This is one area of Kew gardens I have not been to before, and it is set out behind the new Alpine House in a quiet corner of Kew gardens near the School of Horticulture. It is a modest collection on display but this forms part of Kew’s wider bonsai tree collection.

Many of the trees on display were donated by Ruth Stafford-Jones in 2001 and more recently acquired trees are also on display from well known bonsai nurseries like Windybank. They are looked after by Kew’s very own bonsai specialist Richard Kernick and it was great to see a bonsai collection at Kew.

Acer buergerianum (Trident Maple)

The Trident maple has three lobed leaves, a graceful twiggy habit and a good show of autumn colour with a variety of reds, and oranges. They tend to have a good trunk that splays to form a large nebari too over time, and they have an attractive red-brown flaking bark. They are fairly hardy and suited to an upright style but are often seen as root over rock styles due to the clasping nature of their roots. They are easily propagated from seed, cuttings and air layering and are only generally affected by greenfly, aphids and scale.

Acer palmatum (Japanese Maple)

Acer palmatum species make good bonsai as a general rule but not all Japanese maples share the same characteristics, so if you are looking to use a Japanese maple as a bonsai focus on specific cultivars or varieties and here is a list of suitable Acer palmatum for bonsai in Gustafson’s (1995) Miniature bonsai book: ‘Arakawa’, ‘Atropurpureum’, ‘Beni Hime’, ‘Bloodgood’, ‘Butterfly’, ‘Ever Red’, ‘Kiyo Hime’, ‘Koshimino’, ‘Linearilobum’, ‘Masukagami’, ‘Omato’, ‘Orangeola’, ‘Ruby Lace’, ‘Sangokaku’, ‘Sanguineum’, ‘Seki Mori’, ‘Shigitasu-sawa’, ‘Shigure Bato’, ‘Shishigashira’, ‘Suminagashi’, ‘Villa Taranto’, ‘Viride’ and ‘Waterfall’.

Acer palmatum ‘Arakawa’ (Rough barked maple)

This is a maple with a rough bark which is very desirable in bonsai and this is a very good example of that, as the corky bark adds to the appearance of ageing. The leaves are green but turn a vibrant red in autumn as shown in the photographs and the leaf shape is palmate.

Callicarpa japonica (Japanese Beautyberry)

One of the most stunning features of this species of tree is the very striking violet to purple berries that ripen in autumn following a great display of flowers that are pale pink. They are a compact form with oval leaves and part of the Verbenaceae family. There are one or two more species of Callicarpa beyond that of Callicarpa japonica and they are Callicarpa bodinieri and C. Dichotoma and a few cultivars and varities of these are also to be found including C. Japonica var. Angustata which is a narrow leaved form and ‘Leucocarpa’ which is unusual in that the berries are white.

Cedrus brevifolia (Cyprian or Cyprus Cedar)

This is a rare species of Cedar with a very slow growth habit but with a similar form to that of Cedrus libani. It is also an unusual way of displaying bonsai without a pot and being able to see the full complement of the exposed roots and soil with the tree positioned on a flattened stone.

Fagus sylvatica (Common Beech)

The common beech form part of the Fagaceae family which also includes Oaks, Southern Beeches and Sweet Chestnuts to name but a few. This is a native tree species to the UK is more commonly seen in woodland settings and also makes an excellent hedge. They retain their leaves over winter when young or kept as a hedge and this is often also seen when kept as a bonsai. They have a rich golden copper autumn colour and cigar shaped buds making them easy to identify. They can be affected by woolly aphid, whitefly and scale insect but are very hardy. They are easily propagated from seed but otherwise there are some good cultivars which include; ‘Asplenifolia’, ‘Atropurpureum’, ‘Lanciniata’, ‘Rohanii’, ‘Spathiana’, ‘Tricolor’ and ‘Zlatia’.

Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair tree)

Stunning yellow autumn colour with beautiful fan shaped leaves is what the Maidenhair tree offers as a bonsai as this time of year. The Ginkgoaceae family is relatively small with that of Ginkgo biloba but there are some great cultivars including ‘Autumn gold’, ‘Barabits Nana’, ‘Chi Chi’, ‘Fairmont’, ‘Fastigiata’, ‘Horizontalis’, ‘Mariken’, ‘Pendula’, ‘Saratoga’, ‘Tremonia’, ‘Troll’, ‘Tubifolia’ and ‘Variegata’. At the shop at Kew they were selling seedlings of Ginkgo too which was great.

Juniperus chinensis (Chinese Juniper)

This is a dioecious species of tree in that they have the male and female reproductive organs in separate flowers on separate plants. They are widely used for bonsai and have a very versatile form creating classical bonsai images. They propagate easily from cuttings and are relatively hardy but are prone to red spider mite in particular. It is common to see jins and shari’s on Junipers and this one is no exception. There are also a few cultivars of Juniperus chinensis recommended for bonsai which include ‘Blaauw’, ‘Parsonii’, ‘Procumbens Nana’, ‘Sargentii’, ‘Skyrocket’ and ‘Torulosa’.

Pinus parviflora (Japanese White Pine)

This is a five needle pine from the Pinaceae family and begins as a conical form when young but has a flattened top when mature. It is a particularly good species of tree for bonsai and is widely used and the needles have white stripe along them on the inner surface. They propagate well from seed and respond well to training but can be affected by infestations of woolly aphid.

Stuartia monadelpha or Stewartia as otherwise known

The leaves on this species of Stuartia are downy and the autumn colour is a deep red to dark purple and this is the species most widely used for bonsai. The Stuartia is part of the Theaceae family which also includes Camellia’s and is renowned for its flowers as well as delightful flaking bark.

This is a great little collection to visit as part of your visit to Kew Gardens and what is even more fun is also looking for the mature versions out in the gardens themselves, as there are some fabulous examples of these species of tree in their full glory. Another area of the garden to look at is also the Japanese Garden where you can also see some examples of Niwaki too. Have fun visiting.

For more information visit:

Gustafson,Herb L 1995 Miniature Bonsai Sterling Publishing. Co Inc New York

Hiller, J & Coombes A; 2002 The Hillier Manual of trees and shrubs David & Charles