‘Urban yamadori’ is a recently coined phrase that describes using plants with bonsai potential salvaged from yards, parking lots and even trash heaps.
The word itself "Yamadori" is Japanese for 'collecting trees in the mountains.' However, not all collected plants are even from the wild. Growing bonsai trees from seed, cuttings and nursery stock cannot compete with aged landscape plants.
In Miami, FL a bonsai artist discovered a perfect urban yamadori, when she saw a small pink flowering plant in her neighbor's grass.
It had been mowed over many times. The property owner was glad to have the "annoying little stump" out of the landscape. She was thrilled to have a new shohin Malpighia coccigera in her collection.
John Hill, Ohio USA acquired this once scraggly juniper from a neighbor. He potted it in a training pot and established it in bonsai soil.
After pruning, carving and repotting, today it is on its way to being a beautiful bonsai! This juniper bonsai will continue to improve with refinement and age.
In Des Moines, IA USA Fred Truck saw this "quince in the yard of a house down the block and around the corner. The houses there were built about 1915, so it is likely that this quince has been there for at least 90 years. I dug up a division in 2003, August.”
It’s good to remember, not all potential bonsai subjects are obvious! Who would guess these two quince bonsai are both plants from the original mess of an untamed, antique quince?
Many potential yamadori are found quite by coincidence. For example, the “collector” who found an old, free azalea on Craig’s List!
Many people with bonsai nurseries make a habit of searching for specimens. In my Miami, FL nursery days, my eyes were always open to such opportunities.
One evening, I saw a row of very old bougainvillea which had just been plowed over by an auto accident. Knowing they would not be replanted, it was quite a project to get the best one into the trunk of my Toyota! I laughed when I later learned that Mary Madison, drove by the same area and got the others! (There really were no bad ones!)
John Callaway knows the value of urban yamadori and said: “I have also had success in contacting building owners, to collect old neglected junipers from the landscape. The yard crews do a wonderful job bending, breaking, and scarring them.”
Today, some landscapers know how hungry we are for such treasures and sell old plants removed from jobs. Others will just give them away (sometimes bare root.)
If you see something special, it may be worth knocking on the door and offering to replace the old with a new nursery plant! Many homeowners will readily trade new plants for their old overgrown landscape shrubs.
Also see many species of plants, good for bonsai.