Bonsai Accent Plants

May 28, 2015 garden 052~

While visiting pages written by some of my favorite Bonsai artists last evening, I was absolutely fascinated by a Japanese art form called, ‘Bonsai  accent plants.’  Growing perennials, ferns, herbs, and wildflowers in tiny, shallow little Bonsai pots, over many years, is an horticultural art cultivated along with woody Bonsai.

When I saw these beautiful spring accent pots, I had an “Ah-Ha!” moment.  Immediately, I recognized the mature form of the little “moss gardens” I constructed all winter long.

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Finally, at long last, I saw how these beautiful living masterpieces should be constructed and cultivated.

These accents must look absolutely natural.  In fact, oftentimes seeds germinate after they are constructed, or unexpected perennial roots begin to grow, and are left as part of the composition.

I was especially touched by the compositions of ferns and moss growing on lava rock or hunks of wood.

Having never encountered this art form before, I searched for every scrap of information and photo I could find.  In traditional Bonsai display, the tree itself is displayed along side a calligraphy scroll, and an accent plant which expands on the theme of the tree.

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Pteris cretica 'Albo-lineate, Variegated Cretan Breakfern

Pteris cretica ‘Albo-lineata, Variegated Cretan Breakfern

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The accent reflects where the tree might grow in nature, and compliments its form.

The accent plant should also reflect the season in which the tree is displayed.  Plants with spring interest; either spring flowers or unfurling leaves, would be displayed along with Bonsai at a springtime show.  A complete vignette is created by the Bonsai artist to express a mood.

As lovely as the plants themselves, I was entranced by the beautiful handcrafted ceramic bowls paired with many of the plants.  Depending on the plant’s needs, the container might have drainage or not.  Some of the most interesting displays feature succulents, ferns, moss and vines growing directly on rock, as they might in nature.

How does one construct these intriguing displays?  How does one care for them?

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May 28, 2015 garden 048

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Of course, I was inspired to create another little moss garden today.  I used a little fern purchased last weekend, which was sitting in the shade waiting for inspiration to strike; a handcrafted pottery bowl, and moss lifted from the garden.

Since this bowl offers no drainage, I mixed a base layer of vermiculite, sand, fine aquarium gravel, and a little perlite.  Good quality fresh potting soil fills the bowl, topped with a thin layer of builder’s sand between the soil and layer of moss.  The sand, I learned last night, provides a better base for the moss than does placing it directly on uneven soil.  The moss makes better contact, and so grows more happily.

Moss should never completely cover the soil, and so fine gravel may be used around the edges of the container to make a thin margin, framing the moss, and also in seems between sheets of moss.  I was doing this instinctively, but learned so much more about moss culture and use last night.

Bare areas of soil, around 25% for trees, allows the tree’s roots to breathe.  Water permeates the soil more easily if it does not need to first soak through a layer of moss.

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Ideally, an accent plant should be cultivated for several years before it is first displayed.  Like Bonsai trees, these living works of art grow better over time.

Showing you this little arrangement the same day it was created is entirely presumptuous, as is showing it to you alongside a seedling Acer Palmatum in a pot, which is in no way a Bonsai.

I’ve only had the Acer for a few months.  But photographing them together may give  you a faint idea of the beauty Bonsai artists create by pairing a tiny potted plant with a Bonsai tree.

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Now that I’ve finally had a formal introduction to the concept of accent plants, I have fresh inspiration for my own potted arrangements.  I’ve seen a further horizon of possibility.

I’m keen to experiment with the instructions I read last night for cultivating moss in shallow trays, ready to use when needed.  I’m also now in search of an appropriate wooden or lava base for experimenting with designs layered onto a solid foundation, rather than anchored in soil in a pot.

Oh, the possibilities!

“An artist’s concern

is to capture beauty

wherever he finds it.”
.

Kazuo Ishiguro

 

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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May 28, 2015 garden 053

 

 

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Table Top Fern

March 5, 2015 fern 017

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This ‘Birdsfoot’ or ‘Table top fern,’ remains one of my favorite ferns.  I’ve been searching for one for at least a year now, both in local shops and online.

With sleet and temperatures already falling; we ran to the grocery store for a few last minute items yesterday afternoon.  I checked the floral department (as I always do) and found this beauty, the only one left, mixed in with the Pothos and Kalanchoes.

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March 5, 2015 fern 002

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What a treasure! This was my reward for braving the elements in the midst of a winter storm to pick up some last minute groceries!

Birdsfoot fern, Pteris cretica, has very different fronds from traditional ‘Boston’ style ferns.  Its unusually shaped fronds and beautiful markings have always caught my eye.

Each frond grows from a creeping rhizome, and the plants can spread over rocky soil to cover large areas.  Known as a ‘brake’ fern, these tender evergreen ferns may be found in the wild in many parts of the world, including the Mediterranean island of Crete, which is the native home of this the Pteris cretica.

Pteris cretica is cultivated mainly as a houseplant in the United States.  In fact the name ‘table top fern’ is given because it grows so well as a medium sized houseplant, fitting neatly on a table.  Preferring shade, Pteris cretica grows well in the low light conditions found in most homes.  Several different cultivars, with various degrees of variegation, may be found.

They live quite happily in moist, shady areas outside, so long as night time temperatures remain well above freezing.

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When I took a close look at this little fern yesterday evening, it was apparent that it needed a good soaking since it was both dry and pot bound.  Its roots had grown out of the drainage holes of its pot a long while ago.  I gave it a drink of warm water and let it rest overnight.

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March 5, 2015 fern 006

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It badly needed release from its tiny nursery pot, and so I chose an elegant Japanese bowl as its temporary home to wait out the rest of winter.

Since the bowl has no drainage, we lay a foundation of medium stones and sphagnum moss to prevent the fern’s roots from becoming waterlogged.  Fresh potting soil, with an extra dose of Osmocote fertilizer, provide a good foundation for the root ball.

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Although the pot appeared to fit in the bowl to begin with, the root ball ended up as too tall to fit once the bowl was prepared.  I gently teased the roots apart and spread them slightly to make the fern fit, and then covered the soil with a layer of various mosses.  The soil appears slightly mounded since the fern’s crown sits slightly higher than the rim of the bowl.

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Re-hydrated, the fronds of this little fern have relaxed and taken on a healthy glow.  Only two fronds didn’t re-hydrate and had to be cut away.

I’ll grow this fern on for the next few weeks before moving it outside into a larger pot in late spring.  It can be divided then, or transplanted whole.

So long as it remains warm and moist, this fern remains a very tough and long-lived plant.  If you haven’t grown a ‘table top fern’ yet, please give it a try next time you see one offered for sale.

Although ferns never bloom, they offer interesting and consistent texture and color both in a pot and in the garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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March 5, 2015 fern 001

 

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