International Friendship Kusamono with Uwe Harwardt and Hermann Wallenhaupt

A post from my wife, Soon Cheah, a kusamono aficionado.

Our Facebook friend, Uwe Harwardt from Germany, sent us a selfie video showing how he made a kusamono pot from a lump of clay into a pot with surface cracks; at the end of the 20+ minute video he asked whether we like this pot or not, if so he would send it as our Christmas present.  We were delighted when it arrived in time for the 2017 Christmas.

Uwe and I have been Facebook friends for several years and we communicated often about kusamono.  Every time I received Uwe’s pot, I would put my heart into creating a kusamono that I felt we both would like and enjoy, and shared photos with him on the outcomes.

This is one of the early pots I received from Uwe.  I planted a false dandelion (Pyrrhopappus multicaulis), a common weed from our backyard in it, and asked our Houston Chinese Bonsai Society friend, Dr. Sun-Chueh Gao (高珊爵), to write a Chinese poem to accompany this kusamono.  My husband and I selected a verse from his poem, which we thought best summarized how one could even enjoy such a simple ubiquitous weed as long as it appealed to our hearts and souls, and pasted this verse on the photo like in a Chinese painting.


This is the translation:


I created a mixed planting with Uwe’s Christmas gift.  Uwe and I love mixed kusamono plantings that reflect something we see in nature, a blend of common flowers, grasses and weeds, as randomly and naturally as possible, yet encompassing the three basic elements of kusamono aesthetics representing the relative heights between heaven, earth and people, 天,地,人.

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Our joint work exhibited at the 2019 American Bonsai Society Convention, ‘Bonsai on the Bayou” held in Houston, Texas. The clay scratching monkey is a gift from out Taiji class senior, Marcia Yang.  Photo taken by Shau Lin Hon of Slyworks Photography.

We submitted this joint effort to the April 2019 American Bonsai Society Convention, “Bonsai on the Bayou” held in Houston, Texas.  Our description of this entry is as follows:

“Friendship Kusamono”

Soon Cheah and Uwe Harwardt

Height: 16 inches.    Container: Germany, Uwe Harwardt

Uwe Harwardt made this earth tone pot in December, 2017.  He videotaped the pot making process for Soon and Hoe Chuah, and sent the finished pot as a Christmas gift.  A cross-Atlantic joint effort, Soon planted the kusamono, discussed and fine-tuned the planting with Uwe via internet.

I drew most of my mixed kusamono planting inspirations from seeing and learning from scenes I saw in parks and in nature walks like the one below.

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A “mixed planting kusamono” at the Crater Lake National Park.

I also exhibited a mixed kusamono planting in the “Bonsai on the Bayou” show, I called it a “Nurse Log”.  It was created on a piece of driftwood we found in Lake Jackson, Texas, while beach combing with our friends, Ben and Amy Chang (张本, 劉渝螢) .  The log is 20 inches long.  The inspiration came from our yearly summer visits to parks in the Pacific Northwest when we visit our younger son.

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“Nurse Log”, photo by Shau Lin Hon of Slyworks Photography.

Nurse logs are fallen trees, which during the process of decaying provide nutrients to young plants sprouted on top of them, with elevated heights they have the advantage of competing for sunlight more than those growing on the ground, and eventually into trees; these logs are also covered with moss, ferns etc. favored by the high humidity.  They are common in the Pacific Northwest’s temperate rain forests such as in Mt. Rainier and the Hoh National Parks.

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Nurse log in the Olympic National Park.
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They are also found in streams, forested areas all over the world.  This is a nurse log we saw in Croatia’s Plitvice Lakes National Park, I like to grow one like this covered with mushrooms; this swirling mushroom, though beautiful, is one I would not want to handle without cautions.

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I like to learn how to grow mushrooms as part of my kusamono journey.
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A possible inspiration for creating group planting at tip of a submerged nurse log in a suiban filled with water?  Plitvice Lakes.

Ryan Neil was one of the featured artists at the “Bonsai on the Bayou”.  One of his assistances told him after seeing my kusamono exhibits, he was so gracious to accept our request, gave us personal critics on these two kusamono at the end of the day before heading out for dinner.  On the “Friendship Kusamono”, he liked the earth-tone pot, but commented it was a powerful pot and is hard to use for a kusamono; he was pleased that I pulled it off by blending the mixed plantings with appropriate heights, colors and combinations.  On the “Nurse Log”, being from Oregon, he recognized it instantly.  He likes the creativity; instead of the traditional Japanese kusamono, this is something he encourages American to create, be it a bonsai or a kusamono, something American.  We were so grateful to him, grateful that a famous artist willingly spent 10 minute personal time with us, we were flabbergasted.  We learned so much from his insights and perspectives.

Now I will write about a pot I just received from Hermann Wallenhaupt, Germany.


Uwe met Hermann in one of the European bonsai events, and mentioned me to him.  Lo and behold, Hermann sent me a kusamono pot he made.  Thank you very much, Hermann!  It arrived when we are staying home responding to containing the coronavirus curve plea.  It is a very beautiful pot.  I like the way the lip sloped towards the center.  The folds resemble our favorite Chinese BBQ buns from dinsum restaurant.  It is also a big challenge!  With the slope, diameter of the opening is reduced by about half and the planting area opening is reduced to about one quarter!

I bet the process of making those folds are the same.

I started working on it right away.  My first thought was to do a mixed planting.  With the reduced planting opening, I had to look for smaller plants to use, a slender grass to establish the height (the heaven) as a main focal point.  Since the ground (the earth) hugging plants are very small, I had to use tweezers to insert them into the pot.  The result looks OK but not very satisfying because the tweezers damaged some delicate parts of those small flowering plants.  It will take sometime for them to perk up again and settled naturally.

I started with the skinny grass towards the rear of the pot and began filling it with ground covers; after completing it I thought I should do the plants justice and let them establish in a more open pot and transfer them into Hermann’s pot later on.

Meanwhile, I found a Brookweed, Samolus paviflorus, also called water pimpernel, which I thought would match Hermann’s pot nicely.  It is just a weed from my backyard, what I like most are the delicate small white flowers with outspreading skinny stems that would not over power this small pot.


We live in such a wonderful time.  Although I have not met Uwe and Hermann personally, but will always treasure their friendships through the internet.  Hope to meet them one day in Europe.


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