An Exhibition of Clark Bonsai Collection Yamadori

July 1-October 22, 2023

In Japanese, “yamadori” translates to “mountain hunting,” referring to the practice of collecting trees and plants from the wild for use in creating bonsai. In the twentieth century, the term “urban yamadori” was coined to describe plants that were collected in urban locations such as construction sites, parking lots, road sides and the like.

Yamadori actually hearkens back to the origin of what would become known in Japan as bonsai. Almost 3000 years ago in China, trees dwarfed and intriguingly twisted and shaped by harsh natural environments were collected for display in Chinese villa and palace gardens. This practice evolved into the art of “penjing” or “tray landscapes.” Zen Buddhist monks brought the practice of creating bonsai to Japan about 1200 years ago.

Yamadori continues to be some of the most highly prized bonsai because of the stories they tell of their life in the wild. While in Japan that was in the mountains, in the United States, yamadori have also come from deserts, rocky coastlines, swamps, or forests.

The Yamadori Exhibition opening July 1 will feature California Junipers from the high desert which are the oldest trees in the Clark Bonsai Collection, as well as other species from an array of environments which contributed to the visual stories of each bonsai.

Come to the Clark Bonsai Collection in Shinzen Japanese Garden between July 1-October 22, 2023 to see the following bonsai from the Yamadori Collection:

The Bald Cypress is relatively rare as bonsai due to the need to obtain them from the wild, so access to them for bonsai artists is very limited. This particular one is considered one of the finest examples of a Bald Cypress bonsai extant, primarily due to the presence of the “knees” which are unique to Bald Cypress which grow in the slow moving waters of swamps and bayous; this one was collected from a swamp in Florida.


The Big Owyoung Juniper is an “urban yamadori” that was collected from an estate in Sacramento in 1991 and made into the bonsai you see today over a period of 30 years. It began as a very large bush and through the artistry of Vincent Owyoung and four other well-known bonsai artists has been transformed into the impressive windswept style you can see today.

At about 1000 years old, this California Juniper is the oldest of the thirteen featured in this exhibition.  All were collected in the high Mojave desert which has produced their distinctive twisted and contorted trunks and branches and the predominance of deadwood bleached by the sun. This tree was styled by Todd Schlafer using the Bristlecone Pine (the oldest trees in the world) as the inspiration.

CA Juniper
Texas Cedar Elm

The Texas Cedar Elm: Interestingly, about half of all Texas Cedar Elm Bonsai have large scars running down one side of the trunk. This is believed to be due to grazing cattle stripping foliage and bark from smaller trees growing in the wild, producing dead wood that can be ravaged by insects producing the hollows and bore holes you can see along their trunks.

This Coast Live Oak was collected in the Del Monte region near Pacific Grove on the central California coast. In studying this tree we are intrigued by its gnarled, scarred trunk. What happened? It appears as if the trunk was actually broken off at the base in some past catastrophe with the tree regenerating a new trunk around the stump leaving a prominent scar that tells the story of its struggle to survive.

Coast Live Oak 2
Sierra Jumiper

The Sierra Juniper is native to the western United States, growing in mountains at altitudes up to 10,000 feet. At these high altitudes, they are slow-growing and snow-covered about 5 months of the year. When this tree was collected by Scott Chadd in 2003, it was a shrub about 5’ in diameter. He estimated it to be 200-300 years old. In 2018 Internationally known bonsai master Bjorn Bjorholm first styled it. After it was acquired by the Clark Bonsai Collection in 2022, it was restyled by Todd Schlafer following Bjorn’s basic design.