Flower arranging the Japanese way
Flower arranging has always struck me as a peculiar hobby. One that involves taking plants, breaking them down, removing them from their life source and then rearranging them for our own pleasure, according to whatever definition of beauty is more popular at the time. I love the practice and the effects can be stunning, but ultimately we act as nature’s undertaker.
The peculiarities of flower arranging are rarely explored in any meaningful way, until that is, I stumbled across the Japanese art of floral arrangement known as Ikebana. A practice that changed my perception of flower arranging forever.
Although Ikebana has been around for thousands of years, it is fairly new to Luxembourg but quickly gaining traction.
Astrid Maton, founder and practitioner at Luxembourg’s school of Sara Goryu Ikebana, trained at the Buddhist temple of Daikakuji in Japan. A site that not only serves as the headquarters for the Saga Goryu school of Ikebana, but also functioned as the residence for the Emperor Saga. The same Emperor who gave his name to the Sara Goryu movement.
Literally translated, Ikebana means living or breathing flowers. A poetic combination. But, it doesn’t stop there. The practice of Ikebana arose from the custom of offering flowers to Buddha and the souls of the dead. Today Ikebana still hinges on many of the principles used in Buddhism: silence, minimalism, symmetry, humanity, symbolism and the incorporation of aspects from both the spiritual and physical world. Like meditation, this practice requires great discipline. “It is an art where you concentrate,” said Maton. Participants are encouraged to work in silence. “To be in silence is to be present,” she said.
Floral art with a heart
When picking and choosing what foliage to use the approach is both sustainable and ecological. The cycle of the seasons is respected. Only local, seasonal plants are foraged - no roses in January here, thank you.
For Maton, the practice of Ikebana, like the nature of plants, encourages us to reflect on our roots and reminds us of the fragility of life. We are inseparable from nature and the environment around us and each floral arrangement should reflect and reinforce this.
Foliage is curated and assembled to symbolise the heavens above, the earth below and the precarious position that we, as humans, occupy in between.
“Everything has a beginning, a maturity and a decline,” said Maton. “Each phase [of a plant] has importance: from the bud as a symbol of life force…to the strong branch.”
It is not about perfectionism though. “We will not reject a leaf that has been damaged or nibbled. This is an aspect of life that deserves to be preserved,’’ she added.
Kadõ or the way of flowers
Gone is the floristry foam of traditional Western arrangements, whose green colour belies its unecological existence. Ikebana uses non-corrosive metal flower holders such as the spiked, pin cushion styled kenzan or the perforated shippo variety. Alternatively, plants can be supported by their vase, or propped up with natural features, such as stones or branches.
The days of throwing a bunch of cut flowers and foliage into a vase of water have gone. This is a process that takes time and patience.
‘‘Each plant has its own way of presenting itself, of behaving - it does not always allow itself to be handled as one would wish,’’ Maton said, adding it is important to ‘‘learn to work with the plants, to get to know them. Not all of them are easy to work with and each reacts differently.’’
Ikebana encourages us to become the architects of our own creation. Each arrangement offers the participant a lesson. Whether teaching the complexity of nature, the meaning of balance, sustainability, inner peace or patience - there is a lesson to be learnt.
A relevant art form
Interest in this Japanese art form is growing and this year Maton will lead workshops at various locations in the Grand Duchy. Anna Barcia, a participant at one of Sara Goryu’s workshops, says it was her interest in Japanese art and culture that shaped her decision to try the practice. The hardest lesson/part? ‘‘I had to adapt to the goal [of minimalism]’’, she said. ‘‘I wanted to add more flowers, but the teachers were adamant that less is more’’.
Barcia feels the process and practice of Ikebana is about more than creating a floral arrangement. For her, it’s an art. One that feels as relevant in today’s society as it was centuries ago.
Check out future workshops with the Ikebana Saga Goryu School here.
Visit the Mudam’s Exhibition A Cloud and Flowers to observe Ikebana first hand.
Visit the Nature Museum’s Upcoming exhibition on Japan : the Spirit of Shizen from the 1st July. With dozens of Japanese orientated workshops on offer there really is something for everyone.