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Intermediate & Advanced

Our reviews include most of the very best of bonsai books available. If you have a favourite book that is not mentioned, please email us and we will do our best to review it.

At the foot of this page are links to more book sections.

Again in no particular order. They are all worth having or at least reading, as there are golden snippets of information throughout. Note that some are out of print and in demand, so the price can become elevated on Amazon.

Bonsai: Its Art, Science, History and Philosophy Deborah Koreshoff, Boolarong Publishing 1984. Paperback, 255 pages,

Contains 10 chapters: an Introduction to the Art of bonsai, Shaping Techniques, a Symposium on the Soil, Root Pruning, Potting and Repotting Techniques, the Care and Maintenance of bonsai, Seasonal Color Changes in Trees, the Art of bonsai Styling, the Art of Saikei, bonsai Classification by Size, and Exhibiting and Judging Quality in bonsai.

Extensive wordy text heavily illustrated by the author. Chapters are heavily referenced. Many nice colour photos of the author's collection. Some very nice bonsai shown. Techniques are well illustrated by the author who is a degreed artist. Includes a section on plant physiology missing in most bonsai books. This is another book that should be in every grower’s library.

Basic bonsai design David DeGroot, ABS 1995. 102 pages.

Everyone should read this book. Often. It is the book on the art and design of bonsai. There is nothing here on the how-to of wiring, root pruning, or branch and leaf pruning, but there is everything here about designing a bonsai from basic visual elements, balance and unity, to selection of the right style and color of pot for various trees, and the basic factor of choosing what will be the front of the tree. The final chapter -- Putting Theory into Practice -- may be the least useful in the book, but still is worth reviewing. The book’s real value is to provide its readers -- beginners as well as the most advanced bonsai growers, who may have been designing trees by instinct until now -- with some real guidelines for what a good bonsai should look like. The illustrations -- black and white line drawings -- are informative and useful. Get this one!

Classic Bonsai of Japan A beautiful “coffee table” sized book that has a great deal of appeal for the serious collector. Preface By John Naka, foreword by Hideo Aragaki, text translated to English by John Bester. 107 full page colour plates and 47 b/w photo’s showing a selection of some of the best and most famous bonsai in Japan. 8 pages of colour plates of superb Shohin. 15 pages on the history of bonsai, 12 pages on appreciation and styles. Appendix of 15 pages of detailed notes on the bonsai featured in the plates.   

Books by Peter Adams

Art of Bonsai Peter D. Adams, Ward Lock Ltd. 1981. Hard Cover, 160 pages.
Comprised of 6 chapters all primarily devoted to styles, growing material, and styling technique. Chapter 5 is solely on the Scots Pine; a favorite of the author. Detailed information on how to style & develop a design; good drawings & photos, some color and some Black and white. Adams places more stress on the "art" than most books. Advanced book on design; beginners may be lost. No species specific advice. Styling and pruning advice is general in nature. No information on plant physiology or science including the all important information on soil composition. Out of print.

Successful Bonsai Shaping Peter D. Adams, Trafalgar Square Publishers 1993. Paperback, 144 pages,

Comprised of 3 sections: Basic Horticultural Technique, The Basic Styles, and Cultivation and Shaping of Specific Species. A very brief guide especially the 3rd section. A good guide to basic design and development with many line drawings. However, it is not a complete guide; rather it is a good supplement to a beginners text. A few color photos. Very little discussion on cultivation in general. Out of print.

Successful Bonsai Growing Peter D. Adams, Ward Lock Ltd 1987. Paperback, 95 pages,

Comprised of 5 sections: Basic Styles, Sources of Bonsai, The Bonsai Process, bonsai Data, and a Conclusion. Brief discussions of each topic. Data section is a very brief species to species guide. Inexpensive. Some good line drawings. Not a stand-alone help at all. Money would be better put toward a more complete text. Out of print.

Bonsai with Japanese Maples Peter D. Adams, Timber Press; 2nd Ed edition. Hardcover: 160 pages

This long-awaited second edition focuses exclusively on the Japanese and Trident Maple. This book explores the practical and artists challenged of creating a Maple Bonsai. The first chapter is the same as the previous edition but throughout the book their is additional information and a lot more drawings and photographs. One chapter focuses exclusively on the techniques to create a Shohin Japanese Maple. This edition is an improvement over the first, but is more of a natural progression rather than a leap forward. Overall with more detail and the higher quality photography this is a book most dedicated Bonsai artists should own, however if you have the first edition then you decision is a little more difficult. More on the book here: www.norfolkbonsai.co.uk . TC

Bonsai Design: Deciduous and Coniferous Trees Peter D. Adams, Sterling Publishing Co. 1988. Hardcover, 140 pages,

The book is broken into 2 parts: The Profiles provides horticultural information on 3 tree "groups"; Beech and Hornbeam, Elm and Zelkova, and Mixed Juniper species, and Cryptomeria. Part 2, The Case Histories outlines the development of 16 bonsai belonging to the author. Profiles are detailed but some of the information is strictly limited to the U.K. Case histories are informative and enlightening on the development of bonsai over 5-20 year periods. Some interesting information on the tree "groups". Good presentation of bonsai development over the years. Good photos. Most case histories are on trees imported from Japan and already far along in development. Information on earlier development would be helpful. All in all, a very useful book -- but unfortunately it too is out of print.

The Art of Flowering Bonsai Peter D. Adams, Ward Lock. 1998.

Part I gives 40 pages on the basics of bonsai, followed by detailed and very useful guides on 10 flowering and fruiting plants suitable for bonsai: The Japanese flowering apricot, Satsuki and Kurume azalea, cotoneaster, crab apple, firethorn (Pyracantha), hawthorn, deciduous holly, pomegranate, quince, and wisteria. Each chapter gives details on bonsai techniques for the species and varieties, and ends with a brief discussion of the “re-creation” of a tree. An excellent book, but unfortunately out of print.

John Naka’s Books

Bonsai Techniques: 1 by John Naka, Publisher Bonsai Institute of Calif. 1973. Soft Cover, 267 pages.

A collection of bonsai class notes from John Naka's workshops. Packed with information based on a lifetime of experience. Each page has photographs and sketches by the author, five hundred b&w photos and illustrations in all and each step of the techniques are covered in detail. There is no index of species but there is a table of contents, listing three pages of subject matter by bonsai technique only. The chapters are not numbered either. This makes using the books as a quick reference quite difficult. But it definitely repays persistence and can be dipped into regularly. There are sixteen colour plates of John Naka's collection.

Bonsai Techniques II is a continuation of these notes, with detailed sections on Rootage, Trunks, Branches, Apex, Styling, Collecting Techniques, Indigenous Trees, Trees to study in nature, Styling hints from Sumi-E Paintings, “Changing Wardrobes” through Inarching, Shohin, Pots, Display, Accent Plants, Suiseki and a chapter on California Juniper. Detailed advice on specific aspects of bonsai care. The notes of a master. Good for Intermediate and Advanced level. Not good as beginner's books.

The Art of Bonsai Design Colin Lewis, Sterling Publishing 2001. 160 pages.

This is a very personal book. It is filled with mini-essays on his philosophy of bonsai, asides describing little bonsai techniques that make doing bonsai easier, or better, or more fun (I particularly like the “sphagnum wrap technique” for aging bark, though I haven’t tried it yet); discussions on how specific trees grow, and -- of course -- the case histories of how he developed these trees. There’s nothing of the “basic” bonsai book here. You are guided through what he managed to do with these trees, then are challenged to adapt what he’s done to some tree that you might have. In short, you are asked to think about your trees and to produce what is in the tree, rather than a run-of-the-mill, cookie-cutter bonsai. This is NOT a beginners book but once you have mastered the basics, you can have a lot of fun here.

Satsuki Alexander Kennedy, Splatt Press. 1995.

Anyone who wants to grow a Satsuki azalea bonsai needs this little book. In 126 pages Kennedy takes you from the origins and history of the Satsuki azalea, through the various colors and types, propagation and genetics, cultural requirements, techniques for making bonsai from Satsuki azalea, and details on the care and feeding of your bonsai once you have it going. It is sparsely but well illustrated with line drawings and color photos. Armed with this book, the next one, and Peter Adams’ The Art of Flowering Bonsai you will be ready to tackle this not-so-easy plant.

Floral Treasures of Japan: Satsuki Azaleas Alexander Kennedy, Splatt Press. 1997.  196 pages.

What isn’t covered by Kennedy’s earlier book is covered here, including more detail on individual cultivars and more care and training of Satsuki bonsai detail. A must-have for azalea lovers.

Ficus: The Exotic Bonsai (Jerry Meislik) Devonshire Gardens pub. 2004.
Like the previous two books, if you grow Ficus bonsai you need this book. IBCer Jerry Meislik gives species-by-species information on the cultivation, care and training of the Genus Ficus. Most of the information deals with indoor growing, which is where most temperate zone growers must put their trees at least for half the year. Especially useful are chapters on the Chinese banyan, the willow-leaf fig, the Port Jackson fig, the creeping fig, and the weeping fig – five oif the most commonly used species for bonsai.

Penjing: Chinese Art of Miniature Gardens Hu Yunhua, Timber Press. 1982. 166 pages. This nicely illustrated book is a good introduction to the Chinese art of penjing, which can be both individual trees (as in the Japanese bonsai) and tray landscapes with trees, other plants, and figurines. The illustrations consist of a number of very good color plates of Chinese style bonsai and penjing landscapes, and several very nice ink and brush sketches of the many styles of penjing. The text appears to have been originally written for a Chinese audience, and while interesting contains little that any standard book on bonsai design doesn’t have. The benefit of this book is in the illustrations and the discussions of the philosophy behind penjing -- especially the landscape penjing. Out of Print, but worth searching for.

Penjing: Worlds of Wonderment: A Journey Exploring an Ancient Chinese Art and Its History, Cultural Background, and Aesthetics Qingquan Zhao, Venus Communications, 1997, 140 pages,

Penjing is the Chinese art of miniature landscapes. Rather than creating the appearance of a single old tree, Zhao creates entire scenes - sometimes with mudmen and huts. For the Bonsai enthusiast, this book describes how to make landscapes built on shallow trays rather than trees in pots. The book is more of an introduction to all aspects of the art and does not repeat the care detail found in other bonsai texts yet does give general attention to how one would water and pot such a thin tray planting. Over 200 color photos with dozens of inspirational full-page photos of completed Penjing. The author uses many different materials, discusses the different types of rocks one could use and how to fit them into the display, and shows successful examples with plants ranging from apples to bamboo and most trees in between. A very useful and inspirational Chinese text nice enough to put out on the coffee table.

Bonsai Life Histories by Martin Treasure, Publisher Firefly Books. 2002. 144 pages.

This book covers the usual areas such as styles, care, potting, wiring, pests, displays, etc., but focuses on the lives of 50 of the author's trees over a 6-12 year period. A treasury of information with a pleasant, readable and very detailed description of the development of his trees. Two pages for each one with 4-5 good pictures from its beginning and a larger last picture of every tree. He makes no secret of the amount of time this has taken to achieve.

The importance of planting trees in growing beds or large growing pots for trunk development is emphasized. There is no special or expensive raw material, but trees and shrubs from resources everybody can get.

A lot of tips, tricks and how-tos, make this book a definite must have.

Bonsai Styles of the World (Charles S. Ceronio), published by author, 229 pages, 1999 and slightly revised in 2004

Charles Ceronio, has grown bonsai in South Africa since 1968. He is a past president of the Pretoria Bonsai Kai and the South African Bonsai Association, and is president of a Regional Bonsai Association. The book, which is not a "how-to-do-it" book, is a guide to worldwide styles of bonsai, and lists 89 styles, organized into 14 broad categories. It states that all of them are informed by the 5 basic styles -- formal upright (Chokkan), informal upright (Moyo-gi), slanting (Shakan), semi-cascade (Han-kengai), and full cascade (Kengai). Each basic style has a chapter to itself, divided as follows - a general description of the style, section on roots, trunk shapes, branch placement, variations on the style, containers to use and suitable types of plant material. Descriptions of other styles also follow this format, but often only included a general description, variations on the style, containers and suitable plant material. Bonsai Styles of the World is lavishly illustrated with hundreds of drawings by the author, showing each style of tree and their variations (including famous bonsai of that style). These sketches are immensely useful as they distill the essence of the style into an easily observable format and thus aid in styling decisions in way that photos sometimes can not. Sixteen color plates at the front of the book show famous or exemplary bonsai of various styles, and scattered throughout the text are black and white photos of other bonsai and shots showing trees in nature in 'bonsai styles' (a particularly useful feature when depicting the African styles). A standout feature of the book is the depiction of African styles of bonsai (as developed by the author and others) and thus the use of trees native to Africa. These styles are the - baobab, Pierneef, flat top, Bushveld, wild fig and Wonderboom (or Elbow). Seeing these 'new' styles in the art of bonsai is a fascinating experience. Overall, this book is an immensely useful resource on bonsai styling to any bonsai enthusiast and offers great insight into the African bonsai styles. Highly recommended.

Manual for Appreciating, Judging, and Buying Bonsai  By Tom Zane, Vaughn Banting, David De Groot) ABS. 1997. 65 pages.

Though this booklet is placed in the “Intermediate-Advanced” section, it is a basic primer on how a well-groomed bonsai should look. It has a different categorization of bonsai based on the plant’s place of origin -- seedlings, cuttings and nursery stock; collected trees, imported, tropical, etc. as well as the more traditional groupings by size or by style (upright, cascade, etc.). It goes into some detail on a point system for trees that may be judged at a show based on horticultural factors (roots, taper, leaf size, etc.), training factors (pruning, wiring, and position in container), grooming, and the containers themselves. It winds up with a possible point scale a judge might use in a competition. Illustrated with well-done line drawings. A useful, readable book.

The Spirit of Bonsai Design : Combine the power of Zen and nature.: Chye Tan. C & B Publishers. 2003.

This book opens with 15-16 pages of a "Zen Bonsai" gallery, with a short explanation of the "Zen Qualities" in the caption for each tree. The pictured bonsai are all quite acceptable specimens; several are very nice.

In a chapter expounding on the relationship of Zen and bonsai, the author notes the amount that Zen "borrowed" (or was given) from Taoist philosophy as it was developing in China. He continues, noting that after Zen Buddhism reached Japan, "(It) had a profound effect on painting, calligraphy, poetry, and the tea ceremony, bringing with it an emphasis on simplicity and austerity, subtlety, and tranquility. Garden design, ikebana (the art of flower arrangement) and bonsai also evolved under its influence."

The Zen references are more in the line of "armchair Zen" than anything particularly philosophical (at least in the reviewers opinion).

Is the book worth the money? I think so. Just. There's more on design and less on the "how-to" basics that are covered endlessly in other books (although how-to isn't ignored here). Since design is less frequently (or well) covered elsewhere in bonsai literature, that makes this book worthwhile. It is not, however, something for beginners in the art.

Beginners Books & DVD’s 

Mame and Shohin Books

Indoor Bonsai Books



























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