The Philadelphia Flower Show Part 2: The Surreal World of Ikebana

There are only a few days left to see the Flower Show in Philadelphia, and one of the best things about working a booth in the show (Booth #607- come visit us!) has been getting the chance to wander around the Disney-centric flower displays. From Sleeping Beauty’s rose-covered spindle to Mulan’s Chinese blossom garden, there is something for everyone’s inner Disney princess.

If one too many Magic Kingdom-themed displays are giving you sensory overload, we suggest checking out Ikebana International’s wholly original and surreal presentation. One of the most unconventional displays at the show (it’s one of the few displays not inspired by the show’s cinematic theme), Ikebana is the art of Japanese flower arrangements. The display is hosted and organized by the Philadelphia chapter of Ikebana International, a non-profit organization that promotes friendship and cultural exchange between Japan and other countries through the art of flower arranging.

Like so many Japanese customs, ikebana evolved from a Buddhist practice of offering flowers at altars of the dead, representing the importance of nature with connecting humanity to the spiritual world. It also has ties to the Japanese Shinto worship of nature, and eventually became a characteristically Japanese custom. It remains a respected art form to this day, although it has since lost much of its religious significance. It has since become a creative way to develop a relationship between man and nature, and to showcase a distinctly Japanese floral tradition. With the help of Ikebana International, it is on its way to becoming an international art form.

Originally, ikebana was a very simple type of flower arrangement, constructed by branches, leaves, moss, or flowers. Where western floral arrangements like those featured throughout the Flower Show will put their emphasis on the arrangements of the blooms, Ikebana often showcases other areas of the plant, like its stems or leaves. Space, line, and asymmetry play a huge role in the construction of the arrangement, and there is often an implied meaning behind the arrangement. Its structure is based on a scalene triangle, with its three points symbolizing heaven, earth, and man, or the sun, moon, and earth. There are a few different schools of Ikebana, and Ikebana International’s display showcased three of the most important ones: the Ikenobo School, the Ohara School, and The Sogetsu School.

The Ikenobo School is the oldest school of ikebana, teaching some of the most traditional styles. The Ohara School focuses on seasonal use of branches and flowers, expressing the seasonal environment by emphasizing landscaping- in the show, colorful blooms jutting from the ground invite spring forward. The Sogetsu School is the more creative and avant-garde of them all; it uses sculptural and abstract objects to encourage the idea that ikebana can be made by anyone, anywhere, at any time and with any materials.

The exhibit does a wonderful job of illustrating the diversity within the ikebana schools, and the displays utilize brilliant color and structural design to showcase a wholly original take on a very traditional art form. For those interested in experimenting with ikebana, a small how-to section describes the tools and techniques necessary to get started, as well as tips on how to pick the best flowers for your arrangements. You can also talk to members of Ikebana International, who will be on hand to answer any burning questions you may have about their work. Can’t get enough? After the show wraps up, you can find their displays at the Shofuso Japanese House in Fairmount from May to September, where they donate different schools of ikebana throughout the spring and summer months. And remember –taking the time to observe the beauty of a flower arrangement is taking the time to appreciate the beauty in nature that we too often overlook in our busy lives. Ikebana reminds us to take a break every once in a while and allow ourselves to get inspired by the greatest artist of them all: nature itself.

The 2015 Philadelphia Flower Show runs March 1st through March 8th at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. You can find Ikebana International’s display on the south end of Hall A in the Hamilton Horticourt, between the Designer’s Studio and the Dutch Tulip House. Open from 10 am to 9pm daily.