Herons Bonsai is Britain's No. 1 bonsai center and nursery school founded by world-famous bonsai expert Peter Chan and his wife Dawn Chan.

Below, Peter shows us how to transform a thick trunk bonsai into a tree in the literati bonsai style in his children's room in Surrey.


It's February 28th, and although we're not quite in spring yet, the Blackthorn Prunus in the UK has already started producing flowers at this time of year.

The flowers grow on the wood that the tree produced last year. The Black Thorn Prunus or Sloe, as some people call it, is a beautiful plant with beautiful white flowers.

It belongs to the Prunus family.

Step-by-step pictures and instructions on how to share the literati bonsai tribe


This was a very tall tree that I grew, and for some reason the branches are too high. I've never been very happy with it, so I'll see what I can do with it.

Although I gave up this tree more or less, I always believed that there was no impossible bonsai.

This is what we would consider a half-grown tree. In the past, I've tried to make it a broom-style bonsai tree, but many of the branches have not grown properly.

I know I can make it more interesting, I even dare to say that I will be able to get about seven trees from it.

I start by taking it out of the pot … you will find that it is in a mica pot that we normally use when training bonsai. This is to ensure that the roots continue to grow flat.

This tree has what it takes to be a beautiful literary bonsai, but at the moment it is too thick and too thin for my taste.

Get two bonsai trees instead of one

I'm going to do something drastic … because the trunk is so thick, I tend to split it in half so that I can get two trees out.

I will use my Chinese cleaver to split the tree. I actually use this to chop ducks and chicken in the kitchen too!

(Don't worry, I'll clean and disinfect it thoroughly before taking it back to the kitchen.) I use the cleaver because I don't think an ax would be that effective.


The use of the cleaver alone doesn't get me anywhere, so I have to support it with a hammer.


I'm going to do some jins with these top branches now because they look a little too straight for my taste. I tear the wood back with pruning shears.


Working on the second bonsai tree

Go to the second tree … I want to make the torn side the front of the bonsai. I can see that I don't like this thick piece at the top, so I remove it with pruning shears.

I also want to reduce the thickness of the top. I just do it with brute force and branch cutters.


I try a couple of different sized pots to find the most suitable size for each tree.

Literati16The root as another beautiful literati bonsai

This really interesting root here would make a beautiful bonsai on its own. If the tree died, I would use it to create a new tree. But for now, I'm going to try to get this as it is.

I can even put a screw in the back to tighten it.


This is one of our blunt saws that we use to cut roots.

Literati19Use of agricultural carpentry tools

As you can see, we don't use anything sophisticated. We call all of this agricultural joinery tools that everyone can take in hand.


The tree now fits comfortably in the mica pot. When you return to the other tree, you will find that the drum pot in which it was placed has been filled with soil.

The pot is a bit big for the tree, but hopefully if we make it stronger, more roots will form.

Literati22Wiring the branches

Back to our first potted tree, the next step in styling is to wire this branch. I do this to give the tree more character.


I need to add some glue for it to heal, but I am convinced that this tree will be fine as the cambium lives well.

That's all I have to do with this tree right now.

Literati25Pack our beautiful literary bonsai

If I did something about it at this point, I could make the trunk a little thinner with some carving and put a shari on the front.

That's what literary trees are about … surviving against all storms is the true character of the literati.

This exercise is meant to show you that even if you have a tree with a thick, ugly trunk and think you can't do anything with it, split it and make two very beautiful trees out of it!