The Bonsai Beginner’s Course
The course is available via the Bonsai Empire website for $19.99 through June 8th – the cost may rise if you sign up after the 8th. I was provided access to the course for review purposes.
Getting up and running with the course was simple. Including breaks, it took about 2 hours to complete the 17 lectures. Each lecture covers a topic like “What is Bonsai?” or “Repotting” with a video and lecture notes. Most lectures are brief – between 3-6 minutes – with the longer lectures running up to 18 minutes. The material is easy to navigate, and as we’ve come to expect from Bjorn’s videos (Bjorn edited the course) and Bonsai Empire, the production quality is very good.
Navigating the course – Lecture 2, What is Bonsai?
Narration is provided by Oscar from Bonsai Empire and Bjorn Bjorholm – most of the technical topics are covered by Bjorn. Key Takeaways cap a number of the lectures to reinforce key points, and you’ll find a quiz towards the end of the course.
The course is squarely aimed at people who are new to bonsai or who have not had much exposure to bonsai done at a high level. Experienced bonsai enthusiasts will appreciate the beautiful trees and a peek at gardens they may not otherwise get a chance to see, but they will likely find the material to be very basic.
For beginners, I’d say the course is not a step-by-step how-to guide. It’s a good overview that provides context for learning more about bonsai and a few entry points for getting started with your own trees.
On that note, I think the strongest lecture is the one that focuses on creating your own bonsai tree. It is the longest and most detailed lecture in the course. In it, Bjorn leads us through the steps of how to select material suitable for bonsai and talks us through the work that follows. He uses a shimpaku juniper for the exercise and demonstrates how to find the front, select branches, apply wire and repot. It’s a great overview of the process we go through when we bring home new trees.
Refining a shimpaku juniper
Are there images of beautiful trees in the course? Yes. Will I see trees I won’t see elsewhere online? Yes. Will participating in the course make the trees in my garden better? For beginners, yes, the course can lay some of the groundwork for further study. The course also dispels some pernicious myths – I was particularly happy to see the practice of pinching juniper bonsai strongly discouraged. For more experienced bonsai enthusiasts, whether or not the course helps your collection is up to you.
Breaking down the size categories with beautiful sample trees
A tokonoma display at Nobuyuki Yanai’s residence
What would I like to see more of? How-to information that can help enthusiasts who may not have access to good bonsai material or instruction. The lecture on wiring shows very good technique and provides all of the basic information, but there’s a lot more to say on the topic – possibly material we’ll see in a subsequent course.
One of the more entertaining lectures features Bjorn via time-lapse photography working on a huge white pine over 4 days. I think it’s great to see just how much work goes into such an undertaking and it’s fun to watch as the branch pads take shape.
Still want more information on the course? Check out the course site at Bonsai Empire.
Already took the course? Feel free to share your comments below.
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