A couple of days ago we walked along the Torquay Surf Beach when the tide was higher than usual. The southerly wind added height to the waves and the day was bright but cold. 


The weather has turned very wintery. Last night we could not avoid noticing the gale-force winds and intermittent rain squalls. So I was very pleased that I had done some pruning in the garden yesterday in the morning. 

The Cecil Brunner rose and the hydrangeas have been reduced to sticks. However, I am sure they will bounce back in the spring. The hydrangea had one small, late-flowering, pale blue/mauve bloom and some very beautifully coloured leaves. The strong, but light, stems with autumnal leaves looked like good ikebana material. I decided to use them in a vase with lines in shades of blue and a rich rust red.

First I needed to create a 'Y' shaped 'cross-bar fixture', for which I used the end of a branching stem from the apricot tree.

Here it is carefully wedged across the inside of this fairly thin-walled vase. This system should never be used with heavy stems, because of the inherent risk of breaking a thin-walled vase when wedging the cross-bar. By leaving some of the side branches I was able to support the principal stems within the triangle created on the left hand side.

Here is the completed arrangement in the niche in the living room. Not a good photograph because of the shadows created by the spotlighting.

This version on a white background worked better. The vase is by the Western Australian ceramic artist, Pippin Drysdale.

You may also like to look at the photos from Tuesday's Ikebana International meeting.

Greetings from Christopher
17th June 2018


Much of this last week has been taken up with the annual exhibition of the Sogetsu School of Ikebana Victorian Branch. This year our exhibition is being held in the foyer space of the Hawthorn Arts Centre, a community Arts Hub that has been created in one of the old Town Halls remaining after the amalgamation of smaller suburban city councils in 1994.

As the Director of the Victorian Branch I am indebted to many of my ikebana colleagues, especially those who have given their time and talents to represent the great variety of individual styles inherent in Sogetsu Ikebana. Their names are to be seen with their ikebana under the Annual Exhibitions tab on our website. Lara Telford provided an engaging and informative public demonstration at the official opening. I also need to acknowledge the assistance of the senior curator Ms Elle Groch and the Arts Centre staff. Additionally I particularly wish to acknowledge Kaye Wong, Head of the Ichiyo School, for her organisational skills in arranging the delivery of the plinths following re-painting. Lastly, thanks to Robyn Unglik for her calm management through the unexpected difficulties of building maintenance activities in the exhibition space.

Now specifically to my ikebana. In the week immediately prior to the exhibition I suddenly threw out my previous ideas when I noticed that the apricot tree in the garden needed to be pruned. I immediately realised that these beautiful branches were perfect for a freestanding 'no kenzan' arrangement.

Being winter here, dutch iris are available and they have tall enough stems to be supported by the high intersecting branches. At the beginning of the exhibition the blue tips of the flowers were visible, promising something for the future.

Three days later the flowers were fully opened, declaring their beauty to the world.

If you haven't already done so I recommend following the link to the Annual Exhibition of the Victorian Branch of the Sogetsu School of Ikebana.

Greetings from Christopher
10th June 2018


Over the last couple of weeks I have noticed flowers forming on the newly planted Senna artemisioidesIt is native to Western Australia and areas of the centre of Australia. It is said to be wide-spread across the continent. However, it is another plant that I have not seen before, at least not in a suburban garden. 

The flowers remind me of the highly fragrant Brown Boronia boronia megastigma. Both plants have small bell-like flowers, although Senna artemisioides seems to have five petals against four in Boronia. 

This plant was given to me by my ikebana friend, Trish, along with the 'Drumstick' flower, Isopogon cuneatus that I reported on three weeks ago. I am pleased to observe that it has started flowering about a month ahead of the acacia baileyana that grows along the garden path. I wonder whether this will become a seasonal pattern.

We have just entered winter, with the autumn being declared the driest on record in many places. It certainly seems so in our garden.

Last weekend the Victorian Branch of the Sogetsu School welcomed Mr Yoshiro Umemura on his annual visit from Sydney to give workshops to our members. Mr Umemura is the most senior and experienced Sogetsu teacher in Australia. He studied Sogetsu ikebana in Japan and subsequently worked for many years alongside Norman Sparnon in Australia.  

The theme of his first workshop was to create an arrangement in which a triangle, circle and square are incorporated. 

These geometric symbols were used in ink brush painting by the 18th century Zen Buddhist monk, Sengai. Their symbolic value includes that they can be read as a representation of the universe.

This is my work in which I have made triangles with coastal sword sedge, used five dried sunflower heads for their circular shape and arranged them in an almost square vase.

On the Australian Sogetsu Teachers Association, New South Wales Branch website there is a page showing an excellent example by Mr Umemura of this exercise. It is the sixth photo on that page.

The second workshop was to make an arrangement expressing an emotion. 

The emotion I chose was calmness or serenity. I have placed a large branch of driftwood across a celadon-glazed platter and added some blue Dutch Iris, iris x hollandica. They are held in place by the driftwood so that no kenzan was necessary and the surface of the water remained clear.

More photos from the workshops are on the Victorian Branch website.

On Monday 4th June the Branch is setting up its annual exhibition at the Hawthorn Arts Centre. If you are in Melbourne please visit the exhibition; see the information below.

Greetings from Christopher
2nd June 2018.

Sogetsu School of Ikebana
Victorian Branch
Annual Exhibition

Tuesday 5th June to Wednesday 13th June
9.00 am - 5.00 pm Monday to Friday
11.00 am - 4.00 pm Saturday and Sunday

Foyer of the Hawthorn Arts Centre
360 Burwood Rd Hawthorn

Ikebana by Robyn Unglik


When selecting recent photographs for this week's blog posting, I was struck by the coincidence of line dominating the ikebana works. They are from two different classes and are examples of four separate exercises from the Sogetsu curriculum.

The first class was in Geelong with my students who are working at a variety of levels within the curriculum.

Helen made two ikebana arrangements on the theme of 'mass and line', in which these two design elements are contrasted. In the first instance she has used a single arum lily contrasted with the mass of three camellias and their leaves. I encouraged Helen to exaggerate the already existing slight curve in the lily stem.

In her second example, Helen has used a dried palm leaf base. It has been contrasted with a mass composed of autumn-coloured oak leaves. The colour and texture of the leaves are sufficiently robust to work well with the strong appearance of the dried palm.

Alana's exercise was to 'make a surface using lines'. She has stripped leucadendron stems and inserted them in a kenzan. They start as a column and then flatten out becoming parallel lines that form a flat surface toward the top of the arrangement.  She finished off the arrangement with a naturally curving line, creating a low space on the left side that helps balance the work.

Tess was set the exercise of 'taking into account the shape of the vessel'. Her principal lines are placed at an acute angle creating tension with the vase, a souvenir from Ethiopia. Tess has curled some of the leaves echoing the lines on the neck of the vase. 

The second class was with my own teacher Elizabeth. 

We were given the exercise of creating an ikebana arrangement expressing movement. This photo shows my ikebana re-set at home. I have used Sword Sedge (lepidosperma gladiatum) leaves in a modern stainless steel vase. The curving lines sweep toward the right creating a sense of movement in that direction.

Greetings from Christopher, 
posting late on Sunday 27th May 2018


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