Kimura Masterclass Course

Once again I’m honoured to get a chance to preview and review the latest online Course from Bonsai Empire.  Oscar has done well to keep this one quiet for so long. Back in November he filmed two long format case studies with Master Kimura in Japan, and from today you are able to access this content on Bonsai Empire.

The beauty of the Covid lockdown, if you can find any beauty in it, is the spare time many of us have to soak up more bonsai knowledge from online sources. I should really add the ‘trusted’ to that as we know that there is a lot of poor content online as well. The thing about Bonsai Empire’s content is you know what you are going to get for your money. Namely, lifetime access to top quality, well edited, factual video content. The Kimura Masterclass is no different.

I sat down to watch all four hours of the content last week. Normally time is tight and I skim over the content to get a feel of what the course is like for review, but this time I put the feet up and sat back.

What you first see from scanning the lectures column is that you are getting two demonstrations by Mr Kimura, something that I think will rarely be seen these days. As he says himself in the course, his students do all the world travelling now so he doesn’t have too. Therefore this is a great opportunity for those new to bonsai to sit and learn from a master who in all likelihood you have heard of but most likely will never have the change to seen in action.

The first demo is a yamadori Japanese White Pine that Mr Kimura transforms into a windswept image in his own style. It’s an educational process and gives some insight into his design process as he progresses with the tree. Techniques are discussed and used throughout.

The second demonstration is the creation of a rock planting using six Itiogawa junipers. These have become one of Mr Kimura’s mainstays with many being seen in Europe at exhibitions. We get to see a rock he created by carving being transformed into a really stunning image that many now try and emulate. Lots to learn from his step by step process starting with how to prepare and attach trees, their placement to give depth, the mossing and then styling of the trees to give us the finished image.

Foe me one of the most interesting elements was watching how his apprentices worked for him trying to anticipate his every move and be one step a head.

Bonus video content takes you on a walk around his public and private gardens and we get to hear him speaking about some of his most famous trees featured in his books.

In all you get 4 hours of content to watch again whenever you want. The open demo format gives this course a different feel to the previous Bonsai Empire courses, perhaps not as concise and loaded with carefully thought out dialogue from the like s of Michael Hagedorn or Bjorn Bjorholm, but I don’t think anyone buying this corse would have expected that same format. We get to watch Mr Kimura preform and we can follow along with clear subtitles and enjoy seeing his decision making.

The course is available from today for $79.99 for lifetime access.

Here is a short trailer to give you a feel of the content.

Well done Oscar, I look forward to seeing where Bonsai Empire can take us after this 🙂



Bonsai Empire – Coniferous Bonsai Course

When Oscar over at Bonsai Empire offered me the chance to review the latest online course, ‘Developing Coniferous Bonsai’ I was intrigued to see how it would match up with the previous course on deciduous bonsai.

The same line up of artists are back, Mauro Stemberger, Walter Pall, Jan Culek and Harry Harrington.  A wide range of knowledge and all with their own unique ways of creating bonsai. There is a lot of knowledge shared and for beginners signing up to the course, you will benefit from their own past endeavours and lessons learned the hard way. Walter as usual was a great listen and his approach and honesty is always entertaining.

The course is set up to show a range of material being worked much of it very affordable and perfect for beginners. The species covered are Pinus, Juniper and Spruce, the most popular coniferous species used and the most readily available. Although the artists are all European based, Is Harry still European? 🙂 , the knowledge given works worldwide, indeed Walter even covers some American species in his sections.

I haven’t managed to watch all the content, there’s a lot! However I’ve sampled every lesson to get a feel of the course. After 27 years of playing with wee trees a lot of content wasn’t new to me but I still enjoyed watching and seeing each artists approach to teaching. Not easy to stand in front of a camera and talk especially when English isn’t your first language. Mauro’s wiring lessons were well thought out and I enjoyed the pot selection for the Sabina. I’d have used the John Pitt pot though 🙂

Jan’s Rock Planting lesson was excellent and his approach differs from my own experience and I look forward to trying a few of his ideas out in the future.

Both Mauro and Walter cover substrates and have a slight different approach but for beginners this is an import lesson to watch and learn from. So many enthusiasts just don’t get substrate right and it has a massive impact on the health of your trees.

Comparing this course to the previous Deciduous Bonsai Course is hard, apples and oranges springs to mind, but on the whole I feel this one is even better than the last. For enthusiasts studying bonsai in remote areas without clubs or nearby professionals, this course will save you a lot of heartache and mistakes. For a one time fee and lifetime access it should be an easy decision.

Sign up HERE if you are interested in 10 hours of content and learning.


Developing Deciduous Bonsai Course

Im always happy to review the latest Bonsai Empire course when it hits the internet. This time its Developing Deciduous Bonsai with Mauro Stemberger, Harry Harrington and Walter Pall.

Deciduous work I feel is often under promoted in bonsai circles and I can see this resource being a great addition to what’s available and can be valuable to many bonsai enthusiasts out there.

This course differs in a few ways from the usual Bonsai Empire offerings. Firstly, with three different teachers with three different approaches, we can see that there is more than one way to achieve results. Secondly, the volume of content is higher. Perhaps it’s not as concise as the fundamentals course from Michael Hagedorn or Bjorn’s Bjorholm’s Beginner through to Advanced courses, but this course has its own feel. It’s like getting a front row seat to a lecture or demonstration and being able to sit for 30-40 minutes at a time being entertained. Boil the kettle and get a coffee in hand and sit back.

I haven’t had the time to watch all the content, there’s a lot, but I did get a look at a considerable amount. I take this reviewing seriously you know 🙂

There is a lot of knowledge being shared and I think most enthusiasts will pick up something new by listening to the artists.

Harry has some great info regarding carving and collecting yamadori. As a fellow collector it’s good to hear the approach of others and compare.

Mauro’s content was excellent and enjoyable to watch with good knowledge being imparted.  For those who want to get to grips with wiring, his how to wire section was well planned out and executed. Not an easy task teaching wiring and this is as good a example as I’ve seen in a while.

Walter delivers in his own unique style and has a lot of his knowledge to share. His hedge pruning technique, much discussed in bonsai circles, is explained in depth. I think many people, myself included, perhaps judged without the full story. Now, I’m not saying I’m a covert but depending on your personal circumstances and your material you might get some use out of this technique. If nothing else, he’s entertaining and he knows it.

Perhaps one of the surprises of this course was the bonus material from Jan Culek, an artist who’s work I admire. He goes deep on rock planting, another subject close to my heart and I found this content very watchable.

For 10 hours of content, made to the usual high standard we now expect from Bonsai Empire, I feel that most enthusiasts, especially those without access to a good club, will be very happy with the lifetime access that Bonsai Empire gives you.

Here’s some further information about the course and a link to sign up.

About the course
Title: Developing Deciduous Bonsai
Three free lessons are available for preview there.
Published: Sept 7
Lectures: 26
Duration: 10 hours
Price: $64.99 for lifetime access
The Developing Deciduous Bonsai course is centered exclusively on Deciduous and Broadleaf evergreen tree species. The teachers (Mauro Stemberger, Walter Pall and Harry Harrington) explain how goals, as well as techniques, should be approached differently in the main developmental stages of Deciduous Bonsai. Learn about setting the main branch structure of a tree, creating ramification, carving, deciduous apex design, yamadori collection, wiring, creating rock plantings and much more.

Building an Empire – Advanced Course 2

Oscar Jonker has been working his magic again on Bonsai Empire. He’s been teaming up with Bjorn Bjornholm again to bring us the second part of the Advanced course.

I’d been wondering where Empires quality content could take us next and I wasn’t disappointed. Having early access and little time of my own to watch so much content, I sat down one evening to speed review the sections. Well, that didn’t work of course! I ended up binge watching it like a season of Game of Thrones 🙂 Addictive stuff this bonsai thing.

If you have watched any of the previous courses on Bonsai Empire you’ll know that you will always get high quality content filmed to a very high standard and edited well cutting to the chase every single time. Advanced Course 2 Didn’t deviate from this in any way.

Highlights for me were the section on display and I hope this will be taken further in the future. Some great case studies in there too looking back on previous work and bringing us up to date with were these trees are now in their development. This covers both conifers and broadleaf species.

Here’s a preview

What’s next Oscar? 🙂 Keep them coming my friend.

Sign up for Advanced Course 2



Shohin Course With Morten Albek

Once again I was delighted to be asked to review the latest Bonsai Empire Course. This time we have a new face in front of the camera. Morten Albek is well known in the European bonsai community and more specifically the shohin side of things. The course was a pleasure to watch, and as we’ve come to expect from Bonsai Empire, of a high production quality and content.
For a non native English speaker, Morten’s English is probably easier to understand than my Northern Irish accent 🙂 He has laid out the content in small easy to follow lessons that you will be able to dip in and out of at your leisure. Content feels a little different to the preceding courses in that you are with Morten in his garden looking at the bonsai and displays with him. A refreshing change. The course covers a lot of basics of bonsai that refer not only to shohin but bonsai in general. We see wiring, repotting, care, and pruning all covered. The highlights for me though were the sessions on display and pot selection. Another plus point for many people out there will be his use of humble material for his creations showing what can be achieved with a little time and effort. Not all bonsai enthusiasts have the ability to afford top quality yamadori, indeed most people reading this blog with be on a tight budget.
If I was to be critical , only two things come to mind. I would have loved to have seen the display lecture being more extensive and perhaps with more content coming in 2019, this may well be part of the expansion. The other thing I noticed was a little bit of repetition in some areas. Morten even acknowledged this by stating that he was saying it again as it’s important. Either way his points were well made. I look forward to seeing what’s added next year and at the $44.99 price, one off payment for life, I think the course is a great starting point for anyone wanting to delve into the world of  shohin bonsai. Morten will be a good guide to get you going in the right direction. Well done Morten and Oscar, another bit of quality content for online learning. Interested, HERE is a link.

Advancing with Bonsai Empire

I always feel privileged to be asked to review something on my blog, as long as the person asking expects to get an honest and fair review. When Oscar asked me to review Bonsai Empire’s latest course I was delighted to accept and as usual he stipulated, ” It goes without saying that we expect you to be completely honest in your review. ”


With that in mind I sat down to watch as much of the new Advanced Bonsai Course as I could to give a fair reflection of what’s on offer. I knew what to expect having been a big fan of the previous courses, especially the Bonsai Fundamentals Course with Michael Hagedorn.

I was interested to see if the approach had changed, we all know that in the last year there is plenty on offer for bonsai learning via live streaming. I had talked to Oscar about this at Noelanders back in February and we both agreed that there is room for both live streamed and archived content paying per month via Mirai and a concise online course such as those offered by Bonsai Empire for a one off payment. It’s a bit like trying to compare conifers and deciduous bonsai, both are great to have in your collection.

As usual, The Bonsai Empire website layout for the course is easy to use and allows to to start at the top and work your way through the content as intended, or skip to the bits you want to see.

Course highlights
– Advanced techniques – including grafting, heavy bending, detail wiring, nebari development, applying moss for display
– Wide selection of tree-species, in different stages of development
– Background information on philosophy and aesthetics
I started at the top and watched most of the content on philosophy and aesthetics and design. It’s obvious that Bjorn has put a lot of time into this section and as a lifetime resource, it will be a nice option to dip back into, especially the history and aesthetics portions. I did find it a little heavy going at times but a course should cater for all.
I then moved on to the techniques sections looking at Junipers, Pines and broadleaf trees. I was interested to see at what level this had been pitched. To call a course advanced, is a big decision, after all, what is advanced in bonsai terms? We all know the ladder of bonsai learning has more rungs than we can count and what’s advanced for one practitioner is perhaps common knowledge for another. I think the best way to state how this course is pitched is that it’s a perfect follow up for the Intermediate course. I’d be surprised if those who purchased the intermediate course weren’t the first to pre-order the advanced knowing the quality of content. I know a few friends who certainly did.
The techniques sections were well laid out, had top quality video content and were easy to follow with all the main points recapped at the end, but then we’ve come to expect this from all the Bonsai Empire content. Highlights for me were the design elements and Bjorn taking you step by step through his thought process. All the actual techniques were concisely explained and would be a good reference to revisit if you were trying these out for the first time.
It’s now clear after watching 90% of the content that there will be a Part 2 coming later in the year and as much as it would have been nice to see an instant follow up to the techniques used on the subject trees, we will have to be patient.
Have you watched all the content already? Here’s a challenge for you, who’s the first to comment below that’s spotted the amazing appearing then disappearing Ladybird/ Ladybug 🙂 Yes, I need to get a life 🙄
I’d normally at this point take the time to point out what I didn’t like, but Oscar has stuck with the tried and tested Bonsai Empire standard of quality and content which we have come to expect. We know what Bjorn delivers and it was nice this time to see species outside of Japan get covered in the content.
Bonsai Empire brings us Exhibition and demo content from all over the world via Youtube and is fast becoming our Bonsai News Channel and keeps us all informed of what is happening across the world. I’d love to see this network of contacts getting the opportunity for further bonsai Artists to deliver course content. It was great to see Michael Hagedorn’s different slant on bonsai and I’d love to see other artists step up and take the challenge, however, that’s Oscar’s call and to be honest, they have a hard act to follow.
Thanks for the opportunity to review this Oscar and Bjorn. I look forward to the next instalment.

Bonsai Fundamentals Course

Bonsai Empire’s Noelanders Video

Another great watch from Bonsai Empire.

You learn Something New Every Day

Well, you should strive to at the very least. When I was offered the chance to review Bonsai Empire‘s latest joint effort with Bjorvala Bonsai Studio, ‘Bonsai Intermediate Course’, I was keen to learn and intrigued as to what the course contained.

Is there a place for this on-line learning concept within bonsai?

Would I learn anything new?

Is it good value for money?

The course is available here  from today, but I’ve been able to check out the content over the last couple of days and form an opinion. The deal was I’d be honest in my review, this isn’t a free promotion and Oscar was happy with that. After all the hard work put in by Bjorn and him, they are  probably confident in their product.

I think the best way to describe the course is to walk you through my experience of using it. I had already viewed the trailer which you can watch below. It’s obvious from this that the production quality was going to be high.

I was given details on how to register and the process is painless, an easy interface with easy payment methods and an invoice received via email. I then gave the course format a look and saw some things that caught my interest and a few that I thought might not be of much benefit to me. Eg. Dwarf Kumquat. I doubt I’ll ever have one of these in my collection but I thought, in the interest of a fair review, I’d need to watch it just in case 🙂


Looking down at the course curriculum I got a better idea of the actual breakdown of the content and could see that some species such as Junipers, Pines and Maples did still hold the majority of the allotted time. I was tempted to jump straight into the ones that interested me the most but I behaved myself and and started at the welcome video. As expected production quality was top notch, indeed it is throughout all the video content lasting 4 1/2 hours.




During my first sitting I watched the first 6 videos. I hadn’t watched any of the content of the previous Beginners course and I wondered if that would mean I’d get sections that referred to older content that I’d missed, and cause confusion or knowledge gaps for people jumping straight in to the Intermediate course. Within minutes my question was answered with previous learning being mentioned and covered again to bring new users up to date. I watched one of the best explanations on how to wire with ‘step by step’ clear instructions showing  how and why. I show people how to wire on a regular basis and I saw several teaching techniques that I’m going to use myself to simplify the process.

When I started into the juniper content I was hooked. All you need to know for each species is there to view. Great information on Polar Auxin Transport explaining clearly why it’s important to understand PAT when it comes to recovering the health of weak junipers. This is just one of many learning moments that happen frequently during the course.


I’ll not start going into a constant blow by blow account of my experience from each topic or species video clip, indeed I haven’t even managed to view all the content yet. I constantly found myself stopping and clicking back to repeat certain sections to ensure I took it all in. The audio from Bjorn has been well scripted to ensure every single sentence is concise and packed with learning and is often worth listening to several times. Or maybe I’m just slow to take it in the first time 🙂

The highlights of the course for me were the various species guides with some great info on care with Junipers and Pines being the stand out lectures.

The negatives were few and probably petty on my part. As you probably guessed all the species are Japan- centric. No Larch or Hawthorn for example but then what else would you expect. That said, much of the learning can be transferred to other species. A few of the Progression lectures were a little slow paced for me in places, but mostly it was only because I had seen that content before elsewhere. The music at times is a little out there but I even found myself foot tapping away. That’s it, all pretty minor and if anyone else can tell me a negative, I’d be interested to hear it.

Getting back to the three questions I asked myself at the start of this blog post.

Would I learn anything new?

The short answer is yes. I’ve been playing with bonsai for 23 years, I’ve worked with numerous bonsai artists and professionals in this time and I’m always amazed at just how little I actually know. Bonsai is a massive area to study with that fantastic mix of art and horticulture and a never ending knowledge base to explore. I think many people will see the term Intermediate and wonder what that actually means in bonsai learning terms. One man’s intermediate level is another man’s beginners level or even expert. I guess you’ll have to judge that for yourself to your own standards. What I can say is that the content of this course inspires me to study harder and learn more. I took copious notes during the videos to help retain what I had viewed and even teach others.  The beauty of the course is it’s a one off payment with content that you can return to again and again.

_DSCJpanese Maple

Is it good value for money?

Ok, so $50 full price or in real money to me £34 ish. This gets you well over 4 hours of content and learning from a Japanese trained bonsai professional and produced to top level we have come to expect from Bjorn as previously evidenced in his Bonsai Art of Japan series on Youtube. You can also ask questions direct via the site and take part in discussions with other content users.


Is there a place for this on-line learning concept within bonsai?

The world’s a changing, magazines still have a place and the newer books especially the gallery ones will still be good to have to top up our learning and enjoyment of bonsai. But I think most people reading this now will probably get most of their bonsai ‘Fix’ browsing the net. I personally sit and wade through photo after photo on-line looking for styling inspiration or seeking information on some aspect or other regarding bonsai culture. We can’t believe everything we read on-line sadly, but here is a product for bonsai learning that I feel fills a gap. Expert instruction you can trust, with an easy interface made to a high quality that you can view again and again and ask questions that arise. What’s not to like. I can only imagine the efforts that have gone into creating this and what is being asked for the content is small compared to the learning available. There are people out there learning to create bonsai on their own who are not in any club or taking any professional workshops, this course is made for them. There are also people out there learning bonsai in clubs from people who have picked up bad habits and teach inaccurate technique. This course can be used as a reset so you can recognise BS when you hear it 😉



I guess it’s safe to say that I was impressed with the course. Well done Bjorn and Oscar, and probably a host of other people who assisted in the creation of these videos. Keep up the good work. The question is, will there be an ‘Advanced’ course? Jeez I hate these ability level course names 😀