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Simplicity is the ultimate sophisticationLeonardo da Vinci

So much of what is unique and compelling about the arts of Japan is the emphasis on the natural world, and ikebana – the Japanese art of flower arranging – is no exception.

An ikebana arrangement is great choice for a table centerpiece when you want to treat guests or your very own family to something special at mealtime.

With a simple design like this one –

or one similar to it – you can bring the outside into your home and create a contemporary, one-of-a-kind look while spending very little money and even less time.


First, you want to consider the plant. In my case, I wanted to keep costs down (to zero, actually), so I looked for what was on hand. And that was several containers of a ridiculously easy-to-grow plant known as the Wandering Jew. Lush with purplish-pink and green leaves . . . I think these plants are gorgeous, and it’s because they are virtually impossible to kill that I have so many of them.

So, now that you’ve got the plant, how do you begin to “work it”?

Sources of inspiration abound on the web and in books, of course. I found mine in a free-style arrangement on display at an ikebana exhibition in Nagoya.


I based my design on this arrangement because its foliage was similar in weight and form to that of the plant I was working with; the leaves of my Wandering Jew seemed suited for this seemingly wild but controlled arrangement.

In imitation of the group of tall curvy vases used in my inspiration piece, I selected a trio of glass vases made by IKEA.

I used only three vases because I had only three vases of the same design, but larger groups of five or more are fine. (The number four is considered “unlucky”.)

You can find several types of cutting tools designed for the practice of ikebana if you look around, but for this project, you need only a pair of sharp garden shears like the one I used.

As you work, you will want to pay attention to maintaining asymmetry (rather than the balance of symmetry characteristic of Western design) in the placement of your cuttings, even in the positioning of the vases.

My arrangement is a pared down version of the inspiration piece since I was in a minimalist frame of mind when I created it. Feel free to pile it on and add color with flowers if you’re so inclined! And if you use vases made of glass, don’t forget to fill them with water up to the point where the neck joins the body – so that the waterline is not discernible – before cutting and placing the stems.

For the sake of comparison with a vase that is being marketed specifically for use in ikebana, take a look at another vase that would have served my design well. You can be as creative as you like with the great range of vases in various shapes and sizes and prices that are available online.

An ikebana vase similar to mine in size, color, and effect – found at

To learn more about this classy and ancient art, check out Ikebana International (II). There you’ll find information on ikebana training and exhibitions worldwide, possibly in a city near you. II chapters meet in most of the 50 states and on every continent except Antarctica. Very few flowers there.

Those who practice ikebana deal with color, form, and the design process. Would you be more apt to learn about Japanese culture as a student of ikebana or while engaged in a more physically active art such as judo or karate?