History & Milestones


nbf_historyFrom the very beginning there was widespread support from the bonsai community for the 1976 Bicentennial gift of bonsai from the people of Japan to the citizens of the United States. In 1972 the American Bonsai Society, a national organization, and Bonsai Clubs International, a world-wide organization, endorsed the project. Once the trees arrived the Potomac Bonsai Association, an umbrella organization for bonsai clubs in the Washington D.C. area, provided volunteers to work with the staff of the U.S. National Arboretum to keep the trees in outstanding display condition. Some of these helpers — notably Ruth Lamanna, Janet Lanman and David Garvin — later played significant roles in the development of both the Museum and the National Bonsai Foundation (NBF).

In 1979, Janet Lanman discussed with Dr. John Creech, Director of the Arboretum the possibility of acquiring American bonsai for the Museum. Shortly thereafter Dr. Creech pursued this idea in a proposal to Marion Gyllenswan, a well known bonsai teacher. He called for an independent body of bonsai authorities to review private bonsai collections of distinction and to develop a plan for their preservation, possibly as part of a national collection.

Acting on this suggestion, a group of Arboretum volunteers and students of Bonsai Master Yuji Yoshimura organized the National Bonsai Committee. Members of this committee included Marion Gyllenswan, Janet Lanman, Felix Laughlin, Muriel Leeds, Chase Rosade and Jerold Stowell, all of whom would later play prominent roles in supporting the Museum.

In 1982, the National Bonsai Committee was incorporated as the National Bonsai Foundation, a non-profit section 501 (c) (3) organization whose mission is to support the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum at the U.S. National Arboretum. NBF recruited directors from all sections of the country, and the first Board included Marybel Balendonck, Larry Ragle and Melba Tucker from California, Frederic Ballard from Pennsylvania and H. William Merritt of Maryland. MaryAnn Orlando served as the Executive Director and principal fund raiser for NBF.

In 1986, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the Japanese Bicentennial gift, NBF marked the event with a Gala Celebration and set the agenda for the future: to build an American Bonsai Pavilion to display a collection of North American Bonsai and to complement the Japanese Pavilion so that the similarities and differences in this ever-evolving art form could be studied and enjoyed.

The dream envisioned in the Gala Celebration program became a reality in 1990. As part of the ongoing collaboration between the Arboretum and NBF a new section of the Museum was dedicated on October 1 of that year in honor of two American Bonsai Masters. The Yuji Yoshimura Educational Center is a classroom and work space area, and the John Y. Naka North American Pavilion provides the display area for the North American bonsai collection.


1982The National Bonsai Foundation is founded to support the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum. As a nonprofit section 501(c)(3) organization, its mission is to cooperate with the U.S. National Arboretum by offering aid and advice in support of the Museum.

The Museum logo of a Juniperus chinensis var. sargentii is adopted by NBF as its logo.
1983Marion Gyllenswan appointed first President of NBF.
1986Timeless Trees: The U.S. National Bonsai Collection by Mary & Peter Bloomer is published by Horizons West Publications.
1989Publication of the NBF Bulletin commences.
1990The John Y. Naka North American Pavilion for the North American bonsai collection and the Yuji Yoshimura Educational Center are dedicated after NBF raises funds for their construction. NBF selects more than 50 North American bonsai for donation to the Museum and for display in the new Pavilion. Included is Bonsai Master John Naka’s “Goshin”, one of the most famous bonsai in the world.

Frederic Ballard appointed as second President of NBF.
1993Construction of the Haruo Kaneshiro Tropical Conservatory and the George Yamaguchi Garden is completed with funding provided by the Foundation. Seventeen tropical species bonsai are selected by NBF for display in the Conservatory.
1996The Yee-sun Wu Chinese Garden Pavilion for the display of penjing and the Mary E. Mrose International Pavilion for Information, Education and Cultural Exhibits are completed with NBF funds. NBF selects North American viewing stones for the permanent collection.

Felix B. Laughlin becomes the third President of NBF.
1997Death of Yuji Yoshimura and NBF establishes a fund to benefit the Museum in his honor.
1998An exhibit of trees and stones inspired by the teaching of Bonsai Master Yuji Yoshimura opens in the Special Exhibits Wing to commemorate his teaching and his life.
1999The NBF website is launched.
2000Awakening the Soul: The National Viewing Stone Collection is the first book published by the National Bonsai Foundation.
2001NBF sponsors the first North American Bonsai Pot Competition for ceramic artists.

NBF publishes The Bonsai Saga: How the Bicentennial Collection Came to America by former U.S. National Arboretum Director, Dr. John Creech.

A translation into English of Forest, Rock Planting & Ezo Spruce Bonsai by the Japanese Bonsai Master Saburo Kato is published by NBF.

NBF, along with the U.S. National Arboretum and the Potomac Bonsai Association, are selected by the World Bonsai Friendship Federation as the sponsoring hosts for the 5th World Bonsai Convention to be held in Washington D.C. in 2005.

Johann Klodzen is appointed NBF Executive Director.
2002NBF cosponsors with the U.S. National Arboretum an International Symposium on Bonsai and Viewing Stones.
2003With significant funding from NBF, the Maria Vanzant Upper Courtyardand the H. William Merritt Entrance Gate to the Japanese Stroll Garden are dedicated.

NBF becomes a membership organization supported by annual dues, as well as contributions.
2004On May 19th NBF Honorary Director John Y. Naka dies and a fund is established in his honor.

NBF cosponsors with the U.S. National Arboretum a symposium on Penjing.
2005The 5th World Bonsai Convention convenes in Washington D.C. from May 28 - 31.

NBF funds the completion of the Rose Family Garden and the paving of the lower courtyard.

John Naka’s Sketchbook and the Proceedings of the International Symposium on Bonsai and Viewing Stones are published by NBF.

The NBF Bulletin changes from a black and white format to color printing.
2006The NBF website is redesigned.
2007NBF celebrates its 25th anniversary as the support organization for the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum at the U.S. National Arboretum.
2010The NBF Facebook page is launched.
2011Death of Daizo Iwasaki, NBF Honorary Director and Museum Benefactor
201230th anniversary of NBF. Launch of the "Campaign for the Japanese Pavilion: A Gift Renewed."
2013Janet Lanman, who was associated with Museum since its inception, and a Museum volunteer as well as a member of the NBF Board, was elected as an Honorary Director.
NBF gives $1.5 million to the USNA for the reconstruction of the Japanese Pavilion.
2014 "Museum Messages", a monthly email to supporters of the Museum, is launched.
2015The NBF video, "A Window into Nature: The National Bonsai & Penjing Museum", is made available to the public.
2017Japanese Pavilion rededicated - October 6, 2017