Bonsai Pots - Barney Rubble Style

by Dean Bull


I have been experimenting since March, 2012 with making bonsai pots using 2 types of sandstone slabs. They are known as “New York Bluestone” and “New York Multicolor”. The main difference, of course, is the color, and even those are subtle differences. It is reasonably easy to score and break, and very easy to drill holes through. The innovation here, is that I make the panels to more-or-less precise dimensions, drill holes at strategic points, and stitch the panels together with annealed copper wire, to make pots. They have been described as rustic, crude, rough-around-the-edges, unique, primitive, simple, and unrefined. (My wife, Sandie, pointed out that those words all describe me as well. She likes me anyway: - )

Eventually, moss and lichen will grow from the many gaps between panels, and I think that will only improve the appearance of the pot-tree-assembly. To keep the media inside the pot, I ‘chink’ the gaps with moss, backed up by fresh sphagnum moss.

One idea leads to another—I originally thought of making some slabs of regular clay pot material, with holes provided to accommodate the copper wire ‘stitches’. I had a unique tree that needed a unique pot, and that seemed like a good idea. I even commissioned a potter to make the pilot pot. He tried, but some of the panels broke in the heat process, and the result he said was quite ugly. While he was working on the pottery, I became impatient and decided to try some blue stone; the same stuff I have used many times to make slabs for bonsai. The very first pot I made was not for my tree, but for one belonging to Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids. That 200-year old Ponderosa pine had been a source of frustration for the 12 years we had been developing the tree—no pot we could find did the tree justice; just did not ‘fit’.

We put the tree in my home-made pot in April and were pleased with the appearance.  As it turned out, Pauline Muth was the judge at the Michigan All State Bonsai Convention in May, 2012. (The event happens every May at Frederik Meijer Gardens.) She awarded the tree a ‘Bonsai Clubs International, Excellence in Bonsai Award' and commented that the tree and the pot were ‘A perfect Match’.

By then I had made a couple more pots. One of the pots is for the original unique tree—a White cedar. I will install the tree into that pot in April of 2013.( See images below). It would appear there is no limit to the styles that are possible, or the size of the pots one might make, of course limited by what you can lift. At this point I am unsure where this all might lead, but I am having fun trying various techniques and exploring many ideas for styles, and materials from which to make them.

I will be posting photos of some of the pots I have made on my web site. You are welcome to view them.

1. I wanted a 'round' pot, so I made this one with ten panels wired together. The base and feet are made of the same blue stone material

Round pot

2. After anchoring the hinoki in the pot, I decided to let it get well established in the pot for one growing season. I will style it in the spring of 2013 as one of those tall, slender trees with almost all of the foliage in the top 10% of the tree. The tree is about four feet tall

Tall tree, round pot

3. My pot on left and nicely proportioned Tokanome container on the right

4. The very first pot I made for the Ponderosa pine at Fredrik Meijer Gardens

size of pot
5. The Ponderosa pot

bottom of pot
6. Barney Rubble feet

inside of pot
7. Wire stitched and twisted from the inside

pot close up
8. One of the copies of the Tokoname pot

top view pot
9. A view of the same pot showing the inside view

Ponderosa FMG

10. Ponderosa pine from the collection at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan

Dean and tree
11. Pauline Muth, the ponderosa, Steve LaWarre--Director of Horticulture at Frederik Meijer Gardens, Dean Bull. (Steve is holding the medallion award from BCI)



Repotted Cedar

12. That inspirational ‘exposed-root’ cedar, with the new pot photo-shopped into place


new pot
13. New York multicolor pot for cedar

corner of pot
14. Detail of the cedar pot

All photos © Dean Bull 2012

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All Rights Reserved © 2012 Jerry Meislik