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What Your Bonsai Collection Would Look Like if I Had a Say

What Your Bonsai Collection Would Look Like if I Had a Say

bonsai collection Phutu

Your bonsai collection may contain trees you received from a friend or found at an auction, on the side of the road, or at a nearby nursery. That doesn’t mean that these are the plants that should be in your collection. In bonsai, there is an optimal mix of sizes, shapes, and species of trees that will provide an ideal learning path and help you to develop a good collection. Whenever you consider acquiring a piece of material, think about the quality of the plant and/or the purpose it might serve.

To learn bonsai you need to have enough - and the right - material to work on during different months and seasons, whenever workshops are offered. You’ll need material that teaches you different techniques; you can’t learn about deciduous care by working on junipers. These are the purposes that material in your collection can serve.

To give back to the community and to inspire others you’ll want to have a few trees that really shine. To make regular contributions to a show, or show-and-tell table, you will need a mix of conifers, deciduous, broadleaf evergreen, and flowering/fruiting trees. Bring trees to group events that are seasonally shining for others to enjoy – in winter this may be a deciduous tree with good twig structure, in spring a flowering tree in bloom.

To have a high-quality collection you’ll have to work hard and buy carefully. But you’ll also have to re-evaluate material and in some cases realize that not all material can become a great bonsai in your lifetime. Mediocre material can serve learning purposes, but should be passed on once you’ve mastered techniques so that your collection can improve past the limitations of a beginner’s eye.

To all these ends, for all these purposes, if it were up to me, your bonsai collection would look something like this:

  • You would have 10 show trees, and about 40 project trees
  • 10 of your 40 project trees would be collected trees
  • 10 of your 40 project trees would be shohin in the making
  • 10 of your 40 project trees would be larger than 28″ tall and with a trunk about 3-4″ across
  • Two of your show trees would be an unusual style (anything but informal upright)
  • Two of your show trees would be 30′-36″ tall and 18-36″ wide
  • Half your show trees would be deciduous, broadleaf evergreen, and/or flowering.

Think about the proportions that I’ve listed. If you have ten trees, two might be high quality show trees while the other 8 are projects. Space limitations can prevent many people from having large collections or large trees. But if you have ten trees, see if you can squeeze in one that’s large with them…not just 18″ either, I’m talking “too big to fit into my car” big.

Of course, your collection isn't up to me. So what should your collection actually look like? That’s up to you! Think about how the trees you own allow you to participate in learning opportunities and how they allow you to give back to your community.

Not sure where to get trees? Send me an email and I’ll see what I can do to help. I have many project and show trees for sale, and I know a lot of great sellers! 


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  • Erich on

    Hi Eric, this little blog post back from when it was at Phutu had a huge impact on my bonsai practice. Up until then I had just been collecting trees I like, without much regard to anything else. I had begun to rethink things even a bit earlier, I believe spurred on by an earlier ABS article you wrote (2016?) about why one should have show trees, that you can learn quite a bit from them. I still have a few years before any of my trees are show quality, but this blog post gave me a new direction. Thanks for the excellent blog, and new YouTube channel!


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