Hello Flower Friend

April News

Welcome to our April edition of Flower Thoughts, once again offering you a variety of floral design inspiration and thought-provoking issues for all of us who enjoy creating with flowers. We are bringing you news and views from the latest Flower Show in Melbourne and some trends and points of interest I discovered there. We also have other floral successes to celebrate and our regular Design of the Month, this time from New Zealand, using Phormium as its only botanical ingredient.

Inspiration from Melbourne Flower Show 2023

This year's Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show (MIFGS) was the biggest yet, with an attendance of almost 110,000 visitors – staking claim to being the world's 3rd largest flower show. The show ran from 29 March to 2 April, and I had the honour and sometimes daunting task of being on the Floral Design Judging Panel. This privilege affords a behind the scenes and close up view of many of the exhibits, since the judges are required to closely scrutinise the displays within their section, and also those on the larger roster for any special prizes.

Colour was a key feature of many designs this year – large vinyl backgrounds for the major displays were provided.  Exhibitors could elect to have images or colours of their choice printed onto the vinyl, making customisable backdrops that could extend the theme and visual presence of a display.  Many used this to their advantage, choosing landscapes, cloudscapes, artwork or bold colours that really enhanced the finished presentations.

Main Hall display by Lynne Dallas (Sydney) - with custom artwork backdrop.

The use of artificially coloured materials was also a prominent feature of many displays and competition entries – sometimes with great impact.

Main Hall Display by Moss Industry incorporating pool noodles (Melbourne).

Sustainability was a big talking point this year, with all participants encouraged to use mechanics other than regular floral foam. This provided for some innovative and experimental approaches, and certainly altered the style of designs that were possible using the sustainable methods and set up time available.  It was announced that regular, plastic-based floral foam would be banned from the show from 2024 onwards. It will certainly be interesting to see the effect on the final displays and exciting to see the approaches exhibitors take and the sustainable solutions they present.

Main Hall display by Canberra Sustainable Floristry Group.

My judging role took in a range of sections across many levels.  The entries in the higher level displays in the Main Hall had free choice of design, theme and title. The Floristry Student categories were provided with the theme, 'A Moment in Time'. The diversity and clarity of interpretations was fascinating. 

The winning floral displays were spectacular and came from a large field of highly competent contenders.  The Gold Medal in the Floral Design section was awarded to Dayne Robinson, Pinkie Promise (Melbourne), with a spider themed display entitled 'Arachne' – a brooding expression of deep colours, cleverly used.  Gold Medals in the Visual Display section were awarded to Matthew Landers (Perth) and Florals by Pemberley (Melbourne).  Matthew's display featured an enormous huge layered, floating cloud of dreamy Hydrangea and countless Phalaenopsis stems. The Pemberley exhibit was a symphony of warm, pastel colours with a backdrop of sheet music, and included a pink piano.

Spider themed display by Dayne Robinson, Pinkie Promise (Melbourne)
Floating cloud display by Matthew Landers (Perth).
Music inspired visual display, Florals by Pemberley (Melbourne).

Click here to see the results from the whole show:

MIFGS 2023 Garden & Floral Design Results

Foam Alternatives - Have You Tried Them?
A move away from plastic-based floral foam has been long coming, primarily for sustainability reasons, but a complete change to alternative mechanics will take some time – our collective creative practices can change quickly, but not overnight. Working into chicken wire or moss, or straight into water contained in a vessel of some type are certainly options. The convenience of foam has become one of the most go-to options, so viable alternatives that are good for the planet seem inevitabie, but not yet readily available or cost efficient.

The imminent ban on plastic-based floral foams, such as the one proposed at the Melbourne Flower Show in 2024, will demand that we source other ways of working. Have you tried the foam alternatives yet?

Some of the options that are currently and soon-to-be available are:

Fibre Floral & Terra Brick
Smithers-Oasis have released two products as alternatives to the traditional foam that it pioneered decades ago. The new offerings are Fibre Floral and Terra Brick.

The company describes Fibre Floral as "a natural product based on volcanic basalt rock with a bio-based binder that is derived from rapidly renewable materials". I used the product to create the design below, and found it mostly replicated the qualities of traditional floral foam. The insertions were relatively easy with not exactly the same familiar hold or stability. This design had horizontal proportions so this alternate mechanic worked competently.

Terra Bricks are supplied in a paper maché tray. Smithers-Oasis describe the product as "made with plant-based, renewable, natural coir, and a compostable binder".

Here is a design by my friend and talented Designer,
Moniek Vanden Berghe, using Terra Brick:

Here are links to more information about Fibre Floral & Terra Brick:

Smithers Oasis - Fibre Floral
Smithers Oasis - Terra Brick

Oshun Pouch
My experience with this innovative product was positive and promising. The product is designed by Kirsten VanDijk from New Age Floral, which describes it as follows:

"The pouch contents are a blend of unique, 100% Natural and organic coir based formula.  The membrane is plant based, typically made from starches derived from corn or sugar beet and has passed the “Home” Compostable tests by TUV Austria."

I used an Oshun Pouch in a footed, shallow bowl container and found it easy to work with.  I firstly created a vertical design, using some tall materials and some large forms, and all held securely. I then reused the pouch to create a lower dome style design using Carnations. The Carnations held well and looked good for around two weeks.

Here are links to more information about Oshun Pouch:

Oshun Pouch Website
Oshun Pouch - Instagram

Check with your local suppliers about the current or pending availability of these new foam alternatives.

The Colour Quandary

Artificially dyed botanical material seems to be having an extended moment in the flower world – especially since new technologies and distribution methods have made more options widely available. Even more so than when sprayed blue Carnations for baby boy arrangements became a 'thing' in the 1970s.  It can also be a divisive subject, from many angles. Is it respecting nature? Is it sustainable or eco-friendly? Is it simply another design option?

Personally, I am still on the fence about the subject in most cases, and continue to experiment with colour in various ways, including artificial enhancements (see the sprayed green, dried proteas below!). Design is about choices appropriate for a given context. Different designers make different decisions in the creative process, so freedom of expression is important.

It will be very interesting to see how this trend unfolds.

Design of the Month

Bridal designing often offers the opportunity to work on a manageable scale, incorporate fine craftsmanship and pay close attention to detail.  Working with reduced material variety, AND making the design intriguing and creative, can be a super challenge.  Our Design of the Month, combines all of those qualities and has a certain Wow factor.  It was created by Sheryl Watkins of Wellington Florist, New Zealand, for one of the tasks in our Design Solutions course. While it was created for a course assignment and not a real bride (we think!), it provided a freeing opportunity to experiment with all those things that we who create with flowers love – unique botanical qualities, the chance to practise techniques and the opportunity to stretch our skills.

The entire bouquet is created from only two varieties of Phormium – from fresh, woven strips, through to dried, coloured florets and stem slices.

Explore more of Sheryl's flower world:

Wellington Florist Website
Wellington Florist - Facebook
Wellington Florist - Instagram

Interpreting Success in Floral Design Competitions

Themes and titles are certainly competition aspects that catch entrants' attention, because they provide starting inspiration and something that can be related to throughout the design process. The challenge is always balancing the focus on the theme or title with how many points can be gained from the marking criteria.  Often, as in the MIFGS schedule case (mentioned above), interpretation of theme is awarded a smaller proportion of the marks, so a focus must be directed to where the remaining points can be gained – the principles of design and workmanship.

Coat hangers and denim - 'Table for Two' competition item from the Interflora World Cup 2004.
Theme - Fashion

Stay tuned – we are developing a short, interactive course that specifically addresses designing for competitions and interpreting themes and titles. Competitions are a subject that require a very objective approach and logical thinking, and our course will walk through the design process and the art of competing via practical examples, tasks and discussion.

Register your interest in our course about titles, themes and interpretation and be amongst the first to know when details are released:

Register Your Interest Here - Titles, Themes & More

Sydney Success

Photo - Facebook

'Poetry in Motion' was the theme of the 2023 National Floral Designer Competition at the Sydney Royal Easter Show – with International Judge, Anson Low from Singapore scoring the entries. The principle of rhythm was sure to have been a significant consideration not only in interpreting the theme, but also in the astute application of design principles to capture points in the marking criteria.

Lawrence Kwong won First Place with his bountiful and fluid composition, overflowing with layers of textured plant materials. Lawrence has been an enthusiastic and committed participant in Flower Thinking's course offerings. Sustainability has become an important factor in his design practice.

Congratulations, Lawrence.

New Zealand Success

Photo - Facebook, Floral Art Society of New Zealand

'Take a Piece of No.8', a New Zealand colloquialism for resourcefulness (a.k.a. being able to fix anything with a piece of number 8 wire) was the overarching theme of the Floral Art Society Conference in Hamilton, Waikato this month. The conference program hosted the anticipated Designer of the Year competition. This year, the title was awarded to Jenny Buchanan, working to the schedule requirements of being a 'stamobile' design and interpreting the title 'Connected Energy'.

Congratulations, Jenny.

Advanced Directions Coming Soon

We have just launched our new Advanced Directions online course – which extends on a solid understanding of the principles of floral design gained from either our Design Directions course or from wider creative experience. The program runs from late June to late October, with one online gathering per month and four practical assignments.

Dates and details are available via the button below and on our website -
flowerthinking.com.  We are excited to be exploring new tasks that include a variety of styles and principles - advanced directions - including asymmetry, shallow depth, hanging designs and more.

Want more information?  Click below:

Find Details Here - Advanced Directions

We welcome your questions and comments about floral design. It's always interesting and illuminating to hear directly from our readers their thoughts and areas of interest - it helps us to shape our future offerings and support. We'd love to hear from you.

Share Your Questions & Comments With Me

Thank you for reading our April Flower Thoughts



Artificially coloured Disbud Chrysanthemums star in the focal area of this low design.  Are you loving, resisting or indifferent to coloured materials? 
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