How and Why I give advice on Bonsai Futility and How to prove me wrong

I’ve been online for more than 20 years in bonsai discussions dealing with people who want advice on doing futile things. It’s come up again. Someone has an idea of doing bonsai in a way that is not currently being done and when I tell them why this is a bad idea, they keep coming back with reasons it should be a good idea. THEN PROVE ME WRONG!

I actually LOVE being wrong. It means I’m filling gaps and fixing cracks in my knowledge.

If you’re a beginner and you’re asking if something will work, but it won’t, I see two things right away. First, you’re not doing this already or you’d be showing me your success or failures. Second, you’re a beginner and you’ve come up with an exhausting approach to bonsai that will only result in failure, disappointment, and disillusionment with the hobby. You’re not going to know where you went wrong and you won’t be able to recover from your mistakes.

If an expert were to ask me the same question, I might laugh in their face and say “Damn! I’d love to see you try that!” I don’t laugh at the ideas of beginners, just experts. If Michael Phelps were trying to swim up the Mississippi River and he did nothing but continue downriver, I’d be on the bank laughing my ass off. If it was a regular guy trying the same thing, I’d be calling the authorities for help.

“Prove me wrong” is my favorite expression with beginners. It’s not dismissive. If you can advance the science/art/hobby of bonsai, please do. However, I might be telling you some very good reasons why you’re going to fail. Proceed at your own peril.

Sorry, had to rant.


@BillsBayou can you share some of the futile things you encountered in your discussions? I would love to hear them.

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Paraphrasing a conversation from some time back.
“I found a great red pine on my vacation.”
“You can’t keep any pines but black pines in the Deep South. The heat will kill them and the winters might not be cold enough.”
“But what if I keep it in the shade.”
“No. It’ll die.”
“What if I keep it inside?”
“No. It’ll die.”
“What if I put an air conditioner in my greenhouse?”
“Nope. Dead.”
“What if I…”
“Yeah, sure. Prove me wrong.”

“Why do we have to style our trees like this?”
“Like what?”
“Like miniature trees.”
“That’s what bonsai is?”
“Who says? Who’s the authority on bonsai to tell me what bonsai is?”
“Pretty much everyone else doing bonsai?”
“Why should I listen to them? Why do I have to follow their guidelines?”
“If you dont begin with the fundamental rules, no one in bonsai will ever respect your art.”
“Well I don’t care about their respect.”
“Why are we having this conversation?”

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Lol, I resemble the second conversation. Not in that I don’t believe in styling our trees. I get that in order to break convention you first need to understand the convention. I resemble it in that I style my trees to my eye. If I’m having difficulty deciding on a direction I’ll ask for input, but ultimately my bias (and the tree’s reactions) will prevail.

Philosophically speaking; I try to make an abstraction of what a tree in miniature looks like. However, my main fear is creating a caricature of a tree. Some forms of “this is bonsai” give me that feeling and in that way I don’t see myself following convention. I do have some trees though that tell me “Hey, I’m going to be a bonsai. Deal with it and let’s do this.”

I guess I also mirror the first conversation. Not in that I’m stupidly stubborn. It’s “zone envy” (a term I learned from Ryan this week). I love larch. Bought a larch. Found out that larch likely won’t survive long in my zone, so I’m just going to enjoy it while I can.

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