The Importance of the Pot

To be called a Bonsai the tree or shrub will have to live within the confines of a pot or container of some sort. To a certain extent the pot has the same function as the frame of a picture; it must show and display the tree to its best advantage.

It must not clash or tend to draw one's attention away from the tree. As it must last for at least a year or two, it should be chosen with care. For an example of the types of pots that I have used to rear my bonsai successful click here.

It must have at least one good drainage hole in the bottom to allow stale water to seep away and to encourage good air circulation round the roots of the tree. Generally speaking, the colour of the pot is usually subdued. Shades of brown, dark blue, green, black or off-white, are most popular.
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Lighter colours are sometimes used with flowering trees but again the colour must be chosen with care. A Japanese quince would look out of place in a pink or orange pot because of its bright red flowers. The pot may be glazed or unglazed on the outside but it should not be glazed inside as this removes the rough texture of the clay on which the soil grips and holds the tree steady.A strong wind could literally blow a tree completely out of such a pot.

If one has difficulty in deciding on the right colour for a particular tree, play safe and pick one that is neutral. For instance, dark brown is suitable for almost any tree. It can always be changed at the time of the next repotting.Apart from the question of colour there is the shape and size to take into account.

The basic shapes are round, ectangular, oval, and hexagonal. Others can be more fancy: ponds, petals, etc. Choose the shape of the pot bearing in mind the tree for which it is intended. An upright Cryptomeria would look odd in a pot like a lotus flower, but perfectly at home in a plain rectangular one. Some pots have curved sides, some straight; the top lip may be turned in or out, or it may not have a lip at all; the feet may be "cloud" shaped or completely plain.

The height of the container can vary from a flat piece of slate, on which groups of small trees are often planted, to the tall pots, twelve inches or more, used for trees trained in the cascade style. A tall heavy pot would not suit the lightness of a group of maples, being completely out of proportion. In the same way, a cascade tree would give the impression that it was about to fall over if it has been planted at the edge of a very shallow pot. It can be seen that the size of the pot also depends on the tree and its character, as well as the size of the root ball. The rule of thumb is that the cubic capacity of the pot will be approximately a half to one third that of the tree.

Front or Back
When looking at a bonsai tree it is essential to determine the front. This might sound obvious, but looking at the back of a tree will simply lessen one's pleasure. There are a
number of simple ways to ascertain the front. Look at the top of the tree. It is often trained to incline slightly towards the front, giving a certain depth to the tree.

The branches will always be at their longest when breaking from the sides of the tree. There will also be well-defined branches growing at the back, though few if any at the
front, except near the top. This is simply to allow the form of the trunk to be seen.Very formally trained trees often have branches in sets of three. A tree of this type will have one branch to either side of the trunk and a smaller one at the back: each set going up the trunk and none at all at the lower front. When a planting consists of a number of trees the front is the position from where the viewer gets the best impression of depth and distance. The major trees, always taller, will be planted towards the front of the group.

This magnificent 50 year old Mountain Maple clings strongly to a rock When considering the question of front and back be sure to have the tree at almost eye level; looking down on it can be very misleading.

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The majority of bonsai trees are hardy and their natural habitat is the open air. Those that have to be protected from the frost and are looked on more as indoor bonsai will also benefit from a holiday outside in the warmer months. As this is the case, it is worthwhile making a permanent display stand in some quiet comer of the garden.

The ideal spot would be against a westerly heldge or fence where they can be seen and are out of reach of inquisitive pets and small children. Having the trees on a stand also makes it easier to tend them and keeps some of the more earthbound insects at bay.

The number and size of the trees will determine the size of the stand. For the collector with some six to a dozen trees it would be eight to ten feet in length and about four feet in height. It should be made of good quality wood treated with a wood preservative, or a metal framework and wooden top.

It is inadvisable to put them on a gravel bed as the roots will grow into the gravel through the drainage holes. Incorporating a shelf at the back will increase the surface area and allow smaller trees to be displayed. Above and at the back of the stand a weather shade can be made from strips of thin timber, such as plaster laths or a medium to small grade plastic netting that can be bought from most good garden shops.
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This will stop hot summer sunshine scorching the leaves of deciduous trees and heavy rain washing the tree from the pot. It will also provide protection from a certain amount of frost. The bottom of the stand can be utilised as a winter storage area by either burying the trees to the rim of the pots or by building another shelf for them just off the ground.

The back and sides of this lower part should be enclosed with plywood or some other suitable material. Sliding glazed panels cover the front or a double curtain of heavygrade clear polythene secured at the bottom. On fine sunny days the front should be opened to allow the circulation of air but closed again before evening. This winter protection will only be found necessary in the more exposed parts of the country, or if the less hardy varieties are kept, such as members of the Prunus family.

A tool rack might also be incorporated under one end, where it is easily accessible and does not interfere with the trees.However much trouble is taken with the outdoor display the enthusiast will want to admire his trees in the home from time to time. As long as they are kept inside for no more than a few days they will not be harmed in any way.In Japanese homes there is an alcove in the main living room called a Tokonoma. This is a narrow recess, slightly raised above floor level, against one wall. It is used for the display of scrolls, bonsai trees and ikebana flower arrangements, etc. It will be the only place in the room to hold an ornament of any sort-at least this is so in the more traditional homes.

If a specimen bonsai tree is the focal point then a simple scroll and either a small bonsai or an ornament-beautifully weathered stones are often used-are displayed with it. These subsidiary objects should not distract one's attention from the principal tree. They are carefully arranged to achieve the triangle the Japanese love so much: that of heaven, earth, and man (heaven is the scroll, the minor object is earth, and man is represented by the bonsai tree in this case).

In the West we relax by sitting in deep comfortable armchairs and not on a thin mat on the floor. Therefore we display our bonsai on a higher level. The height of the average table is ideal for most trees, though the smaller ones should be still higher. Apart from this minor difference, the basic spirit of the Japanese display can still be maintained. The essential point to remember is that the tree should be shown with as few distracting objects as possible.

It will look out of place next to a cut-glass vase filled with roses, or on top of the television set. Avoiding competition also applies to the background. Heavily-patterned wallpapers can reduce the effect considerably. Natural colours are best: tan, off-white, ochre, etc. The use of secondary objects in the display is really a matter for one's own discretion. They can look extremely effective but large ornaments, or too many, will make a tree look out of place.


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