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Three-Fern Kokedama

Delight in this suspended moss and fern string garden.

Hikes through the shady ravines of Northern California, surrounded by the beauty and tranquility of the moss-and-fern-covered slopes, inspired this three-fern kokedama. This adaptation of that vibrant landscape to a ball of moss imparts a playful element to the ferns. The trio of ferns has all the wonder of nature in a delightful string garden. The light, delicate nature of the trio of ferns works perfectly in a bathroom—the green of the moss and ferns is rejuvenating and they love the humidity, bright filtered light, and proximity to water.

Kokedama originated as a form of bonsai in Japan, coming out of the Nearai bonsai style during the Edo era (1615–1868). Nearai bonsai consists of growing the plant in a pot until it’s so tight the roots and soil will maintain their shape when taken out of the pot. The bonsai is then taken out of the pot and displayed. Kokedama means “moss ball,” so the kokedama bonsai is a plant grown in a pot, then taken out of the pot, and covered in moss. Originally the plant was displayed on a stand, often on a plate or tray from which the moss and plant could absorb water. The contemporary form of the hanging string garden was made popular by Fedor Van der Valk of the Netherlands. He uses crocheting techniques, his own soil blends, and grass seed in place of moss. The freeing of the kokedama from bonsai tradition allows everyone to try their hand at making a moss ball or two.

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I’ve displayed my three-fern kokedama by suspending them from a ceiling beam. Keep in mind that they need to be removed for watering, so don’t put them in a place that’s difficult to reach. If you are starting out with dry moss you should rehydrate it by soaking it overnight in a  bowl or tray of water.

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MATERIALS

  • Peat moss and akadama soil, in a ratio of 7 parts to 3 parts (Akadama soil is a clay used in bonsai that helps retain moisture. If you cannot find akadama use a premixed bonsai soil.) (A)
  • Three 4-inch potted ferns (Maidenhair, asparagus, or leatherneck are good choices.) (B)
  • Sheet moss (I used freshly foraged live moss. If you do not have access to live moss you can purchase live or preserved sheet moss at your local nursery or online.) (C)
  • White or ivory 1mm or 2mm waxed cotton cord (Waxed cotton or hemp cord is available at jewelry or craft stores in a large variety of colors. Twine or polyester cord will also work.) (D)

TOOLS

  • Bowl, bucket, or tub trug (E)
  • Scissors (F)

Mix the peat moss and akadama soil together in a tub trug, bucket, or bowl, using a ratio of 70 percent peat moss to 30 percent akadama soil. Use your hands or a spoon to mix everything together. Add water little by little while mixing until the soil is thick and sticks together when you form it into a ball.

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Remove a fern from its container and gently remove any loose soil from the root ball. With ferns you don’t need to remove much of the soil.

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Pat a layer 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch thick of mixed soil around the root ball, and gently shape the mixture into a ball.

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Wrap the sheet moss around the ball, moss side out. Completely enclose the soil and press the moss into the ball of soil.

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Cut a piece of cord at least 5 feet long. Lay the cord out, and place the bottom of the moss ball on the cord at the halfway point, at 21/2 feet from one end.

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Wrap the cord around the moss, crisscrossing the cord around the ball until the moss is securely wrapped around the root ball. Tie off the cord and trim the ends.

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Cut two more cords slightly longer than the distance you’d like them to hang from the ceiling. Tie one cord to each side of the ball, tying them to the cord that is wrapped around the moss ball. Then tie the two cords together at the top, tying them together at the length at which you would like them to hang. Hang the ball and repeat the steps for the remaining two kokedama.

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WATER

The amount you need to water will depend on the temperature, time of year, amount of light, and humidity. The best way to determine if your plants need water is to lift the moss and fern balls—they will be lightweight when they need water. In the warm, dry California summer, without air conditioning, I generally water every two days. Water the kokedama by either submerging the balls in a bowl, tub trug, or bucket of water or spraying them with a gentle shower. If you’re dunking the balls, submerge the fern and moss ball until all the air bubbles have stopped coming up, soaking them for five to ten minutes. If you’re using a hose or showerhead, soak the balls with water until they feel heavy with water. Let them drain in the shower, tub, or sink and then hang them back up. Mist daily to increase humidity.

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LIGHT

Moss and ferns will do best in bright indirect light. They’ll burn in direct sun.

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MAINTENANCE

As with any living thing there will be a small amount of cleanup—bits of moss that fall on the floor or a dead fern frond from time to time. The twine will need to be replaced periodically.

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CAITLIN ATKINSON