Patrick Kilcoyne is owner of Different & Creative, a cannabis-focused marketing company specializing in social media and content marketing. He also manages the day-to-day operations of Design Wellness, an online CBD marketplace.
As if that doesn’t keep him busy enough, during California’s 2019 COVID lockdown, he launched a website and began producing a YouTube show titled, Zen Cannabonsai, wherein he teaches others his passion of how to grow and maintain cannabis bonsai plants.
Bonsai is the Japanese horticultural art of miniaturizing ornamental trees or shrubs in containers, stunting growth by pruning branches and trimming roots. Using this method, plants can be kept small for years, but in the case of cannabis, the plant is trained into the desired shape until it flowers.
Kilcoyne said he’s loved and practiced bonsai since a child, but combining it with cannabis—another passion, has been not only enjoyable, but healing in ways he didn’t expect.
“I incorporate some basic Zen practices that have helped me navigate this troubling year, and also help me deal with other challenging times in my life,” he shared. “While I try to align my life with the teachings of Buddha and His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, the use of the word zen in my work describes the state of calm attentiveness in which one’s actions are guided by intuition rather than by conscious effort.”
In many of his videos he talks about trusting the process and moving forward, no matter what obstacles may be in the way. This, he finds, is fundamental to Cannabonsai, as well as in life. As in gardening, in general, when a plant dies, you learn. When it thrives, you learn. Mirroring life’s experiences.
A Ruptured Spleen, One Nug, And An Armed Guard
Kilcoyne grew up on the East Coast in Western Massachusetts, stating it was a more progressive region of the conservative state, with cannabis use tolerated, for the most part, referring to Happy Valley, where he lived as a “hippie outpost.”
“A few older kids on my crew team in high school would branch off during our team runs through the cornfields, around our boat house and come back all high and giggly,” he explained. “I was confused at first, but asked them a million questions, and one of them finally hooked me up with a few nugs that my buddy and I rolled into a few crappy joints. That was my first experience.”
An admittedly “stressed out kid,” Kilcoyne said he wouldn’t recommend teenagers partake, but said that cannabis did help him deal with the confusing world around him.
“As I got older and more into snowboarding and skateboarding, I started using cannabis for physical recovery and injuries, as well as for recreation,” he added.
Going off to college in squarely conservative New Hampshire was a different story.
“My first year of college I was chased on foot by State Police multiple times for smoking, then I was arrested for a .003 gram flake of flower. The police followed me home from a hydro store nearly every trip.”
It was while in college that he had a snowboarding accident, nearly ripping his spleen in half. Luckly, he said, he had some dank flower on hand from his personal grow.
“The snowboarding accident was severe and nearly took me out,” he said. “I found myself challenged in using addictive pharmaceuticals for pain management, as I’d already lost several childhood friends to addiction. Ultimately, I rejected the narcotics recommended by my doctor and opted to treat myself with my own homegrown flower and concentrates I’d made myself.”
Kilcoyne added that nearly all his friends who passed away had started on pharmaceuticals after sports injuries, and he was determined not to go that route.
“The craziest part of the story was when the paramedics asked me if I’d consumed any drugs or alcohol that day,” he said. “I explained that I’d smoked weed earlier, but that I didn’t do drugs or drink. They found the nug of flower I brought to the mountain for the day and called the cops.”
While he was being read his last rites in the hospital, the police showed up and posted an armed guard at his door.
“That moment was pretty profound to me and I never got over the absurdity of it all,” he continued. “I was a good kid that was dying because of a sports accident, and the fact that I had weed on me made the state pay a grown man to guard my door so I didn’t escape like 007!”
From Corporate Tedium To Cannabis
In 2017, Kilcoyne woke up one day and realized he was unhappy living in Massachusetts, working at an IT management job. He set his sights on moving to California and admittedly joining the green rush.
“Luckily, I was able to relocate to San Diego in Southern California and maintain my IT role,” he said. “Working East Coast hours, I was able to shut down at 3 p.m., and then fire up my editing computer to create cannabis content.”
The 80-hour, double-work weeks paid off, and soon Kilcoyne was able to quit his day job and go into cannabis marketing and content full-time.
“Around this time I met my business partner, Jay Frentsos, one of the original Urban Leaf employees in San Diego, and we dove head first into making fun and educational cannabis content,” he said. “I was also able to do a little IT work for dispensaries, but ultimately decided to focus on marketing and growing my own network in the space.”
With company, Different & Creative, he works with cannabis companies across the country, with projects ranging from retail payment systems, business development, brand development, and product testing, to name a few niches.
His day-to-day duties with CBD company, Design Wellness, keeps him busy managing operations, but content is a passion, as he feels it’s the best way to educate and change the perception of what a cannabis patient or partaker looks like.
“These days I’m more focused than ever on content production, with my work centering on lifestyle content that blends authentic cannabis use with narrative marketing,” he continued. “I’m all about de-stigmatizing cannabis use across the board and connecting folks with brands that reflect and respect their relationship with this limitless plant.”
Bonsai As Stash
Kilcoyne said he has a profound respect and appreciation for Eastern Bonsai practices, and attempts to bring as many techniques as he can into his Cannabonsai creations.
“My Cannabonsai work shares many similarities with traditional bonsai,” he explained. “The pots used, wiring techniques, movement, and stylization of the sculpture are all from Eastern and Western Bonsai, however, there are stark differences—like the speed of growth, lifecycle duration.”
Cannabis is a perennial plant, meaning it can live beyond it’s blooming season in many cases. That said, cannabis is not an evergreen shrub or tree that could be kept small and alive for decades, as with traditional bonsai.
“This is why I use the term Cannabonsai, to differentiate between the two, with respect,” he said. “I also think it leaves more room for interpretation and freedom of expression. Some may want a beautiful auto-flowering plant, growing roots over a rock on their windowsill, others may want a photoperiod mother plant to make clones with.”
Kilcoyne said he likes celebrating a fusion of tradition and change, while others may push the limits with unconventional containers, like shoes or force knots or spiral patterns into the branches.
As for his stash, he keeps much of it in a smell proof bag by Stashlogics, a high-end line of bags and containers designed specifically for cannabis use.
His papers are by Raw. The jar to hold flower—currently Auto Blue Gorilla—is made by Wonderbrett, and is recycled. Rohto V eye drops, a Clipper lighter, and trimmers made by Diamond Cut Co 6.5, aka: Japanese Steel Scissors.
Another jar with homegrown flower from a friend all has a place in his stash.
Edibles are Cresco Melon Gummies in a 1:1 THC:CBD ratio. Design Wellness CBD oil measures in at 1000 milligrams. Blueberry Skunk Live Resin Cart is by Moxie. He also enjoys Cream of the Crop, Duct Tape flower.
But the crowning centerpieces to his stash will always be the Cannabonsai.
“All my bonsai are grown in living soil, using closed-loop agriculture when possible,” he said. “When a plant reaches its end of life, it’s recycled back into my soil rehab bin, which is amended with earthworm castings from my compost bins. Some materials, like perlite, oyster shells, seaweed, and other organic amendments are added, as needed, but nothing is thrown away.”
The Cannabonsai pictured is an Advanced Seeds Auto Somango autoflower, grown in the Broom style through a driftwood tree stump.
“The broom style refers to the shape of the trunk and upper portion of the tree,” he explained. “Most trees in municipal parks adhere to this style, expressed by a straight trunk leading up to a manicured and symmetrical top.”
Kilcoyne said he loves the idea of wabi-sabi, the art of balancing perfection with natural imperfection. This, he said, is what he practices, walking the line between what is old and traditional to what’s new—Eastern Bonsai to his Cannabonsai.
“This plant lived its 85-day lifecycle in living soil,” he explained. “The composition included Irish Moss and other assorted groundcovers, in an attempt to emulate nature. I grew it indoors under a 1000 watt LED light and fed it various compost teas throughout development.”
Kilcoyne said this particular Cannabonsai yielded just over half an ounce of flower, but the yield isn’t as important as the process to get there.
“They are all experiments,” he added. “In this case, growing cannabis through the remnants of a traditional tree—you can dive right into the symbolism there, but from a technical standpoint, I liked the challenge of seeing if I could grow the cannabis plant through the small hole drilled into the stump.”
The moss used is not traditional Kyoto Moss, typically used in Bonsai, but Irish Moss.
“Being a proud Irish-American, I still love incorporating Irish Moss into my work,” he said. “As a lifelong naturalist, I feel a deep connection to nature and responsibility for my place in it. When I backpack I practice Leave No Trace, and I extend those principles to all aspects of my life, including growing cannabis, and working with the Cannabonsai. This year, with the COVID lockdown, bringing the outdoors inside was even more important.”