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An afternoon of traditional Japanese flower arranging: my introduction to Ikebana

I was lucky enough to visit the Ohara School to try my hand at Ikebana, a traditional form of Japanese flower arranging. Ikebana is brand new to me, and I’m glad I could undertake my first lesson under the expert eye of Ruriko, a masterful practitioner of the art. Ruriko’s expertise and the soothing atmosphere made for a mindful experience and granted me some skills that I was happy to be leaving with.

The word Ikebana literally means ‘living flowers’. This makes sense as the subtlety of the discipline brings characterful charm to the arrangement made. I was encouraged to make my flowers look as if they were talking with each other. Outstretched foliage akin to gesturing limbs and flowerheads at cocked angles craft the dynamic of a living, breathing interaction. ‘Which way is it to the station?’, ‘Dad, can I please have a biscuit?’, ‘I like turtles, they’re my favourite animal!’. Now, I might have been overthinking, but keeping such scenarios in mind aided me in setting the framework for an animated display.

Thankfully, there was clear and concise guidance about the practicality of achieving a great display. Rules and structure let me leave with something done right, not just a mad mash of flowers having a chat in my mind. Specifically, we learned a form of Ikebana known as the ‘rising form’ for framework. To start my rising form, I took my ‘subject’ a dominating piece of ruscus, strictly measured to compliment the bowl my flowers and foliage would rest in. Next, a ‘secondary’ stem of ruscus to sit a little lower than the subject and support it visually. After that, an ‘object’ in my case, a lisianthus flower was added. The object breaks up the symmetry and adds a natural dimension to the Ikebana. Lastly, I used remaining pieces of foliage to fill space low down as a bed to enrich the shape.

My ‘rising form’ Ikebana

I was pleased with my finished product and enjoyed assembling it most of all. Ruriko made it look easy, but it certainly was challenging to get right, and even harder to know when to stop. Tweaking and repositioning could go on for ever as every subtle change can edit the form dramatically. The animation and appeal of a well-made Ikebana certainly isn’t overtly flashy. Space, relation and angles are what catch the eye here. Essentially a ‘less is more’ approach, distinctly different from eye popping bloom bursts of western floristry. Giving our individual flowers room to balance with their counterparts is what makes a well-made Ikebana come to life.

At Jar and Fern we utilise similar principles to decorate our terrariums and bouquets. We always encourage creativity within a framework of practicality, allowing plants or flowers to thrive harmoniously in relation to one another. If we’re making up one of our corked jar terrariums, we use a dominant plant as a centre piece, placing it in the middle to grow unhindered. There’s consideration of textures, colours and shapes, just like in Ikebana, giving our arrangements a sense of depth and personality. Thoughtful placement is a big part of what we do and, in our eyes, it’s part of what makes our workshops such mindful experiences. Whether you want to go all in with your creative flair or take expert design tips from one of our instructors, we’re happy to help you make a beautiful, long-lasting specimen of mindful horticulture.


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