Like most people, I love fresh flowers. They instantly brighten up the home and add a subtle seasonal style to any setting. My downside however is flower arranging. I’m that person who hopes I can just carefully cut away the bouqet wrapping and plonk them literally exactly as they are straight into a vase of water. I’ve tried, oh I’ve tried, and have been invited to several flower-arranging events over the years but it’s just something my mind doesn’t process.
“Ikebana” then, or the “meditative art of Japanese floral arrangement” may seem like a strange thing for me to attempt. But when I was invited to a lovely evening of a tea ceremony, an opportunity to learn about this ancient custom and to have a go myself, in the cold of January AND in my former stomping ground of Kensington, I thought it might be time to see if this was a floral activity for me.
I have to disclose here and now that I hadn’t heard of Ikebana before the invite came through. Its history goes back more than 550 years ago. Originally displayed by emperors to showcase their sophistication, the Japanese art of arranging flowers has since evolved into a meditative practice for ordinary people. Ikebana is a floral art form where blossoms, branches, leaves and stems find a new life and beauty when removed from nature and placed in a new environment. Rather than simply re-create the shape a flower had in nature, Ikebana creates a new form. Considerations of colour, line, form and function guide each construction. Whilst minimalism is at its heart, each arrangement is individual to the artists’ interpretation or mood.
It was such an honour to have renowned Ikebana expert Tomoko Sempo Yanagi, who has over 20 years of expertise, explain to us the concept and show how to achieve it the less is more look. I wouldn’t describe myself as a minimalist but I definitely err closer to that than maximalism and so taking maybe just 5 or 6 stems but still creating something show-stopping (Tomoko that is, not me!) is very much an appreciated art form.
They key to successful floral arrangements in the Ikebana style is achieving harmony – a yin and yang attributed to asymmetrical design and the use of “odd” groupings (ie, 3, 7, 9 etc) rather than the normal balance of even number arranging. The stems are stuck into something called a ‘kenzan’ which is a bit like an oasis but with very small sharp pins to hold the stems upright.
It truly felt like a very relaxing, meditative process. Ikebana is more than a physical piece of art. The focus is on the process of creation. It is a meditative act typically undertaken in silence for deep contemplation and appreciation for beauty. The whole universe is contained within a single flower and something as small as a petal can open our minds to so much more. The practice combines aesthetic sensitivity, knowledge of the environment and the search for connection with the mystical world of nature. The more we contemplate on each flower, the more we understand the natural cycle of life, seasons and the fragility of the human existence.
I have to say I really enjoyed experimenting with my arrangement, unfortunately I couldn’t capture my arrangement to do it justice but hopefully you can get some idea of the more simple design element compared to flower arranging we may be more familiar with:
If this sounds like something you may like to have a go at, then there is a session taking place this Saturday 8th February at Japan House on High St Kensington just a minute from the underground station. The sessions runs from 2pm to 4pm and tickets cost £20, to be booked here.
Tomoko will embark on an introductory talk and live demonstration, educating on the history and philosophy of this flower-arranging method before guests are given time to themselves to create and arrange in free flow. Specialised Ikebana florists will be on hand to support guests with their practice and offer advice on how to balance the shapes and length of each arrangement to achieve true Ikebena style. You’ll of course be able to take your arrangements home with you.
I’m not sure how much time I’ll spend at home practicing my Ikebana but it’s definitely given me a new outlook on the art of flower arranging and I think I may have found my comfort zone.
Disclaimer: I was kindly invited to this event by funnyhowflowersdothat.co.uk, an initiative of the Flower Council of Holland.