I guess, it’s a florists dream to win a gold medal at the most prestigious floral event in the British calendar, the RHS Chelsea Flower Show – well it certainly was for me. To get there you first have to get through the heats organised by the British Florist Association (BFA) and so it was with some trepidation I took part in the competition. Florists were asked to create a floral collar for an evening dress.
When on my second attempt to gain a place at the heats and I won a place, I was overwhelmed, realising just how extraordinary the opportunity was to take part, and how hard I knew I had to work if I wanted to achieve my dream. A gold medal.
It was some months before I was given the brief and I could not have wished for a better one. “To create a fantasy floral dress for a crystal themed ball”. I was in my element.
Preparing for Chelsea
Candidates get approximately 8 weeks to prepare for the show and I spent my first 2 weeks constantly drawing trying to find the design I wanted to build. The first conundrum was to bring clarity to the word ‘fantasy’, knowing that other candidates were looking at it from an elfin stand point and planning on wings being part of their dress – so for my part I wanted to think through what my own ‘fantasy’ dress would be if I was going to the ball, drawing constantly led me towards the dress being a flower itself.
Finally, after much soul searching I decided upon the Fuchsia flower whose form importantly suited the given dimensions, being 1.5m x .50m wide which also coincided with the required mannequin to display the dress arrived for me to work on.
Next vital stage was how was I going to build the structure on which the flowers would be attached. One of the tutors at the Academy of Floral Art told me about an interesting product that when used on natural fibres dried hard and waterproof, so I set about experimenting on how I would create the sepals for the flower. Some weeks later I discovered how I would put the elements together, with just the skirt to create. This too took some thinking and I honestly had a eureka moment in the bath with the humble loofah, looking closely at it’s lacy interior, I devised a method of attaching slices together to hold the skirt shape.
With the structure ready for the flowers by the 6th week, I turned my focus on the floral content. First the colour scheme, I chose to go with a plumb, cream, yellow theme, secondly listing the flowers that would work well on the dress looking for different textures and forms to add interest. Next I had to incorporate the ‘crystal theme’ to the design and I researched all sorts of fabulous crystals, opting to create a beautiful corsage of hand made papers created with crystals which glinted enchantingly made into petal shapes. I also added crystals to many of the flowers themselves making them sparkle and shine like dew drops.
Flowers being added to the structure:
It is important to say that I also did lots of research into what the Floristry Judges liked, and studied previous years medalist winners, carefully highlighting the judges criteria ensuring that each subject matter was answered to the best of my ability. One of these criteria included techniques. There are 40 taught techniques in the professional floristry qualifications and I was determined to use as many as I could finally managing to get 28 into the design.
Note book detail:
Three days before installation, I moved to London with my dress frame and took up a small space in New Covent Garden flower market to add the fresh flowers. On the Wednesday night mid show week, between 9pm and 1am, 16 florists installed their designs. At 8am they were judged and by 11am we were given the outcome of all our efforts. I’m afraid like a child I cried and cried on seeing my results and the kindness of the Judges who waited to talk to me on medal day. I achieved the ultimate accolade and won a gold.
It is true to say, that I found the actual events at RHS Chelsea terrifying, but also very rewarding, and I feel enormous pride to have taken part in the greatest floral show on earth. My experience has given me a role in mentoring others who chase this dream and I have now created a presentation on the whole event and would be thrilled to show it to any who would care to listen.