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.

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