Kokedama

Having a ball of a time.

I've long wanted a very plain and simple-looking plant for the tea table, and I think I've finally found something I'm quite happy with.

What you see in the picture is called kokedama, or 苔玉 — literally moss (苔) ball (玉) in Japanese — a variant of bonsai cultivation that dispenses with the pot altogether.

To my knowledge, there are at least two theories concerning how kokedama originated. One story goes that some time in the early 1600s, bonsai growers started to remove their bonsai from the pots in order to appreciate them in their raw natural state, giving rise to the nearai bonsai tradition. Soon, people discovered that these pot-less bonsai plants lost moisture too quickly, so they started to wrap layers of moss around the roots to prevent them from drying out — and thus kokedama was born.

A different story was told to me by my kokedama teacher Tony Yau. In those days, bonsai pots could cost a lot of money, causing a situation where some growers showed off their pots more than their plants. Disgusted by such ostentatious conduct, some bonsai artist made up his mind to showcase his bonsai without their pots. This raw unadorned presentation captivated the imagination of bonsai lovers, who felt it embodied Japanese aesthetic ideals, and proceeded to develop it into a form of bonsai cultivation in its own right. This might also explain why kokedama is sometimes also known by its less politically correct term — "the poor man's bonsai."

Of the four kokedama you see in the picture, three were made by me; one of the smaller ones was made by my teacher when he took me through a step-by-step process. I found the bamboo at a pop-up store run by an elderly lady in Tanjong Pagar.