Hi Forestcat, I was going to reply with a link to a blog post that covers this topic but it's not in my bookmarks any more. Several links just go to the respective blogs and not the indexed page, perhaps the owners re-organized them or deleted content. Anyway, the blog page I'm looking for is from either Phutu or BonsaiTonight, at least I'm 90% sure of that. I thought it was Jonas who wrote about what an 'ideal' collection would look like for a hobbyist, in terms of what you can learn
the most from. This totally changed my way of thinking about bonsai and has had a huge impact on me. This blog post from Eric covers some of the topic, so maybe it was Eric and not Jonas: https://phutu.com/show-trees-will-show-you/
Eric talks about how having show trees or trying to reach that level will help you learn, and frankly I didn't care that much about show trees until reading this. Partly because buying a show-ready tree is very expensive and not 'mine', or at least my design, and partly because it always seems very out of reach. Anyway, I've acquired some trees that can potentially reach show quality in maybe 5-7 years, which isn't too bad and then I'll feel like I have had a strong hand in their design. Also I've started taking classes and workshops with pros to get better so I know what the hell I'm doing.
If you look at Jonas's blog index, ( guides
), it has guide categories about suitable material for bonsai: nursery stock, pre-bonsai, old/collected material, neglected bonsai and mature bonsai. What I've done to increase how much I learn from my collection is to have trees from every category. What he doesn't include are seeds and cuttings, but I guess that's a separate topic. I don't have any nice mature bonsai, but they tend to be very expensive. It's hard to justify spending $5000 or more on a single tree when I could get ten really nice field-grown trees for that much money.
Obviously everything depends on your goals, but the further I get in this hobby the more I want to learn, so instead of getting new species or varieties I've started looking for trees that I can learn from.
My old collection plan went something like: "gee, I'd love to have an ume, or princess persimmon, or broom zelkova..." just because I like them. As it turns out, refining bonsai and especially deciduous to get the fine ramification expected of a show tree is pretty damn hard, and a worthy challenge.