Highlights from the world’s preeminent floral design competition.
By Jill Brooke
To thunderous cheers, Germany’s Nicolaus Peters was crowned champion of the 2023 Interflora World Cup—the world’s biggest floral design competition—during a glamorous gala design finale and dinner event in Manchester, England, on Sept. 9.
After battling competitors from 19 other nations, Peters won the three-day competition with his inspired designs, wowing the judges and attendees alike—taking home not only the crown but also $15,000 in prize money. The nail-biting finale featured five finalists, who were challenged to create an arrangement on the spot, with just 45 minutes on the clock, in front of a live audience of more than 600 (plus many thousands more streaming around the world.
Elisabeth (Lisa) Pålsson, took second place for her home country of Norway, and Elizabeth (Lizzie) Newcombe, representing the United Kingdom and Ireland, took third place. Representing the United States was Jennifer (Jenny) Thomasson, AIFD, CFD, AAF, PFCI, EMC, who, after capturing a spot in the top-10 semifinalists competition, came away in eighth place.
The Interflora World Cup is really the Olympics for floral designers. Founded in 1972, the competition takes place, generally, every four to six years in varying countries around the world—the next one will be in the Netherlands in 2027—and elite floral designers must compete in other competitions to achieve the opportunity to represent their home countries. This year’s World Cup was the 15th in the event’s 52-year history. Visit interflora.co.uk/world-cup/world-cup-history to see a list of all previous winners and host countries/cities.
“It’s an honor,” says Thomasson, “but it’s also a lot of work.” In fact, the Dallas, Texas-based floral artist revealed that it took her more than 80 hours to create the structure for her design in the “Our Ocean Waves” design task. Competitors were asked to create a table for two in the sea and express, through flowers, the following line by Canadian poet Christy Ann Martine: “Dance with the waves, move with the sea, let the rhythm of the water set your soul free.”
The overarching theme for Interflora World Cup 2023 was “Our Natural World,” with an emphasis on sustainability. Another design challenge had the theme of “Our Clouds,” where floral artists were asked to create wedding bouquets as if having a party above the clouds. Each design challenge for this year’s event was created to show love and respect for the beautiful planet on which we live as well as to show visitors how florists cherish nature and the environment.
In booths inside the Manchester Central Convention Complex, onlookers could watch the floral artists as they created five live-action assignments. Blooms were flying into the structures with speed and precision. All 20 competitors completed four design tasks, and from their scores on those tasks, 10 semifinalists were announced. The semifinalists each completed a fifth design task, which narrowed the field to five finalists, who competed for the title of champion at the Grand Final Competition and Gala Dinner on the evening of the third day.
Always fascinating is how each floral artist interprets each assignment so individually. During the second design challenge—a “surprise task” themed “All About the Bees”—each competitor was provided a large wood honeycomb-like structure, along with the same botanical materials, and asked to create a design to celebrate the importance of bees to our planet—within 90 minutes.
The Grand Final Competition and Gala Dinner featured the five finalists—floral artists from the aforementioned German, Norway, and United Kingdom and Ireland, as well as from Spain and the Republic of Korea—going head to head creating a floral arrangement around a provided structure with a “100” sign in it (2023 is the centennial anniversary year of Interflora). The floral artists had to stay incredibly focused while onlookers oohed and aahed and renowned emcees Hannah Jackson, owner of The Garden of Evie in England, and Per Benjamin, of Benjamins Botaniska, Floristisk Coaching and Life2 in Sweden, gave lively on-the-spot commentary of the work they were doing and the flowers being used.
Following the final competition and dinner, I asked Björn Kroner, a German Master Florist who represented his country at the 2010 Interflora World Cup in Shanghai, China, about his fellow countryman, Peters. “We have a new World Champion, and he so deserves it,” Kroner enthused. “His sense of flowers, his sense of movement, his relationship with flowers. He is an ikebana master, and you can see it with the way he works with the products he loves and adores.”
About his ability to remain somewhat calm during the competition, Peters shared, “Ikebana is about Zen and calm and understanding nature. It gives me mental strength. When I arrange a design, I try to make sure each flower feels comfortable. I never force it. I try to connect with its place in the arrangement.”
The competitors’ incredible creations were evaluated by a team of 14 international judges and adjudicators managed by the International Florist Organisation (Florint). Each floral composition was assessed on four key aspects of floristry design: idea, color, composition and technique, plus the judges also weighed sustainability. Competitors, organizers said, were required to demonstrate their interpretations of and respect for the planet, focusing on sustainable ethos and utilizing natural elements.
Deborah De La Flor, AIFD, CFD, PFCI, co-owner of De La Flor Florist & Gardens in Cooper City, Fla., was one of the judges. “Imagine under one roof the most talented floral artists in the world,” she said. “My job was so difficult, but it’s not about what I like or a color I prefer but about judging based on the instructions given.” De La Flor is well qualified to be a member of the prestigious panel of World Cup judges: She previously served as a judge at the 2015 Interflora World Cup in Berlin, Germany, and she represented the United States as a competitor at the 2004 Interflora World Cup in Melbourne, Australia.
De La Flor’s comment is important point for any florist entering floral design competitions to stretch their talents and challenge themselves. It is not about what is the prettiest but about following the rules and guidelines precisely.
The 2023 Interflora World Cup Competitors
Each of these floral designers was already a winner for just being selected to participate in this elite competition. Here is a list of all the contestants who delighted the crowds with their beautiful installations and talent, with designations of the 10 semifinalists and, ultimately, the five finalists (first through fifth place).
• CANADA: Lea Romanowski, CAFA, CAFD, AIFD, CFD
• COLOMBIA: Ivan Moreno
• DENMARK: Katharina Albrechtsen (9th place)
• FINLAND: Saija Sitolahti
• FRANCE: Stéphane Chanteloube, MOF (6th place)
• GERMANY: Nicolaus Peters (1st place)
• HONG KONG: Leong Solomon, Ph.D., AIFD, CFD, PFCI
• HUNGARY: Attila Nemeth (7th place)
• ITALY: Daniela Pighetti
• JAPAN: Hironori Komatsu
• NETHERLANDS: Melissa Smedes (10th place)
• NORWAY: Elisabeth Pålsson (2nd place)
• PERU: Monica Patricia Garcia Villegas
• PORTUGAL: Emanuela Araújo
• REPUBLIC OF KOREA: Kim Hyung Hak (Leo Kim) (4th place)
• SPAIN: Patricia Aguin (5th place)
• UNITED KINGDOM and IRELAND: Elizabeth Newcombe (3rd place)
• USA: Jennifer Thomasson, AIFD, CFD, AAF, PFCI, EMC (8th place)
• VENEZUELA: Alejandro Figueira, AIFD, CFD, PFCI
• VIETNAM: Thanh Tran