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


This week I gave some of my students the Sogetsu curriculum exercise of making an arrangement using 'Fresh and Unconventional Material'. Unconventional in this context means anything other than fresh, dried or coloured botanical materials. It includes man-made synthetic materials, processed botanical materials or other inorganic materials.

The Sogetsu curriculum has a number of exercises in which the student is required to use man-made objects in ways for which they were not necessarily intended. These exercises lead the student into the discovery of unexpected qualities in the object or materials. Such creative experiments open the ikebana student's mind to also look differently and carefully at botanical materials. This means that, when they approach their ikebana, they are open to exploration and not simply using materials in ways they have done before. 

At the class Róża used partially shredded, packing cardboard, to create a saddle-shaped curtain beneath which we glimpse a cluster of small white roses in a ceramic vase.

I challenged Val by rejecting her original material and presenting her with some 'bubble wrap'. She then folded it into an open form and teamed it with a single orange coloured rose.

Helen cleverly arranged two pieces of green nylon gauze to look like a single length cascading from pandanus baskets. She has used purple statice to contrast with the green.

Kim used a sheet of black wire mesh to create this windblown form in a black ceramic vessel. He has added three gladiolus nanus at the front and two stems of them behind the mesh on the right side.

The previous week I demonstrated this exercise for the students in a modern Japanese ikebana vase. My unconventional material was rusty fencing wire that had a lovely curving form. I added a purple iris flower and two buds, courtesy of Helen.

Here is how it looked at home. 

For this exercise the unconventional material does not have to dominate, as it does in all the examples shown. However, it should not be merely a decoration but essential to the ikebana arrangement . This means that the work would look incomplete without the unconventional material.

Greetings from Christopher
21st October 2018 


During the week we attended a Melbourne International Festival event at the Royal Melbourne Botanic Gardens. This is a place with which we are very familiar. I remember visiting this 36 hectare garden in the 1960s with my childhood friends and the excitement of discovery that occurred with every visit.

This is a view west across the ornamental lake, which was created by closing off a bend in the Yarra River, when it was straightened in the 1880s. The western boundary of the garden shares a border with the precinct of Government House.

The nighttime festival event was called 'Fire Gardens', in which multiple installations of braziers, candles and pots of flaming wax were placed in a variety of locations around the gardens. What a total transformation of a familiar location.

This view is across the ornamental lake with the tower of Government House visible in the background. Flaming pots were set above the water in the foreground and arranged on the two large spheres seen in the middle distance.

In this and the next photo charcoal braziers were set above one of the other ponds in the garden.

Fire and water always make a fascinating combination when cleverly combined.

What we hadn't expected was the additional dramatic effect of the rather cold wind that sent sparks flying.

My favourite installation was in the 'fern gully'. Dozens of candles hung overhead and a smaller number of flaming pots beside the path cast a warm glow. It turned out to be a playful installation, as the shades were all singlets stretched over wire frames.

Experiences of art work like these installations make me think about how sometimes we may transform materials into unrecognisable forms in ikebana. However, not so this week.

Today's ikebana is an arrangement I made at the meeting of Ikebana International Melbourne this week. I have used a modern Japanese lacquerware vase I bought in Kiso-Fukushima last year. I chose this vase as the meeting's theme was 'Japanese Day'. Because the vase is unusual and visually strong, I wanted to emphasise it by keeping the arrangement small and simple. I used just two acanthus leaves and a spray of Viburnum tomentosum.

Greetings from Christopher
13th October 2018


Earlier in the week Laurie and I were walking in the Botanic Gardens in Melbourne when we came across this Gymea lily Doreanthes excelsa in flower. The plant is a favourite of mine and I have a small one in my garden, a gift of Emily Karanikolopoulos. It is such a spectacle when in flower and the flower head is wonderful in a large arrangement. However, it is the leaves that many ikebanists use more often.

Interestingly, the gardeners have left last year's flower on the plant, perhaps to allow seeds to form. I thought I should show a photo with Laurie in it to give you a sense of scale. This is not at all the tallest one I have seen.

Today, Saturday, we went for a walk in 'Iron Bark Basin' -  a nature reserve a few kilometres west of Torquay. This small hanging valley above Pt Addis beach has a forest of mostly 'Ironbark' eucalyptus tricarpa and Messmate. Both of these common names are given to a number of similar eucalyptus species.

In this view the sea is visible between the trees.

We also came across another spectacular flowering plant, a Grass Tree xanthorea. Again, Laurie provides a sense of scale.

The flower spike is covered in numerous small starry white flowers.

From the high cliffs overlooking the sea, Point Addis sits at the end of a long, beautiful and sheltered beach.

On Tuesday I attended a class with Elizabeth Angell, who had set the exercise of making an ikebana arrangement for a specific place.  Earlier in the day I had raided my sister-in-law's garden where I had found a beautiful 'White myrtle' hypocalymma angustifolium, from Western Australia. It is a low bush with arching branches that were covered with rich pink buds that opened to white flowers and small narrow leaves. 

The space I had chosen is a low 'entertainment unit' with a painting above that constrained the height of the work. Above, is the ikebana as I made it in the class. I added three looped dietes leaves to one side to emphasise the sense of asymmetry and movement.

Here it is in situ on the unit underneath the Moon and Star ochre painting by the indigenous artist Mabel Juli

As you can see, I also added a single pink camelia to give the ikebana a more solid mass near the centre to ground the work. The celadon vase is by Anne Geroe.

Greetings from Christopher
6th October 2018