Ficus: Evolution of design and the sting of defeat

This young ficus started as one of five in a group planting in spring 2007. Potted together with its brethren, it occupied a space atop our bathroom cabinet, where it received adequate humidity and consistent, but artificial light.

Shortly after planting, most of the others started to suffer from what I now suspect was a lack of light.

Their decent was rapid. Death came swiftly.

This little guy, after repotting, hung on however.

July 2008

Once placed in fresh soil and in an east facing window (as pictured) it flourished despite the sudden lack of humidity it now faced.

Still, its growth was steady, but slow.

Sept 2010

Here it is again, weakened considerably after a move from New England to Virginia.


At some point, after several of the initial main branches had died back, I decided it needed a redesign, as the semi cascade no longer worked given the remaining sparse foliage.

While repotting, I discovered the roots hadn’t developed much at all, and hardly enough to tie into the pot with wire. Once repositioned, it wobbled terribly. Hence the crutch, which helped to anchor it in position and in a way help to convey the sense of an old and weathered tree.

But I have to be honest. After more than three years of watching this poor thing struggle to survive, I wasn’t optimistic.

August 2011

Here, you can see the foliage has recovered, and after struggling to find the best expression for it, I finally achieved what I think is the best representation.

At the time, it had several new new little sprouts at the top which would eventually help to fill out the apex.

Things were looking up, or so I thought.

Longevity was just not in the cards for this guy. After nearly five years of slow growth and being subjected to either inadequate light or a lack of humidity – in some case both – it finally joined its brothers in sisters in the great compost bin in the sky.

Ficus, a species with tropical origins, is a tough species to provide optimal conditions for, at least in my experience in New England and Virginia.

I find this is true of indoor bonsai in general. Comparatively speaking, the indoors is a dark and dry climate really, and not ideal for growing bonsai.

I’ve tried many times, and as a result, I’ve killed many trees.

But, as the great bonsai master John Naka said, “Killing trees is the tuition you pay for learning bonsai.”

So true. With living sculpture, failure hurts – big time – but it’s necessary.

Results: 2012 growing season

I figured before I got too busy with other things, I would make some photographs to show for some of the work from this year’s growing season.

Not entirely sure what species this is. Crape Myrtle maybe. I’ve yet to research it deeply.


The reason I don’t know the species is the same reason why I beam with pride when I look at this tree. I was on my way home one day, when I passed by a few items being discarded on the side of the road, among them a large sturdy 5-gallon growing pot with a dead and severely hard-pruned stub sticking out of bone dry soil.

Because I sometime collect trees from the wild, which require a few seasons in a large pot, I’m always on the lookout for large containers. And this was perfect. My initial thought was to simply grab hold of the stump, and simply slide the compact soil right out of the pot and leave it behind. Given the dryness of the soil, this would have happened easily. But as I reached down and got a hold of the stump, I saw to my surprise a small green bud no bigger than a pencil lead. I almost didn’t see it. I thought, “why not?” and pciked up the pot and put it in the car, soil, stump and all.

I watered it well when I got home and kept it in the shade for a few days, and well, the rest is history.

I let it grow for a few weeks to build up vigor – and man did it grow like crazy – before I started to prune. Prior to what is pictured, it looked like a mop. I couldn’t even see inside the pot.

Once trimmed, I began incrementally clearing the soil from the top down and around the base to reveal the exquisite roots below.

I just love this little orphan tree. It has a long way and several seasons of training to go before we can call it a bonsai, but to think how far it’s already come since the side of the road brings me great joy.

~ Hinkoi Cyprus ~

Hinoki Cypress is a species I’ve always wanted to work with, and when I found a late-season sale at my favorite local nursery, it was on.

When I found this it was straight as an arrow. It had a wonderful branch structure, marvelous roots, and just a bit of dead wood at the base of the trunk for carving later.

Really, when choosing nursery stock, I couldn’t have asked for more.

I original envisioned this as a tall upright, but once I finished the major pruning, with the remaining chosen branched in tact, it really called for some motion. I knew it was going have be wired.

I wrapped the better part of it in raffia to protect it, and started wiring and bending, and carried out additional minor pruning as needed.

I suspect the wire will stay on until mid next summer, provided the branched don’t swell to much. In that case, to avoid scarring, it would come off sooner.

But I like where we are with it now and I don’t expect to do much more with it this year.

It still has a way to go, namely the foliage needs to fill out more especially in the top branches and crown.

And with the right winter protection, it should emerge next spring summer full and green and ready to go into a proper bonsai pot.

~ Gardenia ~

~ Japanese Holly ~

~ Privet ~

~ Local Variety (unknown) ~