China is the homeland of the potted or miniature landscape. The art began about 1,200 years ago during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) and has been known under various names. An indoor decoration of refined taste over long ages, it has been praised as "wordless poetry and sculptured painting".
The miniature landscape has become quite popular today and can be classified into two major categories miniature rockeries and miniature trees.
The rocks used for thc potted rockery are those that easily suck up water such as sandstone, stratified rock and stalactite. A chosen piece is cut and carved into the shape of a mountain of rugged beauty and placed in a flat pot with water. As the rock is moist, green moss grows on its surface. Some miniature trees may also be planted in a crevice of the rock, sometimes decorated with a little pagoda, bridge or pavillion. A tiny sail or two on the water will complete an enchanting landscape with mountains and rivers.
Miniature trees, the second category, are usually diminutive pines, cypresses, wintersweets, elms and bamboos which, with small leaves and thin branches are slow in growth but vigorous in vitality. And the most valued miniature tree is made of old tree roots. They belong to trees that grow on mountain rocks in the wild. People fell the trees, leaving the roots as they are. New trees sprout and grow up and are felled again. This repeats itself but the roots remain, some as old as hundreds of years, assuming hardy and grotesque forms. Uprooted and transplanted in pots, they are further pruned and trained to have the gnarled branches of rugged grace or elegant vigour.
Potted landscapes have become a common sight in China - in parks, galleries, conference and reception rooms, even at public squares. Competitive exhibitions are held every year and an increasing number of people are making it a pastime to introduce bits of nature in pots into their living and working quarters.