The Susquehanna Bonsai Club recently had a demo on the art of kusamono. The club was fortunate enough to have a very well-known and talented Young Choe as the demo speaker.
Kusamono is a Japanese botanical art that developed alongside bonsai. The earliest reference to kusamono that Young has found is 1784 and the earliest pictorial reference she uncovered is a nineteenth century Korean block print. Kusamono is an arrangement of wild grasses and flowers in unique pots or trays selected to suggest a season or place. The name is composed of two Japanese characters – “grass” and “thing” – which together suggest humble, everyday plants or even weeds. Originally, the name referred to the small potted grasses displayed next to bonsai as accent plants. More recently, kusamono has developed into an art form of its own. A well designed kusamono reflects the season in which it is displayed and also suggests a specific natural habitat.
There are three basic styles of planting, namely moss ball, out-of-pot, and container. When creating a kusamono choose one, three or five plants that grow in the same environment (wet or dry, sun or shade, etc.). The potting mix for a moss ball kusamono is composed of equal parts of muck soil, Kanuma, and Akadama. Mix all together and make a wet paste mixture. For the base of the moss ball use a plastic screen with two tie-down wires or a specially made round tile.
In her moss ball demonstration, Young started with a tall Queen Ann’s Lace plant and stabilized it with the soil-muck mixture. Next she arranged the supporting switch grass and strawberry plants with more of the soil-muck mixture. When the plants were arranged, she adjusted the wires, trimmed the plastic mesh to the same size as the moss ball, and applied moss to the surface using a chopstick to push the moss into the soil. For display, she placed the composition on a round tile.
Spring bulbs (snowdrops work well) can be inserted into the moss ball for spring appeal. Aluminum sulfate will make the moss grow better. Usually use one type of moss in a composition. Keep a new planting in the shade for two weeks and then gradually expose it to more sun and grow in part sun. When not displaying the kusamono, store them in a big tray with crushed granite and place the moss balls on top of the granite. Create kusamono before you are ready to display it so it looks professional. With care the composition can last a long time, when it becomes root bound, recreate in a different pot.
Native plants, tropicals and sub-tropicals can all be used to create kusamono. The temperate zone kusamono can be wintered(above freezing) with your bonsai but will dry out more quickly and have to be watered more frequently than the bonsai. During the growing season, water frequently and plants in pots require extra watering, but do not use a finger check before watering. If you are having trouble getting the soil wet, place the pot in a saucer and water from the bottom.
Young’s background includes horticultural studies at the University of Maryland, art-ink painting and calligraphy studies in Korea and kusamono training in Japan with the master kusamono artist, Keiko Yamane. Young has been associated with the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum for many years. There is an exhibit of Young’s work on the National Bonsai Foundation’s website at http://www.bonsai-nbf.org/site/exh-kusamono.html.
The Club very much thanks Charles and Jan Herchelroath for providing our guest Young with accommodations while she was in town for the program.
Thanks for reading.