The art of flower arranging

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There are so many ways to arrange cut flowers and plants. Rather than just planting a bunch of flowers in a vase, arranging them neatly can create beautiful artistic statements to show off their beauty. From the simplicity of Ikebana to a more bushy and flowing bouquet, the flower arrangement is very satisfying and beautiful.

Ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arranging. Its roots date back to the 7th century. Although these floral arrangements were originally brought to Japan by Chinese Buddhist missionaries to pay homage to the Buddha, in the 16th and 17th centuries the art was mostly secular. Now the common practice is to place an Ikebana arrangement in an alcove in the house.

There are seven basic principles in Ikebana:

  1. Minimalism: This is the idea that simplicity is one of the main tenets of Buddhism and is realized in the structure of the arrangement.
  2. Silence: take the time to observe nature and bring peace to your mind.
  3. Shape and line: shapes should be natural and have graceful lines.
  4. Shape: Shape is found as you organize it, rather than planned in advance.
  5. Humanity: the arrangement should reflect your feelings.
  6. Aesthetics: Simple and subtle beauty should be the goal.
  7. Structure: The basic structure of Ikebana is a scalene triangle (each side has a different length) bounded by three main points. These are often formed from twigs. The three points represent heaven, earth and humanity.

However, Ikebana is not the only way to achieve beautiful flower arrangements. Flowers can be fashioned to mark the occasion or to symbolize an event. Sometimes structure is important, other times color or aroma can be the main theme.

In San Francisco, the de Young Museum organizes an exhibition called “Bouquets to Art” every June. It is one of the most popular exhibitions organized by the museum. Curators choose artists and florists, then assign each a painting to copy into a flower arrangement. It doesn’t have to be a literal copy; it can be an arrangement that mirrors the colors, mood or theme of the painting on the back wall. The resulting unique and varied bouquets are an amazing art form in themselves. These bouquets spread throughout the museum and are only there for one week. Part of the beauty of flower arranging is the impermanence of the living materials used in this art form.

Here in the Sierra Nevada we have so many natural elements to work with. Only branches or twigs found on the ground in the forest can be shaped into an Ikebana arrangement as a tribute to the gods of the woods around us. Fall leaves, pine cones, sprigs of manzanita, pine needles – even mountain misery – can be arranged into a beautiful bouquet. Flowers are not necessary to create a beautiful statement. Even strategically placed twigs accompanied by a few leaves can enhance an alcove or a table.

Part of the beauty of flower arranging is the peace and relaxation that comes with the process of creating a natural work of art. Deciding where to place each element and then watching your creation materialize is very satisfying. Now that fall has arrived, there are so many beautiful colors to work with. The main thing is to enjoy creating!

Francie McGowan is a former Master Gardener at the University of California Tuolumne County Cooperative Extension.

  • Francie McGowan Boquetsto Art
  • Ikebana arrangement by Francie McGowan

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