The Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt
By Joe Byrd
Director, The Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt
The Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt (BGLM) in Oakland, California, is one of the largest and finest collections of bonsai on the West Coast. Approximately 90 bonsai and suisuki viewing stones are on display at any given time. Bonsai lovers come from all over the world to the garden to view our world-class collection.
Docents may point out the historic Daimyo Oak that was presented by the newly opened Japanese government to the U.S. Minister to China Anson Burlingame in 1863 during Abraham Lincoln’s presidency. You can view our oldest tree in the collection – estimated to be more than 1,600 years old – or see a pine tree featured at the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. The bonsai exhibit is in constant rotation so you can return to see new and different bonsai.
The garden grew thanks to hundreds of volunteers who put in countless hours turning a raw patch of earth at Lake Merritt into a bonsai garden. Sixteen years later it has grown from this humble beginnings into a world-class museum. Since opening in 1999, the BGLM has become a source of regional pride as well as a cultural and educational center. The garden is maintained by volunteers and supported by donations from visitors and fundraising activities. Curator Kathy Shaner, the first Japanese certified bonsai master from the U.S. and the only female certified bonsai master, oversees the collection.
A nonprofit educational organization, the BGLM is possible through a partnership with the City of Oakland and the Oakland Office of Parks and Recreation. The collection is one of three bonsai collections sponsored by the Golden State Bonsai Federation with our sister gardens in Southern California at the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, and in the Central Valley at Shinzen Friendship Garden, Woodward Park, inFresno. The BGLM is currently in the process of becoming a certified museum.
The bonsai garden is located in the heart of Oakland, within the Friendship Gardens at Lake Merritt, and the first wildlife refuge in the nation. Located in an urban setting, the garden provides a tranquil setting for education, inspiration and enjoyment.
In 2015, the BGLM started its first year-long Bonsai School at Lake Merritt to educate future team leaders, provide better bonsai care and create a best practices guide for the bonsai garden. Featuring lectures and practical demonstration, the school is open to bonsai enthusiasts who can serve the bonsai garden. The school will assist in research to advance our level of knowledge about bonsai care and treatment for problems. Research will enable the bonsai garden to determine what fertilizer and soil are best for individual species.
The BGLM is open year-round (closed Christmas, New Year’s, Thanksgiving, and during heavy rain). For information, visit http://gsbf-lakemerritt.org/.