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About Us

Neels van Tonder was born in Pretoria in 1950 . At the age of 15 he became interested in the art of bonsai after seeing an article in a magazine. A few years later he started to “prune“ a Chinese Maple that seeded itself in one of his mother’s flower pots outside. Neels also started to “ prune “ some shrubs in the garden without his father’s knowledge . As time passed he read various books about bonsai and became more and more interested in the art of bonsai.

At the age of 26 Neels met a friend , Chris Botha , who had a flowering Azalea, and the bonsai hobby took off with a passion. After visiting the president of the Pretoria Bonsai Kai, Charles Cironio’s garden and Bonsai-Enn, he bought seeds from the Pretoria bonsai society and his whole life changed. The same year he met Bob Bultinck , who was at that stage the owner of “The Pretoria Bonsai Centre“, a bonsai nursery in Pretoria. Neels bought a lot of bonsai from Bob and started to do his own thing. With the guidance from Bob and reading all the bonsai books he could lay his hands on, bonsai as a hobby became part of his life.

Neels was in a hotel manager position in 1985 when his son was born on 27-04-1985. On the morning of his son’s birth Neels went back to work, took a hacksaw and cut off a piece of a side root that was growing from a branch to the ground of a huge wild fig tree situated next to the hotel and planted it as a symbol of life for his son.

Four months later Neels joined Bob at the Pretoria Bonsai Centre Nursery as a bonsai salesman. Later that year, Bonsai Friend started as a bonsai marketing and service centre nursery working in association with Bob, The Bonsai Centre of Pretoria.

Bonsai Friend started to promote and sell bonsai in various shopping centres in and around Pretoria and Johannesburg and in 1989 became the information centre for the bonsai novice by creating a bonsai hospital and a bonsai holiday care unit and sold the first “ bonsai medical aid “ to the public .

Bonsai was made available and promoted at towns and city’s yearly local shows in South Africa by Bonsai Friend’s exhibitions ranging from Pietersburg to Richardsbay. At that stage, Bonsai Friend did an exhibition per week per location, totaling forty eight exhibitions per year. When bonsai friend became recognised as a reputable bonsai nursery in South Africa, Bonsai Friend started to supply public retail nurseries throughout South Africa, on a franchise base with full after sale service to the person who wanted to do bonsai as a hobby.

In 1989 the bonsai nursery moved to Randfontein where Neels still operates Bonsai Friend as a wholesale and retail bonsai nursery and also an after sale service centre , offering the following services :

The author was involved in at least six educational television programmes about bonsai, appeared on a popular early morning TV live show and been involved in many television advertisements in a consulting position when bonsai was used. He did a few live radio programmes on bonsai and has lectured at many garden clubs.

Neels has also conducted group bonsai courses in the past as well as continuing with his personal approach to the novice. Bonsai Friend has received quite a few first, second and third prizes and also certificates during the past eighteen years at shows and exhibitions. Currently Bonsai Friend still supplies bonsai trees to approximately forty florists and nurseries country wide in South Africa and cares for at least plus minus sixty thousand trees grown for bonsai purposes at the growers farm. Neels also has a pottery that manufactures bonsai containers in stoneware .


BONSAI FRIEND is open to the public on the growers farm in Randfontein by appointment only.


Products available include :


  • Bonsai trees in pots

  • Bonsai trees in bags

  • Bonsai stoneware containers

  • Bonsai soil  /  Bonsai gravel

  • Bonsai Seedling / Cutting Mix

  • Bonsai Tools  /  Aluminium Wire

  • And various other Bonsai products.