Which books would one recommend for a beginner?

Dave M

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Geneva, Switzerland
Hello, as above.

I have heard "Bonsai for beginners" by Craig Coussins is good as are a number of beginner books by Colin Lewis, Peter Adams, Harry Tomlinson or Herb Gustafson.

Happy for guidance here for about 3 books with hopefully non-overlapping strengths to give me a good grounding in the subject.

Best wishes,

Dave M
Hi Dave,

I would recommend Bonsai Techniques I and II, by John Naka. Don't be put off by the lack of more modern color photos. All of that is available online. The information contained is extremely valuable if you are wanting to make a serious go at bonsai. Another "classic" is The Japanese Art of Miniature Trees and Landscapes, by Yuji Yoshimura and Giovanna M. Halford.

I would agree with kurt, these are the most informative and complete books out there. I have actually heard them called the old and new testament of Bonsai. Also they are expensive even the used copies but i guarantee you will be satisfied.
Regarding John Naka's books, is there three bonsai technique books?
Bonsai Techniques, Bonsai Techniques 1, Bonsai Techniques 2? Or is Bonsai Techniques 1 a reprint of Bonsai Techniques?
I thnk the absolute best book for beginner and other bonsaiests is Deborah Koreshoff's "Bonsai -- Its Art, Science, history, and Philosophy.

Naka's books (and there are only two in that series -- he wrote some other specialized ones -- are fine, but a tad old fashioned. I have them but seldom look at them these days.

For rank beginners, any of Peter Chan's books would be OK, too.
I would not recommend Naka's books for beginners. Neither would I recommend the Yuji Yoshimura book. Both are either dated, or aimed at specific niches in bonsai. The care instructions in Naka's books are aimed at people keeping bonsai in Southern California. The text is taken from the care sheets he provided to people out there 30 or 40 years ago. Applying the same instructions to caring for a tree in upstate NY or CO would probably bring bad results. Additionally, soil recipes are long out of date in both books and are probably not reproduceable anyway. Soil recipes have long oustripped both books. More modern recipes offer superior performance. Yoshimura's book is almost 60 years old now.

Design-wise, however, both authors are terrific. Pot selection instruction and examples are likewise. Naka's books and Yoshimura's can provide inspiration in design and background too. Trying to use either set of books as beginner texts would lead to some unneeded issues.

If you want a good beginner book, try something published in the last five years, Colin Lewis books "Bonsai: A Care Manual" and "Bonsai Survival Manual" are both great.

"The Complete Practical Encyclopedia of Bonsai: The essential step-by-step guide to creating, growing, and displaying bonsai with over 800 photographs" by Ken Norman is also good.

Craig Coussins' "Bonsai School" is another good one. The bonsai book produced by Sunset is also a good basic choice.
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Being new to bonsai, I like Ken Norman's "Complete Practical Encyclopedia of Bonsai" too. Professor Amy Liang's "The Living Art of Bonsai" I found to be inspirational & informative.
Peter Adams has a couple of books on japanese maples which are outstanding I think.

Dear all,

Thanks for taking the time to help out with your thoughts. Based on your feedback I am moving in the following direction:

The Naka books will stay off my shop list for now although can get them down the road once I have increased my knowledge a bit. Clearly they are seen as references. Please note I live in Switzerland so US-centric authors and books are less helpful to me.

Of the others discussed I still look for 3, perhaps 4 that will give me broad coverage. I think rockm gave some sound suggestions and advice regarding more recent offerings being particularly valuable.

In fact, it was rockm in another thread I had posted who had given me the Coussins title suggestion as well as the other authors. At the moment my list of possible purchases are from the following four authors:

Coussins - either "Bonsai for beginners" or "Bonsai school"
Lewis - either "Bonsai: A Care Manual" or "Bonsai Survival Manual"

For both of the above authors if people could perhaps indicate which of the two titles is better for a beginner I would be much obliged.

Norman - "Complete Practical Encyclopedia of Bonsai"
Koreshoff - "Bonsai -- Its Art, Science, history, and Philosophy"

That's the way I see it for now. As above, very happy if someone can guide me on the best single title for a begginer from Coussins and Lewis, and after that if people see a suggestion to narrow the field to 3 titles instead of 4 it would be much appreciated.

Best to all and many thanks,

You were just itching for someone to add to the decision tree, weren't you? ;)

I would include Harry Tomlinson's Complete Book of Bonsai on your bookshelf. Good info, good pictures, and some great diagrams of wiring techniques.

Only thing to keep in mind is that he's in England (Nottingham,) so his climate advice has to be tweaked for your location. I'd still get the book.
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