Bonsai Jewelry

Looking through the latest issue of American Bonsai Society’s journal and I found an ad for bonsai jewelry. Frank’s Custom Jewelry makes many different pieces using the lost wax process. Each piece is handcrafted by 2nd Generation Bonsai Master Frank Mihalic. I think it would be an interesting conversation piece to have and I’m considering buying something.

Pendant shaped like a tree

Pendant shaped like a tree

Plant City Bonsai

On a recent trip to Atlanta, I visited many places that you’ll probably hear about in upcoming posts, but the highlight was a trip to Clermont, GA to talk with Steve Cratty at Plant City Bonsai.  He took the time to talk with me about almost every aspect of his bonsai stock and even helped me choose a fine specimen to take home (which I’ll talk about in the future).  Plant City Bonsai has many specimens, but most of the stock is for beginner bonsai artists like myself that is a step above nursery material so that your only choices aren’t a $10 5 year old tree and a $500 30 year-old tree.  Steve tries to fill that gap with material that is already started on it’s way to being a good bonsai, but still leaves you plenty of creative control over what the final look will be.  I found the experience to be very enjoying and sorry that I missed Warren Hill, who was appearing there the next day.  I’ve included some pictures of my visit, and sadly, did not video the tour that he gave me. This is definitely a labor of love with Steve and I got that hint that it may have given him a few gray hairs along the way 🙂

My 2nd Costa Farms Bonsai

My 2nd Costa Farms bonsai, which some would refer to as mallsai, has turned out to be one of my favorite trees in my collection.  People love the S-curve even though most bonsai artists would call it boring and unimaginative.  The first bonsai I purchased is much like this (and also a Ficus Retusa) and will be something I will stay motivated to maintain no matter how good or bad it looks.  I love the low-maintenance and toughness of the Ficus Retusa species.  It stands up to the heat of the South and my beginner mistakes, not to mention that it grows quickly.  I have a tough time finding Ficus Retusa or Tigerbark Ficus trees in my area, and I never know what I’m going to get online unless I’m prepared to pay over $100 for a finished bonsai.  So, the latest aquisition is again another Ficus Retusa that I found at Wal-Mart with interesting movement (again, in my opinion).  Here it is:

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Bonsai or Mallsai?

Recently over at’s forums, someone lamented about the poor conditions of the bonsai at a Home Depot store that were dried out and uncared for.  Routinely, these are called “mallsai” because they are packaged for uneducated buyers to take home a tree from The Karate Kid.  Here’s my response to this and there are several other good responses in the thread:

The “mallsai” problem is really not a problem with the vendors. It’s uneducated people buying a tree when they know nothing about bonsai. If they didn’t buy, the vendors wouldn’t be there. A real bonsai nursery must not be able to keep up with the volume or price point, because Home Depot is not opposed to better quality at the same price.

So, basically, mallsai is a cheap test for every bonsai owner. Do you want to learn about this? Or is an ornament for your desk. There has to be vendors out there that would satisfy the ornament on your desk customers. And I wouldn’t want that to pre-bonsai trees raised with care. For the people that really want to learn about bonsai, it was a cheap entry fee into a world that is a lot more complex than they initially thought.

So, the system works. The main thing any real bonsai artist should be concerned about is easy access to good information. Books, online articles, etc. This should be one of the main objectives of any bonsai society that is struggling.

Ohh, anytime I see that someone “rescued a mallsai” I wince. You just promoted more poor quality bonsai trees to be put on the market. This is not unlike the pet world where people buy puppies at pet stores that usually get their puppies from puppy farms. Caring dog owner forums complain about these puppy farm sales all the time. It’s heartbreaking to see the conditions of these places. Just like I’m sure it’s heartbreaking to see the conditions that these bonsai are sold at.

Here is a link to the thread:

Here is another good post on the importance of research before buying:

The sad thing is, if your reading this, then you probably are researching or you have already bought a mallsai and are now researching how to care for it.  I still think it’s important that when you start thinking about getting a second or third tree, that you do not buy these mallsai to “rescue” them or because they are cheap and readily available.  Buy from a bonsai nursery or step over to the nursery section at that Home Depot and buy nursery stock that you intend to develop into a bonsai over time.

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Proud owner of a Japanese Black Pine

I think every bonsai grower should have a pine.  They seem to be the pinnacle of the art and at the heart of the bonsai’s history.  I had hesitated for a long time on getting a pine, because their care is much different than a decidous tree.  After my recent trip to Bonsai Northshore though, a group of newly grafted japanese black pines caught my eye and I had to have one.  The variety is Koto Buki (Pinus thungbergii ‘Koto Buki’), one of the very few true dwarf varieties of Japanese Black Pine, so the maintenance schedule should be much easier than keeping a standard JBP in bonsai shape.  It is very young, but I think I will enjoy the final product a lot.

Japanese Black Pine Koto Buki

Japanese Black Pine "Koto Buki"

Pictures of Evergreen Gardenworks trees

Here’s the pictures of the Evergreen Gardenworks pre-bonsai trees that I purchased.  These will be left alone for 3-5 years while they fatten up a little bit before I try to convert them to bonsai.  The weeping atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica var. Pendulum) should be particularly interesting, since they are very nice full-grown.  You’ll also notice that the Atlas Cedar is not a Blue Atlas, but just the standard form.  I don’t usually like variegated color forms since they don’t give me an impression of an older tree.

Weeping Atlas Cedar

Weeping Atlas Cedar

Atlas Cedar

Atlas Cedar

Shimpaku Juniper

Shimpaku Juniper

Chinese Elm from Schley’s Bonsai

I have wanted to buy a bonsai from a bonsai nursery for a while now to see what kind of quality I would get and to see what the shipping process is like. I started looking for bonsai nurseries in my area to keep shipping costs low, make sure the trees were already adapted to our zone, and to support the local bonsai trade. The closest to me is still about 4 hours away so shipping was my only option. Two really stuck out to me as far as quality and price. Schley’s Bonsai in Florida and Brussell”s Bonsai in North Mississippi.

There are three different trees that I have considered buying. A hornbeam (Korean or American), a Trident Maple, and a Chinese Elm. After looking around, I decided on a chinese elm from Schley’s would be a good compromise between cost and quality. It also helped that out of the people I contacted, they were the most helpful and sent me pictures of individual bonsai when I requested them.

The chinese elm I finally picked was perfect for a style that I don’t have in my bonsai collection, which is a broom. It has a nice start on some nebari (surface roots), a slightly slanting trunk, and some nice twiggy branching. It was sent in a small 6″ pot. I immediately repotted it without touching the roots in a bigger pot so I could encourage a lot of new growth. In the early spring, I’ll prune some of the out of place branches and cut back some of the growth. Here it is:

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Here it is after repotting.

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