The winter doesn’t have to put your green thumb on pause. Kokedama, pronounced Ko-ke-da-mah, and translated from the Japanese to mean “moss ball,” is a unique planting technique, similar to bonsai, that involves wrapping a plant’s root ball in clay and moss, a method that bypasses the need for containers. Not only does this process result in beautiful standalone pieces of art, but kokedama plants are perfect for the horticulturally impaired because they are so easy to care for.
There are shops that sell kokedama in the Bay Area, but only one entirely devoted to it—Of Soil and Moss, located in Oakland’s Uptown district. Although the studio opened this past spring and has a steady stream of customers from the new apartment buildings going up in the area, Of Soil and Moss still carries an air of the undiscovered. Stepping inside is like entering an oasis. Plants hang gracefully from the ceiling or rest in pleasing arrangements on tables and shelves. A vintage Honda motorcycle sits in the center of the shop (the owner’s first bike), part of the shop’s unique decor, as well as being another passion for Of Soil and Moss’ owner, Bessma Khalaf.
“It’s the closest you get to flying,” she says. Khalaf, who was born in Iraq and has a Master of Fine Arts in photography says her passion for kokedamas began when she saw one at a Japanese plant shop. “I was filled with wonder and purchased one,” she recalls. ”Excited about this technique of keeping plants without a pot, I decided to kokedama most of my plants at home.” Khalaf says she is drawn to the idea of using nature to contain nature and has conducted extensive research—including taking bonsai classes and importing clay from Japan—in order to master the technique. The benefits are many. For one, plant lovers can enjoy greenery even in a small apartment because kokedamas can be hung vertically in order to conserve space. They are also affordable at $30 to $60 each, and care is simple. No need to dig your fingers into a pot to guess if water is needed—when the kokedama is dry to the touch, it’s time to water. Best of all, Khalaf handcrafts each kokedama and is adept at setting up each customer with the plant that is right for them. She also offers kokedama-making workshops for small groups ($75 per person, including plant and wine). Judging by the number of visitors arriving at Of Soil and Moss, and the fact that Khalaf, who has been growing plants in this manner for five years, plans to double the footprint of her studio soon, it won’t stay undiscovered for long. Freedom and expansion then are good metaphors for Of Soil and Moss, where each plant grows unencumbered by pots, free to find its own way toward the light.