In Melbourne's Royal Botanic Gardens last week I was delighted to see some of the spectacular flowering trees that are transformed at this time of year. It is interesting that these same trees can so easily blend into the general lush-green of the gardens during the rest of the year. This is certainly their moment of glory and it is so nourishing for the spirit to soak in their beauty.

This is only one, perhaps the largest, of the Jacaranda trees in the garden.

A closer view of one of the lower branches.

Among the Australian native flowering trees, the Brachychiton Acerifolius has to be the most eye-catching. This relatively young one is at the bottom of the east lawn in the gardens.

Here is another near the Fern Gully...

...with some fallen flowers at its base.

This is a close-up of some flowering stems. One of the reasons for the intensity of the colouring is that the whole stems are also the same red as the flowers.

Grevillea Robusta is the other highly visible tree at this time. Like the Brachychiton it is another east-coast subtropical species that does quite well as far south as Victoria.

Only on mature trees do the branches hang low enough for the flowers to be photographed easily.

This year the Grevillea in our garden has flowered for the third year and much more profusely than before. 

As you may imagine we are delighted, and I fantasise that one day a low branch may offer some flowers for my ikebana.

Nearly two weeks ago I attended the last Sogetsu School workshop for the year. It was led by Lucy Papas who chose the curriculum theme of creating a 'Wall Relief'. 

I did not want to over-prepare for the workshop. However, I had some large dried leaves of Ficus lyrata and Ficus elastica. The F. elastica leaves were various sizes and smaller than the F. lyrata. They had dried with fairly contorted forms, so I painted the back of a couple of them with vermillion paint. In the workshop I arranged and glued them on a heavy blue card.

As there are no suitable unadorned spaces on the walls in our house, I hung it on the front door to photograph.

The smaller leaves are nestled into each other so that their painted backs only show where the leaf curls forward. There are other examples on the Sogetsu Branch website that show a great range of design ideas that I am sure you will enjoy.

Greetings from Christopher
15th December 2018


To continue the theme of last week's posting, below are photographs of my Geelong students' work at the final class for 2018. 

The class was held in the home of Ellie, one of the senior students in that class. Again the students were challenged with having to make an ikebana arrangement to suit the location that they were allocated, using an unfamiliar vessel.

Tess's location was on a side-table in the front entrance of the house. Her particular exercise from the curriculum was 'An arrangement using one kind of material'. She had brought some cypress branches with interesting curves that she emphasised by pruning away many of the smaller side branches and leaves. The lines are emphasised by having the curves cross and flow in opposite directions.

Helen M set her arrangement on a bedroom dresser. She had brought a large branch of dried eucalyptus which she had spayed lightly with bronze paint. The lines in the branch were curved, but symmetrical. So one side had to be removed to emphasise the remaining lines which swept across the top of a tall celadon glazed vase. Fresh materials were introduced by placing some green fruit and gypsophila at the mouth of the vase.

In the living room Maureen arranged some tall, curving prunus branches with yellow oriental lilies and gypsophila. She chose a wide mouthed bowl that created a sense of open space at the base of the arrangement. The tall lines curved toward each other embracing the lilies. 

Christine's location was on the top of a bookcase making the arrangement slightly above eye level. She has used pine that cascaded slightly forward and to the left. Her two intense, red focal flowers were from an epiphytic cactus.

Ellie was allocated the opposite end of the same bookcase. She also used pine which she teamed with a very large white dahlia and a bud, somewhat obscured behind the pine branch. Her vessel is a large circular basket that has a water tube in its centre.

Helen Q had brought along a bunch of pink marbled lilies and some red grapes. She was delighted to find this creamy pink bowl in Ellie's collection, in which she created a massed arrangement. It was set on a desk allowing a slightly elevated viewing point.

In the same room, a study, Jo arranged a cascade of long curving stems of rosemary in a glass cylinder. At the mouth of the vase she created a mass using agapanthus and two other flowers in the blue-purple range. Her exercise was an arrangement of materials 'In the same tonal range'.

*          *          *          *          *

At home, two weeks ago, I was pleased to see that irises I was given by Emily a couple of years ago were about to flower again. This provided a rare opportunity to make a traditional iris arrangement as taught in the Sogetsu School. I was able to gather enough leaves to have five sets, sufficient for two flower stems. 

Above is the beginning of the process with the flower stems, in bud, placed between the sets of leaves. 

Later, when I came to place the small jushi leaves of acacia baileyana, I realised that the tips of the leaves were the same height on each side of the tallest bud. 

Here is the final arrangement, with asymmetry restored, and the second flower having opened. The tallest point of the arrangement is the unopened bud. These are such transitory flowers it is a delight to be able to make this arrangement. Irises are traditionally arranged for Boy's Day, now called Children's Day on 5th May. In the southern hemisphere our gardens are out of sync with the traditional festivals of Japan.

Greetings from Christopher
9th December 2018.


We are coming to the end of term four of the school year in Victoria and two of my classes are finishing for the year. 

The final activity for my informal U3A class was 'Ikebana at home'. The value of this class format is that the ikebana has to be created in a way that suits the location in which it is made, which is so different to making ikebana on a table in a classroom. The students were allocated places around our house by drawing a number from a bowl. They then had to choose a vessel from my collection that would suit their material and the location. They had brought their own materials, not knowing where they were to be used.

Helen T's location was this wooden box in the entrance, which sits below a large wooden shelf. She had brought palm fronds that reminded her of tropical summer holidays. It was necessary to curve the fronds and place them at a low angle to fit under the shelf. Her bright red flowers are geraniums.

Róża had to work on top of a small bookshelf in a corner with windows on both sides. She used some succulent flowers and deep maroon helichrysum flowers in a black ceramic vessel. A Christmas touch was added in the form of some colourful ribbon that cascaded down the righthand side.

Val's location was the living room ikebana niche. She chose white Christmas lilies, a striped ginger lily leaf and some 'feverfew' tanactum parthenium as jushi. I added some mizuhiki for Christmas sparkle.

Kim had to work on a low glass-topped table using a unique ceramic vessel by Graeme Wilkie. This was difficult as the vessel has a small opening and I asked Kim to make his an 'all round' arrangement because of its location. He used long bullrush leaves and some small bright pink flowers from the florist.

Rhonda had to work in a tall narrow space at the end of a corridor. She wisely chose a nageire vase, also by Graeme Wilkie. Her material included Grevillea stems and South African leucospermum flowers.

After the ikebana creations and critique the class all shared a buffet luncheon.

Kim's contribution was this croquembouche which he made himself. As a plain-cook who uses a wok rather than an oven I was very impressed.

Greetings from Christopher
1st December 2018


This morning I was greeted in the garden by the arrival of a single Sulphur-crested cockatoo. I think I startled the cockatoo while it was drinking at the birdbath. These birds usually appear in flocks but have not been around so much over the winter months. Perhaps there will be more arriving soon.

The weather turned chilly in the middle of the week and I needed to wear a windproof jacket and gloves when we went out for a walk. It was windy, wet and 14 degrees Celsius. Then I received an email from Leonora in Ottawa who said it was '...minus 14 and already lots of snow...'. Chilly is a such a subjective experience.

A few weeks ago I was asked to make some ikebana arrangements for a wedding taking place in a friend's house. The ceremony is tomorrow and today I put my plans into action to create a table-centre ikebana and a larger work on an antique sideboard.

For the table centre I arranged some prostrate banksias in a ceramic holder made by an ikebanist friend, Kid-Ching Ong. The vessel looks rather like a log or piece of curled bark which harmonises well with the banksia. As the leaves of the banksia are stiff and stand upright I have softened their appearance by curving them and catching the ends in the slits in the vessel.

The second work is a massed arrangement in a very large bowl by Graeme Wilkie that Laurie bought some years ago. I have used some branching driftwood within the bowl to fix the King protea Protea cynaroides, and arranged it with branches of Cootamundra wattle Acacia baileyana. In the photograph I have covered the mirror with a white cloth to better show the arrangement.

I chose a massed form of the ikebana  because it was to be placed on a large sideboard with a mirrored back. This meant that any lines would appear to be doubled by the reflection and the back of the arrangement also had to look good in the mirror. 

I want  to advise regular readers of this blog that since I was overseas in September/October I have not been notified when people have written comments at the bottom of the page. I have since fixed this problem, however I cannot reply directly to the writer of comments as the system protects your address. I can be contacted directly at: 

Greetings from Christopher
2t5h November 2018


In the garden the spring growth is very apparent, especially on a sunny day like this one.

We have two varieties of strelitzia. This one above is Strelitzia reginae  and has flowered for the first time this year. I planted this strelitzia especially so that I would eventually have a supply of its beautiful leaves. The flowers are welcome also. Its growth is a little slow in our garden as it does best in a 'rich loamy soil', not our hydrophobic sand over heavy clay.

Our other Strelitzia juncea is doing very well now, after probably 20 or more years, and is almost at its flowering peak for this season. Often the flowers are damaged by late spring rain, so I was keen to pick some to make an ikebana arrangement. Last year I was not fast enough. The flowers go very well with New Zealand flax leaves so I didn't need to cut any from the Strelitzia Reginae.

This year the flax has only put up one flower spike so far. I am not really expecting more at this stage. I felt therefore I could take a couple of the older leaves from the back of the plant for my ikebana.

I have used the flax leaves to make irregular elongated loops to give a flat surface facing forward. In the arrangement the loops show both the back and the front of the leaves. The two flowers rise above the flax and face in opposite directions. Placing them in 'profile' maximises their impact. The asymmetric vase was made by Graeme Wilkie and fired in his anagama kiln in 2001.

Earlier in the week I attended the last meeting of Ikebana International Melbourne Chapter for this year.  Follow the link to see photos.

Greetings from Christopher
18th November 2018


Spring is such a time of floral abundance one cannot help but feel uplifted.

This large mass of foxgloves and other annuals were in a flower box outside the Melbourne Town Hall on Monday last week. They were in place for the parade before the famous Melbourne Cup horse race. The race was the following day and, sadly, there were massively heavy rains that morning which left the foxgloves lying horizontally in the flower box.

In our garden the neighbour's climbing rose has cascaded through the fence. Because of the angle of the fence there is more sun on our side and therefore the blooms face into our garden.

In a bed I planted two years ago, are these other exotic flowers which I grew specifically to use when demonstrating the basic Sogetsu exercises to students. They have the advantages of being long-flowering, prolific and having straight stems.

On a recent walk I noticed some Everlasting Daisies, a native helichrysum flower, on the clifftop heath.

These Everlasting Daisies cephalum apiculatum, were planted in our garden two seasons ago. This is their best year so far. I am hoping they will spread further.

At this time of year the melaleucas are also in bloom. This one is melaleuca armillaris that I referred to last week as being the source of my short sticks for making the small sculpture.

And here is the eye-catching red callistemon, closely related to the melaleucas. Apparently, some experts think they should be in the same genus. We have a couple of red callistemons in the garden.

I have used flowers from our garden for this arrangement in a blue ceramic trough. I wanted to mass the flowers to emphasise their intense red, so I stripped off all of the leaves. This left me with some interesting lines to then contrast with the mass.

Greetings from Christopher
10th November 2018


After last weekend's workshops I had a chance to relax, then re-work the arrangement I had made from wiring chopsticks together to create a small sculpture. This time I used some fresh materials from the garden. I have used dieties grandiflora leaves and two racemes of tubular flowers of Natal Glory Bush Makaya bella. It is native to 'mixed forests' of South Africa.

I took this poor quality photo against a rather intense blue wall so that the form of the chopstick sculpture is clearly visible.

This photo is of better quality and the colours are more accurate. 

In re-working the arrangement I liked the idea of contrasting the flowing green lines of the dietes leaves with the irregular lines of the sculpture. 

Here is another example of this method of making a small geometric-looking design from a number of short lines/sticks. In this case the 'sticks' are from a small forest of self-sown 
melaleuca armillaris that grew in our garden. The miniature forest was in the wrong place and had to be removed, which turned out to be an opportunity to use what would otherwise have been garden waste. 

Because these sticks are from the garden they are irregular in length and thickness. I painted them red and, in this ikebana arrangement, have contrasted them with two agave leaves and a lemon. For readers of this blog with good visual memory, yes, you have seen the above photo before, in November 2013.

Greetings from Christopher
4th November 2018

Click here for posting of the Sogetsu Victorian Branch Saturday Workshop.


At the beginning of August I set some students the exercise of making a freestyle arrangement using narcissus. These are such a popular early flower of spring which really lift our spirits at the end of winter.

Helen used a mass of yellow and orange flowers only, without leaves, with a large heavily textured piece of dried branch material.

Rather than massing a lot of flowers, Margaret made an arrangement emphasising the upright growth habit of the narcissus. She did this by cutting stems at different lengths and placing them vertically; and then created a contrasting curving line with a branch of Japanese flowering quince, chaenomeles japonica.

In a more recent class, Kyoko's exercise was an arrangement 'Emphasising lines at the base', using the strong clean lines of chrysanthemum and dried globular material. She also added a contrasting curving line that helped define the space in the left-hand side of the arrangement.

At our last class, Kyoko made this freestyle arrangement, the curriculum exercise, 'Using flowers only'. This was the last ikebana Kyoko made at my class. She is due to return to Tokyo soon having spent 4 years in Melbourne and will be missed by her many friends in Melbourne.

On Friday this week I attended a Sogetsu Branch workshop given by Ursula Pagels, the Director of the Western Australia Branch of the Sogetsu School. The exercise was to learn a particular wiring technique to make a structure from disposable chopsticks. 

Once the structure is completed it can be used in a variety of ways, including without any vase. This is my completed work to which I have added dried aspidistra leaves and dwarf nandina leaves.

Click here for photos from the workshop.

Greetings from Christopher
28th October 2018