What is Bonsai?

Bonsai is a challenging and rewarding horticultural activity, in which ordinary plants are grown in an extraordinary way. Through rigorously applied cultivation techniques, trees, shrubs, vines and even herbaceous plants are kept in a miniaturized state, developed into artistic shapes and then displayed in special containers.

What makes the Arboretum’s bonsai endeavor unique among all other public collections in the United States? Regional Interpretation. Visitors will find the Arboretum’s bonsai collection of more than 100 specimens carefully cultivated with a Southern Appalachian accent. The collection draws inspiration from the traditional roots of bonsai, but takes the form of a contemporary, Southern Appalachian influenced American garden. Plantings in the landscape include species and cultivars of American, European and Asian origin.

The Bonsai Exhibition Garden

Established in October 2005, The North Carolina Arboretum’s Bonsai Exhibition Garden is a world renowned garden that displays up to 50 bonsai specimens at a time. Represented are traditional Asian bonsai subjects such as Japanese maple and Chinese elm, tropical plants such as willow-leaf fig and bougainvillea, and American species such as bald cypress and limber pine. Of particular importance are the plants native to the Blue Ridge region, such as American hornbeam and eastern white pine, which enable the Arboretum to bring the thousand-year tradition of bonsai home to the mountains of Western North Carolina. Interpretive signage throughout the garden conveys information about the art and history of bonsai, and the Arboretum’s own creative approach to it.

Indoor Tropical Bonsai Display

  • November – April; 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily
  • Located in the Baker Visitor Center Greenhouse

Outdoor Bonsai Exhibition Garden

  • Bonsai on Display Mid May – November; 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily 
  • Garden Open Year Round

The Curator’s Journal: The Ultimate Insider’s View of American Bonsai at The North Carolina Arboretum

Subscribe to this free online journal at any time through the year and enjoy weekly entries from Bonsai Curator Arthur Joura, who chronicles growing a living art and growing an enterprise over more than three decades at the Arboretum. Your support ensures that the work of preserving and documenting the Arboretum’s acclaimed collection continues and a wealth of bonsai wisdom is preserved.

Subscribers receive an email each week from Joura with the latest entry and news of tree-related events and educational programs. The Curator’s Journal site features access to a comprehensive archive containing all entries from our first two years of publication, a curated selections of videos, galleries of trees and miniature landscapes in the collection, and a listing of plants on display or featured in the garden updated seasonally.

Preview the site and subscribe

Arthur Joura headshot

Arthur Joura

Bonsai Curator

Arthur Joura has been the Bonsai Curator at The North Carolina Arboretum since the inception of the bonsai program in 1992. Joura’s educational background is in fine art. He has studied bonsai with some of the leading bonsai authorities in the United States and was an official student to the Nippon Bonsai Association in Japan.

Over the past 30 years, Joura has built the bonsai program to be one of the Arboretum’s strongest components. He has toured extensively as a lecturer and teacher, and has been featured in numerous regional and national publications for his work with the Arboretum’s bonsai collection. In 1996, he organized the first Carolina Bonsai Expo, which had an unparalleled 24-year run. The Expo attracted bonsai clubs and associations from all parts of the eastern US to assemble inventive displays for what remains one of the preeminent shows in the country. He never considered recasting the Expo as a virtual event during the pandemic because community was always central to the gathering. The Expo drew the Arboretum’s largest number of visitors each year and featured educational programs, a bonsai pottery exhibit, a vendors’ market, and presentations by noted bonsai artists in addition to the exhibition.

Joura has been featured on UNC-TV for his work and was an invited guest speaker at the World Bonsai Convention in Washington, DC. In 2010, he received the “Ho Yoku Award” for Finest Creative Western Formal Display at the 2nd US National Bonsai Exhibition. In addition to countless recognitions, Joura spearheaded the design and development of the Arboretum’s Bonsai Exhibition Garden, which opened to the public in October 2005. Since then, Joura has managed the operation of the garden and guided its continued aesthetic development. In 2012, the World Bonsai Friendship Federation (WBFF) designated The North Carolina Arboretum’s Bonsai Exhibition Garden a “WBFF Resource Center,” which at that time was only the second such entity in the United States.

In his development of the Arboretum’s collection, which now numbers well over 100 specimens, plus many others in production, Joura constantly seeks to forge connections between the art of bonsai and the Arboretum’s mission to promote appreciation of the flora and culture of the Southern Appalachians. The inspiration for his design work with the Arboretum’s collection is not the bonsai depicted in books and magazines, but rather the example of nature as represented by the wild trees of the fields and forests that cloak the Blue Ridge Mountains. Joura feels this is a return to the roots of bonsai as an artistic vehicle to express an individual’s experience of the natural world around them.