Monday, 27 January 2020

Happy Lunar New Year to all of you celebrating it.

Hello all,

I made the two arrangements, above, for our neighbours on either side, who are Chinese. I used red and gold spray on the dried agapanthus, white and blue hydrangeas and alstroemeria psittacina. We are very lucky to have neighbours, with whom we get along very well. I love giving ikebana arrangements to people I know will appreciate them. And they are very generous too, sending freshly made dumplings, as well as other goodies and, most importantly, allowing me to cut anything I want from their gardens.

Below is a photo of my gloriosa lilies, which I grow in pots against a north facing wall. They are tropical plants but do very well in this sheltered position.

I used the flowers in the two arrangements, below. In the first, I used pear stems with the gloriosa lilies in this odd, bottle shaped vase, which is closed at the top but has two openings just below the top. In the second one I used a mass of the gloriosas and a long stem of Port St Johns creeper (Podranea ricasoliana), which grows over the fence from our southern neighbours. The container, which I won in a raffle at Ikebana International, is one I'm particularly fond of.

Mass, line and colour.

Last week, as Sam and I were returning from a market just outside the city, we came across a prunus full of yellow fruit. Over the years I've become very good at noticing material as I'm driving. Many's the time I slammed on the brakes suddenly, terrifying any passenger next to me, because I saw something along the roadside, potentially useful for ikebana. This time Sam was driving and, very kindly, agreed to make a u-turn and go back to cut a stem or two for me.

I removed quite a lot of the side shoots, leaving only those facing one direction and creating a wind-swept look. I used New Zealand flax, which I split and bent to follow the same lines. The fruit on the table add to the effect. Of course, the container had to be strong and heavy to hold the very heavy branch.

The next two arrangements came to be because I've been gardening in areas that I have neglected for a while and discovered beautiful material crying out to be used.

In the first one I used Lyn's dahlia (so called because a former student, Lyn, gave me the rhizome) and Lee's hosta leaves (because Lee Johnstone, a colleague gave me the plant)

In this next one, I found this stem of viburnum opulus as I was crawling under the shrub, weeding. It has developed this interesting habit because it was squashed under other branches. The two kniphofia are quite small and, so, more manageable than the larger ones I have growing. And I like the colour of the hydrangeas against the yellow kniphofias and container (self made).

The materials in the next arrangement were sitting in a bucket,  left over from other arrangements. I decided to quickly put them together in this container. Well, they came together, alright, but not quickly. The weight of the crocosmia required some mechanics to secure them upright. I wired each bunch at the base, then pinned them where they meet. This was almost enough. The addition of the agapanthus, wedging in, was what secured them properly.

I'm sure you all know the dreadful, unprecedented, wild weather we have been experiencing. Last week it, literally rained mud. It was a combination of a dust storm with heavy rain. Everything was covered in red dirt. Since then, for all the arrangements that I made I, first, had to wash the dirt from the materials. Below are a couple of examples.

Viburnum opulus and cornus siberica alba

Gymea leaf
I've been asked by a couple of you to explain how I manipulate the agapanthus flowers. I have explained this before, so I apologise to those of you who have already read it but there are, always, new readers and I'm happy to explain it again.

This can only be done when the stems of the flower buds are very soft and pliable, in other words, very young. I bend them towards the ground and put a fork over them. Then, as they grow reaching for the sun, they create the curves in the stem.

My sister and student, Vicky, cuts a slit in a leaf near the bud and fits the bud through it, to keep it bent. I've tried this but, because mine are growing so vigorously, they split the leaf and continue to grow straight.

And now, I'd like to leave you with some happy news. You may remember during a particularly strong wind, a couple of months ago, the trunk of our nectarine tree broke. It was quite heart breaking, as I loved both the tree and the fruit. Well, nature has a wonderful way of recovering. I was delighted to discover that a fresh new shoot is growing from the roots of the original tree, eliminating the need to plant something else in its place. We quickly put the rods around it to protect it, mainly from our lawn mower man, who would have gone right over it with his ride on mower.

Bye for now,

Monday, 20 January 2020

Hello all,

Yesterday I was rummaging in my store room under the house, which is bursting at the seams with ikebana material that has been used before and might get used again. I have a huge amount of dried material hanging from hooks in the ceiling. A piece of bark that was loosely attached fell, narrowly missing me. I took it as an omen to make an arrangements with it.

I thought I should try using one of the  containers, which are stored away in our other storeroom and, it's a case of "out of sight, out of mind". The cylindrical container with its large holes and white interior meant that the arrangement should be as pleasing on the inside as the outside. I used two pieces of bark, one on the front and a smaller one on the back. The green material are papyrus flowers with lovely, long. straight stems. I'm grateful to my student Shaneen for the plant she gave me last year. She grows hers in a pond but, since I don't have a pond, I grew mine in a bucket. It has done surprisingly well, providing me with 6 flowers.

I've been enjoying the relatively less hectic pace since Christmas. I'm not running classes and schools are still out, so I'm not doing school runs. The house and garden still require the usual amount of work and, whilst we're enjoying this steady rain, it means I don't have to spend as much time watering. So, I'm playing with ikebana and sewing instead.

The summer calla lilies have done very well this year. I wanted to feature them on their own, making an arrangement on the theme 'Using one kind of Material'. It is not visible in the photograph but the stems are not resting against the side of the container but are freestanding.

The very first of my gloriosa lilies had to be cut and arranged. I used squiggly grass to add volume and movement to the arrangement.

The crocosmia have suffered a little this summer because we have had some plumbing done in the area where they grow and they have been trampled. Wth the plants lying flat on the ground the flowers that have emerged, have gown upwards, creating almost a right angle on the stem. I removed all the leaves to expose this angle and have massed them in this angular container that I made at the Sogetsu kiln. The bent agapanthus reflects the angles of the crocosmia and the container.

In the next three arrangements I have re-used materials. The two garlic flowers, below, have been used not once but twice before. The leafy stem is wisteria and the cheeky container I bought in Vietnam.

The curved agapanthus was used once before but still had enough life in it to warrant using it again.  In the last arrangement it's the squiggly, black wire that I have re-used with the tall garlic flowers and squiggly grass. By the way, I can recommend growing garlic for its flowers because, apart from being beautiful, they are long lasting. They, also, dry very well and can be sprayed any colour.

And here's an arrangement just because.

I'd like to leave you with a rather poignant anecdote. Less than a month ago our  friend, Elizabeth Evans passed away, having finally succumbed to the cancer she was fighting for the last three years. I met Lizzy in the early 70's when we were working together in a law office. We retained the friendship long after we stopped working together, meeting infrequently but when we did, we would pick up where we left off.

On one of our visits at the palliative care facility I took a floral arrangement, as I always do when visiting people in hospital. Because my arrangements are based on ikebana and they are, therefore, different to the commercially available arrangements, they draw a lot of attention. This was no exception. Lizzy seemed to like the arrangement with aspidistra leaves and disbud chrysanthemums. (I wish I had thought to photograph it). When I was speaking with her husband after the funeral, he told me that she had requested that one of the flowers be placed in the casket with her. I was so moved, words fail me.

Bye for now,

Monday, 13 January 2020


Hello all,

It is with a very heavy heart that we said good bye to our beloved cat, Lexie. She adopted us 17 years ago at a time that we needed her but didn't know it.

She arrived at our doorstep one night as our daughter Madeline returned home from an outing. We assumed she belonged to a neighbour and, because we live on a main road, we took her in intending to return her home in the morning. It turned out that our next door neighbours had rescued her after she had been thrown into the bushes in front of their house by a passing motorist.

Lexie kept running away from the neighbours and coming to our house, probably because they had three boys and a little dog. So my two teenage children and I wanted to keep her and the neighbours were quite happy to let us. We had one problem - Sam. He was away overseas at the time and we couldn't make such a decision without him. Unfortunately, Sam disapproved of animals in the house. Understandably so, since he grew up in a little village where animals were for food or work and not for something so frivolous as a pet. We begged and pleaded and, for our sakes, he agreed.

Off to the vet we took her and then home.

When Sam returned he was not much pleased. The cat, however, took one look at him and it was love at first sight. She followed him down to his office, had a good sniff around and selected his fax tray as her spot. She sat there, next to him all day, every day only coming up when he did. It took her about a week to win him  over. He has loved and cared for her more than all the rest of us put together ever since. In the last year or so, as her illness was progressing and she was constantly wanting to eat whilst at the same time loosing weight, he would buy the best possible food he could find including raw prawns that he would peel and feed her.

Lexie had a profound effect on all of us but, most especially, Sam. It was after she entered our lives that his innate love of all living creatures and nature in general came to the fore.

Last Saturday we went through the heartbreaking experience of having her put down. We then had a burial ceremony in the back yard with the grandchildren present. We felt it was an important experience for them, as they have been asking questions about death. And, now, we're going through the grieving process.

On to something happier. Lucy, Vicky and I went to visit my student Dianne who lives in Trentham near Dalesford, about a two hour drive from my place. Yes, she and her friend Rachel, travel that distance for every class!

Dianne is the owner of Agave Print Studio, where she runs workshops in printmaking and more. Her artwork includes printmaking, encaustic, oil and pokerwork on wooden panels, artist books, on-glaze porcelain and small scale bronze casting. She is quite a dynamo with a great body of work behind her that I cannot do justice to in this post. She has completed her PhD and is a published author. I direct you to her website Agave Print Studio for more information.

Dianne, next to an unusual dogwood, whose flowers have pointy petals. (I'll ask
Dianne for a cutting)
Dianne is also an amazing gardener. I've often been impressed by the materials she brings to class but I was not prepared for the lush and thriving, extensive garden that she has developed in just a few years, almost single handedly. We had a wonderful time walking through her studio, which is housed in the most delightful, 1970s A-frame building, then her home, which I can best describe as eclectic and then her garden. Everywhere we looked there was something unique, interesting or unexpected.

Lucy, Dianne and Vicky with the A-Frame in the background and the mauve coloured
verbena Bonariensis in the foreground.
Then, to top it all off, we were treated to a sumptuous lunch of an amazing home made pie and for dessert, a chocolate mousse cake with rhubarb sauce. Of course, the rhubarb was from her garden. We, even, got to take some rhubarb stalks home. All in all, an unforgettable  afternoon.

Next door to Dianne's place is an empty lot and at the front of it we found what looks like a broom growing wild. It was the black seed pods that attracted our attention and we cut some for ikebana.

I used three agapanthus flowers with these tall broom
stems in my self made container

Close up of the seed pods

I recently drove past the tree that supplies me with osage oranges and helped myself. These are very heavy fruit and need support when used in an arrangement. I chose to mass them at the opening of the large ceramic container. I used white hydrangeas and a New Zealand Flax leaf.

I feel I need to finish this blog on a happy note and this next photo does that for me. It is of my grandchildren Xavier and Aria. I'm no expert on photography but this picture moves me.

Bye for now,

Monday, 6 January 2020


Hello all,

Yes, this is the first post of my blog for 2020. I hope it is the first of many.

Above is a photo of the traditional, Greek, New Year's bread baked by Lucy, which we cut at midnight on New Year's eve. The coin which was in it was won by two people as the knife fell on the coin. The winners were Peter and Parthena. I'm sure they'll have good luck all year.

By the way, as I'm writing this post, I have one eye on the television, watching the Golden Globes. So, if there any mistakes forgive me.

I've spoken of my efforts to protect my precious plants and it paid off, judging by the state of my hydrangea, below. I've been using a bluing agent on some of my hydrangeas trying to change the colour to blue but, obviously, I din't use enough of it because they have turned mauve. I'll keep trying. I have others that I have allowed to remain pink, happy in the alkaline soil.

OK. I just paused Quentin Tarantino so I can concentrate.

During this unprecedented hot weather, I've noticed the resilience of some plants which, rather, surprised and pleased me. One of them is my dogwood, Cornus Norman Haddon, which has been in flower for some time and has remained unaffected by the heat. The flower petals are quite thick and seem to be impervious. I just had to make an arrangement, below. It's loosely based on variation No. 6 with the summer calla lilies for the hikae.

The other plant that has surprised me is my Stephanotis, which is reputed as being rather difficult to grow, as it hates sudden changes in temperature and is prone to mealy bug and scale. Mine was a much prized gift from my colleague, Joan Norbury some years ago. I chose the position to grow it because I wanted it to grow over some unattractive cables that were running down one wall. It has done that and more. It has reached the roof of our two storey house. It produces pure white, heavily scented flowers in summer, which are thick and waxy. I absolutely love them!

I placed a stem in a container but I would not call it an arrangement. Apart from removing some superfluous leaves and flowers, I did little else.

My garlic flowers are also doing very well despite the heat.

Remember this arrangement? I made it almost 6 weeks ago. The flowers have grown bigger but the lower stems, which were in water, became soft and unable to hold up the flower head. So, I cut them shorter and reworked them in  the next arrangement.

And speaking of reworking, here is another'. I used the same dried material in both arrngements. The second one being on the wall. The reason it looks darker is because it's wet.

I'm very blessed to be surrounded by generous people who, every so often, arrive with materials or containers for my ikebana. Just over a week ago I came home and went straight to the back garden to water. There I found  three palm spathes that were not there before. A group text to the immediate family revealed nothing, other than some members asking 'what are palm spathes?'. I found out some days later that they were dropped off by my cousin, Nick, who has helped me many times over the years. He is an engineer with knowledge and machinery that he generously makes available to me any time I need it.

My first inclination was to store the palm spathes away but, I felt, I owed it to Nick to make an arrangement.

I sprayed th inside of the spathe gold as well as the kiwi vine.
It's been an absolute blessing to get some rain here in Melbourne but it's hard to rejoice in it when there are so many people suffering such unbearable loss. Our thoughts are with them. On a positive note, however, it is heartening to see the generosity of Australians and others willing to help. My daughter-in-law, Jeannine had filled her car with various items that she collected from the whole family intending to deliver them where they were needed. She was told to hold off for the time being, as there were already TOO MANY DONATIONS!

Bye for now,

Monday, 30 December 2019

Hello all,

My prolific and versatile agapanthus are in flower again. Above is my first arrangement using the blue agapanthus together with two garlic flowers in a stainless steel vase.

Well, Christmas and all that it entails is over. You, my readers, will know that I was not in the best mood for Christmas this year but it turned out to be very pleasant.  My son, Dennis and his wife, Jeannine hosted the family get-together of about 45 people. There was almost as much food left over as was consumed. My mother always said "If you don't have left overs your food was not enough". Even she would have been happy with the volume and variety of food. Of course, the scales the next morning were cruel in the extreme but I had only my gluttony to blame. New Year's resolution - Keep the weight under control!

Excited grandchildren anxiously waiting to open presents

The immediate family on Christmas eve at Lucy's

The extended family on Christmas day on Dennis and Jeannine's veranda

Before the gang arrived two little girls are enjoying the spraying unicorn and the
wading pool.

I've spoken of the extreme heat we're experiencing this summer and my plight to protect precious plants. I've, also, been cutting materials that, I would otherwise have left on the plants, because the heat would damage them. Below is one of three strelitzias nicolai that Sam cut for me. The other two were given to my sisters. I used kiwi vine sprayed gold and three silver baubles in a ceramic container with a split in it.

I was pleasantly surprised to see my clematis flowering so late in the season and was quick to make an arrangement. It's not so easy to use this vine because it grows downwards but needs the stem to be in water. The two stems I used in the arrangement, below were most accommodating, one of them was growing upwards.

This plant has an interesting method of climbing. Each leaf has a long stalk which curls around whatever it can find. This can be utilised when arranging them as a method of securing. I took a photo of the back of the arrangement  showing how I secured the vine by twisting the leaves together, thus holding everything where I wanted. This is an example of 'Using one kind of material'.

My alstroemerias psittacina are also flowering and are surprisingly resilient. I wanted to feature their lovely long stems but, individually, they are very weak. So, I massed about a dozen of them and retained much of their height for balance. The ceramic vase was a gift from Vicky and the unconventional material is coloured plastic.

Here's yet another arrangement using bent strelitzias reginae. I used New Zealand flax to follow the line of the container as well as the stems of the flowers.

The next arrangement is a simple one but that does not equate to easy. Getting the line to stay this way required some mechanics. I used two split vertical fixtures and nailed them to the kiwi vine at a distance of about 3 centremetres. This was necessary so that they would wedge in tightly when put in the vase. The mechanics are, then, concealed by the rose leaves. And the dear little vase was a Christmas gift from my cousins, Steve and Nieves. Over the years Nieves has bought me some of my most favourite containers. She is not an ikebanist but has a great eye for what I like. Bless her!

Close-up of mechanics

I leave you with another simple arrangement. The focus is on the container, which is made up of a stainless steel, upside down fruit bowl, onto which I placed a small round stainless steel vase. With such a busy container, I had to keep the arrangement simple. I used calla lilies and New Zealand Flax.

Bye for now and have a Great New Year!