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.

HBS-Showcase 2019-6 72dpi
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:

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A Landscape Kusamono on Lace Rock

This is my wife, Soon’s landscape kusamono. It was shown in the 2014 Houston Chinese Bonsai Society show. Our friend, Shaulin Hon, an architect turned professional photographer, took these photos.


Soon likes to create a mixed planting of herbaceous plants and weeds, the end result is a kusamono that looks like a natural meadow juxtaposed with plants of different colors and textures. I am not surprised there are more than ten species of plants on this lace rock.

She named this landscape planting: A World Beyond the Cave  (别有洞天).

This landscape kusamono is an allegory to a Chinese fable, the Peach Blossom Spring (桃花源记), written by Tao Yuanming (陶渊明) in 421 about a fisherman who came upon a grove of blossoming peach trees growing along the river banks. He was captured by the beautiful peach blossoms and kept rowing until the river ended at a spring. There was a cave on the hill side of the spring, he ventured into it and after passing through a narrow opening he emerged and saw a scenic village with cultivated fields and fine houses. The villagers were living happily and in harmony with each other. They produced everything they needed. The villagers told him their ancestors settled in this secluded place after escaping ravages of war during the Qin dynasty (around 200 BCE). For hundreds of years they lived in peace without outside contacts. After spending several days there, the fisherman left and marked his route so he could find his way back, however, the villagers erased all traces of the markings and the fisherman could not find this Shangri la again.

Don’t we all wish we could find our Peach Blossom Spring village on the other side of the tunnel?

The fisherman found a cave.
Coming out the other end of the cave and finding an Utopian village.
Photo taken November, 2016. An overgrown Ilysanthes floribunda nearly covers up the cave entrance.

Kusamono, Jasmine and Kitchen-Scrap Bonsai

My wife is an avid gardener. She tends to away from bonsai (most of the time). To quote her words: “I let my husband works on big trees, I stick to the small stuffs like kusamono and anything palm-size.” Here are some of her small stuffs:


She might not call this flowering jasmine a bonsai, but to me it is a bunjin shohin. The fragrance filled our kitchen when she brought it indoors.

This cabbage is a kitchen left-over. After stripping off all the leaves for food, she planted the stem in a cup filled with expanded shale and water. It rooted and grew into a small cabbage ball with curly leaves. Eventually the regrown cabbage will be eaten, and perhaps the stem will be regrown. She has other kitchen left overs, such as potato eye, yam, onion etc., grown into what I called, kitchen-scrap bonsai.

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Displaying Bonsai with a Companion Plant – Is It a 20th Century Revival of an Ancient Practice?

It is now customary to display bonsai with a small companion plant, also called an accent or complimentary plant. In bonsai circle, a companion plant is often called a kusamono, but the correct term is shitakusa, an understory grass or herb, when it is displayed with bonsai. Such a display is based on the indoor tokonoma (alcolve) display of a Japanese home. Sometimes a suiseki viewing stone, a small art object or a scroll is used instead of a companion plant, and in various combinations. The guidelines can be very complicated. Morten Albek has a series of excellent articles on the display principles and guidelines.


I displayed this Chinese Elm with an Oxalis companion plant at the 2013 Lone Star State Convention Show in New Braunfel. The tree was trained by the clip-and-grow method.

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A Contemporary Display of Kusamono Accent Plants

I work on bonsai and penjing but my wife’s interest is in kusamono and miniature planting. That works out well since I can use her kusamono as companion plant when exhibiting bonsai in shows. Last year we attended our State bonsai convention, and she displayed a contemporary group of kusamono with a local backyard theme using a small picnic table,
accompanied by a kusamono group planting in a broken pot placed on top of a native pink granite. The display can be viewed as two individual groups or as one big group with the taller picnic table flowing downwards to the right broken pot group planting.

The feather rock group planting was placed on the picnic table with a mischievous Siamese cat climbing up the rock examining the plants. Another Siamese cat popped its head at the edge of the table looking at the plants or perhaps ready to jump. Though not conventional, having cats in a show display is a hit to cat lovers. The solitary purple flower in the feather rock is a perennial dianthus, grouped with creeping jennies, oxalis, dandelion and a very small pine seedling just next to the cat. The pine seedling just popped up by itself and she decided to keep it there. On the right of the feather rock is a wild strawberry planted in a sake cup. I drilled a hole in the cup for drainage. Continue reading