The Patient Magic of Michael Roberts: Part II

Two more from the great bonsai collection of Michael Roberts. His collection features elms, oaks, pines, trident maples, and olives, all self-created.

Most of Michael’s bonsai are large, though the Cork Bark Elm shown here is a small one. Michael nicknamed it “The Ambassador”—so if you’ve never been to the land of elms, this might be the one that convinces you it’s a nice place to visit.

The second bonsai featured in this post is a Cork Oak, another species that grows well in the heat of Southern California.  

Michael has an MFA in painting. While studying bonsai he got to know nursery owners George Yamaguchi and Mas and Gary Ishi. In the early 2000’s the Ishi’s introduced Mike to a third generation Japanese bonsai artist, Kenji Miyata. Now Michael teaches monthly workshops in rapid development techniques.

Ambassador 2007

2007. The start of “The Ambassador”, a chuhin Cork Bark Elm.

Ambassador 2012

2012. Notice that Michael has kept this tree small. The bends in the trunk from the initial plant suggest a small plant.

Ambassador 2014



2016. As the tree gains majesty it goes into a pot with stronger lines.

ambassador 2018

2018. Switching to a grey pot, a subtle mirroring of the grey trunk.

Ambassedor fall 2021

2021. 25” / 64cm high. Spectacular bark. Even in leaf there’s a pleasant view of the trunk. If the leaves had been larger, like on some deciduous species, this view would disappear in leaf even if the branches were trimmed the same.

oak forrest 2009

2009. Next is a three-tree Cork Oak composition. Notice how all three trees are leaning away from each other, and how by the last photo, in 2022, Michael has brought them into conversation with one another. As if they wanted to be in that grouping.

Oak Forrest 2012


Oak Forrest Summer 2021


Oak Forrest Feb 2022 repot sm

2022. 42” / 107cm high. This feels like a family photo. Two watchful parents and an errant kid, wiggling away across the carpet. Here we sense Michael’s plan from the beginning, of allowing the far left tree room to expand, building a massive trunk while the other two are kept minor. Tension within the group heightens. This is a masterly time-lapse correction from promising initial trees, with initial faults.

For Part I of this series, with more of Michael’s amazing photo histories: The Patient Magic of Michael Roberts: Part I

March 2022 Bulletin Board

  • Spring dates are up for our intensive, fun, three-day in-person Seasonal course: May 19-21, and May 26-28. A couple spots are left in the Spring sessions for this deep dive into spring growth management on many different plant species. Learn more here: Seasonals.
  • Have May 7 and 8 free? Join us for the Spring Seasonal-lite, our online course for all your species-specific, fertilizing, design, pests (gasp!) and other mid-season bonsai questions. We’ll meet for two mornings, with 6 hours total in-person instruction and a 30-minute private with me. For sign-up send an email to Watch our wonky course trailer:

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