Ikebana, like many Japanese art forms, is a centuries-old practice with a sincere appreciation for nature. Essentially it is floral design taken to the next level. Ikebana takes into account the essence of plants and their specific seasonal moment. It also applies the principles of wabi-sabi to concepts inherent in nature, such as asymmetry and ephemeralness.
Ikebana Goes Wild
I’m a floral design enthusiast, so I was thrilled to hear that Tama Matsuoka of Meadows and More was hosting a an ikebana workshop. Tama’s cousin Akiko Ishida is an ikebana expert. She was visiting from Kyoto, and would guide us through the principles of ikebana. However, this would not be the usual class that she teaches in Japan. She came to New Jersey to explore the use of wild and invasive plants using the methods of ikebana. Generally speaking, most ikebana displays are made from cut branches and flowers. These cuttings are purchased by artists from the market. In this workshop we would be learning the following:
- Optimal cutting of wild plants
- Storing them in water to transition them indoors
- Arranging and display
Cutting and Landing
The definition of ikebana translates to “living flower” in Japanese. It is very important that cut stems retain life and continue to take up water. Before going out to forage in the field, Akiko showed us how to cut the stems so that they could continue to “drink water.” In the photo below she shows us how to cut branches vertically one inch up the stem so that it splits in two. All grasses and stems should be cut on an angle to increase surface area to access water. Both grasses and stems must immediately be put into a bucket filled with cold water.
Akiko experimented earlier in the week with various plants from Tama’s meadow. She learned that they needed to land (rest and drink water) for approximately 24 hours before putting them into displays. This landing time is a transition process that helps take the plant out of shock before moving it indoors. Because of this necessary landing time, we took our buckets with our foraged plants home with us to use for another arrangement. We utilized the already landed flowers that Akiko and Tama had foraged the day before to make our displays.
Then came the fun part of putting together our individual seasonal ikebana arrangements. At first it was a bit nerve-racking placing each plant while trying to keep in mind the wabi-sabi principles of asymmetry. However, once we all got going it was really meditative and peaceful to place each branch and stem. Akiko helped each of us tweak visual elements of our pieces. She reminded us to leave space between certain areas. She also had us place the branches in a direction that mimicked that of their leaves.
In the end, we all created stunning arrangements. Each one had the essence of this mid-spring moment in nature. Yet all of them had a unique design and focus. In the image below you can see a panoramic shot of everyone’s ikebana creation displayed on the porch. It was a delight to stand there with the meadow breeze flowing, taking in the natural beauty that we would be bringing in from the outside.