Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Spring Break!

"Spring appears in whispers and hushed tones...."

Taking a much needed Spring break to tend to my garden. Happy Spring everyone!

Friday, March 4, 2016

Kusamono, Shitakusa, and Kokedama for Ikebana: Part 2

Moribana Ikebana


Step One: The first step is to determine the style of Ikebana you wish to create. This will probably be based on the container(s) you have on hand and the flowers and other natural materials you wish to use. This choice determines the Kusamono or Shitakusa you will use.
Ikebana Styles:
A. Upright (Moribana) which is essentially a formal arrangement in a shallow container that uses Kenzan (flower frog) to stabilize the arrangement.
Upright style Moribana arrangement.
Holy Mountain Trading Co. photo.
B. Upright (Nagerie) which uses a tall, narrow container and no Kenzan.
Upright style Nageire arrangement.
Holy Mountain Trading Co. photo.
C. Slanting (Moribana) which again uses Kenzan to stabilize the arrangement which is tilted/slanted.
Slanting style Moribana arrangement.
Holy Mountain Trading Co. photo.
D. Slanting  (Nagerie) which uses a tall, narrow container in which the arrangement is tilted/slanted.
Slanting style Nageire arrangement.
Holy Mountain Trading Co. photo.

E. Cascading (Nagerie) which uses a tall, narrow container in which the main stem hangs lower than the top of the container.
Cascading style Nageire arrangement.
Holy Mountain Trading Co. photo.

Step Two: Select your container and collect the natural materials you have purchased and/or have on hand. Below are the two containers I plan to use for both Upright (Moribana) styles. For this post, I'll be using the Upright style with Kenzan.

Traditional Ikebana bowl for Upright style (with Kenzan)

Non-traditional vase for Upright style.

My selection of materials:

Pussy willow stalks and twigs from tree branches.
Yellow mini-carnations, purple mums, Asiatic Lily and florist's greenery in recognition of Spring.

Step Three: Creating the arrangement:

Collected pussy willow, twigs, flowers, Ikebana container and snipping tools.

After I set the Kenzan in place and added water to the bowl, I began placing the first set of carnations. Note that I always remove most of the leaves on flower stems as they not only draw water from the flowers, they are also the first elements to begin drooping. Of course, if you want, you could remove them when the drooping begins. I just find it easier to do it in the beginning so that I don't disturb the completed arrangement.

Having determined the height of the willow stalks that are to be the tallest elements in the arrangement, I began snipping. Note that each stalk will be slightly shorter than the previous one. Keep in mind, as you go along, two basic Ikebana principles: 1) odd numbers; 2) Heaven (highest element); Humanity (middle element); Earth (lowest element).

Setting the third willow stalk in place after determining where I want it: centered, off-set right, off-set left.
Using the same Ikebana "odd number and staggered height principles" for the chrysanthemums, I placed them beside the carnations. This is the point at which I usually evaluate the total arrangement for balance, principle, harmony and scale.

I added evergreen leaves at base of composition. At this point, I chose not to use the Asiatic lilies but kept to the 3s: willow, carnation, mum.

The completed Ichiyo Ikebana with moss Shitakusa on right foreground. Note how the curved twigs seem to 'embrace' the arrangement.

This arrangement was the most satisfying one for me to date. I still have a long way to go but look forward to the journey.

Your comments and critiques are welcome. 
  1. What would you have done differently, given the elements I had to work with? 
  2. Has this post prompted you to try creating Ikebana arrangements?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Kusamono, Shitakusa, and Kokedama: Part 1

Every flower gets its own tiny test tube
Kusamono arrangement by Christine de Beer

 Image result for ikebana 

While most Westerners are familiar with the Japanese floral arrangements known as Ikebana, few are aware of three other equally popular ways with flowers and greenery. They are Kusamono, Shitakusa and Kokedama. All three styles are meant to enhance the Ikebana, not compete with it, and are usually quite small. Indeed, some are so small that the plant and its container can fit in the palm of one's hand.

My interest in these three styles came about quite unexpectedly: By way of visits to the exquisite Japanese Gardens at Gibbs Gardens in Ballground, Georgia. Since I couldn't possibly recreate a Japanese garden in our own 15'x20' courtyard garden, I had to direct my interest toward something smaller. And what could be smaller than working with nature in miniature.

 Image result for kusamono 

Kusamono can be a single plant or group of plants, in or out of a container. They are usually displayed on a mat, flat ceramic tray, flat piece of sliced tree trunk or bark, or small piece of stone, slate, etc.

Image result for shitakusa

Shitakusa should not be showy and should indicate the season relative to the flowers used in the Ikebana arrangement....Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter. It should also indicate the location where the bonsai or Ikebana flowers might be found....woodland, meadows, near water and so on.


Kokedama may use plants, fern, flowers, etc. However, they differ from Kusamono and Shiakusa in that a container is NOT used. Instead, the natural material, its roots and a small ball of the soil it is planted in are all wrapped by fresh moss which is then tied with string or raffia to contain the material.

I started my journey into this new adventure by scouring local antiques shops, flea markets, and the Internet looking for containers with an Asian resemblance. I lucked out at my first stop, Woodstock Antiques Market, where I found a collection of small bonsai pots, perfect for Kusamono.

Bonsai pot, 8 1/2"x6 1/2"

Bonsai pot, 7"x5"

Bonsai pot, 5 1/2"x4"

Bonsai pot (above) with screen still intact.

I was quite fortunate in finding all 3 pots together in one antiques booth. Beside them was the little gem, below. Measuring only 3" in diameter, it was perfect for a small mound of moss I had on hand. I was now hooked!


My next search was for kenzan, known in the West as flower frogs. I found the two below at one of my favorite haunts, Queen of Hearts Antiques in Alpharetta. 

Kenzan, 7"x4" oval
Kenzan, 4"x3" oval

So far, so good. I had the containers and the kenzan. Next on my list: Small plants. My luck held out again when I discovered my local nursery was having a sale on a group of very small plants - all of which were just right for Kusamono or Shitakusa.

Small plant with multiple shoots.

The plant on the left held 3 small bulbs, two of which I carefully removed and transplanted into individual clay pots. I haven't yet decided how I'll use the two broad-leaf plants.

Next step: Finding moss, a common component in all three Ikebana-related styles. After checking various Internet sites that sell fresh moss, I took a break. That's when luck struck again. While on my way to meet a friend for lunch, I took a back-country road and almost missed it.

I doubled back to check and there it was: A bank on the side of an access road that was full of moss, both bun moss and sheet moss. Moss grows very slowly, between 0.25 to 2.5 inches in length annually, so it's vital that when digging up moss (or any wild growing plants not on an endangered list), that one take no more than a small amount. (Obviously, if this had been private property, I would have asked the owner for permission to dig up a few clumps.)

Delicate Fern Moss and Flat Fern Moss
Left, Fern Moss; right Flat Fern Moss

Along with moss, lichen is also a popular component of all three styles and can be found just about everywhere there are trees. Since we live in a small town north of Atlanta, there are still lots of woods between homes and housing developments, and winter is the best time to find fallen branches covered with lichen.

Have you ever seen lichens and wondered what they were? They seem as though they are from another planet! Lichens are bizarre organisms and no two are alike. Lichens are a complex life form that is a symbiotic partnership of two separate organisms, a fungus and an alga. The dominant partner is the fungus, which gives the lichen the majority of its characteristics, from its thallus shape to its fruiting bodies. The alga can be either a green alga or a blue-green alga, otherwise known as cyanobacteria. Many lichens will have both types of algae.

 I actually found two long branches covered with lichen on the edge of the road where I found the moss. One of them actually did resemble an alien-looking creature and I couldn't resist it.
Lichen on branch 2 feet long.

Close up of "alien face"!

Two kinds of lichen growing close together.

At this point, I had all the components necessary for creating my own Kusamono, Shitakusa and Kokedama....the containers, the plants, the kenzan, the moss and lichen.  All I needed now was patience, instructions and practice. Stay tune for Part 2!