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Home » Meet the Contestants Vying for the Sylvia Cup
Meet the Contestants Vying for the Sylvia Cup

They are up-and-coming floral designers, successful business owners, college students and teachers. Some are regulars on the design competition circuit; others are first timers. And two are eager for a design competition theme that captures the phenomenon behind the box office hit, “Barbie” with all its pink glam and glitter.

They are the 25 designers who are competing in the 54th annual Sylvia Cup Design Competition at SAF Phoenix 2023, the Society of American Florists’ 138th annual convention Sept. 6-9.

The competition is a way for the designers to test their creativity under pressure and receive valuable feedback to improve their skills and grow in their careers.

“Education, communication, passion and industry involvement are key to being a successful floral designer,” says Michael Smith, AIFD, CFD, FDI, FSMD, of Artistic Designs Unlimited Inc. in Marianna, Florida, and one of the contestants.

Another contestant, Kristi Berry, AIFD, CFD, of Dahlia a Florist in Greenville, South Carolina, advises anyone interested in design to invest in themselves. “Life will throw you curveballs, but floral design will always be here for you,” she says.

When this year’s contestants arrive at the country’s longest-running, live floral design competition on Sept. 9, they will have their tools, creativity and knowledge of form, foliage and blooms. Each will receive the same stems provided by Certified American Grown and identical hardware from Smithers-Oasis. What they won’t know — and can’t prepare for — is the surprise theme, revealed at the start of the competition. They’ll have two hours to create several pieces for different categories.

The winner is announced during the Stars of the Industry Awards Recognition, and receives $3,000. The first and second runner up receive $500, and $250 respectively.

Meet this year’s contestants.

Abel Gonzalez Menico, AIFD, CFD, PFCI, TMF

Casa Granada Floral, Le Feria, Texas

Favorite Flower: Bird of Paradise. It resembles my spirit animal, a hummingbird.

Key Floral Design Principle or Element: Dominance and/or emphasis. Who wouldn’t want to be the focal center of attention?

Surprise Theme Dream: The switch! After designing a piece we switch with other contestants and use their bucket of leftovers and what they were saving. How would that be for a shocker?

When I’m not designing, I’m…preparing for homecoming season.

Amanda Nicolai, AIFD, CFD, ICPF, ICD

Countryside Flower Shop Nursery and Garden Center, Woodstock, Illinois

Favorite Flower: Lily Grass

Key Floral Design Principle or Element: Texture. Just like us, we can’t all be the same or the world would be boring.

Surprise Theme Dream: To create a structure using only the flower stems.

When I’m not designing, I’m…fishing with my family.

Anahit Hakobyan, AIFD, EMC

Viva La Flora Designs, Ellicott City, Maryland

Favorite Flower: White daisy. It reminds me of my childhood.

Key Floral Design Principle or Element: Repetition. It allows you to create movement, rhythm, texture; a focal area and impact.

Surprise Theme Dream: Fashion

When I’m not designing, I’m…dancing, hiking, cooking and traveling.

Andrew Stinson, AIFD, CFD

WAS Design Works, Columbia, South Carolina

Favorite Flower: ‘Casa Blanca’ lily

Key Floral Design Principle or Element: Line makes a design pop and texture adds interest.

Surprise Theme Dream: It’s already been done — The Wizard of Oz.

When I’m not designing, I’m…singing, dancing, preforming, shopping and sleeping.

Courtney Turner, AIFD, EMC, ICPF

A Thymeless Bloom, Marengo, Illinois

Favorite Flower: I don’t have one and appreciate any quality bloom.

Key Floral Design Principle or Element: Texture and color because they tell us a story and draw us in.

Surprise Theme Dream: Something European

When I’m not designing, I’m…gardening, baking and volunteering.

Doug Bates, AIFD

Designs by Vogt’s, Sturgis, Michigan

Favorite Flower: Boronia

Surprise Theme Dream: A personalized bereavement piece.

When I’m not designing, I’m…reading, playing with my dog and hanging out with my children.

Gina Thresher, AIFD, EMC

From the Ground Up Floral, Seattle

Favorite Flower: Garden roses

Key Floral Design Principle or Element: Color

Surprise Theme Dream: An evening garden party, or Midsummer’s Night Dream.

When I’m not designing, I’m…on YouTube, podcasting, on social media, and growing flowers in my garden.

Jadyn Brooks

Silsbee, Texas

Favorite Flower: Anthurium

Key Floral Design Principle or Element: Texture because it elevates any design.

Surprise Theme Dream: Barbie

When I’m not designing, I’m…attending college and spending time with my dogs Beau and Tuck.

Jesus Rivera, CFD

Freelance designer, Modesto, California

Favorite Flower: Tropical flowers

Key Floral Design Principle or Element: Shapes and lines

Surprise Theme Dream: Tropical Nouveau

When I’m not designing, I’m…working out and enjoying my dogs.

Jodi Kennedy, AIFD

Wild Blossom Design, Anchorage, Alaska

Favorite Flower: Dahlias

Key Floral Design Principle or Element: Line, especially a beautifully placed dynamic line.

Surprise Theme Dream: Tropical Nouveau

When I’m not designing, I’m…caring for my cut flower garden, hosting friends and family, and golfing.

Jolene Powell, AIFD, CFD, FSMD

Floral Expressions with Jolene, Elkton, Virginia

Favorite Flower: Peach roses and seeded eucalyptus

Key Floral Design Principle or Element: Color. It makes the first impression.

Surprise Theme Dream: Under the Sea

When I’m not designing, I’m…spending time with my husband and four kids.

Judy Jazen, CFD, CCF

Chase Flower Shop, Freson, California

Favorite Flower: Roses. They show Fibonacci pattern so clearly.

Key Floral Design Principle or Element: Line, because it is like journeying through the art.

Surprise Theme Dream: Defying gravity

When I’m not designing, I’m…hiking with my Dutch Shepherd.

Kathleen Castagnoli, AIFD, CCF

Kat’s Floral Design LLC, Huntington Beach, California

Favorite Flower: ‘Green Trick’ dianthus

Key Floral Design Principle or Element: Color. I love to mix unexpected colors and see different palettes.

Surprise Theme Dream: Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory

When I’m not designing, I’m…binging my favorite shows, hanging out with my wife, and watching our son play ice hockey.

Katie Robison, AIFD, CFD

Brigham Young University-Idaho, Rexburg, Idaho

Favorite Flower: Rose

Key Floral Design Principle or Element: Harmony and/or unity. If you have that right, everything else falls into place.

Surprise Theme Dream: Fantasy

When I’m not designing, I’m…teaching floral design and spending time with my husband and two daughters.

Kevin Smoak

Tiger Lily Florist, Charleston, South Carolina

Favorite Flower: Orchids

Key Floral Design Principle or Element: Texture. It can change a basic design into something special.

Surprise Theme Dream: Fantasy

When I’m not designing I’m…at the beach and reading.

Kristi Berry, AIFD, CFD

Dahlia a Florist, Greenville, South Carolina

Favorite Flower: It depends what the bloom is next to. I love contrast.

Key Floral Design Principle or Element: Space. Negative space can say so much in a design.

Surprise Theme Dream: Choose a Disney princess

When I’m not designing, I’m…being an awesome bonus mom to two daughters and traveling in our Airstream.

Martha Aaron, AIFD

Mountain High Flowers, Sedona, Arizona

Favorite Flower: Daffodils

Key Floral Design Principle or Element: Line. I love mixing dynamic and static lines together.

Surprise Theme Dream: Make a creative halo or headdress

When I’m not designing, I’m…hanging out with my family and playing with my 2-year-old.

Michael Smith, AIFD, CFD, FDI, FSMD

Artistic Designs Unlimited Inc., Marianna, Florida

Favorite Flower: ‘Dancing Lady’ orchids

Key Floral Design Principle or Element: Line, and using it to move the eye through a design.

Surprise Theme Dream: English tea party.

When I’m not designing, I’m…taking care of my older parents and being crafty, including sewing and cooking.

Olga Savchenko, CFD

Dragonfly Floristic, Cupertino, California

Favorite Flower: Carnation, peony and dahlia

Key Floral Design Principle or Element: Balance and color

When I’m not designing, I’m…spending time with my family.

Patience Pickner, AAF, AIFD, PFCI

The Picket Fence, Chamberlain, South Dakota

Favorite Flower: Impossible to pick!

Key Floral Design Principle or Element: Color

Surprise Theme Dream: Anything romantic or organic

When I’m not designing, I’m…spending time with family on the river.

Pattie Wallander, AIFD, CFD, ICPF

Wallander’s Flowers and Events, Herando, Mississippi

Favorite Flower: Aralia

Key Floral Design Principle or Element: Line, because it can lead anywhere.

Surprise Theme Dream: Over the top. Glitter is a plus.

When I’m not designing, I’m…thinking about flowers and spending time with family.

Renee Potter, AIFD, AzMF

Fred’s Flowers, Tempe, Arizona

Favorite Flower: The imperfect ones

Key Floral Design Principle or Element: Color

Surprise Theme Dream: Under the Sea

When I’m not designing, I’m…spending time with my family.

Robbyn Repp, AAF, CFD

Petal to the Metal Flowers, North Bend, OR

Favorite Flower: Pin cushion and Gloriosa lily

Key Floral Design Principle or Element: Asymmetrical balance

Surprise Theme Dream: Driftwood and Day of the Dead

When I’m not designing, I’m…riding my motorcycle.

Sam Chiem, AIFD

Floral Chateaux, San Diego

Favorite Flower: If I had to choose, an orchid.

Key Floral Design Principle or Element: Line is what we use to create a visual pathway for the eye through our composition.

Surprise Theme Dream: Lord of the Rings!

When I’m not designing, I’m…running an interior design business, a salon business and raising my three kids.

Stacie Russell

All A’Bloom Floral & Gifts, Lee’s Summit, Missouri

Favorite Flower: Lemon Basil

Key Floral Design Principle or Element: Asymmetrical balance

Surprise Theme Dream: Barbie

When I’m not designing, I’m…spending time with my family and cheering on our Kansas City Chiefs!

Sarah Sampson is a contributing writer for the Society of American Florists.

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