Neil Magpantay, 44, spends his days working on his uncle’s rice farm in San Juan, Batangas. The farm makes its harvest every three months, meaning Neil only earns every quarter. He said he is able to make do and that the money he earns is enough to support himself and his two children. On the other hand, he has an additional source of income by making use of his hobby. This involves growing coco bonsai, which he sells online.
Coco bonsai are bonsai made from coconut seedlings. Whereas a typical bonsai imitates what a tree would look like if it was miniature, a coco bonsai is simply a coconut seedling maintained at a certain shape and height. The coconut seed is often incorporated into the design and can be partially buried on the ground or suspended mid-air in gravity-defying contortions.
Neil learned how to make coco bonsais in 2018 by watching Indonesian coco bonsai artists on Facebook and Youtube. When the Covid-19 pandemic came, he could not leave his house, which is why he found a lot of time to focus on his craft.
He didn’t expect that he could generate additional income through this hobby. He shared his creations in a coco bonsai Facebook group and people started inquiring about his bonsai. He recalled that during the first months of the Covid-19 pandemic, he was able to earn P30,000 by selling his creations.
Making any form of bonsai takes a long time. In the case of coco bonsai, Neil said he only sells bonsai that are at least one year old, when the plant tends to stop growing. He explained that younger coco bonsai needs to be maintained at a more regular interval because they grow at a faster pace. Part of maintaining a coco bonsai is slicing the outermost layer of coconut shoots, which coco bonsai artists refer to as the “coco net.” This is so that new shoots grow at the same length as old ones, thus helping retain the seedling’s size and shape. Neil said that a young coco bonsai needs to be maintained every five days whereas a coco bonsai that is at least one year old only needs to be maintained once every month.
When selling coco bonsai, he would make sure that his buyers understand how to take care of the bonsai. He also provides raw plant material and guides his buyers with what they have to do to create their own bonsai. He offers his knowledge free of charge. He only asks his buyers that they pass the knowledge forward as a form of payment.
“Hanggang di gumaganda [yung bonsai], di ko po binabatawan [ang buyer]. Hanggang ma-master niya kung paaano ang paggawa at pag-aalaga. Ngayon ang sabi ko lang, tinutulungan ko kayo, tutulungan niyo rin ako. Ipapapsa niyo ang nalaman niyo sa akin at natutunan, ipapasa niyo dun sa nangangailangan (I don’t leave my customers until they fully understand how to take care of their bonsai. As a form of payment, I would only ask that they pass the knowledge forward to other people who needs them),” Neil said.
The financial gain from selling coco bonsai is not that important, according to Neil. He sees more value in getting the opportunity of meeting other people to share his passion for making coco bonsai.
“Masaya po ako lalo na pagka may tinuruan ako na nagfefeedback sa akin. Sasabihin niya, ‘eto yung tinuro mo sa akin, improved na, maganda na.’ Masaya ako dun kasi kahit doon lang, nakakatulong ako (I’m happy when people I teach return to me and say that their bonsai have improved. I’m glad that I get to help them that way),” Neil said.
To further spread his passion for his art, he co-founded a Facebook group for coco bonsai artists based in Luzon along with fellow coco bonsai artist Jose Tañon. They support new and experienced coco bonsai by providing them a space to share their creations and receive comments on their work. They also conduct competitions to showcase the best coco bonsai from the group, with the very first one held in October 2021. They are aiming to host the second one in the same month this year.
Photos by Neil Magpantay