Last weekend in Torquay and nearby towns many artists and art groups opened the doors of their studios to the general public in a two day event organised by our Shire Council called the Arts Trail * . In Torquay I teach an ikebana class through an organisation called the University of the Third Age * . This organisation operates on a learning exchange model. It is targeted at people in the 'third age' of their lives, having finished with full-time employment and childrearing.

As part of the Arts Trail my students and I held a collaborative exhibition with members of the Probus Art Group over the weekend. Paintings and drawings in a variety of media were hung on the walls of a large community space and our ikebana was placed on tables around the room.

These next photos are of the individual arrangement. I was quite interested to see how the first two changed as the flower buds opened.


 Above, by Leonie.




... and Ros.

For my arrangement I used a vase given to me by Doreen Schofield, a longstanding member of the Sogetsu School and Ikebana International in Melbourne.   

I used apricot branches and Japanese Flowering Quince from our garden, and camellia leaves. The vase was made by the New Zealand potter, Keith Blight, and is a slab construction of marbled clay.

Greetings from Christopher
20th August 2016

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This week the first of the climbing Lorraine Lee * roses has opened. This is a prolifically flowering Alister Clark * rose that has a lovely, light sweet perfume. 

The rose is growing on a pergola and is usually ravaged by marauding possums which like to eat the soft new growth of the plant, and the ornamental grape that also grows on the pergola. So far this season they have not done any damage. I live in hope.

Here is a cluster of blossoms on a branch that overhangs the garden path.

In keeping with these late winter images, my teacher recently set our class the exercise of arranging camellia with a second different material, of any kind. 

I decided to make a modern arrangement of bare apricot branches (plenty of these to spare after the winter pruning) and a rich pink camellia. I have spaced the branches irregularly and braced  them across a suiban. The branches then provide support for the flower stems allowing me to show the space below them without using a kenzan. 

Follow the link here to Ikebana International Melbourne Chapter * blog. The AGM was held last Tuesday, at which meeting there were demonstrations from the Sogetsu, Shogetsudokoryu, Ohara and Ikenobo schools. 

Greetings from Christopher
14th August 2016

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The winter flowering plants are really brightening up the garden.

This year the white Japonica, given to me by my ikebana friend Joan, has flowered well and in advance of the red Japonica.  

The prostrate Cootamundra Wattle (Acacia Baileyana) in this photo is situated in front of a strelitzia and in the background is the upright form of the wattle. 

As you can see the prostrate form has continued its spread underneath a bush of Pomederris paniculosa, and now extends to the right emerging into the sunshine on the other side of the bush.

At the beginning of the week I was asked to assist Chieko Yazaki, Melbourne Head of the Shogetsudokoryu school * and the president of Ikebana International Melbourne, to set up some ikebana for a reception at the home of the Consul-General of Japan.

This arrangement of late winter flowering plants, including: cherry branches, chrysanthemum,  iris and asiatic lilies, was made by Chieko...

... as was this table centre arrangement, with nandina, pine, narcissus and Japanese flowering quince.

I made this arrangement, also for the dining table, using banksia (b. intregrifolia) and Coast Sword Sedge (lepidosperma gladiator) leaves. Because of the length of the table we deliberately extended the arrangements sideways and kept them low.

Above is a small arrangement I made for the mantle shelf in the dining room, using apricot and cherry branches, iris and camellia leaves.

As a westerner and teacher of ikebana to, mostly, other westerners I was interested to learn from my Melbourne based colleague Lara Telford * that she had been invited to contribute an article to the International Journal of Ikebana Studies *  Vol 3. 2015. I really enjoyed reading Lara's article and feel she has addressed many of the questions that have been issues for me. I have re-printed her article in full below.

Greetings from Christopher
7th August 2016

Ikebana - A Global Phenomenon.
Is it a paradox to teach ikebana in the West and not being Japanese? I ask myself sometimes if I measure up to my Japanese fellow teachers. Although I teach using Sogetsu textbooks, am I able to pass on the very essence of Ikebana to my students? Have I touched on its unique and elusive spirit myself? Is everyone destined to find it in their own way? Although Ikebana has evolved in Japan from flower offerings in Buddhist temples and flourished to contemporary installations of Sogetsu school, is it still Japanese or has  it transcended its borders? Many questions but a few answers.
It's very challenging to teach Ikebana in the West. The major barrier is the Japanese language, or lack of it in my case. I discovered Ikebana, like many of us later in life, and it's definitely too late to study Japanese, become fluent and read The Chronicles of Japan. There is no professional Ikebana literature in English- just picture books, and some with 1-2-3 steps. School publications and magazines are mainly in Japanese with a small percentage of articles translated into English.
Masters' visits are rare and their command of English is not strong enough to talk about concepts, philosophy, or current direction of the school. I remember my first trip to Japan. I was astonished by Japanese aesthetics, the attention to detail, fascination with nature and the urge for beauty. I'll never forget my first Ikebana lesson in Sogetsu Headquarters. By the time I decided on flowers and picked the vase from huge variety on the shelves, half of the lesson had gone. Then I struggled with an instructor's help to secure too heavy branches in a totally unsuitable vase, quick embarrassment of critique, and the lesson was over.
My second challenge has been the mysterious Japanese culture. We tour through Buddhist temples, stroll picture- like Japanese gardens, even clap at Shinto shrines, but we get just a glimpse. We try to grasp intellectually, while Japanese people just live it. By the end of two weeks I had caught myself bowing, buying precious Ikebana vase, saying "Arigato" and leaving with a yearning to come back. Over the years I came back again and again to absorb drop by drop Japanese duality, aesthetics and spiritual practises - the origin of Ikebana.
It's easy for Japanese Ikebana artists. They have Buddha and Shinto, Kadensho, Chado and grandma's  old nageiri vase. I do not have these.
But what do I have? I have my busy western mind, my language of flowers, centuries old wealth of art, literature, theatre and architecture. Botticelli and Kandinsky, Shakespeare and Kafka, Bernhard and Chaplin, Brunelleschi and Ingels, Versailles and The Garden of Cosmic Speculation. May be we have too much? May be that's the reason we're not so good at "Less is More" concept, but rather "The More the Merrier"?
I have taken Ikebana philosophy and concepts to my best abilities, developed dexterity and enriched it with my own cultural background. Ikebana has become Spanish and American, Portuguese and Australian. We've made a spiritual connection from Japan through Ikebana to more than one hundred and sixty countries. We opened Japanese borders. We made Ikebana a global phenomenon. I feel we do measure up. Well done!

Lara Telford.



I think that the most sensational of our winter flowers has to be the Cootamundra wattle; one of the many wattles that start flowering from this time of year. 

In our garden the most conspicuous is the Cootamundra Wattle Acacia Baileyana. Cootamundra is the name of a town in southern New South Wales * where this wattle originates, and the name is derived from an aboriginal word.

This last week our Cootamundra wattle came to its peak, the view above is from the bathroom window.

The two photos above and below show how it looks from the outside.

Wattles are notoriously hard to keep as a cut flower, as they can dry and shrivel very quickly. I am pleased to report that I have had my best success to date, by following directions from a booklet produced by the Victorian Department of Agriculture, Institute of Plant Sciences. 'The Post Harvest Care of Cut Flowers' * compiled by Dr R Jones.

The process was to bring the branch straight in from the garden, re-cut the stem under water and then place it in a deep vessel (nageire vase) containing one litre of warm water (40 Celsius) with 10 mls of vinegar, a level teaspoon of sugar and few drops of bleach. The blossom I experimented with is still looking good after five days in a cool room.

The arrangement above did not last as long, only a couple of days, when I brought it into a warm room that had a heater on in the evening. The green ceramic suiban is by the Tasmanian potter John Campbell * who was active from the 1880's to the early part of the 20th century. It was given to me by my sister-in-law Libby.

I think the method described above, for treating wattle, would be worth trying for other woody stemmed plants.

Greetings from Christopher
31st July 2016

* Click on the blue text for further information


During this week we spent a few days with some friends in Cairns * in the tropical north of Queensland. Usually this is the dry warm and sunny season; however it was overcast and drizzling every day and steamy, in the high 20s Centigrade. It was a dramatic change, coming back south. This morning's temperature in Torquay was 8C with cold winds and rain. I am not complaining, just contrasting. 

I think the joy for an ikebanist in the tropics is the lushness of growth and the extraordinary intensity of colour and range of form in the flora. One of the first plants to visually 'leap out' at me was the Lipstick Palm * (cyrtostachys renda). This example was in the median strip of a divided road...


as was this Cordyline fruiticosa * . 

During a walk through the Cairns Botanic Gardens I was amazed to see the copper colour on the underside of these huge leaves on a Pentagonia Wendlandii from Central America. I also found myself thinking about exercises in the Sogetsu Curriculum...

...including: 'Colours in contrast' and...

...' With leaves only'.

This photo is a close up of the trunk of a broad-leaved paper bark * (Melaleuca quinquenervia). The lines of colour have been exaggerated by visitors peeling fine strips of the tissue thin bark. It made me think about lines, as I mentioned in last week's posting, as well as the importance of varying texture in ikebana.


This large flower was growing directly from the trunk of the Panama Flame Tree * (brownea macrophylla).

I think this would have to be the largest pitcher plant that I have ever seen.

Above is one of the most extraordinary heliconia I have come across. Masses of large, hanging, multiple flowers. 

The conservatory contained unblemished exotic plants because the caterpillars of the indigenous butterflies that floated through the air are unable to feast on any of them.

Unfortunately this week's ikebana is not tropical.

I have arranged orange Asiatic lilies with some acanthus leaves and drift wood in a ceramic suiban  by the New Zealand potter, Elena Renka * . 

Greetings from Christopher, recently returned from Cairns.
23rd July 2016

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I am surprised to see that the Swan River Pea (Gastrolobium celsianum) * in the garden is flowering earlier this year, and the Cootamundra Wattle (Acacia Baileyana) * is late.  It occurs to me that this may be a consequence of some rather heavy rains we have received early in Winter following a rather dry summer and Autumn.

The Swan River Pea, looks quite wonderful with the sun shining through its translucent beak-shaped flowers. 

The red Callistemon has also suddenly flowered. I suspect it has done so because I pruned it rather hard about a month ago.

Nearby the Banksia Integrifolia * is also flowering. 
*          *          *          *

I have come to the conclusion that ikebana design starts with an appreciation of line, and once we have line we immediately create space; that is, the spaces on either side of the line or between lines. 

My first ikebana teacher always encouraged me to 'study the materials' and I find it is common for new students to comment on the fact that they find themselves looking at the world of nature with different eyes after only a few classes. So it was yesterday, as I sat having my lunch, I noticed the beautiful curving lines of the furled bud of a cyclamen flower. 

Lines are everywhere in the botanical world and each has its own qualities,which create a unique feeling when you stop to contemplate them.

In the class I attended this week, the exercise we were set was an arrangement using a variety of branch materials. At this time of year there is an opportunity to show the branch lines of deciduous trees. I have used apricot and fig tree branches and contrasted them with some Cootamundra Wattle. The latter picks up the grey of the fig rather well. The vase is by the Canadian, Sogetsu ikebanist and ceramic artist, Janet Keefe.

Those of you who know my teacher Elizabeth Angell will be pleased to learn that she has returned to teaching after a bout of ill health.

Greetings from Christopher
17th July 2016

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Sofu Teshigahara, the founder of the Sogetsu School of Ikebana, was an artist whose output encompassed a wide range of media. In addition to his ikebana works, using botanical materials, he also was an accomplished potter and a sculptor who worked with wood, stone, metal, found objects and mixed media.

For students of the Sogetsu school, working in a variety of media gives us a deeper understanding of artistic expression and encourages us to look beyond the surface appearance of materials, including those from the botanical realm. There is a very interesting 1/2 hour documentary of Sofu * on Youtube, that explores the range of his output and his approach as an artist and teacher. 

A week ago Emily Karanikolopoulos and her sister Lucy Papas lead a workshop for the local Sogetsu Branch on the topic: 'That which cannot be expressed by plants (by using inorganic materials only)'; an exercise in learning about sculpture, using principles we have learnt from our ikebana studies.

Above is an example of Emily's work, from last year's Sogetsu exhibition in Melbourne, emphasising strong geometry and surface texture.

This is my experiment from the workshop. I have used fine, square-meshed wire formed into two cones, one inverted against the other. I then looped some grey tubing so that it was spilling out from one of the cones. I really like the way the overlapping of the mesh creates an airy, rippling effect and is contrasted by the 
mass of the dark tubing coils.

More photos from the workshop * can be seen through this link.

I would like to draw attention to an exhibition Japanese Bamboo: baskets, sculpture and other artefacts * in the Pauline Gandel Gallery of Japanese Art at the National Gallery of Victoria. It is on for the next month only. Don't miss it if you are in Melbourne.

Greetings from Christopher
10th July 2016

* Click on the blue text for further information.


Thank you to Margaret Hall and Gwen Delves for identifying last weeks photo of a Nankeen Kestrel * . It is good to know there are some serious birdwatchers among our ikebanists!

I am not intending to turn this blog into a regular report of our local fauna. However, I was really surprised to see a pelican wading in Spring Creek at Torquay on Thursday last. A unique sighting in this location. 

Apologies about the poor quality of the photos. They were taken on a mobile phone. 

Four weeks ago I posted the photo below of our apricot losing its autumn foliage.


Now the transition is complete and the tree is completely bare. However, there are a few flowers to be found in the garden. Unfortunately most of the Pincushion Hakea * ( H. Laurina) has been damaged by the rain. 


I found this one sheltered under a thick thatch of leaves.


Along the garden path the rosemary is flowering well and in a few weeks will provide a colour contrast to the Cootamundra Wattle (acacia baileyana) further up the path.

And one of my seasonal favourites, the red flowering, Japanese Quince (chaenomeles) has its first flowers for this winter. 

I am looking forward being able to arrange some stems in a few weeks when more flowers have come out.

This week's ikebana is a second re-working of the tortuous willow I used in the Sogetsu Exhibition in May. The willow is in a dimly-lit, unheated part of the house and has not grown any more leaves yet. I have added three very cool looking arum lilies for my winter arrangement.

Greetings from Christopher
3rd July 2016