For beginners, bonsai books can serve as invaluable reference tools. This article explores bonsai books particularly suited to those beginning the hobby. We’ll cover three books, plus add a bonus recommendation.
As you begin to practice bonsai, you’ll need to educate yourself about established techniques associated with the hobby. You can turn to a variety of resources, including this site, but it’s always helpful to read and own some reference books as well.
While there are many books written about bonsai, I find that most seem more suited to folks who have been practicing the art for some time. Relatively few approach the subject in a manner that makes it easy for beginners to follow.
The following are my recommendations for three bonsai books that are well-suited to beginners. Borrow them from your local library or check with your favorite book seller to purchase a copy for your personal bookshelf.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links”. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a small affiliate commission.
The Complete Practical Encyclopedia of Bonsai
by Ken Norman
If you’re looking for a comprehensive handbook for most things bonsai, this is one of the better resources I’ve come across. This bonsai book by respected UK bonsai artist Ken Norman covers a wide range of information in its 250+ pages.
The book’s depth of subject matter offers help to new bonsai hobbyists hoping to expand skills and try new techniques. Plus, it’s illustrated with quality photos throughout. Some highlights include:
- Detailed descriptions of techniques with photo illustrations
- A section on various propagation techniques
- Discussion and how-tos for 15 styles of bonsai
- Special section on indoor bonsai
- Guidelines on displaying bonsai
- An inspirational gallery featuring photographs of beautiful, mature bonsai
- Glossary of types of plants suitable for bonsai
For anyone interested in taking up bonsai, this book can serve as both a guide for getting started and as an aspirational reference for future projects. It’s suitable for beginners, as well as those with some experience in the hobby.
Get The Complete Practical Encyclopedia of Bonsai by Ken Norman
The Little Book of Bonsai: An Easy Guide to Caring for Your Bonsai Tree
by Jonas Dupich
This guide provides beginning and intermediate enthusiasts a concise introduction to the art of bonsai. Author Jonas Dupich, a bonsai expert from California, covers bonsai styles, tools and containers, as well as techniques and bonsai care. In addition, he briefly discusses the characteristics of the broad groups of species used in the practice.
A mere 8” tall, this little hardcover book offers easy portability for reading on the go. Likewise, tuck it into a kit of bonsai supplies for handy reference when working on trees. It’s peppered with quality photos that depict lovely bonsai examples or illustrate the topic being discussed..
Order The Little Book of Bonsai: An Easy Guide to Caring for Your Bonsai Tree by Jonas Dupich.
The Bonsai Beginner’s Bible: The Definitive Guide to Choosing and Growing Bonsai
by Peter Chan
This compact volume by well-known bonsai artist, Peter Chan, is one I would recommend beginners turn to after they’ve read one of the other books highlighted in this article.
Why this advice? The Bonsai Beginner’s Bible focuses on providing information on the many types of trees and shrubs suitable for training as bonsai. Although the first 40 pages of this 320-page book cover some high-level information about the practice of bonsai, the real appeal of this book lies in the sections that follow.
The book presents information on individual species of bonsai-appropriate plants on each two-page spread. Furthermore, it divides the plant discussion into four categories – outdoor coniferous bonsai, outdoor broad-leaved bonsai, outdoor flowering bonsai and indoor tropical and sub-tropical bonsai. The individual write-ups are consistently structured, well-organized and attractively presented. They all include an intro section, a brief discussion of the tree’s preferred environmental conditions and a section with basics on how to care for the species as a bonsai. Each write-up includes a photo of that species trained as a bonsai.
I see this book as best-suited to beginners who already have a tree or two and are actively looking to add to their collections. While the book is by no means an exhaustive list of plants suitable for bonsai, the 180+ species outlined here can provide inspiration for future acquisitions. Its compact size makes it suitable to carry on visits to garden centers and bonsai nurseries for reference when browsing for the perfect next project.
Order the Bonsai Beginner’s Bible by Peter Chan.
The Little Book of Bonsai: Master the Art of Growing Miniature Trees
by Malcolm and Kath Hughes
Although the title of this post promised three books, I’m adding a bonus fourth book to the list! If the title seems familiar, you have a good memory. Like the second book highlighted in this post, this one is also called The Little Book of Bonsai.
I wanted to include this book because I think it’s one of the better books for beginners. However, I shied away from making it one of the featured bonsai books because it seems to be out of print. Nevertheless, those who wish to purchase a copy might find it through second-hand booksellers. You might also check area libraries for a copy to borrow.
A favorite bonsai book for beginners
This little gem is my personal all-time favorite bonsai book. Not only is the information well organized and presented in a way that is targeted to beginners, but the book as a whole is a charming reflection of the artistry and discipline inherent in the practice of bonsai.
Authors Malcolm and Kath Hughes, bonsai experts from the UK, arrange the book’s information into three major sections. The first deals with the history of bonsai and what the aspiring hobbyist needs to know and acquire in order to get started. The second illustrates shaping, styling and care techniques to create a bonsai-in-training. The third section provides information on some of the more common species used for bonsai.
The book incorporates beautifully rendered illustrations and graphics to help convey information. What’s more, it also includes plenty of lovely bonsai photographs to excite and inspire beginners to the hobby. As someone whose career has included work related to print design, I appreciate the organization, thought and skill that obviously went into crafting this book.
I highly recommend this bonsai book for those starting out in the hobby. Check with your local library to see if it might be on-hand for borrowing. At the time this post was written, a number of used book sellers also offer it for purchase.
Order The Little Book of Bonsai: Master the Art of Growing Miniature Trees by Malcolm and Kath Hughes.
After reviewing the information in one or more of these books, you should be ready to tackle creating a bonsai. Check out our tips for selecting pre-bonsai or nursery specimens for your project.
In Summary . . .
Bonsai beginners can benefit from reading books on the subject. Bonsai books that are written and organized with an eye towards helping those just getting started in the hobby are especially helpful. We outlined subjects covered in three books that novices should find readily available for purchase or for borrowing from libraries. We also covered a fourth book worth the bit of extra effort it might take to acquire.