The Art of Kusamono

Ever since I started out with Bonsai I wondered what those grasses and weeds were doing near the bonsai? In fact for a neophyte it’s not immediately clear and if you don’t ask, nobody will give you an answer. To find out you could take a workshop or a private course or a University course as I am doing.
A couple of elements in the Tokonome: the main tree, the scroll and the shitakusa

A couple of elements in the Tokonoma: the main tree, the scroll and the shitakusa

Why should a small little pot with some green inside be a companion to the tree? This companion plant is not really a Kusamono but it’s called Shitakusa (“shita” meaning under, below and “kusa” meaning grass, weed) and it evokes the season in which the tree is exposed. A flowery Shitakusa evokes spring, an airy grass evokes the summer, and a rusty, brown grass evokes the fall, just as grass with fruits will. I am still very new to the Bonsai world but this can be a big help when you visit the next Bonsai show. Also; sorry, but no Bonsais in this post folks!
This is one of Nicola Crivelle juniper's. It shows it in the Tokonoma at every season of the year. Guess which season?

This is one of Nicola “Kitora” Crivelli juniper. He shows it in the Tokonoma at every season of the year. Guess which season?

Back to Kusamono which, by the way, is displayed alone in the Tokonoma with a Tenpai (small little figure) and/or a Kakejiku (Japanese scroll). It’s very important in Japanese Bonsai art to display the tree when it’s finished and has matured to its best. So, for instance, if you have to show a juniper, which is always green, in winter it’s a good idea to have a nice Shitakusa that gives a wintery feeling and maybe a Kakejiku picturing a snowed mountain. The same applies to Kusamonos. Again, it’s displayed alone as the main item with a Tenpai and/or a Kakejiku only when it’s mature; at least 3-5 years old.
This Kusamono is showed alone. The scroll evokes the melting snow and the cute tenpai (the litte badger figure) evokes the end of lethargy

Kusamono are showed alone. The scroll evokes that is still cold and the cute tenpai (the litte badger figure) evokes the end of lethargy. Spring!!

At the Swiss Bonsai Show I went to last May, Paolo Giai gave a demonstration of Kusamono and I was thrilled to try this at home myself. Kusamono (“mono” meaning object, thing) is a composition of different grasses, so at first you have to be sure that the grasses come from the same area: swamp, alps, lakes, dry areas and so on. Basically it’s a hint of a piece of nature that you could find in the wild! Ideally, it would be displayed in a round, shallow pot because in the course of the years the front may change, but there are other typologies of Kusamono; on a plate, exposed roots or as mentioned before, in a round pot.
Paolo Giai with his finished Kusamono

Paolo Giai with his finished Kusamono

the same Kusamono a couple of months later

the same Kusamono a couple of months later

The soil is a mixture (in ratio 50/50) of waste of sieved Akadama and universal soil, also sieved. A small amount of 3-5 mm Akadama soil will be placed at the bottom of the pot for drainage purposes. Kusamono are not fixed with wire and will be placed in a shadowy area of the garden, not in full sun. Fertilization is done in moderation with a liquid fertilizer on a ratio of 3/9/9 plus microelements 2 times a year to avoid a speedy growth and not to lose the smallness of the leafs. A re-pot is made every 2-3 years depending on the composition.
Make sure to choose grasses that aren’t too flashy, with small flowers and small fruits. Lastly: the compositions are endless!! So go out in the wild and collect or take some inspirations or you can do as I did and go buy the plants at your next door gardening shop.
This is very little, very rudimental information about how to create and cultivate Kusamono and here is my first composition:
Fragaria vesca (wild strawberry, Paolo gave it to me as a gift, thank you pal), a Calamagrostis acutiflora (Reed Grass) and Epimedium x versic (Bicolor barrenwort).
My very first Kusamono

My very first Kusamono

What do you think of my very first Kusamono composition?
…love, Melanie!!
PS: I will like to thank Nicola for giving me permision to use his pictures as an example.

Scots Pine Needle Size (Watering Difficulties)

Pines need water too!!

Bonsai-Passion

No not mine but I have seen two almost dead pines during the last month and wanted to clear up a myth regarding watering of pines.

My own small Scots Pine is building up a nice framework of branching this previous three years.  Come the Autumn I will thin the tree out by around 40-50% to enable me to shape further. Minor pruning can be carried out now, but do ensure you seal cuts. For now the appropriate feeding and watering regime with a position of full sun all day, has given me quality sized needles.

Yes, the tree is rotated, but does indeed sit in sun all day long. Watering is generally twice daily at the moment, as the gorgeous weather we are having .. and owed some; is ensuring most of my trees dry out quite quickly. And it really was this watering I wanted to mention.

I’ve…

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First styling!! A step in the right direction: chronicles of a bonsai show

plakat
I don’t know if any of you have ever organized a show: cat show, book show, bonsai show, or whatever else. Well, I have: a cat show a couple of years back and believe me, it’s not an easy task! Without getting into details about my experience as President of our cat club (Abyssinians Breed Club Europe), I would like to report my view of the Swiss Bonsai Show held in Lugano on 8-9 June, 2013.
As a visitor of the show, I must first and foremost say “hats off”! When someone like the Bonsai Club Ticino (a local bonsai club in Switzerland) puts up a show about bonsai, suiseki, kusamono and much more, as someone who’s been through this before, it is immediately clear to me the effort that every single person invested, the energy and nerves, the struggle to organize vendors, the eternal search for sponsors, the hours spent on the phone discussing this and that. It’s a perpetual battle until it’s done. And even on opening day, other problems are bound to pop up. The microphone doesn’t work, the exhibitor has a question, the vendors argue about something. And at the end of the show the work is still not finished! You need to take apart the show hall, update the homepage, write an article about it for the bonsai magazine, and so on. It’s not easy but it’s fun and the Bonsai Club Ticino did  a great job indeed.
kusamono
The club offered to hold the Swiss Bonsai Show, the most important show in Switzerland, by the VSB, Vereinigung Schweizer Bonsaifreunde. It was the first time that the Swiss Bonsai Show was held in Ticino (the southern part of Switzerland, near the Italian border). Taking advantage of the importance of the show, the BCT decided to add more Japanese and bonsai related topics. For instance they held the 2nd contest of the BCT which presented several trees from Ticino, Italy and the Principality of Monaco. The show hall was big enough to accommodate more than just bonsais, and the club has gone above and beyond!!! It featured a show of Shitakusa and Kusamono, a demonstration and show of shodo (Japanese calligraphy), Japanese music with koto (Japanese stringed instrument) and harp, Japanese dolls, a demonstration of bonsai potting, dressing a kimono, sward show and of course a live demonstration of bonsai styling by Sandro Segneri and Mario Pavone (I reported on Mario in a past post) and a demonstration about Kusamono, which was a revelation for me! The new Swiss Talent contest was also held on Saturday under the supervision of the VSB which, by the way, expressed great praise for the success of the show.
Here a couple of numbers to give you a clearer idea:
+ 1500 visitors
+ 150 show plants
300 m of pannels
15 vendors of Japanese items of various nature
9 presentations by other Bonsai Clubs in Switzerland

And the winners are :

Swiss Bonsai Awards

Dedicious native Dedicious Import Conifer native Conifer Import
1° Mario Pavone 1° Luca Brignoli 1°Hugo Berther 1° Carmine Samà
2° Nicola Crivelli 2° Nadir Marcon 2°Madlaine Campo 2° Walter Schmutz
3° Mina Boscacci 3° Mario Pavone 3° Enzo Ferrari 3° Nicola Crivelli

Bonsai Club Ticino Awards

Swiss Suiseki Award Winners of the 2° Award Bonsai Club Ticino: Award Bonsai Club Ticino Suiseki Winner of the audience favorite: 
1° – Sonzini 1° Juniperus Chinensis-Nicola Crivelli Igor Carino Lebanon Cedar forest, by Enzo Ferrari
2° – Enzo Ferrari 2° Ezo Pine –Paolo Dassetto
3° – Amadeo Ducoli 3° Pseudocidonia –Mario Pedrazzetti

Here photos of almost all the trees

Facebook of Nicola “Kitora” Crivelli

Does any of you remember the Bonsai Autumn in Switzerland? Can you recall the quality of the trees, the perfection in its organization (like a Swiss clock!)? Well, I do, and I certainly hope that some day the BCT will be able to put up such a show, because, let’s face it, the Italians have been a force to contend with the last few years, and Noelander should not be the only big bonsai attraction in Europe!

…love, Melanie!!