In the garden a few weeks ago I noticed that the Sedum, given to me by my student Christine, was just starting to open its flowers. I was delighted because this year the flower seemed large enough to pick, whereas in its first year the flowers were quite small.

The slightly open flowers seemed to glow in the late afternoon sunlight.

Three weeks later the flowers had opened along the whole stem. Fortunately, I picked this stem before the recent hot weather occurred and it has kept well in a vase for a couple of weeks. The remaining flowers on the plant have now browned a little.

My student Val, who also grows rather beautiful sedum, was recently trimming the rather large strelitzia in her garden and I managed to save a few leaves from the green waste bin. It occurred to me that the rather matt surface of the strelitzia would complement the pale pink sedum.

I have arranged them both here in a black vase so that part of the paler underside of the leaf is visible. The strelitzia leaf which has a beautiful 'S' curve and projects quite a way forward as does the long stem of sedum that makes a  contrasting mass on the left side. The vase is by Cor and Jan de Veth who worked in Cairns in the mid 1970's. 

I subsequently made a second arrangement contrasting the sedum with a naturally angular line of acacia baileyana. The classical bottle-shaped vase is by Barry Singleton from Castlemaine.  

On researching Sedum I was interested to note in the Wikipedia article that the original genus has been divided into three genera. Keeping track of these details must be a major challenge for serious Botanists.

On Tuesday last, Ikebana International Melbourne, Chapter No 29, celebrated its 60th anniversary; a very considerable accomplishment. Follow this link to photos from the Birthday Meeting.

Greetings from Christopher
17th March 2019


This week I am continuing the previous theme of 'a variety of summer materials'. I had originally asked the students in my Melbourne class to make an arrangement with grasses, but then broadened it to include materials not strictly in the grasses category. In my own arrangement, shown last week, I had included rose-hips. 

At the class the students worked quite quickly to produce three attractive naturalistic arrangements. I was a bit surprised with their speed, and that these students usually make ikebana with a more contemporary feel. It made me think that the materials themselves, and the tradition of using summer or autumn grasses, had unconsciously influenced them into working naturalistically. I also realised that we still had plenty of class time left, so I asked them to photograph their ikebana and then re-work the materials into a modern-styled ikebana.

Re-working the materials was an exercise that my first Sogetsu teacher, Carlyne Patterson, sometimes unexpectedly asked of the class. It is a good challenge as the student does not have the opportunity to plan or over-think the work.

Robyn first made this ikebana using three grassy materials plus some Kiwi vine and crucifix orchid. Her second arrangement is below.

As she had brought a large amount of materials, I lent her a larger vase in which she made this arrangement without using the feathery grasses.

Eugenia arranged three grasses plus New Zealand Flax and a mauve crucifix orchid in a contemporary ikebana vessel.

When she re-worked her materials she also reduced their number and reversed the vessel so that its opening faced away from the viewer. Doing that better emphasised the lines at the base of the ikebana.

Margaret's first ikebana had strong autumnal colouring and included a dried stem with an attractive seed-head. The shape of her vessel restricted the kenzan placement to the centre.

I therefore suggested that she use a suiban for her re-working of the materials. Using two kenzans allowed her to have two strong lines that crossed. 

At the end of our discussions during the critique, Eugenia made the observation that Margaret's work would look stronger with only one long cascading line. We all liked this final version of Margaret's ikebana.

I was interested that the re-working of the initial materials freed up the students and resulted in much bolder arrangements. Of course they no longer conformed to the idea of a 'variety of materials' arrangement, which requires a minimum of five materials. 

Greetings from Christopher
10th March 2019



Here on the Surf Coast of Victoria, and across the state, we are having a sudden late hot-spell with four consecutive days in the mid to high 30s celsius. It has taken a good bit of attention to keep the pot-plants alive, as well as the exotic northern hemisphere plants which are planted out in the ground. 

This sulphur-crested cockatoo decided to use the freshly-filled bird-bath, even though I had moved it closer to the house at the end of January. I think it was monitoring my movements in spite of the fact that I was some metres away inside the house.

Near the house is an intermittent creek where the council has landscaped a linear park and created a winding path running along its course. Most of the trees in this photo are indigenous and were planted as part of these improvement works.

Further along the creek a bridge crosses a swampy section where bullrushes and 'common reeds', Phragmites australis, grow very densely. In this part of the parkland there is quite a variety of garden escapees...

 ...and weeds that are useful to the ikebanist. 

I had these materials in mind when I set my students the exercise of making an arrangement 'using a variety of summer grasses'. I really enjoy using these weedy materials as they have a beauty that is easily overlooked by the casual passer-by.

At my Geelong class, Ellie made this arrangement using 5 grasses, one of which had an umbelliferous head that is, almost completely, obscured by the mass of the papyrus head at the front. Poor photography on my part.  

Maureen created a vertical arrangement of tall grasses and emphasised its asymmetry by contrasting the two sides. On the left-hand side she created a series of descending lines by cutting reeds straight across and exposing the white pith within them.

My own example of the exercise uses materials gathered along the creek. I made the arrangement a couple of weeks ago having noticed the rose hips and fennel earlier. By the time I collected them they had already passed their peak, however they still had sufficient vibrancy of colour. 

In this exercise, with a variety of materials, we are advised to choose the colours carefully, otherwise the work can look too busy. Apart from the green stems and leaves, I have only used 'warm' colours. The materials are: bull rush and four naturalised plants: fennel, rose hips, crocosima and dockweed. The vessel is an unusual second-hand Japanese ikebana vase that I bought at the February meeting of Ikebana International Melbourne. 

Greetings from Christopher
3rd March 2019


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