is a display I didn’t get a good pic of. The tree is a hinoki cypress  I love the non traditional moon photo in the background. 

Here’s another grouping that I didn’t get a good shot of.   An azalea, and a shimpaku juniper.  

This is an awesome example of a trident with almost perfect moyogi characteristics. 
 I’ll also use the photo to show you how much I had to edit the pics to make them viewable. This is the original photo.   The white marble caused my iPhone to super expose the background and lose details and colors. When I got close for detail shots, my iPhone was fine.   But as soon as I pulled back it was a horror show.    

Edited for your protection. This is another well crafted juniper. 

I love the natural deadwood on it.   It’s not overdone. 

This is a tree called a water elm.   It’s not an elm, but a related species called planera aquatica.   It does grow in the water too. 

A trident maple grouping by fellow Floridian Mike Rogers, one of the best but least appreciated artists in Florida.   

This is a zelkova, I believe. Very tree-like. I love it.    

A great exposed root black pine.   One of my favorite. 

Then we have a black pine on top, a ficus salicaria on bottom and a Chinese juniper on the riser.   For some reason, the ficus was misidentified on the cheat sheet as a ficus subulata.  

Here’s a surprising one, a crepe myrtle. 
 Very well done. Especially the dead wood.   

This next grouping consists of  an unusual but cool Japanese maple. And grass. The number in front of the grass actually belongs to the crepe in the previous pic.  I was taking pics during set up so the identifications are a bit difficult at the time of this writing. If I get something wrong, please, let me know.  

My trees, a dwarf jade with a euphorbia companion. 

And a carpinus caroliniana  

This display pretty cool.   From the left, trident maple, cork bark elm, and a Korean hornbeam.   


  I love the cascade especially. What’s next? 

 Aha! One of my co-conspirators display.  
 Representing the James J. Smith collection at Heathcote Gardens, we have Seth Nelson’s submission: A ficus microcarpa “kinman”.  You would not believe how many people wanted to cut off that big aerial root. It was like dogs marking their territories. 

 Another ilex serrata.  This one has loads more berries. 

An impressive hinoki   

A white pine and a dwarf hinoki forest.   Note the alternating fabric swaths. 
The most controversial display. 

Rob Kempinskis post industrial chines wax factory set.   

Ilex vomitoria “schillings”    

And a large ficus salicaria (again misidentified, this time as a ficus nerifolia)   

Then we have a Rocky Mountain juniper that was recently on display at the Artisan’s Cup in Portland.   

This grouping was unique. Juniperus  procumbens nana.  The slab is iron discs made by Boudreaux’s Iron.  

Even the companion was on steel.   

   The whole display won the People’s Choice award. 

After that we have an elegant Chinese juniper (and a seriously bad pic. I’m so sorry)  

An Austrian pine by Bill Valavanis.   

 This next is a mixed planting with:red maple, Japanese hornbeam, spirea, dry land blueberry, and something called withe-rod. By Arthur Joura of the Asheville Arboreteum.  It’s tough to have a mixed planting because you have to make sure the plants can grow together as far as light and water requirements are concerned. 

A procumbens nana bunjin.   

A big Japanese white pine grafted on Japanese black pine rootstock, recently styled.   

A small azalea   

This next one surprised me. A schefflera arboricola.   

This is my friend, Bobby’s, celtis lævigata. It won best in show.   

  This display had intensive thought involved in it.  
It was lit by its own spot light.    That grass is perfectly in season for the feel and the display. 

The tree is a laurel oak.    

I love the unmossed soil surface…. I bet that annoyed some. 

And the winter, Native American scene.   It ties it all together.  


The next tree is a procumbens nana planted in a feather rock.  The Rock is recessed into the stand as well. The little pine on bottom is a not identified. 

 A natural style Japanese maple.  

And a penjing planting, on a marble slab, of ulmus parviflora.   The ramification on it is impressive. If I would pick my favorite (as Seth keeps bugging me to do) it would be this penjing. The colors, the skill, the composition, they all just work. And I don’t tend to like penjing. Well done sir. 

And that all the pics I have. Sorry if it takes forever to download, but there were over 60 trees. 

I’d like to thank the organizer, Steven, for organizing, and for Rob and Seth for putting up with me for the weekend. 

What a great show, right?

 Will I see you next year? 

Posted in Art, goings, pictures, rare finds, sculpture | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

Static equilibrium: the trip to the Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo

It all began with a suggestion from Paul Pikel. There I was, flush with funds from my Bsf styling contest win at the 2015 Bsf convention and I couldn’t figure out how best to use the money. He said I should use it to go to Kannapolis, NC for the Winter Silhouette Bonsai Expo. Sounded like a good idea. It was. You’ll see. 

Here’s a very brief (not really brief, there are so many pics I’ll have to break it into two posts) write up of the trip. 

I wasn’t going alone. I traveled with Rob Kempinski (for those of you who know Rob, you’ll understand my trepidations),  Seth Nelson (ditto for Seth),  and Angela Winzeworth (she made the trip more pleasant, glad she came along)  Seth is the curator of the James J. Smith Collection at Heathcote Gardens in Ft. Pierce. He was showing as the collection’s representative (even though they are refusing to compensate him for the gas. That’s just wrong) Here’s his display at the expo.  

 This was actually the third tree he chose. 
Rob is currently the past president of the Bonsai Clubs International. Here’s his display.  

 Neat, ain’t it? 

My display.  


Let’s begin at the beginning. Seth wanted to take a big (big [big!]) Willow leaf ficus.  

 Then we learned how big the tables were. It wouldn’t fit on them, with a stand and all. So his next choice was another big (big) f. Salicaria.  


Then Rob said he was taking a big (big) salicaria….. 

 … Seth chose a big ficus microcarpa instead. 

 This one is just merely big. 
I chose to exhibit two small trees, an American hornbeam and a dwarf jade. Here’s “how” to my prep. First, I pruned the hornbeam about a month ago.  

 About that time, I decided to make my own stand, so I had to pick a piece of wood I was going to use for it. I cut it to size. 


 Then I threw it on the ground and stepped on it whenever I walked by, hoping for some weathering and grime. At this time I played with the idea of a Brazilian Raintree as my second tree. They can be deciduous trees in the dry season, which for Florida, is technically in the winter.  

 It’s coming along well. But I wanted to use this stand.  

 Which really requires a cascade style tree, so that excluded the Brazilian. Maybe next year with, a different stand. 

I made that stand too. The base is a front brake rotor off of a car.  

 The twisted wire is 1/4 inch round steel stock I found on the side of the road. It was already twisted, I didn’t have to imprint my personality on it in the least. I added a few more pieces to give it some structural integrity. 

 It’s welded together. The platform is a chunk of red cedar from a piece of reclaimed wood that was left over after Hurricane Charlie’s wrath.  It was a scrap piece off of a log that I carved into a tiki man.   

    The cedar is attached with big staples. Those little staples are holding the piece together after the wood split, that and wood glue. I think it adds to the design. Wabi Sabi and all. 
Here’s the tiki dude I cut that wedge from. 

Speaking of dudes, look what I am now.  

 Cool.  Certified and certifiable, right? I’m available for weddings and officiations. Now I just have to develop a taste for White Russians. But I don’t smoke, although it may seem like I do, at times. Speaking of which, I had flirted with the idea of using this tree as well, a bougie.  

 I would have too, if it was blooming. Next year for sure. Just gotta get the timing right. As for the suitability of a blooming bougainvillea in a winter show, now is the natural time for them to bloom, in the dry season. I chose, instead, a Portulacaria.  

   I needed a strong, stylistically unusual tree for that stand. I think I chose well. 
I did get grief for the thinness and the light ramification of the foliage.  

 It is true that one can ramify a Portulacaria so much that a quarter, dropped on a foliage pad, cannot pass through it. But the style, the habit, the idea, of this specific tree just does not match with a lush, dense canopy. I don’t care what can be done with it (and I have several dwarf jades, in tropical tree styles, with dense canopies), this tree calls for a sparse, almost struggling looking, branch structure. I actually removed leaves and branches for this look. I am an artist and I do things intentionally.  

 I almost used the rum bottle for an accent. That would have been epic. But instead, I used this cool euphorbia.  In my own pot, no doubt. 


The accent for the hornbeam is this little haworthia in a Dave Loman pot.   Cute guy. 

Then, a few days before the show, I mossed the hornbeam and carved the stand.  


And the night before we left for the show, I defoliated the tree.   I was ready. We were traveling on a Friday. I had to get up at 3:30am to get to Rob’s place by 6.  


At Rob’s we had to pack his truck.  

 It was still dark when we left. The trip to Kannapolis was a ten hour trip. We took two vehicles, Rob’s truck and Angela’s 1999 Pontiac. Seth got to ride with Angela (which makes sense because they are bf/gf and all) and I got to ride with Rob. It was fun, actually. I got to talk to him, which was an education with all the experiences he’s had. Not bad at all.

Here are some pics from the road:  a sign seeming to say “please throw the toilet paper in the toilet, not on the floor” I’m not sure if I want to know the reason for that sign. 


A pound of peanut butter and chocolate!  

There’s the Pontiac, rolling down the road. 

 They managed to keep up. 


Seth lacks that killer instinct needed to drive the interstate. Arrival!


 I have to pee! (That was one thing, old men with their prostates and young women with their small bladders. We must have stopped to pee in every county seat on the way).  
   It was just about sunset when we got there.  Seth and I set up pretty quickly.  All Seth had to do was moss his tree.  

  That’s Seth in the middle, Rob on the left and Angela on the right. Rob let Seth borrow a stand for the show. 

I just had to make sure the angles were right.    

Rob lent me the jita under the little haworthia companion planting.  

Rob, on the other hand, had a huge erection to handle………it was so hard…to handle, and so big, he actually required Sam’s help in the endeavor.   

   Hi Sam!

It went fast though, Rob is an accomplished screwer, from way back.  Sorry Sam, Rob. Couldn’t resist. 

They had to repot two trees into their temporary “pots”.  


In case you were curious, the title of the post is referring to this tree. That hopper that the ilex is planted in has a functioning pivot point and it’s balanced at the “static equilibrium”.    And then attend to the details.  

These were masakuni. Not to brag (but really, just to brag) the scissors half buried in the moss was my idea.   
Seth and I played some uke while the two guys finished playing with the erection.  

 You could tell by the astounded looks on their faces just how mesmerizing the erection was. So big and…….big, sorry. 
 Finally, they were done.  


I’m not gonna tell you what it means. 

That night, we stayed at Rob’s sister’s house in Charlotte.   Marlana and Rob. Rob is actually a twin. It’s hard to believe that there are two of them. Marlana and her hubby Rocko took good care of us while we were there. 

The next day saw the opening of the show (you’ll have to wait for the next post to see all the trees, there were more than 60 of them!).  

I feel for the photographer (Joe Noga) having to photograph all those trees and put up with fussy bonsai artists. He was saintly. Sam was the official helper. 

 That night was the banquet. This is as dressed up as you’ll ever see me.  

 The two best dressed were, believe it or not, Seth and Angela. They got the title of bonsai-prom king and queen.  

 We need more young, beautiful girls…..I mean, people,  in bonsai. The next morning we went collecting with Rocko’s son, James.      You’ll notice Rob’s pink gloves.  

It was a little cold that morning. Yes, that was frost.   

The tree is some kind of native two needle pine.  It might live. Rob had inspired James when he bought a little euphorbia (just like mine)  at the show as a gift gor the boy.  

   That’s Rocko in the background, along with Marlana and Rob. I can’t tell you what Rocko does for a living. If I did, I’d have to kill you. 
I should talk a bit about the vendor area and the talks/demos that took place. 

Owen Reich worked on an old elægnus. Bill Valavanis gave a PowerPoint presentation and styled a juniper.  Ken Duncan and John Geanangel put together a boxwood planting on a rock. I’m going to point you to Bill Valavanis’s blog for coverage of those programs. 

I got some neato momentos from the vendors.  

 Can you see the face in the wooden slab? That free-form pot is by Sonny Boggs. 

The last day, Sunday.  The awards were announced. There were four judged awards and a people’s choice. 

I am proud to say that Florida took home three of them.  

Best conifer, Louise Leister from Florida , pinus thunbergiana.  

Best in show, Bobby Block, from Florida, celtis lævigata. 

Best fruiting tree, Bob Thatcher, ilex serrata.  

Peoples choice, Creighton Bostrum, procumbens nana forest.    

And lastly, but not least, our own Seth takes home the award for best broadleaf tree with Jim Smith’s ficus microcarpa “kinman”   To quote Bill Valavanis (he’s the man in the red sweater in the above pics) 

“……the quality of bonsai in Florida is rapidly becoming more refined….” 

I’m afraid they may not let us in next year! 

Many thanks to Steven Zeisel and the many people who helped to set up/tear down the show. See you next year! 

And thanks to Rob for letting me hitch a ride, and his sisters family for allowing us to crash in their home and for taking care of us so well. And thanks, Seth and Angela, for laughing at my bad jokes. 

And like I said, the next post will be the trees. 


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