The Patient Magic of Michael Roberts: Part III

Once again here’s a Michael Roberts tree with a great progression. This one, a huge Olive that he started from a young plant. Michael writes:

“As a kid growing up our family moved to a tract home in Southern California, Orange County. When my dad got ready to landscape the front yard he took me to an old Olive orchard where the owner had lifted all of the trees and placed them in large wooden boxes for sale. My dad and I walked around, selected a tree, and they delivered and planted it in our front yard. I loved it.”

“So, when I started living with my wife to be, Yvonne, in a house with a yard, I went out and bought a 7 or 8 year old Olive in a 10 or 15 gallon metal can (remember those? That’s how long ago this was…1991). I set it in the yard intending to plant it. Her landlord saw it and made a comment that he was going to sell the house in the near future, and to not plant it. When he did finally sell the house two years later, the roots had gotten into the ground and the bottom of the can had rotted. So I went back to the nursery and they sold me a 16” nursery box to plant it in, and we moved it to our next rental. I set it out in the yard convinced that I would plant it in my yard one day. Two years later we moved again.”

“By then I’d started to grow bonsai trees, and I pruned the Olive thinking that when I finally did plant it in my yard it would look better than just letting it grow natural. It was 1997 when we finally purchased this house. The Olive was in a 24” box and I was excited to establish the landscape and find a permanent home for it.”

“About the same time I planted a Cork Oak in the yard and within just a few months the gophers had chewed off all of the roots and the tree had fallen onto the ground. (I cut off the top and bottom off the Cork Oak, stuck it into some akadama and it is now a bonsai… I call it the Gopher tree). But, that experience scarred me so much that I didn’t plant the Olive. By 2009, the Olive was still sitting in the corner of my yard. That’s the back story.”


Michael Robert’s massive Olive, bought as a 7 or 8-year-old plant in 1991. This photo is from 2009. Box is 24” across.


By 2013 the box is not a box any longer. 


Michael said, “It took four of us to lift, and 1 1/2 wheel barrel loads of akadama mix to do the job.” This “pot” is actually a wooden box that Michael made to replace the not-a-box.


The box before finish applied. 32” w x 18” d x 16” h.


Box after finish applied. I would not have known this was wood! When I asked Michael what the finish was, he said, “Acrylic paint, calcium carbonate (marble dust) for body, and Rolplex for binding.” I hereby nominate Michael Roberts for the 2022 Bonsai MacGyver Award.


In a ceramic pot.


Michael Roberts with his big Olive.


Olive in 2022.

This is part of a series on Michael Roberts’ work, see Part I and Part II for more of his amazing bonsai.

September 2022 Bulletin Board 

  • Book Signing at the Pacific Bonsai Expo! If you’ve not yet got your copy of Post-Dated (a memoir about my apprenticeship) or Bonsai Heresy (an offbeat educational guide to bonsai), visit my booth at the show. Buy a copy for a friend in desperate need of a bonsai book (we all have such deficient friends). I’ll be there both days, November 12-13, 2022 in Oakland, CA. Happy to chat bonsai, too! Bring your puzzlements, predicaments, triumphs. See some cool trees, chat bonsai, run home with books—what could be better?
  • Have September 24-25th free? Join us for the unbearably popular Seasonal-lite series! Our fall program caps the 2022 season, covering conifer and deciduous fall techniques, a deep dive into design  (including 4 traps to avoid), fine tuning your foliage pads, winter care, and much more. We’ve had folks from all over the world join us for these sessions—a few brave Australians have obliterated their early morning hours…definitely easier for our European participants… For more info please look here, and to reserve a spot, send me an email at

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1 Comment

  1. BonsaiGeek says:

    The BonsaiGeek approves! Great work my friend!

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