From time to time when I first began to study Sogetsu Ikebana, my teacher Carlyne Patterson would make her students exchange materials and vessel. This is a great exercise for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the student could not plan their arrangement in advance. Secondly, sometimes we would have to use material or a vessel that we would never have chosen for ourselves. This exercise really starts to stretch the students' creative abilities and, as a result, more is learnt.

This week I gave my students this challenge. I added to the challenge by creating an additional level of complexity. Each student brought to the class a vessel and material for one arrangement, which they put on their table. I then moved all the vessels one place to the left (anticlockwise) so that they were no longer with the expected materials. Then I asked the students to move one place to the right (clockwise). This meant each student was using an unfamiliar vessel and material they had not chosen. The students were given freedom as to how they used the materials and were not required to use them all.

Alana was presented with some branches of lilly-pilly, Syzugium smithii, with heavy bunches of purple berries on them and some branches of Chinese elm, Ulmus pavifolia. The weight of the berries made using them in a suiban very difficult. She could only arrange a small bunch of the berries on an upright branch. I suggested she could use more of the berries by floating some of them on the surface of the water.

Christine first arranged red tulips and hellebores in this set of three small matching suibans. She has arranged the tulips reaching toward the small bowl containing water only. The eye is drawn around the vessels in an anticlockwise circle.

Helen had received some very dark reddish-brown New Zealand Flax, tan chrysanthemum and hydrangea with a pink autumnal flush. She arranged the materials in a circular glass dish paying attention to the space between the leaves.

Ellie received a bunch of blue iris (and some echium that she did not use). Her three sided vessel provided a major challenge. It comes to a point at the top and has two small openings on oposite sides at the top. She has carefully looped the iris leaves making lines that move forward and down to the vessel. The flowers had curving lines that wrap around the vessel creating a backward moving line, which does not show clearly in the photo. 

*          *          *          *          *
After the students had made their arrangements, the materials and vessels were returned to their owners who made a second arrangement.

This photo is of the material brought by Christine and arranged in the vessel she had provided. You can see that she had chosen the vessel because the lilly-pilly could be allowed to cascade and that it coordinated well with the colour of the vessel.

Helen had provided the teal-green suiban expecting the tulips and hellebores to be arranged in it with some New Zealand corokia cotoneaster that she massed over and around the flowers. 

Ellie had provided these materials and the small suiban set. Here she has re-arranged them employing the lines of the flax to create a sense of movement and a space which holds the arrangement together. 

Alana had brought these blue flowering materials to coordinate with the swirling blue lines in the glass dish. She has created a strongly asymmetrical design with movement forward and to the left.

Greetings from Christopher
27th May 2017


 Last week I set my senior students a combined exercise. I asked them to to make a 'variation No 2', nageire (tall vase) arrangement  and contrast the materials with the colour of the vessel. Both of these are separate exercises in the Sogetsu curriculum. This second exercise highlights the importance of thinking about the qualities of the vessel being used and recognises that it is an integral element of the arrangement.

In this example Christine has contrasted red and green...

...and here, blue and yellow.

Ellie has also contrasted green and red.

This photo is a 'Hanging, Variation No 4' by Tess, who managed to overcome the difficulty of securing the long branch to prevent it from falling out of the vase.

*          *          *          *          *

In another class, Kyoko made two morimono-style arrangements of fruit and vegetables. In this instance she has given the arrangement height by standing the two egg plants and a textural variation by slicing the pomegranate to reveal the seeds within.

With her second example she commented that she wanted to emphasise the fine line of the carrot root.  This line draws the eye in a circular patten around the orange coloured elements in the arrangement.

Greetings from Christopher
20th May 2017


Last week I showed this same footpath. Now it is littered with even more flowers and leaves ripped from the trees.

Finally I have the evidence that the sulphur- crested cockatoos are littering the paths. When I looked closely at this photo I was interested to see that the cockatoo has a small branch with a cluster of flowers in its left claw. In his mouth is one flower from which it is taking nectar.

There were about half a dozen of them inside the canopy of this tree in our garden.

*          *          *          *          *

Last Monday I was the substitute speaker at the Ikebana International meeting in Melbourne, as our invited guest was unavailable. The subject was to be origami, however that is certainly not my area of expertise. I therefore spoke about one of the Sogetsu School curriculum exercises, which is to make an arrangement incorporating 'unconventional' (manmade) materials. An earlier version of the curriculum had a separate and specific exercise to use paper in an arrangement.

Over the years I have experimented with various ways in which to use paper and there are a few points worth mentioning. The first is to consider the unique properties of paper and to take advantage of these. The second is to decide what is the subject/idea of the ikebana. That means, either the botanical materials or the manmade materials should be dominant and the other is in a supporting role. The third point is that all the materials should be integrated in the arrangement. So that if either were to be removed the arrangement would be incomplete.

I made this arrangement in class some years ago. Clearly the paper is the dominant material. I particularly like using newspaper, which is readily available, and changing it to reveal characteristics not normally noticed. This paper has been pleated diagonally and then folded in the middle, creating two 'fans', one on each side of the middle.

A couple of weeks after that class I created this work for the 50th anniversary exhibition of Ikebana International in Melbourne. As you can see I have also used coloured wrapping paper. The botanical material is the dried leaves of Dracaena Draco, which are bright orange where they attach to the plant.

This arrangement also incorporates a second manmade material, plastic mesh which keeps leaves from collecting in the roof gutters. It is contrasted with a strelitzia flowerhead. The newspaper has been rolled on the diagonal into straws. The straws are quite strong and develop spiral stripes from the colours on the page. In both of the examples above the 'subject' is the manmade material.

My final example is the arrangement I setup at last week's meeting. Again I have used newspaper straws, that I had demonstrated how to make. In this case the subject is the botanical materials, dried agapanthus heads and two dietes leaves, with the paper making a contrasting element. The ceramic cylinder is by Graeme Wilkie.

There are more photos from the meeting on the Ikebana International Melbourne blog.

Greetings from Christopher
13th May 2017


We returned home ten days ago from our trip to Japan and Taiwan. I was relieved to find that the garden was in a good state, having been watered in our absence, as arranged. In fact a couple of days before we returned there was an exceptionally heavy storm in our area leaving the ground quite damp. Nothing has died and the weeds are not too big!

This is how the beach looked this morning after further rain overnight...

...and the promise of a little more today.

Having come home from travelling, one of the things that I noticed is the chattering and song of the large variety of birds that visit our garden. It is certainly greater than in the cities in Japan and Taiwan.

Yesterday I noticed a lot of eucalyptus flowers strewn on the grass.  

These creamy flowers are on a street tree.

The next tree has deep red flowers, which were also on the grass underneath the tree.

The flowers are a source of nectar for the Rainbow Lorikeets that visit our garden. These small parrots are to be found all along the eastern coast of Australia. The flowers scattered on the grass have probably been chewed off by the larger Sulphur Crested Cockatoos.

I took the two photos below in the garden this morning.

The much better photo below is from a website setup by a primary teacher and a librarian for school children. You can check it out here: Rainbow Lorikeet.

As we are now deeply into Autumn, this week I set my students the exercise of making an arrangement, incorporating berries and/or fruiting branches. 

Kim borrowed the apples from fellow student Val and my vase by Ian Jones. Kim wisely curled the fig leaf, which came from the garden, because otherwise it looked too flat.

In the evening class Christine chose this branch of quince with a particularly interesting line. Some solid mechanics went into keeping the heavy stem from resting on the side of her Graeme Wilkie vase.

Greetings from Christopher
6th May 2017

* The title of the blog comes from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Near the end of the film the good witch Glinda says to Dorothy: '...tap your heels together three times and think to yourself, there's no place like home

(after five and a half weeks of travelling)