FOR the first time since World War Two, the UK’s annual and highly prestigious celebration of all things floral - The Chelsea Flower Show - has had to be cancelled.
However, the show will indeed go on and so, also for the first time ever, the show will take place harnessing the latest in digital technology from May 18-23.
Virtual tours of the stunning displays that yearly showcase the finest in floral creativity, webcasts featuring expert advice and even a daily slot for tutoring school age gardeners will replace the disappointment of not being able to be there in person this year.
Northern Ireland has made a very positive impact on the London event for a long time.
And a major part of this contribution is because each year for the last decade, floristry students and graduates from the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise in Antrim have won their place to test their talents against the finest florists in the UK.
Impressively, these competitors have accumulated a brilliant haul of 23 medals in the process.
Lori Hartman, Manager of Further Education Floristry Courses at Greenmount campus in Antrim said they will once again dig deep.
“At CAFRE we really encourage our students to get involved in competitions. The competitive edge adds a lot to our student’s development because they are often required to work within a tight time frame and specification,” she said.
“These are skills that professional florists need to produce designs for their customers. Competitions are also wonderful networking opportunities to meet others in their industry.”
The floristry team at CAFRE have honed their expertise over the last 20 years and have developed professional florists through a comprehensive programme of technical skills and a dedicated focus on creativity.
It has been these methods that have enabled the College’s floristry students to enter the Florist of the Year or Young Florist of the Year at Chelsea. Competitors are given a theme to follow with design parameters and this has resulted in local students producing intricate designs such as a floral hat or crown and even a full size throne.
The delicate work is further complicated by first designing their entries at home then having to transport their sundry supplies and floral materials all the way to London for the competition.
CAFRE Floristry lecturer Annemarie Grant said success demanded months of planning.
“The application process to compete the RHS Chelsea Flower Show starts in the autumn the year before.
“Applicants must choose a theme and submit a narrative to the selection panel explaining their idea. That has to be matched with detailed sketches, a list of materials and the specific techniques they plan to use to create their design.
“We really encourage students to apply because it offers a different level of experience for them. They really have to have their own clear ideas and showcase their understanding of the mechanics of floristry to bring their ideas to life.”
Whilst prospective entrants from CAFRE will unfortunately miss out showcasing their floral skills at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show, the College remains incredibly proud of their past successes and look forward to many more in the future.
Ten years ago, Nigel Close was the first CAFRE graduate to win a place at the Chelsea Flower Show finals where he had to create a floral hat.
The following year, Ashleen McEvoy also made it to the prestigious London showcase by designing a Floral Jockey Silk.
However, in 2012 it was Siobhan Mone who became the first CAFRE graduate to win a medal at the show and took a bronze for her Floral Chandelier creation. In 2013, Siobhan followed her success up with a silver medal with her piece ‘A Never Ending Circle’.
Success continued in 2014 when Shannon Ormandy and Emma Sinnamon made the show with their work on the theme of Floral Dresses. Emma won a bronze for her efforts that year and repeated the feat in 2015 for her Floral Fantasy Tree.
Then in 2016, Shannon Ormandy was part of a trio of CAFRE graduates with Heather Hume and Natalie Straney who all took bronze medals for their Carnival Headdresses.
Places in the final were achieved in 2017 by Clare McAuley and Eilis Quinn who made spectacular Floral Kites for the Young Florist of the Year competition.
In 2018 Megan Ingram and Clare McAuley achieved a place in the final, each making a Floral Throne inspired by Queen Victoria along with fellow student Ann Kirkwood with Megan and Ann delighted to achieve bronze medals for their designs.
Finally, 2019 was a fabulous year for CAFRE at the competition. Four competitors linked to the college made the Chelsea Flower Show.
And, Shannon Ormandy competed for the fourth time in the Chelsea Young florist competition!
The florists did a tremendous job, with Megan Ingram winning a bronze medal for the second time, Victoria Brennan achieving a silver gilt and Ann Kirkwood adding a silver gilt medal to her bronze from the previous year.
“CAFRE are very proud of all the students and graduates achievements at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, with an amazing accumulation of 13 medals overall - 10 medals for Chelsea Young florist and three for Chelsea florist of the year competitions,” said Lori Hartman.
“While none of our students will be competing this year, CAFRE staff and students can look forward to future successes and carrying on the spirit of competition in years to come.
“In the meantime, stay at home, stay safe and stay well. And join us in clapping for the achievements of our young people who are our hero’s in the floristry world.”
If you would like to explore the possibilities of a career in professional floristry, visit www.cafre.ac.uk for information on our Level 2 Technical Certificate in Floristry and Level 3 Advanced Technical Diploma in Floristry.