In all my trips across the Florida Panhandle, on I 10 in and around the Tallahassee area, I kept seeing this sign. Me, being the itinerant bonsai guy I am, had always driven by in order to get to the next club or client. But, with my last Gulf Coast tour, I had a little time, so I decided to stop on my way home. It’s in a little town called Cottondale. I made my way from the highway, it wasn’t too far. When I got there I was greeted by this-A “Wall of Bonsai”, one could call it. If you can’t see, they’re little junipers in plastic pots for $20. I posted the pic on the social media webs. Wow! All I can say is that it caused a bit of a stir. There were quite a few comments for and against. That’s what this post is about. 

Now, Bonsai by Dori is the name of the place. Dori is the owner, a lady, actually (all you gender and race assumers out there who thought it was an Asian gentleman, shame on you!) I asked permission to take pics, which was in February, 2017, explaining why some of the trees are not in full leaf or are looking sad. 

Legend has it that Dori used to travel around the South, stopping here and there to sell her wares, much like a missionary, but spreading the word of bonsai instead of Christ. Depending on who you talk to, her vehicle was an old station wagon, or a pick up truck with a camper in the bed, or even an old class C motor home.       An exposed root azalea….

Whatever vehicle she drove, it is said that she sold thousands of trees like this, setting up on the roadside, in the dust and heat of a Southern highway, proselytizing bonsai (and making a living too). Trident maple….

One could even call her a modern day Johnny Appleseed, but with junipers (Dori Junipertree?). There are probably many bonsai artists and practitioners who were inspired by this lady, and won’t admit it. There are probably countless others who’s interest died out when their tree died, much the same way that a man’s faith might have died out when those traveling, fire and brimstone preachers in olden times took down their tent and left a village for the next town over the hill. Bald cypress……

Well, one day, as is their want, and as the legend says, her vehicle broke down in, you guessed it, the sleepy community of Cottondale Florida. 

Exposed root azalea…..

Being the shrewd business woman she is, she decided to settle down and make Cottondale her home. Or maybe she was tired of the heat, the 7-11 hotdog lunches, the hot smell of asphalt wafting off the highway. Whatever it was that made her choose to settle, it’s gained her fame and infamy. And, like I said, a decent living. She probably makes more in bonsai than about 80% of the bonsai professionals out there. A mixed planting of juniper and elm and azalea…..

Her fame came from being the feature in Southern Living Magazine and various PBS programs and news stories. Schefflera….

Her infamy comes from that Wall of Bonsai and people in the know proclaiming that, no, Virginia, those aren’t really bonsai. 

But….in case my prose has been so scintillating and dazzling, and you’ve been just scanning over the pictures, you’ll see that she does have some “real” bonsai for sale. Ficus microcarpa….….with pretty cool trunk and roots. 

Now, I realize that many people will criticize her styling, or lack of, but I won’t. I prefer not to do that unless asked by the owner. I think that too many people believe that, because they have a platform, they have the right to voice their opinion. 

My main problem is in her pricing. Portulacaria…..notice the price. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t care how much she charges, the price of any article is whatever a person is willing to pay. I believe in the Free Market. And her customer base is different than mine. I cater to informed bonsai people who understand the time, work, and materials that go into building a bonsai (I’ve been criticized for my prices being too low and too high, go figure…). I might have a shohin willow leaf or elm that’s taken 10 years to get to where I want it and the price will be 2,3, or 4 hundred dollars for an inch trunk and less than six inches tall (there’s a joke there, I’ll leave it to you to figure it out) 


And I’ll have, right next to it, in a training pot, the same species of tree with double the trunk size for  $50. 

Bonsai trees are not inherently valuable. If we were to have a sudden Ice Age, they would be the first to go onto the fire because they require little work to chop them down for warmth (just a little axe and a mini lumberjack mud man yelling “timber”). 

And I don’t know what Dori’s overhead costs are either. She may only rent the land she’s on, she might be leveraged to the point of bankruptcy, she might have six kids (to my four) and they might be all boys, eating her out of house and home. Chinese elm…..wait! Thanks to Peter Bone, and upon some zooming in, I think this is a Chinese privet

But let’s look at the next tree, a trident maple-$225. Not a very impressive trunk, one chop almost 2/3rds up the trunk. Inexpensive pot, not bad ramification but not very much in the way of styling. It could be she paid $80-100 for the tree, then her price is kinda justified. But if she did, I think I might need to interview with her to be her purchaser, I could seriously cut her tree costs. 

It could be she’s had the tree for ten years and she’s adjusted the price accordingly. But, if she’s trying to sell trees, and I think she is, then having that one for ten years is a long time. Or, she could be pricing things so they don’t sell. I do that often. I’ll quote an outrageous price so the person looking at it just puts the tree down gently and goes to the next one. But I don’t think that’s the case, as there were several trees that weren’t for sale. Japanese black pine…..definitely for sale at $1195. Not a bad price really. Another mixed planting…I think she likes them as they tended to be more developed. It’s price is not bad either, $3800, for what it is and the quality of the trees. 

But….$395 for this S shaped Chinese elm? My criticism isn’t for how much the trees are, but for the inconsistency in the pricing. 

Case in point, a boxwood. You read that right-$950. And this juniper, with pretty well defined pads, a good three inch trunk, and adult foliage (procumbens nana, btw) at $210? I almost bought it. But I have three hungry boys to feed. 

Another boxwood…and another. Granted, they could have come from the hedge around her dear beloved Aunt May’s home that burnt down back in ‘o3, the familial homestead where generations of her kinfolk were born and died and all that, but,  by valuing these boxwood at these prices, which I (and any Floridian) can find in retail nurseries for $10-12 each (retail, not wholesale mind you) makes people wonder if those other trees, like the pines and azaleas, that are legitimately expensive, should really be that costly. Remember, bonsai have no real value. They are pretty and may provide some autoerotic inspirations to some bonsai guys out there (you know who you are!) but, like I said, come first snowfall….”Timmmmmber!” 

Let me finish by saying this: Bonsai by Dori is not a bad place. There are good trees there. There are bad trees there too. But, there are bad trees at every nursery, collection, and exhibit that I go to (some even win awards…..).  Bonsai by Dori has introduced bonsai to a good many people. Granted, mostly through these trees…….but, who really cares. She can sell things for whatever she likes, and if people buy them, it’s their money. And she even offers classes to help them care for them; most don’t bother to learn how, they think that they know how already, but that’s not Dori’s fault, she has healthy trees and knows how to keep them that way. 

Bonsai by Dori is good for bonsai. And it’s bad for bonsai. But so is Bonsai Mirai or, for that matter, Adam’s Art and Bonsai. Both of us give out a lot of info on bonsai but, Ryan Neal and I tend to be a bit more exclusive in our choice of customers. We have to be, we work hard building trees to a certain level of quality, we aren’t going to sell one for a boyfriend to give as a gift to his girl because he stayed out too late with the boys last Saturday night and may, or may not, have had a lap dance (even though there was glitter all over his pants…). The trees mean a lot to guys like Ryan and me. So when you call me up to visit my nursery, don’t be offended when I start pre-qualifying you before I invite you over. 

With that, wherever your talent and interest lie in bonsai, if you’re in the area, I suggest you stop by Dori’s place, you’ll learn something. Promise. 

Bonsai by Dori: 3089 Main St, Cottondale, FL 32431, not too far off I 10 

25 thoughts

    1. Well written piece about the nature, and value, of bonsai. I enjoyed it and I enjoy your blog.

      I understand her pricing, although I don’t really have any interest in buying a tree that has already been styled. I like the process of growing from seeds and small cuttings, or searching for trees in nature. If she divided her prices by ten they would still be more than I want to pay for a tree I didn’t tend to. But her boxwood has much more value to me than the juniper. I like it more. Maybe her tastes in trees is similar to mine. Evergreen conifers and tropicals just don’t appeal to me very much. I respect them, appreciate the skill and knowledge in creating a beautiful, aged pine, but in the end I just love deciduous trees more.


  1. Been there she makes no pretense at being anything but a seller of her products. I agree that she is no different than many Bonsai nurseries or professionals. Who knows who may have been attracted to Bonsai by her sign or products?


  2. Many of us have picked up a lifetime hobby with an ill advised cheap purchase. Not one thing wrong with it as long as you are not abusing an animal or hurting some person. I have a bigger problem with someone killing a $600, 50 year old tree than the death of a $20 one.


  3. Bonsai by Dori got me started in the art… and business. Annually, on our spring break trips to Panama City when we would venture south, I would stop and purchase a juniper or two or three…

    Bob Hoy
    Owner, Circle City Bonsai

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are correct, upon closer inspection, I think it’s a Chinese privet.
      The problem with Chinese imports is they are all styled the same, whether they’re ficus, sageretia, elm, or privet.


  4. Despite your passion and viewpoint you “reviewed” the place very diplomatically with an open mind and that is why I will always enjoy reading your blog. No witch hunts or slandering. Not being American some I always enjoy learning something new about the bonsai culture there and American culture in general (Johnny Appleseed, what a guy!)


  5. I got my first tree there. A pretty little Bougie (I think I got it because it was in bloom). That was 6 years ago. Everything else that looked cool was way too expensive.


  6. “And I don’t know what Dori’s overhead costs are either. She may only rent the land she’s on, she might be leveraged to the point of bankruptcy, she might have six kids (to my four) and they might be all boys, eating her out of house and home.”

    A legitimate guess, but I am the only one.


  7. I would like to set the record straight on two matters mentioned in this blog post.

    “Depending on who you talk to, her vehicle was an old station wagon, or a pick up truck with a camper in the bed, or even an old class C motor home.”

    None of the above. It was a repurposed school bus.

    “And she even offers classes to help them care for them”

    I’d like to know what your source of information is here. As far as I know, she hasn’t offered any classes in years, and when she did, it was a minor and short-lived operation. She does, however, offer a complimentary species-specific caresheet with each tree purchased.


    – Joseph


  8. Dori’s was devastated by Hurricane Michael. A kind soul, if you’re in the area, might stop by and buy a tree and take it home.😀 I’m sure she could use the business.


  9. Stopped there today. I am an amateur with about 5 years experience in bonsai. I am 68 years old and will never see my trees mature but I enjoy the process. I am past the stage of her $20 tiny procumbens but I do value her product as a way to get folks hooked on bonsai. I bought one probably 15 years ago when she was selling out of the back of a pickup. I promptly killed it but the seed was planted. What I really enjoyed was seeing the many specimens on display. I have never visited any great bonsai collections because there are none near me so call me a rube, but I thought some of the hers were rather inspiring.


  10. The Asheville botanical garden has a beautiful collection of bonsai. Bought my first $20 juniper yesterday at Dori’s. Hope I can grow it successfully. Scott


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