Katie Marsano and the Art of Ikebana

“What a fantastic class!” “Such stunning arrangements,” said many of the attendees at the Friends of Robinson Gardens’ first Education lecture of the season on November 19, 2020 at the Virginia Robinson Gardens. The group was delighted by the lovely Katie Marsano’s inspirational lecture/demonstration of “The Art of Ikebana Floral Arrangement.” The lecture was sold out at the socially-distanced event at the Gardens, but fortunately, it was also shown virtually on Zoom to many members.

Education co-chair and past President Ellisa Bregman introduced Katie, a new Friend member. Katie said that her journey started five years ago when she was spending long periods of time in Tokyo and was introduced to an English-speaking Sogetsu Ikebana Master. Originally trained in Western floral arranging, Katie said that she was drawn to the minimalistic style and understated elegance of the Japanese aesthetic of ikebana. “By allowing the unique characteristics of the plant material to be my guide, I felt I was creating living art,” she said.

Katie created three arrangements with the first in the Nageire style where three stems and other plant material rise from a tall cylinder vase. The second is the Moribana where the stems and plants are arranged in a shallow dish-like vase. The third style is Free Style.

In most traditional arrangements, ikebana is defined by three primary stems. Katie explained that the tallest called shin, the medium length called soe, and the shortest called hikae, symbolize heaven, humanity, and earth respectively. These three stems are arranged in balance to create unity and harmony. The beauty of ikebana is in its simplicity. Katie angled the three stems to create a sense of movement and a negative space which she then filled with yellow orchids, green leaves, and red flowers. This stunning arrangement reflected a delicate, harmonious elegance enlivened by the yellow and red accents of color.

In the Moribana arrangement, Katie combined hydrangea leaves, plant material, and gorgeous yellow peonies. Always careful to cut the stems under water in a bowl with strong ikebana shears, she used a kenzan (floral frog with steel pins) to secure the plants. Katie said that ikebana celebrates the entire life cycle. If the petals of the peonies start to drop in the water, it mirrors the beauty of life. Seeing the reflection of the flower arrangement in the water and appreciating its beauty becomes a very meditative, calming experience. With the three symbolic stems, Katie said, “it feels very spiritual to many.” The origins of ikebana go back to when Buddhism was first introduced to Japan by China and Korea. Buddhist monks used to leave flowers at the base of the Buddha as an offering which evolved into the Nageire style of ikebana.

Once when Katie was making a flower arrangement, she noticed that one of the leaves had burnt spots on it and asked the ikebana master if she should trim it. (In Western flower arranging, you would lose points in a floral competition if any of the plants had blemishes on it.) Katie said, “My ikebana master had a warm smile on her face, and she said ‘Character is beauty. Think of Audrey Hepburn. With every stage of her life, she just became more beautiful.’ And that’s what I love about ikebana – celebrating the whole trajectory of life. And as humans, the more character we have, the more interesting we become, and it is true of flower arranging as well.”

For the Free Style arrangement, Katie said, “We are indebted to Virginia Robinson for her gardens, and to honor her bequest, I will be using one of her garden urns for the last arrangement.” Instead of using the three stems in this arrangement, Katie used magnolia branches, sourcing them from nature and simultaneously honoring what is seasonal. She used long stems to create an airiness and bent them to create a sense of movement as if the wind were blowing them. She then added white hellebores, moss-like plants, and other greenery to create a graceful and exquisite arrangement.

Another aspect of ikebana that Katie appreciates is its sustainability. Unlike Western floral arranging with its frequent use of Oasis floral foam that is not biodegradable, Katie uses chicken wire to hold the plants. “I can use it over and over again, and it is not harming the environment,” she noted.

The guests thoroughly enjoyed the demonstration. Patty Elias said, “Katie‘s grace and discipline revealed itself within the beautiful ikebana arrangements she made for us.” Diana Doyle added, “Katie is extremely knowledgeable and talented. Such an interesting and beautiful presentation! So much fun to be there and to see everyone too!”

The group then shopped at “Jeanne’s Boutique Treasures,” which was filled with enticing items, beautifully curated by our wonderful Jeanne Anderson. They were given lovely favors as a memento to take home as well: a little vase with a cymbidium orchid or rose, a pretty cookie, a pen with three different colors, and a small pastel-colored writing tablet.

We are so grateful to our hardworking and talented Education co-chairs Clare Wagner, Ellisa Bregman, and Angela Movassaghi for organizing such a fabulous event. A big thank you to Elaine Stein who facilitated the video of the demonstration for our Zoom attendees. Katie created her arrangements against the backdrop of the King Palm Forest, further enhancing the serenity and beauty of the presentation.

Post by Linda Meadows
Friends of Robinson Gardens Board Member
Editor of the VRG ENewsletter, the Happenings
Photos by Kate Romero, Jeanne Anderson and Patty Elias


2 Responses

  1. Kerstin Royce
    | Reply

    It was a wonderful lecture. So inspirational.

  2. Patti Reinstein
    | Reply

    Wonderful lecture by Katie inspired my Thanksgiving floral arrangements.

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