Two bonsai pots I’d ordered from Bonsai by the Monastery came yesterday. Two of my favorite trees needed repotting — a juniper created out of nursery stock a couple of years ago & a rosemary I bought as a little herb planting about five years ago. The rosemary is the bonsai I’ve had the longest & I could tell it was root-bound even before I pulled it out of its previous pot. Technically, I should write tray rather than pot — English-speaking bonsai purists do not put their trees in mere pots, but in trays (though I notice that the link below, from Japan, uses pots to translate choukaku, explaining that it means “rectangle.” There is some logic in English to support the distinction between pot & tray, because most (but not all) bonsai containers are relatively shallow, much wider than they are deep. Both my new trays are very nice gray stoneware, neither very expensive. I paid $60 for the pair. At the other end of the price spectrum, you can pay $400 for a Tokoname container: they come from a traditional kiln in Japan & are signed by the artist. If I had a very valuable bonsai, I’d want it in a Tokoname pot, er, tray. But my bonsai are mostly small & common, so I’m happy with the mass-produced stoneware. They’re durable and have very pretty proportions.
The rosemary needed fairly immediate action, so yesterday morning I pried it out of its old container, into which I put a ficus religiosa I bought last year, already a mature, but small, tree that had been underpotted for effect by the seller. (Some people apparently think that the point of bonsai is toput the largest possible tree in the smallest possible container.) The rosemary was indeed rootbound, so I fluffed out the roots, loosened the rootball, clipped off dangling roots, prepared the new container with a layers of soil (added a bit of slow-release fertilizer), then wired the rosemary into position & filled in around the roots with more soil, tamped it down & gave it a good watering. You can buy bonsai soil from Japan and from specialty shops in the US, but I make my own by mixing store-bought potting soil half & half with local sand & small gravel that I screen myself. Seems to work pretty well. After only a few hours in its new tray, the rosemary looked brighter, with deeper green needles & a generally more contented look.
I was also more contented. I find that working with my trees gives me more pleasure & is the most meditative thing I do. More than reading or writing poetry, more than regular gardening, certainly more than working on the house, which I do purely out of the instrumental desire to have a room finished & comfortable. Bonsai is a bit like poetry in that there is no real purpose to it beyond the doing of it. (And yes I’d probably argue with that statement if I came across it in an essay on poetry!) With bonsai, one uses simple tools within a circumscribed technical and aesthetic universe in order to present the trees to their best advantage, which in my practice is to show off their “treeness.” This is a pretty common aesthetic in the West, whereas Japanese enthusiasts tend to go for more radical presentation, often foregrounding one particular aspect or quality of a tree. Here is a picture of the repotted rosemary: