In the summer of 2007, there was an exhibition at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum focusing on a companion
art to the art of bonsai—namely, the art of kusamono. Kusamono are potted arrangements of wild grasses and
flowers in unique pots or trays. The name is composed of two Japanese characters-- “grass” and “thing”—which
together suggest humble, everyday plants or even weeds. Originally, this name referred to the small, potted
grasses displayed next to bonsai as accent plants.
Bonsai with accent kusamono >>>
Libertia peregrinans --- New Zealand iris
More recently, creating kusamono has developed into an art form of its own. A well-chosen kusamono reflects the
season in which it is displayed. Some compositions are designed to include plants that will look good in several
seasons. Besides the season, a kusamono should suggest a specific natural habitat—such as a wetland, meadow or
woodland. Whether using a single plant or a group of plants, there are three basic styles of planting: moss-ball,
out-of-pot, or in a container.
Wetland kusamono planting >>>
Houttuynia cordata 'Chameleon' — chameleon-plant
Equisetum hyemale — horsetail
Selaginella rupestris — spike-moss
While the final effect is one of artless nature, a great deal of time and preparation went into achieving that
look for our exhibition. Young Choe, a kusamono artist and volunteer at the museum, began doing soil research
in January. The soil needs to be a “sticky” muck that holds together in shallow containers or in ball shapes on
flat tiles. Young combined soil from Tennessee, upstate New York, and Maryland’s eastern shore in different ratios
depending on the pH needs of the plants.
Meadow kusamono planting >>>
Carex pennsylvanica — oak sedge
Lobelia cardinalis — cardinal-flower
Sedum sp. — stonecrop
To create material for her compositions, she sowed seeds in the greenhouse
in March, choosing many plants native to the mid-Atlantic region. Finding the right moss to cover the muck was a bit
of a challenge. It needs to be thin and pliant in order to adhere well, especially on the rounded moss-balls. Moss is
used not only for a pleasing aesthetic, as in bonsai displays, but also to help hold the muck together and slow evaporation.
Woodland kusamono planting >>>
Gaultheria procumbens — wintergreen
Pleioblastus distichus 'Mini' — jade mountain bamboo
When these preliminary preparations were underway, Young began to think of the ceramic containers she would need
for the arrangements. Ideally, the plants should have a couple of months to settle in and be styled.
Moss-ball style planting >>>
Panicum virgatum 'Shenandoah' — switch grass
Penstemon sp. — beardtongue
Aegopodium podagraria — bishop's-weed
Watching Young create her compositions—selecting the plant combinations and matching them to containers—was like watching
a painter work with a palette of different colors and textures. Unlike long-lived bonsai, kusamono are ephemeral
creations. However, if cared for properly, they will survive for many seasons.
Out-of-pot style planting >>>
Equisetum scirpoides — dwarf horsetail
Juncus sp. — rush
Bonsai Museum volunteer, Young Choe,
creates a moss-ball planting >>>
- For more information about other bonsai:
Check out our National Bonsai & Penjing Museum page