Could Netflix’s ‘Cobra Kai’ series spark renewed interest in bonsai trees?

Gabe Hernandez loves nature, but living in the city, especially working from home during the pandemic, has made it difficult to get out into nature.

“So I decided to bring some nature to me,” said Hernandez, a professional photographer.

And by “little”, he means little. He used his abandoned time at home to begin learning the ancient Japanese art of bonsai, which involves carefully pruning and shaping ordinary trees to look like mature but shrunken trees.

“I always thought those little trees were so cool,” he said. “I once bought a bonsai, but I killed it. This time I did a lot of research, watched YouTube videos and even joined the San Antonio Bonsai Society.

Today, Hernandez maintains a small forest of about 50 trees purchased from Texas nurseries – bald cypresses, holm oaks, cedar elms – which he carefully waters each morning. It’s a 10-minute ritual that he calls both peaceful and soothing. It will take years, but he hopes to slowly turn them into cleverly crafted miniatures.

“Doing bonsai has really helped me through the pandemic,” he said.

He is not alone. Bonsai trees may be tiny, but interest in them has grown over the past year.

Houston-area residents are also drawn to this meticulous form of gardening, and Hurley Johnson of the Timeless Trees Bonsai Nursery said there’s been an uptick in people buying bonsai trees and signing up for his classes. monthly for beginners.

“We mainly teach horticulture,” Johnson said of her classes. “I am an engineer by training and I killed a lot of things before learning the horticultural side. If you don’t know horticulture, you’re in for a long dead plant lot.

Johnson’s nursery is stocked with all kinds of bonsai – not just the cheap pruned junipers you see sold on the roadside.

“Tropical plants are the easiest to grow in the Houston area because we live in a tropical climate. With the exception of rare freak frosts, you can leave them outside up to 40 degrees, which is winter for most of Houston. »

Johnson said he has seven varieties of ficus bonsai, and has bonsai myrtles and bougainvillea, as well as native Texas plants such as live oak, bald cypress and swamp maple.

“Bonsai is something you can do in your own garden, where you can stay safe and healthy,” said Ryan Odegaard, president of the San Antonio Bonsai Society.

Other circumstances are also behind the popularity of bonsai. The 1984 release of the first film “The Karate Kid”, which featured several scenes of young Daniel LaRusso’s karate mentor, Mr. Miyagi, tending to his little trees, boosted their popularity in the 1980s.

The popular Netflix series “Cobra Kai”, a sequel to the “Karate Kid” series, may generate similar interest. In this new show, LaRusso is a successful car dealer who gives every new car buyer a free bonsai tree. He also uses the patience needed to grow and train bonsai trees as a teaching lesson for a struggling young man.

But there is also the connection to nature that trees provide.

“I think a lot of young people get into bonsai because they don’t spend a lot of time outdoors,” said David Rizwan, who works in medical device design. “They find it helps satisfy their fascination with nature. Plus, there’s the cool factor in how the trees look and the fact that many of them are so old.

The National Bonsai Foundation in Washington, DC, often gets calls from people interested in learning more about the art, and executive director Bobbie Alexander said most callers are parents asking how to get their children interested in the hobby. -weather.

“I have a list of about 10 people who I promised to take a personal tour of the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum, which the foundation supports,” she said. (Penjing is an ancient Chinese art of creating miniature landscapes, often including bonsai trees.) “We also recently launched a series of blogs on the future of bonsai that will shine a light on young people who are beginning to practice this art. .”

Properly cared for, these small trees can live for hundreds of years. Many bonsai trees are over 1,000 years old.

Perhaps the most famous bonsai is the nearly 400-year-old Japanese white pine, which a family in Hiroshima nurtured for six generations, until the explosion of the atomic bomb in 1945. The family and the tree survived and they donated the tree to the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum.

Today, there are bonsai clubs in every state across the country, and several west coast clubs have hundreds of members.

Many new hobbyists say they are surprised to learn that almost any tree can be trained to become a bonsai.

“I thought bonsai was a specific tree species,” said Joe Hoyt, an engineer who started growing trees about 2½ years ago. “But you can do it with almost any guy.”

This includes South Texas natives such as crape myrtle, mesquite, and huisache.

“They won’t look like classic Japanese bonsai, but it can be done,” Odegaard said.

Generally, trees with large leaves, such as sycamores, do not work as bonsai because the leaves will be out of proportion with the rest of the tree.

Bonsai requires patience. Making a tree from a seed or cutting can take 10-15 years or more. For the impatient, finished bonsai trees are sold at shows, nurseries and even big box stores.

Regardless of how the trees are acquired, longtime aficionados say bonsai is just balm for times of stress.

“When you see a beautiful tree, it awakens something in you,” said Jack Rice, who harvested 300 to 400 trees, some 150 years old. “I have a very stressful job, but after coming home and going out to water my trees, I can talk to my wife again.”

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