The thrill of competing in front of a live audience, the nail-biting buildup of tackling a surprise floral design challenge. These are two elements that keep contestants coming back to participate in the Society of American Florists’ annual Sylvia Cup Design Competition.
The coveted cup will be awarded to one talented floral designer on Sept. 21 at SAF Amelia Island 2019, SAF’s 135th Annual Convention. Among the 13 floral designers participating in the 51st annual competition are 12 members of the American Institute of Floral Designers, seven past Sylvia Cup contestants — including one grand prize winner and one first runner-up winner — and five designers sponsored by state floral associations.
The winner of this year’s two-hour live floral design competition, sponsored by Certified American Grown and Smithers-Oasis, and coordinated by Professional Floral Communicators – International (PFCI), will take home $3,000 and complimentary registration to next year’s SAF convention.
Last year’s first runner up, Lisa Greene, AAF, AIFD, PFCI, plans to go for it again.
“I just love doing it because of the challenge,” said Greene, of Beach Plum Flower Shop in Newburyport, Massachusetts. “You are literally standing shoulder-to-shoulder with your peers and it’s a real measure of what you can do on the spot. You are putting yourself out there for everyone to watch you fly or fail – there’s a certain thrill to it. I believe you can only grow when you do something you’re not comfortable with.”
And even though former 2014 Sylvia Cup grand prize winner Jacob McCall, AIFD, AAF, CFD, FSMD, said that he works well under pressure, he still loves the challenge of pushing himself beyond his comfort zone.“I believe to stay fresh and current with design you need to constantly push yourself to do things that you may feel uncomfortable with,” said McCall, owner of Jacob McCall Consulting.
He believes that the competition’s open format and the fact that the public can watch live during the competition adds to the excitement and fun of competing.
“It’s also the most prestigious design competition in the USA,” he adds.
Greene, McCall and other contestants will have just two hours to transform flowers, foliage and design supplies provided by the sponsors into three designs. A surprise theme will be revealed by the PFCI at the start of the competition.
Past competition themes included Follow Your Yellow Brick Road in 2018, Elvish Aloha from Hawaii in 2016 and Cirque du Fleur in 2015.
This year, Sylvia Cup coordinator, Jenny Behlings, AAF, AIFD, PFCI, SDCF, of Jenny’s Floral in South Dakota, hinted at another surprise.
“We are changing it up a bit and hope to bring up the level of the competition,” said Behlings who is responsible for this year’s theme. “We are going to disclose to the contestants one of the items they will be creating and give them the container and another hard good they have to use. This will bring up the artistic level of the competition and may even be harder to judge because each designer will have a lot more free reign and they will come prepared as to what they can do with this particular piece.”
Contestants get to incorporate some new varieties from American growers and will be working with a new container prototype from Smithers-Oasis, said Behlings. “It’s completely new to the U.S. market and will be the first time that it’s even shown in the United States.”
Smithers-Oasis Jacques Sir Louis, Smithers-Oasis director of Strategic Business Development, said that the company wanted to bring floral designers something that they’ve never seen before and observe how they use the product.
“We’re looking forward to making [the competition] just a little bit more interesting. This will give designers a chance to see some things before anybody else does,” he said.
Behlings was quick to acknowledge all who are helping to make the competition happen. “I am so thankful for the PFCI team. They are the backbone of the Sylvia Cup. And, I can’t say enough about Smithers-Oasis and Certified American Grown. They are so giving and so supportive.”
Sir Louis said that Smithers-Oasis is happy to be part of the Sylvia Cup. “It tests all of the skills of designers so we love the inspiration and kind of creativity that comes out of this crazy situation,” he said. “We think it’s a lot of fun so we continue to add more to it.”
Dave Pruitt, administrator at Certified American Grown, said that sponsoring the Sylvia Cup was a perfect fit for the coalition of U.S. flower farms.
“It’s a natural fit to partner with SAF and the Silvia Cup to provide competitors with an amazing variety of cut flowers and greens from America’s flower farmers,” he said. “This event gives the floral design industry an incredible outlet to display their talent, and provides Certified American Grown flower farmers an opportunity to showcase the quality and diversity of the flowers and greens grown right here in America. We look forward to this competition each year and are excited to see the beauty created by the designers with American Grown flowers.
“Good luck to all the competitors,” he added.
Behlings will be commentating along with this year’s co-chair, Theresa Colucci, AAF, AIFD, PFCI, of Meadowscent in Gardiner, New York, and she looks forward to watching the creative process unfold.
“It’s fast-paced and the contestants have the pressure of a live audience watching them with time ticking away,” said Behlings. “I can’t wait for it. It’s going to be so exciting. It will be a fantastic event.”
Renee Houston Zemanski is a contributing writer for the Society of American Florists.