In the garden last week I was very surprised to see this lovely little ring-tailed possum in one of the trees. I have never seen one in our garden in daylight before. Possums are nocturnal, so I suspect this one was disturbed by some of the very noisy, larger birds that were in the garden at the time. 

It did not flee when I went and got my camera...

...however, I think it was being quite wary...

...and wanted to know what I was doing. Here is a link to a YouTube video of a possum feeding in someone's backyard.

A day or two later Laurie told me there was an Ibis in the garden. I took this photo from the bathroom window. What fabulous colours in the feathers on its back and tail. (18/6/2017 Addendum. This is a Straw-necked Ibis. It is not as common in this area as the White Ibis.)

These shades of blue had a wonderful iridescence.  Now, who would have thought this photo provides a link to ikebana?

This week I set my students the challenge of two exercises from the Sogetsu curriculum to be combined in the one ikebana work. The first exercise, relating to the photo above, was to make an arrangement with colours 'In the same tonal range'. This means using colours that would be closely adjacent on a colour wheel, or even shades of the one colour as the dominant aspect of the material. In this exercise the colour of leaves and stems are different they need to secondary to the main colour.

The second exercise was to pay attention to the 'space' within the arrangement.

Val has used various shades of pink from a deep colour through to the orangey pink of her geranium flowers.

Kim has used closely matched the tawny tones of his orchids with the pale yellow of his tortuous willow.

Christine created an arrangement using two kenzans in the kabu wake style, that is, using two or more kenzans. Her two columns of closely related pinks emphasise the central space.

In a second work she has used blues and mauves arching over the water surface in her suiban.

Ellie used vibrantly coloured materials in the warm yellow-orange-red range and carefully inverted one branch to create the space to the left of the main vertical line.

In this second work she has used warm velvety tones of her branches, a brown amaranthus caudatus and banksia helianthus.

Alana used red-tipped leucodendron, red tinged gum-nuts and some unidentified red berries. They have teamed well with her maroon vase.

In her second example she used Hakea Laurina, the red tinged gum-nuts and red tipped leucodendron.

Greetings from Christopher
17th June 2017


Last week I posted the photo below of a tree in rich autumn colours on the Oak Lawn of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne. Being in the gardens again on Monday, I decided to check its botanical name and was amused to see that it is a Liquidambar (liquidambar styraciflua). If I had walked up to the tree previously I would have realised by the leaf shape it was not an oak. Having grown up on the southern coast of Victoria I must admit to not being particularly familiar with northern hemisphere trees.

This week in my class with Elizabeth, our exercise was from the new Book 5 of the Sogetsu curriculum: using a 'Vertical type fixture' Tate-no-Soegi-dome. In Australia this is usually called a 'down stick'. This is the preferred method of securing branch material, especially to stabilise heavy branches. It enables the ikebanist to control the angle of the branch and prevent it from rolling on the edge of the vessel. We were asked to use a difficult vessel in the exercise. Unfortunately I was unable to photograph the arrangement in the class. 

This is the vase I used. It has a narrow opening within the raised rim and the 'shoulders' of the vase are wide. Therefore it was difficult to secure the branch ends against the inside of the vase.

When I came home I re-set the arrangement in a larger vase, also with a narrow opening, and even wider shoulders.

Here is how it looked initially. The long branch on the right-hand side tended to rotate forward so that the buds were pointing toward the viewer instead of up toward the sun. By using the fixing technique I was able to correct this problem.

The addition of two arum lily leaves gave the branches a feeling of freshness.

I then added two autumnal hydrangea heads which picked up some of the warmer colours in the ash glaze of the vase. Thanks to Trish who allowed me to prune the magnolia branches from her garden. The vase is by the New South Wales potter Sergio Sill.

Greetings from Christopher
10th June 2017


While I was in Melbourne this week I particularly noticed the Autumn colours.  

The first autumn leaves to catch my eye were these, cascading over a garden wall. I also made a point of visiting the Botanic Gardens.

The Royal Melbourne Botanic Gardens are situated on a swathe of parkland that slopes down to the Yarra River. The garden is divided by a small valley, with an artificial stream that runs down the hillside to a series of ornamental lakes. This view is at the high end of the garden. It shows the 'English landscape garden' style for which these gardens are famous. The yellow leafed tree in the photo is a Ginko Biloba.

Nearby is the 'oak lawn', with a variety of oaks from across the northern hemisphere. Sadly, some of these trees have been damaged or blown over in recent years during severe storms; thus the small replacement tree in the right foreground. The relatively mild climate of Melbourne, compared to the natural habitat of the oaks, results in them growing and ageing more quickly than would normally be the case.

Beside one path the sun was shining through the leaves of a smoke bush cotinus coggygria. Although it is hard to see in the photo, just to the right is a purple buddleia, that made a lovely colour contrast. 

*          *          *          *          *

On Monday last week, Lee Johnstone lead a workshop for members of the Victorian Branch of the Sogetsu School. The two combined themes were: 'an arrangement to be viewed from all angles' and 'an arrangement with an autumn-winter feeling'. I had noticed orange pittosporum and red cotoneaster berries over the last month and had been wanting to use them in an arrangement. So here was my opportunity.

Unfortunately, the photograph I took at the workshop was blurred so this photo above is a re-working of the subject at home. I have added some 'fingered citron', citrus medica var. sacrodactylis, in the centre as a textural contrast. At the workshop I had used three vine leaves. However, they did not survive the journey home. The vase is by Graeme Wilkie.

I'd also like to draw your attention to a posting on Emily Karanikolopoulos's blog. Her students made some delightful ikebana works from the new Sogetsu Curriculum Book Five. The exercise is a 'Composition expressing a Movement'. You will need to scroll down to the post of 23rd May.

Greetings from Christopher
3rd June 2017


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)