Looking for the Best Pot

By Ernie Witham   |   March 15, 2022

Bonsai pot, that is. 

I gave up the other kind of pot when my last lava lamp died. “Dude, Check it out. I think it’s just as groovy when it doesn’t do anything.” “Righteous.” I sold all my bongs at a yard sale. “Excuse me, did you use reverse osmosis water in this one or purified distilled?” “Ah, I used that French one — la tap.” “Cool. I’ll take it.” I stopped wearing sunglasses at night. “Wow! Unpolarized people are strange.” “Yeah. And way too bright.” And I quit buying Visine by the case. “CVS called again. Wants you to know your shipment is still in.”

Now, the plants I enjoy are miniature trees. Junipers, pines, maples, elms, olives. They are my multi-limbed children. I feed and water them on a regular basis. Give them haircuts when their foliage gets unruly. Help them grow and shape their lives. I talk to them every day and listen to their every desire. “I want to be a slant style tree.” But you are tall and straight. “You’re the ‘artist’ (and I use the word loosely), so make it happen.” How about I just photograph you sideways and give you extra fish emulsion instead. “And guano?” Done. 

Then, once a year or so, I help them move out of their current homes and into new digs. That’s where my search for the perfect pot comes in. And it’s not easy!

First, like people, you have to figure out if your tree is masculine or feminine (or non-binary, I suppose). You do not do this by looking under the trunk. Instead you look at the tree as a whole. A masculine tree has a large trunk, rough bark, stands fairly straight, and has larger foliage. In other words, hairy, rough around the edges, and domineering. Feminine trees, like feminine people, tend to be quieter (unless you leave your shoes under the coffee table again) and have graceful lines. They also have smaller leaves, like olives or oaks. I never tell my oaks that they look a bit feminine, though. Acorns hurt when they are hurled at you.

Pots come in many shapes and sizes. Some trees require one that is deep: “Once someone’s hurt you, it’s harder to relax around them, harder to think of them as safe to love.” Okay, okay, less root pruning, I get it. Other trees are more on the shallow side: “I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than to be crowded on a velvet cushion.” All right, you get your own stand, jeez.

Some trees need pots that are square, some rectangular, some oval, and some, like their shape, require round pots. “Who are you calling round, lardo?” Some trees like pots that are newly crafted, and some trees fit an older motif. “Back in my day we grew in poor soil and fought for sun and water and it was uphill both ways…” Some trees need pots glazed and some need unglazed. Most conifers prefer unglazed pots. “That’s because we are beautiful all by ourselves. We don’t need enhancements.” There is no pot for “modesty.”

Pots come in a variety of colors, but the majority of bonsai look best in brown unglazed pots. These can be dark brown, medium brown, reddish brown, and light brown. Small trees, as in shohin style, which can be no taller than eight inches, can be placed in colored glazed pots, even if they are conifers. “Hey, I want to be a shohin in a colorful pot.” No problem I’ll just cut you in half. “Brute.”

There are also crescent-shaped pots, pots made from stones, free-form pots, which usually means the potter messed up, but it came out so weird, they can sell it for big bucks. Then there are slabs. These can be used for miniature mountainscapes and forest plantings. “Hey. Over here on the south-facing shelf. We want to be in a forest.” But you guys are all different species. “Whoa, mister bonsai expert, a quote like that could get your pruners taken away.”

Sigh. Told you it was stressful. Maybe on my way to the nursery for bonsai pots, I’ll stop off at the cannabis store. Just to look… Ohhmmm.  


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