Review: The Bonsai Beginner’s Course by Bonsai Empire and Bjorn Bjorholm
Very impressive videos!
Due to the limited time available to present this information, one vital key element was overlooked: health.
Bonsai Empire recently released a Beginner’s Bonsai course featuring Bjorn Bjorholm and Oscar Jonker. There has been a bit of hype built up regarding this course for some time now so I figured that I would take a look.Buy Now
The course begins with a brief introduction to bonsai, its history, and various styles. My initial perception was that production value and the beginner friendliness of this course is impressive which lead me to think, “where was this when I started?!” With the scattered information throughout online websites, books, magazines, and DVDs, it is incredibly difficult for a beginner to get a good overview of bonsai; trust me, it took me a couple of months to learn everything covered in the first chapter of this course. Using beautiful corresponding pictures, Oscar covers the various styles of bonsai design: informal upright, formal upright, slant, literati, windswept, forest, and root over rock.
In the second chapter, Techniques, Bjorn goes into further detail regarding tools, pruning, wiring, repotting, watering, and fertilizing. This section ends with a little quiz to make sure viewers walk away with the information they need. First, Bjorn breaks down the various species of bonsai trees into three categories and explains their various characteristics: deciduous, broadleaf evergreen, and coniferous evergreen (again, information that takes some research to really learn). He then gives a broad overview of the basic tools used in bonsai. Tools beyond the bare essentials were not discussed; this is where I felt like the audience could benefit from learning about other tools such as tweezers and knob cutters.
Bjorn then transitions from tools into much more complicated information, pruning techniques. He discusses the various pruning techniques to increase ramification for whorl coniferous evergreens such as pines, elongating coniferous evergreens like junipers, alternating leaf pattern trees such as elms or ficus, and opposite pattern trees species like maples. Due to the limited time available to present this information, one vital key element was overlooked: health. In bonsai, the health of a tree is the precursor to styling and pruning. While Bjorn mentions to only use these techniques on healthy trees, most beginners and even many veterans don’t know how healthy trees should look. This may result in individuals working on trees when they need to allow the trees to rest. The video even mentions defoliation as a method to gain ramification. In my humble opinion, defoliation is an incredibly dangerous tool and should never be used by anyone unless they are incredibly well versed in understanding tree health. While the information in this section is accurate and well presented, the lack of context in terms of tree health may lead to weakened, or even worse, dead trees.
Moving onto the wiring section, Bjorn walks through the types of wire, the purpose of wiring, broad overview of how to wire, and how to set branches. This section is very informative while basic enough for a beginner to grasp. Again, due to the limited time available, actual instructions on how to wire were skimmed over. A good visual example of how wire should be applied will come later in the course. For individuals who would like a more comprehensive explanation of how to effectively apply wire, I recommend Boon’s Bonsai Basics DVDs.
The repotting section of this course is presented very well and detailed enough to get beginners started. Bjorn goes through everything from pot preparation, root work, to after care. The information in this section is a must see for all beginners as it is the primer to tree health.
My favorite section, by far, is the watering section. Bjorn gives insight into the watering regimen of bonsai nurseries in Japan and goes into detail regarding when and how to water. The accompanying video was also fun to watch as it showed exactly how the trees are watered to keep from over flowing and to keep the soil from eroding out of the pot. This section is a must watch for everyone in bonsai.
After the fertilizing section, which is pretty straight forward, there is a brief quiz where the viewer must grab a pen or pencil to keep track of their answers. The questions cover some of the more broad information presented. Once the quiz is over, the real fun begins, designing a pre-bonsai.
The “Creating your own Bonsai tree” section is where it all comes together. Bjorn walks the viewer through the criteria to select good nursery stock trees, styling decisions, the styling process, the final repotting. This section is invaluable as it fills in some holes in the previous sections and provides context to the information learned in the Techniques chapter. Even after styling and working with hundreds upon hundred of trees, I find this chapter very fun to watch as I get an inside perspective on how Bjorn approaches the styling of a tree. By seeing how he wires the branches, he fills in some of the gaps that the Wiring section left out which makes it a lot easier to understand the proper wiring techniques. The only crucial piece of information he left out is a part where he went from the bushy tree to a nice clean tree. Although Bjorn explained that foliage must be pulled from the underside of the branches and to cut long or upward growing branches, he failed to point out how he was also removing old interior foliage as well. While this may seem like a small detail, a beginner might become frustrated and wonder why their trees don’t quite look the same as his. Otherwise, I find this section to be the most comprehensive and possibly the most important video of the course. At this point you may want to jump up and go work on some trees, but wait! Just to get the inspiration juices flowing even more, watch the bonus videos.
The first video in the bonus section features a time-lapse video that shows a long four-day transformation of a large white pine. This video should serve as a reminder to beginners and veterans alike that doing bonsai well takes time, even in the hands of a master like Bjorn.
This course concludes with a short video tour around Mr. Nobuyuki Yanai’s garden, a trailer video for this course, and a few final remarks.
Would I recommend this video to a beginner? Absolutely. I would recommend this video to everybody including veterans just in case they missed some information along the way. Bonsai isn’t just a day, a month, a year, or a decade of learning and practicing. It is a lifetime. This video might be redundant for some but I am willing to bet, most people will pick up on some useful information that they didn’t know or needed clarification on. Is this the most comprehensive collection of information available? Absolutely not., it’s a beginner’s course after all. However, this course is everything a beginner will need to get started. In terms of a short and simple introduction to bonsai videos, this is the best I have seen. Is it worth $30? I’d say yes.
Disclaimer: Bonsai Empire provided free access to The Bonsai Beginner’s Course in exchange for a honest review.Buy Now