The Complete Practical Encyclopedia of Bonsai
David M. Dye
Ken Norman has written several books dedicated to bonsai, but his most popular is the subject of this review.
With a name like this: The Complete Practical Encyclopedia of Bonsai: The essential step-by-step guide to creating, growing, and displaying bonsai with over 800 photographs, you might expect this book to have difficulty fulfilling the title’s promise.
Fortunately, in less than 250 pages, Ken Norman delivers a book that is exactly what it promises to be: an encyclopedic overview – and one with beautiful photographs too!
The Complete Practical Encyclopedia of Bonsai takes the reader on a journey from the history and origins of the art all the way through techniques for care and maintenance, styles, and display.
In addition, Norman includes a directory of Bonsai species from A (Acer buergerianum) to Z (Zelkova serrate). Each species in the A-Z directory receives a brief description, country of origin, suitable styles, and brief environmental conditions.
Along with the core history, techniques, styles, and display, that is a tremendous amount of information to cover adequately in one volume. Frankly, I did not think one book could address so many areas and do them justice…especially not when you make room for the photography. Wow – was I ever wrong!
About the pictures: they’re awesome. I love bonsai and bonsai photography. Great trees nourish my soul and there are plenty of beautiful specimens displayed with great photography.
One aspect of the photography I also appreciated is that Norman pays attention to starting material. It can be discouraging for beginners to be confronted with garden or nursery material and contrast it with someone’s gorgeous trees that have been training for decades.
The Complete Practical Encyclopedia includes several types of starting material shown in various stages (and helps make it clear to the novice that this is not an ‘instant gratification’ hobby).
Despite the amazing quality of the photographs and the attention paid to starting material, I only rated image quality at 4 out of a maximum of 5 stars. This rating comes from a common failing of bonsai photography: showing pruning techniques.
When bonsai guides describe pruning, they frequently do so with a before and after photo accompanied with text describing what was done. This is perhaps adequate for an experienced artist who already understands the technique.
However, for a novice attempting to learn the specifics, these photographs are frustrating. They lack arrows or something to indicate exactly what the words describe and the confusion of green-on-green makes it difficult to discern exactly what was done.
A quick aside: In my opinion, most videos are only slightly better – it is a difficult thing to capture and is better relayed in person or in sketches such as you find in Peter Adams’s Bonsai with Japanese Maples.
Apart from that one common flaw, the photography is wonderful and despite 800 photographs I was left wanting more.
Who Is For?
The Complete Practical Encyclopedia of Bonsai is an excellent introductory guide for the novice. The writing is very accessible, readily understood, amply illustrated with many examples and step-by-step instructions.
Bonsai enthusiasts will also find this book to be an enjoyable overview – and perhaps with one or two new bits of information on a species or technique you haven’t yet encountered.
I gave the content a 4 rating out of 5 only because this is an encyclopedia and, of necessity, suffers from an inability to be exhaustive or as detailed as necessary in some areas. It is hard to be a “complete” encyclopedia.
This is not a failing and should not be construed negatively. A beginner will find everything they need to get started in The Complete Practical Encyclopedia of Bonsai and can then pursue more detailed study in specific articles, volumes, and videos.
[tabgroup][tab title=”Publishers Summary”]
This book defines and describes the ancient craft of bonsai. The techniques of this precise art form are clearly described, and provides a stunning and fully comprehensive reference that is ideal for the beginner as well as the more experienced bonsai artist.
[/tab][tab title=”About the Author”]
Ken Norman has been growing bonsai for over forty years. He and his wife Ann have an important collection of bonsai permanently displayed at Leonardslee Gardens, West Sussex, England. Ken is a past Chairman of both the Federation of British Bonsai Societies (FOBBS) and the Friends of the National Bonsai Collection (FNBC). He is also a founder member, past Chairman and current President of the Sussex Bonsai Group and has been involved in organizing national and international bonsai conventions. Ken and Ann have been awarded six Gold Medals at the world famous Chelsea Flower Show, including a Gold Medal at Chelsea 2004.
David received this book from ofBonsai Magazine as payment for this review.[/tab]