Bonsai and Penjing

A popular feature of the National Arboretum is the extensive collection of bonsai and penjing. If you are like us you will have some idea about bonsai, being miniature versions of trees, growing in small decorative Japanese dishes. Bonsai has been practised in Japan for at least 1,200 years.IMG_2074

Penjing is quite similar but involves more than one tree. Penjing is the art of growing a miniature landscape in a pot or tray, and has been practised in China for at least 1,400 years.



The oldest known bonsai and penjing are over 600 years old. While trees can live for hundreds and sometimes thousands of years, bonsai and penjing can live indefinitely because of the constant regeneration of their roots.

Coastal tea tree, Leptospermum laevigatum

Coastal tea tree, Leptospermum laevigatum

About 80 bonsai and penjing are usually on display in the Collection, including a variety of traditional and modern styles, and both exotic and Australian trees. They are all on loan from the artists, or their family or friends.


Penjing may have an attachedΒ a story or piece of poetry, and include rocks, different trees, ground covers and small figurines or objects.


An important philosophical principle of bonsai and penjing is reverence for old age and respect for individuals who have survived life’s difficulties with humility and dignity.


Bonsai and penjing artists sculpt the living tree to produce a miniature version of a full-size tree growing in the wild. They are designed to create a sense of calm and peacefulness.


Some of the native Australian trees on display last Friday were Banksias, Eucalypts and Tea Tree.



We were all quite intrigued, but I am sorry I did not have better light for photos. It is a place I would like to return to!



Growers say the bonsai art inspires a great love and respect for nature and an understanding of universal truths … which can only be a good thing!



51 thoughts on “Bonsai and Penjing

  1. Reblogged this on KenMaursCorner and commented:
    Another reason to visit our country’s Capitol……to visit the arboretum especially the Bonsai and penjing! Isn’t the Banksia FANTASTIC! I kept looking for the “big bad banksia man” to appear

  2. Christine You have given me another reason to revisit Canberra…….to see the Bonsai collection! Especially the Banksia.
    Thank you once again for sharing. Did the kids go looking for the big bad banksia man?

    • I did not seem to be near the kids much in there, I was concentrating on the pics … and they were rushing ahead! I have posted another banksia pic, see the link below in a comment πŸ™‚

  3. Oh I love the aesthetics of bonsai, but I have reservations about interfering with nature. I also like the land art of people like Andy Goldsworthy, with the same reservations. How on earth do I resolve this? I look back at the images you’ve posted, especially the first one – the lovely winding together of the two trunks – and I’m delighted at its beauty. Can I see as homage: highlighting the essences of the trees, especially their trunks, by miniaturising?

  4. The penjing look beautiful. You mentioned that both exotic and Australian trees are used for creating penjing, so I wondered: are there specific trees that can only be used for bonsai and penjing? Or can the artist use any tree species?

  5. I’m almost more inspired by the fact that these exhibit pieces are on loan from local artists – because the manipulation of nature like this is an art – as I am by the wonderful pieces. I’m entranced by how the ‘natives’ respond – especially the banksia, I must admit! “)

    • I loved the banksia too, all that gnarly bark … there were two, and one had an enormous full-size cone … very interesting πŸ™‚ Yes, I cannot imagine the years of painstaking work to train a tree like that …. I always remember a book I read where the hero’s bonsai (started the year he was born by his father) ((sorry tangled grammar)) was smashed …. it does not pay to be too attached!

      On Tue, Apr 29, 2014 at 9:51 AM, dadirridreaming wrote:


  6. I absolutely love these. I’m trying to bring on some native (GB) deciduous trees grown from seedlings found on the woodland floor. It’s painstakingly slow!

      • I’ve got Oak, Hawthorn, Rowan and Hazel. I’m trying to Bonzai them having root pruned twice and prune in spring for shape. They are all flourishing but I feel I need to be more brave when root pruning. Yes, I talk to them too. Thanks for your interest.

  7. Ah! I learn something new once again. πŸ™‚ I have a beautiful bonsai garden close to my home and am a great admirer, but I’ve never heard the term “penjing.” I have definitely noticed multiple trees and elaborate garden settings in miniature, but didn’t know there was a distinction and I’m thrilled to learn otherwise! The examples you’ve shared are really quite spectacular!

    • I wonder if you will notice something written about penjing when you look again? … I certainly had not heard that word before last Friday! It was a real thrill to see them πŸ™‚

  8. Such beautiful photos Christine. I’m really looking forward to visiting the Arboretum. I have never heard the word “Penjing”, I learn so much from other peoples blogs. What patience and dedication has gone into the sculpting of these living works of art.

  9. Christine – I was once the owner of a Bonsai…but of course it didn’t live this long…I just once in my life wanted to try – being a flower and nature enthusiast. The little tree lasted for some years, but with the amount of travelling we did in those days – my poor mother’s nerves went thin with having to care for my strange garden wims.

    This is a wonderful post! “Penjing” I must admit, I have never heard of. This must be a reblog – hope you allow me to!

    Have a great weekend!

    • I am thrilled that you would like to share it AnnChristine, these lovely trees are the work of talented artists … but of course anyone can try to do it … I imagine it must be tempting for those in a very cold climate to want to bring nature indoors πŸ™‚

      On Thu, May 1, 2014 at 7:57 PM, dadirridreaming wrote:


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