I resumed my Melbourne classes recently and my student Marisha created her first Nageire arrangement (basic upright style). We were both pleased with the result.

She has used the Australian native, pomaderisand two white dahlias in a pale blue ceramic vase.

At home last week I spent a long time struggling to arrange some hydrangeas. The hydrangeas have been splendid this year and I wanted to use them in a mass before they start to deteriorate at the end of summer. 

Because the flower-heads are large, I used a big open bowl by the Daylesford potter Petrus Spronk. However, although I was using a large vessel I found that more than 3 flowers was just too big a mass and I couldn't make it work. I came to the conclusion that I needed a contrasting material, with a good line. So, I started again, beginning with a large philodendron leaf that had a beautiful yellow colouring as it aged.

Beginning with the leaf as a shin * (principal line) I found it much easier to use the hydrangeas to form a mass that contrasted and balanced the shin.

Subsequently I made another arrangement by making a mass with the remaining hydrangeas. The one at the back on the left was the most intense of the blue hydrangeas and I liked the way these colours worked with the large vase by Graeme Wilkie.

Some years ago the late Brenda Thorpe, a well regarded ikebanist who was a fellow student with me in Elizabeth Angell's class, made a massed arrangement in a long narrow ceramic trough. She commented that in such an arrangement the vessel became the shin line. I think that idea applies in the case of the arrangement above.

This week Ikebana International, Melbourne Chapter, held its first meeting for 2017. Follow the link to photos taken at the meeting.

Greetings from Christopher
19th February 2017

* The character for shin can be translated as 'true' or 'pure'.


Friday was lovely day to take a walk in the Iron Bark Basin nature reserve, a little west of Torquay. 

In the mid-ground of this photo is the nature reserve, with Pt Addis in the distance. The round-about path takes about 35 minutes to reach the clifftops from this view.

When we got there a paraglider was floating overhead on the updraft above the cliffs. It looks so serene, but not if you have a fear of falling.

Along the track we passed a couple of pink Hyacinth Orchids dipodium roseum. These ground orchids were just a little past their prime.

They are among the most spectacular ground orchids in this area.

Back at home, a flock of Sulphur Crested Cockatoos were making a lot of raucous noise as they chewed seeds of the New Zealand Mirror Bush coprosma repens in the garden next door. 

In the photo above this cockatoo is in a eucalyptus.

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At Elizabeth's first class for this year, the exercise was an arrangement in a glass vessel.

My colleague Pearl, used a gymea leaf and three lemons. She has used a small section of the leaf to hold the main leaf against the side of the vase. 

I used three stems of fennel and a bunch of pink berries from a Peppercorn tree schinus molle. The fennel stems are braced across the vase. I have deliberately spaced them unevenly and left a space at the bottom. Also, the berries are placed asymmetrically. I particularly like to make this style of below water arrangement in Summer for its cooling appearance.

Greetings from Christopher
11th February 2017


This weekend we visited Ballarat, northwest of Melbourne, in the Victorian Goldfields area. As we walked around Lake Wendouree we met these black swans, which were not 'a-swimming', but looking for food from humans. 

The last few days have been rather warm, in the mid 30s Celsius. We've come to the mid-summer month and because we have not yet had excessive hot weather, the summer flowering plants are at their peak.

This photo shows the 'herbaceous border' in front of the original Directors House in the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne.

I am very impressed by this particular garden display, and well aware of the large number of hours it takes to create and maintain. 


One plant that caught my eye was this large mass of 'goldenrod', solidago, a native of North America that I first saw in the New England region in 2014. I have a couple of plants in my garden for the first time this year. However, they have not flowered.

Certain eye-catching Australian native plants are also flowering at the moment. The Black Bean tree, castanospermum australe, above, is actually a little past its peak. 

However, close up the flowers look spectacular. Another particular favourite of mine is brachychiton discolor.

In the photo above, the dense canopy of flowers has been photographed at a distance, because it is surrounded by other trees.

Here you can see a beautiful cascading branch with a lot of ikebana possibility, were it not in the Botanic Gardens!

I was able to photograph one flower close up. The flowers are a delightful soft pink and very fleshy.

This week's ikebana is otherwise unrelated, except to say that this hydrangea is just past its peak in our garden and soon likely to be burnt if there are a few consecutive days of hot weather. The vase is by Graeme Wilkie of Qdos Gallery.

Greetings from Christopher 
5th February 2017


The warm sunny weather has brought 'Spike' back into the garden in a never-ending quest for ants.

The ants find that nesting under the brick paving suits them because we have provided them with a firm roof over their heads, and a layer of bedding sand into which they easily tunnel for their nests.

Obviously the echidna can smell the ants underneath the bricks, and from time to time does manage to catch some on its tongue.

In recent weeks I could not help but notice that the Moonah (melaleuca lanceolata) shrubs on the cliff-tops had started to flower. The dense masses of flowers are lightly fragrant and an ivory-white. 

Although in sheltered situations Moonah trees can grow to 10 metres, in the prevailing south-westerly winds the Moonah shrubs growing on the cliffs hug the ground closely forming semi-prostrate thickets.

Their branches become highly contorted into wonderous shapes.


The flowers grow in a characteristic 'bottle brush' fashion around the ends of a branchlet. They have minute petals and long whitish stamens. I found some growing on a sheltered young bush so the branches were fairly straight.

I have arranged them as an elevated mass in a suiban by the Tasmanian potter John Campbell who was active from the 1880's to the early part of the 20th century. 

This arrangement meets the Sogetsu curriculum exercise of 'emphasising lines at the base' of the arrangement. I have added two 'coastal sword sedge' (lepidosperma gladiatum) leaves to provide some contrasting texture.

I thought it would be interesting to also make an arrangement using the Moonah flowers and contrast it with an old twisting branch of the same material.  In this photo the branch almost disappears against the unique vase by Graeme Wilkie from Qdos gallery.

Greetings from Christopher
28th January 2017


Saturday morning, Laurie walking on the beach as the tide was beginning to go out. In recent weeks a lot of the ever-shifting sand has been washed away, revealing many stones at the base of the cliffs.

We are 'in training', in preparation for a few days' walking-tour along the Nakasendo, in Japan, before we go to the Ikebana International Conference in Okinawa in April.

In the garden we have been very relieved to see new growth on some 30 year-old casaurinas.

We had to have these 6 metre trees lopped because they had become weakened and diseased as a result of serious insect infestations. The resilience and capacity for regrowth of many Australian trees always amazes me, especially after bushfires.

Also in the garden the Bursarias have been flowering for about six weeks now. Locally, these shrubby trees can grow to about 6 metres and are attractive for their relatively dense canopy and masses of white flowers in early summer. They are less attractive for their very fine long sharp thorns.


Last week I noticed that bright lime green seeds had started to form on one of the smaller bushes while other branches were still in flower. The contrast was rather lovely and I thought these two elements would make an interesting ikebana subject.

I decided to make a 'no kenzan' arrangement as I have not used the technique for a while. This style of arrangement, in a suiban, requires the materials to be self supporting, with the assistance of discrete wiring, so that the space at the bottom of the arrangement is open showing the surface of the water. The water then becomes an important element which the botanical materials rise above. 

Greetings from Christopher
21st January 2017


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


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