Advanced Container Selection… What The Books Don’t Tell You

Which is the most important element when selecting a bonsai container? Size, shape, color or quality. Although varying according to the tree, I generally rank the elements by size, shape, color and quality. Personal taste is also a deciding factor based on your bonsai study through the decades, understanding of the art and level of bonsai you appreciate.

       Yesterday we transplanted an unusual Satsuki cultivar, Senbazuru, which has GREEN flowers, once placed in the shade. It’s been in full sun until today. It continuously flowers from May to September. The current color shown here is not the final color. A photo taken in late July clearly illustrates the true color. 

Senbazuru Satsuki Azalea, late July. No Photoshop tricks or filters, true coloring!

Which container is best? Which container did I use?

       I first posted this question on my Facebook post and received over 35 responses. When writing my thoughts on container selection, I wrote too much for my Facebook post, so am explaining here, where I am not limited space. ALL four of these containers are suitable for this bonsai.

A-  Chinese production quality. Workmanship not up to my standards for this container. But when the azalea whip arrived from Japan eight years ago I quickly wanted to pot it and get it established and healthy. I thought the green flowers would contrast with the bright orange-red glaze, which it did. However, the container was cheap and now the bonsai deserved a better container. Quality was the most important factor in this instance.

B- US, Red Tail Pottery, handmade by Mike Hennigan. I purchased this fine-quality container from Mike last week because of the unusual, contemporary design and superb workmanship. The cream color is quite subtle, and I wanted to present a quiet refined image. Normally, if possible, I try to use contrasting colors, like orange-red with green flowers. But I liked the unique design and thought the size was a bit too small. However, after wiring a few branches, the tree appeared larger than before shaping. So, not considering the new size I initially potted it in pot B. After studying the photo, the tree looked a bit too large in the cream glazed container. So I repotted it after studying photos. Photos present elements as they actually are; they do not hide anything. So after studying the photos further the bonsai it was transplanted. Again. So in this case the size was the deciding factor.

C- Japan, Yamaaki, aged with patina. I liked the color contrast with the green flowers and the depth because Azaleas tend to grow better in cold climates in deeper containers, plus they like water and don’t like drying out. The size was about right, but the strong formal appearance was a bit too much for this informal bonsai for my taste. The quality and patina were great, but here the match was better in the other shapes. So the container design was most important factor.

D- Japan, handmade by Gyozan. He is currently considered one of the finest potters in Japan because of his large size containers, craftmanship, clay body use, design and recently unusual glaze colors. He has customed made two containers for me specifically for a couple of bonsai. I really like, appreciate and admire his artistry and would use more of his containers, if I could afford them. I purchased this container from him several years ago when he first began to use glaze. Initially, I felt this container was a bit to large for my proportional taste and used the American container by Mike Hennigan. However, after a bit of wiring and a few guy wires the bonsai had more mass, and appeared too small for the tree after careful study. The quality was superb, perhaps a bit too good for this young developing bonsai. So the final selection was the Japanese container by Gyozan, based on the elements explained here.                          

First potting, Friday

Second and final container selection, Saturday

Now, should Mike Hennigan make a larger container of the same design, perhaps in a blue-green glaze my bonsai might be again transplanted, should I still own the tree….