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Traditionally Accent Plants were displayed alongside bonsai, in purpose-built tokonama/display areas inside Japanese homes where bonsai were bought inside temporarily, to be viewed and enjoyed.
The tokonama is rarely a feature of homes in the West but Accents still feature alongside Bonsai at exhibitions and shows.
In recent years, bonsai enthusiasts have begun to realise the intrinsic beauty of Accents and collections of Accent Plants can now be seen as an integral part of a bonsai collection.
Whereas woody trees and shrubs are used for bonsai, non-woody perennials, bamboo and grasses are more suited to use as Accent plantings. Whilst trees and shrubs are developed year after year until reaching a stage where they can be considered a bonsai, Accent Plantings are more instantaneous. The entire cycle of many Accent plantings takes place over the course of one growing season. It begins in the Spring as the first shoots appear from the soil, flowers appear in the Summer and then the foliage dies back in the Autumn; ready to reappear the following year.
Species suitable for Accent Plantings.
Theoretically, any perennial, bamboo or grass can be used. However though many Accent Plants will naturally reduce in height as the plant becomes rootbound, repeated pruning to restrain the size of an Accent Plant spoils the natural feel of the planting. It is therefore better to find dwarf species that have naturally small leaves, flowers and reach no more than 4" to 5" in height.
Hostas are most commonly known for their versatile use in gardens. They have mound forming habit, flowers during midsummer and the ability to thrive in shade. With leaves typically 12" or more in size, these species and varieties are unsuitable for use as Accent Plants.
Fortunately, there are also dwarf Hosta varieties with far smaller leaves, sometimes less than 2" in size. Miniature varieties are very difficult to obtain in the UK and Europe. However, the Hostas I have found for these plantings were found via a Hosta nursery in Ireland, www.mailorderplants4me.com.
Bali-Hai specialise in mail-order and based on the quality of the plants I received, are well worth recommending.
Pictured right are Hosta 'Cheatin Heart', 'Hydon Sunset' and 'Blue Mouse Ears' as they were received from Bali-Hai.
Good quality accent pots of exactly the right size are difficult to locate so I ordered 6 pots from Erin Pottery. Glyn Harris at Erin Bonsai sent me these 6 pots based on the Hostas I had bought.
It is important that the pots are large enough to accommodate the rootball of the Hosta and also small enough illustrate their diminutive leaf size.
The glazes for these pots were all made by Glyn Harris to compliment each individual Hosta. Pot sizes range from 3"-4" in diameter and all are approximately 2" deep.
Cultivation Notes for Hostas as Accent Plants
Hostas enjoy moist fertile soil and dislike drying out, but as with all accent plants and bonsai in the confines of a small pot, the soil must be free draining.
Repotting should be carried out every 2 to 3 years, preferably in March as the new growth starts to appear from the soil, however Hostas can be rootpruned and repotted successfully from November through to mid April in the UK.
To prune the roots (if necessary to fit into the pot), simply cut away the bottom 1/3 to 1/2 of the rootball with sharp scissors.
I have found that the best soil mix to use is:2 parts peat compost, 2 parts horticultural grit and 1 part Akadama or Seramis. In the absence of Akadama or Seramis use:2 parts peat compost and 3 parts horticultural grit.
Never use compost without the addition of grit; in any small pot, compost (particularly those that are peat based) will become compacted, airless and difficult to water. Hostas prefer a position in partial or full shade though they flower less in full shade.
Yellow-leaved varieties colour better if given morning or evening sun. Hostas are largely pest and disease free. When planted in the ground, Hostas often need protection from slug damage, however I have found that when grown in pots, slugs cease to be a problem.