The quiet beauty of ikebana

While ikebana has been practiced for more than 500 years, Shimbo says the “freestyle” approach he will take with Grabowsky only began to emerge in the 1920s under the influence of Western modernism. It might not be governed by as many rules as traditional ikebana but nor is it entirely freewheeling. Shimbo says it still relies on a deep understanding of the key principles of styles developed hundreds of years ago.

Making an arrangement that feels right can take years of dedicationCredit:Shoso Shimbo

Shimbo, who studied ikebana in Japan in the late 1980s before moving to Australia in 1989, says ikebana should create a sense of “harmony, simplicity, contrast and space”, and that when it comes to all types of ikebana, practice is everything.

“We recommend students practice many, many times,” he says. “We can explain what the principles are, but you have to unconsciously acquire them. You have to sync them into your brain and your soul. If you are still thinking about them, you are not quite there.”

In this workshop at Beleura House and Garden in Mornington, we are all still thinking about them. We are busy measuring the depth and diameter of our vases to ascertain where to cut our stems, we’re agonizing over angles, ruminating on the size of our open spaces. We’re talking to each other.

Shimbo, however, says he tends to make ikebana in silence and solitude. Despite making an ikebana in public and to music next month, for him it’s usually a subdued affair. He says he makes an arrangement every evening before he goes to bed. It’s his meditation. “I can really clear my brain and sleep well.”


Shimbo advises anyone wanting to perfect their ikebana to adopt a similar habit and make one every day. He says he usually spends about 30 minutes arranging the flowers, leaves, twigs or fruits he has either picked in his garden, or foraged in the street.

Some of his displays look so ethereal, they could be floating; others are more robust and dramatic. Unlike Western arrangements, some of his ikebana works don’t contain a single flower but sometimes the whole universe is reflected in a single leaf.

Go to for information about future workshops and the performance with Paul Grabowsky on September 10.

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