Flower arranging is an art in Japan that has been practiced for centuries. Ikebana, the name for that art form, is an expression of interweaving flowers, grasses, branches and nature into a flower arrangement that is not only beautiful but spiritual. The arrangements reflect the flowers of the season. While a variety of flowers, branches and leaves can be, and are used, in Japanese flower arrangements there are several that appear for special occasions: New Year--pine, Girls' Festival--peach, Boys' Festival--iris, Star Festival--bamboo and Chrysanthemum Festival--chrysanthemum.
Cherry blossom trees grow to 16 feet. The tree is virtually covered in white, light pink or dark pink blossoms in early spring. The ornamental cherry blossoms in Washington D.C. were a gift from the Japanese government and bloom spectacularly the first weeks in April. Sprays of cherry blossom branches appear in spring arrangements.
Peach flowers are small with five bright pink petals. The flowers are interspersed on second year branches (branches developed the previous spring). Peaches bloom in mid to late spring depending on variety. The tree has 6-inch long and 2-inch wide bright green leaves. Peach trees grow to 16 feet tall. Like cherry blossoms the flowering branches are used.
Narcissus, also called daffodils, flower in the spring with a trumpet-shaped cup surrounded by flat oval shaped petals. Daffodils are usually yellow, but varieties have been bred to produce cream colors and a light pink. The stems are hollow and not particularly sturdy. Daffodils with their larger flowers are a counterpoint to the small flowered branches of peaches and cherry blossoms. Sometimes bear grass appears with daffodils.
Japanese Iris bloom are smaller than bearded Iris. The flowers are more elegantly shaped and don't have the prominent beard on the lower petals. The flowers bloom on long stems, up to 24 inches and come in purple, deep purple white and yellow. Iris with their long stems lend height to Ikebana arrangements. The long sword leaves also appear in the arrangements.
Tree peonies have huge flowers reaching 12 inches across and 5 inches ; because the flowers are so large they are sometimes referred to as dinner plate peonies. The plant blooms throughout summer and is highly fragrant. Peonies steal the spotlight in floral arrangements.
Quince is an ornamental bush growing to 6 feet tall, very hardy, with orange flowers in the early summer; other varieties have white or pale pink flowers. The flowers are small and blossom down the length of the branch. Flowers are followed by yellow fruits in the fall. An entire branch will be the highlight of a floral arrangement.
Camellias are evergreen with dark green, glossy, oval leaves and large flowers that resemble flat roses. The bush grows to about 6 feet high. It is a member of the tea family. Most species have pink, red or white flowers; a few varieties have yellow flowers. Camellias don't have much of a stem so they're used to provide a focal point at the bottom of Asian arrangements. Often the leaves are used as well.
Chrysanthemums grow from 24 inches to 48 inches high and bloom in the fall. The flower shape varies widely from flat buttons, daisy-like, to powder puffs with huge ruffled petals. Colors include white, yellow, gold, burgundy and pink. One large mum will anchor an arrangement or odd numbers of smaller mums will be used at different heights.
Fall leaves are a reminder of autumn and appear in fall arrangements, sometimes with small fruits like that of the quince. Bittersweet with its small clusters of orange berries and Nandina with clusters of red berries appear in autumn arrangements as well.
Not many flowers bloom in winter. Japanese arrangements for this season rely on containers and evergreen for interest.