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"And the LORD God made ... trees that were pleasing to the eye ..." Gen. 2:9, New International Version.

"Bonsai isn't just something I do; it's part of what I am." Remark to my wife and daughter.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Roots Wandering Thru the Air

     The "Tropical Bonsai Two-Step" ended some weeks ago, and my tropical trees have been adjusting to conditions in the Bonsai Crate. As I mentioned on this page, I'm able to keep the humidity in the Crate quite high; high enough that, once the trees adjust, aerial roots start to appear here and there.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Very Unexpected Gift!

     My wife and daughter stunned me with this gift on Christmas morning! I never saw it coming.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Friday, November 16, 2012

After the "Riot in White"

     Like my previous post about the sweet autumn clematis (Clematis terniflora,) this one has nothing to do directly with bonsai. But this climber follows its late-summer bloom with a profusion of seedheads, and again, I thought my readers might enjoy a few pictures. The second show is not as exuberant, but for me it is no less enjoyable. (For the September post, you can click here.)

Monday, November 12, 2012

First Snow: an Unexpected Picture

     The first snow of the season arrived this morning. While my daughter was getting ready for school, I stepped outside to see if I could get a decent picture or two. One photo gave me a surprise at first look.

Friday, November 2, 2012

So Far, So Good; Progress of a Graft

     Back in May, I performed a graft on one of my willow-leaf figs (Ficus salicaria.) This was my first attempt on a "graft that matters," and I described the process in this post.

The tree has grown well over the summer, and the graft appears to have done well, too. Well enough that,

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Styling Demonstration at FWBC Fall Show 2012

     The Black Hills spruce (Picea glauca densata) that I styled at the Ft. Wayne Bonsai Club's Fall Show has been in my possession for somewhere between 15 and 20 years; longer than any other tree I now have. One of its distinctions is that it survived some of my serious early mistakes. Fortunately, I eventually learned, and for the last couple of years the tree has been doing well. (See my previous post.) Last weekend it was ready for creation styling.

Friday, October 19, 2012

"... the greatest danger to a bonsai ..."

     "Sometimes, the greatest danger to a bonsai is the human taking care of it."

I overheard Ryan Neill say that, at the 2011 Mid-America Show. I don't know what prompted him to say it, but the statement really got my attention! As I walked on I was asking myself how often that might apply to me.

In my last post, I said that there is a story that goes with the tree I used in my styling demonstration at the Ft. Wayne Bonsai Club's Fall Show. That story is of how the tree survived the danger it was put into by the ignorance of the human caring for it.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Ft. Wayne Bonsai Club Fall 2012 Show

     Again, maybe I should call this a "display" rather than a show. Whatever you call it, we all had a good time yesterday at our Fall Show, held as always at the Foellinger Freimann Botanical Conservatory in downtown Fort Wayne. And again, the visitors seemed to find it interesting, and that matters most.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

First Frost of This Season

     In a "typical" year, we can expect our first frost between October 6 and October 10. Jack Frost split the difference this autumn, making his first visit on the 8th.

The temperature a little before 9 AM (when I walked my daughter to school) was 28° F (a little below -2° C.) Frost had formed only in places that were open to the sky, where heat could escape more freely; where there were overhanging tree branches or house eaves, there was no frost. Figuring that it would soon burn off, I grabbed my camera as soon as I got home and snapped a few pictures.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Mid-America Show 2012, Part 3. Some Other Fine Trees.

     Not all of my pictures from this year's Mid-America Show came out poorly. (For which I'm thankful.) Here are pictures of some of the trees in the display, along with a brief comment on each one.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Mid-America Show, Part 2. The Taming of the Spruce.

(With apologies to Mr. Shakespeare.)

     I didn't make it to Peter Warren's Exhibit Critique on the Friday evening of the Show, but I was in the front row for his styling demonstration the next day. (I sat next to Paul Stokes, who recorded the whole thing for his ofBonsai site. I was impressed at Paul's steadiness of hand, holding that camera in position -- no tripod -- for well over two hours.)

Peter's demo tree was a huge spruce (huge from a bonsai perspective,) a Picea abies 'Gregoryana'. It was so full, before he started, that my first thought was, "It's a bush!" By the end of his demonstration, tho, he had created a very credible tree image.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Mid-America Show 2012, Part 1. Three "Bests."

It's been a month since the 2012 Mid-America Bonsai Show; but it's taken me a little while to process my pictures and sort out my notes. I hope you find them worth the wait.

      My first visit to the Mid-America Show in Chicago was 21 years ago, and I've gone back most years since. It's become an annual event for my family: I enjoy the bonsai, and my wife and daughter enjoy the hotel amenities. (They usually come to admire the trees at least once.)

Some of the trees are "regulars:" they're on display every year, or every two or three. When I see such a tree annually, or every other year, the intervals are long enough for me to easily perceive changes and development that have taken place since my last visit; but the intervals are short enough that I have a sense of watching a continuous story. It's very worthwhile.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Splendid White Pine, a Survivor of Hiroshima

My thanks to the Voice of America for producing this video; to Jack Sustic and all his staff at the National Collection; to "Capital Bonsai" for putting it into the blogosphere;  and to Ian Young ("Bonsai Eejit") for bringing it to my attention on his blog.

I saw this magnificent bonsai for myself on a visit to the National Arboretum in the early 1980's. I'm not the type to literally stop in my tracks when I see something awe-inspiring. Nevertheless, at my first view of this tree my feet stuttered in mid-stride!

The Yamaki family of Hiroshima cared for this tree for six generations; a fortuitously-placed wall was between it and the atomic-bomb blast on the morning of August 6, 1945. The Yamakis donated this bonsai to the United States in 1976, when it had been in training for 350 years. It is now closing in on the four-century mark.

This video takes less than five minutes on YouTube; please click here.

:-)  :-)  :-)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Tropical-Bonsai Two-Step

     Tonite's low temperature is forecast to be 37° F. (a little below 3° C.) So, like many other "northern tropicals nuts" (to borrow Carl Rosner's term) in this part of the USA, I made sure to get my tropical trees under shelter for the nite. That sort of temperature wouldn't kill them, but it would shock them and slow their growth. Tomorrow morning I'll move them back out into the open air.

Most of my tropical trees fit under this polycarbonate cold frame on our deck.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Inappropriate Soil!

     We’ve all heard warnings about using the wrong sort of soil for a bonsai. Sitting on my benches right now are some examples of what can happen when that is done.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Riot in White!

     This post has nothing to do directly with bonsai. The sweet autumn clematis has come into bloom, and I thought people might enjoy a couple of pictures.

I hoped to get a bee in the picture; but it flew away, leaving only one insect in view.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

What a Difference a Cultivar Makes!

     I can't help but be intrigued by the differences that can exist within a single species!

These flowers are almost exactly equidistant from the camera lens.
The flowers in this picture are all serissa flowers. The plants that have produced them are of the same species, Serissa foetida. Both plants are healthy, the blossoms themselves are healthy, and the plants are sited only a few feet apart and get the same care.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Stolen Bonsai

     Two well-developed bonsai were stolen from Walter Pall's garden within the last day or two. One is a splendid trident maple, the other a dynamic European spruce (Picea abies.)

The signs point to the theft being the work of someone (maybe more than one) who knows Walter's setup and knew exactly where to find what they were after. Since selling such trees may be difficult -- those who would be interested might have heard of the theft already -- I wonder if someone is trying to put together a collection without having to do any work! The incident also smacks of betrayal of personal trust, which is even worse.

For Walter's post, and his pictures of the trees, please go to Walter's own blog post.

A Japanese maple was stolen from a gentleman named Johann Kastner, also in Germany, about the same time.

It is unlikely that any of these trees will show up on this side of the Atlantic, tho not impossible. In any event, the more people who know about this, worldwide, the harder it will be for the thief/thieves to move or to dispose of the trees, without getting caught.

Once the culprit is caught, then, we tie him to a post, give Walter a very dull set of pruners, and walk away!

:-(  :-(  :-(

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"I rose, and found the shining dew ..."

     (With thanks to Robert Louis Stevenson.)

     This morning I made it up to the deck shortly after the sun was up. My attention was captured by the dewdrops on the leaves of one of my willow-leaf figs (Ficus salicaria:) they caught the sunlight in a way that was simultaneously subtle and fascinating. I hope you enjoy these pictures, even tho I admit they can't do full

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Bonsai and Good Food; "What Could Be Finer?"

Dick, Jeff, Murph and Ed discuss one of Dick's pines.
    I think all the members of the Fort Wayne Bonsai Club look forward to our annual picnic. It's always a great time with plenty of delicious food, plants and pots and bonsai paraphernalia for sale, and a few hours enjoying the company of others who also think that, yes, fertilizer regimens and techniques to encourage back-budding are fascinating topics of conversation, thank you! This year and last, we have been joined by some members of the Michiana Bonsai Study Group in Elkhart. They're always welcome!

The club provides the meat, prepared by Jerry Kittle, our all-around man-behind-the-scenes. The rest of the food is carried in, and since we have some fine cooks among our members, there's always plenty and it's always plenty good.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Elevation, Light, and Bonsai

     By elevation, I mean altitude, elevation above sea level. At first there would seem to be little connection between altitude above sea level and bonsai care; but in fact there is something to keep in mind. (Actually, two "somethings;" but I'm focusing on just one here.)

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Sun Screen, RPF (Root Protection Factor) 98.

     If you've been in bonsai for very long at all, you've heard and read warnings about allowing pots to get too hot. For any who don't know, a hot container means a hot root run: the heat is absorbed into the soil, and with the limited amount of soil in a bonsai pot, the temperature quickly climbs. Roots are not designed to resist heat like the above-ground parts of a tree; they're meant to live in the cooler environment of the soil. A dark-colored pot in direct sun, on a hot summer day, can easily get hot enough for root tips next to the pot's interior wall to be killed.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Going Solo for the First Time

     Solo is the critical word. I've done bonsai demonstrations a number of times before; in fact, I met my wife when she stopped to watch me slicin' and dicin', during Earth Day '98. But until two-and-a-half weeks ago, all my demonstrations had been at club events, or with a partner. My demonstration for the Kosciusko County Master Gardeners on July 9th was the first one where I was entirely on my own from start to finish. I was it. ("What? Me nervous? Pshaw!") 

I got myself into it: the Master Gardeners have a booth every year at the Kosciusko Community Fair, and I asked if they would like a bonsai presentation this time. They accepted, and I was committed!

The spot I was given was built for cooking demonstrations. That was good, because it meant plenty of waterproof counter space, where I could work and display a few trees. Chairs were set up for 12-14 people, and others passing by had space to stop if they wished. Except for the fact that it wasn't the best setting for taking pictures, I could hardly have asked for a better setup! 

Wiring almost finished, as two of the more interested observe. Photo by Paul E. Heimbach.
Before work started.

My preliminary talk focused primarily on what a bonsai is and what it is not. (For example, a bonsai is a living image of a tree; it is not grotesque for the sake of being grotesque.) The main program was the creation styling of a spiraea, Spiraea japonica 'Snowmound.' I bought the shrub in late 2010, and had done some preliminary work - including, I told my audience, hours spent studying the tree and deciding on a good design for it. I also let it grow out this season, to bulk it up as much as possible. That, of course, also increased the visual drama of "before" and "after!"
Photo by Paul E. Heimbach

The response was encouraging. Some people came at the beginning and then moved on; some passersby noticed and stopped to watch for a while. Half a dozen of my original audience stayed for almost the entire time, and one man ( a member of this site) did stay from beginning to end. He also asked some of the best questions. Not that he was the only one asking: there were a number of good, perceptive questions. Maybe the very best thing about them was that they weren't all from the same person.

I did overlook one thing: I didn't ask anyone to take pictures during my presentation, and of course I didn't have much chance to take any myself. (I learned later that my wife would have been happy to handle the camera. Thanks for the thought, sweetie!)

But a friend, Paul Heimbach, snapped a couple of pictures with his iPhone, and has been kind enough to let me use them. His picture of the styling in progress (above) is the only one available.

The other one - to the right - is a little problematic: I put on a mock scowl when Paul aimed his iPhone, and he caught me! Understand that I'm not really about to throw the tree at him!

Thanks for the pictures, Paul.

After; a three-trunk clump. Picture taken at home the next day. (Forgive the poor resolution, please.)

I took four trees in bonsai pots (three of my own, one of my daughter's,) for display. I also took two in-training trees, a yew and a Ficus microcarpa 'Tigerbark," so people could see different stages of development. My willow-leaf fig seemed to be the one that people liked the best, tho all the trees got positive comments, I think. Children were impressed to know that the owner of the elephant bush was 11 years old.

Display trees, with information sheets. Left to right: willow-leaf fig, elephant bush, parrot's beak, veldt fig.
The most encouraging part of the evening had nothing to do directly with bonsai. I have had a speech impediment all my life. Twenty years ago, it was as bad as the prince's stutter in the movie "The King's Speech." (I'm not exaggerating.) In recent years it has greatly improved, tho I'm not sure why; but when I'm under stress -- such as when I get myself into a solo public demonstration! -- it can still give me difficulty. I had prayed a great deal about that going into the demonstration, and I wore my "Speacheasy" device. And my fluency thruout was almost perfect! My prayers afterward, as you will surmise, were prayers of thanksgiving!

Here's a picture of the spiraea taken today; and a virt of the sort of eventual image I see in it.

After 2-1/2 weeks of recovery.

What it might look like in 5-10 years.

They want me back next year, which is another encouragement. I'm already mulling over what I might talk about (probably tropicals,) and which of my trees will be ready for its first major styling!

Sunday, July 22, 2012


     That's what people were exclaiming a few days ago around here, when we got the first good rainfall in many weeks. (Good rainfall: the storm of June 30 dumped a half-inch in twenty minutes, too fast for very much of it to soak in.) There was much rejoicing, and not a little thanksgiving for answered prayers.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Found a peanut!

     A few days ago, as I entered the side yard, I saw a crater in the soil of one of my in-development ponderosas. (I wrote about that project here.) My first thought was, "Some bird or rodent has been digging again," and thoughts of traps and poison ran thru my mind! But when I got up to the bench, I saw that the crater had not been created from above, but from below. A pair of peanut shoots were pushing up from deep in the pot!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Learning From a Mistake

     A week ago Friday I repotted two trees on something of an emergency basis. The first repotting (described in my last post) was made necessary by the storm that came thru and blew a willow-leaf fig to the ground. The second was made necessary by a mistake.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Nebari-Enhancement Technique Revisited

     If I believed in weather gods, I might wonder if my last post provoked them: two days later a storm roared thru, tearing down branches and whole trees, dumping roughly half-an-inch of rain in 20 minutes, and knocking out our house's power for more than 10 hours. (We were fortunate; others in the area waited much longer for electrical service to be restored.)

While we waited for electricity, there wasn't much to do, except go outdoors and work on bonsai. (Wasn't that terrible? <wink>) It was in fact a good chance to take care of two rather urgent repottings.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Indiana, or the Gobi Desert ... ?

     Yes, this post's title does contains some hyperbole; but it's not just hyperbole. Our front lawn looks typical for this part of Indiana right now: brown and dry. The grass blades crunch underfoot. One neighbor takes the time to move a sprinkler around his yard at least once a day; but otherwise, the lawns in the neighborhood are faring no better than ours.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Spruce, Ponderosas, and Larch, Oh My! (Part 2.)

     I admit it: I was as excited as a little kid about last week's Styling and Refinement workshop with Andy Smith! (See Part 1.) The tree I took is a ponderosa pine, Pinus ponderosa, that I bought in Andy's Burlap Bonanza in 2010. (A bit of trivia: at the workshop, I was the only one working on a ponderosa that Andy had not brought with him on this trip.) Since receiving the tree in April 2010, I've done almost no pruning or pinching. My focus has been on building up my pine's health, and helping it acclimate to a moister climate and a significantly lower elevation than what it had known. When it produced strobili this spring (see this post,) I knew it was vigorous enough for its first major styling.

Spruce, Ponderosas, and Larch, Oh My! (Part 1.)

(With apologies to A.A. Milne.)

     Four days ago, the Fort Wayne Bonsai Club gathered at the home of our club president, for a Styling and Refinement workshop with Andy Smith. Andy is a bonsai teacher and artist, and one of the best-known collectors of native bonsai material in the USA. He and his two sons had attended the 2nd US National Bonsai Exhibition in Rochester, New York, and stopped on their way home to South Dakota.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Time to Get Out and Shop!

     I think the garden centers here are all tied to the same calendar! At least, many of them have started selling off their nursery stock to make way for whatever they'll offer during the summer. (Maybe swim gear and beach chairs.) For bonsai people, that means an opportunity to acquire raw stock at bargain prices! 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Enjoying New Leaves

   Sometimes the beauty of new foliage can almost match that of flowers. Here are a couple of recent examples among my own trees.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Using the Notch Method for the First Time

     In my last post, I described one of the two major bonsai projects that I tackled on Memorial Day (May 28.) The first was a graft; the other was my first use of the notch method to put a drastic bend in a branch.

Colin Lewis describes this technique as one of the scariest he's ever used, and I can see why. For those not yet familiar with it, here's what you do.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Graft That Matters.

     I've tried a few grafts before; but all were on trees I didn't plan to keep, or in places where it wouldn't bother me much if the graft didn't take. The graft I did Monday, tho, was different. If it should fail, one of my favorite bonsai-in-training will be two-dimensional for a number of years to come!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"...Bringing pleasure and inspiration ... after we are gone..."

     In a January post, I shared an announcement from the Matthaei Botanical Gardens in Ann Arbor, Michigan: they are developing a permanent bonsai garden to house the Matthaei-Nicholls Bonsai Collection. The garden will be open to the public, and will help spread the knowledge and enjoyment of bonsai in the lower Great Lakes region. (See this post.)

Now the Matthaei-Nicholls Collection has obtained a dozen fine bonsai from Jack Wikle of Tecumseh, MI. Jack is a long-time bonsai artist, teacher, and lecturer, who first encountered bonsai while on military service in Japan. He went on to earn an MA in horticulture, and became one of the moving forces in the growth of the bonsai community in the USA. My personal debt to him, for all I have learned from his writings and his

Monday, May 14, 2012

Ft. Wayne Bonsai Club Spring Show

    Yesterday, May 12th, the Fort Wayne Bonsai Club held our annual Spring Show, at the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory in downtown Fort Wayne, Indiana. Yes, the venue's name is a mouthful, but the good thing is that the Conservatory is as well-designed and appealing as its name is intimidating.

"Show" may not quite convey how informal this event is. There is no judging, except that each visitor is asked to leave a little square of pink paper beside the composition he or she likes the most. (Tallying the slips at the end of the day also gives us a pretty good idea of how many people came thru.) Club members also vote, separately and anonymously, for "best tree." There are no prizes, just congratulations to the winners. We ask that entries be in bonsai pots (please, no plastic) or on slabs, and that members clean up their trees and pots beforehand. And that's it. So maybe it would be better to call it a "display" than a "show." But whatever you call it, we had a great time. Maybe more important, the visitors appeared to find it all interesting.

Between conversations with visitors, I snapped a few pictures.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Baby Mantids

     Jim and Wendy, neighbors across the street, ordered a praying-mantis egg case so their children could see the babies  (known as nymphs) hatch out. That "blessed event" happened this afternoon, and several neighborhood children got to see and handle the hatchlings. It was the first time I had seen new-hatched

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Fig's New Home

I started trimming, then remembered to get a "before" picture!
Remember my little veldt fig (Ficus burtt-davyi) that I planned to repot in February? (See here.) With one thing and another, I didn't get to it until yesterday. The tree didn't suffer: it continued to enjoy the conditions in the Crate, so much so that both top and roots got pretty shaggy! Roots were dangling over the pot sides and down thru the grate, and some branches were starting to turn lianescent: growing like fast woody vines. F. burtt-davyi will do that, I've discovered, in high humidity and with plenty of fertilizer.

Foliage trimmed. (Forgive the picture quality.)
The new pot is this tree's permanent home. It was purchased from Sara Rayner of Sara Rayner Pottery (link,) specifically for this tree. Sara recommended the color, and when I saw the tree in the pot, I almost took a step back: she was right! This pot's size fits this bonsai well, too. (I  learned a bit more about estimating pot size this time around; I had feared this pot might be too small.)

The mix is a 5:3:2 blend of scoria, composted bark, and Turface; all particles are between 2 mm. and 3 mm. in size. Uniformity of particle size makes for better aeration, and makes it easier to discern the effects of any changes in watering or fertilizing.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

I'm Excited!

     Two days ago, I discovered pollen strobili developing on my large ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa). Strobili (singular strobilus) are to gymnosperms what flowers are to angiosperms: the plant's structures for producing seeds. The reason I'm delighted is that the presence of strobili (and later cones) means that a pine is thriving and very healthy. And this ponderosa, a gift from my wife, is the pride and joy of my personal collection. :-)

They look like little pineapples, but they are strobili, developing on my ponderosa pine.
This tree is a yamadori, collected by Andy Smith of Golden Arrow Bonsai in March of 2010. He estimated its age at 78 years at collection. Andy is a professional forester with a great deal of experience, so I accept his age estimates. (A link to his website is provided under "Vendors I can recommend;" he has some fantastic native material.)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

My First Successful Root Cutting!

New hedge maple (Acer campestre) from root cutting.
     Just over a month ago, I repotted a hedge maple (Acer campestre) and, in the process, removed a large, unsightly root. I decided to pot up that root as a root cutting, as I described in this post. About a week ago I noticed some green coming up thru the sphagnum mulch on top of the soil. That root cutting now has a nice stem and set of leaves! :-)

I'm going to leave it in the Crate with my tropicals for few more weeks, until danger of frost is past. Then it will go outside for the summer.

I've got a lot to learn yet about Acer campestre. But from what I've learned so far, it seems to be able to handle our winters, to be prone to low branching, and to be tolerant of heavy pruning. It may

Friday, April 13, 2012

Improving a Fig's Surface Roots

     About three years ago, I came across a method for developing a shallow, well-distributed nebari on a Ficus. The technique, which was new to me, was suggested for correcting an unsightly root system.

Cut off most or all of the existing root system.
The procedure is simple, but it is also fairly drastic; it should only be used on a healthy tree. Take a saw and cut across the width of the trunk, as if you were cutting a sausage in half cross-wise. Make the cut just below the point where you want a new nebari to develop. You can leave a few existing roots or not, as you choose.

The tree is then treated as a large cutting, with high humidity and good indirect light. With good care a new,  shallow root system will develop; and if all goes well, the new roots will be well distributed around the trunk base.

Not long after I learned of this approach, I bought a young willow-leaf fig (Ficus salicaria) from

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A Dad's Purchase

     Sometimes, a father will plant a tree when a child is born to him. Given that I'm such a bonsai enthusiast, I guess it's no surprise that when my daughter was born, I bought a plant for bonsai to mark the occasion!

The tree is a shimpaku juniper (Juniperus chinensis var. 'Shimpaku'.) I've always thought of it as "her shimpaku" because of my reason for buying it, even tho it's actually mine. (She does have one tree of her own; see this post.)

"My daughter's shimpaku" before repotting.

This tree was one of the ones that (I am thankful) survived the far-reaching transitions in my early years of marriage. But altho it survived, it suffered some significant damage. Some of that damage was due to "forced neglect" during those years; some of it was due to my ignorance, at the time, of proper juniper care. The primary trunk died, leaving just the secondary, horizontal trunk. And much of the original root system died, leaving one major root on the back of the tree and a few lesser ones.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Good Example

       I know some of you follow Ian Young's blog, "Bonsai Eejit." For those who don't, Ian, besides being an experienced bonsai artist, is a fine photographer. The nature pictures that he takes in and around Belfast, Northern Ireland, have prodded me to open my own eyes to the natural beauty that is all around me, right here in north-central Indiana.

(Also, those who have read C.S. Lewis' book Surprised by Joy may remember that Lewis, at

Friday, March 23, 2012

Serissas in Winter: My Latest Results

Last fall I wrote a post outlining my plans for two serissas (Serissa foetida) for the winter that's just ended. Briefly, both trees would be exposed to subfreezing temperatures, but not equally: one would be protected below 28° F (roughly -2° C,) the other below 24° F (-4-1/2° C.) Both are species trees, not members of a named cultivar. (To see that earlier post, click here.)

Overnite low temperatures in the mudroom stay quite consistently about 10° F warmer than the outside, and that's what I go by. However, there is a bit of variation from the expected, from time to time. Consequently, the second tree passed one nite when the temperature got down to 23° F (-5° C,) one degree lower than planned.

Winter is over. Both trees survived, and are happily pushing their spring growth. But there are visible differences between them.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

81 degrees??

Two days ago, the high temperature here was 81° F (just over 27° C.) Yesterday's high was 77° F, and today the temperature got up to 73° F. (That's 25° C and about 23° C, respectively.) By Monday, the temperature is expected to get back up to 81°.

To put things in perspective: at this time of year the average high temperature here in northern Indiana is 47° F (about 8-1/2° C;) lows are typically just above freezing. Temperatures such as we've had in the last few days are what we expect in June and early July, not in the last week of astronomical winter! Thursday's and Friday's highs set records for their respective dates.

Daffodils beside our house.
It's not unusual here to see temperature spikes during the winter: one day, maybe two, with the temperature going 20-30 degrees higher than normal before dropping back to where it should be. But this is no one-or-two-day spike: temperatures have been well above normal for well over a week, and are expected to stay up for a while longer.

A neighbor's lilac, Syringa spp.
The local flora, of course, are responding to all this warmth!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Spring in the Mudroom

A little over three months ago, I put my half-hardy trees away for the winter in our unheated mudroom. (See this post.)

Thruout the winter, nite temperatures in the mudroom stayed consistently about 10° F (5.6° C) above the outdoor temperatures. Daytime temperatures in the mudroom would often get warmer than the outdoors by more than 10° F, especially on clear days with the sun shining thru the south-facing window. The effect has been what I wanted: the trees in the mudroom have had a milder winter than their hardy counterparts outside. And now they are having an earlier spring: as I write, all but the bald cypress have broken dormancy.

Half a dozen of them were due for repotting this year, and I spent some very enjoyable hours this past weekend doing just that. (Outdoors, too! ) Here's a picture of the weekend's haul.

Repotted on March 10 and 11.
From left to right, in back: Japanese maple (Acer palmatum,) hedge maple (Acer campestre,) and Japanese black pine (Pinus thunbergii;) in front, two trident maples (Acer burgerianum) that are probably 4 years old, and a trident maple rooted cutting (small green pot) from last fall.  The cutting is my first success at rooting trident maple.

Friday, March 9, 2012

More Hints of Spring!

More signs of spring are popping up around here. I took a few more pictures yesterday and this morning.

Pussy willow outside Lincoln Elementary.
Magnolia; most likely Magnolia x soulangeana (saucer magnolia.)

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Hang on, spring is coming!

Happy Leap Year Day! Today was one of those foretastes of spring (or teasers, take your pick.) The sky was clear after some morning rain, and the temperature reached 64° F (almost 18° C.) Even the gusty winds couldn't stop people from getting out in shirtsleeves!

We will still get subfreezing temperatures and snow for another month or so, but winter's grip is loosening. The local flora think so too. Here are a few pictures I snapped today.

Daffodils in bud, outside Lincoln Elementary School.
Crocus in bloom, also at Lincoln Elementary.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Nine Minutes Well Spent

Bougainvillea. Best of Show, Mid-America 2011.
Ryan Neil startled me at one point, during the Exhibit Critique at the 2011 Mid-America Show in Chicago. Pointing to the bougainvillea to which he had awarded the "Best of Show" award, he said, "This would not be considered ready to show, in Japan." Huh? 

He went on to explain. The bougie has a very good design, that design has been established, and the tree's structure has been set. But, he said, while the primary branches are fine, the tree lacks much secondary and tertiary branching; the foliage mass needs to fill out further, to balance the visual weight of the trunk; and the layers of the

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"This means WAR!"

OK, the title of this post is a bit exaggerated for effect. But some critter has definitely worn out whatever welcome it once had.

I discovered yesterday that some marauding rodent has been lunching on the bark of one of my Japanese maples. The tree was under the rack in the side yard, with the rest of my fully-hardy trees. (See this post.) At first look I thought some fungus had attacked the maple's trunk. Then I pulled the tree out into full light, and realized I was seeing chewing damage.

Rodent damage to a Japanese maple.
From the size of the tooth marks, I'm sure the culprit is either a fox squirrel or a chipmunk. A chipmunk is more likely: one has been living in a corner of our side yard, tolerated until now. That tolerance has ended. I won't kill it if I don't have to, but I will do whatever it takes to drive it off. (For those outside the US, this is a chipmunk.)

There are cans of mothballs under the rack, to discourage just such depredations. But this maple was right next to one end of the rack, just inches from the cover; and it was apparently a little too far from any mothballs to deter a snack-minded furry raider. Add to that the fact that maple bark is a familiar food to local wildlife -- two native maples are very common here -- and perhaps I shouldn't be too surprised that this happened.

I checked for damage to other trees, and found tooth marks on a spiraea and a shimpaku. As far as I could see, no pines were touched. Not

Thursday, February 16, 2012


     Part of the fun of growing tropicals comes from the fact that, if conditions are right, they keep blooming and fruiting thruout the winter. One of my veldt fig bonsai (Ficus burtt-davyi) has just produced a couple of new figs! (A picture of the same tree sits above the list of blog followers, to the right of these posts.)

The fig on the right is as large as a large pea, and is full-sized.

A diagram of a syconium.,
For any who don't know, the fruit of a Ficus is an unusual structure called a syconium. A syconium is what is called an "inverted inflorescence:" what we think of as the flesh of the fruit forms a closed receptacle with the flowers inside, surrounding a central cavity and facing inward. (See diagram.) Pollination, in almost all Ficus species, depends on a tiny wasp, the female of which enters the inner hollow thru a stoma in the distal end of the fruit. As she rummages around laying her eggs, she gets pollen on herself. When she leaves the syconium, she carries that pollen with her to other trees of the same species, and the stoma in the successfully-pollinated fig closes behind her. The tree pays for her pollination services with food for her larvae, and a sheltered place for them to grow to maturity.

(The common fig, Ficus carica, is one of the few that don't require pollination by a wasp. So there's no need to
worry about finding a baby wasp in your fig bar.)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Fukien Tea: A More Subtle Show

     Fukien tea (Ehretia microphylla) is another species that bears tiny, pure-white flowers. (To my lovely wife's great enjoyment.) The flowers are followed by berries a little smaller than a garden pea, that ripen to a rich red.

Neither the flowers nor the ripe berries last very long, so at any given time when the tree is bearing, what you're most likely to see are a lot of green berries with flowers and ripe berries interspersed. This makes for a subtler, less exuberant show than that of a serissa (especially a 'Snow Rose' serissa,) but still a show that is quite satisfying and enjoyable in its own right. The deep, rich green of the leaves makes a great backdrop, and is something I enjoy for itself.

Blooms, and berries both green and ripe. The white "hairs" on the leaves (trichomes) trap moisture in the air.

Typical sight: plenty of green berries, and deep-green leaves.

As received in August 2010.
I bought this tree in August 2010 from Wigert's Bonsai in Florida. (Click here for their website.) In the next year-and-some I spent time studying it and letting it adapt to my locale. At the beginning of November 2011, I repotted it into a cut-down 1-gal.-size Rootmaker ®. At that time, I found the nebari and leveled it, which resulted in a new planting angle and new provisional front. (Yes, it was late in the season, but the tree went straight into the Bonsai Crate in the

Friday, February 3, 2012

A Frosty Morning

We had heavy frost this morning. Before the sun burned it away, I got out and snapped a few pictures.

Frost like this still strikes me as something of a wonder. We never saw it in Ecuador, where I grew up, except  at altitudes above 12,000 feet (about 3,650 meters;) in Ecuador, that's above

Thursday, January 26, 2012

An Announcement Worthy of Attention

For bonsai-lovers in the Great Lakes region of the USA and Canada: The Matthaei Botanical Gardens, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is pushing ahead on development of a permanent bonsai-display garden on their grounds. This will be open to the public.

Here are two artist's renditions of what the garden will look like when finished. These images are from Jerry Meislik's website (see "Chairman's info," below,) and are used with permission. Plans include a working bonsai studio. Professionals and volunteers will care for the trees and be available to assist visitors.

Why do I think this is worthy of attention? Public resources for bonsai awareness, education, and appreciation are still scanty in much of this part of North America. There are --unless I've missed something -- less than a dozen permanent bonsai collections, open to the public, in the eastern Great Lakes region. The Matthaei Bonsai Garden will be part of filling that void.

For more information, please visit one or both of these site: Chairman's information, and/or MBGNA site. (Actually, I recommend visiting both.)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Well, that didn't work.

At the end of October, I repotted one of my willow-leaf figs (Ficus salicaria.) It was late in the season, but after repotting the tree went directly into the Bonsai Crate (the basement enclosure where I overwinter my tropical trees.) There I could give it plenty of TLC ("tender loving care".)

Pot by the late Max Braverman. The mulch is sphagnum moss.
The tree had some new aerial roots sprouting from the lower trunk, and I wanted to force them to fuse to the surface of the trunk. That would both create more visual interest at that point, and increase the visual weight of the lower trunk -- bulk it up, in other words. So I bound those aerial roots to the trunk using veterinary bandage, a fabric product that is partly self-adhesive and lets both water and air pass. It also stretches somewhat, but I (truly) thought that I had pulled it tight enough, as I applied it, to pull all the "stretch" out and so create a tight wrapping. Here's a picture of the tree just after I finished.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Snow blanket, literally

The little white streaks are falling snowflakes.
Nice and chilly, of course, is how hardy trees need to be kept thru the winter. I went out this afternoon to check on my trees under "the rack." (For an earlier post on overwintering my hardy trees, click here.) There is a nice blanket of snow on top of the fabric cover, which, for non-bonsai friends and those in the tropics, is a good thing. Besides being an insulator in itself, snow reflects the sun's infrared rays, preventing them from heating up the space inside. That helps keep the trees safely dormant until spring.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

"And the bloom goes on, and the bloom goes on!"

In an earlier post, I said that my 'Snow Rose' serissa appeared to be gearing up for a period of blooming. It now appears to be fully geared up, and is blooming merrily! Here are a few more pictures, taken this morning.

Many branches are covered with blossoms.

You can see why this cultivar is named 'Snow Rose.'    

Imagine yourself an inch tall, climbing in these branches! (For reference, the blossoms are large-pea size.)
I have never gotten seeds from a 'Snow Rose' serissa. Many named cultivars, of different species, are sterile. But the flowers alone make this plant worth growing!

(And yes, I enjoy the music of The Mamas and the Papas. However did you guess? <wink>)

Monday, January 9, 2012

Bonsai-themed postage stamps!

The United States Post Office is going to issue a new series of stamps starting January 23, with bonsai as the theme. Check out this link: USPS Bonsai Stamps. :-)

Kudos to whoever prepared this link: they did their homework! You can recognize several of the species from the drawings, and the five basic trunk styles are depicted quite well. While the information on this link is limited, what is there is accurate.

Don't I have some things that just have to go by snail-mail in the next week or two ...?

Saturday, January 7, 2012


Picture by Jason Schley. Used with permission.
This juniper bonsai was stolen from Jason Schley, of Schley's Bonsai in Deland, Florida. The theft occurred sometime within the last week; if I infer correctly, Jason was away and returned to find it missing.

The tree is a Juniperus procumbens nana, also known as "Japanese garden juniper." It stands 9 inches tall (about 23 cm.) The Japanese-made pot is signed with the potter's chop mark.

This, I understand, was one of Jason's first trees (if not the first,) and means a lot to him for several reasons. It was a gift from his mentor, for one thing. On top of that are the time and work that Jason, and his mentor before him, put into bringing it to the point at which it is now.

If you should see this bonsai, or learn anything about it, please contact Schley's Bonsai, or the authorities.

Friday, January 6, 2012

"These are a few of my favorite blogs ..."

(OK, maybe I should apologize to Julie Andrews and the memory of Countess Maria von Trapp for the title of this post; but it sounded catchy in my head.)

Having gotten into the blogging world, I've discovered a number of other blogs that focus on bonsai. Some are excellent and active, some are excellent but less active; but all the ones I've run into so far are at least worth a look from time to time.

Here are the two that I read the most at this point. Both are active, and very good for information and inspiration. In a day or two I'll mention some others that I think are worth a look.

Bonsai Eejit is the on-line bonsai diary of Ian Young of Belfast, Northern Ireland. Ian has been in bonsai for over 15 years and does a good deal of collecting. Besides being an accomplished bonsai artist and a witty writer, he is an excellent photographer: the pictures he takes on his country walks are a treat!

Bonsai Bark is the blog maintained by Wayne Schoech of Stone Lantern Publishing. The blog's motto is "Promoting and Expanding the Bonsai Universe." What I appreciate most on Bonsai Bark are Wayne's periodic critiques of fine bonsai. His comments are always perceptive, articulate, and concise. My own eye is being refined, I find, as I read what he has to say about those trees.

Tell them I sent you. <wink>

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

One of my wife's favorites

My 'Snow Rose' serissa appears to be winding up for some serious blooming, and the pure-white pea-sized flowers are a bit of antidote to the winter blahs. <smile>

In the Bonsai Crate. Plenty of new buds coming on!
This tree is a bit "confused" about the season of the year, but it's my doing. I left it out in late fall until it had taken several solid frosts. Then, because named cultivars often are not as tough as the species, I decided to take no further chances, and moved it into the Bonsai Crate. Temperatures in the Crate are in the mid-70's F, humidity is kept high, and the lights are on 18 hours a day. Effectively, this tree had a brief cold "winter," and now is in spring-like conditions. As far as its genetic programming is concerned, it's time to bloom! (What I've done is much the same as the "forcing" that is used to get bulbs to bloom out of their natural season. For more on serissas and cold tolerance, see my two earlier posts on that topic.)
A top view. Click the picture to enlarge it.

Here are a couple more views, from slightly different angles and in different light.

Showing more of the tree's structure.
I've had trouble getting clear pictures of the flowers indoors, and I believe I now know why. The flowers are pure white, and throw back so much light to the camera that they partly wash out their own images!

My wife is fond of the flowering trees I have (I don't have that many,) and that definitely includes this one. The "scoop pot," for those who are interested, is by Dave Lowman of DaSu Bonsai Studios.

My largest Fukien tea (Carmona microphylla) is also blooming, but not as enthusiastically at present. Its flowers are also tiny and white, but single. I may be able to get an interesting picture of it in  a week or two.

Hope you enjoy the pictures!