DOUBLE HELIX

This large strelitzia nicholai is in a garden in a street adjacent to ours. The really large blue-black flowers caught my attention when we were going for a walk recently. It was the first time that I had noticed the dramatic flowers in this particular garden.


      

This close-up of the flowers includes one of the more common orange and blue strelitzias which is growing at the base of the larger plant. I have planted strelitzia nicholai in our garden.  However, it is only knee high and will be quite a number of years before it will flower.


The most mature strelitzia in our garden is this strelitzia junea, which flowers well from late September to early December.


Several months ago I noticed these two distorted leaf stems, above, cork-screwing around each other in a double helix. When I looked more closely at the plant I saw that there were a few other stems that had a corkscrew twist in them. I wondered if this double helix started out as a single leaf that divided into two, early in its development.

I thought I should try the challenge of using these strange stems in some ikebana. The challenge was going to be to show the twist, because when the stems were separated their curves would be very slight.



I was surprised during my first experiment to discover the stems interlocking at the top, which lead to this arrangement in a narrow trough vessel by Hiroe Swen.



In this example, in an attempt to exaggerate the curves I have set the two stems so that they curve in opposite directions. The small bowl is by the South Australian potter Jane Robertson.


Here it is again with a jushi flower added.



This time the curves match each other, with two strelitzia flowers on the outside of the arrangement, emphasising the space between. The iron-coloured ceramic bowl is from Seto City in Japan.



Finally I arranged the stems in a contemporary stainless steel conical vase with the two flowers embracing the vessel.

Greetings from Christopher
15th January 2017

SUMMER HOLIDAYS


Torquay is a very popular destination for families over the summer holidays and the beaches are the main attraction. I took this photo today at about 4.00 pm. It was overcast with a gentle cooling breeze coming off the sea.


Because the tide is partially in, the holiday makers have had to spread themselves along the length of the beach.


Today the temperature has reached 34 C on our terrace and I was worried about how the Hydrangeas would cope. I have them growing in two large terracotta pots so that I can keep some water in the saucers beneath them. However if there is a north wind they can dry out quite quickly during the day.


This year they have grown well and produced very large flower heads. In one pot they are more mauve than the pink ones in this photo above. Because I feared they may be damaged by the heat, I picked four pink and two mauve flower-heads, then spent some time experimenting with massed arrangements.


Although I liked the lines in this first version, I thought the mass of five flowers was much too great and there is no space showing at the mouth of the vase making it look congested. The cylindrical vase is from the Qdos Studio in Lorne.



This second version with only two flowers and a visible space at the mouth of the vase is an improvement. However, the botanical materials are too small relative to the vase.

Maybe today's heat meant that I was the one who was wilting, and therefore it was not a good day to be doing ikebana. I made two arrangements last week that I felt were more successful.


This one above, which incorporated bursaria spinosa as the main subject, is in a large vase by Mark Bell from Maine, USA. 


I made this second ikebana last week as a gift to our friends Heather and John, with whom we had dinner. In the photo it is not immediately obvious, but there are two mauve hydrangea heads on the right. The large egg shaped vase is by Graeme Wilkie of Qdos Gallery.

Greetings from Christopher
7th January 2017




HAPPY NEW YEAR

After a late night watching the New Year Eve's fireworks, we had a walk this morning in the Royal Melbourne Botanic Gardens.


This photo shows the skyscrapers in the centre of the city, seen from the garden.


My attention was caught by this low hanging branch of flowers on a brachychiton acerifolius * .


These flowering branches are especially vivid because their small branchlets are also the same intense colour as the little bell-shaped flowers.

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After a couple of warm days in the mid 30's C we have been blessed with some unusually heavy rain for this time of year.  As a result, in the garden at Torquay, the scabiosa * has gone a little wild. This is a desirable state according to the great Australian gardener of the early 20th century, Edna Walling * , who recommended that a garden have some of the plants that are slightly out of control.


This particular scabiosa, that has naturalised in our garden, is a cultivar called 'Summer Berries' and has a range of colour from maroon to very pale pink.


I had tried to make an ikebana work using this flower a few weeks ago when it first began to flower. However, I found it wilted very quickly. Now, after the recent hot weather, it has hardened off and I have been able to cut some stems that have not wilted.


I thought it would make a good subject for the Sogetsu curriculum exercise of a naturalistic arrangement of 'colours in the same tonal range'. The narrow porcelain trough is by Hiroe Swen * , a Japanese-born Australian ceramic artist.

Greeting from Christopher 
New Year's Day 2017.



CHRISTMAS DOWNUNDER

A couple of weeks ago we had an exceptionally violent wind storm that blew down a large eucalyptus at the back of our property. The tree had a long horizontal branch which added weight to one side making the tree unstable.


Fortunately there was no serious damage. However, it did fall across the middle of the New Zealand Flax.



The annoying thing about landing on the flax was that this year it had grown four lovely flower stems. Last year it had only produced two flower stems. I decided to cut and use the flower stems before a workman came to cut up and remove the huge trunk and branches.



This arrangement uses all four of the flax stems, cut down to about one quarter of their original length. The vase is the same one that I used in last week's posting, this time showing the reverse side. In the process I learnt why New Zealand Flax is not used as a fresh cut flower. They drop huge numbers of individual flowers, constantly. Also the pollen is a bright yellow and looks as though it might stain fabrics.





Here is a photo of the bright orange side of the vase. In the firing the vase was lying on this side, so it has no wood-ash deposits.



In this close-up you can see the imprint of a bi-valve sea shell that supported the vase and prevented it from sticking to the shelf.



A couple of days ago my friend Leonora sent the above photo of the tortuous willow in her front garden in Ottawa. The temperature had risen to - 3 C from the previous week when it was - 24 C (!).




This was the beach 9.30 Christmas morning. The temperature is expected to be the low 30's C.


After a big night, one of Santa's elves takes an early morning dip?

For my Christmas ikebana I decided to use Australian native materials only, in an unusual stainless steel conical vase.



The materials are: seed heads of spinifex sericeus, a single lepidospermum gladiatum leaf and three flowers of a red calistemon called 'Ned Kelly'.



I also used one of the spinifex seed-heads as the star on our Christmas tree.

Season's Greetings from Christopher 
Christmas Day 2016.

RE-USING MATERIALS




I took this photo of a globe artichoke in the garden towards the end of October. I was particularly attracted to the flower bud as it had started to develop a mauve colouring on the margins of the petals.


A month later at the end of  November I made this arrangement using the flower, and first published these two photos on the 3rd of December. It has now been out of water for two weeks and the stem and petals have begun to dry and shrivel. However, to my complete surprise this week the inflorescence, the 'choke' part of the flower, started to open.


To arrange the flower I chose a vase, by Graeme Wilkie, from this year's firing of the large anagama kiln at Qdos Gallery. 


This photo shows the vase as I first saw it in October before it was fired. It is the taller vessel on the left side of the photo.


The artichoke is a member of the thistle family and this is especially evident once the flower opens. Here I have arranged the flower, for a second time, in the new large vase with three dried aspidestra leaves, that are just peeping over the rim. The vase suits the flower well, because the natural ash glaze has a soft mauve flush. The reverse side of this vase is an intense orange which I hope to utilise in another arrangement soon.

Greetings from Christopher
17th December 2016

FIRST FLOWERING

This afternoon we went for a walk along the cliff-tops to Bells Beach and were rewarded with a sighting of a blue tongue lizard * beside the path. These are beautifully patterned creatures, this one about 40 cms nose to tail. The little bit of sunlight must have brought the lizard out to warm itself up.


The fleeting sunshine also brought out the echidna to the delight of our visitors.


These photos show the echidna * crawling out from underneath the house to the terrace where it can drink from the saucers under the pot plants.


Because an echidna has very poor eyesight, by my keeping completely still it continues foraging, apparently unaware of my presence.  This close-up gives a good view of its tough 'snout ' which it uses to push into the earth in search of ants.

Earlier in the week we were surprised when Laurie looked up to see that our grevillia robusta * had flowered for the first time. It has been growing slowly for about 25 years. Perhaps the heavier than usual spring rains were what it has needed.


This photo shows the small flowers about five metres off the ground, taken with the camera on zoom.


We are not going to live long enough for it to reach the glorious height of this mature tree in the grounds of Melbourne Girls Grammar School. There are some similarly mature trees in the nearby Royal Melbourne Botanic Gardens.


This one beside the garden's cafe allows me to show you the way the flowers grow horizontally on the otherwise pendulous branches.


Like so many Australian plants the flower's form * is defined by a mass of lines. In this case having no petals.


I think it is the multiple small translucent lines that makes the flowering tree appear to glow when in full sunlight. Here is a link to more information about Grevilleas * .

This week's ikebana is of two arrangements of nandina domestica * made eight months apart, but using the same glass vase. 


I made this first arrangement in April using nandina berries from a friends garden.


The second arrangement I made two weeks ago using flowers from the nandina in our garden. The two arrangements contrast an autumnal feel and an early summer feel as we head toward Christmas.

Greetings from Christopher
11th December 2016 



ATTENDING TO COLOUR

This last week my student Ros brought some beautifully coloured eucalyptus leaves to class. The colours, in broad stripes, were so striking that the leaves looked painted. They had in fact been attacked by some sap sucking insect. It seems amazing that nature can produce colours which to the human eye are so wonderful and yet are the result of insect damage.


This photograph is not the best quality because I failed to take a close-up and it is a small section of a larger photo.


The exercise I had set for the students was to make a freestyle arrangement in a glass vessel. In this case Ros used a glass jug. Care was taken to remove leaves from inside the curve of the left hand stem to emphasise the line of the branch.

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Recently I have noticed yet another garden escapee in the nearby creek, growing among the tall bullrushes. 


It is verbena bonariensis * from tropical and temperate South America. It has been declared a weed species in some tropical climates, but not here. Co-incidently, only this year I have planted it in our garden as its long stems will make it a good subject for ikebana. 


In this photo you can see it along side dock (rumex acetosella) which, in the moist environment of the creek, has grown to 2 metres. 

I gathered a couple of the verbena flowers because the plants in our garden have not begun to bloom yet. I thought its mauve colour would compliment the highlights in the globe artichoke that I had grown this year for the first time.


A couple of weeks ago the margins of the outer petals were beginning to turn a purplish colour. I decided to use the flowerhead with the almost leafless stems of strelitzia juncea, which is also growing in our garden.


This clump, with its spear-like leaf stems, is growing in the Melbourne Botanic Garden.


I have made a massed arrangement using the, now more deeply coloured, artichoke balanced by a mass of lines made from the strelitzia. The verbena provides a complementary highlight colour. The black ceramic vessel is one I bought a number of years ago in Seto City, one of the 'six ancient kilns' * in Japan.

Greetings from Christopher
3rd December 2016

* Click on the blue text for further information