Bonsai Courtyard

As part of Longwood Reimagined, this garden space will open November 22, 2024.

Contemplative, Curated, Ever-changing
Best Seasons to Visit
Spring, Summer, Autumn

Each season brings new discoveries, from the spring blooms of the courtyard’s cherry trees to the spectacular blossoms of our prized azalea specimens. The lush humidity of the summer months pairs perfectly with the tropical specimens, while cooler nights and the onset of autumn bring the much-anticipated hues of the trident maples, ginkgos, and hornbeams. During the late fall and winter, we showcase our conifers, with their ancient, wizened forms. No matter the season, contemplating our world-class collection brings to light the interconnectedness of art, nature, and perseverance.

About This Garden

The emphasis of our 12,500-square-foot garden courtyard is our nationally recognized, meticulously curated, core collection of nearly 200 miniature trees. Within this quiet sanctuary, guests enjoy a rotating display of up to 50-60 specimens, including selections of great rarity and beauty donated by The Kennett Collection. Diverse in their origins and characteristics, our trees encompass sub-collections that span the globe, including tropical, deciduous, conifer, American, and Japanese specimens.

A minimalist backdrop—crushed stone, charred wood, and a muted color palette—creates a contemplative atmosphere and encourages guests to engage with each arboreal specimen. The bonsai are displayed with 360 degrees of visual access for closer study and appreciation, while wooden benches provide moments for reflection on the quiet artistry of twisted trunks, sweeping branches, and delicate foliage. Permanent horticultural elements, including a carpinus hedge, Yoshino cherries (Prunus x yedoensis) and underplantings of polypody ferns (Polypodium) softly harmonize with the seasonal display of living sculptures.

A Bit of History

Our bonsai collection dates back to 1959, five years following the passing of Longwood’s founder, Pierre S. du Pont. During this period of transition, renowned bonsai artist Yuji Yoshimura (1921–1997), who crafted one of the first bonsai books in English, visited the US and was invited to speak at Brooklyn Botanic Gardens and at Longwood. Yoshimura performed a demo and demand was clear—11 sections, each with seven students, quickly filled up. Thirty others had to be turned away. That’s when it was decided Longwood would begin building a bonsai collection. We purchased 13 trees from Yoshimura, and of those original 13 bonsai, four remain today—Japanese zelkova, ginkgo, crape-myrtle, and Chinese elm. Since 1959, our bonsai collection has been managed by only six curators and its location has moved to accommodate and highlight the growing collection.

In 2022, we received a transformative gift from The Kennett Collection—the finest and largest private collection of bonsai and bonsai-related objects outside of Asia. The initial gift included 50 trees of outstanding quality that are especially remarkable for their lineage, including examples from many of Japan’s most famous nurseries, such as the Chinsho-en nursery run by the Nakanishi family in Takamatsu, as well as from world-renowned bonsai artists, including Kimura Masahiko, who is known as “The Magician”; Suzuki Shinji of Japan; and Suthin Sukosolvisit of Boston. The gift also included Omono or “very large” bonsai, measuring three to four feet in height and weighing a few hundred pounds each, as well as bonsai-related objects, notably the containers in which the bonsai are harmoniously trained.

We’re thrilled to share that over the course of the next two years and leading up to the opening of Longwood Reimagined: A New Garden Experience, The Kennett Collection—the finest and largest private collection of bonsai and bonsai-related objects outside of Asia—will give 50 bonsai to Longwood.

What is Bonsai?

The practice of miniaturizing plants spans centuries—originating in China several hundreds of years before the Japanese began mastering the art sometime around the seventh century. Known as penjing in China, or “potted scenery,” this initial artform didn’t idealize nature, but instead aimed to capture the wild beauty of nature in tiny form. Around the 12th century, Japanese artisans had evolved the art into the controlled form known today as bonsai, or “tree in a shallow pot.” The art of bonsai is characterized by elements such as trunk shapes, branch placement, and preferred species, aiming to represent the magnificence of ancient trees in various habitats.

For centuries, the art of bonsai and the secrets of its form remained in Japan. It wasn’t until the 1950s, after American military were stationed in Japan during WWII, that the artform began captivating Americans.

As the name implies, central to the essence of bonsai is the interplay between a tree and its vessel, or pot. Whether cultivated from seeds or shaped from shrubs and trees gathered from the wild or acquired from local nurseries, it is the container that contributes to the harmonious character of the bonsai composition. It should effortlessly complement and enhance the tree, but never detract from the tree’s inherent, wild-seeming beauty.

Bonsai is a living art form that demands continual training and assessment to uphold tree shape, structure, and overall health. Mastering these essential skills requires dedication and years of study to acquire horticultural, artistic, and technical expertise. Skilled bonsai artists are adept at celebrating the passage of time, capable of treating and training even young specimens to present the appearance of much greater age.

The Bonsai Workshop

Our Bonsai Workshop, housed inside the historic Potting Shed, serves as the hub for preparing and refining our collection of bonsai trees. Within, our experts, visiting artists, and volunteers employ a range of techniques such as repotting, pruning, and wiring to guide new growth. During select times when open to the public, guests will find a traditional tokonoma display gracing an alcove inside the workshop. Tokonoma is the tradition of displaying a carefully chosen collection, which may include a bonsai tree, scroll painting, suiseki stone, or flower arrangement such as kusamono or shitakusa.

Beyond our exceptional array of trees, we take immense pride in our collection of more than 500 artisanal pots on display in the workshop. Spanning from ancient Chinese antiques to pots crafted in revered Japanese kilns, extending to contemporary masterpieces from potters across the globe, our collection stands as a testament to the artistry and diversity of bonsai cultivation.

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