Yesterday, Laurie and I visited some friends at Anglesea which is the next town along the coast west of Torquay. The township is surrounded on the north and west by a state park incorporating the Anglesea Heath and bushland. The bushland seems to flow into the township the way a garden can flow into a well designed house.  As a consequence, there is an abundance of native flora and fauna. When we turned the corner into the street where our friends live we were surprised to see three Eastern Gray Kangaroos hopping across the road.

Meet 'Erica', in the red collar and blue ear tag. She and one of her 'adolescent' young were photographed by Laurie feeding as they foraged in our friends' front garden. Their vegetable garden has a very high fence!

These kangaroos are easily seen on the Angelsea Golf Course where they enjoy the nourishing short grass. The mob is monitored by research scientists from Melbourne University's Zoology Department, who have tagged and identified many of the animals.  

What is the connection with ikebana? The unique art of ikebana that has come to us from Japan is grounded in an appreciation of the natural world. It is also able to address the relationship of humankind to the natural world. At a recent class I attended, Elizabeth  set us the exercise of making an arrangement that incorporated a man-made product, paper.

This photo shows the work of Pearl, one of my fellow students. She has carefully rolled black and fawn card into small straw- like tubes which she has then joined together. The massed lines that she has made had a lovely texture that contrasted with the spiralling vessel and the dahlias.

For my arrangement I decided to use newspaper, because it is so ubiquitous that we don't usually think about it after we have read the news. I am intrigued with the properties of paper. Especially that such thin flimsy sheets can have considerable strength when rolled, folded or even scrunched. I used this conical metal vase so that I could show that the paper could support its own weight and appear to be blowing in the breeze. 

Last weekend I attended a Saturday workshop of the Melbourne Ikebana International Chapter that was led by Emily Karanikolopoulos. She set the theme of an ikebana arrangement that represents a particular movement. This idea is taken from the advanced curriculum of the Sogetsu School.

This was my work that, as I hope you have guessed, represents the movement of 'zigzagging'. I have used the stems only of umbrella grass, cyperus alternifolius. I think this is ikebana as sculpture. This is because the material has been reduced to straight green lines and is not easily identifiable. Although I did experiment with adding a flower, the effect was to weaken the ikebana.

Click here for more photos of the Saturday workshop.

Greetings from Christopher
18th May 2019


One group of my students are members of the University of the Third Age (U3A) where I live in Torquay. As this is a community organisation, we share facilities with other organisations. Last week, unexpectedly, our class room was not available. A quick change of plans led to holding the class at home, creating an additional layer of complexity.  We had also to think about where the ikebana was to be sited. 

I had set the students the exercise of making an arrangement using two kinds of berries. Of course all the arrangements were richly autumnal. You will note that all the students had gathered cotoneaster berries that are readily available locally. When it came time to photograph the arrangements, I moved most of them to the niche in the living room.

Judy used some particularly large rose-hips from her garden, which she massed and contrasted with a line of cotoneaster branch.

Val also used two slanting lines of cotoneaster berries and two small masses of black berries from an unidentified plant.

Helen T used the large surface of some strelitzia leaves as a background to highlight her bright red cotoneaster berries. Her small black coloured berries are massed at the base. 

Marta used two branches of cotoneaster berries and a mass of pittosporum in the centre of her ikebana.

Kim set his ikebana on a low wooden box. He chose as his vessel a two-level bamboo steamer, that sat on a ceramic bowl to give the work additional lightness. His materials were cotoneaster berries, a small branch with black olives and a mass of acacia baileyana.

The next series of photos are from a class I attended with my teacher, Elizabeth. Last week we were given the exercise of creating an ikebana work using 'Green Plant Materials' only. This exercise is from the advanced curriculum in the Sogetsu school.

Dianne used some long leaves, asparagus fern and a lime branch with a single fruit arranged in a tall black vessel.

Swan arranged variegated aspidistra leaves and small chrysanthemum flowers in two matching green glass cylinders.

I had collected some reeds and stripped their leaves off as I wanted to show the variations in the green on the stems. I have varied the texture by adding dark-green clivia  leaves for the breadth of their surfaces. The vessel is a stainless steel cone with irregularly placed holes.

Greetings from Christopher
12th May 2019


The beginning of this year has been the driest on record and the exotic plants in the garden have needed extra attention and water to keep them in reasonable health.

On the 4th April the beach looked quite idyllic and rather summery for autumn. The weather was so mild and the sea so calm that the start of the Bell's Beach Rip Curl Surfing Pro had to be postponed for several days.

However, the weather changed three weeks later creating big seas and widely spaced waves.

This is Bird rock in summer mode a few years ago...

... and then at high tide when the waves were rolling. 

In this photo Bird Rock can be seen from the other direction and the cliff-hugging plants that are able to tolerate the prevailing westerly winds of winter. 

It is such wintry weather conditions that result in Moonah melaleuca lanceolata, growing such beautiful branches.

This week's ikebana features two more heads of the Hydrangea macrophyla (that I used a couple of weeks ago in a basket arrangement), and a branch of Moonah. 

When thinking about arranging the hydrangea I realised that it would work well with the large green bowl-shaped vessel made by Isabella Wang. Because the arrangement was to be placed in the 'niche' in the living room I had to take into account that it would be seen through 180 degrees. The photos below are against a back-drop.

This first photo shows the view of the arrangement when coming from the kitchen.

This view is directly from the front...

...and the final view is from the right hand side. I was pleased that in each of the views there was open space to be seen at the lip of the vessel.

This was the second version of the arrangement. Unfortunately I did not photograph the first version that had three large triangular lines, made from papyrus stems, projecting above the rim of the vessel. When I removed them, because they looked wrong, the thought came to me that I should 'let the materials speak for themselves'. The lines were an additional design element that did not relate to the materials. It made me think about Norman Sparnon's question '...What is the purpose..' of the ikebana? 

These days I re-frame this question to, what is the subject of the ikebana? In this case it was the hydrangea, not my other design ideas. 

Greetings from Christopher
5th May 2019


Last week we visited friends who live near Port Fairy, a couple of hundred kilometres west along the coast from Torquay.  

Low sand dunes separate our friends' property from the beach. A famous landmark in the area is Tower Hill, an extinct volcano, which has a nature reserve within the caldera.  

Seen here from a high point within the nature reserve, the caldera lake is in the middle distance and the flat coastline in the far distance. The Tower Hill Reserve had become badly degraded in the early part of the 20th century, but is now famous for the significant environmental restoration that has been achieved over the last 40 years. One of the interesting information resources in the restoration process was a large landscape painting from the 1850s that showed the flora and fauna present at that time. 

Here three emus are grazing beside the visitor centre.

Four years ago we visited this reserve with our Canadian friends, Dick, (Laurie), Leonora, and Eleanor.

This time we saw a kangaroo grazing at the top of one of the hills.

Meanwhile back in the Torquay garden...

...this eucalyptus tree needed to be rather severely pruned because it was crowding a Cook Pine araucaria columnaris. The pine is in the same family as the Norfolk Island pine.

The Cook Pine is in the centre of this photo and some of the pruning is apparent on the eucalypt on the right.

When the arborist dropped some of the lopped branches on the driveway, I noticed that there were masses of flower buds that I had not seen in the high branches.

I could not resist gathering a few small branches because of the striking brick red of the flower caps that were about to fall off. They teamed beautifully with this vase by the Sydney ikebanist and potter, Margaret Hall.

Greetings from Christopher
27th April 2019


The weather here on the south coast has been unseasonably warm with quite a few days in the high 20sC and even the low 30sC in recent weeks. However, some of the nights have been cool enough to give autumn colour to various plants in our garden.

This is the Boston Ivy Parthenocissus tricuspidata, that grows on a wall near our front entrance. It is a very satisfactory replacement for a climbing ficus that had started to damage the brick work.

Being deciduous it also rewards us with seasonal colour change and a scattering of leaves on the path at this time of year.

This photo shows the ornamental grape on a frame. It has some well coloured leaves. However since I planted it into the ground last winter it has suffered with the very hot weather over the summer. In the foreground of the photo is a flourishing Miscanthus sinensus 'Zebrinus'. It was given to me by an ikebana colleague Margaret L. and is only surviving because it is in a pot that I can manage to keep moist.

The prize-winner for colour is this hydrangea that was given to me by Rosemary and David. Again, only surviving in our garden by being kept moist in a pot and sheltered against a south-facing wall.

What amazes me is that the photo above shows the same plant in the first week of January. As you can see the flowers initially are quite a pale pink.

With these latter two treasures in the garden what else did I need for the 'Autumn in a basket' theme at the April meeting of Ikebana International. The unusual Japanese basket is quite dark and almost spherical in for. It seemed to have sufficient mass to take such large and strongly coloured flowers.

Greetings from Christopher
21st April 2019


On Monday two weeks ago, the Sogetsu Branch workshop was led by Helen Quarrell. The theme she chose was 'miniature ikebana'. This is a concept that was developed by the Sogetsu School's second Iemoto, Kasumi Teshigahara. 

Her idea was that by using very small vessels the ikebanist would arrange botanical elements, rather than make arrangements in the traditional sense. The elements could be a single leaf, flower, seed-pod, stem or even just a part of one of these. In one of her examples the Iemoto used a single stamen from a flower. In this way miniature ikebana shares ideas with the curriculum exercise of 'Deconstruction and re-arrangement'. 

These two photos show Helen's demonstration examples at the workshop. The 'arrangement' aspect of the exercise comes from the considered placement of the materials on a board, platter or cloth, on which the work is set. Helen made the observation that this is an interesting way of making ikebana when the physical space is very limited.

This is my example arranged on a cloth base provided by my colleague Barbara. I had left my lacquered stand behind and had to improvise. One of the delights of this exercise is choosing little objects as vessels that are not thought of as 'vases' and also may have special meaning to the ikebanist. My vessels included two sake cups, a box, a test-tube, an ornamental bottle cap, a serviette ring and small ceramic vessels that were given to me by friends. 

This link will take you to more photos from the workshop. Emily Karanikolopoulos also has some lovely photos on her blog: Emily in Tokyo.

Greetings from Christopher
13th April 2019


Last week I had intended to mention that the Sogetsu installation at the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show could be thought of as a large scale version of a 'no kenzan' arrangement in the Sogetsu style. 

The emphasis in this case is on the vertical lines with a focal mass placed high in the arrangement.

Here is an example I have shown before. I made this 'no kenzan' ikebana at a workshop I gave in New Zealand four years ago. This practise of making an arrangement in a suiban without using a kenzan is one of the exercises in the Sogetsu curriculum. A closely related exercise is 'Showing or emphasising lines at the base' of the arrangement. 

In both of these exercises the space created within the suiban becomes important and draws attention to the surface of the water. In the Sogetsu School it is permissible to use a variety of fixing techniques, including wiring, as long as the fixing is very discreet and not noticeable.

One of the events at Ikebana International Melbourne's 60th celebrations a week ago was a members'-only workshop given by Mr Naohiro Kasuya, the Iemoto of the Ichiyo School. His topic was an arrangement in a suiban 'without using a kenzan'. 

Interestingly, this turned out to be a subtle distinction. The Iemoto asked us to think about the exercise as making an ikebana arrangement in a suiban, or other shallow vessel, in which we were using nageire techniques. That is, the sort of fixing techniques usually used in tall vessels. Then photo above shows the Iemoto critiquing one of the participants.

All of the workshop attendees were given 4 or 5 stems of tortuous willow, salix matsudana, and then were able to choose flowers to use as an accent in the arrangement. 

In my arrangement I have curved the bottoms of the stems to create arches which I braced against the sides of the traditional-style ceramic suiban. I wanted the curves to reflect the circular form of the suiban and also create an open space to show the water surface. I finally added three stems of white snapdragon, antirrhinum, which also curved well to follow the lines in the arrangement.

Greetings from Christopher
6th April 2019

Thank you to Helen Mariott for the photo of the Iemoto.


As I mentioned in last week's posting, Ikebana International Melbourne was given three adjacent sites at this year's Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show. This was in recognition of the 60th anniversary of our Chapter and allowed each school to create a large installation on the theme of 'Green Bamboo and Autumn'. The Ichiyo School had an 8 metre width in the centre of the site and the other four schools had 3 x 3 metres.

This photo shows the length of the whole site when almost everyone had finished working on the last set-up day. Because the site was 20 metres long it is impossible to take a front on photo. In order from the left the schools are: Sogetsu, Ikenobo, Ichiyo, Ohara and Shogetsudo Koryu.

The photo above taken in the transept also gives some idea of the magnificent structure that is the Great Hall of the 1880 Royal Exhibition Building.

At the right-hand end of the site was the Shogetsudo Koryu installation. Six long bamboo poles were arranged at an angle creating a dynamic sense of movement. Fine strips of bamboo cascade from the tops of the bamboo with flowers cascading on the right-hand side.

Next was the Ohara School with bamboo radiating from a central mass of chrysanthemums, maple branches and arching branches of rose-hips. 

The Ichiyo installation was a progression of torii gates in unpainted wood in a long 'S' curve across the site. These were adorned with a variety of branches and autumn materials. At the centre was a large basin of still water across the top of which sat a large piece of gnarled wood and a branch of deep green camellia leaves.

The Ikenobo School was to the left of the torii gates. Their installation used strong vertical lines of green bamboo. Two stands were clustered together with pine and maple the main elements. 

A two-tier bamboo vase at the front of the space held two shoka arrangements of dutch iris.

At the far left of the site was the Sogetsu School installation. Added to the structure I showed last week are branches of hawthorn berries and two masses of red dwarf nandina, a larger one at the front and smaller at the right rear. 

Our installation was at the end of the site and able to be seen from the left side as well. This left an open space toward the left rear that was emphasised by having a single curve of split bamboo passing through. The photo above was taken while standing on a ladder to 'silhouette' the work against the back wall. 

Greetings from Christopher
31st March 2019