bonsai therapy

Watched Bonsai Never Grow (Part 2)

This is really a follow on of TWO posts.  First, Trunksplitting, scoring and scratching to thicken bonsai cuttings and A Watched Baobab Never Thickens.  I must state from the outset that I live in a sub tropical area where things just grow and grow and grow.  If anything, I can never reduce my leaves as small as bonsaiists in, say Gauteng or the Cape. I have to really be careful with watering, because it gets either too hot and my trees die or they get too much water and I sit with long internodes.

May 2015’s Porticularia afra in the green pot (which has since been broken by monkeys), looked like this:

DSC_0028  and the next image was taken today, 6 November 2016, albeit it in a new pot. The next step for this potensai will be to split the trunk and get some movement in it.


At the time, I experimented and took three similar sized cuttings. Put one in a small meme pot, scored one and put it in a green pot and put one in my garden and forgot about it.


The moral of the story is: if you want quick fixes to your bonsai, stick them in the ground and forget about them.  I was pleasantly surprised by the above specimen and gave it a quick preliminary styling. Now you have a lot more to work with on the tree AND a lot more cuttings.


A Watched Baobab Never Thickens

Someone once asked me why I plant baobab seeds as I will never have the privilege to to see them as bonsai. You see, a baobab is considered to be a seedling up until the age of 5 years.  That is when they “grow” the fastest at around 500 – 800mm per year.  A baobab is only considered to be an adult when it is 80 years or older.  At 53, I do not have 80 years or so. So you see, why I have to cheat?

A few years ago, I experimented with a few baobabs by planting them in the garden in our soak pit.  (For those of you who do not know what a soak pit is, it is a hole in the ground where your flushed toilet water runs into and a whole lot of nunus take over and do their job). Far more environmentally friendly than a sewerage farm. I think.

In any case, I tried various methods on 5 and left one as the “control”.  I managed to grow one from 10mm circumference to 350mm in 3 years.  It was blown over during a storm and I cut it up in 7 pieces. Two grew and one is evidence that you can grow a baobab from a cutting.  Baobabs have ONE enemy and that is water.  It will die if it gets too much. I find that after 2 years, the baobabs are very hardy and I water them every day.  The ones in tubs are not really getting bigger, so today, I planted a whole lot of 1 year old seedlings in the soak pit again. And I am going to forget about them.  Here’s to hoping getting the same results and not to fiddle until they get blown over again.

Why do I plant baobabs from seed? Because I am ever the hopeful!DSC07383 When I started out in 2011


IMG_1360 In 2014 when a storm blew over my 4 meter baobab

IMG_4761 The same piece as above but the ants hollowed it out.

aIMG_8636 In 2016. I still need to work on the taper.

IMG_8635 The “cutting” in 2016.  It lacks the bottled shape taper, but I am working on that.

The Art of Bonsaichology

Lots of people asked for copies of the article in Joint Ability.  I am posting the Winter 2015 edition here for all to read. Yeah! Bonsai going places!


Scan 1


Joy and more Joy!

Jill Badonsky said that the feeling of being creative is synonymous with joy and fulfilment. Is it therefore seriously necessary for your bonsai tree to comply with all the bonsai ‘rules’? If you copy, so-and-so’s tree, is it still yours?

When I walk through my garden, I do not see the faults in my trees. I see the memory of the person in the tree that I made when they passed away.  I see the love and patience and fun I had when I thought of the person in whose memory it was created.  It is a testament of the fact that I think of them often. That I will never forget.

But the beauty of bonsai is that you can have your own reasons for making one. It does not have to be my reasons. Sometimes, it really is just for fun. Unless you are a world renowned Master. Then your bonsai can never be just for fun. (Too many people are watching you).

Masaru Yamaki said:  “Each bonsai has its special quality. Some express changes in the four seasons, while others express the elegance of nature in a pot. Bonsai is not limited to expensive trees in a classic shape. Indeed, by using excessive wire or growing unnecessary branches in order to create a classic shape, the artist may fail to express the tree’s essential beauty.

Trees best expressing bonsai no kokoro (the spirit of bonsai) are often marked by unaffected simplicity. Even if the tree has a slender trunk, it can still touch one’s heart deeply, conveying with overflowing vitality the beauty of nature in fields and mountains.” (…/centuries-old-japanese-white-pine-bonsai-that-survived-hiroshima


So, this morning, I removed the tanuki’s around my thin-trunked Yellow wood. I am going to develop the lower branches and enjoy my tree.  I potted my thin trunked Rosemary in a shocking blue pot and put my Riverbush willow (Combretum erythrophyllum) forest in the most beautiful forest pot. Not nearly ready to be potted, but I had the most beautiful pot beggin for some trees. (Yes, it is no Goshin or Mieke’s Forest, but it is “my” forest.)  It is named after an old school friend who gave me a handful of seeds in 2008, so, Peter’s Forest it is! (I wanted to post a better photograph, but it is raining – so it will have to wait.)


In this case, beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. Nothing should stop you from enjoying your trees. Don’t wait. Do it now. Make a bonsai, plant a tree. Feel good!

All in a Saturday’s work!

While the rest of South Africa is watching the rugby, I got busy with some recycling.  Let me back track a bit.  A while ago, I got tools to cut and design pots made from polystyrene.  Then I got busier with pottery and discovered the joy of clay. I still like working with polystyrene and have a shed full of throw-away-packaging pieces.  (I have been known to stop the maintenance guys and ask them for the packaging. – I have a shed full).

I also have loads of thimble and mame bonsai which I keep going by standing them in very shallow water to create a micro climate.  Then an idea hit me! I can make my own penzai. (Potted landscape). As with all my bonsai, I reserve artistic rights and adapt this to my own style and memories.  I made a Phuket penzai in memory of our second honeymoon (I have two other floating in my guppy pond!) I have a Senyati Gorge in memory of my first honeymoon in Zimbabwe.

IMG_5028  IMG_5025

Some of the penzai that I built today, will be to showcase some of my kusamono, mames and thimble bonsai.

So, get some throw-away packaging, your cutting tools, and carve away!


You will also need to paint your finished penzai, and here there are as many recipes as there are bonsai rules.  I will tell you what works for me and what I have tried.

Cement Paint

1 cup tile grout (There are many colours and you can add cement oxide stain to manipulate is further)

1 cup beach sand (if you like a coarser finish – I did not use any today)

1 cup tile glue

Add tile bonding liquid till you have a sludge that will easily paint on, (As I use it up, I may add water to the remaining sludge to get it back to the original consistency) and start painting.

It is very messy, so make sure you are wearing old clothes and gloves. (I like getting dirty and don’t mind scraping cement off my nails later:-)


I give my finished penzai and initial all over coat of my base colour.  I will often then add a darker oxide (or grout) to the remaining mix and give it a more artistic finish. Please note that I am not an artist and a lot of what I make and do, is copied from what I have seen.  Also, having lived in a small rural village in South Africa, we often have to make do with what we can find.

IMG_5017You can see my torii gate in the background.

Both these penzai will be used to plant Portucularia afra cuttings to create a landscape.

IMG_5018This specific landscape was made as a display for my thimbles and mames. Obviously, it is not completely finished yet. I will add some crushed coral to the center which will be filled with water to create the micro climate.  Once weathered, you will never know it is not real!


Some ideas of what I am planning to do:

IMG_5021  IMG_5022

The story of the Bougeys

As normal, I can spot a potensai at 120km an hour. One day, I passed a construction site and there were lots of tree stumps lying around. I did slow down, I will admit, but 2 kilometers further I made a u-turn. I stopped and asked the people what they were going to do with the trees. “Oh, the rubbish?”, they asked. “Uhm…yes,” I replied. “Oh, that? We are throwing it away.” One hour and two trips later, we had it on the back of my eldest son’s car.

IMG_4100When we got home, these stumps, which had been pulled out of the ground with a tractor and hacked into pieces, were sorted from big to small.  There were 18 ‘pieces’ all together.  Some had roots and some had none. None had leaves.  I wish I knew what had happened to those.  Bougainvilleas root very easily.  The biggest killer of bougeys is rot or too much water.  In fact, they like to be dry, rather than wet.  All ofIMG_4106 these stumps were collected about 3 days after they were pulled out. That is Reevin on the right with the biggest stump.

Since about 2013, it has been Reevin’s dream to raise funds for rhino anti-poaching.  Since the 3 biggest stumps are too large for me to handle (and I already have two big bougeys), I decided to raffle the 3 (if they survive) as a thank you to him for helping me.  We are happy to say that 13 out of the 18 survived and the biggest 3 are looking awesome.

I use a simple soil mix.  I make my own compost from garden rubble, mowed lawn cuttings and leaves.  I use 2 parts compost, and 1 part river sand. I have a mix of mycorrhiza and my grandmother’s secret ingredient which I sprinkle around where roots should develop and used BonsaiBoost as fertilizer.  I fertilise straight away.  I believe that the tree needs all the help it can get to recover. I do not carve straight away and most styling will only be done once we know which branches are alive.

The trees were potted on the 28th of November 2014 and the after photos were taken on the 1st of April 2015 unless otherwise indicated.  The following photos are put in sequence to show you development. I am hoping to use this post to show progression and ultimately get the raffles going.

Bougey 1


PS – The beer bottle is for size:-)








Bougey 2









Bougey 3


Bougey 4


This photo was taken on the 23rd of June 2015. I used BonsaiBoost exclusively and NO styling has been done on this tree. It is just growing in this shape and form.  Something tells me this is how she wants to look.  I need a name for her. I will make a pot and repot in August 2015.



Bougey 5







This bougainvillea is incredible in the sense that it has two colours, no make that 3.  It has pink flowers, pink and white flowers mixed and white flowers all on one tree. This one had a dodgy shape, but I kept all the branches.IMG_4801

I am looking for someone to carve the top 3 beauts as I am not brave enough. These are the ones that will be raffled off. Send me a message. And then…”Watch this space” for the raffles  to start.

Aerial Roots

In 2009 ( a lot happened back then…) I bought one of these S shaped Figs from a very reputable bonsai vendor. (As he now declares that these S-shaped Chinese imports are not bonsai – I will refrain from naming him).  In any case, I always wanted one and I have four now. And quite happy with my bonsai.

This one had some aerial roots already and I was advised by all to cut them off.


It became my mission to have a proper banyan     fig (Yes – I know this is not a Banyan Fig (Ficus benghalensis). Banyan actually means that the fig started its life as an epiphyte and that its seed germinated in a crack of another tree. The true Banyan fig is native to India. They are frequently planted near homes, temples, villages, and roadsides and is often a meeting place for the community. People would gather in its shade to relax, discuss issues, and make decisions. The name, banyan, is derived from merchants called Banias, who rested under the trees to discuss their strategies. It is therefore for this reason that I wanted to develop aerial roots.

I was advised to water from above – which i religiously did.  Soon, little roots started forming from the grafted branches.  I unfortunately lost the branch on the right a while ago.  I decided not to regraft or remove it, but I let branches from the top branch grow down. There is still a long way to go, but basically, this is where this tree is at today.



Earlier this season, I decided to use straws to guide the roots down to try and prevent root splitting near the soil as the the second from the left, root. When I removed the straw, I found lots of little roots and root hairs growing.


IMG_4954 IMG_4960

It will be very interesting to see what develops from here.






On the righthand side where I lost the branch and have been trying to “cheat” by getting other branches to cover up, you will see some green cable ties.  It worked for while, but then I bumped the branch and it broke. No amount of wood glue or anything has worked. Then I had another brainwave. What if I let one of these roots grow very long (using a straw, I aimed to off the side and out the pot), I eventually managed to get a root long enough to ‘twine’ around the dead, broken branch. I really hope it works this time, as the tree (and I) need this branch. As you can see, the root is still in the straw and should soon reach the soil in the bonsai pot.


Trunksplitting, scoring and scratching to thicken bonsai cuttings

In 2009 I started with a baobab experiment.  All my baobabs I have started from seed and I did not want to wait so long to have thick trunks. (I was no youngster in 2009 either).  I had an idea to trunk split (much like figs) some of them.  At that stage I was communicating with Harry Harrington (UK) and he suggested ‘scoring’ the bark.  In fact, he had to explain the concept to me as I had never heard of it.  It is slicing through the bark length ways, not too deep in, just cutting through the cambium.  This was difficult with baobabs as baobabs do not have ‘bark’ as such.  I selected 5 similar sized baobabs and started my experiment.

At this stage, I must warn all reading this post.  WHAT FOLLOWS WORKED FOR ME AND I AM NOT ADVOCATING IT FOR ALL.  I LIVE IN A (DRY AT PRESENT)  TROPICAL AREA. Know your area before you do exactly what I did. I do not take my baobabs out of the soil in winter and they get watered 365 days of the year. ALL OF THEM.

In 2009 I selected 5 similar sized baobabs (100mm in circumference).  .

Tree no 1

baobab3 was trunk split right through and planted in the soak pit.

Tree no 2

DSC04689 No 2 was planted directly in the garden – no special soil.

Tree no 3

DSC04681No 3 was scored lightly along all 4 sides (and in the end showed the least thickening)

Tree no 4

DSC04685No 4 was deeply scored and showed the 2nd most thickening.

Tree no 5

DSC04678 and no 5 was left in the bag as is and showed the least thickening and only got 110mm in 3 years.  (Effectively was the control)

“Trees no 2, 3 and 4 went from 100mm to between 350mm and 380mm in three years. They were all used in a planting where I hope they will fuse into one BIG baobab (like the Modjadji baobab in Limpopo). There are 7 trees planted tightly together to eventually form one.


No 1 was left in the soak pit, watered daily for 365 days of the year, but unfortunately in Dec 2012, it got blown over during a storm, having reached 520mm in circumference and a height of 4 meters. You can still see the scar in the front of the 3rd picture.


Four years later in Dec 2013, the main tree, (no 1) got blown over and cut into 7 pieces. Unfortunately only 2 took.

This is the original base:

aDSC08756.  I did not seal it properly and ants started eating it from the inside.  I bravely decided to leave it to see what would happen.  I have to admit, I am very happy with the outcome.  Although this has many years left in training, I have potted it and called it “Gambaru” (“Doing one’s best and hanging on to the end”).  I successfully rooted the piece immediately on top of the base.  And this is it, now in 2015


This is a very longwinded post on how to score trees, I know.  But I hope this is sufficient background for leading up to the answer to “How/why ‘score’ cuttings?”

I have a beautiful Portucularia afra (Spekboom) and I cannot through the trimmings away, so I always stick in soil in the pots next to my tree. It does take long to thicken and does not have much taper.  Earlier this year, I started with another experiment.  I decided to score some cuttings to see what happens, I have enough, you see.  if I lost one or two it would not harm.  Unfortunately, I did not document anything, until this post in Bonsai Odyssey.

I used exceptionally small cuttings, I know, but I hope you see what can happen in a few weeks.  ( I apologise for the quality of the photos, I am 2 weeks post-op and in a neck brace with limited movement (and field of vision).

IMG_4923 IMG_4924 IMG_4925

I am sure this specimen is quite hardy, but make sure your tools are clean and sterile.  Remove the bottom leaves (did you know they are edible?  (I feed them to my koi and goldfish, but humans can eat it too).  Then, gently cut along the stem. (These were done (27/06/2015).

The following cuttings were done in May 2015, so effectively they are just over a month old (I would say 6 weeks).  You can clearly see how the cut is healing taking on the flaky characteristics of this species.

DSC_0031 DSC_0028

The following pictures are little mames I did in about March this year, except for one which is a year old.


I wired this tree and left the wires on too long (on purpose). I think I will do it again.  It will lead to interesting scarring. Of note is the fact that the left side branch is thicker than the main branch – due to the wire bite. This time I will wire the main branch too.


This blog was started just before my op and just before I could really get into it.  This is actually my very first post.  Yesterday, I was feeling deeply depressed (side effects of being inactive for 2 weeks now).  Just talking about bonsai has lifted my spirits.  Thanks to the Bonsai Oddessey Facebook page.

Hello world!

Bonsai is very therapeutic. But then we all knew that.  In 2014, I completed by Doctorate in Philosophy in the spiritual and healing facets of practicing bonsai.

I have had bonsais practically all my life.  It started from growing trees in pots, to joining clubs, to leaving clubs, to becoming an all consuming passion, to completing my doctorate in it.

No, I am NOT a bonsai artist. Most of my bonsais are still just trees in pots. I practice the art for my own pleasure, (but you are welcome to visit my garden). I do not prescribe to any school of thought, nor do I follow rules. I listen to the tree and where it wants to lead me.

I hope you enjoy this journey with me.

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