Last month, Andrew discussed Tanuki or ‘Phoenix Graft’ bonsai- a technique in which a living tree is joined to an interesting piece of dead wood. In Japanese folklore, a tanuki or racoon dog is a mischievous yokai (Japanese ghost or spirit) that plays tricks on the humans around it but is harmless to them.

Cape cotton bush (Eriocephalus africans). The gnarled old truck is actually a a piece of driftwood ‘grafted’ to the tree.

Cape cotton bush (Eriocephalus africans). The gnarled old truck is actually a a piece of driftwood ‘grafted’ to the tree.

Similarly, tanuki bonsai aims to trick the viewer, either through trunk size or amount of deadwood, into believing that the tree he/ she sees has age and has endured the ravages of time. Tanuki is considered an acceptable style outside Japan. The Cape cotton bush above, on loan to the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection of Australia in 2019, certainly demonstrates this. While the tree dates from 1985, it has been styled and trained since 2006.

Andrew began by discussing a juniper tanuki he created for a demonstration at another club a few years ago and the lessons he has since learned. Andrew was now dissatisfied with the setting for a few reasons: the graft doesn’t follow the grain. Andrew found the position of the tree first and carved out the line for the tree to be in that position rather than following the line of the wood hence the ‘graft’ was more obvious than it needed to be. (See photo below.) In the initial design, two trees were used but now there is too much foliage for a deadwood/ driftwood tree. This is remedial and Andrew plans to remove the lower tree (left) to reveal more of the deadwood he is wanting to show. (The newly styled tanuki was on display at the Bonsai Open.)

Andrew showing how and where juniper was attached to deadwood

Andrew then moved on to creating a tanuki with a massive piece of driftwood he had bought from the aquarium shop at Long Jetty. He had planned ahead,

chosen how he wanted to use the wood, how best to position the tree and then worked how he would get the tanuki into the pot. He prepped everything in advance: the carved slot in the driftwood following the grain so, as the trunk swells, the tree will fill in and cover the slot, three fixing positions using screws and wires, a mesh grid in the bottom of the pot with wires attached to fix the wood into place and a juniper removed from its nursery pot and root pruned. Andrew pointed out that he attaches the wires to the mesh on corners so they don’t slide about. He then glued and screwed the juniper into place which required some wrangling help from Michael Kempson and some damage to the tree as the trunk was drilled through to attach it to the driftwood. Smaller branches were glued into place or fixed with cable ties.

Mesh cut to size and ready to go into the pot.

Blocks were used to position the tree and the pot was filled with a mix of akadama, pumice and scoria.

Finished tanuki from the back revealing the process.