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Try Japanese Ikebana and Turn a Valentine’s Day Bouquet into a Work of Art

Have flowers? Keep your family busy (but in a minimalist way) with this traditional Japanese art form.

Megan Baldwin and Sarah Burns


Megan Baldwin

Love flowers? You’re certainly not alone, bud. So let’s make arrangements this Valentine’s Day and explore the world of possibility that blooms from a bunch of flowers with ikebana

What’s ikebana? Glad you asked! Ikebana is the traditional Japanese art of flower arrangement. But at its heart, the technique is meant to expand your appreciation of beauty. According to one of Japan’s most influential ikebana arrangers, the point is to see that “the whole universe is contained within a single flower.” Whoa! In other words, you can actually make a complete arrangement using just a few stems.  

So whether you’re starting from scratch or creatively repurposing blooms from a Valentine’s Day bouquet, there’s no wrong way to arrange your art out.

Ready to let your creativity bloom? Try this kid-friendly introduction to the Japanese art of ikebana for families.

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Step 1: Collect your flowers and materials

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Megan Baldwin

Ikebana is all about gathering your flowers intentionally—that is, thinking carefully about what you want to use, and why. Do you love the color red? Start with a ruby red rose, carnation, or zinnia. Or are you a fan of a special kind of flower because of the way it smells or looks? Use the petals that particularly please you. Whether you’re using flowers from a garden shop, from the outdoors, or from a bouquet, take time to think about why you’re choosing that particular blossom. 

Too cold for picking flowers where you live right now? Branches can be a beautiful addition to your arrangement, too. In fact, you can use almost any material from nature that you think will make your arrangement special: Acorns, pebbles, moss, or seeds add texture, color, and beauty.  

And while it’s good to have extra flowers and materials at the ready in case you want a do-over, you don’t actually need to collect an armload of roses — for a traditional Ikebana arrangement, in fact, you really only need three stems. 

Step 2: Cut flowers or branches to three different lengths

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Ikebana, which means “making flowers alive,” takes many styles, but one popular style uses three stems to represent man’s relationship with nature. So for this next step, you’ll cut your materials to three different lengths, and each one symbolizes something different. The longest branch represents heaven, the medium branch represents humanity, and the shortest branch represents the Earth.

  • The longest stem should be 1.5 times the height of your vase

  • The second longest stem should be 3/4 the length of the longest stem 

  • The third longest stem should be 3/4 the length of the second longest stem

Step 3: Choose a vase and add your kenzan

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In traditional ikebana, a special kind of vase called a kenzan is used to hold the flowers in place for the arrangement. In this case, we’ll use a piece of floral foam. Add it to the bottom of your vase, and fill your vase 1/3 full with water, so the stems can continue drinking.

Step 4: Place your longest stem in the kenzan

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This is the most important piece of your arrangement. Hold your longest stem by the vase to see where it will look most beautiful. Place your longest stem at 11 o’clock, leaning at a 30-degree angle.

Step 5: Place the second longest stem in the kenzan

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Place the second longest stem at the 8 o’clock position. Try out different angles and heights to see how it looks next to your vase and in relation to your longest stem. 

Step 6: Place the third longest stem in the kenzan

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Place the third longest stem at 4 o’clock, and have it lean at a 75-degree angle. 

Step 7: Cover the floral foam with natural materials


Megan Baldwin

Use the other materials you’ve gathered to cover your floral foam, until it’s completely covered, so only the water in the vessel is visible. 

See how the simplicity of the arrangement calls attention to the beauty of each individual piece? That’s what makes ikebana such a special and meaningful way to arrange flowers.