What do you get for the friend, colleague, or family member who has everything? You can find many lists of unique gifts online in response to Googling that question. A bonsai tree is very likely on one (or many) of those lists. Bonsai can be a most wonderful gift if given to the right person, but how can you know if your person is the right person? Here are a few clues to help you decide if a bonsai tree is that perfect gift you've been looking to give that very hard-to-gift person!
Who Would Love a Bonsai Tree as a Gift
Someone with a proclivity for gardening and houseplants, and a track record of learning how to properly care for them (aka a "green thumb"), is a great candidate to receive a bonsai tree as a gift. Your cousin who loves houseplants; has a beautiful garden; is always looking for some new bit of greenery or flowers to add to her home would make a great bonsai gift recipient.
If your BFF has a flare for art and design, with a beautiful mix of eclectic art pieces, furniture, and fabrics in his home, he has the eye to appreciate a bonsai tree. Especially if he has a few carefully placed specialty plants such as an orchid, croton, or pothos that are always healthy, he is more likely to take the time to learn how to care for a bonsai. He will understand that an indoor bonsai requires access to natural sunlight; water and fertilizer; a humid environment; and regular check for pests.
Someone with a strong interest in, connection to, or respect for Asian culture, history, and art forms, may value a bonsai tree for many reasons. The practice of bonsai began in China almost a thousand years ago, and after centuries it also gained popularity as a craft in Japan. Bonsai is the Japanese term for a tree in a tray; the Chinese term for bonsai is Penjing. Your colleague at the office who spent a few years living in the Asia Pacific region or who chose to study Chinese or Japanese as their second language in school, may really enjoy the art of bonsai!
Anyone who appreciates eastern philosophies and practices is likely open to experiencing bonsai, because bonsai symbolizes harmony, peace, order of thoughts, balance, and a connection to nature. Practitioners of Feng Shui (the practice of arranging pieces in living spaces to create balance with the nature world), meditation (the practice of focusing your mind for a period of time, noticing but not engaging with thoughts), yoga (a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices that aim to control and still your mind), shinrin-yoku or forest bathing (spending time in nature, hiking or walking amongst trees), or origami (the art of folding paper into decorative shapes and figures).
A few other likely recipients of a bonsai tree include: the outdoorsy friend who loves to hike and spend time amongst trees; a ceramicist who appreciates beautiful pottery; a woodworker who digs bark and other cool features of wood; your most patient colleague who understands that good things take time.
What Type of Bonsai to Give as a Gift
You've decided that a bonsai tree would be the ideal gift for your special someone; now what? There are a few ways to give the gift of bonsai (hint: they don't all involve actually selecting a tree!)
Buy a tree from a business that specializes in bonsai. These tend to be small or mid-size companies owned and staffed by people who know about bonsai and can give you sound advice. If you don't live near a local bonsai shop or garden, look online for bonsai businesses that are run by real people - like ours! When you email firstname.lastname@example.org, you are emailing me and Eric, so you know you'll get a personal response from folks who know what they're talking about.
Buy a bonsai tree PLUS a way for the recipient to learn how to take care of it. You can add a basics or introductory class; 1-1 time with a qualified instructor (online or in-person); or purchase a great beginners book along with the tree. When we sell a tree as a gift, we often recommend a basic indoor and outdoor bonsai gift package that includes a small bonsai tree with a species ideal for indoors or outdoors, along with our favorite book, "The Little Book of Bonsai" by Jonas Dupuich, and two essential basic tools (bonsai scissors and tweezers). Eric offers regular bonsai workshops as well as 1-1 sessions either in-person or online.
Select a tree species that's appropriate for where the recipient is most likely to keep the bonsai. If they have no outdoor space you should look for an indoor species (e.g. tropicals): Dwarf Jade, Standard and Willow-leaf Ficus, and Jasmine Star Flower are great options. If they have outdoor space like a deck or garden, go with a Japanese Black Pine, Zelkova, Junipers (both Kishu and Itoigawa are popular varieties), Yaupon Holly, Maples, Elms, Cypress, Washington Hawthorn, or Cotoneaster.
How Not to Give a Bonsai Tree as a Gift
I highly recommend this Reddit thread for tips on how NOT to give a bonsai tree as a gift, with one caveat: there's no reason to avoid buying a bonsai tree as a gift during winter IF you're following my advice above. If you're purchasing the tree from a bonsai specialist, that person will know how to pack it properly to stay healthy during transit.
Don't purchase a bonsai tree from a big-box store or online retailer like Amazon or 1-800-Flowers. They generally sell poor approximations of bonsai in cheap pots and use species that are meant to be kept outdoors but show them in indoor settings. It's a recipe for tree death and recipient disappointment.
I also recommend staying away from "bonsai in a box" or bonsai seed kits. For a beginner, start them off with an actual bonsai tree in a nice pot. Give them a chance to enjoy the art of bonsai, and work with a tree that is healthy. Propagation is no easy feat, and it takes years (and sometimes decades!) to design and style a seedling into a beautiful bonsai tree.
Are you thinking of gifting a bonsai to someone this holiday season? Let us know if you need any advice or support; our mission is to make the art and craft of bonsai accessible to everyone. Of course, you can always give a gift card for the current or soon-to-be bonsai lover in your life!