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How lovely green ...

Image 1, Akebia quinata, height 50 cm


The History of the Bonsai Pot in Europe and the History of the Bonsai Pot in General are still unwritten in Europe. However, extensive knowledge about this would have been important for an art such as bonsai, in which aesthetics takes such a central role. Knowledge about techniques, shapes, tools and soils has grown greatly in the past years. The pot however is still a mysterious thing. Even though many people are interested in pots, the knowledge about pots aesthetics is hardly available. (For example which pot suits which tree, which feet are appropriate on a pot, which shape of upper lip, which shape of the walls, what kind of decorated rim, which glaze etc. in connection with the aesthetics and shape of the tree). We lack bonsai masters, potters with experience, and literature on this subject. In Japan there is a lot of literature on pots, ranging from paperback to luxury volumes for 800-€. The problem is: who would take the risk to translate such a book for the German bonsai enthusiasts? People who could finance something like this will not think that there would be many people interested in the topic, so it would not pay off. This takes me back to the beginning of my article.




Image 3, “taoist swirl” from the pot collection of bonsai Master Busch


My knowledge about bonsai pots is very limited too. Nevertheless I would like to share with you what I have learned on the subject. The pots shown in this article are all from China and Japan. Unfortunately it is not possible to know the exact origin or artists who have made them, as most of the pots are not marked. The chinese pots were shipped from the potterys to big gouvernment trade centers and then sold at home and abroad. One example are the FUKIEN-potteries in the Fukien province. They are famous for their glazed pots. 

Image 4, this pot is from a private collection.


Image 5, this pot is from a private collection.


The Cantonese pots are famous for their blue and green glazes. 

Image 6, floral ribbon, pot from a private collection.


These potteries are located in KUANGCHOU and in the Kwantung province.
Then there are the NANBAN pots. They are from the area of Xiamen at the south shore of China.
The pots I want to show you in this article have all green glazes and are propably from the potteries mentioned above.
The pot on image 3 is perhaps the most beautiful of them. Age, patina and the incredible range of colours give it its dignity. The structures of the glaze are like a “taoist swirl” of different shades of green and blue. It is surely one of the oldest pots in this article (about 100 – 150 years old). Image 6 too shows a very old pot. The floral ribbon makes this handcrafted, coarse round shape look more elegant. 

Image 7, archaic glaze, pot from a private collection.


The pot on image 7 with an age of 100 – 150 years is a methuselah among bonsai pots. The almost rough pot has a fascinating archaic look. The formerly bright green glaze has disintegrated from the inside in some spots under the influence of water and fertilizer. This is an unmistakable sign for an old age. It is impossible to create such a patina artificially. The upper rim of this pot is unglazed so that many pots could be stacked in the kiln without sticking together. Age and glaze of the pot in image 11 correspond to those of the pot in image 7. Here too the upper rim is unglazed. Measurements of the pot: diameter 28 cm (11 in), height 16 cm (6 1/4 in). 

Image 8, pot from a private collection.


The pot in image 8 is a bit more elegant. The slightly craquelling glaze is more intact toward the bottom of the pot. This is a pot one can explore with the fingertips. As it was fired at lower temperatures it seems to have a certain warmth. The upper edge feels soft and smooth and further downward it becomes more velvety, a patina you can feel.

Measurements of the pot: 34 cm x 24 cm x 8 cm (13 1/2 x 9 1/2 x 3 1/8 in). 

Image 9, pot from a private collection.


Image 10, pot from a private collection.


The pots in the pictures 4, 9 and 10 have shapes that are still in use today. This sort of pots is still made in the same moulds and with the same glazes as 150 years ago. The recipes of the glazes are passed from generation to generation. This is the reason why old but unused pots can not or only with some effort be distinguished from new ones.

The age of frequently used pots is easier to determine. The glaze disintegrates from the inside (as explained above in the description of the first pot) by the influence of humic acid. (Humic acid is a decomposition product of organic material and is a soil-improving ingredient of fertilizers).

These pots should be around 60 to 80 years old. 

Image 11, pot from a private collection



Image 12, pot from a private collection



Image 13, a dragon pot, approximately 100 years old, from a private collection.


Here are some very nice examples of Japanese bonsai in old round green pots.

Image 14,  BONSAI ART


Image 15, BONSAI ART


Image 16, BONSAI ART


Image 17, BONSAI ART


Image 18, BONSAI ART



Green pots can be harmonious like this.


Image 19, BONSAI ART


Image 20, BONSAI ART


Image 21, this pot is located in Japan.


Image 22, BONSAI ART


Image 23, this pot is located in Japan.


Image 24, BONSAI ART


Image 25, this pot is located in Japan.


Image 26, BONSAI ART


Image 27, this pot is located in Japan.


Image 28, BONSAI ART


Image 29, this pot is located in Japan.


Decorated green pots also have great charisma.


Image 30, BONSAI ART


Image 31, BONSAI ART


Image 32, this pot is located in Japan. Pots like this are still manufactured with the same shape and glaze.


Image 33, BONSAI ART


This is a distinctive little green pot with a mark (image 34 and 35, origin unknown).


Image 34, pot from a private collection.


Image 35, the pot's mark.



Peter Krebs


Special thanks to the publishers of BONSAI ART for kindly providing the beautiful bonsai photographs.

Bonsai pot photographs 3 and 5 by Helmut Rüger.
Bonsai pot photographs 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 34, 35 by Peter Krebs and Bernd Braun
Bonsai pot photographs 21, 23, 25, 27, 29, 32, BONSAI ART AUCTION, Japan
The pots 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 34, 35 from the collection of Paul Lesniewicz
The pots 21, 23, 25, 27, 29, BONSAI ART AUCTION, Japan

The propably largest collection of old green bonsai pots in Germany can be admired at the bonsai nursery of bonsai master Busch in Düsseldorf.

Translation: Heike van Gunst