This week I set my Geelong students the Sogetsu curriculum exercise of 'Using leaves only'. I enjoy this exercise as it is one in which we are encouraged to look carefully at the material and observe its natural qualities of colour, texture and pliability. 

The text book says '...leaves can give an entirely different impression by showing their reverse side...'. We are encouraged to explore their plasticity by, '...cutting, tearing, rolling or overlapping them...'. This comment brings to my mind the caution of Mr Umemura at a workshop once, when he said that if you are going to change the appearance of leaves then you have to enhance their beauty, because nature made them perfect in the first place.

Ellie has used a large 'fan' palm leaf, characterised by radiating lines, against which she has contrasted Maranta leuconeura leaves, the reverse side of which are a deep maroon.

Christine arranged two Strelitzia leaves in a dark grey rectangular box-shaped vessel. She has added rolled and knotted maroon Cordyline leaves in the fold of the front Strelitzia leaf, to create a quirky modern arrangement. The tip of another cordyline leaf projects to the right from the second strelitzia leaf.

On Monday I attended the Annual General Meeting of the Victorian Branch of the Sogetsu School of Ikebana (SSIV). We were pleased to welcome 38 members, including 5 new and 2 returning members over the last 12 months. Following the meeting a workshop was led by Angeline Lo on the theme of a 'No kenzan' arrangement in a suiban. 

This is my re-constructed arrangement at home. I used some pittosporum branches that were quite fine and rather flexible; probably not the best material for the exercise. For the focal point I used some unidentified blue flowers. More photos can be seen at SSIV AGM meeting.


A couple of weeks ago I found a single stem of Belladonna flowers, Amaryllis belladonna growing by the nearby creek. In our garden the flowers have not appeared, because of the extra dry season. My grandmother always associated this flower with my birthday in mid-February. 

I picked the flower and arranged it with the blue-grey leaves of a succulent in a rarely used bowl. The bowl is by Ray Pearce a very skilled and imaginative potter who has lived and worked in the Bendigo area for many years.

A week later the some of the flowers had drooped so I re-worked the arrangement. It was good to get some extra life out of these long-lasting materials. 

Greetings from Christopher
23rd February 2019


The exercise I set in the first class, this year, for my advanced students was a 'summer arrangement emphasising water'. This is a lovely exercise at this time of year and invites the use of glass vessels or suibans that show  an expansive surface of water. 

Of course there are other more tangential ways of doing the exercise. Below are four examples from different classes.

Kim has gone for a rather minimalist approach, using a shallow glass serving dish. It is not clear in the photo, but he has filled the small recess in the centre of the dish with water. He then placed three short, cut stems at one end of the dish. Teasingly, he has placed a single aspidistra leaf underneath the other end of the dish.

Gianna has used an extra large black suiban, in which she has arranged two gardenias as a focal point in a design created with four stems placed across the vessel. 

Val has arranged two pale orange roses under the water in a small rectangular glass vase.

Margaret has used a tall glass cylinder, in which she has floated the large outer petals of an intense pink gerbera. The, now smaller, remainder of the flower sits at the opening of the vase. These elements are contrasted with the line of a vine, which has green leaves with a variegated white patterning.

On Monday last week I attended the first meeting for 2019 of Ikebana International Melbourne Chapter. The guest speaker was a sumi-e (Japanese ink brush painting) artist, Emi Kamataki. Members were asked to make ikebana arrangements reflecting this subject. 

I thought I would use bamboo as this is such a beautiful and popular subject in sumi-e. A particularly attractive variety is growing through our fence from a neighbour's garden. It has variegated pale stems with fine green longitudinal lines. 

It was the first time I remember using fresh bamboo in ikebana, as the leaves curl very rapidly after picking; but not, however, if you use the following technique recommended to me by a couple of my students: Cut the bamboo early in the morning. When you have brought it inside, cut the stem again underwater and immediately place it in a mug half-filled with hot water containing a teaspoon of dissolved salt. Leave it in the salty water for at least 15 minutes and then place in room temperature fresh water.

My simple ikebana has two tall stems with most of the leaves removed to emphasise the stems. Lower leaves conceal the kenzan and some small off-white begonia flowers create a focus at the edge of the suiban.

See more photos from the meeting at the following link, Ikebana International Melbourne.

Greetings from Christopher
17th February 2019


This afternoon I had walk in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne...

...and was greeted by this planting of cosmos in the rose garden bed. 

I had gone into the Gardens as I was curious to see what colour the flowers on a huge bromeliad were. I had noticed its flower spike developing a few weeks ago.

To my surprise, they were white. The flowers of many of the smaller species of bromeliads are highly colourful and often strange looking. None-the-less, this large variety is beautiful and spectacular for its size. The flower spike was a good 2 metres tall. This seems to be an Alcantarea species in the Bromeliad family.

The afternoon was perfect and I was not the only one enjoying the surrounds of the Gardens.

Meanwhile, back in Torquay, each day as I walk into the entrance of our house I pass a bunch of dried Honesty seed podsLunaria annua. I had gathered the seeds from my niece’s garden, which is in a much wetter part of Victoria than Torquay. To succeed, I had to grow them in a pot with a good water reservoir. 

I remember in my childhood being delighted by the septums of these seed pods which are translucent discs with a silvery sheen, as shown in this detail above from an earlier arrangement. They were a popular item in the dried arrangements of the 1960s.

What I have enjoyed in seeing them every day is the texture and colour of the seed pod covering. It is a purply-mauve with a rather parchment like texture. Because the dried material is so stiff I have avoided arranging it. However, I thought the colour was beginning to fade and decided to use it before I missed the opportunity. 

My intention was that the focus of my arrangement would be texture as much as colour. This brought to mind the velvety brown heads of the bullrushes in the creek. I gathered some that are fairly thin and which had an unusual curve. 

Because of the relatively deep colours of the materials I decided to use a tall black nageire vessel with two side openings. This enabled me to seperate the ikebana into two distinct but complementary sides. One being for massed dried materials and the other fresh materials with a linear form. An arrangement using both Fresh and Dried Materials is a Sogetsu School curriculum exercise. I have added two long green leaves for their fresh appearance on the right and two artichoke heads on the left side for their colour and mass. One of the artichokes is obscured in this photograph.

Greetings from Christopher
10th February 2019


We are expecting a top of 37 degrees celsius today... 

...and so decided to have an early morning walk on the beach before breakfast. The cloudless sky meant that the overnight temperature was low and the house should remain fairly cool. Because we have daylight saving at this time of year I was able to do some watering in the garden after dinner last night. The potted plants have water in their saucers and should survive the heat.

A couple of days ago while out for a walk I noticed the bright yellow-green flowers on a eucalyptus, possibly E. macrandra

The flowers were very bright with the late afternoon sun directly on them. They grow in clusters which are quite heavy. As they are borne on fine stems they tend to hang beautifully.

The flower growth is similar to, but smaller and finer than, the Bushy Yate, E.lehmaniihaving a long operculum or bud cap covering the stamens. In the photo above you can see the stamens at the base of the cap before it is forced off by their growth. Notice the one in the centre of the photo and then look at the next image.

I removed the cap and the stamens immediately fanned out, and over the next few hours spread further. Another feature of this intriguing flower is that it has a beautiful sweet scent that carries well within the room, making the plant an interesting ikebana subject. 

In this simple ikebana I have arranged three of the stems, removing most of the leaves in the process. The tall bottle-shaped vase of yellow glass has a gentle 'S' curve going to the right toward the top. I therefore counterbalanced this movement by arranging the flowers in a cascade to the left front. The colour in this photo is quite true, whereas in the close-up with a white background the colour is washed-out. The one small leaf going to the right at the mouth of the vase prevents that side from looking flat.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of Ikebana International Melbourne, Chapter 29. The new Iemoto of the Ichiyo School of Ikebana, Mr Naohiro Kasuya, will be the special guest at a luncheon to be held on the 28th March 2019. If you can make it to the event, follow this link to purchase tickets. I.I. Melbourne's 60th anniversary celebrations.

Greetings from Christopher
3rd January 2019


A couple of days ago we had something of an invasion of sulphur-crested cockatoos. With the recent warmer weather, the bird bath has become quite an attraction in the garden.

As you can see this photo is a detail from the one above. Shortly after taking the photo all but one cockatoo flew away. The one that remained then started to chew on the small Strelitzia nicolai to the left front of the bird bath. I chased it away and now have re-located the birdbath at a distance from plants that are particularly precious.

Speaking of precious plants, I had to take protective measures in advance for the hydrangeas, because of the 40 degrees celsius we had yesterday. After a good watering I picked a few blooms to enjoy in case the rest of the were ravaged in the heat. The watering worked and the plants survived in their pots, which now have much larger and deeper saucers. 

I pruned the hydrangea in this photo very hard last winter except for one especially strong tall stem. I now know this particular variety only flowers on 'old wood'. The tall stem has produced a few beautiful pink flower heads and lots of lush looking leaves lower down where the drastic pruning took place. I am sure some of you who have grown hydrangeas for some time will already know this.

Once picked, I quickly arranged three blooms in a tall porcelain vase by Phil ElsonI then felt that the mass of these flowers was so great that they needed some lines to balance them.

I had saved the stems pruned from the hydrangeas last winter. They have sat outside in the sun and rain in the garden and have bleached naturally. Taking inspiration from my friend colleague, Kath Dacy, I realised that the stems would be a good foil for the coloured masses.

Sitting at the back of my mind was this ikebana Kath had made for the Sogetsu exhibition in 2013, a typically strong and modern work. One of the lessons for me was that pruned hydrangea stems are very useful ikebana material. 

For my arrangement I bundled the bleached stems, forming lines moving in the same direction. Two branching stems running in one direction and two in the opposite direction, thus created an almost elliptical shape. Although it is not apparent in the photo, the branch mass projects forward on the left side. I have added a single pink hydrangea at the front to enhance the pink flush at the bottom of the vase and two blue hydrangeas at the back as a contrast. The vase, which I also used for my New Year arrangement is by Mark Bell, from Maine USA.

Greetings from Christopher
26th January 2019


Don't be too shocked by the photo below. No, we are not overseas. These photos were sent by my internet correspondent Amos, from the eastern USA, with the comment that '...while you have flowers...This is mother nature's way of decorating around here.'  

The photos were taken in Amos' garden and he is so right about the beauty created by mother nature. 

It is interesting to see how the lines of these small trees are revealed by being bare of leaves, and further emphasised by the contrast of the white snow. 

Our TV news had covered stories of recent extreme cold weather in Europe and North America. At the same time, there has been un-seasonally hot weather over much of Australia. On the south coast we have been very fortunate with our temperature being moderated by cooler southerly winds and the hot days occurring in isolation.

On some days the Front Beach at Torquay has looked like this, with many families making the most of the long holidays.

Over the past 6 weeks or so I have been watching agapanthus flowering in many nearby gardens. Such a summery look when the sky is often cloudless. Yesterday, I decided I should make an ikebana arrangement using them before it is too late. Like the trees in Amos' winter garden, one of the main characteristics of agapanthus is the strong lines of their stems. Then the clear blue of their flowers. 

I decided to use this vase by Pippin Drysdale from her ‘Tanami Traces’ series, which has blue and red lines. The glazing technique she developed was inspired by the repetitive lines she saw in the Tanami Desert landscape.

The shape of this vase is a challenge because of its very narrow base and the strong colouring of the glaze. After some time experimenting I found that a single flower looked better than two or more because of the visual strength of the vase. The two ‘shredded’ aspidistra leaves created a textural contrast in the form of softer flowing lines. I have used 'cross bars' to support the materials away from the sides of the vase.

Greetings from Christopher
20th January 2019


About four years ago I was given a pomegranate that has grown well and is now producing beautiful bright red flowers. Well, the birds in the garden love them. I suspect the birds think they are already fruit. The consequence is that the ground around the bush is littered with flowers that haven't had a chance to develop into fruit. Mature pomegranate fruit is just what this ikebanist has been hoping to achieve. 

My frustration has led to the following desperate measure, netting. To ensure that the branches do not grow through the net I made a structure about two and half metres tall. There is a reasonable amount of room around the bush to allow for a couple of seasons growth, I hope. In the process I decided to pick two flower stems from a pale blue-grey succulent that were growing through from my neighbour's garden.

I thought the orange of the flower was a good match for this vase by Gail Nichols. This is a soda ash-fired vessel that is soft green except for a couple of strong orange flashes. I have added some primary eucalyptus leaves from the garden of the neighbours on the other side of our house. Their soft blue-grey glaucous leaves harmonise well with the similar powdery stem of the succulent.

On the subject of orange flowers, I picked the last few strelitzias a couple of weeks ago before they could be damaged by rain. It is only now that I realise that I chose a pale green glazed vase for them also.

This very unusual vase is by Graeme Wilkie, and not an easy one to use. However, I thought it would suit the rather dramatic lines of the two flowers stems. I was particularly interested in the space formed between them.  For balance, a single leaf with a dull maroon central rib has been placed between the stems to provide some mass closer to the vase opening. I took special care to have all the stems issuing from the vase in a single line that does not touch the sides of the vase.

Greetings from Christopher
12th January 2019


On Boxing Day, a cool still morning, we had an early morning walk in the Royal Melbourne Botanic Garden. I was delighted to see the mass of Sacred Lotus nelumbo nucifera, flowering along the board-walk by the garden's lakeside cafe. It is wonderful to be able to stand so close to these beautiful flowers and leaves.                      

One of my favourite ikebana photographs is of a Rikka arrangement by Norman Sparnon made entirely of lotus leaves, buds, flowers and seed pods *. 


I was intrigued by these unfurling leaves that looked like exotic boats on the water surface.  

Outside the cafe tables and chairs were covered in fallen Jacaranda flowers. 

About two months ago I noticed that one of the succulents, Agave salmianahad started to send up a flower stalk.

When it was still just in bud form, on 11 November, it looked quite sculptural... 

...and reminded me of one of the chimneys on the roof of the Palau Guell in Barcelona.

Later flower masses formed at the end of the branches...


...that were obviously attractive to the Rainbow lorikeets.

Back in our own garden, last Thursday I had to take some preventative action to protect the hydrangeas from wilting.

We had a short burst of a few hours of 40 degrees celsius then a return to the low 20's. Fortunately my watering and shading preparations paid off. The photo above was taken on the following day.

One of my emergency measures was to pick a few blooms in advance of the heat in case all of the flowers were badly damaged. I made this arrangement of three hydrangeas, from two different shrubs and teamed with some stems from the strelitzia. I bought the box-shaped vase by the Canadian potter Leta Cormier last year at Almonte, near Ottawa. She described it as an 'envelope form' and is from her 'landscape series'.

I had made an earlier arrangement in the same vase using a large sheet of eucalyptus bark and a King protea.

Greetings from Christopher
5th January 2019

* Japanese Flower Arrangement, Classical and Modern, by Norman Sparnon. p 61