The oriental art of flower arranging has fascinated westerners for years. A recent meeting of the Naples (Florida) chapter of Ikebana International displayed many examples of prize-winning arrangements created according to rules laid down in three schools: Sogetsu, Ohara and Ikenobo. The event also provided two members of the Chester Garden Club with a unique opportunity to watch a master of the art at work.
Naples resident, Mah Tavallali, who studied in South Korea to earn her IM Wha Kong Diploma as a master of the Ohara School of Ikebana, gave an interesting demonstration on creating arrangements. She emphasized Ikebana’s Zen-like approach to dealing with nature and that, as its practitioners learn to appreciate and work with natural materials in creating pleasing designs, they also learn the value of patience. Most of the photos included in this post show arrangements done by members of the Naples Club. The one above, on the right, was done as an Ikenobo freestyle, using Umbrella Papyrus stems bent to create geometric patterns, offset by Calathea blossoms.
Surrounded by a large supply of exotic floral material that she had gathered from local Florida gardens in preparation for her talk, Mah explained that there were many subdivisions in the Ikebana classification. In the Ohara school, the “rising” or “slanting” forms can be either small, with two main stems forming the subject and object, or larger with three main stems forming subject, secondary subject and object. The subjects may be composed of similar material but the secondary version can have a different shape or texture. It is subservient to the main subject and usually placed in front of it. The object is usually about half the height of the main subject. Once the main elements are placed, they are surrounded by “fillers” – plant material that differs from the subject and object. Pointing out that curves are always preferable to straight lines in any arrangement, Mah actually changed the appearance of straight stems in her designs by bending the stalks to form a shape that would conform to the “curve” principle.
Stressing the principle that the flowers and stems should bend upward and not gloomily downward, Mah added that the stems of subjects and objects should not touch each other, that it was important to leave space between all the elements of an arrangement. She also mentioned that the triangle shape is very important in Ikebana, whether in the upward shaping of an arrangement or in the simple placing of three objects on a horizontal surface. As seen in the photo below (right), Mah often stripped most of the leaves from a branch if she wanted to reveal the shape of the branch or any fruit that might be hanging from it.
Ultimately, the images and explanations in this post provide only a mere glimpse of the many fascinating ways in which Ikebana arrangements can be created, especially when sub-tropical foliage and flowers are available, as in Florida. More information is of course available in libraries and on the internet. We hope, however, that this brief joint post (by Sylvia and Joan) will serve to inspire gardeners and wanna-be floral arrangers in more northern climes where, by following similar principles but using local plants, they can produce their own lovely arrangements.