Natives-Bonsai & Kusamono Exhibit

April 8, 2017 – October 8, 2017

April 8, 2017 – October 8, 2017

I participated in an Exhibit at the Pacific Bonsai Museum, titled “Natives”. This exhibit featured trees from the Pacific Bonsai Museum and bonsai artists, Scott Elser, Michael Hagedorn, Randy Knight, Ryan Neil and Dan Robinson; ceramicist, Victoria Chamberlain; visual artist, Iuna Tinta; and myself. I created kusamono accent plants for the bonsai.

As I create my Kusamono I am reminded of the beauty I see in nature. I love the challenge of trying to create small accent plant displays that show the huge variety of habitats and plants that are unique and beautiful in each of them. In contrast to bonsai which is one plant, I love the creativity of selecting from the variety of native plants that grow in nature to create a display that is a work of art in itself but also compliments and enhances our enjoyment of bonsai displays.

In planning kusamono, I first identify the bonsai species and the environment in which that plant grows. Then, I research plants growing in that environment that may pair with the bonsai. Finally, I look for a pot that complements and enhances the plant arrangement.

The “Natives” exhibit will continue until October 8, 2017. Come and enjoy the exhibit to see the harmony of nature.

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Kusamono Workshop: Displaying Bonsai with Accent Plants

By Young Choe and Bob King

Figure 1: Young Choe recently gave a presentation and workshop at the West Coast Bonsai Society in North Vancouver, BC.

Figure 1: Young Choe recently gave a presentation and workshop at the West Coast Bonsai Society in North Vancouver, BC.

Figure 2: Composition of Saxifraga hybrid 'Purple Robe' (saxifrage) with rocks at Bonsai Mirai.

Figure 2: Composition of Saxifraga hybrid 'Purple Robe' (saxifrage) with rocks at Bonsai Mirai.

The following article was published in the ABS Journal Vol 50 No 3.

Editor’s notes:

Over the past few years, I have continued to include articles that focus on the “other” components that enhance the presentation of bonsai - giving a sense of completion. In particular, the journal has featured numerous articles on bonsai containers and most recently on bonsai stands. It is only appropriate that an article on the nature of accent plants completes the cycle - in this case an overview of kusamono.

I first met Young Choe at Bonsai Mirai in spring 2015, she was preparing accent plants for Ryan Neil and I was taking a workshop in his studio. Her love and enthusiasm of developing accent plants was seriously delightful. Her compositions were intriguing as well as beautiful. I was convinced that she had lots to offer not only to bonsai enthusiasts but also to avid gardeners. After a bit of lobbying the West Coast Bonsai Society in North Vancouver, BC agreed to host her for a weekend. It was an energetic and enlightening experience.

In the presentation of a bonsai the visual impact of the tree is enhanced by not only the stand but also the accent planting. This planting provides context, a counter balance in shape, scale, texture, and even color. It completes the visual experience - a collaboration of the various parts.

The remaining text was supplied by Young with a few additions of mine:
From the North Vancouver workshop: Figure 3: Composition of Physocarpus opulifolius 'Center Glow' (ninebark), Imperata cylindrica 'Rubra' (Japanese blood grass), Arctostaphylos uva-ursi 'Vancouver Jade' (bearberry), and Ophiopogon japonicus 'Nana' (dwarf mondo grass) in a moss ball - kokedama.

From the North Vancouver workshop:

Figure 3: Composition of Physocarpus opulifolius 'Center Glow' (ninebark), Imperata cylindrica 'Rubra' (Japanese blood grass), Arctostaphylos uva-ursi 'Vancouver Jade' (bearberry), and Ophiopogon japonicus 'Nana' (dwarf mondo grass) in a moss ball - kokedama.

Figure 4: Composition of Imperata cylindrica 'Rubra' (Japanese blood grass), Ophiopogon japonicus 'Nana' (dwarf mondo grass), and Gaultheria procumbens (wintergreen).

Figure 4: Composition of Imperata cylindrica 'Rubra' (Japanese blood grass), Ophiopogon japonicus 'Nana' (dwarf mondo grass), and Gaultheria procumbens (wintergreen).

When you see a beautiful tree on the mountain, you also see the plants growing nearby which are often humble looking grasses and wildflowers. This natural setting forms the basic concept of displaying bonsai with accent plants.

Accent plants are generally smaller in size and are meant to be a complement to the bonsai on display while companion plants are grown in the pot with the bonsai such as a fern. There are two types of accent plantings – Shitakusa and Kusamono. Shitakusa (下草 under grass), unlike Kusamono, are meant to be viewed as an accompaniment with bonsai not as the center of attention.  Kusamono (草物 grass thing) are generally (but not always) larger and meant to be the single focus, not as a complement to a bonsai. This Japanese botanical art derives its name from two Japanese characters, “grass” and “thing”—which together suggest humble, everyday plants. These arrangements of wild grasses and flowers in unique pots or trays are selected to suggest a season or a place. While Kusamono is a wonderful art form on its own, the purpose of this article is to highlight the ways that plants can be used to enhance bonsai displays.

When using accent plants with a bonsai display, several key principles should be kept in mind. These principles include awareness of the seasonal effect, proportion of the accent plant to the bonsai, harmony of the container or pot with the tree and the planting, and knowledge that the bonsai and accent plants exist naturally within the same habitat.

First, the seasonal effect is important.  By using grasses or flowers unique to spring, summer, fall or winter an accent plant can be used to create seasonal character to a bonsai display. Accent plants show the seasonality of the display especially with evergreen trees.

Second, it is important to select grasses and flowers that are proportional in size to the bonsai so that the accent is neither too big nor too small. Bonsai is the main focus, and it does not need competition.

Third, the container should complement the bonsai and kusamono. Another important complementary aspect is that the containers should be different shapes – a bonsai in a rectangle container can be displayed with an accent plant in a round container.

Fourth, the plants selected should ideally complement the habitat in which the tree naturally grows thus creating a more realistic sense of its place in nature. For example, a native grass that is from a mountain environment would complement a bonsai tree from the same environment. An artist should avoid having a tropical grass or plant with a mountain tree.

Figure 15: Molinia caerulea 'Variegata' (variegated purple moor grass) and Geranium macrorrhizum 'Bevan's Variety' (bigroot cranesbill).

Figure 15: Molinia caerulea 'Variegata' (variegated purple moor grass) and Geranium macrorrhizum 'Bevan's Variety' (bigroot cranesbill).

Figure 16: Armeria maritima (sea-pinks).

Figure 16: Armeria maritima (sea-pinks).

Soil mix

The soil used consists of nursery potting soil with a small-screened akadama in a ratio of 1 part akadama to 5 parts potting soil. The kusamono containers are prepped in the same way as bonsai containers with screen covering the drainage holes. In some cases small gauge aluminum wire is also used to hold larger plants in place. As the display reaches completion, the application of moss and “clean up” is the last task. The arrangement must be neat with a clean container. The planting itself should show a naturalness, without a messy appearance. The plants must be healthy without evidence of insects or disease. The display requires careful maintenance so that any dead or poorly formed leaves are removed to keep the simplicity and beauty of the plant or flower as the complement to the bonsai.  Also, the choice of moss must complement the size of the plant or pot: the smaller the pot, the finer the moss that should be used. The variety and display options for bonsai and kusamono are many, with each display creating its own emotion and vision.

Following the above principles and paying attention to proper maintenance will help you and others to have a more artistically balanced and visually appealing display that evokes the beauty of nature without the messiness of its decay.

Care

After creating kusamono, store them in the shade for at least 2 weeks so they can get acclimated. After the two week period, you can gradually move them into a partial shade environment. Plants grown in small pots require extra watering. So it is important to water them frequently and thoroughly. If the soil becomes completely dry, you must place your pot in a saucer with water. This will allow the water to soak up into the root ball and slowly wet all the soil. it is also important for kusamono to have winter protection. They need protection from freezing. Group them in a plastic tray and put them in an unheated garage. Don't let them dry out.

Kusamono

Figure 5: Tool set for building kusamono and kokedama.

Figure 5: Tool set for building kusamono and kokedama.

Figure 6: Each participant was given a basket of plants to use.

Figure 6: Each participant was given a basket of plants to use.

Figure 7: Beginning the composition by placing the tall grass.

Figure 7: Beginning the composition by placing the tall grass.

Figure 8: Small complementary plants are then placed.

Figure 8: Small complementary plants are then placed.

Figure 9: Additional plants are introduced and secured using wire if necessary.

Figure 9: Additional plants are introduced and secured using wire if necessary.

Figure 10: The exposed soil is mossed to complete the composition.

Figure 10: The exposed soil is mossed to complete the composition.

Kokedama

Figure 11: Mud ball is secured on bonsai drain screen. The excess screen will be trimmed after the composition is completed.

Figure 11: Mud ball is secured on bonsai drain screen. The excess screen will be trimmed after the composition is completed.

Figure 12: Again the grass is placed first into the mud.

Figure 12: Again the grass is placed first into the mud.

Figure 13: Additional plants are added. A chopstick is used to push the plants into the mud and secure the location.

Figure 13: Additional plants are added. A chopstick is used to push the plants into the mud and secure the location.

Figure 14: The entire mud ball is covered with moss to complete the composition.

Figure 14: The entire mud ball is covered with moss to complete the composition.

Workshop Plant List

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi 'Vancouver Jade'                       bearberry
Blechnum spicant                                                               deer fern
Carex flacca 'Blue Zinger'                                                 sedge
Cornus canadensis                                                            bunchberry

Fragaria 'Lipstick'                                                               ornamental strawberry
Gaultheria procumbens                                   wintergreen
Gaultheria shallon                                                              salal
Gaylussacia brachycera 'Barried'                                     box huckleberry
Imperatata cylindrica 'Rubra'                                            Japanese blood grass
Ophiopogon japonicus 'Nana'                                           dwarf mondo-grass
Ophiopogon planisicapus 'Nigrescens'                            black mondo-grass
Physocarpus opulifolius 'Center Glow'                             ninebark
Polygonatum multif lorum                                                 Solomon's-seal

Figure 17: Gaultheria shallon (salal)

Figure 17: Gaultheria shallon (salal)

Figure 18: Iris setosa var. arctica (dwarf arctic iris)

Figure 18: Iris setosa var. arctica (dwarf arctic iris)

Iris Cristata Kusamono Update

In July of 2015, I made a blog post about The 3rd National Juried Bonsai Pot Exhibition, in which I had made some kusamono in the pots of some of the previous years winners. One of the kusamono I made was an Iris cristata ‘Tennessee White’ in a pot by April Grimsby. 

Potter: April Grigsby (Florida),     Iris cristata ‘Tennessee White’

Potter: April Grigsby (Florida),     Iris cristata ‘Tennessee White’

A few months later in October, I was surprised to find an email in my inbox from April Grimsby. Here is what it said:

Hello Young,
My name is April Grigsby. I wanted to share a story with you...
Way back in 2002, I had entered 2 pieces in The Second Annual Juried Bonsai Pot Competition. One of my pots received a second place award. The other one did not. For some reason the non winning pot was never returned to me, but I wasn't concerned because I felt it had a very good home at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum! 
I am so honored to know that you chose that little experimental pot to create a beautiful Kusamono... and that it was chosen to be on display at The 3rd National Juried Bonsai Pot Exhibition and Kusamono.
Not long after the 2002 competition, I began to pursue other artistic endeavours so I haven't actively worked with clay for many years. I have been working as a faux finish artist and muralist. I also do pet and animal portraiture. But, I have always felt a strong tie to the world of bonsai and working with clay...My major in college was ceramics and I've loved bonsai since I was a child.
I would never have known about any of this, but the other day I received a phone call from a gentleman named Frank from Northern California. He was inquiring about my bonsai pots and was particularly interested in one he saw online that had been planted as a kusamono. I really wasn't sure what he was talking about ... I had made bonsai pots, but it was so long ago. I didn't know what pot he was referring to or how he had gotten my name. I decided to Google "April Grigsby bonsai pot" and followed a link to your website where... to my surprise and joy, I see a beautifully planted kusamono creation in the "other" pot that I submitted.
You are a very talented artist, Young and I have so much enjoyed finding your website and seeing your work. Even though I've been away from bonsai and my clay studio for a long time, the passion is still within me. As an artist, this has brought back a lot of deep emotions. Although I haven't worked with clay in over a decade, I find myself yearning to feel "mud" in my hands again... and all because of your choice to use my pot for one of your kusamono creations and the gentleman from California who searched me out!
Thank you so much for taking time to read my "story". I look forward to "following" your work on your website. And thank you for putting a very big smile on my face!
Sincerely,
April Grigsby

Here is an update on this kusamono, which was in bloom at the National Arboretum at few days ago. 

Potter: April Grigsby (Florida),     Iris cristata ‘Tennessee White’

Potter: April Grigsby (Florida),     Iris cristata ‘Tennessee White’

Displayed with a bonsai at the National Arboretum

Displayed with a bonsai at the National Arboretum

Kusamono Care in Winter

 

As I travel around teaching workshops, I often receive questions about how to care for kusamono during the winter months.  The care of these plants can be challenging as species have different requirements for temperature, light, and water.  In addition, unlike trees planted in the ground, bonsai trees and other plants are in containers so their roots are not as well insulated.

Most species of plants used for kusamono require a cold period.  As daylight hours shorten and temperatures drop in the fall season, the plants need their immature growth to harden off.  By the time frosts first arrive, it’s time to bring them in.  Their growth will stop for 4-5months. 

The following tips can help your kusamono plants survive the long winter months.

1.     Separate kusamono into two groups.  The first group will consist of tropical and subtropical species.  The second group are plants that require exposure to cold temperatures.  The second group should be separated further; large containers and small containers. Small pots and moss balls require more monitoring of moisture levels.

2.     Place the tropical and subtropical plants indoors or in a heated greenhouse. For all other kusamono place them in an unheated greenhouse, shed, or garage.  The location should not be too hot (> 50 F) or too cold (< 40 F).  Any higher temperature could allow the plant to come out of its winter dormancy.

3.    Check containers about once a week for to water.  For plants inside the unheated area, the roots should be kept more dry than wet. The plants will not need much water during dormancy. My method is to touch the soil surface and if dry, then spot water the plant.

4.     When spring arrives and temperatures rise, you may wish to remove your plants from their winter home.  However, beware of late frosts.  Plants should be protected when forecasts call for frost by covering with cloth or plastic. A blanket works well for this.

Preparing Tray

Your plants can be stored for easier moving by placing several in a tray. Below, I show how to prepare a tray for your plants.

Use a tray with holes in the bottom for drainage.

Use a tray with holes in the bottom for drainage.

 

Line the bottom of the try with the screen.

Line the bottom of the try with the screen.

Place the crushed granite over the screen.

Place the crushed granite over the screen.

This is an example of the granite that I use.

This is an example of the granite that I use.

 

This type of the crushed stone keeps the container moist.

This type of the crushed stone keeps the container moist.

Place the kusamono in the tray.

Place the kusamono in the tray.

Here is an example of kusamono in an unheated greenhouse.

Here is an example of kusamono in an unheated greenhouse.

Larger containers are arranged and stored in between bonsai.

Larger containers are arranged and stored in between bonsai.

The 3rd National Juried Bonsai Pot Exhibition and Kusamono

On June 12, 2015, the National Bonsai Foundation (NBF) hosted the 3rd National Juried Bonsai Container Exhibition opening reception was held in the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum at the U.S. National Arboretum. 366 bonsai pots were submitted by 52 artists; from these, the jury chose 89 containers by 31 different potters for display in the exhibition. The pots are arranged into seven style categories: Round, Oval, Rectangle, Cascade/Semi-Cascade, Shohin, and Accent/Kusamono containers. This exhibition will be open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum through August 2, 2015.

https://www.bonsai-nbf.org/celebration-of-new-bonsai-pot-e…/

Two previous container competitions were held in 2001 and 2002.  The Bonsai Museum has bonsai and kusamono containers from many well-known potters who participated in the previous competitions.  I was given the opportunity to create kusamono using some of these award-winning pots.  

Here are images from the exhibition and opening reception, as well as some of my kusamono creations using containers in the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum’s collection: 

Dr. Richard Olsen, new Director of the U.S. National Arboretum, gives opening remarks.

Dr. Richard Olsen, new Director of the U.S. National Arboretum, gives opening remarks.

Kit Ruseau receiving the 2nd Place Kusamono Pot award.

Kit Ruseau receiving the 2nd Place Kusamono Pot award.

People line up to purchase pots in the exhibition.

People line up to purchase pots in the exhibition.

Potter: Michael Hagedorn (Oregon), 1st Prize Winner 2001-Traditional Category                                                                                                                         Hydrangea arborescens, Imperata cylindrica, Penstemon smallii, and Campanula sp  

Potter: Michael Hagedorn (Oregon), 1st Prize Winner 2001-Traditional Category                                                                                                                         Hydrangea arborescens, Imperata cylindrica, Penstemon smallii, and Campanula sp

 

Potter: Nick Lenz (Massachusetts)     Akebia quinata

Potter: Nick Lenz (Massachusetts)     Akebia quinata

Potter: April Grigsby (Florida),     Iris cristata ‘Tennessee White’

Potter: April Grigsby (Florida),     Iris cristata ‘Tennessee White’

Potter: Jim Gremel (California)       Schizachyrium scoparium, Carex flagellifera, Aquilegia canadensis, and Eurybia divaricata

Potter: Jim Gremel (California)       Schizachyrium scoparium, Carex flagellifera, Aquilegia canadensis, and Eurybia divaricata

Potter: Sharon Edwards-Russell (Pennsylvania)                                                                                                                                                                           Chasmanthium latifolium ‘River Mist’, Phlox stolonifera, and Selaginella sp.

Potter: Sharon Edwards-Russell (Pennsylvania)                                                                                                                                                                           Chasmanthium latifolium ‘River Mist’, Phlox stolonifera, and Selaginella sp.

Potter: Ron Lang (Pennsylvania) 1st Prize Winner 2001-Non-Traditional Category       Lespedeza thunbergii, Carex pensylvanica, and Selaginella sp.

Potter: Ron Lang (Pennsylvania) 1st Prize Winner 2001-Non-Traditional Category       Lespedeza thunbergii, Carex pensylvanica, and Selaginella sp.

Potter: Jamie Kirkpatrick (Colorado)     Juncus torreyi, Sagittaria latifolia, Lobelia ‘Vulcan Red’, Alisma plantago-aquatica, and Justicia americana

Potter: Jamie Kirkpatrick (Colorado)     Juncus torreyi, Sagittaria latifolia, Lobelia ‘Vulcan Red’, Alisma plantago-aquatica, and Justicia americana