Twenty-three competitors. Three days. One of the most prestigious floral events of the year.
As the annual Philadelphia Flower Show opened over the weekend, so did the FTD World Cup, an international competition in flower arranging. It was the first time in more than 30 years the competition has been held in the United States.
Over the three days, the competitors, including florists from Europe, Asia, Russia, and America, faced off in six rounds in hopes of winning a $17,000 prize.
Three of those rounds involved surprise packages the florists received blindly and had use to improvise arrangements on the fly.
“You never know what you’re going to get,” said Bart Hassam, a competitive flower arranger from Brisbane, Australia. “It’s like MasterChef on one of those cooking shows where it’s a mixture of things they throw at you and say, ‘Go!’”
Unlike the chaos and drama of your favorite food competition show, the florists on the floor of the Pennsylvania Convention Center worked alone, intensely focused, and silently.
On Sunday morning, during the fifth round of competition with 10 remaining contestants, hundreds of people gathered around them as they went about their work for two hours.
Alexis Lounsbury did not know this would be happening as she came from New York to visit the Flower Show. She’d never before heard of Premysl Hytych, a florist from the Czech Republic, but found herself watching him arrange flowers for more than an hour.
“It’s very fascinating,” she said. “The time he’s taking, the focus to every detail, the movement of the piece, the aesthetics — all very fascinating.”
The competitors were all given the same American-grown ingredients, including calla lilies, roses, carnations, hyacinths, elephant ears, and one of the most American of all flowers: cotton. Each contestant received a bundle of dry, brown branches with puffs of cotton blooms, which they could use if they wished.
Stephan Triebe of Germany used the cotton as the foundation of his arrangement.
“I want to describe the way of my life,” he said. “There is something dry, and then something comes out of dry material. It’s not shiny and brilliant. I think I’m not a person who is so shiny. It’s my character.”
Although Triebe may think of himself as a shrinking violet, that didn’t prevent him from advancing to the final round, held in the Pennsylvania Convention Center’s formal ballroom Sunday night.
The competitors were given a round wreath structure made of interlocking triangles, and were asked to make something out of gold wire, glass tubes, wisteria, roses, tulips, curly willow, anemones, bells of Ireland, red flax, and other materials — in just 45 minutes.
In the end, the winner was Hassam, that florist from Australia. In his acceptance speech, he thanked his fellow competitors.
“They have had the exact same experience as I had. The last year, all you think about is this. All you talk to your friends about is this. All you spend your money on,” he said. “So I think we all should be grateful because this opportunity doesn’t happen to many people.”
Hassam will take home the $17,000 championship purse, and all of the arrangements made by the competitors over the three-day World Cup will be on display at the Flower Show for the rest of the week.