Japanese Garden Journal

Bonsai Garden

How are bonsai and Japanese gardens similar?  How are they different?  These are questions that any serious student (of either art form) should be able to answer.

The similarities between bonsai trees and (some) Japanese garden trees are numerous.  Both hope to evoke beautiful natural patterns.  Both employ traditional "Japanese" trees such as pine and maples.  With the exception of the bonsai pot, specimen bonsai and JN garden specimen trees are presented to the viewer in similar fashion.  And of course there are many overlapping pruning techniques that are shared by both art forms.

The differences are significant, however.  Take scale: even the biggest bonsai tree is usually only about 1 meter tall, while all Japanese garden tress are scaled to match the residential living environment.  Many are 4-5 meters tall.

They are different in function, too.  A bonsai tree is something like a piece of sculpture or a pet.  It is small and portable.  Japanese gardens, on the other hand, form the living environment that we live in.  They generally aren't meant to be viewed as art objects or with the type of sentiment reserved for pets.

And while some pruning techniques can be employed in both bonsai care and Japanese garden art, MANY are not.  Bonsai trees are also NOT generally included in a Japanese garden design.  Usually grandpa has his own bonsai tables set off to the side of the house, completely separate from the traditional Japanese landscaping out back.

JOJG has published many articles about these and other topics.  Posted below are a few "bonsai garden" articles for review:


MINIATURIZATION   This "myth" article exposes the false assumption that Japanese gardens contain trees that are somehow dwarfed or miniature.  Not true.

BONSAI PLANTS VS. JAPANESE GARDENING   This viewpoints-style article asked six experts to compare bonsai plants and Japanese gardening.  Each was asked the following question: "Please compare bonsai plants and Japanese gardening.  How are they similar?  How are they different?"

SOME BONSAI-RELATED QUESTIONS   This article discusses in detail various comparisons of scale and function in JN gardens and bonsai trees.

DON'T BONSAI YOUR GARDEN TREES   Some bonsai pruning techniques are not suitable for Japanese gardens.  This article talks about differences in scale between bonsai trees and Japanese garden trees.  The article discusses the unfortunate results that can occur when bonsai pruning techniques are blindly applied to garden trees.

DON'T BE FOOLED BY THE DWARF PLANT PLOY   Some so-called "experts" boast about how they integrate their bonsai collections with Japanese gardens.  It doesn't work, and here's why.