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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.

Monday, September 13, 2021

A Few More Goodies From This Year's Mid-America

     Those who have been to the Mid-America Bonsai Exhibition know that when you enter the Regenstein Center thru its front doors, you pass down an entrance hall to the doors of the exhibition space itself. This year, someone decided to put a row of bonsai down the center of the entrance hall, giving the visitor a foretaste of what waited for them at the end. I think it was an inspired idea!

Looking down the entrance hall toward the Phillips Exhibition Center.

Here's a closer look at one of the trees in the center space (normally a pool), the very first one you encountered. Its trunk just above the nebari is as thick as my thigh. (And I'm not a little guy.)

Trident Maple (Acer buergerianum) with its Hosta spp. companion plant.

Besides the awards given by the Midwest Bonsai Society at the guest master's behest, the American Bonsai Society also gives an award for the best bonsai using a native North American species. This year's winner is this Rocky Mountain Juniper (Juniperus scopulorum); the owner (and, I presume, artist) is Mark Karczewski.

A superb design job, combining harmony with dynamism.

OK, real quick: when you hear "California redwood", what do you think of? The tallest tree species on the planet, right? Would you believe a shohin California redwood, less than nine inches high from the soil?

California redwood, Sequoia sempervirens, shorter than my handspan.
Very nicely designed. Owner is Steve Carini.

A small collection of pots was on display, protected by clear plastic cases. The owner, Tim Priest, told me that these pots were the work of a certain Japanese potter who passed away in 1970. Since his death, no one has been able to reproduce his glazes.

The glazes on these pots are now unique.
A closer look at two of them.

The largest of these pots (at the extreme right above, and below) has another unique characteristic. Most Oriental potters stamp the bottom of a pot with an identifying mark known as a "chop"; sometimes there will be two. This pot, for whatever reason, has eight - count 'em, eight - chops on its undersurface! No one is sure why now.

(What's your guess as to why this pot carries so many chops?)

:-)  :-)  :-)

Monday, September 6, 2021

A Tale of Two Ponderosas

 (With a nod to Charles Dickens.)

     When you first enter the exhibition hall where the Mid-America Bonsai Exhibition is held, your eye is guided straight through the room to a double tokonoma which holds the Best of Show and Best of Show Professional. This year was the first time in roughly 30 years of attending that I saw two trees of the same species in those places of honor. Two ponderosa pines (Pinus ponderosa), both yamadori.

The Best of Show and Best of Show Professional with Tim Cox

In the picture is Tim Cox, owner of the Best of Show tree. The Best of Show Professional belongs to Andy Smith of Golden Arrow Bonsai, bonsai professional and yamadori collector. Both trees were collected in 2017, and, I was told, in the same general area and just a week or two apart. Andy obtained his in the course of his regular collecting. Tim, with his son’s participation, collected his under Andy’s guidance. (I didn’t hear how old either tree is and didn’t think to ask.)

Besides both being ponderosas and fairly large, both are obviously mature trees, are obviously in good health, and have been in bonsai training for about the same amount of time. Both have excellent trunk taper, and I would call the basic style of each slanting, but with the apex coming back toward the base almost enough to qualify the tree as a moyogi (informal upright.)

Tim Cox's tree, Best of Show

Andy Smith's tree, Best of Show Professional

But notice also the many differences between them! Tim’s has a more serene look, with few breaks in the canopy’s silhouette and relatively little deadwood. Andy’s tree has a more dramatic, rugged appearance, with almost all the foliage to one side of the tree’s base and noticeably more deadwood - deadwood that hints strongly at adversities the tree has overcome. They even face opposite directions!

(By the way, what looks like Spanish moss hanging from Andy’s tree is not an example of his well-known taste for whimsy, but is another epiphytic moss which in fact grows on trees in the Black Hills.)

Notice also the differences in the pots. Tim Cox recounted to me the hours he spent on the phone with potter Ron Lang, working out details of his pot: the dimensions, the understated rim, the slight convexity of the walls, the vertical corner lines – everything! I think the time and thought that they both put in paid off: I have not often seen a finer pot, or one so suited to the tree it displays. The black slab for a stand works perfectly with the pot and the tree.

Follow me on a brief rabbit trail here. You may notice that Tim’s pot is glazed, with what I would call a "semi-muted" glaze. In traditional bonsai display, a conifer always goes in an unglazed pot - always. But I think this composition works anyway. I agree that an unglazed pot is usually best for a conifer: conifers are not loud, showy trees, and many glazes would call attention to the pot and away from the tree if used with the quiet colors of a conifer. But I personally have no quarrel with the use of muted glazes, in quiet colors such as green and blue, with coniferous bonsai. The only thing I would change in this composition would be to make the glaze a little more muted. - OK, end of rabbit trail.

Andy’s pot is unglazed, and also works excellently well with the tree it houses. The dark color of the clay body harmonizes with the tree’s color tones, and anchors the whole composition well. And the shape of the pot is right for this tree, right down to the spiky scalloping (sorry, I don’t know what else to call it) around the rim which mirrors the spikiness of the deadwood. And the colors and character of his stand work well with his tree, as Tim’s black slab works with his.

Two fine collected trees of the same species, with many similarities but almost even more differences. I haven’t seen earlier pictures of either tree, but we can do some “reverse extrapolation” in our mind’s eye and get some idea of what each tree looked like when it was collected. I’m sure they were quite different even then. What I ask you to take away is this: each artist studied his tree, respected and accepted the features and characteristics it had to offer, and then worked with those to produce a superb and show-winning bonsai.


For the past year and more I have been doing the next best thing to taking bonsai classes: I have been a regular learner and participant in the weekly teaching events, of one sort or another, on Bonsai Mirai. Between learning more about bonsai every week and putting what I learn into practice on my trees, I have not had much time for writing about bonsai! (Some health issues have also interfered somewhat.) But I'm ready to try some writing again, along with everything else, and hope people find it worth their while to read it. - Steve Moore

:-)  :-)  :-)

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Entry Display at Wigert's Bonsai

      In February I wrote a post about a Christmas visit to Wigert's Bonsai, thanks to the generosity of our daughter Kira and her husband Trent. I included as many pictures as I reasonably could, because sometimes, a picture really is worth 1,000 words when it comes to getting across what a place is like. 

But there was one picture I had not taken, and, I discovered, no one else in our party had either: a picture of the display that greets visitors when they first turn into Wigert's driveway. That display is quite eye-catching, and I was kicking myself, figuratively speaking, for not having thought to get a picture. (The display is some distance from the rest of the establishment.)

Then, two months ago, my wife visited Kira and Trent again, and was able to get a picture for me. (Domo arigato, sweetie.) Here is her picture:

Entrance display at Wigert's Bonsai, North Ft. Myers, Florida.

The main tree, its roots growing over the large chunk of reef rock, is a Ficus, presumably F. microcarpa. The shrubs flanking it on either side are Podocarpus (I don't know the species). The bamboo makes a fine backdrop, in my opinion.

Here's a closer view of the main tree:

Root-over-rock Ficus, presumed F. microcarpa. The picture was shot late in the afternoon,
which makes for the strong interplay of light and shadows.

I suppose that, technically, this tree is not a bonsai, since the tree-and-rock composition is not in a container or on a slab. But that really doesn't bother me in this case: it's a still a fine example of the bonsai practitioner's art!

To jump to my February post about our visit to Wigert's, click here.

:-)  :-)  :-)

Sunday, November 15, 2020


     That could have summed up my reaction a few weeks ago, when I heard Ryan Neil say that trees and shrubs photosynthesize through their bark as well as their foliage. They don’t photosynthesize as much through their bark, but they still do it. This has a number of implications for fall and winter care of temperate-zone trees.

(Readers of the Fort Wayne Bonsai Club newsletter has already seen this in my latest Stuff from Steve.)

First, a little botany review. At some point in late summer or fall, temperate species stop producing new foliage and direct all their resources to two purposes: producing more vascular tissue (bulking up), and storing carbohydrates – sugars and starches - for the following spring’s growth push. Just when they make the transition varies from species to species; for example, some maples (Acer) switch over as early as late July, while Austrian pine (Pinus nigra) does so in early-to-mid September. But they all make that shift.

Inside every plant cell is a structure called a vacuole, enclosed in a semipermeable membrane. Some plant cells have more than one, and fungi and some microorganisms also have vacuoles. However, to keep this discussion simple, I'm going to stick to a scenario of a plant cell with one large vacuole. Here is a diagram. Notice that the vacuole can, and often does, take up more than half the space inside the cell.

"V" marks the vacuole.

During spring and summer, the vacuoles in temperate-zone plants contain water and not much else. But as the growing season progresses, sugars and starches for the next spring are stored up, dissolved, in the vacuoles. At first only what is left over from foliage production and other metabolic needs is stored. Once the plant - for our purposes a bonsai or bonsai-in-the-making - makes the late-season switchover described above, carbohydrates storage goes into high gear.

And while stored in the vacuoles waiting for spring (for any who may not know) those carbohydrates serve another function: antifreeze! Water that contains anything else in solution freezes at a lower temperature than pure water – sea water freezes at 29 degrees F (1.6 degrees C), for example. And the greater the concentration of solutes in the water, the lower the temperature at which it freezes.

Trees and shrubs continue to produce and store photosynthates as fall progresses. That’s true for deciduous trees, even after leaf fall, as well as for conifers, because of the aforementioned photosynthesis in the bark. Production and storage slow down as temperatures drop and day lengths shorten, but they don’t stop. In fact those processes don’t stop altogether even when ambient temperatures are well below freezing because of residual heat inside the tree’s tissues. It's true that for all practical purposes, trees can be considered dormant at temperatures below 42 degrees F (5 degrees Celsius); but carbohydrate storage in the vacuoles continues past the winter solstice, albeit at a very low level.

Remember that the higher the concentration of dissolved substances in water, the lower the temperature at which that water freezes. This means that as fall goes along and more and more dissolved carbohydrates are stored in a tree’s cells, the more cold-resistant that tree becomes and the deeper the cold required to kill it. As a matter of fact, the strengthening of the tree’s cold-hardiness stays pretty closely in step with the falling temperatures! Temperatures around here in mid-December are colder than in mid-October (all else being equal), but by December the tree has more “antifreeze” stored up in its cells than it had in October. Temperatures in the northern hemisphere usually bottom out in mid-January (give or take a bit) and by then carbohydrate concentration in the vacuoles has reached its strongest. (To me, the elegance of the whole setup demonstrates the sheer skill of the Creator.)

What does this mean for fall and winter care of bonsai and bonsai-in-the-making?

First, if a tree needs any fall pruning or working, do it as soon as possible after the transition away from foliage growth has begun; make sure not to do it before that. You want the tree to have as much time as possible to heal over the trauma, but you also don't want to interfere with production of leaves and needles - primary photosynthesizing surfaces – until that production stops naturally.

Second, keep up light fertilizing through the fall, and even (very light) into early winter. The tree will still benefit by it. And the same goes for water: keep the soil at least moist unless and until it freezes. (For any who don't know, freezing won’t harm a temperate tree’s roots; neither will staying unfrozen. But do try to avoid alternating freeze-and-thaw.)

Third, and contrary to some conventional wisdom, it’s best to give all your trees some light throughout the cold months, even your deciduous ones. Remember that they can photosynthesize through the bark. At the same time, if you can’t give your deciduous trees any light during the winter, you won’t lose them as long as you can keep them below 42 degrees F (5 C.). They just won’t get off to quite as strong a start in the spring.

One more thing: please remember that all of this applies only to temperate-zone trees. Tropicals are another ball of wax – or should I say “of bark”?

:-)  :-)  :-)