Our Official Valentine's Day Gift Guide for Bonsai Lovers

Check out these bonsai-related gifts for your special someone.

Looking for more than a box of chocolate on Valentine's Day this year? Get your bonsai-loving love something you know they'll love! Read National Bonsai Foundation’s Official Valentine's Day Gift Guide for Bonsai Lovers and get gifting!

1.) Didn’t win a copy of Ann McClellan’s book last week in our quiz?
Get your copy now! It’s the perfect coffee table book for the bonsai lover in your life!

2.) Show love for the little ones in your life and get them hooked on bonsai early with Sandra Moore and Kazumi Wilds’ The Peace Tree from Hiroshima: A Little Bonsai with a Big Story.

3.) Was your couple’s 2019 resolution to be more active? Sign yourself and your partner up for a yoga session amongst the bonsai! Learn more and register here.

4.) John Naka’s Sketchbook is the perfect Valentine’s Day gift: each of this Dean of American bonsai’s 100 sketches is as unique as your loved one!

5.) Give the gift of a unique and memorable experience. Register you and your Valentine for Forest Bathing Amongst the Bonsai, with Melanie Choukas Bradley. Awaken your senses! Learn more and register here.

INSIDE THE MUSEUM : History of Our Entrance Gates & Gardens

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Thousands of visitors filter through the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum entrance gates and gardens every year, but few know the significance behind the design.

Jack Sustic, who served as the Museum curator for 13 years, says before the Museum first opened in 1976, the entrance was only an open area with no gates or gardens.  

Today, visitors are welcomed into the Museum through the Ellen Gordon Allen Garden. In 1956, Ellen Gordon Allen created Ikebana International, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and spreading the art of ikebana, or Japanese flower arrangement. Allen established the organization’s first U.S. chapter in D.C.

“She’s quite important in the history of ikebana, especially in the United States,” says Sustic.

The design of the garden, engendered by Thomas Wirth at the Susuki Association in Massachusetts, was named in honor of Allen’s contributions to ikebana. The garden was officially dedicated to Allen in 1982.

Constructed by Shimizu Landscape Corporation, based in Maryland, the garden melds the Western style of a national art garden with the traditional traits of an Eastern bonsai museum.

Its large straight walkway represents a Western approach, which complements the Eastern-inspired sculpted tines within the garden.

“The designer was trying to create a buffer or transition between the two kind of philosophies, the two styles of gardening,” says Sustic. “The styles are so different and the approach to gardening is very different between the two.”

Sustic added that the entrance gate’s shingle roof and bamboo emulate a unique Japanese style not seen other places in the Arboretum. Sustic says visitors often appreciate the dedication and work incorporated into both cultures in the design.

The Museum’s Cryptomeria Walk

The Museum’s Cryptomeria Walk

Enhancements to the entry gardens and gates have been minimal since the original design, enduring only a transition in plantings or an added lantern to improve the look.

Visitors’ last steps to the Museum are taken on a walkway lined with cryptomerias, a Japanese cedar tree, believed to have a cleansing effect, which often surrounds Japanese temples and shrines.

Sustic says this design is intentional and meant to transition visitors into a more meditative state of mind.

“We would always tell people to leave all their earthly concerns at the door and welcome to the world of bonsai.”


The National Bonsai Foundation is thrilled to announce that our new and improved, mobile-friendly website is live! Check out this preview below and then scroll through the site to see for yourself.

Want to win a copy of Anne McClellans’s Bonsai & Penjing: Ambassadors of Peace and Beauty? Be entered to win by taking this short quiz that tests what you’ve learned from our new site!

And, as you’re scrolling through, if you catch a broken link or typo, please let us know! You can email us directly at aanapol@bonsai-nbf.org.

If you’re looking for archives of our blog, we’ll be transferring it over soon. Check back often, and don’t forget to sign up for our e-newsletter and follow us on social media here.


My summer apprenticeship has certainly been keeping me busy, leaving very little time for these blog posts! As the waning heat of the summer transitions into the coolness of the upcoming autumn season, watering requirements begin to lessen there is a bit more time for pruning, wiring and other tree work. Here are some of my favorite trees from my recent work:

Eurya (Eurya emarginata) Continuous Tightening

This eurya from the Japanese Collection is one of my favorite bonsai on display in the museum. It has a very stout trunk that almost resembles the “sumo” style that seems to be currently in vogue within the bonsai community. I have to admit that I, too, enjoy this style and the power that it presents within the confines of these tiny trees. E. emarginata have small, glossy leaves when reduced, but they can grow to be quite large if the trees are allowed to run and gain vigor. Therefore, consistent pruning is required to maintain the tight shape and tiny leaves that we enjoy about this bonsai. I’ve now pruned and wired this tree a few times over the summer and have been typically following up a pruning with a pinching shortly after to prevent the energy from redirecting fully into the remaining buds and blowing the new shoots out of proportion. I’ve found that this gives quite dense and even growth throughout the developed pads.

Eurya before pruning work to tighten pads

Ezo Spruce (Picea glehnni) Post-Growth Season Pruning


After growing and extending all season, spruces can be cut back to shape. With these, we must be very careful to cut back to new buds to allow the cut tips to continue to grow in next years’ extension. I could locate good buds to cut back to across the entire canopy for the tree, so all the tips should continue to remain healthy while maintaining the crisp presentation intended in this tree between now and the next growth season.

I’m now in the final week of my apprenticeship. It’s been an incredibly busy summer full of new experiences, fun travels, and a ton of new learning. I’m very grateful to National Bonsai and Penjing Museum at the US National Arboretum for the opportunity to work on and develop my skills using some of the best and most prominent bonsai in the country, and I’m very appreciative of the support that Toyota has offered to the National Bonsai Foundation in supporting with funding for this wonderful apprenticeship.

Following the completion of my apprenticeship, I’ll be moving to a new home in San Antonio, TX, where I’ll begin delving into my own personal bonsai garden space while continuing my journey with bonsai. The climate in Texas will be entirely new to me and will present many new challenges to manage watering and sun exposure in the extreme heat of the summer, but compensates for those with a longer growing season to develop and refine material and a far milder winter season. I intend to continue sharing my work on social media and various online platforms, so please do not hesitate to send me requests if you’re interested in seeing how I progress and where I travel throughout my journey.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me up to this point.




When David Rizwan first saw a bonsai tree while searching online for plants to decorate his apartment, he thought there must be something “magical” about it.

“It’s a common misconception that there’s something mysterious there,” Rizwan said of bonsai. “There is a general lack of knowledge in the public, and I was a part of that – I didn’t know what was being done, I thought the trees were all special, small species, and it wasn’t something that a normal person can just do.”

Nonetheless, he was hooked, and took a deep dive into bonsai. He watched hundreds of YouTube videos on bonsai to learn everything he could about how “normal” people could possible create such an other-worldly work of art.

His personal collection quickly went from one Trident Maple to more than 60 trees before he was forced to “downsize.” His love for bonsai eclipsed all else, even prompting him to put his career as a quality manager and engineer in the medical device industry on hold to apply for the First Curators’ Apprenticeship at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum.

“I put my career on hold to have more time for bonsai and fully immerse myself in the art,” he said. “Everybody thought I was crazy, but I firmly believed that wholeheartedly dedicating the time to learn and practice the fundamentals would set the best foundation for my artwork going forward.”

Less than three years after starting with bonsai, Rizwan is one month into his apprenticeship, and is pleased to confirm that no magical skills are required.

“Bonsai is for everyone,” he said. “It’s not a wealthy person or a magical person thing; it’s an everyone thing.”

The move also impressed his new team at the Museum: “David left a good job to work at the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum,” said Museum specialist Michael James. “That’s priceless.”

Although he is relatively new to bonsai, Rizwan has already learned a lot – both in technical skills and life lessons. He said that he has experienced many ways in which bonsai benefits its practitioners – a better understanding of nature, strengthening of empathy skills, and taking a new perspective to personal relationships.

“Bonsai mirrors other relationships in life,” he said. “Sometimes you have to do something that isn’t immediately as pleasant, but knowing that the future outcome is worth the temporary sacrifice. It’s that same feeling when cutting off a branch that isn’t quite fitting well, knowing that its removal will allow another branch to develop that will carry the design forward one day.”

In addition to getting more experience working with the high caliber of historic specimens at the museum, David hopes that this experience will help him further his goal of making bonsai more accessible to the general public, and help them recognize that bonsai is something they can do and benefit from.

David encourages visitors to come to the museum in each season to experience the breathtaking way that bonsai trees can change throughout the year, and to see different highlights from the collection.

“There’s only a fraction of trees on display at any given time,” he said. “Visitors should try not to get a false sense of lack of diversity if they just see lots of pines and maples. Visiting throughout the year will allow you to experience very different things in the collection, and in individual trees themselves. The same tree experienced three months apart can be drastically different, and each season has its value.”


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).