Bonsai are often displayed with accent plants, also called companion plants or by the Japanese terms shitakusa and kusamono.
A bonsai companion should act to enhance the display of a bonsai while not detracting from the main exhibit which is of course the bonsai itself. Traditionally bonsai companion plants should let the viewer know something about the season and where the bonsai itself grows. To be clear accent plants are planted most often in their own container or in no container at all.
In this first example the companion plants are ferns and strawberries which evoke a sense of a dense forest. This companion planting would pair extremely well with deciduous trees. Companion plants should not look freshly planted, and should never have any visible soil. In order to show your bonsais in the best possible way you should have a number of companion plant arrangements to pick from and pair with your bonsai depending on the setting.
Companion plants should follow a few additional guidelines, first they should be shown in containers that are shallow, and not flashy. If you choose to use no container or a container with very small walls you need to be sure to use a sticky soil with almost clay like qualities to ensure it stays in one place. In order to ensure your plants look well established you should plant your containers a few months ahead of the time you wish to show them; at the very least try to plant a few weeks ahead of time. In order to give your companion plants a fully finished look you should mulch them, or completely cover the soil with a groundcover like moss.
Lucas Barnes is an avid gardener and enjoys writing about a variety of topics related to the cultivation of plants. Lucas has a BA from the University of San Diego and is the writer of Plantdex