Designing Kokedama (String Gardens) at MOBOT

Has everyone else been seeing all those lovely images on Pinterest, with lush perfect plants cradled in soft green moss, hanging in perfectly de-cluttered, minimalist white rooms? Yeah me too.

Kokedama (literally: moss ball) tweaks all of my crafty and visual buttons. Moss? Whee! Tiny plants? AAAAAHHH! Things covered in twine? Be still my heart. Uncluttered minimalist white living spaces? Well, a girl can dream.

I decided to take a class at the Missouri Botanical Garden to see what was up, and if this was a craft in which I could participate (or if it was going to go the way of at-home paper making, which, just no.)

The class was in the evening (necessary for me, too many of  MOBOTs classes are in the middle of a weekday. People work, you know.) and the member price for the class was $35, which covered all supplies. It was held in a downstairs classroom at MOBOT and was accessible to those with mobility challenges. You can see a full listing of MOBOTs current class offerings here. 

The instructor for the class was not, I think, really an expert in Kokedama, but she had done her research and explained to us the origin of the craft (it developed as a sort of bonsai without a dish.)

She went over the types of soil to use (heavy, clay-based for retaining water) and the differences between using live moss and preserved moss (mostly a matter of preference and access.) We were using preserved moss for our projects, but one can order live moss on Amazon, or collect it locally if a source is available.

We were given two plants each, I got a lavender plant and a… gosh help me I can’t remember what it’s called. I will try to look it up and edit this later. We were also given some sheets of preserved moss, some soil, and various containers for soaking the moss and wetting the soil.

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Two plants, lavender and something else.

We were told to depot the first plant, and gently clean the root system of most residual dirt.

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Lavender, having been gently depotted.

Then we used very damp soil (you can always squeeze out the excess later, but you have to make sure your soil will form a good ball) and created lemon to grapefruit-sized balls around the root of the plant. Mine was more lemon sized.

Note: after I researched this more when I got home, I realized that our training lady had missed a step, which was to add a layer of wet sphagnum moss wrapped right around the plant root, before you create the dirt ball. This step helps to ensure that the roots will retain moisture. I don’t know why she left that step out, but I’ve done it with all the other kokedama that I’ve made at home.

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Operation dirtball – success

When you have created a dirtball that sticks together well, you then begin to wrap damp sheets of moss around the ball. The sheets are uneven in size, you won’t get a perfect wrap – the idea is to make sure that all of the dirt ball is covered. You may need to tear off and fit some smaller pieces in, puzzle style.

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Moss wrap is a go!

We then used upcycled string made from old t-shirts to wrap the moss ball. There is no rhyme or reason to the wrapping, you’re just trying to make sure the whole thing doesn’t fall apart, and that you leave some thing to hang it up by. I think with practice one could make this part into more of an art form – but for me as a beginner it was enough to make sure the ball did not crumble.

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Wrapped Ball – Achievement Unlocked!

We then repeated the process with our second plant:

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I liked this one better, and did a better job at wrapping the string, I thought.
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My two finished moss balls.

Here’s one hanging at home – this one is still doing really well in a semi-sunny spot in the hallway. I take it down about once a week and soak it in a small dish of water until it is saturated. This has grown larger and is sending out new shoots.

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Happy plant!

This one is now dead. It committed planticide within a week.

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I don’t think lavender was a good choice for this project.

Here are some additional kokedama I made the next week, using the sphagnum moss technique, and choosing drought-tolerant plants. Two of these (the succulent based ones) are still alive, I don’t know about the ivy, that was given as a gift.

For these plants I used a soil more suited to succulents, on the advice of the guy at Bayer’s. I was afraid they’d dry out too quickly, but so far that has not been the case. I really liked these better with twine for wrapping, instead of old t-shirt string.

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These two front and center are succulents. The Jade lost some leaves at first, but it’s doing well now. The other plant is also happy living on my dressing table.
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The ivy turned out the prettiest, I think, but since my mom gave that one away I don’t know how it fared.

So there you have it! You too can make string gardens, it’s not even that hard! You might be able to keep them alive, who knows?

Now, having a perfect white minimalist space to hang them in artfully? That’s all on you. I’m still working on it myself.

Hope you enjoyed, please leave me a comment if you’ve tried Kokedama or want to!

What do YOU think?

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