Today we had a late afternoon walk and were delighted to see a flock of Galahs on the power-lines.


Their warm pink feathers contrast beautifully with the pale grey of their body and upper wings and seemed more intense in the afternoon light.

We have just come back to Torquay after spending nine nights in Melbourne. On Saturday last weekend I gave a workshop for members of Ikebana International Melbourne Chapter, which we also opened to visitors. Our intention with weekend workshops is particularly to provide an opportunity for members who are working or otherwise unable to attend our regular meetings. 

The theme of the workshop was 'Bare Branches'. Being winter, it is a seasonally relevant subject. I had prepared two examples and demonstrated a third. 

The intention of my first example was to capture the feeling of the wind, which has sculptured this branch of Leptospermum laevigatum. I added a small sprig of camellia leaves to give the arrangement a feeling of life.

The branches for my second example (Leucopogon paviflorus) were chosen because of the effect of lichen on their surface texture and colour. All the branches were relatively straight so I cut the thickest one to make a sculptural form from short lengths, then added one finer branch and two blue iris flowers for a contrasting highlight.

My third example was a 'no kenzan' arrangement of branches from our apricot tree expressing the stark lines of their wintery state. I have added three orange tulips as a focal highlight.

Further images can be seen at Ikebana International Winter Workshop.

Greetings from Christopher
21st July 2017


This week, as we were out walking, the distinctive cry of a Gang-gang Cockatoo caught our attention. The call of this bird is like the sound of a cork being pulled from a bottle; or like a squeaky door hinge. 

This particular bird was happily feeding on the nectar of a street tree, a cream-flowered eucalyptus. 

It was only a couple of metres above our heads and appeared quite unperturbed by our presence. This was a male bird, identifiable by the red feathers on its head.

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Last weekend I attended a Sogetsu Branch workshop lead by Lara Telford. Her theme was 'Wabi-sabi in Ikebana'. I would like to recommend the excellent article on this concept, which arises from Buddhist philosophy, in Wikipedia Wabi-sabi

As the weather has become colder I have been watching my hydrangea flowers pass from their early autumn greenness to being mottled with dark pink-red spots. This, I thought, would make a suitable subject for the workshop where we would be paying attention to that beauty which is to be found in imperfection. I posted the photo below in 2014...

...this shows a paler version of this year's colouring of the hydrangea. In the workshop I arranged this year's large, richly coloured flowerhead on a long arching stem with only a couple of leaves.

Lara correctly pointed out that it was too beautiful (!) for the exercise. I hope you can imagine my pain when I recognised that she was right. So the large beautiful flower had to go. I bravely cut the flower off, leaving only a single fading leaf on the stem and a smaller flower with a group of leaves at the opening on the vase.

I re-set the arrangement when I got home against a grey background.

This photo shows just how right Lara was in her critique. The focus of the arrangement has become the leaf with its final autumn colouring before it falls. The feeling is one of loneliness.

Greetings from Christopher
15th July 2017

The vase is by Graeme Wilkie of Qdos Gallery.


Last week I commented on the cold weather and said that ' by the sea we rarely suffer frosts...', hmmm, talk about famous last words. The very next morning...

...a patina of light grey covered the ground.


This leaf outlined with frost must have fallen from the apricot tree only the day before.

The birdbath was frozen solid.

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A couple of weeks ago, my teacher set us an exercise from the new Book 5 of the Sogetsu curriculum: An arrangement set on the Table. Among the points of consideration are whether the arrangement will be seen from all angles, that its height does not interfere with the guests' line of sight, and that it is in harmony with other aspects of the table setting.

Below are my fellow students' creations from that class:

Dianne used a 'finger citron' and two variegated leaves in this stylish modern arrangement.

Toula used four matching vases in which she arranged camellias and cotoneaster branches. She removed all the leaves from the branches to emphasise the berries and branch lines.

Marilyn used two complementary shallow vessels. She arranged her camellia branches to arch between them creating a long narrow arrangement.

Swan used a long narrow vessel in which she arranged 'spinning gum' branches and a line of yellow chrysanthemums.

In thinking about this exercise beforehand, I decided to use three matching cup-shaped vases by the Bendigo potter Ray Pearce. Their external appearance reminds me of heavily appliqu├ęd patchwork fabric. The glaze is an olive coloured celadon. Initially I thought to use my cotoneaster branches in a naturalistic manner. However, the branches looked too fussy against the vases, which I found to be unexpectedly visually strong. 

I then decided a strong contemporary design was needed. Using some short lengths of sedge leaves braced across the vases, I removed the berries from the branches and floated them on the surface of the water in crescent shapes that I had created. This massing of the berries significantly increased the impact of their red colour.

Here are the vases re-set on the dining table at home.

Greetings from Christopher
9th july 2017


Japanese flowering quince has to be one of my favourite plants at this time of year, especially to use in ikebana.

This year in our garden the Japanese flowering quince, chaenomeles japonica, seems to have started flowering earlier than last year and more prolifically. I think it may be a result of the removal of a tree in our neighbour's garden that was sheltering the plant. Now it is exposed to the prevailing winds.

I took these photos this morning when it was sunny, 'though only 6 Celsius. Mild by some standards, but cool enough. The temperature may get down to 0 Celsius overnight during the next couple of months. However, living by the sea we rarely suffer frosts. 

On a different bush, given to me by my ikebana friend Joan, this white flower is the first for the season.

These buds are on yet another bush. This one is called Apple Blossom and the petals are soft pink and white. It was only planted last autumn and seems to have settled in well.

Ten days ago was Winter Solstice and I was interested in trying to capture the idea of the longest night and shortest day in an ikebana arrangement. The quince blossom seemed an ideal material, particularly as it allowed me to reduce the colours to red, black and white.


I have set the arrangement in a white bottle-shaped vessel, with a black design, against a dark background 

In this version of the arrangement, which I have had to reverse, I have created a background with a large dark area and a smaller white area to represent the different lengths of day and night at the solstice. 

Here is the arrangement against a plain white background.

And this is how it looked a week later in the niche in the living room. You can see that the blossoms that were fully opened have retained their colour and the more recently opened blossoms are pale.

The bottle-shaped vessel is by the ceramic artist Tadao Akutsu from Mashiko, Tochigi Prefecture Japan. 

Greetings from Christopher
1st July 2017


Three weeks ago, on the 3rd of June, I published a photo of my re-worked ikebana from a workshop given by my colleague Lee Johnstone. The theme was 'an arrangement to be viewed from all angles'. At the time I was somewhat dissatisfied with my own arrangement and also the fact that I only photographed the work from one angle.

This is the previously published photo of my arrangement that I had re-constructed at home after the workshop. Last week I returned to the exercise using the same berry bearing materials to which I have added dried aspidistra leaves for a textural contrast.

In this exercise two things are important. Firstly that there should be some material facing the viewer from every angle. That is, from no angle should the viewer see only the 'back' of the materials. Secondly, from each angle the arrangement should present a different aspect.

Here is the new work from three views. 

I think from this first view, the mass of the aspidistra moving toward the backward-stretching branch on the left is the main focus of the work.

View two emphasises the long line of the pittosporum now stretching forward.

The third view makes the mass of the red cotoneaster berries the main focus of the work.

Last week, after I published the blog, I discovered the beautiful blue Ibis was a Straw-necked Ibis, an uncommon visitor in this part of Victoria.

You also might like to follow this link to the 13th June meeting of Ikebana International Melbourne at which some members made presentations about their experiences at the I.I. Convention in Okinawa in April. 

Greetings from Christopher
25th June 2017


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