Tom MacWright


These are some of the trees I keep and care for.

This is my ficus, in two parts. I trunk chopped it a few weeks ago. It used to look like this. It’a a Home Depot special bonsai that I acquired at 4 years old and purists will frown upon. But it’s so forgiving and has been a trusty companion during a pretty rocky year.

This is the top:

Ficus microcarpa bonsai top

And the bottom:

Ficus microcarpa bonsai

The top is growing roots already, and as long as it survives my absence over winter break, will be such a fun tree to develop. The bottom got the raw end of that deal, and will take longer to grow into its own: I hope that it backbuds and fills out that snaky trunk. I’m going to let both parts grow freely for a few months to develop as many roots and leaves as they can. I got both pots - which I love - from Katsura Garden in San Francisco, on 1581 Webster Street. They’re also the best place to buy soil mixes.

Pieris japonica bonsai

This is my Pieris Japonica - also known as a ‘Mountain Fire’ Lily of the Valley. It’s an interesting counterpoint to the rest of my trees: the Japonica requires acidic soil, which I’ll eventually achieve using the right fertilizer. I still need to clean up the roots, but I think there’s good potential for nebari with what I have already. The plant was flowering when I got it, and I immediately removed the flowers. So far I don’t really like flowers on my plants - my crassula tetragona will eventually flower, if it survives, and I might snip those too.

I have two more trees - an Apple and a Chinese Elm - that I’ll share when they’re in pots.

Technical notes

This is my latest attempt at a reproducible setup for good-looking photos. The ingredients are:

  • My camera, an Olympus Pen-F with a 45mm lens at f/8. The more I shoot with longer lenses, the more I like them. Of course, for social situations you can’t always zoom out with your feet to fit things into a scene, but for shooting objects and things around town, the longer lenses flatten scenes in a way that I think makes the more like paintings and less like views through a person’s eyes.
  • A hacked-apart AmazonFresh box. When you get stuff from AmazonFresh, they deliver it in this overbuilt box made of foam, poly fabric, and cardboard. I cut through the cardboard and one layer of poly fabric on the left and right sides to get diffuse light through, and then through the front, and cut off the black bottom panel to expose the white poly fabric underneath.
  • Two lamps on the left pointing through the fabric, and one on the right.

Here’s what it looks like, all together:

Also of minor note is how I’m improving images on I’ve long included images hotlinked from Flickr, and will continue doing so. But what I’ve changed in this post is that, instead of always including 2x images for retina displays - like those I use on all my displays - images are set up like

  srcset=", 320px, 2x" />

I wrote a bookmarklet to quickly generate this HTML from a Flickr view page:

javascript:(async()=>{let a=location.pathname.split('/')[3],b=await fetch(`${a}&format=json&nojsoncallback=1`).then((a)=>a.json()),c=b.sizes.size.find((a)=>'Medium 640'===a.label),d=b.sizes.size.find((a)=>1280<=+a.width);if(c&&d)return prompt('html',`<img src="${c.source}"  srcset="${c.source},  ${c.source} 320px,  ${d.source} 2x" />`);if(d)return prompt('html',`<img src="${d.source}" />`);if(c)return prompt('html',`<img src="${c.source}" />`);throw new Error(`trouble! couldn't find 1x or 2x images`)})();

You’ll need to replace API_KEY_HERE if you want to use that, and it’s tested in Chrome. Hit the bookmarklet and it’ll shoot up a prompt with the HTML for a responsive image. Here’s the unminified version if you’re curious how it works..

I’d like to eventually also serve 640px images to retina devices with ≤320px screens, because they effectively get a retina image by the effect of downsizing.

Personal notes

Bonsai has quickly become one of my favorite things, along with bicycling, banjo, guitar, art, reading, crafts, and learning in general. I love the culture around it - people like Nigel Saunders - and people who produce such lovely photographs of their trees, like Jerry Norbury. And Adam’s blog shows gruesome details and bucks traditions.

There’s always something more to learn about growing, and the pace is a delightful contrast from everyday life: good work takes years to develop, and might outlive its creator. Nigel, even, doesn’t use wiring, which means that his trees take years longer to look like trees.

I’ve made countless mistakes already: I’ve repotted these trees way too often, used the wrong soil, somehow ruined a set of clippers already, and much more. Thankfully, the plants have been forgiving, so far, and I’m willing to accept when an ailing tree might pass.

If you’re interested in trees, I recommend you try them out: I’ve found growing these to be a really rewarding experience.