Mistakes are the key to success

The past weekend I enjoyed doing Shohin workshops and a bonsai demo in Poland.

Teaching brings great joy when students are engaged and wants to learn. Bringing forward the level of bonsai relies on good students asking lots of questions. I have now gathered knowledge through 25 years of mistakes growing bonsai. And mistakes are one of the keys to learn.

Without mistakes no progress.

And I am still eager to learn more. Every year adds new layers of knowledge and new directions. With time errors are less.

Mistakes are the key to success

If we don’t fail we do not know the limits. Growing bonsai very much has to do with knowing the limitations of techniques different species can take, and when to apply them. How hard can a branch be bent on a Junipers or a Hawthorn? When to do it?What time of the year is it appropriate to repot? And so on.

Some of this is learned through books, videos or by teachers at workshops. At the end of the day there is only one way of learning the last bit. By practising by trial and error. Naturally always trying to limit failures as much as possible.

Keep on trying and learning brings joy when I see the results of my efforts improving my trees. Little by little.


The most valuable lesson I have learned up till now is patience. Throughout the past 25 years I have learned all kinds of styling and growing techniques. But time is what really builds a beautiful bonsai. The obvious part of time is of course the slow development of branches over the years, finally reaching a stage where detailed ramification is the result of patient work and techniques applied. But time also matters in other aspects of bonsai growing.

The aging of bark at trunks, and even at thinner branches, is part of time just passing by. Aged surface roots making these look old and sturdy takes time. Same with the aging of deadwood. No matter how clever one is with powertools or carving by hand, the last detailed aging and naturalness is only created by time passing. The fine fissures and cracks developed by deadwood heated up by the sun, frozen wood during winter, wetted by rain, and drying up again is what really matters. And here you can only wait. Letting time do its work.

Marek Gajda (left) and Mark Moreland at the studio of Ogrody Bonsai.

At the workshop a lot of new material was started, and established trees improved. As with the demonstration trees, they have all just started their journey. Many years of reworking and changes will happen. Thank you all who took part, asked and listened. It was a great joy being with you.

Below some very nice pictures from the demo and workshop in Ogrody Green Day´s in Poland. Send to me by the very kind Ming and Mark Moreland from the UK, who visited the event. 

Photos: Ming and Mark Moreland.



  • Vlad

    “Mistakes are the key to success”

    Sorry. With full respect wording of this headline is at least misleading. Our development depends on a number of different things. Mistakes are part of that development unfortunately. But definitely not the key.

    A guy on a local bonsai forum mentioned that six or seven of his trees have passed away in last two years.
    Reason: mistakes in horticulture
    Justification: Learning by trail and error…

    I know that THIS is NOT what you mean. But this could be one of the outcomes.

    • albek

      Hi Vlad

      I think you read it too rigid. Yes, people kill trees. Happens all the time. Hopefully they learn from their mistakes. That’s my point. 🙂

  • Peggy

    I guess I am getting better, because I sure seem to make mistakes. Style something, than think it looked better before I started.

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