Everyone stood by their tables, silently waiting for the clock to start. Sherry Benko was among the competitors, trying to calm her nerves – this was the biggest competition in her craft she had ever entered.
The Sparwood florist, owner of Buds and Blooms, had travelled almost 600 kilometres to compete in the Maple Leaf Cup, a national floral design competition hosted in Edmonton, Alta in March.
The stakes were high, with the winner going on to represent Canada and Florists’ Transworld Delivery (FTD) at the 2019 FTD-Interflora-Fleurop World Cup Design Competition in Philadelphia, U.S.
Each of the 18 competitors had three hours to put together three arrangements with a basket full of materials: a hotel opening reception piece (something you might find walking into a five-star hotel), a floral necklace, as well as a hand-tied bouquet.
As the clock was counting down, Benko started to feel nauseous. But once the competition started, and everyone started tearing into their supplies, her nerves disappeared and her years of floral experience took over.
“You just put your head down and put your focus on,” she said.
Benko admitted the whole experience was great, but during the competition the time flew – some competitors, including herself, found themselves scrambling near the end.
One of the most challenging parts for the florists was that they didn’t know which materials they would be working with before the clock started.
Each was forced to think quickly and act fast.
For her floral necklace, Benko cut gold wire into long strips, and wove bamboo around it. Next she cut birch bark into squares, gluing it into the piece to work as a base. She then attached flowers on top of it.
Benko says this was more of a mind game.
“To think on the fly, to what was I going to produce with these materials – that was the challenge. And it turned out pretty cool,” she said.
The event took place at the Edmonton Home and Garden Show, where spectators milled around but were forbidden from talking to the competitors.
At the end of the day, Benko didn’t win but the organization did ask her to return to compete again next year. The winner of the competition was a Kamloops man by the name of Paul Jaras. He will be representing Canada in the 2019 FTD World Cup.
The Sparwood local is excited to compete again in March 2019 and says she’ll do a few things differently the next time around.
“Now that I’ve been through it once I’m not nearly as nervous as I was,” she said. “Now I won’t have as many nerves, and I think I’ll be better prepared.”
Leading up to next year, Benko is planning to attend as many floral workshops as she can in an attempt to add a few new tricks up her sleeve. She also took the judge’s suggestions onboard and is working every day to improve on these.