What kind of mischief am I up to today?  


Well, let’s see now, we have a piece of deadwood from a California juniper.  


And a young, small, but long, premna microphylla. 


We have a Japanese pot. 


It says so on the bottom.  


We have a wooden construction that looks suspiciously like the base of the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree.  


And, finally, some shades.  

 ‘Cuz I’m cool like that. Actually, they are safety glasses (notice the 3M logo). But still, I am cool.

 Like that. 

The safety glasses are because I need to carve a groove (I can lay down a mean groove too. On a bass guitar. ‘Cuz I’m cool like that).  

 My long shafted die grinder (‘cuz I’m cool……ok, I’ll stop). And the groove all layed down on the wood (that sounds…..wrong…..somehow).  

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I am putting together what is called, variously, a Phoenix graft or, as the Japanese say, a tanuki (after the trickster raccoon with giant balls. I assume they call it that because it takes great testicular fortitude to try to pass off a tree that isn’t really an “honest” tree). Basically, we take a piece of deadwood and, somehow, amazingly, cause a living branch to attach itself to said deadwood.  In other words, the premna will be inserted into the groove (I layed down) and allowed to grow, and hopefully, expand enough to begin growing over the deadwood. 

But that comes later in the program. First, I have to figure out a way to get the California juniper deadwood chunk to somehow stand upright in the pot. That’s where the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree base comes in.  


Drill a hole for an aluminum chopstick. 

Insert said aluminium chopstick into the hole and hammer it in. 

Drill a hole into the bottom of the deadwood that will then accept the aluminium chopstick.  

Cut the aluminum chopstick to size with a metal cut-off wheel.  

  Who knew that aluminium chopsticks were hollow? 
And who noticed that I spelled aluminum both the American and the rest of the worlds way, aluminium? Now you’re scrolling back in the narrative to see what I mean. 

After copious wire tie-downs and some baling wire….. 


   The wood is erect,er….the deadwood is secured and upright and can be repotted or moved to a different pot, if need be. 
Let’s talk premna microphylla.  

 I find it funny that they call it “microphylla” because, though this specimen has small leaves, this is more like its regular leaf size: 

 I guess there must be premna varieties with even larger leaves than these. It is amazing that the leaf reduction can be so dramatic though. I’ve seen leaf size smaller than a ha’penny (however small those are, I’ve never actually seen one but a ha’penny sounds small. I might say a dime but I’m in a British state of mind. Aluminium). 

Why premna? Why not juniper (shimpaku or Kishu or itiogawa or whatever variety is in vogue now)? 

Well, for one, it grows tremendously faster than juniper. It will, in its natural habitat, which is the seashore, have amazing deadwood features (like the California juniper I’m using here. I’d show you some premna bonsai but everyone seems to copyright their photos nowadays and, even though I’m poorer than dirt, I’ll still be sued. Look them up, especially the works of Robert Stevens). 

And I’m in Florida, the semi-tropical wonderland where semi and tropical plants thrive year round and old people come to live in the winter. 

And, most importantly, it will attach and self graft to the deadwood. Hopefully. I’m pretty sure it will.  


 Notice that the deadwood has a little notch that I’m sticking the premna up into. And that the premna is double trunked. Both of these features will, as the premna grows, ensure a good graft. I think. We add some soil and then,the attaching process.  

   That should work. I’m pleased that I couldn’t find my staple gun or any thumbtacks, which is the usual way Phoenix grafts are performed. This method of attachment will keep the premna inside the groove (that I layed down, so soulfully, baby) and won’t mar the surrounding deadwood. I’m liking it. Now for some initial wiring (which I’m sure will need to be redone several times in the future)  
  And even now, from the front, it has a certain style to it already. 
  On the left and top I’ll build a traditional branch structure and on that low branch on the bottom, I’ll create a semi-cascade to try to mirror the existing deadwood. There will be lots of curves and twists.  

 It’ll look a bit different I’m sure, especially that cascade part (I can’t quite see it yet in my head and I’m not experienced in premna growth habits yet, this being my first attempt and all) but it’s a start. 

I normally wouldn’t do a tanuki bonsai but my friend Marty has been trying for many years to have one made of this piece of California deadwood. He’s had it a long time and I think even Kimura might have worked on it at some point (he was one of the founding members of Dai Ichi Bonsai Kai, the first club to bring Master Kimura into the U.S.) 

 and we do things for friends things that sometimes we wouldn’t do. Although I must admit, learned a bit from this trees construction. I think it’ll be cool in a few years.  

 We shall see now, won’t we?

Oh, do an image search for tanuki. And after you’ve seen the weird and wonderful Japanese renderings of that mythical trickster, I’ll say to you either “You’re welcome” or “I’m sorry”.  Do the search. 


12 thoughts

  1. Hi Adam,
    Now i won’t mind confessing that once i tried this-though something clumsy one-but felt guilty while showing it to my friends. You really did a marvelous job and let a secret out! I definitely am going to create another one. Thanks for sharing the tips so nicely.
    Anita Sabharwal


  2. The email address is Canadian, but I live in Baja California Sur. I had your site bookmarked but never really took some time to look at it till tonight. My loss,now rectified. I congratulate you. So much great hands on info! And laid out so well too! Forums are good up to a point, except when you start arguing with guys called Mike Again,thank you.


  3. You are so funny. What a great idea for those of us with no patience. Well, the kind of patience needed for traditional bonsai methods. If there is a will, there is always a wacky way to get there with a tadaaa to boot. Thanks for your post.


  4. Good Job. My problem is to find a piece of driftwood that will last in the tropics. We don’t have California redwood here in Barbados. Premna is a good plant to use because they grow quickly and the shoots grow long and slender. Will have to look around for a piece of driftwood that I can apply Minwax wood hardener to. That extends the life of deadwood down here.


  5. Hi, Adam…I have been a beginner bonsai artist/lover/attemptist for about 10yrs…I bought 12 trees from a local bonsai master who was dying…I have managed to gradually murder all except 2 of his fabulous trees…I have begun to manage not to continue the carnage on my own material…Thanx for your pics & blogs…You give me hope…I usually get hung-up on “The Rules” and forget to just have fun creating…Carolyn McBride…Tampa,FL

    Liked by 1 person

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