DIY: a kokedama string garden

jardin suspendu diy

Let’s continue with our adventures in botanics. What about an easy, free, fun and elegant project? A project that I loved doing, as I’m all about Japan? I am talking about the now fashionable kokedama, or Japanese moss balls. Last month I made one, and I’m pretty happy with the result!

What you’ll need

how to make a kokedama

  • a tiny plant. The kokedama is wrapped with moss, so it’s better to chose a shadow-loving plant like a fern. Just like bonsai makers described in my book, I collected a small oak from a germinated acorn in the forest during a walk with baby E. The ground was full of them. I felt very Japanese and expert.
  • cotton thread. The very one I use to sew a button. I chose a brownish color so that it would blend with the moss. One could also chose to create a contrast with vibrant orange or yellow, why not?
  • some potting soil. The original technique calls for a mix of potting soil and bonsai soil, which is “heavier” and easier to compact. I didn’t want to invest in boisai soil so I just used regular potting soil and the baby oak has been feeling just fine for now.
  • some moss. I collected it in the forest. It’s better to get a patch, so that you can quickly and easily wrap the mess you will do with the plant and the potting soil. I tried to collect a patch by hand, and with a wood stick. It went ok, but then I thought I could use something strong enough not to bend of break, and the day after I took a walk with a fork in my purse. It works perfectly!
  • a place to get messy. Which is the funny part of the project after all. Some newspaper pages will do.

How to make a kokedama

  • gather everything at hand (you don’t want to run around looking for a pair of scissors with your moss ball in the other hand)
  • take the plant in your hand and take away the soil from the roots.
  • put the moss patch upside down (inside facing up)
  • take some slightly humid potting soil in your hand and form a ball around the roots of the plant
  • put your messy mix at the center of the moss patch
  • wrap everything around the soil ball, without forgetting any spot (if you do, the soil will get out eventually). Adjust the “wrap” by cutting off the extra moss.
  • take the thread and start wrapping it around the moss ball.
  • soak the ball into water for around 5 minutes.

what you need kokedama

making a kokedama

string details

watering a kokedama

kokedama diy

Display your kokedama

Two options. You can either:

  • add another thread (a contrasting one, a beautiful one but most importantly a stronger one) so that you can hang the moss ball, creating a flying garden which is so poetic and surprising.
  • find a vessel, a dish to put the ball. I used a flat stone collected from the river next to my grandma’s place. I love the result, elegant and natural.

diy kokedama

Maintenance

A kokedama is pretty low-maintenance: soak the moss ball in water every few days, mist daily, and place in indirect light.

kokedama display

I love how this kokedama is still doing well at home. It didn’t cost me anything and I find the result elegant and sophisticated. It could be used as name holders for a wedding. I think it could also be a fun project to make with kids. Hope you’ve liked it and that you will feel inspired to make your own!

japanese string garden diy

Five Easy Flowers to Grow from Seeds now 

seed starting

It’s not too late to sow flowers, even in May! I’ve always been a little bit scared of starting plants and flowers from seeds: I wasn’t sure I would I be able to take care of these tiny sprouts. After several seasons of trial and error, and a new maturity when it comes to growing a garden, I am starting to love sowing stuff. So for you my friends who want to start a garden on your balcony, I have prepared a selection of five easy flowers to grow from seeds, even in May which is kind of ahead in the sowing season.

Before you start, be clever: the space on a balcony being what it is, you need to maximize the visual impact, and these big containers will not show any plants or flowers before weeks. Unless you really want to become a farmer on your balcony, you’d better mix “ready-to-wear” containers full of plants from the nursery with other containers where you’ll sow your flowers: it will keep your balcony interesting from day 1 and keep you motivated until the first flowers appear.

cosmos

Cosmos in Bern

Not all the plants give their best in container gardening, but here are some easy ones, I promise: they’ve grown on my tiny balcony in Milan 🙂

  • Morning glory. A fast growth vine with attractive flowers which open at the early hours of the day. They will need a well-drained, not fertilized – poor soil to give their best. I loved to have a coffee by the window before heading to work, with these delicate flowers by my side.
  • Cosmos. One of my favorite annual plant, with ethereal flowers lasting weeks. There are a lot of cosmos species out there, and not all of them are adapted for container gardening: chose a dwarf version. They are ok with relatively dry soil, so they are a good choice for low maintenance gardens.
  • Sweet peas. Same here, chose a dwarf version to guarantee that the plants will thrive in their container. Bonus here: the smell, friends! By reading my books to prepare this post, I’ve learned that these plants are native from Sicily 🙂 They will need a well-drained, rich and fertile soil to give their best.
  • Nasturtium. With their edible leaves and flowers. They will need a well-drained, not fertilized – poor soil to give their best. In container, it’s better to trim them regularly so they do not invade your tiny balcony!
  • Sunflower. Find a dwarf version and the sunniest spot on your balcony.
morning glory

morning glory on my balcony in Milan

These are annual flowers, so they will grow quickly and beautifully until the end of fall:

  • They have a hard seed coat which delays germination until late spring: to improve the germination of purchased seeds, soak them in a dish of warm water overnight before planting (except for the Cosmos).
  • You can start the seeds indoor and then transplant the tiny plant (which always scares me, I’m not sure if the plant will make it) or sow them directly in the final container, but you’ll have to wait the last frost! I prefer the latter, and sow in April-May, because I’m sure that all the natural conditions are working with me: I love an easy garden, remember?
  • At the end of fall, you’ll be able to collect the seeds when they dry on the plant and store them in a cool place until next spring 🙂

This is such a cheap option to grow beautiful flowers, why not trying? All you’ll need is a container, some potting soil and a pack of seeds. Allow yourself to be a kid again. Sow the seeds and let the magic happen!

What about you, do you have any other advice to share?

easy flowers to start from seeds

A walk in the Arashiyama forest and a Kokedama

Arashiyama bamboo forest

One of the most beautiful moment I ever lived so far is a walk through the giant bamboo forest in Arashiyama, Kyoto. I was travelling alone and could take all my time to finally enjoy this delicate and ancient relationship between the Japanese people and Nature. There, I chatted with some old men who would spend their time by the pond, taking pictures of kingfishers. There were strange puppets hung to the trees. Everything felt a little bit special and magical. In the middle of the forest, there was this shop. A potter’s shop. I liked it right away because it was a little bit messy at the edges. The potter would actually use some of the containers to grow moss, baby trees and plants in them and these vessels were starting to be part of the forest too. This is where I saw my first kokedama.

The thing about passionate humans is that we love to communicate and exchange. With two Japanese notions and four words of English, a lot of hand talk and some pictures, we chatted. He told me about the sculptures he had sold to famous Americans, I told him about my curiosity for Japanese gardens and pottery. He showed me how to prepare a baby tree before planting in a small container and how to propagate moss. I bought a beautiful raku vessel, that I cherish. He offered me a tiny tiny ceramic frog. Telling me that it was a god that would help me find back what has been lost, advising with a laughter to put it in my wallet for prosperity. Sometimes I think it was a spell from the forest to guarantee I would return.

Since then I have been curious about these baby plants in a moss ball. This is now something you can see often in concept stores and edgy flower shops: it is called kokedama. The original Japanese art is about growing a bonsai tree in a ball made of soil and moss. The quick occidental version is to grow a plant in a moss ball, arranged in a pretty way. I wanted to try it, so during one of my walks through the park, I gathered the materials and made one. I will show you how next week, when the kokedama will be one-month old.

I cannot remember the name of the potter shop. I have searched several times on the internet for it, without success. Was it a dream? Or simply, I prefer to rejoice that not everything is available at our fingertips: some things just need to be lived.