- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 7, 2014

If you’ve ever been envious of the beautiful view giraffes have, head over to the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum, where you’re guaranteed to overlook treetops.

Among through the expansive 412 acres of the National Arboretum in Northeast, the soft strum of Asian strings draws you off the main trail toward a gravel path that leads to a wooden gate.

Through the gate lies the Cryptomeria Walk, a bamboo stick-lined stone path cutting through a garden dotted with evergreen trees and plants.

“The Cryptomeria Walk is always peaceful and cool,” said Jack Sustic, the museum’s curator. “In Japan, cryptomeria gardens were traditionally in front of shrines or temples. Walking through was meant to cleanse your mind and stop you from thinking of earthly matters. We hope it does the same here.”

The walk ends at a wooden Japanese archway called a torii that invites guests to enter into a world of miniature trees, or rather, bonsai and penjing plants.

The building of the Japanese Pavillion, and the museum itself, was initiated to store 53 bonsai plants and six viewing stones gifted to the United States from Japan in celebration of the U.S. Bicentennial in 1976.
The building of the Japanese Pavillion, and the museum itself, was initiated ... more >

At the heart of the museum lies a serene courtyard, complete with a water fountain, a vibrant purple flowering tree called a powhatan, and multiple wooden benches donated to the museum by members of the National Bonsai Foundation, which helps fund the museum.

For the time being, the courtyard also displays the Japanese bonsai collection.

The first tree, a tiny ezo spruce, resembles a miniature Christmas tree. Its artist, Saburo Kato, gave the spruce to President Bill Clinton as a gift. The spruce sits next to a toringo crabapple tree standing about two feet tall, and the twisting, smooth, white trunk of a sargent juniper.

Also in the collection: a Japanese white pine. “In training” (marking the year an artist begins cultivating a plant into a bonsai) since 1832, the pine was a gift from Moroccan King Hassan II in 1983.

(Bonsai are grown from a specimen of source material, typically cuttings or roots from a living perennial tree or shrub. Artists cultivate the plant, continually pruning and confining it to a small pot to stunt its growth, for years before it can be deemed a bonsai.)

A Japanese red pine on display in the courtyard, donated by bonsai master Masaru Yamaki, has been in training since 1625, earning its title as the museum’s oldest bonsai.

A path to the right of the courtyard leads into the Japanese Pavilion, which currently is closed while it undergoes renovations.

“It’s going to have a more formal arrangement, with pedestals for the bonsai instead of benches,” Mr. Sustic said. “It was just time for the renovations and repairs, especially since it’s the oldest pavilion.”

The building of the Japanese Pavillion, and the museum itself, was initiated to store 53 bonsai plants and six viewing stones gifted to the United States from Japan in celebration of the U.S. Bicentennial in 1976.

However, the museum has grown to include pavilions dedicated the bonsai and penjing artists from North America and China.

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