I went to both of the bonsai nurseries that I know of that are sort of near me and scored a few gems! Being fairly new to the subject of bonsais, and being fairly frugal (cheap) in general, I'm not ready to spend $20, $100, $1000 or even $15,000 (yes, they are out there!) on a plant with which I'm not very familiar. I want to be able to make some inexpensive mistakes before I make that kind of investment. All told so far, I've spent less than $100 on plants, tools, soil, pots and books; mostly books. And for that I have about 10 (pre-)bonsais that are doing well. Three of them are pomegranates that were started from seed, and one is the lotus seedling that I found in my sideyard. All of these were put into $.50 worth of bonsai soil and a $4.00 pot. Short money, huh!?
New England Bonsai in Bellingham, Ma starts their end of season sale in July at 50% off and the discount goes up another 10% every half-month. I also purchased a yearly membership for here so I save 10% on all non-sale items. On Wednesday I picked up two small pre-bonsais: a very small serissa foetida (tree of a thousand stars) and a small desert rose, both at 80% off, for a total cost of $3.20. In the interest of full disclosure, the 80% off stuff isn't their top of the line specimens, but I like, prefer and NEED the smaller specimens because I don't have the room for the larger plants. The desert rose had no leaves at all, but lots of buds. I'm confident that it will make a full recovery. The serissa's foliage was looking a little pale, but for $1.00 and a little shot of fertilizer, it's already looking happier and healthier. I'm extremely optimistic about both of them.
On Friday I stopped by Bonsai West in Littleton, Ma. I had been looking for an inexpensive natal plum and they had a couple dozen ranging from four-inch pots for $9.99 up to gallon pots for $19.99. I picked up one of the four-inch pots and chose the one I did specifically because it had an immature plum fruit on it. In a few months, after the fruit gets larger and ripens to a brilliant red, I can try growing those seeds as well. :-) As you can imagine, I'm really looking forward to that!
Both places are staffed by very helpful, enthusiastic, knowledgeable professionals and have a fantastic array of specimens. It's worth just going there for a walk-through. If the only bonsais you've seen are the ones in the small back section of the large home improvement stores, you need to check these places out and see what real bonsais can look like. They both also carry a full selection of pots, soil, fertilizers, wires and tools. They both also carry a small but significant array of specialty bonsai books and magazines that you won't find in the larger book chain stores. New England Bonsai also carry a very nice selection of Asian style stone garden statuary and lanterns. I wish I had some extra money to get one of them.
I highly recommend both these nurseries.
PS: Just in case any of you are as cynical as I am, I'll say that I don't work at either of these places, and the only benefit I get from recommending them is the good feeling from knowing I'm letting other people know about them.