Home & Garden

Fort Worth floral artists get creative with kokedama

Example of work by Kokedama by Cannon and Co.
Example of work by Kokedama by Cannon and Co. Star-Telegram

I never thought her knack for gardening would bear this kind of fruit.

My wife, Jeannette, fell in love with orchids a few years ago, and when she discovered an old-turned-new technique for displaying houseplants, our lives changed overnight.

“I was researching orchids and terrariums, specifically, and I ran across a photo of a kokedama,” she says. “As soon as I saw it, I wanted to wrap everything in the house.”

If you think she was exaggerating, think again. When I came home the next day, I found my wife standing in the middle of our kitchen amid plants, twine, leaves and dirt, with clods of moss in her hair, holding a familiar plant — now alien-looking. It looked like an arachnid with dozens of legs poking out of a huge abdomen. And it was beautiful.

Kokedama, literally translated “moss ball,” has its origins in Japan and is akin to the art of bonsai or the Chinese practice of penjing. In its simplest form, the kokedama is crafted by sculpting a plant’s root mass into the shape of a sphere, covering the roots with moss and winding nylon wire or twine around the mossy base to secure the plant. Once wrapped, the plant is displayed in a small accent dish or suspended from its twine.

With input from her brother, Exo Martinez — a trade investor and regional director for a local roofing company — and new business partner, Jacqueline Romero, seemingly overnight, my wife had put together a team whose aspirations for this approach far exceeded the little arachnidlike plant that started it all. Imagine transforming terra cotta-bound shrubs or trees into suspended masterpieces, or repurposing antique, heirloom dishes to seat a living centerpiece.

The stunning sculptures appeared in every empty living space that I once cherished.

Like the penjing, kokedama artistry is not restricted to a specific plant variety and can be used to alter the presentation of any favorite houseplant.

“We use all types of plants ... tropicals, succulents and perennials that are well-suited for Texas weather, but you’re not bound to climate-friendly plants for indoor gardens,” Jeannette says.

Our home is still covered in moss but, with an innocent fascination and help from family, Jeannette has established a brand for her kokedama designs where the mission statement is simple: Be together, be creative.

Jeannette adds, “The family relationship is very important to us. We’ve done so many things together, at some point it becomes less about what you’re doing but that you’re creating something and you’re spending that time together. [Exo] makes me feel like I don’t have limitations. And hopefully I do that for him, too.”

More from the designers

The sister-and-brother duo, Jeannette and Exo, and their business partner, Jacqui, answered questions about their art.

What inspired you to make kokedama?

Jeannette: I was in search of a creative way to display my orchid collection ... In two days, I had wrapped three or four of my favorite plants. Naturally, I wanted to share this with friends and family, and Kokedama by Cannon and Co. was born.

Christmas was around the corner, and making kokedama as gifts was the perfect opportunity to share. Orchids are my favorite. I also have a crush on herbs so I’ve been experimenting with [kokedama] plants that you could take outside in the Texas climate or use in an herb garden.

Exo: I was inspired by the challenge. And it became an opportunity to be creative with Jeannette and Jacqui, who love horticulture as much as I do. As soon as I saw my sister making them, I wanted to research where this technique came from and learn everything about it. It’s satisfying to be able to do something not many are doing.

And I think people want an addition to their garden that no one else has or has seen before. Each plant reflects the personality of the designer and the creative input comes out in the kokedama. It’s living art. There are designers referring to this art as “string gardening” because of the way the kokedama hang. You display them differently in some cases.

Jeannette: We design the kokedama to be suspended, but we also use repurposed vessels for display. I like repurposed materials. It gives us the ability to design centerpieces. It serves dual purposes, really. It’s more versatile for presenting your plant and gives life to an old heirloom. It makes it completely unique.

What types of plants do you use?

Exo: All types, really. The [kokedama] are still mostly made for a controlled environment, but we’ve talked about making more plants for the porch or an outdoor garden.

Do the soils vary depending on the plant?

Jeannette: Yes. Some plants like a soil mixture that retains more moisture, some like more drainage. The kokedama will dry out faster than potted plants because its roots are exposed to more air. That is a factor.

Are the kokedama easy to maintain?

Jeannette: They are easy. You want to be respectful of the plant, as each is different. It’s the same as taking care of any houseplant. The kokedama just happen to be in an all-organic container.

Exo: Some are more challenging than others. Orchids and succulents need a little more love.

Kokedama by Cannon and Co.

▪ www.kokedamacco.com

▪ Kokedama prices vary by size and plant variety: $25-$200.