A special edition of Arnoldia
detailing the history and cultural notes of the Larz
Anderson Collection, and the 'Chabo-hiba' in particular,
together with full photographic records, was published
by The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University in 2006.
To purchase a copy, click here.
Larz Anderson Collection at the Arnold Arboretum of
Harvard University in Boston is the oldest
collection of bonsai in the United States. Many
of the trees have a documented history going
back two centuries or more.
collection was originally owned by Larz
Anderson, a former Ambassador to Japan under the
Taft administration. When he returned home in
1913, he brought the bulk of his collection with
him and it was, for many years, sited at "The
Weld", his stately home in Brookline, now a
suburb of Boston. After his death, the
collection was donated to the Arnold Arboretum
by his widow, Isabel, in October 1937. The
expert staff at the Arboretum were able to give
the trees excellent horticultural care, but
little aesthetic attention until 1969, when
Connie Derderian was appointed Honorary Curator.
For ten years she diligently worked to restore
the now jaded trees, and to train the current
Curator, Dr Peter Del Tredici, Chief Research
Scientist at the Arboretum. Following Connie
Derderian's resignation in 1979, the trees
continued to receive expert care but, again,
little aesthetic attention.
surviving specimens in the collection consist
primarily of eight Hinoki Cypress, Chamaecyparis
obtusa 'Chabo-hiba' (a variety that has
now become rare and almost absent in bonsai
culture), several Acer palmatum and a
large Pinus parviflora.
Most of the Hinoki were originall styed as
"Nakasu" or "Jikka" - two similar styles popular
in the nineteenth century. The former being a
conical shape where the branches overhang the
pot, forming an image resembling Mount Fuji. The
latter depicts a lakeside tree with branches
sweeping out over the water, less formally
conical. Neither of these styles are seen or
referred to in modern bonsai circles.
Illustrations from Japanese
nursery catalogs of the late nineteenth
century offering 'Chabo
Hiba' specimens. On the left, the Nakasu
or Mount Fuji style. On the right, Jikka.
WORK WITH THE COLLECTION
I began working with these venerable old
specimens in 1998, with the brief to restore
them to their original designs where possible.
In some cases this was clearly not an option,
but others offered the opportunity to at least
attempt such a task. One does not simply begin
manipulating such old trees without forst
assessing their vigor and responses, so for
three years I did nothing apart from change the
soil recipe and increase the feeding regime.
Once I was satisfied that the trees could
tolerate the work, I began to make some moves. I
am both amazed and delighted at the strength and
response of thse ancient trees: they produce an
abundance of new growth after judicious pruning
and the branches (some over a hundred years old)
can set in position after only one year's
training with wire.
FORTY YEARS ON...
One of the Chabo-hiba photographed
in 1965. Here, with the deep pot and open
form, it seems pore like a patio tree than a
The same tree in 1987. Something happened
to the top.... Branches grew out of control
and the whole thing is much looser.
Photographed in 2006,
after five years of training and improved
soil and feeding.
Part of the Larz Anderson
collection in the Gold Medal winning display
at the New England Flower Show in 2006.
Known as "Mother and daughter",
these two trees were originally one, until a
lower branch, with its own set of roots,
became separated from the main trunk in
One of the original 'Chabo-hiba', and enormous
beast, measuring at least five feet wide and
affectionately known as "Big Bertha", is still
growing in its original concrete container. This
particular tree has grown far more than any
other, largely because of the greater volume of
soil. It has now become so large and overgrown
that it is impossible to restore it to its
original style. In fact, it's original style is
hard to determine: it has undergone several
re-shapings during the past century - at one
point being trained to a form more reminiscent
of of the Chinese school, with wide, flat
horizontal pads of foliage. Since the
precedent of re-shaping this tree to a new style
has already been set twice: in 1933 and again in
1952, I see no moral or sentimental reason for
not bringing it to a more contemporary image in
the 21st century.
is a slow process at the best of times, and with
old trees like this it is even slower. When
dealing with valuable museum pieces owned by a
large institution, the process can be further
extended. But I hope that in time we will
proceed. Then this mighty monument to the
history of bonsai will be reborn with greater
beauty and dignity than ever before.