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.
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