What is Bonsai and Kusamono Pottery?

Semi-cascade bonsai pot by Ashley Keller

It starts with understanding "bonsai"

bon·sai (noun) – an ornamental tree or shrub planted in a container

The definition of bonsai above indicates the importance and inseparability of bonsai trees and the pottery they are planted in. The tree and the pot are critical elements of an overall artistic statement. They cannot exist separately and must form a harmony together. 

The craft of making pottery and containers intended for Bonsai trees originates from the Chinese tradition of penjing and dates back to the Song dynasty in the 11th century. Centuries later the art form spread to Japan and high levels of expertise were reached around the 14th century. Bonsai dating back to the 17th century have survived to the present day. 

Containers for bonsai

The bonsai pot should be considered a complementary element of the artist's bonsai composition. The container should bring visual harmony to the overall piece however it should never "outshine" the tree itself. The overall work should evoke an emotional response from the viewer that suggests a unique scene or season.

Even the final colours and glazes used by the bonsai potter can have meaning to the overall work. Many bonsai artists suggest that light glazes can give the impression of spring and calmness and can be particularly suitable for young Bonsai trees while darker, aged glazes can suggest a tree which has withstood the rigours of time.

The reasons that draw you to a particular pot for your bonsai tree are as personal and unique as why you may have selected the tree itself. 

The traditional characteristics of containers for bonsai include:

  • shallow depth
  • ceramic material – generally stoneware or earthenware
  • large drainage hole (number determined by pot size and shape)
  • holes for wiring tree or shrub into place

For more information about bonsai trees and repotting, visit the incredible resource at the online resource Bonsai Empire.

What is Kusamono?

Kusamono are potted arrangements of wild grasses and flowers in unique trays or pots. The name is composed from two Japanese characters– “grass” and “thing”—which suggest together humble, everyday plants or even weeds. Originally, this name referred to the small, potted grasses displayed next to bonsai trees as accent plants and can add emotional impact to the bonsai display.

More recently, creating kusamono has developed into an art form of its own. A well-chosen kusamono reflects the season in which it is displayed. Some compositions are designed to include plants that will look good in several seasons. Besides the season, a kusamono should suggest a specific natural habitat—such as a wetland, meadow or woodland. Whether using a single plant or a group of plants, there are three basic styles of planting: moss-ball, out-of-pot, or in a container.


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