A Guide to Bonsai in Boston

Where to buy, see, and learn about the pint-sized potted plants.

bonsai in boston

Photo via iStock/vkbhat

Listen up, city slickers hopping aboard the urban gardening train.

Caring for plants is therapeutic, yes, but urban gardening takes patience, effort, and some skill. While any apartment dweller can stick an air plant or a succulent in a terrarium and call it a day, consider taking up an ancient art form that happens to thrive in a city environment. Bonsai, which translates to “planted in a container” in Japanese, is a 1,000-year-old practice. It has its beginnings in China, but is dubbed as Japanese because of its later role in Japanese Zen Buddhism.

Bonsai are purposely dwarfed potted trees. They’re meant to be a scaled-down representation of the beauty of nature. Caring for bonsai is a horticultural art of sorts, as they require meticulous pruning to maintain their miniature size—branches are shaped and styled the way a full-sized tree might look. If properly cared for, the trees can live for hundreds of years.

Massachusetts has a few impressively large retailers and gardens to serve the state’s bonsai needs. We won’t pretend to be experts in the ancient art, so in the picks for bonsai resources near Boston, we’ve also included a few classes to get growers started.

WHERE TO BUY

New England Bonsai Gardens

New England Bonsai Gardens is one of the largest bonsai nurseries in the country. Situated on eight acres in Bellingham, the nursery boasts eight greenhouses and thousands of trees. Since 1987, the company has sought to deliver top-notch bonsai and bonsai education. It has a community of more than 2,000 New England Bonsai Garden members who share tips and get discounts on workshops and tree sitting services. (Yes, tree sitting is a real thing.)

New England Bonsai Gardens, 914 S Main Street, Bellingham, nebonsai.com.

Bonsai Outlet

Ashley Carrier founded Bonsai Outlet 15 years ago after receiving a plant as a gift from his wife. Now, the company can say it’s shipped more than 150,000 healthy trees to growers around the United States. By pairing with a variety of nurseries around the country, the bonsai behemoth ships trees from gardens closest to its customers. The e-commerce company’s Fitchburg headquarters house the entirety of the outlet’s non-tree items, including thousands of pots, gardening instruments, soil, and figurines.

Bonsai Outlet, bonsaioutlet.com.

Bonsai West

Bonsai West is a two-acre nursery in Littleton claiming the most extensive collection of specimen bonsai outside of Japan. Browse the outdoor collection during warmer months, or check out the greenhouse that’s open year-round. The nursery advertises beginner trees starting at $25, as well as plenty of starter materials and tools. There’s also a large selection of finished bonsai to ogle at.

Bonsai West, 100 Great Road, Littleton, bonsaiwest.com.

 

WHERE TO SEE

The Larz Anderson Bonsai Collection at the Arnold Arboretum

Larz Anderson (of Larz Anderson Auto Museum and Larz Anderson Park fame) was the U.S. ambassador to Japan from 1912 to 1913. During that time, he amassed a huge bonsai collection, importing it to the United States when he returned. Upon his death in 1937, Anderson’s wife Isabel donated much of his collection to the Arnold Arboretum, as well as money to build a structure to house them. After her death a few years later, the entire collection was turned over to the Arboretum where it sits today.

Many of the specimens are on view from April through November, including six hinoki cypress that Anderson bought in Japan. Each of the trees is between 150 and 275 years old, which explains why the trees—over near the Leventritt Shrub & Vine Garden—are under lock and key.

The Bonsai & Penjing Collection at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, Arborway, Jamaica Plain, arboretum.harvard.edu.

 

WHERE TO LEARN

Kaikou School of Bonsai at New England Bonsai Gardens

It’s no wonder that one of the country’s most comprehensive nurseries also offers its own bonsai school. The Kaikou School of Bonsai focuses on intensive bonsai study and practice. It offers a two-year program that delves into both artistic creation and horticultural sciences. Taught by bonsai artist John Romano, classes outline design, wiring and pruning techniques, proper repotting, and other topics through lessons and assignments.

Kaikou Scbool of Bonsai at New England Bonsai Gardens, 914 S Main Street, Bellingham, kaikouschoolofbonsai.com.

Classes at Bonsai West

Littleton’s Bonsai West offers a variety of classes and workshops for beginners and masters alike. They range from introductory courses to Repotting 101 and specific plant workshops like Japanese Maple Bonsai and Redwood Forest Planting.

Bonsai West, 100 Great Road, Littleton, bonsaiwest.com.

Suthin Bonsai Studio

Award-winning bonsai artist Suthin Sukosolvisit offers private and group bonsai workshops, study groups, and demonstrations when he’s not lecturing about the practice internationally. He houses his plants at a garden called Royal Bonsai Garden in Stoughton, and directs inquiries to [email protected].

Suthin Bonsai Studio, suthinbonsaistudio.com.