We are relatively new to the Pacific Northwest coast. One thing that seems to be somewhat common are Japanese type gardens. What a lot of these gardens have I would call--for lack of a better term--"large outdoor bonsai" trees.

Essentially, they appear to be heavily pruned and trained trees--like a bonsai--but growing outdoors in the soil and much larger in size (up to 6' or so it seems).

I'd like to know more about these--such as the best trees to consider, and techniques for shaping them, but I don't know what they are called--or even if they are considered different than traditional bonsai.

  • 1
    Topiary is the general term, and I think you're talking about cloud-pruning.
    – Niall C.
    Apr 26, 2013 at 2:54
  • @NiallC. close. The type of tree I often see is something like a Japanese maple, but kept somewhat smallish (say 4') over, from what I can tell, a very long time as they seem to have rather thick trunks. I also see some forms of evergreen trees done this way as well. They don't appear to be nearly as formal as a cloud pruned topiary.
    – DA.
    Apr 26, 2013 at 2:59

2 Answers 2


The trees that you have seen planted in the ground are not bonsais. The actual word bonsai means "tree in pot." There are a lot of beautiful Japanese gardens in the Pacific Northwest. The trees in the ground that you are admiring do not technically have a name. They are simply trees that have been trained and pruned using the same techniques as that for a bonsai in a pot. The training that it takes to do this is very technical. It also requires special tools and varying sizes of copper wire.

This would be an excellent ongoing hobby for an individual interested in learning the art of bonsai. Because this type of gardening is popular in the Pacific Northwest, I'm sure that there is a bonsai society or club near you. I would contact them and ask to join or ask about bonsai classes they may be teaching.

As you may know, a bonsai is a type of pruning, not a specific variety of tree. Many types of trees can be used as material for bonsais. Some trees to think about using are:

  1. Japanese maples
  2. Various pines (white pine, mugho pine)
  3. Maples (red, white)
  4. Junipers
  5. Boxwoods
  6. Azaleas
  7. Cryptomerias
  8. Cypress

I highly recommend reading Bonsai: Special Techniques by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Keep Your Bonsai Perfectly Shaped by Herb L. Gustafson, and Miniature Living Bonsai Landscapes by Herb L. Gustafson.


The trees you mention, styled like bonsai but grown in the ground, are definitely NOT topiary. I believe you are looking for Niwaki (or Niwagi or Niwa-ki or Niwa-gi); this is the Japanese name for styled and dwarfed trees grown in open ground. Try Jake Hobson's book Niwaki: Pruning, Training and Shaping Trees the Japanese Way.

As an aside, there are several size classifications for bonsai, the largest being the Imperial or 16-Hand Bonsai (takes 8 men to move) - some of these have trunks up to 3' across. (The "Imperial" name comes from the Imperial Palace, one of the few places you see them this large.) I don't know the Japanese word for these.

The most commonly grown "largest" size nowadays is probably Omono, with a maximum height around 4'.


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