Welcome to the Largest Public Tropical Bonsai Collection in the United States

featuring over 100 trees on permanent display

To those who do bonsai this is an international treasure

"The curator has the trees in great shape."

 Meet the Curator


As the curator of the James J. Smith Bonsai Gallery, Seth Nelson takes care of the largest public collection of tropical bonsai in the country, and has had a chance to work directly with Jim Smith.   “Many of the trees have been in training for nearly double my lifetime, which leaves a peculiar feeling when I’m pruning.”

Seth has wanted to work with bonsai since he was a teenager. In 2012, he found a vendor selling bonsai at Grant Seafood Festival. He spent the next year researching the ancient Japanese art, and was invited to a demonstration at the Bonsai Society of Brevard. There he met Jim Van Landingham, who had worked for many years with James J. Smith.

James J. Smith


James J. Smith is noted as the gentleman of bonsai and is recognized as a world class Bonsai Master. His knowledge of tropical and semi-tropical Bonsai is sought after not only by students but also bonsai masters alike. His artistic ability to design classical and natural styles of bonsai goes unchallenged. His foresight to see the artistic development in raw stock is magical.

(Photo by Eric Hasert, Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers. Copyright, 2011, Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers, used here with permission. No additional reproduction or distribution of this photo in any form is permitted without the written approval of Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers (http://www.tcpalm.com)

Many of the trees in the James J. Smith Gallery are known throughout the world. Authors of bonsai books, magazines, and periodicals are thrilled when James gives permission to use their images.


History of the Bonsai Garden

James J. Smith Bonsai Gallery

James J. Smith Bonsai Gallery

In October 2009, Bonsai Master Jim Smith donated 100 of his finest bonsai to Heathcote Botanical Gardens on the condition that they would be properly maintained, displayed and protected. Unlike a traditional bonsai display lined up on benches with no competing scenery, Master Smith imagined a “Walk Through Bonsai” where visitors could stroll the beautiful Heathcote Botanical Gardens, and discover a unique bonsai tree at every turn. The horticultural requirements of bonsai made installing them into the existing gardens impractical, and so a unique and original garden was planned by Sam Comer of Hayslip Landscape, with guidance from Master Smith and Jim Van Landingham.

Master Smith pioneered the use of tropical species such as portulacaria afra, (the dwarf leaf jade tree) as bonsai, and used many Florida native species to interpret the ancient art of bonsai. Sam Comer’s garden design and the architectural contributions of Peter Moor serve as a metaphor for Master Smith’s work. Elements of a traditional Japanese Garden (stone, gravel, limited landscape palette) are interpreted through native Florida plants and building materials. “It’s where sushi meets fried mullet!” says architect Peter Moor.

 The Bonsai Pavilion, designed by Moor, serves to host performances, weddings, and more.

Using Landscape Architect Rodney Robinson’s master plan as guide, the new Bonsai Garden was placed on the south east corner of the existing five-acre botanical garden. The 10,000 square foot area was originally were the Crimmins’ family nursery received clients. During Heathcote’s early years, the Fort Pierce Orchid Society, the Heathcote Herb Society, Eddie Eggers and many dedicated volunteers built various structures and garden features, including the Herb House, Orchid House, and the Lib Tobey Rainforest Memorial. The ravages of time, tropical elements, and the twin hurricanes of 2004 damaged most of the structures beyond repair.

A St. Lucie Tourist Development grant for $148,720 was matched by a $100,000 anonymous contribution, and sufficient internal resources to begin site work in August 2010.



Bonsai Societies of Florida

Treasure Coast Bonsai Society


Dragon Tree Bonsai Nursery
Robert Pinder

Old Florida Bonsai Nursery
(by appointment only)
Richard and JJ Turner
1755 74th Ave, Vero Beach FL