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The Art of Bonsai Design

The Art of Bonsai Design
Colin Lewis.
Publication Date: 

paper, 160 p., $27.95

Colin Lewis has an infectious excitement for bonsai that comes across in his book The Art of Bonsai Design. The book actually reads more like a journal than a manual, and it details his vast experience over the years. Mr. Lewis believes that mistakes are part of life, and he unabashedly shares his failures as tools for learning. This is particularly admirable considering the time frame of bonsai, where mistakes cost years.

Although The Art of Bonsai Design combines excellent photographs and an engaging writing style, it does have several shortcomings. As an interested but largely uninitiated fan of bonsai, I was particularly enthusiastic about reading this book. Unfortunately, though, Mr. Lewis' explanations are often too complex for the basic bonsai enthusiast to comprehend. Over time the terminology becomes clearer, but the book remains frustratingly scattered in its explanations of advanced techniques. Mr. Lewis fills the book with chapters on trees he has worked on, usually for at least 15 years or so. These tales, illustrated with pictures of the tree's progress, are interesting and engaging, but they do not leave beginners prepared to tackle the process on their own.

This book provides an interesting glimpse into the world of bonsai design; the mix of pictures, text and inserts fills each page with amusing anecdotes and interesting illustrations. The busy result can become overwhelming, however, and the book would have benefitted by providing readers a clear step-by-step introduction to the process of bonsai. Bonsai design is a beautiful and delicate art, and this book won my appreciation for what a bonsai master can accomplish, but, ultimately, it does not help a beginner to learn the art of bonsai.

— Joshua Rosen, Intern, Continuing Education, Chicago Botanic Garden