While the art of ikebana dates back to sixth-century Japan, we’re focusing on a newer interpretation that makes this age-old art form feel a bit more freestyle. In its simplest form, ikebana is all about creating a triangular composition that features three floral elements of varying heights. Traditionally, the tallest floral was said to represent heaven while the lowest represented earth and the bit in the middle represented man as he tried to negotiate between the two.
But don’t let all of those metaphors intimidate you! Ikebana should expand your appreciation of beauty and the natural world, and it doesn’t take a floral masterclass to achieve that goal. The arrangement and tutorial from Elizabeth Ulrich is quite simple. Here we’ve placed just four floral stems at various angles to create a look that is light, modern and quirky — and so easy to recreate at home!
Select your vessel
You can use a special ikebana container or a simple bowl, but you will need a flower frog to help hold your flower stems upright and at the correct angles. If you’re not familiar with flower frogs, they are metal or lead devices that sit at the bottom of a container to hold flowers in an arrangement in place with metal needles.
For this arrangement, we used a vintage handmade ceramic bowl with a flower frog built into the bottom of the vessel. While you can purchase a similar ikebana container online — we like these handmade options via the Doug Smith Pottery shop on Etsy — you can also make your own version at home by placing a flower frog at the bottom of a small- to medium-sized bowl.
Gather your flowers
Here’s what we used from left to right:
- White Hyacinth
- Lavender Sweet Peas
- White Sweet Peas
Because ikebana focuses on appreciating the current season, we chose a spring mix of sweet peas, hyacinth and a pretty poppy, but it’s OK to go off script and focus on the local, seasonal options that speak to you. Even foraged items from your backyard make for beautiful arrangements. Flowering branches in spring and branches with colorful leaves in fall make great additions.
Measure and cut
Select your primary stem and cut to size. The goal is to achieve that classic triangular ikebana shape with stems of varying heights. To start, choose your primary stem, which will be the tallest in this arrangement (about 5-6 inches tall). In this case, we chose to cut the poppy and the white sweet pea to a similar height to give the thin stem of the poppy some more heft and impact.
Measure and cut the other two stems. Cut your secondary stem (the lavender sweet pea) to 2/3 the size of the ornamental stem. Your ornamental stem (hyacinth) will be the shortest and should be cut to about half the length of the primary stem.
Arrange your stems
Our arrangement is loosely based on the tatehana style, which translate as “standing flowers” because the stems seem to stand upright in their container. This is where the flower frog comes in handy because it allows you to stand your primary stem upright while holding the others at slanted angles. Place the primary stem vertically in the back left portion of your flower frog.
For this arrangement, we placed the poppy and white sweet pea side by side. Both should be standing straight up. Next, place the secondary stem in the front left portion of the flower frog and tilt it to the left at a 45 degree angle. Finally, place your ornamental stem in the front right of the flower frog and tilt it to the right at about a 60 degree angle.
Check your work
At this point, the flowers should form a triangular shape.
Admire the arrangement as it ages
While you’ll want to change the water in your container every other day to extend the life of your flowers, take the time to appreciate each stem as it droops, fades and drops its petals. Ikebana celebrates the fleetingness of beauty and the brevity of life. Taking the time to acknowledge and admire the constant movement and changes in your arrangement will make the practice of ikebana all the more meditative.17