Midnight Rider

4 months ago Nebby 0

Source: Adam’s Art and Bonsai Blog.

It’s after midnight, and I’m going to let it all hang out (and mix my song references). 

Because I’m not sleepy, or maybe I have a guilty conscience (or not, depends on who you listen to, I could, as evidenced from the way I chop down bonsai trees, be a total sociopath… ) or maybe because I’m behind in my work, with all the traveling I’ve been doing, and I’m going to take advantage of the relatively cool summer nights (come to Florida, they said, we’ll get together, have a few laughs…) and do some big or neglected projects. 
The tree we have here tonight is a ficus salicaria (yes, a willow leaf ficus, but no, not ficus nerifolia. You see, there’s this other tree called ficus nerifolia that, though the shape of the leaf is similar, the size isn’t, check out this page). It was grown from a cutting by Judy, a good friend from Ft. Myers. She told me to develop it and sell it, and we’d split the money. It’s been too long sitting in my nursery, so it’s time I got to work. The root base is about 21 inches wide. It has a beautiful canopy but…….yeah, it has no taper. I could slap some wire on it and try to hide it but I don’t want to be known for that type of work. See, I do have a nursery, and all the licenses and all that to sell trees, but, I don’t really sell many. I’m more of an artist and then a teacher. I make my money giving demos, conducting workshops, working in private sessions, either teaching or refining clients trees. And I write a blog and do the occasional YouTube video. Which I don’t make a dime on either, but I should really try to figure out how that’s done. But this tree will be different. It’s for sale. But I gotta develop it first. 

The base (or, to use a horticulture term, the buttress, which they call the nebari in Japanese) is fantastic. It needs some work but not much. There’s even a rock imbedded in there. It’s in the trunk that needs some help. 

See right there? Where the knot hole is? I think I will airlayer it there. I know, I know, I once said that it’s a waste of time to airlayer a ficus. This time though, since it’s not my tree, I’ll be a little cautious. Besides, I’m willing to try other people’s techniques, I’m not closed minded. Air layering works. 

The cut……(if you want an in depth, step by step guide, just put in “air layering” into the search bar. Here’s a good post to start with). 

The foil….(I just read a study published in 1968 that talked about why using foil over the sphagnum is better than using plastic wrap, here’s the link to the study). 

The cut back…..My modus operandi is to cut back the top portion, above the layer site, so that the new top growth will stimulate root growth  quicker. The way I perform an air layer has science behind it. Some people use plastic wrap and never cut the top back. Guess what? Their layers still work. Haha! Here’s where I get in trouble. 

To the real theme of this post. With any given bonsai goal, there are often two, maybe three ways to achieve it. Do you want well tapered, ramified branches with natural movement? Well then, grow your branch out, when you have achieved the thickness you want, cut it back, grow it the next level, cut it back, etc….or, grow it out to the length you want, wire it for movement, unwire, cut tips, develop secondary branching, tertiary, continue wiring, unwiring, etc.

Both methods work. Does one work better than the other? Maybe…..or maybe one works better on one kind of tree and the other on another kind of tree. Here’s an axiom for you to ponder: Horticulture is a science, but the practice of horticulture is an Art. 

Or, how about this? This poor kid got this question wrong. But, you are saying that the answer to 5×3 is 15, right? Why? Because the kid didn’t write out the “formative” the way the teacher wanted him to. He wrote “5+5+5” instead of “3+3+3+3+3”. Both of those are correct ways to figure out 5×3, but the teacher, or should I call him the “pedant” …….wanted it written his way. And he was the teacher and it gave him the power to use and abuse the poor student. 

At this point your asking me “Why are you writing all this at 2:56am? I mean, who really cares? Go to bed, you fool!”  Well, the reason is because I am seeing an increasingly toxic atmosphere developing in the bonsai community. A culture where dogmatism and authority are replacing openness and common sense when it comes to teaching, be it to beginners or those that just want to continue their learning and enjoy their trees at whatever level they want them to be and just have a question. It literally drives people away. My “Big Question”? Does every bonsai practitioner need to have the level of horticultural knowledge and technical expertise as a professional like Ryan Neal, who is arguable the best in the business at the moment? Do they need the patience of David Easterbrook, from Canada with a 4 month growing season, or the artistic mastery of Suthin, who can take a straight telephone pole of a tree and make it look ancient? Of course they don’t. And to hold someone to that level when they offer up another Mallsai, or a juniper cutting, a ginseng ficus, or whatever, on a forum, or Facebook Page, is just perpetuating the elitism, the conceitedness, the pomposity, and the hazing, that bonsai is becoming known for. To paraphrase another song “Why you gotta be so rude, don’t you know they’re humans too?” 

Here’s a thing:

 They’re just little trees. 

Well, sometimes, they’re kinda big trees, let’s get back to the willow leaf ficus that has been languishing on my bench whilst I pontificate. I’m done with the soapbox sermon, for now. 

That airlayered top is going to be a good tree. It, too, will be for sale. I should add. I might even consider shipping it…..It has all the branches in place already, …instant bonsai gonna get you..,.,

And the bottom, damn those roots are sexy. Both sides are full of potential, I can’t even choose a front yet. Keep an eye on the development of this ficus.  So here’s the timeline as I see it: I expect the top to be removed in about a month, then I’ll address the rootage and repot, and choose the front. Next year it’ll be a decent looking tree. In two years it’ll be ready for a small club show, in five, a regional show. And in ten? A national, East or West coast. 

Now, damn it, I am tired. In parting, I will, to remind me of simpler, happier times, quote a movie from my youth: “Be excellent to each other!”