More humble materials please

I’ve been enjoying Bonsai Mirai videos for some time. There are a lot of gems in there that I keep coming back to watch. The quality of content is really high and there many of the concepts are well explained.

Although it’s very interesting to watch Ryan work on these beautiful trees, the whole thing feels out of reach to me. My observation is that these sessions are almost exclusively done with fairly advanced material (from a beginner-to-novice perspective). Even what Ryan considers to be accessible material in the Traditional Chuhin Styling video, according to himself, costs around $1,200.

Even when ignoring that for many enthusiasts anything above $200 is not a small amount of money, I feel confident (as I am in this situation) in many places folks can only buy their stock from commercial nurseries and not from a yamadori collector like Randy Knight.

What I suspect a lot of folks like myself would benefit from is what to do with under $100, run-of-the-mill, nursery stock and how to prepare that kind of material for future success.

Does anyone else relate to what I’m saying or am I the only one thinking this?


I agree,

It would be nice to see how Ryan would work and proceed with more accessible material instead of those nice expansive trees. Tbh. most of us would never see the shadow of trees with the same caliber as those Ryan is working on in his videos.

Mmm… Kind of agree with you guys but at the same time disagree. If several hundreds years old tree became very affordable how many of these there would be left??
I also see all this education with highly priced bonsai very motivational to study/work hard in order to achieve such level of skills that will be rewarded with final piece of art work worth such money. Perhaps have a look at streems that are about creating bonsai from nursery stock and you can create the pricey bonsai yourself from not so expensive tree or focus on studies of sustainable collection of trees. Either way this forum, web site, streams etc. are all about teaching us how to do this and to be honest I don’t know of better place than Mirai to gain so much knowledge for very affordable yearly fee.
Just imagine a tree like Randy’s being priced at couple of hundreds…one would buy it cos it looks freaking amazing for an empty corner of living room like a statue… We know the end of this story. And then we all would love to take this shortcut.
Hope I understood well what you meant and not replying to this off the topic…?
Will add a video shortly that at the beginning is explaining well how ‘trendy’ bonsai art is and what adds to a value to The Real Bonsai Art.

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I hear ya, but it’s all relative. In Japan very entry level stuff would be thought of in the hundreds. So a $1200 tree really is on the affordable side. While you may not have access to the type of material that Ryan has, few do, I find the concepts and the application of the process and the moves themselves can be translated to more affordable material. At the end of the day all of these trees are created in the same manor. Grow, cut, bend, wire, repot, repeat…no? That said I would love to see another batch of these vids, or these trees revisited. Try these videos.


If you follow the pricipals that Ryan is setting out you can still make something amazing from nursay material. I think the stream about the christmas tree was a perfic example. (Others include a scotts pine, a linden, a pomigranet… off the top of my head) You have to learn on cheeper material or you just trash and kill the expensive stuff. As you gain confidence on pruning, bending, wiring and just the watering you begin to progress. Most of my best trees are ones I pulled out of skips, or only paid a £5 for at club table top sales…you feel braver in taking bigger risk to get something special, and ,9 times out of 10 it works. Timing is everthing, and reading different spicies to tell you when they are at that point is also something you have to learn.

Join a local club, people always have trees to pass on…

Ryan is one of the very few top bonsai experts in the world that would work on £20 or dollar material, which shows you how really good he is. Most of the top experts wont! And only touch top end material.

Massive respect to Ryan for this, and he does try to explore all levels of bonsai. In the end you can make a cheep tree look great with the right practice and an expensive tree look crap or worse dead!.. Mirai is an amazing resorce.

I would say the “Ryan Neil mirai 2.1” is the most used tool in my box.


Besides cheap or expensive material = still same principals applies to tree care which is the 1st and most important part we need to master

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I would absolutely love to see more of the Nursery Stock Series

Here’s a roadmap to getting your own $1000 starter tree:

  1. Stop wishing you could afford expensive trees from areas where you don’t live
  2. Join a local club, go to the meetings, attend workshops (especially on local trees)
  3. Learn about local species and then learn some more
  4. Learn how to keep these trees alive
  5. Learn what makes these trees unique and how to focus on these features as bonsai
  6. Find out who collects local species and learn from them
  7. Learn local land laws
  8. Ask to go on collecting trips
  9. Keep your trees alive
  10. Learn WHY you killed your trees and stop doing those things
  11. Go out on your own

When it comes to rocky mountain juniper, Randy collects in Oregon and Ryan lives in Oregon. The trees have their own peculiarities for collecting, growing, repotting, and such. Do it wrong and a 100-year-old tree dies and that’s a crime. Unless these trees are growing within an hour of where you live and within the same USDA zone as where you live, I say forget them. Come to Bonsai Mirai to learn techniques for styling; techniques for learning about the peculiarities of trees and how Ryan addresses them; apply the approach of learning rather than the exact techniques.

I collect bald cypress. It is in a genus unlike any other. I have dedicated a majority of my learning to developing just one species. The trees are essentially free to me, but some of the trees I’ve pulled I’ve sold for hundreds of dollars within months of collecting them. I followed that roadmap, above, and I no longer look at artists like Ryan and complain that they just did a great job of turning a $2,000 tree into a $10,000 tree. When Ryan is working on a RMJ, I appreciate his artistry and knowledge, but I’m also looking for ways to apply what he’s teaching us to bald cypress, Japanese boxwoods, Hong Kong kumquats, false jade, shimpaku, ficus, fukien tea, and whatever else is on my benches.

Another approach is urban collecting. I happen to work for a university in the nicest part of the city. Landscaping crews are constantly pulling out hedges that are decades old. I keep black plastic bags in my SUV on the chance that something nice is being tossed to the curb. I may not keep and develop everything I find, so I donate most of it to the local club. Keep your eyes and ears open to opportunities to take a garbage tree out of someone’s yard that is a treasured tree in bonsai.

Good luck!


I agree with the spirit of @armanm’s post but I want to refine its substance. I think there are actually two different content requests here:

  • How to work with budget material;
  • Design principles regardless of price.

I bolded the second bullet because I think it’s actually more important and more valuable regardless of the basic material cost.

I know I’m a broken record on the design principles piece, but 90% of what I’m trying to understand when I watch any Mirai content is, why Ryan is making XYZ design choices (aside from horticultural reasons)?**

I feel like the nursery stuck series already nails how to pick budget material. The missing piece is what to do with it once you’ve picked it: how to think about bonsai design. Once that’s there, I don’t feel like I’d need additional “budget bonsai” content; design principles should apply to both gold star yamadori and end-of-season Home Depot finds.

I want my Design Principles 101 stream. :wink:

** Why aside from horticulture? Because Mirai’s already solid gold on the horticulture aspect. I feel incredibly well educated about that element of bonsai practice.

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TLDR; In comparison to 200+ videos on different advanced material, a handful of videos on nursery stock can’t be all that can be said about the young nursary material IMHO.

@hierophantic I agree with how you’ve reframed the point of my original post.

Besides enabling Ryan to do what he loves, he often states his motivation for creating Mirai Live which is (and I paraphrase) to elevate the level of bonsai as an art-form in the US and the rest of the world. It makes me highly doubt these videos are aimed at the Japanese market and so the cost of entry level material in Japan, for us outside of Japan, is a moot point. But on this journey for Ryan, there are folks at different levels of horticultural knowledge and material preferences and it’s a fact that the balance of videos on Mirai Live is highly swung towards the old and prized conifers. I suspect this is directly related to sell-ability of those trees at the Mirai nursery (i.e folks visiting the nursery will not be as impressed by young materials and won’t pay the kind of money that’s needed to run the place - aka running a business 101).

However Mirai Live is a separate entity, especially for those of us who will never get to physically visit Bonsai Mirai and there is a sizeable group of its subscribers who would like to see content on the stock that’s widely available/affordable.

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Regardless of the material being used. Everything Ryan is teaching is applicable to any material regardless of the price. Take what you learn and apply it to your nursery stock material. Trust me, the techniques do not discriminate between inexpensive and expensive material. Just have fun, experiment with what you have learned from the stream and apply it to the material you have access to.


I agree with your general point – that Mirai content is applicable to cheap and expensive material alike, especially the horticultural content.

I disagree that all Mirai content is equally applicable to trees regardless of material cost, though. It’s not that cheap and expensive material need different content, it’s that trees in structural development need different content than trees in refinement; cheap material is likely to spend more time in development than expensive material; and Mirai content focuses more heavily on refinement than development.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Q&A questions, by volume, tend to focus more on structural development and introductory knowledge than on refinement and advanced knowledge. Mirai is doing incredibly good work with the latter; it could do more work with the former.


@hierophantic - have you watched this one? It’s one of my favorites!