Artistic Merits of Moss?
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Author:  Morten Albek [ Thu Jun 07, 2007 9:44 am ]
Post subject:  Moss or not

The moss is almost a must for Shohin, because as Daan points out, the tree easily looks newly repotted i.e.
There are exceptions though, I think. Some trees may give you an idea of their living place and conditions, that make it unnatural with a neat moss covered surface. To my taste, there can be variations that will work well without a fully covered moss surface.
A tree with deadwood will work well with a soil not fully covered with fresh mosses. Other trees, like a Satsuki Azalea with flower, invites to show a green soil surface of mosses that underlines the freshness of the tree.
In the end it is about the expression and feeling of the display and tree the artist wants to show. As long as the shown soil or mosses i.e. do not look unnatural, it is an artistic choice I think.
I have started another Shohin-freak issue about displaying, for Daan and others that might have some comments about that. Maybe others find it interesting too.
Kind regards
Morten Albek

Author:  Vance Wood [ Thu Jun 07, 2007 1:55 pm ]
Post subject: 

Why are we trying to convert each other? I have always had a lot of moss for the same reason a cat licks it's back side----it can. But I have started seeing the artistic merits of having a soil surface that is not so pristine as the 18th hole at Pebble Beach. I remember the days when it was taught that moss should be smooth and even as a mowed lawn. When I started neglecting mine it became lumpy and in little mounds as well. I would have people ask me how I got my moss to do that.
But----if you examine the natural environment our trees come from most conifers have a rugged design and for artistic reasons should have a rugged soil surface element. IMHO

Author:  Attila Soos [ Thu Jun 07, 2007 2:17 pm ]
Post subject: 

I just love moss, period. Nothing to do with tradition. But I wouldn't have my bonsai any other way. I like variety though, so it's nice to see lumps and patches, instead of looking like a lawn.

Author:  Will Heath [ Thu Jun 07, 2007 3:46 pm ]
Post subject: 

Rob Kempinski wrote:
Moss on the other hand has very fine texture and can simulate the grass of an under story in the woods. So in this case, even though it is traditional, it looks good and contributes to an emotive response.

Yes, but all too often a full covering of moss looks only like moss, without artistic application, forethought, and careful placement, it doesn't say "grass" it only says "moss."
Is moss the only option? Of course not, let?s look below at Walters own Sabina juniper in a Modern Literati style and we can see his use of Sempervivum on the soil surface, not a full covering, but just enough to suggest undergrowth.
Photograph hot-linked from
We can also look at another Walter?s trees where just a touch of moss was used to suggest some grassy growth under the tree, this time a Scots Pine Literati also in a Modern Literati style.
Photograph hot-linked from ... php?t=1102
Both of the above examples fit well with the thought that a environment that obviously has thrown harsh conditions at the tree would not bypass the ground. I mentioned this oddity common with many bonsai in an article here at AoB ( ) in which I stated the belief that the ground cover (or lack thereof) should reflect the environment that the tree reflects. A lush, healthy tree should have lush healthy ground cover, while a windswept or Literati with scarce foliage should have ground covering that looks like it suffered the same conditions. The same could be said of the deadwood trees that are so common now.
I think too many people spend great amounts of time polishing the tree, cleaning and rubbing the pot after searching for the perfect one, purchasing the exactly right stand, and then they just slap some moss on the soil surface or decide not to without giving the total image consideration. The question that needs to be asked about ground cover is, what must be there in order for the mini-environment (the ground cover) we present our trees in in order for the same story to be told without presenting conflicting images.
Sometimes the answer is full coverings of moss, sometimes, a scarce smattering of it, sometimes no moss at all, sometimes other plants, and sometimes a combination of all. In short, it is the final image that tells if we were successful with our choice or not.


Author:  Walter Pall [ Thu Jun 07, 2007 4:41 pm ]
Post subject:  Re:

Will Heath wrote:
Sometimes the answer is full coverings of moss, sometimes, a scarce smattering of it, sometimes no moss at all, sometimes other plants, and sometimes a combination of all. In short, it is the final image that tells if we were successful with our choice or not.

I second that! That's exactly what I do.

Author:  Vance Wood [ Thu Jun 07, 2007 9:30 pm ]
Post subject: 

This brings up the question of a little debris. Things like a few small fragments of old needles and small pieces of bark. Do you find this acceptable? Frankly I do in some cases, especially with conifers. I'm not so fond of leaves, they just look sloppy.

Author:  David Loughran [ Thu Jun 07, 2007 11:14 pm ]
Post subject: 

Certainly Vance. Take a walk in the woods and you will find all sorts of interesting stuff on the ground. Nothing simulates experiencing a glorious pine than some brown needles on the ground creating a wonderful piney aroma.
Now there is of course the issue of scale. A leaf on the ground under a 30 foot tree is nothing and distracts nothing from the tree itself. However, a leaf on the surface of a bonsai pot (though we try our best to keep our foliage in scale) is far more distracting. Perhaps this is why needles on the surface are much more pleasing; because they turn brown and break up relatively quickly before becoming obtrusive.
This debate reminds me of a conversation I had once about whether a tree can be too ramified so that it begins to look contrived, yet the "rules" say "the more the better". But that is a discussion for a different thread.

Author:  Roger Snipes [ Fri Jun 08, 2007 8:05 pm ]
Post subject: 

I tend to agree with those who use a certain amount of moss artistically to enhance the effect of the composition, but it certainly is personal preference / artistic sensibility if one wants to use it or not.
Even in Japan it seems to be viewd as a case of personal preference. I was speaking with Dave DeGroot, curator of the Pacific Rim Collection, earlier this spring just after he returned from a study trip to Japan. We happened to discuss moss, and he told me that one of the gentlemen who he studied with (I don't remember the names unfortunately) would not allow a bonsai indoors unless it was totally covered with moss. This was for the religious reasons previously mentioned in this thread. The other gentleman he studied with on the trip had no inclination to cover the soil with moss at all, and did not bother with it.

Author:  Vance Wood [ Fri Jun 08, 2007 9:25 pm ]
Post subject: 

That's interesting, perhaps we are influencing, or corrupting, the Japanese maybe just a little bit. I suppose I am to some degree still a bit of a conservative fuddy-duddy about the display of a tree in that I still think little figurines are a no-no. But, some more natural looking elements with the tree, that convince the viewer of the nature of the environment, are acceptable in my eyes in expressing the art form of bonsai.

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