30 April 2019

In pictures: The secrets of Kew's bonsai house

Bonsai is the Japanese art of growing miniature trees in containers. Check out our tiny trees tucked away in a hidden corner of the Gardens.

By Ellen McHale

Bonsai tree at Kew Gardens

Kew has nearly sixty bonsai. The smallest is 10cm high and the oldest is 180 years old.


The Bonsai House, Kew Gardens
The Bonsai House, Kew Gardens, Ellen McHale © RBG Kew

They're trained to grow into miniature trees using techniques like root pruning and leaf removal. It takes years to produce these tiny treasures, which copy the shape and style of full-sized trees.

Bonsai can reach a great age, often outliving their natural wild cousins.

You can find the Bonsai House near the Davies Alpine House - use our map to help you find it. 

Bonsai tree in the Bonsai house
Bonsai tree, Bonsai house, Ellen McHale © RBG Kew
Japanese maple at Kew
Japanese maple, Ellen McHale © RBG Kew

Bonsai are not dwarf forms of trees. If they were taken out of their pots and planted in the open ground, they would revert to full-sized trees.

Bonsai tree in the bonsai house
Pine needles on a bonsai tree, Ellen McHale ©RBG Kew

Meet our beautiful Japanese white pine, which is estimated to be over 75 years old.

It's being grown on a fibreglass resin slab, which has been sculpted to resemble natural rock. 

By growing it on a slab, the roots become "self pruning". As they grow out from the soil, sunlight and dry air kills off the root tips which are replaced by new roots further inside the soil mass. 

So this clever bonsai keeps itself trim all on it's own. 

Japanese white pine, close up
Japanese white pine, bonsai, Ellen McHale © RBG Kew
Bonsai tree at Kew

Bonsai Collection

Come and explore the collection and meet our mini trees.

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