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Build a miniature landscape with Keshiki Bonsai

by timber press on September 19, 2013

in Craft, Gardening

Simply by adding one stone, you can simulate the essence of a garden. Decorating the top of a weathered chest, the arrangement transforms the interior of the room with an evocative accent.

Keshiki bonsai captures nature in all its grandeur but on a small scale, sometimes in a container barely larger than a teacup. Perfect for city dwellers living in small spaces or anyone with limited free time, this modern style of bonsai captures the larger natural world, in miniature and for only a moment or two of care each day. Keshiki bonsai is living proof that less really can be more.

Even one pine, placed on top of a little hill of moss, presents a year-round communion with the living essence of scenery. —Kenji Kobayashi

The following project is one of many found in Keshiki Bonsai, your guide to creating miniature potted landscapes.

Secure drainage mesh in the bottom of the container and add enough coarse-grain Fuji sand to hide the mesh. Then add enough potting mixture to hide the Fuji sand.

Remove the pine from its nursery pot and clean away soil from the surface and roots with tweezers.

Place the pine and the stone in the container. To position the stone to best effect, first turn it so you can observe all its different surfaces and then position it on the soil so that it shows the side you decide is best. Imagine a garden and place the elements accordingly.

Hold the stone with your fingers so that it does not move as you add soil.

Use a chopstick to prod the soil and remove air pockets. Continue to hold the stone with your fingers so that it does not become dislodged.

Remove old growth from the back of the moss and press the clump to form a hill-like mound. Cut a slot into the moss so you can slip it around the base of the pine. Then use the chopstick to push the edges of the moss toward the center.

Fill in the bare spots with Kurama sand as a decorative topdressing. It is easiest to do this while turning the container.

Use the plant mister to dampen the sand while flattening it with the spatula. Finish by watering.


Top row, from left: mikaho stones, kuroboku stones, broken stones, artificial stone. Middle row: white granite, Nachiguro stones (small and medium), white Nachi stones. Bottom row: yasazuna stones, medium-grain Fuji sand, fine-grain Kurama sand, fine-grain Fuji sand.


In bonsai, stones are named according to their shapes. To make it easier for beginners, though, I’ve selected several stones that are used often to compose landscapes, and I will introduce them without these descriptors. When using stones in a small container, the smallest sizes can be used as topdressing that represents water, a river, or even the sea. Large stones, conversely, give the sense of boulders or stone steps. Coloration also varies from white to brown to black; experiment with the shade to create the mood you are after. Remember that the color of stones changes when they are wet with water, altering the mood to bring another dimension to the bonsai.


Kenji Kobayashi studied engineering and landscape design in his native Japan before learning about bonsai in Portland, Oregon, where the art of miniature landscapes captivated his imagination. After returning to Japan he immersed himself in the study of bonsai and in 2002 created the style he calls keshiki bonsai, or literally, landscape bonsai. Active in solo shows and exhibitions across Japan, Kobayashi also teaches, writes, and appears on television and in workshops sharing his vision of “little landscapes for our lives.” You may also be interested in the author’s own Web site, www.sinajina.com.


Click on image to see inside this book:

“Contains easy-to-follow, step-by-instructions to create counter-intuitive (and simplified) bonsai landscapes.” —Gardenista

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