Remembering Jim Smith

It has been eight years since Jim Smith passed away.  He had such a strong influence on the Bonsai Society of Brevard and on me that it is good to remember him on this anniversary of his passing.   Jim died at the end of June 2016 but his legacy leaves on.  

Jim Smith’s famous Willow Leaf Ficus banyan at the 2002 BSF/BCI convention in Orlando

I first learned about Jim Smith when I was starting bonsai in the mid 90’s living in Houston, Texas.  He had a web page that featured many of his large and impressive bonsai trees – mostly tropical fig trees. With such a common name and not knowing much about the figs I was impressed but like with most web sites I just clicked on to another.  Then I moved to Florida to be near Kennedy Space Center for work. The guys in BSOB said I had to visit Jim’s Nursery, Durastone, so I did. Seeing his trees in person totally changed my point of view of bonsai.  The majesty of his trees opened my eyes to the realm of the possible.  But even better was Jim being so approachable and likeable and willing to share his knowledge.   It was a pleasure to meet with him.  When Jim started his weekend workshop at the nursery, “Bonsai Under the Oaks,” many of us from BSOB would drive down to Vero Beach to learn from the master.  Jim was not only generous with sharing his knowledge he also contributed many trees to BSOB for demonstrations or workshops.  

Jim Smith shaking his knowledge with a young Charle Bevan

Over the 18 years that I knew him we developed a wonderful friendship.  Jim shared some of the pots he made years ago (he was an excellent potter, probably using his skills he had a professional plasterer) and he even gave me some of the model airplanes he built when his eyesight started failing him.  He was always positive in his comments and had the knack of making a person feel great about bonsai.  

Although known for his Willow Leaf Figs Jim often said the Dwarf Elephant Jade, Portulacarri afra, was his favorite species.

Prior to the end he had the foresight to find a garden that could house the best of his collection.  Heathcote Garden in Port St Lucie raised several hundred thousand dollars to build a fine display area for over 100 of Jim’s handpicked bonsai trees.  The display is still going strong after 9 years.  If you haven’t been you should go to see it.  

The entrance to the Jim Smith gallery at Heathcote Gardens
Jim had many nice trees like this large buttonwood.

While we miss Jim I know that his spirit lives on in the trees at Heathcote and in the trees of his that I have in my collection.   There is solace in that.  Rest in peace Jim.