A week and a half ago we suddenly had a warm day after some cooler, wet weather. Laurie and I were walking along the board-walk beside Spring Creek at Torquay when my attention was caught by movement in the grass.

It was an echidna searching for ants in the dry sand beside the creek.

Because we kept very still and quiet, the creature was not disturbed and continued to fossick for food.

Echidnas have very poor eyesight and are more disturbed by noise or vibrations felt through the ground. Their response to such disturbance is to curl into a tight ball with only their sharp spines visible. This one was certainly very active.

In the same week I attended the monthly meeting of Ikebana International, Melbourne Chapter. The guest speaker was a maker of wagashi, hand-made Japanese sweets that are usually served with matcha, the Japanese tea made with finely-powdered green tea leaves. The sweets are beautiful to look at, as well as eat, and often made in the shape of flowers or leaves.

Flower arrangements accompanying the traditional tea ceremony are called Chabana, tea flowers. These arrangements have no formal rules and should be very simple, using seasonal materials and made very quickly without kenzans or other fixing devices. The vessel should also evoke simplicity and naturalness.

I made this arrangement of a camellia flower and two leaves on a previous occasion in a simple Bizen ceramic beaker made by Ishida Kazuya from Okayama. The unglazed clay has developed subtle colouration from the kiln firing. 

For the meeting I used another unglazed Bizen vessel that has faceted sides. It has beautiful orange-red markings from being wrapped in rice straw during the firing process. I have added a single stem of white azalea that only needed to be placed in the vase and allowing it to cascade to one side.

There are more photos from the meeting that you can see by following this link to Ikebana International Melbourne meeting.

Greetings from Christopher
20th October 2019


Last weekend Laurie and I went for a walk in the nearby nature reserve called Ironbark Basin, part of the Great Otway National Park and so named because Eucalyptus tricarpa (I think) is the dominant species in the valley. There are many species of eucalypts given the common name Ironbark for their tough, dark and deeply furrowed bark.

The nature reserve sits above Addiscot Beach, a long sandy beach sheltered from the prevailing west to south westerly winds.

As we walked along the access road toward Point Addis we noticed a Grass Tree Xanthorrhoea australis, with two tall stems in flower. 

This close-up shows the multiple spidery flowers starting to open. In a few weeks, the stems should be densely covered in flowers and visited by butterflies.

We also came across a Waxlip orchid Calandenia major, which was growing in a small 'forest' of the flowers, but sadly could not be satisfactorily photographed as a group.

Nearby was a Wallflower orchid Diuris orientis.  We called them 'Bee orchids' when I was a child because of the 'wings' and 'legs' that hang down. After doing a bit of searching I found a lot of photos of '... Common Orchids of the Anglesea Heathlands' that you might want to look at through the link. Anglesea is the next coastal town only about 4 kilometres past Ironbark Basin.

Two weeks ago the Annual Exhibition of Ikebana International Melbourne Chapter was held in a vacant retail space in 'District Docklands' on the west side of the city. If you follow the link above it will take you to photos of the exhibition. 

Above is my ikebana, reconstructed at home after the exhibition. I have used two lengths of Honeysuckle vine that I doweled together using bamboo skewers. The vine was about 20 years old when I had to cut it down as it was interfering with the operation of the garage door. I thought the lines in the vine were particularly beautiful and decided they should be my principal subject. By dowelling them together I was able to create a floating effect around the large vessel by Graeme Wilkie. Three maroon anthurium flowers served as a focal point to the linear arrangement.

Greetings from Christopher
12th October 2019


Since last week's posting I have had Julie's surplus Dancing-lady Oncidium orchids gracing the sideboard for the week and still looking very fresh. Their constant presence has made me notice them from different view points. 

When they cascade toward the viewer the multiple surfaces of the middle petal enhance their sense of mass. However, side-on the stems have a marked linear character.  This linear characteristic set me to wonder which of my ikebana vases would best show these lines. 

As I drifted to sleep one night I realised that a uniquely-shaped vessel by Grahame Wilkie had just the elevation and curve.

The word 'swoon' always comes to mind when I think of this vessel. Looking back at earlier photos, I notice that I have always arranged the principle line creating a curve in the opposite direction to the vessel.

This time I realised that it would be interesting to follow the curve. I have added two deep- red anthurium flowers, which in this view are behind the oncidium flower stems. I would have liked to be able to create a slide show of these photos as I rotated the vessel through 180 degrees...

... because the arrangement changes significantly from each view point.

This angle shows the anthurium just beginning to peep out from the right hand side.

Then more so.

Finally the opposite face of the vessel begins to show.

I have placed this ikebana in the living room niche where I pass it each time I go into the kitchen. In this location I do actually see the arrangement through 180 degrees.

This week's blog title 'With Flowers Only' is an exercise from the advanced curriculum of the Sogetsu school. It is surprisingly difficult to make satisfying ikebana without branches and leaves. I think the reasons are that Ikebana is very sculptural and usually needs line to define the asymmetrical form and create space. Also flowers which often provide the mass of the arrangement can be very eye-catching. So, an arrangement with only flowers can tend to look arranged in a western style.

My final ikebana this week is by my friend and mentor, Kath Dacy. Kath, who retired from teaching ikebana some years ago, and is a source of wisdom for me with great insights into the art of ikebana. 

I visited Kath last Monday and was delighted to see this rather large 'With Flowers Only' ikebana that she had created from remnants of rather more traditional arrangement in the Chapel of her new home. 

I noticed that the work has harmonious use of colour. It is also an asymmetrical design with line mass and space. I think it is particularly characteristic of ikebana that she has placed the visually-strong larger flowers to the side and rear of the arrangement, so that they are seen among and through the other materials.

Thanks Kath.

Greetings from Christopher
6th October 2019


This past week I spent five days in Melbourne, so I was delighted to see the changes in the garden over that short amount of time. Just outside the conservatory are two small Echiums that I planted only last year. 

This is one of five small flower-heads on the larger of the plants. I am particularly pleased as they are filling in a gap left when a large bush died a couple of years ago.

Also coming into leaf is the ornamental grape vine. This particular variety has an attractively textured thick coarse leaf.

Here are two Australian native ground covers. On the right is dichondra repens that has flourished in several places in the garden this year. Close-up below. I am very happy to see it spreading over the thick layer of mulch.

On the left is brachyscome segmentosa. This particular variety is rather more blue than the usual mauve. 

In this photo, above, I have tried to reproduce the colour more closely by changing the colour balance. 

Once again the nasturtiums have become rampant.

The intensity of the flower colour makes them seem to glow. 

The last of the 'apple blossom' flowering quince chaenomeles japonica, is being swamped by 'red valerian' centranthus ruber plants that are yet to flower. All of the green leaves in the photo are the red valerian. 

Nearby are the last blossoms of the red flowering quince. 

Also nearby are masses of the dainty flowers on the 'costal bearded heath' leucopogon parviflorus.

My time in Melbourne last week was taken up with the setup of the Melbourne Chapter of Ikebana International's annual exhibition. This year the event has been held in a vacant retail space in the 'District Docklands' shopping precinct.

After the setting up, my colleague Julie had some surplus 'Dancing Lady' oncidium orchids which she generously shared with me. Below are three ikebana arrangements I made yesterday in a bit of a flurry of activity.

The first conforms to the Sogetsu curriculum exercise of 'Emphasising lines at the base'. I have added a branch of eucalyptus lehmanii leaves that have become orange as a result of insect damage. The vase is by the Western Australian ceramic artist Pippin Drysdale.

The second is a massed arrangement, using two acanthus leaves with the oncidium stems arranged between them. The large bowl- shaped ceramic vessel is by Isabella Wang

The third arrangement again uses a small cluster of e. lehmannii at the base of a group of oncidium stems. This ikebana vase has a slit opening on two sides, giving the ikebanist a great deal of flexibility. It was made by the ceramic artist and ikebana practitioner Janet Keefe who lives in Ontario, Canada. I conducted a Sunday workshop at Janet's place in September last year.

Greetings from Christopher
29th September 2019

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Spring is the time for two of my favourite Australian native plants to put on their spectacular flowering. These are the two species of the Doryanthes genus, D. excelsa and D. palmeri, both of which are endemic to Australia's east coast from southern Queensland to south of Sydney in New South Wales. Fortunately they grow well in Victoria!

This morning I photographed Laurie looking at this D. excelsa when we went for a walk in Melbourne. The flower is just starting to open on its flower stalk that is at least 4 metres tall.  

This one is growing by some nearby steps with a tall echium, also in flower.

I had to zoom in from quite a distance to get this photo of a flowerhead.

A little further on we came across this very healthy D. palmeri. It has a shorter flower stalk with the flowers clustering along its length.

This is the same plant from below...

... and here are the flowers at a closer range... 

...and close up.

At the other end of the scale, so to speak, among other native Spring flowers I noticed the Australian clematis microphyla that grows on our fence at Torquay.

Also the Pandorea vine on the fence...

...and vigorously climbing one of the trees. I haven't had a chance to pick any this year.

Among the exotics in our garden is this daisy from South Africa cascading over the steps.

And this one that has taken over a large area beside the garage.

Also from South Africa, another favourite of mine is this Freesia. This year it has flowered sufficiently for me to pick some for the dining table. I love the fragrance of this pale cream variety.

Exotic flowers brings me to this week's ikebana. The arrangement above was made by my student Marisha. The exercise being: An arrangement with "colours in the same tonal range". She has used statice, freesias and three gerberas. The latter are not my favourite flower as they can be so dominating. However, the placement among, beside and behind the other materials softens their impact so that they harmonise well with the other materials. 

Above is a photo I took six weeks ago of an arrangement from left-over stems of the snapdragon I used in the Surf Coast Arts Trail. The form is like an upright variation #1 (reversed) from the Sogetsu curriculum. The black ceramic vase was made by Jan de Veth from Nth Queensland and bought in 1978.

Greetings from Christopher
22nd September 2019


West of Torquay there are high cliffs where the beach is only accessible at low tide. In the finer weather a few days ago, Laurie and I went for a walk along the cliff path towards Bell's Beach. 

The tide was high at the time, as you can see from this photo taken looking back towards Torquay in the distance. 

The Great Ocean Road Committee, which is responsible for environmental protection and the infrastructure of the 37 kilometres of crown land between Torquay and Lorne, has recently created this viewing platform. The sculptured seal is actually a seat. This elevated position is 40-50 metres above the sea.

Until recently at this point, access to the beach was via some unstable old wooden steps. Now they have been replaced by sturdier metal ones. 

This photo shows clearly that the 'beach' is not accessible at high tide.

Last week at my Geelong class I set the advanced students the exercise of making an arrangement using 'closely related colours'. In the past there has been much discussion among Victorian Sogetsu Branch members about the description 'Colours in the Same Tonal Range'. The exercise is about using three or more colours that are adjacent on the colour wheel and none from the opposite side.

Maureen has used shades of red through orange to yellow. For the purposes of this exercise, when stems and leaves are visible, green is not a colour!

Ellie decided to use two vessels and has used reds and pinks. The red lacquer on the tall vase is echoed by the intense red of the partially hidden carnations at the back of the suiban.

Maree's exercise was a slanting variation in which she used eucalyptus branches and a focus of yellow roses.

Tess made her first free-standing 'no kenzan' arrangement with irises from her own garden making the intense blue focus.

After publishing my post last week I discovered that I had failed to include one of the arrangements I had made in Emily's workshop.

Here it is, using a squat round glass vessel. In it I arranged one of the Gymea leaves and the stem of oriental lilies. I placed the lily flowers at the top of the lower third of the Gymea leaf. 

When I returned home I reworked the arrangement in a ceramic vessel. 
I have shortened the longest leaf and added the second one to one third its length. This time I placed the flowers lower and to the right to create a subtle asymmetry in the arrangement. Shortening the leaves has also emphasised the colouration on the tips of the leaves.

Greetings from Christopher
15th September 2019