World Cup Unites, Inspires Florists, Public

For the first time since 1985, Interflora World Cup – an Olympic-like event held every four to six years – made its way to the western hemisphere.

The rare opportunity to catch the prestigious competition live without partaking in overseas travel drew hundreds of North American floral professionals and enthusiasts to the City of Brotherly Love last weekend.

Hosted by FTD, the World Cup, a three-day event featuring 23 designers who qualified by winning their nation’s marquis competition, kicked off The Philadelphia Flower Show, the largest and longest-running horticultural event in the United States.

Among the scores of visitors: three Canadian florists, who squeezed the trip in between Valentine’s Day chaos and an exceptionally busy spring.

Neville MacKay, CAFA, PFCI, and Jennifer Harvey, CAFA, CFD, cheer on Canada’s World Cup contestant Paul Jaras, AIFD

Jennifer Harvey, CAFA, CFD, trekked to Philly from Brockville, Ontario, just days before immersing herself in groundwork for Canada Blooms, which runs March 8-17. (Harvey, president of the Canadian Academy of Floral Art, is head of floral procurement and design for the massive festival.)

“It was simply amazing,” Harvey said of the World Cup and Philly Flower Show. “It was a long competition, but time flew by watching with my floral family and listening to hosts explain what was happening. Everyone was so welcoming and excited to learn with their peers in the industry.”

The competition had three rounds. In the first, contestants completed four challenges — an architectural creation, a handtied bouquet, a romantic table for two and a seasonal design featuring Certified American Grown flowers — which led to a semifinal round of 10 designers. Five finalists created one last challenge live on stage during a gala attended by 650 guests.

Australia’s Bart Hassam was crowned champion at the competition’s conclusion, alongside first runner-up Natalia Zhizhko from Russia and second runner-up Tamás Mezöffy from Hungary.

“There was so much detail in their designs, and such interesting variety of blooms,” Harvey said.

She especially enjoyed the impromptu, surprise challenges as the competition progressed.

“That’s where the best really shine,” she said. “The Australian really seemed calmer than most — he blew us away. I hope we can get him to Canada soon to teach us!”

Neville MacKay, CAFA, PFCI, owner of My Mother’s Bloomers in Halifax, Nova Scotia, will also participate in Canada Blooms, where he’ll be a presenter. He, too, could not resist the allure of The World Cup.

“I had a ball, even though the crowd was OUTRAGEOUS—well over 250,000 people!” he said. “Excitement was the key theme, and there was a real sense of family among the floral folk from around the world, which was just a treat to witness.”

MacKay appreciated that the competition was on display for public viewing.

“We do so many conventions, symposiums, etc., that are not open to those people who are actually buying our artistry,” he said. “We need to show them all we can do. I was so pleased with this competition’s format—I think this is where we need to go as an industry.”

Just weeks before hosting the fourth annual Maple Leaf Cup, Heather de Kok, AAF, AIFD, PFCI, traveled to Philadelphia from Edmonton, Alberta.

Heather de Kok, AAF, AIFD, PFCI, third from right, was on the World Cup Technical Committee.

“I was actually on the technical committee, which was an amazing experience,” she said. “I got to know the designers and watch the pieces come to life from the moment they took their structures out of the crate.”

She, too, said the camaraderie was palpable.

“I feel the United Nations could learn from this event!” she said. “Language was no barrier for these amazingly talented people who truly celebrated each other.”

She marveled at the caliber of competition — “every country brought its ‘A’ game,” she said — and the interest from people in the audience.

“The people attending were blown away and had so many questions,” she said. “You could truly see the joy flowers brought them. I am already counting down to the next World Cup!”