Takahiro Mori Performs Bonsai Demonstration at U.S. National Arboretum

Mori works on bonsai during demonstration.

Mori works on bonsai during demonstration.

Japanese bonsai master Takahiro Mori held a bonsai demonstration at the U.S. National Arboretum on July 20th.

In February, Yoshiko Higuchi of the Japanese Embassy wrote to Museum curator Michael James that Mori, a Japanese bonsai master who operates a nursery in Saitama, Japan, planned to visit D.C. in July. Higuchi and James then asked Mori to perform a couple of public and private demonstrations while he stayed in the District. 

At the public Museum demonstration, Mori held a talk about bonsai and performed a one-hour demonstration on a juniper collected on the Arboretum’s grounds five years ago. Museum staff members who have been caring for the tree since its collection will complete any remaining wiring and pruning the juniper needs.

The juniper collected on the Arboretum’s grounds five years ago that Mori worked on during the demonstration.

The juniper collected on the Arboretum’s grounds five years ago that Mori worked on during the demonstration.

MEDIA ADVISORY: Sister Museum Announcement

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The U.S. National Arboretum’s National Bonsai & Penjing Museum and the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum of  Saitama City, Japan to Sign Sister Museum Declaration

Official signing, private celebration and special presentation will take place August 5th at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum

WASHINGTON, DC – On Monday, August 5, 2019, the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum, located at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, DC, will officially become a “Sister Museum” to Omiya Bonsai Art Museum of Saitama City, Japan. The National Bonsai Foundation (NBF) will help host a formal dedication ceremony to mark this occasion at the Washington, DC Museum. Discussions around this idea started in 2012 when NBF Co-President, Jack Sustic visited OBAM to discuss beginning a relationship between the two museums. 

On August 5th, Dr. Richard Olsen, Director of the U.S. National Arboretum, and the Honorable Hayato Simizu, Mayor of Saitama City, will sign the "Sister Museums Declaration.” This will be followed by brief remarks from Richard Olsen, Mayor Simizu, NBF Co-President, Felix Laughlin, and Minister Takehiro Shimada, of the Japanese Embassy.  There will be lunch in the Museum’s Exhibits Gallery followed by a presentation from Dr. Fumiya Taguchi, of Omiya Bonsai Art Museum on "Japanese Bonsai History."  

This event is invite only. Members of the press interested in attending can contact Kendra@KendraRubinfeldpr.com

The National Bonsai and Penjing Museum will be closed from 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. for this special event.


Founded in 1982, the National Bonsai Foundation is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit that works in cooperation with the U.S. National Arboretum to supply financial, programmatic and curatorial support for the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum. The Foundation offices and Museum are located on the grounds of the Arboretum in Northeast Washington, DC.


FIRST CURATOR'S BLOG: Stories of Struggle and Survival

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When viewing old and ancient trees – whether they grow in a city, forest, desert or alpine slopes – one comes across stories of struggle and resilience. These stories are depicted in many ways depending on the species of tree, the characteristics of its wood and the environmental event that caused damage to the tree. 

Deadwood on bonsai is generally spoken about using the Japanese words “Jin,” meaning dead branch, and “Shari,” meaning deadwood on the trunk.

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Damage that results in the contortion of a tree can occur in bouts of extreme weather, like heavy snow, droughts, wind, lightning and more. Biological damage – events like animals grazing, insect infestations and human activities – also affect the contortion of a tree. 

All these impacts occur throughout the life of trees, sometimes over the course of thousands of years, like the ancient bristlecone pines in the White Mountains of California which have been dated to about 6,000 years old.

After the damage occurs, deadwood features can take on many different appearances, depending on the species and environmental conditions that the tree resides in. 

In wet climates, many deciduous species with softer wood may form large hollows due to rotting and decay. But the deadwood on many junipers in dry climates will be sun bleached white by the sun, resulting in a look that is naturally preserved for longer periods of time. 

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In bonsai design, deadwood adds interest and a “survival story.” Sometimes an artist might collect a tree that already has naturally occurring deadwood. But artists can also create deadwood by breaking branches, stripping away bark and carving wood using hand or power tools. 

Artists generally treat deadwood on bonsai with a solution of lime sulphur. This solution protects it from rotting and bleaches the deadwood, giving it a white appearance that contrasts well with the rest of the tree. Penetrating wood hardeners can also be used on the deadwood if a bleaching effect is not desired.

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Each bonsai artist can decide whether to create deadwood on all trees or leave the variation to certain species. The real beauty of bonsai is not whether the tree has deadwood features, but is demonstrated in each person's ability to create and share their view of nature from their own life experiences. Bonsai is an art, and with any art there is no right or wrong.

Andy Bello (Stephen Voss)

Andy Bello (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. More on Andy here.

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!

Know Your Styles: A Guide to Bonsai Configurations

Walking through the Museum, you’ll find plaques with titles, donor names and dates next to most of the bonsai. But do you know how to tell which style our trees are exhibiting?

To help you wow friends on your next visit, Museum curator Michael James walked us through the main styles of bonsai on display in our pavilions: cascade, upright, root-over-rock, forest and windswept. James said these configurations simplify and categorize trees’ common forms or growth habits after enduring forces of nature – like wind, ice and snow – that shape trees in the wild.

“These are just styles that mimic what’s found happening in trees growing in harsh conditions,” he said.

The formal upright style is a simple design: the tree’s apex stands directly over the base of the trunk, and the tree is perfectly straight. James said the informal upright design is a bit looser and more whimsical than formal upright. The tree’s apex remains in line with the base of the tree, but the trunk twists and turns on its way to the top.

An informal upright bonsai.

An informal upright bonsai.

Forest style displays are created to mirror the different heights and trunk thicknesses found in natural forests, so the trees should differ randomly in size, James said. He added that the displays are usually arranged in odd numbers, ranging from about five to 11 trees.

A forest bonsai display.

A forest bonsai display.

Seeds that land on a small patch of fertile soil germinate and send roots down into the earth to create a tree. But over the years that bit of soil can erode, exposing the rock underneath where the tree began to grow. This process creates the root-over-rock look.

A root-over-rock style bonsai.

A root-over-rock style bonsai.

To replicate this style, bonsai masters will plant a bonsai on top of a rock. In some plantings, the masters attach the bonsai to the rock with wires and the tree lives entirely on the rock, growing in a special soil mix.

In other cases, as the above picture demonstrates, the rock and attached tree are planted in a container filled with soil, and the bonsai roots grow into the soil. In this instance, each time the bonsai is repotted, the master may lift the rock and attached tree higher in the container and remove some of the soil, exposing more of the roots and the rock.

A full-cascade bonsai.

A full-cascade bonsai.

Bonsai in the cascade style also come in two configurations. In the semi-cascade design, the trunk of the tree might lean over and drop below the lip of its pot. But the tip of bonsai in full-cascade reaches below its container, to emulate a tree clinging to a cliffside.

A bonsai in the windswept style.

A bonsai in the windswept style.

The Museum has one tree that displays the windswept look: the iconic Chinese elm. Branches of windswept bonsai grow in one direction and look as if the tree is growing while enduring a strong wind blowing from only one side.

James said some styles are more common in certain trees, but many trees can be trained into myriad configurations. One exception is with cascade bonsai. Trees in the cascade category are often flowering trees or conifers, like pines and junipers, which are found in mountainous areas. Their low hanging branches are pulled down by the weight of fruit or snow and ice that accompany high-altitude conditions, creating the cascade look.

He added that some styles fit specific occasions, as certain designs are more formal than others.

“If you were displaying a bonsai for a special occasion you would use a formal tree, which would be very stately, maybe austere – very proper,” James said. “But an informal tree lends itself more to having a party or a big celebration. Something fun, maybe even more playful.”

Looking to learn even more about bonsai, and get your hands-on experience while doing it? Join our Museum Staff and Volunteers as they offer several Intro to Bonsai classes this July. Learn more here.

HISTORICAL TREE SPOTLIGHT: “Spring Rain” Stone Penjing

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When thinking of bonsai or penjing, one naturally imagines perfectly manicured trees. But in this month’s Historical Tree Spotlight, we’re shifting gears and taking a look instead at a unique stone presentation called “Spring Rain.” Museum curator Michael James says the rocky display exemplifies a fundamental difference between bonsai and penjing.

“Penjing, in the literal translation, is more of a theme or a landscape in a shallow container, whereas bonsai is really the minimalist, iconic tree we all know,” he said.

A gift from the Shanghai Botanical Garden to the Museum in 2006, “Spring Rain” is usually on display during the summer months in the Chinese Pavilion.

The penjing sits in a nearly five-foot tray crafted from white marble – a prolific resource used often in Southern China – which is meant to portray the surrounding sea. Its jutting landscape is a representation of a UNESCO World Heritage Site composed of a group of land masses protruding from Halong Bay in the South China sea.

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Although “Spring Rain” represents a physical place on Earth, James said penjing are not always crafted to resemble real locations. The displays are often created as a poetic representation of an imaginary world or whimsical place.  

“With some of the other penjing we have in the Museum, the trees are so curvy they don’t even look the way trees naturally grow,” he said. “But they do look like an amazing place to be if you were miniaturized in that setting.”

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According to James, the small boats under the main rock signify another capital difference between bonsai and penjing. The tiny pewter or ceramic figurines are accents used in penjing to create a humanistic scale. James said the presence of greenery is minimal in penjing, and the lack of plants in “Spring Rain” speaks to the minimalistic approach of the art.

He added that penjing artists use a freeform “clip-and-grow” method, rather than training the trees with wire, to redirect the trees’ energy into the desired form.

“With penjing, artists and creators allow the tree to do more of what it does naturally,” James said.

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.