After 25 years of teaching floral design, Gail Call, AIFD, CFD, CCF, inspires students to never stop learning.

Gail poses with Terri Tae Hwa Kang, Gina Wright and Tracey Duncan, GWC students who took top honors in the 2017 AIFD Student Floral Design Competition held in Seattle, Wash. & Gail Call

Almost 15 years ago, I walked into Golden West Community College (GWC) in Huntington Beach, Calif., to try my hand at floral design in a basic class. Little did I know then that it would become a lifelong passion and career—thanks to Gail Call, AIFD, CFD, CCF.

The immensely talented Call, who has been the head of GWC’s “Floral Design and Shop Management” program for more than two decades and has inspired hundreds of budding floral designers, officially put down her floral knife and retired last June. Several of her beloved floral pupils, friends and family recently gathered safely in decorated cars to surprise Call for a “Reverse Retirement Parade” in the parking lot of Shinoda Design Center in Santa Ana, Calif.

Many air kisses and air hugs were exchanged, as Call’s departure marks the end of an era for GWC floral design students and alumni, several of whom have gone on to enjoy successful careers in the industry as AIFD designers, retail shop owners, event florists and floral educators themselves.

We asked Call to share her beginnings in this industry, what’s she’s learned along the way and what she will miss most about teaching floral design.

FR: How did you initially become interested in floral design?

CALL: There was a flower shop just down the street from where I grew up in West Santa Ana. When I was a kid, I would stand outside this flower shop and look through the window into the small space filled with green plants and beautiful cut flowers. I longed to work there. It looked like the most peaceful, beautiful place on Earth to me.

Upon graduation from high school and several semesters at a community college “searching for myself,” my dad asked me, “What do you want to do with your life, what kind of job do you want?” I replied, “All I’ve ever wanted is to work in a flower shop.”

We then started looking for a school. Back then, in the mid-1970s, there was a private school in Fullerton called Elva May’s School of Floral Design. I enrolled, and the rest is history. I would always tell my students, “You will never know it all in this industry; you must continue to take classes and keep learning. If you think you know it all, it’s time to get out of the business.” I truly believe this, and Elva May’s School of Floral Design was only the beginning of my floral education, which still continues today.

FR: Who have been your floral mentors? What is one of the most important things any of them taught you?

CALL: My first floral mentor was Dr. Shirley Haas, AIFD, the originator of the “Floral Design and Shop Management” program at Golden West College. I had the amazing opportunity to work with her at Flowers by Morri and Roger’s Gardens in Newport Beach. It was like being in school all day and night. Shirley taught me the basic of design and the industry as a whole, including weddings and events. Her stress of customer service, first impressions, mechanics, and the elements and principles of design is still with me today.

Later in my career, Gregor Lersch became a mentor. He taught me that breaking the rules, once I knew the rules, would and could work. I love his intellect regarding floral design and his respect of nature and design.

FR: Do you remember your first floral design job? Where was it, and what was it like for you?

CALL: My first job after floral design school was at a tiny shop in Orange called Orange Blossom. I was straight out of an intensive few weeks of classes where, many days, my mind was spinning. It was too much information, in too little time, to completely absorb. I worked alone in that shop, and it was rather frightening at times. I remember one time someone came in to order a corsage—and wanted to wait for it. I was the only one in the shop, trying to make the corsage (the first one after learning the technique!), answer phones, wait on other customers who popped in, and freaking out that the customer stood there watching me and waiting for what seemed like an eternity! That experience gave me the confidence to know that I could do anything that I put my mind to and do it well.

FR: How did you start teaching floral design classes?

CALL: I am a product of the “Floral Design and Shop Management” program at GWC. After graduation, I remained involved with the program as a member of the “Floral Design Advisory Committee.” As the program began to grow, Shirley Has needed part-time teachers, and I applied. I got the job and began teaching the “Basic Design Class” in 1985.

FR: Do you remember your first day teaching there? What was that like?

CALL: I remember being so nervous. My mouth was so dry that my lips stuck to my teeth. Not a pretty sight. But honestly, I doubt anyone knew.

FR: What has been some of your favorite moments as a floral educator?

CALL: Favorite moments are so varied. A favorite moment could be seeing a student “get it” when it comes to making a bow or learning how to properly use a knife. Other favorite moments are seeing students’ pride in the floral arrangements they just completed when they thought they “were not creative” and “could never do that.”

Of course, having students keep in touch and share their business success with me has been awesome. I am proud of my students who competed in student or professional floral design competitions and to be able to witness their bravery, skill and determination. I am also proud of the many students who have continued their floral education by earning their California Certified Florist (CCF) accreditation and those who attempted and succeeded in becoming accredited by the American Institute of Floral Designers (AIFD). Several of my former students have designed at main-stage and dinner programs at AIFD symposia. It’s a bit like being a mother; I’m so blessed to have experienced them all!

FR: What kinds of skills do you feel you need to have to teach others floral design?

CALL: A floral educator must first have the knowledge and practical experience in the floral industry to teach the skills required to become a successful designer. Also, patience is one of the most important skills needed to teach floral design. Remaining patient and showing respect to everyone have been the essential traits I have striven for in my career.

FR: How long did you teach at GWC? What are you going to miss most?

CALL: I taught for a total of about 25 years. I taught part time from 1985 through roughly 1991 and from 1996 to 1998. I was a full-time instructor for almost 21 years, from August 1999 until June 1st of this year. I will miss sharing my love for flowers, design and this wild industry with the students, but I’ll miss the students most.

FR: What are you most proud of as a longtime floral designer and educator?

CALL: I am most proud to have created (along with my good friend and former GWC instructor, Miriam Somoano, AIFD, CFD, CCF), the “Shirley Haas Student AIFD Chapter at Golden West College” in 2010. We become an active Student AIFD Chapter and were able to give our students opportunities to attend and compete at AIFD national symposia. In 2011, we began bringing the “Artist in Residence” (AIR) program into our classroom.

I’m also extremely proud that I was able to help the GWC “Floral Design and Shop Management” program be organized, current, on trend and inclusive for all students, and that I fostered an atmosphere of learning, respect and love of our “floral family.”

Author’s Note: As a former student of Call’s and a proud alumna of the GWC Floral Design program, I would like to interject here and say to Gail, “Thank you for sharing your knowledge, insight, experience and passion—and for inspiring us to never ever stop learning!”