This week I set my Torquay students the exercise of making an ikebana arrangement in the horizontal style using two tall vessels. The idea is that the arrangement should be seen as a single one even though two vessels are used. This idea of combining arrangements in two vessels is introduced at the end of the second level of the Sogetsu curriculum. Later, in the advanced curriculum, there are exercises that encourage students to use more than two vessels to make a single work.

I set this exercise for the students to give them additional practise in the various fixing techniques used when working in tall vessels. Although this was challenging the results were satisfying. Below are photos from the class.

Róża used a fine-leafed grevillea from her garden for the branch material and a Pincushion Hakea H. laurina, for the hikae at the centre.

Judy used Casuarina and Thryptomene calycina as branch material with a single Banksia  flower.

Giana has used a leptospermum (I think) and narcissus as a floral focus.

Val used some fine dried material, Nerines and asparagus fern Asparagus plumosus.

Kim has used some fine dried material for his principal horizontal line and bougainvillea as a flora focus. He has also connected his two vessels using a curving piece of driftwood.

A couple of weeks ago, at Elizabeth's  class, we were set the exercise of making an arrangement using a single branch and only one flower. I decided that I should use a branch with a strong character, so I chose a dead branch of Moonah Melaleuca lanceolata that had interesting lines. Elizabeth kindly lent me a Camellia 'Kamo Hon Ami' flower from her garden.

I set the branch and flower in a pale celadon- glazed bottle-shaped vase by Barry Singleton from Castlemaine. The flower and its two green leaves made a strong contrast to the branch and gave life to the arrangement.

Greetings from Christopher
15th June 2019


A couple of weeks ago we finally had some good rain after a very dry beginning to the year. In fact, for a whole week we had some rain on every day, which was most welcome.

The result of all that rain was the boardwalk along the mouth of Spring Creek at Torquay became flooded. Appearances are deceptive as Spring Creek, which has a small catchment area, is actually intermittent and only flows into the sea occasionally.

The sensation of walking across the water so close to the surface feels strange as we are more used to walking along the sand looking out to sea at the waves.

This view, back toward the sea, from further along the boardwalk shows the high level of the creek and the sand bar that stoped the water from flowing into the sea. A week after this photo was taken we had one night of very heavy rain and the sand bar was broken through...

...leaving very little water and a large expanse of sand. 

Now when the tide is high it flows up the creek for about 300 metres, and then out again at low tide. That is until the next storm that washes in enough sand to create another sand bar.

The welcome rain has turned the dry grasses green and brought a flock of Galahs (Eolophus roseicapilla) to feed on grass roots on this playing field . 

In the garden we have been blessed with a visit by some Gang-gang cockatoos (Calocephalon frimbiatum) which were feeding on the flowers in a eucalyptusWe are indeed blessed to be able to enjoy these riches of nature.

When I turn to my practise of ikebana I am again drawn to the variety of nature's beauty. But when I do, I engage with it in a quite direct way. For example, last week I attended a class with my teacher Elizabeth. Our exercise was to make an ikebana arrangement using two vessels. Following Elizabeth's example when she set the exercise at the previous class, I thought I would use two vessels that do not match. I chose two circular bowls by two different ceramic artists. The larger, by Jane Barrrow, had a pale blue (chun?) glaze and the smaller, by Alistair Whyte, has a pale green celadon glaze.

My thought was to make an ikebana work that drew out particular qualities of the materials I chose, in this case a white camellia. The finer stems, of this particular camellia at least, are very flexible, the leaves glossy and the flower is a fresh white. These are the elements that I wanted to show. 

Here is the beginning of my work, (too many leaves). My plan was to place a single white flower in the smaller bowl. However, I could not make it sit looking up.

My solution was to place all the materials in the blue bowl. I removed many leaves so that the materials were only a few centimetres above the rims. This enabled the flower to look up showing its whole face and the branch lines to show around the inside of the blue bowl with one extending the curving line horizontally outside the bowl. The elimination of most of the leaves makes it easier for the viewer to see them and the lines, especially as there is only one flower. The smaller celadon bowl contains water only. 

Greetings from Christopher
8th June 2019


Today I am continuing last week's subject, being the Sogetsu Victoria Branch workshops that were presented last weekend by Mr Umemura from Sydney. 

The Saturday workshops were less controversial than the one I reported on last week. However, they were more challenging. One of the exercises prevented the participants from making any preparations. We were all asked to bring a vessel and some materials for an arrangement, which were then separated. Participants were allocated a vessel by drawing lots and then allocated materials, also by drawing lots. We were not permitted to keep materials that were brought with the vessel. 

I was allocated a unique small handmade vessel by Kuninori Shimbo, with a rich glaze in brown tones. I think it may be a tenmoku glaze. The vessel is triangular in cross-section and about 20cm on its long side. It was designed so that it could be stood on one of its ends and had two openings. I was given a large variety of materials. However, because of the strong design of the vessel and its darkish colour, I decided to limit the materials I used.

This is my completed ikebana. I stripped the leaves from two stems of Leucadendron and added two clusters of red berries. The leucadendron provided lines that contrasted against the surface of the vessel while the berries provided a bright focus.

The other exercise on the day was a nageire arrangement using a vertical fixture. We were to arrange materials for the subject: 'autumn breeze'. 

I think I got a little fixated on making sure my Shin (longest) line was the correct length in proportion to the vase. I had brought the straight materials on the left and the pomegranate from home, having picked them two days earlier. In looking at this now I think I am guilty of having two focal points, the pomegranate and the orange leaves. In which case the line on the left becomes distracting. 

Back at home I re-worked the arrangement and feel much more satisfied with the result. It is a simpler arrangement and stronger for that simplicity.

Click here for more workshop photos.

Greetings from Christopher
1st June 2019


On Friday I attended the first of three Sogetsu Victoria Branch workshops that were led by Yoshiro Umemura from Sydney. Mr Umemura is a very popular, senior ikebana artist and teacher who, from when he first came to Australia in 1986, worked continuously with the late Norman Sparnon until his death in 1995. 

The first of the workshops had the following theme: create an ikebana work that '...some would say, "You can't do that."...'. This is an interesting and perhaps slightly contradictory challenge, because freedom of expression for the individual ikebanist is encouraged in the Sogetsu School. We remember that our founder, Sofu Teshigahara, said that ikebana should be able to be made 'anywhere, by anyone, using any material'. The caveat, of course, is that the person has to have had an appropriate level of training.

This is the demonstration example that Mr Umemura made at the start of the workshop. He had made three almost circular shapes from disposable bamboo forks by glueing the tines together. After fixing them into a circular vase he then added fresh materials. Firstly green tortuous willow stems to make lines and, for a colour focus, petals from a bright red gerbera which he scattered on the moistened shapes. In this demonstration he was deliberately violating the idea that ikebana should not look like a work of 'handcraft'. 

In thinking about this topic in advance I came up with a question that I had wondered about in the past. That is, how can one make a modern ikebana in a vessel that is profoundly historical in its form. I had in mind the classical bronze usubata vessels that I have only ever seen used for Rikka and Shoka arrangements. A couple of times I have seen people with no knowledge of ikebana buy such vessels as antique objects and then try to arrange flowers in them (with mixed or unconvincing results).

Interestingly, 18 months ago Laurie and I were given one such vase by a childhood friend of mine as a wedding present. My friend thought it was for burning incense. Now, I thought, I will have to see if I can find a way to make this work. In advance, my apologies to practitioners of the Ikenobo School for whom this vessel would have been made.

In my ikebana at the workshop I have used stems of Umbrella grass, cyperus alternifolius. I did three things that some people would say I should not do. The first is making a very spare, modern arrangement in a traditional vessel. The second is that I have deliberately placed some of the material on the table surface. The third is that I have made a reasonably close copy of an arrangement that Hiroshi Teshigahara made for one of the earliest printings of the third Sogetsu text book. His arrangement was illustrating the exercise of 'making a surface by massing lines'. 

I was not displeased with the result. I am reminded of the way contrasts of modern and traditional aesthetics are successfully combined by greater artists than myself, such as the glass pyramid by I. M. Pei at the Louvre in Paris.

More photos from the workshop.

Greetings from Christopher
26th May 2019 


Yesterday, Laurie and I visited some friends at Anglesea which is the next town along the coast west of Torquay. The township is surrounded on the north and west by a state park incorporating the Anglesea Heath and bushland. The bushland seems to flow into the township the way a garden can flow into a well designed house.  As a consequence, there is an abundance of native flora and fauna. When we turned the corner into the street where our friends live we were surprised to see three Eastern Gray Kangaroos hopping across the road.

Meet 'Erica', in the red collar and blue ear tag. She and one of her 'adolescent' young were photographed by Laurie feeding as they foraged in our friends' front garden. Their vegetable garden has a very high fence!

These kangaroos are easily seen on the Angelsea Golf Course where they enjoy the nourishing short grass. The mob is monitored by research scientists from Melbourne University's Zoology Department, who have tagged and identified many of the animals.  

What is the connection with ikebana? The unique art of ikebana that has come to us from Japan is grounded in an appreciation of the natural world. It is also able to address the relationship of humankind to the natural world. At a recent class I attended, Elizabeth  set us the exercise of making an arrangement that incorporated a man-made product, paper.

This photo shows the work of Pearl, one of my fellow students. She has carefully rolled black and fawn card into small straw- like tubes which she has then joined together. The massed lines that she has made had a lovely texture that contrasted with the spiralling vessel and the dahlias.

For my arrangement I decided to use newspaper, because it is so ubiquitous that we don't usually think about it after we have read the news. I am intrigued with the properties of paper. Especially that such thin flimsy sheets can have considerable strength when rolled, folded or even scrunched. I used this conical metal vase so that I could show that the paper could support its own weight and appear to be blowing in the breeze. 

Last weekend I attended a Saturday workshop of the Melbourne Ikebana International Chapter that was led by Emily Karanikolopoulos. She set the theme of an ikebana arrangement that represents a particular movement. This idea is taken from the advanced curriculum of the Sogetsu School.

This was my work that, as I hope you have guessed, represents the movement of 'zigzagging'. I have used the stems only of umbrella grass, cyperus alternifolius. I think this is ikebana as sculpture. This is because the material has been reduced to straight green lines and is not easily identifiable. Although I did experiment with adding a flower, the effect was to weaken the ikebana.

Click here for more photos of the Saturday workshop.

Greetings from Christopher
18th May 2019


One group of my students are members of the University of the Third Age (U3A) where I live in Torquay. As this is a community organisation, we share facilities with other organisations. Last week, unexpectedly, our class room was not available. A quick change of plans led to holding the class at home, creating an additional layer of complexity.  We had also to think about where the ikebana was to be sited. 

I had set the students the exercise of making an arrangement using two kinds of berries. Of course all the arrangements were richly autumnal. You will note that all the students had gathered cotoneaster berries that are readily available locally. When it came time to photograph the arrangements, I moved most of them to the niche in the living room.

Judy used some particularly large rose-hips from her garden, which she massed and contrasted with a line of cotoneaster branch.

Val also used two slanting lines of cotoneaster berries and two small masses of black berries from an unidentified plant.

Helen T used the large surface of some strelitzia leaves as a background to highlight her bright red cotoneaster berries. Her small black coloured berries are massed at the base. 

Marta used two branches of cotoneaster berries and a mass of pittosporum in the centre of her ikebana.

Kim set his ikebana on a low wooden box. He chose as his vessel a two-level bamboo steamer, that sat on a ceramic bowl to give the work additional lightness. His materials were cotoneaster berries, a small branch with black olives and a mass of acacia baileyana.

The next series of photos are from a class I attended with my teacher, Elizabeth. Last week we were given the exercise of creating an ikebana work using 'Green Plant Materials' only. This exercise is from the advanced curriculum in the Sogetsu school.

Dianne used some long leaves, asparagus fern and a lime branch with a single fruit arranged in a tall black vessel.

Swan arranged variegated aspidistra leaves and small chrysanthemum flowers in two matching green glass cylinders.

I had collected some reeds and stripped their leaves off as I wanted to show the variations in the green on the stems. I have varied the texture by adding dark-green clivia  leaves for the breadth of their surfaces. The vessel is a stainless steel cone with irregularly placed holes.

Greetings from Christopher
12th May 2019


The beginning of this year has been the driest on record and the exotic plants in the garden have needed extra attention and water to keep them in reasonable health.

On the 4th April the beach looked quite idyllic and rather summery for autumn. The weather was so mild and the sea so calm that the start of the Bell's Beach Rip Curl Surfing Pro had to be postponed for several days.

However, the weather changed three weeks later creating big seas and widely spaced waves.

This is Bird rock in summer mode a few years ago...

... and then at high tide when the waves were rolling. 

In this photo Bird Rock can be seen from the other direction and the cliff-hugging plants that are able to tolerate the prevailing westerly winds of winter. 

It is such wintry weather conditions that result in Moonah melaleuca lanceolata, growing such beautiful branches.

This week's ikebana features two more heads of the Hydrangea macrophyla (that I used a couple of weeks ago in a basket arrangement), and a branch of Moonah. 

When thinking about arranging the hydrangea I realised that it would work well with the large green bowl-shaped vessel made by Isabella Wang. Because the arrangement was to be placed in the 'niche' in the living room I had to take into account that it would be seen through 180 degrees. The photos below are against a back-drop.

This first photo shows the view of the arrangement when coming from the kitchen.

This view is directly from the front...

...and the final view is from the right hand side. I was pleased that in each of the views there was open space to be seen at the lip of the vessel.

This was the second version of the arrangement. Unfortunately I did not photograph the first version that had three large triangular lines, made from papyrus stems, projecting above the rim of the vessel. When I removed them, because they looked wrong, the thought came to me that I should 'let the materials speak for themselves'. The lines were an additional design element that did not relate to the materials. It made me think about Norman Sparnon's question '...What is the purpose..' of the ikebana? 

These days I re-frame this question to, what is the subject of the ikebana? In this case it was the hydrangea, not my other design ideas. 

Greetings from Christopher
5th May 2019


Last week we visited friends who live near Port Fairy, a couple of hundred kilometres west along the coast from Torquay.  

Low sand dunes separate our friends' property from the beach. A famous landmark in the area is Tower Hill, an extinct volcano, which has a nature reserve within the caldera.  

Seen here from a high point within the nature reserve, the caldera lake is in the middle distance and the flat coastline in the far distance. The Tower Hill Reserve had become badly degraded in the early part of the 20th century, but is now famous for the significant environmental restoration that has been achieved over the last 40 years. One of the interesting information resources in the restoration process was a large landscape painting from the 1850s that showed the flora and fauna present at that time. 

Here three emus are grazing beside the visitor centre.

Four years ago we visited this reserve with our Canadian friends, Dick, (Laurie), Leonora, and Eleanor.

This time we saw a kangaroo grazing at the top of one of the hills.

Meanwhile back in the Torquay garden...

...this eucalyptus tree needed to be rather severely pruned because it was crowding a Cook Pine araucaria columnaris. The pine is in the same family as the Norfolk Island pine.

The Cook Pine is in the centre of this photo and some of the pruning is apparent on the eucalypt on the right.

When the arborist dropped some of the lopped branches on the driveway, I noticed that there were masses of flower buds that I had not seen in the high branches.

I could not resist gathering a few small branches because of the striking brick red of the flower caps that were about to fall off. They teamed beautifully with this vase by the Sydney ikebanist and potter, Margaret Hall.

Greetings from Christopher
27th April 2019