NBF News

U.S. National Arboretum Hosts Receptions for American Public Gardens Association Conference

The American Public Gardens Association annual conference was held in Washington, D.C. from June 17th to the 21st. The U.S. National Arboretum hosted a dinner and five small receptions for APGA on June 20th.  

Before dinner in the Great Meadow, the Arboretum held receptions in five different locations on the grounds: The Washington Youth Garden, Friendship Garden, The Turf Grass Exhibit, The National Herb Garden and The National Bonsai & Penjing Museum.  

Photos Courtesy of Olivia Anderson Photography

Photos Courtesy of Olivia Anderson Photography

The National Bonsai Foundation hosted the Museum’s reception, serving sushi and Japanese beer. Guests were able to enjoy the Museum’s renowned tree collections throughout the party. 

Photos Courtesy of Olivia Anderson Photography

Photos Courtesy of Olivia Anderson Photography

During the reception, Museum curator Michael James and 2019 First Curator's Apprentice Andy Bello gave bonsai pruning demonstrations. Museum volunteer and artist Young Choe composed a kusamono (the Japanese botanical art of a potted arrangement of wild grasses and flowers). 

Landscape architect, Joseph James from Reed Hilderbrand fostered a discussion about upcoming renovations to the Museum complex and presented a display of preliminary renovation plans. 

Photo Courtesy of Olivia Anderson Photography

Photo Courtesy of Olivia Anderson Photography

Authors Sandra Moore, Stephen Voss and Ann McClellan also staffed a bookstand that held books they have written about the Museum. The National Bonsai Foundation and U.S. National Arboretum are grateful to all who attended and helped make the event a big success!

The Museum is Alive with the Sound of the National Symphony Orchestra!

(L-R) Janice Vitale (NBF Board Member), Amy Grossnickle (Kennedy Center), NSO Musicians, Johann Klodzen (NBF Executive Director) posed with the Juniperus chinensis var. Itoigawa (donated by the Kennett Collection).

(L-R) Janice Vitale (NBF Board Member), Amy Grossnickle (Kennedy Center), NSO Musicians, Johann Klodzen (NBF Executive Director) posed with the Juniperus chinensis var. Itoigawa (donated by the Kennett Collection).

It was a great honor to have the National Symphony Orchestra perform a Chamber Concert at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum on Saturday, June 1st in the Upper Courtyard.

The quartet, made up of National Symphony musicians Hanna Lee and Jing Qiao (violin), Eric deWaardt (viola), and Loewi Lin (cello) treated the crowd of nearly 70 visitors to a range of compositions from Vivaldi to Glass, all inspired by nature and/or Asian culture in someway to match the beautiful setting.

Jack Sustic, NBF Co-President welcomes the crowd.

Jack Sustic, NBF Co-President welcomes the crowd.

Jack Sustic, National Bonsai Foundation’s Co-President, was there to welcome and introduce the program. Board Member, Jim Hughes, and Janice Vitale were also there. The free program was a huge success, with many of the visitors asking for more programming like it in the future.

Read an interview we did with the musicians before the concert here.

We Won Washington City Paper’s “Best Place to Take An Out-Of-Towner” Best of DC Award For Second Year in a Row

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We are thrilled to announce that The National Bonsai & Penjing Museum has clinched the “Best Place to Take An Out-of-Towner” award in the 2019 Washington City Paper BEST OF DC Readers’ Poll.

We would like to thank all of the visitors and followers who voted for us in the poll. We are grateful for all of your support throughout the year, and we hope you continue to enjoy our collections, exhibits and events.

We Celebrate World Bonsai Day

Michael Hagedorn leading a presentation during live bonsai demonstrations (Photo courtesy of Michael James)

Michael Hagedorn leading a presentation during live bonsai demonstrations (Photo courtesy of Michael James)

On May 11th, bonsai enthusiasts and admirers of the art gathered at bonsai centers around the globe to celebrate World Bonsai Day. The celebration pays homage to the vision of the founders of the World Bonsai Friendship Federation who believed  in the power of bonsai to promote friendship and goodwill throughout the world.

Photos courtesy of Olivia Anderson

Photos courtesy of Olivia Anderson

We spoke with Museum intern Andy Bello about World Bonsai Day at The National Bonsai & Penjing Museum and the huge impact that celebrating the small trees can have.

The Museum recognized World Bonsai Day with Michael Hagedorn, a bonsai expert who traveled from Portland, Oregon to give pruning demonstrations and lectures and sign his book, “Post-Dated: The Schooling of an Irreverent Bonsai Monk.”

Photo courtesy of Michael James

Photo courtesy of Michael James

According to Bello, visitors filed into the Museum’s auditorium on the morning of the 11th to listen to Hagedorn’s lecture on common bonsai care and technical myths that his soon-to-be-published book “Bonsai Heresy” addresses. For example, Hagedorn untangled the common misconception that one should lay off nitrogen fertilizers in autumn when leaves begin to fall off trees.

Bello said some believe adding nitrogen –  a macronutrient involved in leaf growth – to the soil when trees’ leaves will soon fall off anyway simply wastes resources. But Hagedorn found that, as temperatures begin to drop in the fall, nitrogen fertilizer will not encourage a new flush of foliage unless the weather became unseasonably warm.

“The nitrogen will actually make the tree a little bit healthier throughout the winter season,” Bello said. “When spring comes you already have that nitrogen there, rather than just giving it a big flush of nitrogen right in the spring, there’s a kind of continuous buildup.”

After signing copies of his book, Hagedorn held a demonstration, during which he profiled the technical care and traits of five trees of various species and growth habits. Bello said Hagedorn and Museum volunteers took turns working on the trees in front of about 70 attendees!

“It was just a lot of good information on what to do when spring pests come up or fungal issues come up, especially here in D.C., when the rains start to pick up again and how to take preventative measures for that with different species as well,” Bello said.

He said World Bonsai Day celebrators – consisting of people of all ages and levels of interest in bonsai, including some who had never practiced before – most enjoyed Hagedorn’s demonstration, where they learned answers to questions like, “How are these trees maintained?” and “How are the trees kept so small?”

Michael Hagedorn presenting (Photo courtesy of Michael James)

Michael Hagedorn presenting (Photo courtesy of Michael James)

“People think that the trees just grow this way, but they really take a lot of work to prune back and maintain,” Bello said.

Bello said World Bonsai Day not only provides a forum to appreciate and recognize bonsai, but also promotes the trees to those in the general public who are not as familiar with the ancient art. He added that World Bonsai Day emphasizes the unity of all countries that practice bonsai, especially at the Museum, which has deep connections to Japan.

NBF board member and Vice President, Marybel Balendonck, holds microphone as Michael Hagedorn works on the tree that she donated to the Museum. (Photo courtesy of Michael James)

NBF board member and Vice President, Marybel Balendonck, holds microphone as Michael Hagedorn works on the tree that she donated to the Museum. (Photo courtesy of Michael James)

“Here at the Museum you can walk through and see trees from different parts of Japan, North America and China and see how different cultures taken similar approaches,” Bello said.

National Symphony Orchestra to Perform at The National Bonsai & Penjing Museum


Classical music can often conjure up images of nature with just a simple melody. But on June 1st, visitors to the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum can simultaneously enjoy nature and music at a National Symphony Orchestra quartet performance in the Museum’s courtyard.

We interviewed the members of the quartet about the connection between music and nature and how the group’s visit to the Museum immediately enticed them to play at one of “D.C.’s hidden gems.”

The group said that the NSO had been in talks with the National Bonsai Foundation about the possibility of performing about one year ago, but they were officially sold on the idea of a concert after a trip to the Museum themselves.

“Once you step into the Bonsai Museum, you feel transported miles away from the city and the NSO hopes this performance at the Museum can have a similar transformative effect on listeners,” one of the group’s musicians said.

The quartet consists of violinists Hanna Lee and Jing Qiao, violist Eric deWaardt and cellist Loewi Lin. DeWaardt has played with the orchestra for more than 30 years, while Lee and Qiao are in their inaugural season, and Loewi will officially become a member of the orchestra next season.

“It’s nice to have both familiar and fresh faces representing the NSO in the community,” a member of the quartet said.

The pieces range from traditional Chinese and Japanese folk songs, which will pay homage to the Museum’s bonsai collections, to Philip Glass’ “Mishima” quartet and “Spring” from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, which will connect audiences to the Museum’s surrounding natural elements.

The quartet said they selected pieces by composers from a range of time periods, but all of the music is inspired by the nature the musicians found in the Museum.

Their method reflects what composers do when they draw on natural elements as inspiration for their compositions – for example, Smetana’s The Moldau, which brings the Vltava River to life or Debussy’s La Mer written about the sea.

“The NSO strives to make symphonic music accessible to everyone in Washington, D.C. and reach new audiences, and we’re very excited to have this new partnership with the National Bonsai Foundation which supports the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum,” another member of the quartet said. “We hope this concert will bring listeners a little peace and help them enjoy the beautiful surrounds of the Museum!”

Reserve your spot now for the NSO’s performance June 1st! Reservations are suggested but not required.

Museum Hosts “Irreverent Bonsai Monk” Michael Hagedorn for World Bonsai Day

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Michael Hagedorn, a potter turned bonsai artist, will hold demonstrations at the Museum on World Bonsai Day, May 11th, 2019.

Hagedorn hails from Oregon, where he works on bonsai, teaches about his craft and keeps a bonsai blog. He said his interest in bonsai remained on the back burner for many years while he explored other disciplines, like drawing, ceramics and sculpture, that prepared him for a future in bonsai.

When he graduated from The New York State College of Ceramics, Alfred University with a Master of Fine Arts, Hagedorn wanted to craft something – so he made bonsai containers for ten years. Hagedorn had taken care of bonsai since he was 15, but only late in his potter years did the trees start to become more compelling than the vessels they lived in.

“A full day could go by in the ceramics studio, and I was thinking about trees the whole time. I wasn’t concentrating on the pots,” he said. “There are only so many years that you can do that and know you need a change.”

A Background In Bonsai

Hagedorn said he jump-started his bonsai career under the tutelage of Boon Manakitivipart, an internationally recognized bonsai master.

“He was strict and I was a challenging student, willful and opinionated, but he survived me and also prepared me well for study in Japan,” Hagedorn said.

Another one of Hagedorn’s mentors was Japanese bonsai master Shinji Suzuki, the owner of the Taikan Bonsai Museum in Japan and an artist who Hagedorn said created “bonsai of haunting beauty.”

Hagedorn said his three-year apprenticeship at Suzuki’s large nursery was filled with challenging work from the beginning: he wired trees, watered half of Suzuki’s bonsai collection, welcomed clients, prepared the nursery for typhoons in the summer and shoveled snow in the winter.

His book, “Post-Dated: The Schooling of an Irreverent Bonsai Monk,” details his journey through the bonsai world, which was filled with obstacles, learning moments and failures that all led to eventual triumph.

“It’s all in there,” he said. “But what was intended as ironic is the ‘monk’ part. My sempai and I were the opposite of monks – we were survivalists.”

Bonsai As Emblems Of Peace

Suzuki used to tell Hagedorn he should embrace that one of the central themes of bonsai is “peace.” Hagedorn said he watched people connect with bonsai as therapy or use the tree to forge friendships across national boundaries, and understands now why Japan has sought to equate peace and bonsai after two catastrophic world wars.

“In many ways, bonsai both offers peace and is created by it, and perishes in its absence,” he said.

These sentiments are the roots of World Bonsai Day, an internationally celebrated day of appreciation for the ancient art of bonsai as a path to peace.

Hagedorn said he used to sell pots at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum as a potter long ago, and he is looking forward to visiting the Museum again for his demonstration for World Bonsai Day next month.

Hagedorn added that he has enjoyed studying the Museum’s vast array of bonsai, as its collection is one of the most significant in the United States.

“The entire idea of a museum for small trees is a truly important thing for Westerners,” he said. “There’s an otherworldly quality about bonsai that can be riveting to people.”

Advice To Bonsai Hobbyists

Hagedorn said those looking to delve into the world of bonsai can use books for inspiration, clarification and memorization. But they should also branch out – no pun intended – and take advantage of the hundreds of easily-accessible blogs and videos that comment on recent and specific bonsai techniques.

A hobbyist’s next step is to find a trustworthy teacher who can guide them through their bonsai journey with examples, contrasts and comparisons, as the art is complex and transcends any rulebook one might try to follow.  

“Being a student is a brave act, for one will fail if you’re being at all serious about it,” he said. “Being a physical art, one needs the full quiver of experience, which is only offered in person.”

Hagedorn suggests the budding enthusiast be wary of the amount of plants they own when developing their hobby. For example, caring for five plants tends to draw too much attention to each one, but keeping too many trees will ensure that they will each remain “mediocre.” The ideal number for most hobbyists falls in the range of 20 to 30 trained bonsai, he said.

He added that hobbyists shouldn’t let maintaining bonsai become a burden – keep it fun.

“Bonsai should be a release from the pressures of life, not another cog in that wheel,” Hagedorn said. “Find people to share bonsai with that you enjoy and respect, and that will bring the same energy to the bonsai you work on.”

Learn more from Michael when he speaks at the Museum on World Bonsai Day! Learn more about the day of events here.

Museum Appoints Andy Bello as Curation Intern

Andy Bello, the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum’s 2019 First Curator’s Apprentice. (Stephen Voss)

Andy Bello, the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum’s 2019 First Curator’s Apprentice. (Stephen Voss)

Andy Bello has been selected as the Museum’s 2019 First Curator’s Apprentice.  The National Bonsai & Penjing Museum's First Curator's Apprenticeship  for 2019 is funded by generous grants to the National Bonsai Foundation from Toyota North America and The Hill Foundation.

Bello, a 24-year-old Illinois native, earned a Bachelor of Science in Natural Resources Conservation and Management from the University of Arizona in 2016. He then moved to Eugene, Oregon where he designed and built ornamental ponds, propagated pond plants and bred koi and goldfish at a local store.

His fascination with bonsai catalyzed after he stumbled across Peter Chan’s “Bonsai: The Art of Growing and Keeping Miniature Trees” in 2016.

“I took this book home, and the second I opened it I could not put it down,” Bello said. “Everything from the history of the art, the horticulture aspects, and the design techniques amazed and intrigued me deeply.”

His readings prompted him to join the Eugene Bonsai Society, a group of Oregon bonsai enthusiasts. Bello said he felt welcome in the society, but after spending a year in the group he wanted to delve deeper into the bonsai realm and craved hands-on experience.

His big break occurred on a trip to the Oregon Coast, when he inadvertently stopped at Driftwood Nursery in Bandon, Oregon. Bello befriended nursery owner Tom Roberts and soon began a monthly apprenticeship at Driftwood, where he learned basic bonsai skills and developed his passion for the trees.

Bello said he and his girlfriend soon began to discuss moving east to solidify their careers and settle down close to family. In preparation, he explored available permaculture and organic farming jobs on the East Coast – eventually discovering the Museum’s curator apprenticeship – and immediately sent in his application.

In his newly-appointed position, Bello aims to deepen his understanding of different species’ needs in all seasons, and looks forward to improving his horticulture skills and bonsai designs.

His year-long internship will consist of performing various bonsai care-taking duties, from repotting and wiring to pruning, and spreading the joy and wonder of bonsai to Museum visitors.

“I am extremely excited to be part of a new community of fellow bonsai artists and create new connections from all different parts of the world,” he said. “I hope to learn and grow as much as possible in the world of bonsai.”

The National Bonsai & Penjing Museum's First Curator's Apprenticeship for 2019 is funded by generous grants to the National Bonsai Foundation from Toyota North America and The Hill Foundation. If you’d like to help fund these types of programs, please consider becoming a member of the National Bonsai Foundation. More information here.


Board President, Felix Laughlin addresses crowd.

Board President, Felix Laughlin addresses crowd.

Last month, our staff, board members, friends, and supporters of the National Bonsai Foundation gathered to celebrate the long-awaited re-dedication of the Japanese Pavilion.

The Japanese Pavilion was originally built in 1975 to house and display the 53 bonsai gifted to the American people for the bicentennial from the Nippon Bonsai Association on behalf of the Japanese people.

After nearly 40 years serving as a symbol of peace, and hosting visitors from all over the world to view the historic collection, the pavilion was in need of renovations. The $2 million project was almost completely donor-funded, and the National Bonsai Foundation is so grateful to those who contributed, particularly Dr. Deborah Rose, whose generous leadership gift made the pavilion redesign possible.

Interior of new Japanese Pavilion

Interior of new Japanese Pavilion

The new pavilion was designed by world-renowned Japanese garden designer Hoichi Kurisu. Kurisu’s design for the pavilion invokes traditional Japanese design concepts Shin, Gyo and So, featuring natural elements like boulders and running water.

In his own words:

“Unlike painting or sculpture, bonsai is a pure and living art form. My challenge is to express that beauty and dignity, as well as the timelessness of the trees … We need peaceful moments in our lives. I think 99 percent of people in this country are missing that. To understand nature is to understand the universe.”

You can read more about Kurisu’s life, work, and vision for the garden here.

At the October opening, guests heard remarks from Dr. Richard Olsen, director of the U.S. National Arboretum; Mr. Felix Laughlin, president of the National Bonsai Foundation; Mr. Takehiro Shimada, minister for communications and cultural affairs at the Embassy of Japan; Mrs. Naemi Iwasaki, chair of the Nippon Bonsai Association; and Mrs. Marybel Balendonck, vice president of the National Bonsai Foundation.

Throughout the weekend, guests enjoyed other events like a presentation on the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi from Bonsai Master Seiji Morimae, who recently donated three trees to the Museum’s collection, and Bonsai Artist Peter Warren. The National Bonsai Foundation also hosted a dinner to honor Dr. Deborah Rose for her leadership gift and our guests from Japan, including Mrs. Naemi Iwasaki, the chair of the Nippon Bonsai Association.

Finally, we were honored to welcome Mr. William Valavanis into the Bonsai Hall of Fame, presented by former Museum Curator Jack Sustic.

The renovated Japanese Pavilion, along with the rest of the national bonsai collection, is open to the public daily from 10 am – 4 pm. (All photos by Colella Digital).