Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Phoenix Graft: Ghetto-Bonsai

A How-To for the Impatient Bonsai-Maker with Absolutely No Integrity or Self-Respect and Even Less Respect for the Ancient and Venerated Art Form That is Bonsai

Text: Trina
Photos: Trina, Greg and used-without-permission-but-sources-cited

Based on the legend of the phoenix rising from its own ashes, the phoenix being a bird that flew into the sun, died and was reborn, a "phoenix graft" is a highly denegrated, blasphemous, disrespectul and really cool technique for cheating your way into an insta-bonsai that almost immediately looks like you've put 30 years' worth of patience, expertise, and TLC into it. Only you didn't. You cheated. Here's how: Steal an old, dead, gnarled tree from an undisclosed location:

Haul it home without breaking off too many of its lovely, delicate, twisting branches. Carve a channel into the dead wood into which you tuck and tie a young, skinny, pliable whip of a tree.

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Plunk the whole thing into a pot and voila! It looks 300 years old! Perfect for the ghetto bonsai-er who is just too damn cheap to spend $2,450.00 on a spectacularly, expertly crafted phoenix graft such as this one at White Bear Bonsai:

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Or even just $1,700.00 for one like this:

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It actually does take a small investment of time and effort to get a phoenix graft past the Frankenstein stage, which, as far as this ghetto bonsai-er is concerned, totally counts for something!

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The folks at the Buffalo Bonsai Society, however, disagree. Here’s what they have to say about phoenix grafts: “The technique of attaching young live plants to weathered wood is arguably the most controversial of all bonsai techniques. The Japanese call the practice tanuki, implying deception or cheat. As you can imagine, this is frowned upon in Japanese bonsai… If you set out to make a tanuki, a deception, you will have no respect for your work.”

Respect reschmect! My intention is not merely to deceive, but also (mostly) to skip the tedious 30 years of patience and care that goes into a true bonsai, and still end up with a living object that has a facade of great dignity and beauty. I want instant-ancient and by Dog I will have it!

The other thing about true bonsai that I find extremely problematic is, oh, keeping the things alive in such tiny pots. I personally hold the world record for most number of bonsai killed in one lifetime. My newly conceived solution and patented, registered, trademarked invention – Giant Bonsai ™ -- will take Ghetto Bonsai one step further -- or lower, as it were -- removing the bonsai aspect altogether and relying solely on the phoenix aspect to achieve the illusion of extremely old age. This juniper skeleton will be the framework for my first attempt this coming spring:

The obvious benefits of Giant Bonsai are: bigger pot, bigger tree, more soil, less root pruning, easier to keep alive. And, just for the sake of adding a smidge of integrity to the process, I’m starting with seeds I collected my very own self from around the neighborhood: sycamore, walnut, oak, maple, smoke tree. Stay tuned for progress reports! Phoenix Graft Part 2 here


  1. Oooooooo....I'm looking forward to seeing how the giant bonzai progresses! That's very interesting!

  2. Be careful. You are opening an insight into your inner self-workings. This could be scary...but also quite beautiful.

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