Kokedama: The Laid-Back Cousin of Bonsai

  • 3 min read
Kokedama: The Laid-Back Cousin of Bonsai

For centuries, Japan has fascinated gardeners and florists across the globe. From patiently pruned bonsai trees to artfully arranged ikebana, Japan’s appreciation for plants has rightfully earned this international attention. Striving to create not only aesthetic appeal but a sense of natural balance, these art forms have become time-honored skills passed down from generation to generation. And while bonsai and ikebana have long enjoyed time in the spotlight, kokedama, their lesser-known cousin, has just now taken the international stage. These moss spheres could be easily overlooked by those who have never heard of them, but their allure lies in their simplicity. 

Having gotten their start during the Edo period (1603 to 1868), kokedama offered accessibility into the art of gardening. While ikebana and bonsai required specified tools as well as an abundance of time, kokedama was developed as a means for the common classes to also enjoy the tranquility and beauty of Japanese gardening. Making use of naturally occurring materials with no need for expensive and fragile pots, it earned the moniker “poor man’s bonsai”.

Kokedama: The Laid-Back Cousin of Bonsai

This technique is derived from the nearai bonsai method in which plants are grown in compact pots so that their roots knit together over time to form a tight ball that holds its shape. Kokedama, however, is an entry-level project accessible to almost any gardener that yields similar results in far less time. 

The process begins by mixing soil, which forms the base of the kokedama ball. Often, it is composed of a blend of bonsai soil, peat moss, and akadama volcanic rock soil. This mixture is then moistened until clay-like and carefully formed by hand into a hollow sphere. A small plant is nestled into the opening and the sphere is formed around its roots. From there the soil is enveloped in soft green sheets of moss, creating the distinguished moss ball suggested in the name and allowing the plant to be somewhat self-sufficient in balancing its moisture. The ball is then carefully bound with twine securing the layers as both the moss and plant establish roots in their new home. 

Kokedama: The Laid-Back Cousin of Bonsai

A wide variety of plants can be utilized in kokedama including houseplants, cacti, succulents, and even bonsai. Vegetables and herbs can also thrive in kokedama. While the type of plant used will determine the exact needs of the kokedama, the moss around the roots helps to maintain moisture levels, making them perfect for beginner gardeners. Tropical plants typically enjoy weekly watering while cacti and succulents need water every three weeks. When the kokedama feels light and dry, it can be watered by submerging the moss ball in water and letting it drain before returning it to its spot.  

Today, kokedama continues to grow in its simple artistry. In areas where moss is hard to come by, enthusiasts have adapted methods to use materials such as coconut fiber. Others have fine-tuned the art of binding the moss to create eye-catching twine designs. Ways of displaying kokedama have also evolved to include dainty clay dishes, whimsical teacup saucers, woven macrame hangers, and even glass bell jars that create a miniature ecosystem. No matter the display, these simple pieces of living art continue to stun. 

 

About the author:  

Nadine Lindskog

Nadine Lindskog
Nadine first became interested in Japan and Japanese culture after working with an exchange program at her university. After hearing so many wonderful things from the exchange students she worked with she was longing for a chance to see Japan for herself. That opportunity came to her in the form of the JET program where she spent 5 years on a small island in the beautiful prefecture of Okinawa. While living in this very rural community of just under 1,300 people she was lucky to experience a glimpse into some of Okinawa’s unique traditions and culture. In her free time, she traveled the main island of Japan as well as eastern Asia, seeking out the most delicious foods and exciting experiences. She currently resides in the United States but hopes to return to Japan in the future.

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