There is just something about having at least a handful of fresh flowers in the house, even if the budget is tight. You take them home, fill a vase with water, and add your flowers. They look good. Do they look great? Do they look as great as you hoped they would, or are they just a handful of blooms stuck in a vase?
If you knew how to turn a handful of flowers into ikebana, they would look beautiful! You could create art from your handful of flowers. In the U.S.A., we call such art floral design or flower arranging. In Japan, they call it ikebana. The word means, “to make alive flowers” and that makes all the difference.
A Handful of Flowers and other Plants
I first studied Ikebana in the small mountain village of Karuizawa, Japan. The teacher arrived each week with a handful of flowers for each of us. In the deep snow of a Karuizawa winter, it was hard to buy flowers. Often, we worked with a handful of leaves, bare branches, and just three flowers. However, we soon learned to turn that handful of “flowers” into ikebana. We made them look as though still alive in a wintry garden.
A Handful of Flowers at the Supermarket
Fresh flowers abound year-round now, but florist prices can make ikebana seem like a costly hobby. It doesn’t need to be costly if you use this trick. Buy a handful of flowers at the supermarket. Buy the least expensive bouquet they offer, and you’re ready to create beautiful ikebana. Read this blog’s review of Ikebana – Guide Book for Beginners, and get yourself a copy of the easy-to-understand book. In it, you can learn how to add a few leaves or twigs from nature when your supermarket bouquet contains none.
Check the flowers in various supermarkets and see where you can find the freshest. Ask which day of the week is best for buying the least expensive flowers. Compare prices at different supermarkets.
You may want to buy the flowers where you shop weekly, since they will know you are a regular customer and may help you get the nicest selection. Make the acquaintance of employees in the floral department, and you may get special help in the way of materials they trim away to create bouquets. Such miscellaneous items may be just what you need for your project.
Use your imagination when looking for plant materials. Ikebana masters and their students create with many materials other than flowers. Keep your eyes open for appropriate leaves, branches, twigs, and vines. Use fruits with your flowers, too, to make unusual and exquisite floral designs.
You can keep your ikebana displays fresh longest by understanding what the Japanese call mizuage: how the plants take in water. Watch for cutting techniques such as cutting the plant stem underwater. Don’t be afraid to get out a small hammer, too, and pound certain stems so they can draw up water more readily. Just take time to learn which method of mizuage each flower or stem needs and use the right one.
Basic Ikebana Tools
You can launch your hobby with very simple equipment. You will do best with two pairs of ikebana scissors and a sharp kenzan such as those pictured above.
- Scissors. You could use all-purpose shears, but you will get better results with a pair of 6-7” Japanese ikebana scissors. They cut the stems cleanly with little effort. You will the ikebana scissors to cut your flowers’ stems, leaves, and even larger branches from a shrub or tree. If you cannot get a pair like those above, you can use regular garden shears. I recommend that you invest in two pairs of these small scissors, dedicating one for flowers only, and the other for branches. Keeping your scissors sharp will let you cut stems with clean, crisp cuts.
- Kenzan. A kenzan is often called spiky frog or simply frog in English. This wonderful little tool consists of a heavy lead plate embedded with erect brass needles on which to anchor your flower stems and other plant materials.
Those simple tools, available at Amazon, will get you started on Ikebana.
How to Turn a Handful of Flowers into an Ikebana Hobby
You may be surprised to learn that both men and women do ikebana. In fact, records indicate that formidable Japanese samurais practiced ikebana as a relaxing hobby! You might call it their “R and R,” i.e. rest and recuperation away from usual duties to refresh a military person. Japanese men enjoy beauty and getting in touch with nature.
Of course, women also relax with ikebana. Young Japanese women in the 19th century were raised to believe that if they mastered the art of ikebana, they would enjoy greater chances of marrying a good husband, becoming a good housewife and mother. At a time when arranged marriages prevailed, a girl considered all the help available.
But that was then – this is now. What you and I are considering is…
… how to turn a handful of flowers into ikebana we can pursue as an ongoing hobby.
The process in six simple steps
1. Start right. Seek professional guidance from a book or online ikebana course. Be sure it is Japanese Ikebana.
2. Purchase the few basic tools you will need. You can add more later, or invest in quality down the road.
3. Select a store where you can purchase flowers on a regular basis and budget money to do so.
4. Begin your studies, paying attention to detail as you relax with the creative process.
5. Practice – looking at the beauty, and enjoying every ikebana creation, beginning with the first one.
6. Remember that it takes only a handful of flowers such as the handful of violets above.
Learn how to turn a handful of flowers into ikebana and you will have a hobby that provides an escape from the daily grind of life. The creativity will make you feel productive and give you confidence as you navigate the learning curve. It won’t be long until you are creating truly beautiful flower art.