At a class last week I set some students the exercise of making an ikebana arrangement in which they create a mass which is contrasted with a single line. I gave a quick demonstration using some dried materials that have been sitting in the garden. 

To create the mass I used the, now dried, heads of agapanthus that I had used in an Ikebana International exhibition in March. In this Sogetsu School exercise the mass must be made by the ikebanist and not merely be a single large flower head like a hydrangea. Therefore if using globular materials to make the mass a minimum of two must be used.

The second element of the exercise is line. I chose this naturally dried, unknown weed. It has multiple branches so I thought it would be a good example of creating an interesting line by extensive pruning.

This was the final result made with some very quick pruning and assembling in the classroom. The students then set about their own work, producing very different looking ikebana arrangements with a variety of materials.

Helen made a mass of echium leaves and used a single line of fuschia.

Rhonda has used an agave-like leaf for her line and rosettes of a succulent for the mass.

Kim chose a long branch with some attractive lichen and used three creamy bourbon roses for his mass.

Val has used a single cordyline leaf for her line and chrysanthemum and eucalyptus buds for her mass. 

When I came home I reversed and re-set my ikebana and added two camellia leaves into the mass to give a feeling of freshness. The egg shaped ceramic vessel is from Seto City in Aichi Prefecture, Japan.

Greeting from Christopher 
20th May 2018


We have a new winter flowering plant in our garden. I have been nursing it in a pot for a couple of months waiting until we get the first of the autumn rain.

This is an Australian native flower from the south west of Western Australia called Isopogon cuneatus and known commonly as a 'Drumstick' flower, because of its straight stem and globular head. 

'Known commonly' is not the same as 'commonly known'. I for one must admit I had never heard of it before and do not remember seeing it either. The plant was a gift from my ikebana friend Trish. It has only been in the ground for a few weeks and the first of its flowers has now started to open.

Interestingly, it is not a single flower but actually an inflorescence made up of many small rather strange tubular flowers that have a bright yellow 'pistol' (I think), which seems to start yellow then turns red.

In the past week the weather has become much colder producing stronger autumn colours.The richest colour in the garden has been the reds of the Boston IvyParthenocissus tricuspidata... 

...fallen leaves gathered here at the bottom of the steps...

...and the Nandina domestica. This year for the first time whole leaves have coloured evenly on a frond. 

I was very pleased to have the nandina to take to last weeks Ikebana International meeting as the theme was 'Autumn Grasses in a basket'. I had the 'Autumn' and 'basket' parts but not the grasses.

This is the arrangement I made using the Nandina, begonia coccinea and two pomegranate fruits given to me by my ikebana teacher Elizabeth. This is a freestyle autumn arrangement and I was pleased for the opportunity to use these materials together. However, I think it is technically incorrect to use such heavy pomegranate fruit in a basket.

This is the same arrangement re-worked at home in a tall ceramic vase where the visual balance works better.

The white porcelain vase with iron oxide splashes is by the Dandenong Ranges potter Arnaud Barraud. Photos from the meeting are on the I.I. Melbourne blog.

Greetings from Christopher
13th May 2018


A couple of weeks ago I managed to catch these two sulphur-crested cockatoos drinking at the bird bath. These large birds have a raucous call and a flock can be quite rowdy. One of the things about them that surprises me is that in the wild they are very wary and obviously don't trust humans. This pair flew away when they noticed me photographing them from inside the house through a window, even though I must have been at least 15 metres away. 

Behind the birds you can see the vivid green leaves of a strelitzia nicolai that had been ravaged, along with most of the succulents in the garden, by a rare frost that occurred last July.

I was especially relieved when it put forth a green leaf shoot somewhat later in the year and is now clearly on the path to recovery. 
When I return home by car I pass a house that has a large s. nicolai at the front gate. Recently I noticed a yellowing leaf hanging low with the afternoon sun coming through it causing it to glow. Having asked permission from the owner, I cut the large leaf to make the Sogetsu curriculum exercise 'An arrangement with plants on a wall'.

The leaf was large and bold with a beautiful pronounced curve. I added some dried 'Honesty' lunaria annuato give a colour and textual contrast that would complement the leaf. I have photographed it against a grey backdrop rather than our light coloured wall.

From ikebana hanging on a wall, now to a completely different approach where the vessel is a dominant element in the design. 

Late in 2016 I bought a bowl made by the ceramic artist Greg Daly who, in recent years, has experimented extensively with lustre glazes. I loved the brilliant yellow of the bowl with its contrasting turquoise pattening.

The first time I used the bowl I simply made a low mass with three blue Dutch Irises, iris x hollandica set low in the bowl. 

My next experiment was with an unknown small orange flower which has leaves that look a bit like freesia.

My third experiment with the bowl was at a recent class where the exercise was to make an arrangement with Irises. Because of our extra warm, dry autumn, the only ones available at the time were Dutch irises from a florist. This time I added a single line to the mass using a Cape Iris Dietes iridioides leaf.

Greetings from Christopher
4th May 2018


On Saturday of last week I attended an Ikebana International workshop in Melbourne led by Lara Telford, one of the Sogetsu teachers in our Chapter. Lara chose a rather interesting theme. Her focus was colour and specifically colours traditionally used in Japan in a variety of contexts. The colours were red, blue, brown, green, purple, gold and silver. The context of colour use includes: ceramics, fabrics for clothing and other uses (cotton, hemp and silk), furniture, lacquer-ware, paper, woodblock printing, building decoration (interior and exterior) and more.

Lara gave a presentation about the cultural, historical and symbolic significance of the colours as used in various crafts. The choice of this theme was clever, given that the different schools each have their own approach and emphasis in the creation of ikebana. By focusing on colour the participants were able to maintain the stylistic approach of their school yet think about colour from a different point of view.

The participants were allocated a colour in advance of the workshop and I was given brown. I quietly cursed this allocation under my breath thinking "how am I going to manage to do this?". There are some beautiful terracotta and tawny brown chrysanthemums. But none in our garden, only a rather dead looking sedum. As I wandered around searching for something with a little promise I noticed...

...the bark on this Angophora Costata. This is a tree related to the eucalypts and coming from the eastern seaboard of New South Wales and southern Queensland.

The bark is a rich warm rusty-brown that becomes lighter and greyish over the course of the year. In our garden it flakes off in the Summer in large, thick, slightly brittle pieces. The exercise had caused me to look at this material differently.

At the workshop I arranged the bark with, now pale straw-coloured, dried agapanthus flower-heads and a sprig of camellia leaves in a dark blue modern vase. The brown and blue combination made me think of seeing those colours in Japanese fabrics, especially indigo dyed Noren (curtains) and furoshiki (wrapping cloths). I do not have experience in working with bark as an ikebana material. However, having been forced out of my comfort zone I feel encouraged to try it again.

More images are available in the 'Colours of Japan' workshop.

Greetings from Christopher
28th April 2018


The rain I mentioned in last week's posting was indeed welcome. However, we are now waiting for further follow-up rain to keep the ground moist.

In the meantime the world of ikebana continues to be busy. On Monday last I attended a Sogetsu Branch workshop led by the sisters-in-law Toula and Betty Karanikolopoulos. They are both long- standing members of our branch and were also students of my first Sogetsu teacher, Carlyne Patterson. 

The theme of the workshop was to make some ikebana using dried materials from palm trees. Wikipedia tells me that there are around 2600 species of palm. I am fairly confident that the only Australian native palm that grows in Victoria is the 'Cabbage Tree' palm, Livistona australis. The dried parts of palms that were used were the: inflorescence (fruiting stems), the flower-covering spathes and the fronds, often the broad part of the frond which attaches to the trunk. 

This photo, taken in a Queensland garden, shows the inflorescence of an exotic species of palm just starting to open.

The same inflorescence a couple of days later.

And a close-up of the fruit forming.

Two spathes showing front and back, from my garage collection.

A very dusty old inflorescence...

...and close-up.

Below is the work of four of my students who attended the workshop.

Ellie Welkamp 

Eugenia Chudacek

Helen Novic

Robyn Unglik.

Follow this link to the entry on the Sogetsu Victorian Branch website to see more photos from the workshop.

Greetings from Christopher
22nd April 2018


As I write this post on Saturday morning, some showers have arrived with very strong winds. The rain is a great relief for the garden as we have had a very dry summer. Our 13,500L rainwater tank, which I have been using for the garden, is nearly empty.  

A couple of days ago I noticed some large cracks in the ground beside the road in front of the house. These form in extra dry weather because about 60cm below the ground surface is solid clay, which shrinks considerably when it is dry. Such are the conditions that make growing of exotic plants difficult in our garden. 

One of life's lessons is to accept the realities of what is going to grow in the circumstances of our gardens in spite of being drawn to the exotic, and to enjoy the unique beauty to be found there.

Here is an unexpected bit of beauty I came across yesterday. It is the well camouflaged cocoon of a case moth that usually feeds on eucalyptus and native cypress species. It also likes silver birch and pinus species apparently. I haven't noticed one for a long time and it took me back to childhood memories of finding them in my parents' garden.

One success I have had with exotic plant species in the last year is this variegated miscanthus that was given to me by my ikebana colleague Margaret Leung. It has flourished because I have kept it in a well watered pot in a protected position. To the left in the background you can see an autumn- coloured hydrangea. 

Taking inspiration from an Ohara School ikebana colleague, Sally Wilkinson, I decided to use the same materials in this week's ikebana.

This is my first version in the living room niche. My intention was to focus on the autumn colours, in the hydrangea flower and in the margins of the large leaf on the right hand side. They are vey close to the maroon of the traditional-shaped vase. However, I concluded that the miscanthus was too dominant, distracting from the main subject.

My solution was to lower the miscanthus by cutting it into shorter sections, and creating more space between the two hydrangea heads. The leaf is a little further forward and is better shown. This ikebana arrangement is one way to interpret the Sogetsu curriculum theme, 'Taking into account the colour of the vase'

Greetings from Christopher
14th April 2018


Last week we went to Wagga Wagga in south central New South Wales, to visit our friend Janet, who took us to the National Art Glass Collection at the Wagga Wagga Art Gallery. She had taken us there on an earlier visit and it was certainly worth another look. 

"...The collection was first established by the former director of the Wagga Wagga Regional Art Gallery, Judy Le Lievre in response to a request by the Australia Council for regional galleries to develop as specialised collections to avoid duplication and competition..."  (Wikipedia)

This photo shows a small installation of, mostly, clear glass vessels against a window with a shallow pool beyond. A quite playful placement of everyday objects.

This mobile of delicate glass hemispheres  was created by an artist who stated that the 'lacy' appearance of the objects referenced her Irish ancestry. There was something quite hypnotic about the gentle movement of this installation.

When we came home I noticed the last few scabiosia flowers from last summer. They reminded me of the form of the objects in the mobile,...

...delicate lacy hemispheres.

I also found a broken branch of Broom Cystisus scoparius. a significant plant in the garden because it had been struck from a bush in my parents' garden.

I decided these fading materials should be given new life as the subject of this week's ikebana.

I have caught the tips of the broom branchlets together and arched them in an ikebana vase. I have then used the stems as a hana kubari, a support created from botanical materials, to hold the scabiosa flowers in place, thus avoiding the need for a kenzan. The porcelain vessel  is by Hiroe Swen, the Canberra based ceramic artist.    

Greetings from Christopher
8th April 2018


Back in Torquay, after our brief trip to Tokyo last week, Autumn weather has arrived with warm, windless, sunny days and cooler nights. During the week we visited the Lorne Sculpture Biennale, this year titled 'Landfall'. I was intrigued by the simplicity of this work below, sited on the beach. Re-cycled timbers from the Rosebud pier were fixed between two curving steel beams.

It looks warped by the sun and sea...

...and distorts perspective from this angle.

The other work that I particularly liked was 'Couta Memory', a couta boat shaped void created within 19 vertically-placed marine plywood pannels. Follow the links to some interesting information.

This sculptural work was sited at the end of the Lorne pier.

The cool nights have brought an Autumn colour change in the garden.

The ornamental grape vine on the pergola was the first to colour.

I was surprised to see a frond of the Nandina glowing in the sunshine. This is the first time that the it has coloured so evenly. I will be watching to see if more of it changes colour. 

At this stage the hydrangea, that came from Laurie's family home, is only coloured on the leaf margins.

The flowers which have suffered from heat stress during the summer are only lightly coloured so far. I decided to choose the best of them for this week's ikebana in fear that they may deteriorate before too long.

I arranged them in a tall white porcelain vase with some stems from the Strelitzia juncea

Here it is against a plain background.

Unfortunately this year I missed the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show. However, my colleague Helen Marriott took some excellent photos of the award wining Ikebana International exhibit.

See also Emily Karanikolopoulos blog for photos of her demonstration on the last day of the MIFGS. 

Greetings from Christopher
1st April 2018

The blue hypertext links to additional information.