If you check any tourism guide for Pennsylvania (yes, they exist) one of the ‘must-see’ stops is Longwood Gardens. Longwood is a beautiful piece of property that is rich in both natural conservation and history. I won’t belabor the details; suffice it to say that the place developed out of an odd mixture of arboreal enthusiasm and gunpowder barronism.

Amongst Longwood’s 1050 acres of finely tuned gardens and landscapes lies a very large conservatory. Areas inside the conservatory are dedicated to different climates and varieties of plant life. One such room is dedicated to bonsai.

For those unfamiliar, the term “bonsai” refers to the growing of miniature trees in pots or amidst small landscapes. “Bonsai” (bone-sigh) is not to be confused with “Banzai” (bahn-z-eye), which is used as a cry of enthusiasm meaning roughly “ten thousand years”. Banzai also has a connection to Kamikaze pilots in World War II, so it is proper to understand the difference.

Bonsai are famous (and infamous) for the amount of skill and care that goes into their care. The number of species used in Bonsai planting is extremely vast, as is their longevity if properly cared for.

The goal of bonsai growing is to test the imagination and skill of the grower, as well as spur contemplation and appreciation in the viewer. It is not entirely unlike Ikebana, the art of flower arrangement.

Here are a select few Bonsai on display in the Longwood Conservatory. Note their age and the amount of careful guidance that has gone into their growth. Click any of the images below for a closer look, and please excuse some of the glare. These trees were kept behind glass in a carefully controlled environment.


Japanese Black Pine Bonsai

Japanese Black Pine Bonsai. Training begun 1949. This tree represents a recognizable and well known style of bonsai design.


Sargent Juniper Bonsai

Sargent Juniper Bonsai. Training unstated. This tree has a particularly strong ‘Karate Kid’ feel to it. I know I’m lessening the artestry of it by saying that, but it’s true.


Loose Flower Hornbeam Bonsai

Loose Flower Hornbeam Bonsai. Training begun 1990. This was a really cool display as it was like a miniature forest. The ground moss helped perpetuate that feeling and worked in proper scale.


Azalea Bonsai

Azalea Bonsai. Training unstated. Showed great symmetry and balance via the bifurcation in the trunk.


Ginko Bonsai

Ginko Bonsai. Training begun 1909. This was a Chinese styled bonsai with an incredible age of over 100 years.


Dwarf Japanese Juniper Bonsai

Dwarf Japanese Garden Juniper Bonsai. Training begun 1966. This is an interesting specimen because it shows the Japanese penchant for intentional asymmetry.


The care and patience that goes into the development of these artful trees corresponds significantly with our martial arts. A product like this is not the result of a year of pruning, or even five years. It takes decades, and the more the tree grows the subtler it’s beauty becomes.