COVID-19 has created a void in floral design competitions, but several industry organizations have re-invented such contests, to keep the competitive spirit, engagement and camaraderie alive.

Edana Hee Kar Yen’s inspiration
FSFA Design Challeneg Winner Edana Hee Kar Yen of Malaysia

Many floral designers look forward to the myriad floral design competitions held each year because they offer great opportunities for designers to show their peers and industry experts their unique styles and innovative ideas. But with the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the most-anticipated contests had to be canceled or transitioned to online competitions. It’s not that online contests didn’t exist pre-COVID; it’s just that they have become the norm rather than the exception this year.


In September, the American Institute of Floral Designers (AIFD) Foundation held a “Just Make It Pretty” design contest as a tribute to Matt Wood, AIFD, CFD, PFCI, in an effort to endow the Matt Wood AIFD Fund. A minimum donation was established as the entry fee, and once endowed, the fund will provide scholarships for floral design education and experiences through a mentoring program in specialized fields of study.

The contest was the vision of Charlie Groppetti, AIFD, CFD, development chair of the Matt Wood AIFD Fund, and he created the contest in the spirit of Wood’s floral design philosophy— “Just make it pretty!

When describing his own work once, Wood said, “Years ago, when I was developing my style, I asked [the late] Joe Smith, AIFD, CFD, and he joyfully shared ‘Just make it pretty.’ Simply stated, those words define my work.”

Through the contest, the AIFD Foundation offered floral designers and floral enthusiasts a chance to show what “Just make it pretty” means to them. Winners were announced on Nov. 4 (after we went to press).

Lynn Lary McLean, AIFD, CFD, AAF, PFCI, TMF, AIFD Foundation’s CEO, explains that the pandemic caused so many cancellations of design events that it seemed an opportune time to launch a campaign to raise money in Wood’s honor. “We did so to offer a source of creativity, maintain a nominal entry fee in consideration of the times, and offered cash and prize packages as an incentive,” she shares.

To enter, designers were required to create a floral design in the theme “Just Make It Pretty”; submit one photo of their designs; and make minimum contributions of $25 to the Matt Wood AIFD Fund, as their entry fees.

The competition took lessons learned from other recent competitions, such as Smithers-Oasis Company’s “Summer Smiles” virtual design contest, the Florida State Florists’ Association (FSFA) “Design Challenge International” and Alexandra Farms’ “Garden Rose Design Contest.”

“Each of those contests had unique qualities. We reviewed each and then added our own ideas,” Groppetti says. FSFA was instrumental in helping establish our official rules by sharing what they created as guidelines.”

The first-place winner of “Just Make It Pretty” received $500 cash; a $500 product voucher for Winward products; a $500 product voucher for Knud Nielsen Company products; 300 garden roses from Alexandra Farms; and a copy of The Seasonal Home, a floral design book authored by Wood.

Ken Senter, AIFD, CFD; his design inspiration; and his FSFA Design Challenge entry
Jorge Uribe’s design inspiration; his FSFA Design Challenge entry; and Jorge Uribe, AIFD, CFD, EMC
AFE Virtual “Mask-erade” Winner Jackie Lee from Cactus Flower Florists in Scottsdale Ariz

Greg Lum, AIFD, CFD, EMC, the AIFD education advisor for the Floral Artists of the Bay Area (FAB), created his first-ever virtual floral design contest this year—the “Boo-tiful and Beyond Design Competition”—which was co-sponsored by the California State Floral Association (CSFA) and AIFD’s North West Regional Chapter, and he wasn’t sure the best way to go about it. (All three organizations had canceled their respective floral design competitions due to COVID.) His first step was to view how other virtual competitions were structured, looking to answer the questions, “How will judges evaluate them?” “How are contestants going to send in their photos?” and “How will they register?”

“I reached out to the Florida State Florists’ Association to see how they were handling the load of photos coming in since they had also opened it as an international competition,” he says.

“A main task was to see how much involvement each organization wanted to have,” Lum continues. “All three groups had to have board meetings and vote on different motions, including how much they wanted to spend on prizes, who they would provide as judges, if the judges were going to be paid, how many photos contestants could send in, how the photos would be collected, etc.”

The trio of organizations decided to go ahead with what was already on the FAB website, utilizing Squarespace so entrants could pay their registration fees on the site. They added links enabling designers to view the competition rules, register, upload photos and fill out a disclaimer form.

“We created posts on social media to tell people about our competition, and we also created a YouTube video to market it,” Lum reports.

Lum says contests like this are important during this time because they get people inspired by a theme to create something new and possibly experimental. “This is especially true with people like me who love floral design competitions and are not able to compete in a live one,” he shares.


When the Florida State Florists’ Association was forced to postpone its annual convention, Executive Director Robert Tucker, AIFD, CFD, FSMD, CJE, came up with the idea to create FSFA’s virtual “Design Challenge International.” “During our annual convention, we have several design competitions, and we wanted to create an avenue for artistic expression during the pandemic to continue to share our passion for the art of floral design,” he says. “The timing was just what our industry needed at that moment, and we couldn’t be happier with the interest shown.”

The competition drew entries from 88 floral designers in 35 countries across six continents, and voting was done by more than 2,500 people online. The winner was Edana Hee Kar Yen of Malaysia, whose winning design was inspired by the adornment of native African women. Yen’s winning design included a mix of Protea, orchids, bells-of-Ireland and bear grass.


The American Floral Endowment (AFE) held its inaugural “Giving to Grow Virtual Mask-erade Dinner,” complete with a virtual floral design contest sponsored by Rio Roses/Equiflor. “The virtual mask-erade concept was inspired by the challenges that COVID-19 has presented and the cancellation of our Annual Fundraising Dinner, which was in its 47th year,” says Karin Krause, manager of communications and outreach for AFE. “We wanted to still bring our community together, but we needed to come up with a creative way to do it virtually. We incorporated the photo contest with Rio Roses as a way to add some fun and friendly competition to the event —and to keep Rio’s 20 years of providing flowers to our fundraising event alive.”

Each attendee and sponsor received event masks after they signed up to attend the virtual dinner, and masks were mailed with instructions to get creative and show each person’s unique style. “The photos were shared through social media tagging our accounts and #GivingtoGrow,” Krause says. “Rio Roses then judged the entries based on design technique/creativity, uniqueness and location/background.”

The winner was designer Jackie Lee, from Cactus Flower Florists in Scottsdale, Ariz., who will receive 50 stems of Rio Roses every month for a year.

“We have learned that virtual events can be just as successful and impactful as in-person events,” Krause says. “Although we miss the in-person networking, we were able to connect with our audience across the U.S. and meet them where they are instead of asking them to travel to us. We saw a lot of benefits from being able to cross-promote our community throughout the event via social media and web pages.”


Lum notes that some of the mistakes that one can run into with the online format is not keeping up with the emails or questions from people. “You need to have a dedicated group of people to market it and to keep a track of the competitors so that the designs can be forwarded to the judges,” he says.

McLean remarks that the secret to a successful virtual contest is well thought- out processes and clear communication. “Any misconception must be corrected immediately, especially with the speed of social media,” she says. “We monitored comments constantly and corrected our messaging to address any concerns. For example, when a contestant posted a comment stating frustration with the lack of feedback about his or her design, we confirmed a component to email to each contestant his or her scoring results and comments from our panel of judges. This will enhance the learning experience for each designer who took the time to enter.”


Industry insiders agree that virtual design contests are very important today, to allow the floral community to continue to connect and engage from a distance. “These contests give designers and creatives a way to show off their skills from the safety of their own homes and businesses,” Krause says. “As the need for online promotion and marketing grows, contests like this bring valuable shareable images to life.”

Groppetti notes that contests like this offer a great opportunity to participate, honor a fellow designer, and offer personal and professional growth. “Our ‘Just Make It Pretty’ contest offered experiences to designers to interpret a theme, the opportunity to have their design work evaluated by the best in our industry and to receive feedback to increase their understanding,” he says. “The contest also provided a ‘learn by doing’ concept for floral design and photo styling. Mostly the contest offered an easy way to put yourself out there. With adding the evaluation component, the level of education for the contestant is advanced with comments from a panel of highly respected judges. Who knows what future opportunities contests like this may bring. The possibilities are endless.”