Creating a forest out of almost nothing

Last week I went to Nicola’s for another workshop. We worked on an abies picea or spruce, I created a Kusanomo, some Shitakusa, we did some autumn work on two shohin, a zelkova and an acer burgeniamum.

It takes me up to 2.30 hours to travel to Nicola’s place and during the long way by car I always review, or try to review, what happened to the plant since the last time I went, and I try to figure what will happen to the new plant I am bringing for the first time. But at the end of the day I am always amazed about the results and my first ideas are a far cry from the end result..
 
This workshop was focused on “Allegra” a 3-tree forest, well of course it’s no forest yet, but one day it will be one. You may wonder about the name; well all my trees have a name! Lastly they may stay with me for a long time, so might as well give them names like pets. Funny? Weird? As Oscar Wilde said There is method to my madness! I bread cats for many years and the association with which I was affiliated gives a “letter” to the member to name they kittens for each year, so 2012 was V and W, 2013 are X, Y, Z and 2014 will be A. With this in mind, you can always come back and review the cat by the name given. They do this also in pedigree dogs in some countries. With bonsai, I am doing the same with my trees!  I started in 2010 with bonsai, for me the “A year” unfortunately t’is not the year of birth of the tree, but the year of purchase. Long story short, Allegra is with me since 2010.
 
Ok, back to the topic. This abies picea is vigorous, but the first style she had was at the very beginning of my bonsai life, so nothing special, difficult to find a real style with a 3-tree composition. The nice thing about Nicola is that he can “see something” in everything, even in such a difficult raw material as this one, for me it’s still very hard to foresee anything no matter how the tree looks at the beginning.
 
I believe we did a good job indeed and she is on her way to becoming an outstanding bonsai.
 

 
Next step will be to get 2 other spruce in the same diameter and height to give the composition more depth and dimension. I visualize her in the future on a stone plate. After all I am travelling so far to learn and understand how a composition has to look in the end and alas, I did learn something!

…love, Melanie!

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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.

My first Kusamono

Ok, I don’t have a clue how to cultivate Kusamono’s but they always fascinate me. The sweet little pots contain this delicate tiny flowers, the freshness they transmit, the youth and grace they possess, although after all, it’s only weed!
I decided to give it a tray and transplant some of the weed (Japanese = kusa) that I have in the garden in small pots. The pots are really nothing special and I am looking forward to purchase some new one on the next Bonsai workshop in the upcoming months.
Back to the topic: my biggest concern was the soil. Should I use Akadama? Or Keto will be better? Or maybe just the same soil from the garden? Well, I don’t know I used all three and will figure out how the Kusamonos will progress.
What do you think? Can you give me any advice?

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…love, Melanie!