Hi, welcome to Taiga Bonzai in this post we discuss the marriage of tree and container starting with the definition of the Japanese word ‘Bonsai’ (the umbrella term for this art) – ‘Bon’ is pot and ‘Sai’ is tree.
Introduction – as we have often stated, the old rules are today mere guidelines nonetheless, they contain logic, common sense and a learning curve for the multitude who practice the horticultural art of bonsai. Arguably one of the most important factors is the overall composition of how a plant in its container is perceived, our latest book Taiga Bonzai Simplifying the Art ‘Revised Edition’ (which can be found on google play books) goes into lengthy discussion on this topic. Because bonsai like other art forms, paintings, sculpture, music, fashion and culinary has its critics and pundits who review the work by said artists, which can often be unforgiving.
A balanced composition – it has been said by the bonsai masters that the four types of pots used in bonsai, which include rectangular – round – oval and deep square glazed or unglazed are designated for particular tree designs for example, conifers are normally associated with unglazed pots whereas deciduous varieties are suited to glazed containers. These pot types are classed as masculine, feminine and neutral, deep square pots are only for cascade Kengai and semi cascade Han-Kengai, of course pot designs have changed over the decades, colourful designs, fluted, eight corner bowls and moon bowls are now relatively common; the identification of pots is shown below.
Masculine pots are normally quite deep with robust corners, feminine pots can be round without sharp corners or lines and oval pots will have a gentle rim also without lines, deep square pots are wider at the top with tapering sides as shown. By looking at the image the masculine pot would be ideal for a robust pine formal upright Chokkan or informal upright Moyogi as the pot’s design and colour (unglazed) would enhance the rough texture of the bark and dark green foliage.
The feminine pot (glazed/unglazed) would suit a delicate Japanese Maple Acer palmatum, Juniperus sabina, or a flowering species, designs can include literati Bungin or slanting Shakan. The oval pot (glazed) could be used for most tree design to reflect the colour of the bark, leaf, fruit and flower for example, deciduous varieties including Beech, Fagus Weeping cherry Prunus and Rowan Sorbus aucuparia. As stated the rules are guidelines to assist us finding the correct pot for the plant in question because the tree is the painting and the pot is the frame and both must compliment each other, to explain further have a look at the image below.
As the image shows the dress worn by the subject is black marginley distinguishing her from the dark background, it is the skin tone of her hands and face and the lace shawl that stand out making the painting what it is; quite remarkable yet subtle. But more importantly it is the overall composition of frame and picture that is the main factor. The gilded frame probably a heavy wooden moulded/carved one has a warm luster with various tones opposed to a brassy-gold finish and it can be argued that picture and frame compliment each other. But before we move on go back to the painting and in your mind substitute the gilded frame for one of polished aluminium – would the composition be correct? this same consensus applies to bonsai; pot and tree.
In article 57 ‘The wait is over’ we took some time to choose a pot for our large S. aucuparia ‘Omono Dai‘ class (100 centimetres or 40 inches) the tree has light green foliage, smooth grey bark, white flowers and orange fruit and is considered to be neutral. Strong dark colours such as blue or green would be overpowering disrupting the overall composition of tree and pot as would an brown unglazed pot; hence the decision was to go for glazed neutral white, which would be in balance with the tree’s colourisation.
As to the pot shape round bowls and ovals were discussed, but extensive searching did not yield anything suitable. Another option was to have one made, but this was out of the question due to lengthy production time, overall cost and delivery; the last option was a rectangular pot. Pot depth was another important factor to consider, a large deep pot although ideal for ‘root-run’ would be overbearing, the decision was to opt for a shallow depth rectangular pot that would be in harmony with the tree creating a balanced composition.
If you have plants in training it matters not what containers you use; metal, wood, clay or plastic however, if the aim is to eventually use a ceramic pot especially for public display much thought and consideration is necessary in choosing the correct pot. It is not just the pot style and colour, other factors have to be taken into account for example, trunk height and thickness, canopy spread, tree style and attributes, Chinese Penjing (Penzai) or Japanese Zen Buddhist styles. Moreover, ceramics can be expensive especially if hand made make sure the decision you make is the correct one.
If you are familiar with article 56 ‘Bug apocalypse’ regarding the reduction of insect populations vital to our existence, we mentioned an upcoming 4 part series called ‘Unseen enemies’. In these articles we concentrate on the increasing problem of invading pests and disease devastating agriculture, horticulture, natural woodlands and forests across the globe. Until next time BW, Nik.